The Americans and the British were bent on finding Jim Morrison while the Irish and the Japanese, for some reason, longed to add new kisses to the now ball-less Sphinx lingering over the long decayed body of Wilde, who probably watched down over their stupidity and offered a wicked wand of wit as their rouged up lips found a free side of the concrete to consecrate. Kissing a carcass is much like kissing an ass, you come away from both with a distinct desire to rinse out your mouth immediately.
At one point, somewhere amid the ongoing battle of the trees reclaiming the conquered landscape, I took a turn into the shadows and a darkness fell all around as if a cover had been put on the sun like one drapes a cloth over the cage of a bird mid song and suddenly the silence is stifling. Darkness comes over you in the same way when unannounced. The weight of its dominance takes on a persona as its very essence runs its icy touch along your skin. Under its spell, and there was a spell upon me, I lost all sense of direction, trapped so strikingly between the desire to run towards life and the horrid reality that I was standing upon so much death. I didn’t believe in ghosts, not because I was sure they didn’t exist, but because I’d never thought about them or allowed such superstition to cross my path. But there, in that twist of day and night, amid the moss covered beds of those who had long since reached out their heads and hands to eternal rest, everything was open to suggestion.
I twisted and turned over directions in my mind, the routes I had taken that brought me there, both literally and figuratively. I’d come for the fun, to find the forever flames of the famous, now fruit for roots and worms. I’d come also to escape, to escape the daily drab of life, the 9 to 5, the rush hours, the traffic jams, the gossiping, the nattering, the crowded metros and shoulder shrugs. I’d come to death to escape life and lost my way beneath its shadows. I’d wanted something different and found something terrifying instead, mortality. Under the silence of the surreal, I heard bones rotting, flesh festering, souls scratching, ties breaking, my heart beating and my watch ticking, teasing me with every minute I had wasted seeking diversions from the right roads, the real roads. The track trembled before me. Tombs lay broken and open, dark holes reaching into darker realms that only Dante had dared to dwell on in life and all that watched me were birds; black birds, big black birds, baying, sinister sentinels and not a single dove to drown out the darkness.
I felt my own skin tighten around tensed muscles, pulses pound around veins as if starved for blood, as if my whole body feared its finality, foresaw what would one day become of it, here in this place of buried beds and eternal sleeps where the angel creeps and mourners weep.
Suddenly I heard a child’s voice laughing and I turned and ran towards its distant direction but my feet heeded not my mind and my footing fell upon a broken branch of nature and the break of my ankle echoed through my frustration as I fell while nature itself looked and laughed and length. I fell upon a grave. I fell upon an open grave and I lost sight of the cemetery. I lost sight of the trees fighting the concrete columns. I lost sight of the weeping madonnas. I lost sight of the stone eyes angels and so, as I plunged down, deep down, I closed my eyes and waited to be swallowed by the bowels of the earth.
With a shock, I jumped up, in bed, at home. My bed, my home, not a grave, not the end, not Dante’s inferno. My breath could not find itself in the confusion, still stuck in the dream, in the nightmare disguised as a dream, down in the layers of hell. Eventually, in a sweat, I managed to make it to the bathroom and turned on the tap to wash my face in cold water and drown myself back into the security of reality. I looked in the mirror, it was still me, still my refection, still my face. I looked down to turn off the tap and noticed the dirty water running down the drain. Then I saw my hands; covered in muck, my body; covered in muck, my feet; covered in muck.
What in hell is going on, I asked myself? What was happening, had it all been real, had I actually been to the cemetery somewhere under the cover of night and nonsense? I looked back into the mirror at my reflection and it smiled back at me. My heart stopped. My skin tensed, just like in the dream.
My reflection was smiling but I wasn’t.
I wasn’t anymore.
All Words and Photographs by Damien B. Donnelly
All Photographs taken at Cimetière Père Lachaise, Paris, France