SECULAR RITE • by Oonah V Joslin

The old captain turned the urn in weathered hands. Two witnesses stood by. I was one of them; a friend of the captain, a fellow fisherman in the past, though I did not know the deceased well. He twisted the lid.

At the opening, he said, “Once a closer moon shone down on shorter days than we have now and filled a greater quadrant of the sky.”

His gesture swept the sky. His voice was steady; his eyes on the horizon.

“A virgin pool and things unwritten crackling in the mud: the basic building blocks of RNA formed in the heat and wet, awaiting animation; fins, legs or wings to fly; a voice with which to quarrel over feeders in Edens yet to be; a voice,” here he hesitated, his own voice littler for an instant, “a voice with which to lullaby winter and sing spring back to life;” and then he regained his usual robust tone; “a voice with which to name all that there is.”

The rites that often fall to a captain did not sit well on his shoulders but his voice was a fine baritone that matched this secular liturgy well.

“And so we name all that there is as dust. For that is what we were and what we are and what we will become.”

He paused; lowered the casket over the rail.

“Now we commit these ashes to the sea to await their final release into the universe when this world is done.”

He fixed his eye on the horizon again as if to refocus his belief. But I was close enough to hear him say, “But I suspect; I hope there will be more…’ Then he continued louder maybe to expel that thought, “Energy to matter, matter to energy. Information never can be lost, only transmuted, perhaps in the mind of God and in that sense maybe we shall all live forever.”

Could I have found some words of comfort for his loss I would have said them but we all find our own way through grief, through disbelief or through belief and perhaps it was enough to stand by his side and allow him to keep or lose all he held dear.

Taken by the wind, the ashes joined the elements. The skipper took a handkerchief and wiped his eyes. Then turned and breathed, “Farewell my love.”


Oonah V Joslin is Managing Editor at Every Day Poets.  Credits include 3 Micro Horror prizes, an honorable mention in The binnacles Shorts Poetry comp 2009, Inclusion in several anthologies, A Man of Few Words, The Best of Every Day Fiction 2008 and 2009 and Toe Tags.  Read her at Static Movement, The Shine Journal, A View From Here, The Ranfurly Review 10FLASH Quarterly and many other places. Other work including her Novella, A Genie in a Jam, can be found at Bewildering Stories. The list is updated in The Vaults at Parallel Oonahverse and on her Facebook. Oonah’s ambition is to have a book published.


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  • Stephen Rosenthal

    Very nicely done. 4 stars.

  • Bill West

    Rich and satisfying.

  • Beautiful, Oonah, beautiful.

    “Once a closer moon shone down on shorter days than we have now and filled a greater quadrant of the sky.” Haunting, magical.

    BTW, Second quote mark at end of: “But I suspect; I hope there will be more…’ (Missed on conversion from UK usage?)

    Best

    🙂 scar

  • vondrakker

    Four stars.
    Good piece…..BUT >>>
    Was the container
    AN URN…hence the unscrewing of the lid
    OR……A Casket ??? Hmmmmmmm
    Perhaps a casket shaped urn with a screw on lid??
    Would appreciate clarity here Ooonah !1
    I do like the piece tho.
    Thnx $ sharing….

  • vondrakker

    My typo should read

    Thnx 4 sharing !!

  • Sarah

    This one lacked flow, but was better on the 2nd reading (familiarity adds fluency.. but is this really the goal?)

  • For me, this story raised a lot more questions than it answered.

    The narrator says he (or she?) was one of only two invited to the funeral proceedings, and was a friend of the old captain, but didn’t know the deceased well. Even though at the end the deceased was revealed as the Captain’s love? That felt odd that he (or she?) could be a friend and not know the deceased. Not impossible, of course, but odd.

    The old Captain recites secular language at the funeral, but mutters under his breath that he has faith, or at least hope that there is something more in the universe than science. Was that because he had a conversion to faith at the end, or was it because his love was a secularist and he wasn’t, or was he a closet believer, or something else?

    Twisting the lid, and later using the word casket felt very strange. I had a picture of a funerary jar in my mind at the beginning, and then “casket” appeared. Could be used that way, I guess, but still….

    Finally, who was his love? Wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, dog?

    I guess it’s okay to leave a lot of questions on the table, but I’d have liked a bit more resolution, even in a short piece like this. Three stars…

  • Nicely written Oonah, enjoyed it.

  • Oonah V Joslin

    To me Jim, A fellow fisherman could well NOT know a wife/partner whatever… The issue is about loss yes but not the loss of the loved one – the loss rather of a lifetime’s belief in secularism so does matter who the loved one is? The resolution here is that he faces up to his doubts. He finishes the secular rite. Says goodbye.

  • Mark

    It’s always possible to have issues with minor points of a story, but I loved the theme of this one. So many of us want to stick to logic and reason in relating to our lives and the world around us, but there’s something in the human consciousness that whispers, begs and sometimes screams that there must be something more. I think Oohan was pitch perfect here.

  • I love the ambiguity of the lover’s gender and the equality ambiguous nature of the Captain’s secularism when faced with this loss.

  • Hmm..I thought this was quite dull, I had to skim all of the captain’s description – there was nothing to grab onto and it all seemed pretty meaningless. I liked the ending though. That was interesting.

  • For me this was one of those stories that rewards careful, multiple readings (knowing Oonah is a poet I went into it with that in mind).

    In the end I found it quite lovely. A rather understated take on a familiar conflict – too often the tension between secularism and spirituality is painted in broad, garish strokes. Four stars for a thought-inspiring read.

  • Oonah V Joslin

    Thanks to all of you for reading and for your comments. It’s getting on for bedtime here.

    Vondrakker – that is just what I had in mind in fact 🙂

    Sorry Binnie that you found it dull.

    Nick – thanks for the poetic largesse – much appreciated.

    EDF thanks once more.
    Night night

  • I, too, had to read this piece several times. the poetry of the language obscured some of the meaning at first. The ending surprised me because I didn’t sense that the captain was burying a beloved person. Perhaps some forshadowing of that earlier in the story would have made the ending less of a surprise and more satisfying. I also had some problems with the nit-picky stuff–casket subbed for urn ( do you relly unscrew the lid of an urn–not sure.)
    Overall, a lovely story that requires some thought-and that’s great!

  • Thought-provoking and ambitious, but as far as a cohesive story goes this piece falls a bit short.

    I felt that the implications of the last line needed to be introduced and expanded throughout the piece.

    A pleasantly-poetic read though.

  • fishlovesca

    Well I rather liked it, the rich language suited the occasion. Except for the few technical glitches mentioned earlier, I thought it was a fine story.

    Four stars.

  • Some simply beautiful language here — Very lovely weaving of words, Oonah.

    I also liked the reference to the moon being closer and the days being shorter in the far-distant past. True, and it makes a poetic reference to the vastness of time.

    OK, I did stumble a bt over the urn/casket thing, and shared some of Jim’s impression that the scene left some unanswered character questions.

    But the basic ‘secular knowledge vs. belief in God’ issue that I got out of the scene is ultimately the largest question of life itself, and I thought that was addressed beautifully and poignantly in such a short piece. And for me — untypically, since I tend to prefer more clear-cut pieces — I thought that with such a large question as a backdrop, the character questions somehow only added to the mood and impact of the story.

  • Oonah V Joslin

    Thank you all for your comments. Wonderful feedback and much appreciate.

  • Sheila Cornelius

    Too hard for me

  • This is beautiful. 5 stars. I’d like it if something like this could be read at my cremation/scattering.

  • There are a few lose ends here. They have been pointed out. I did not find the story satisfying, but that’s okay. What bothers me is that I do not know why I did not find the story satisfying. The best way for me to explain how I feel is that the story seemed fragmented, put together to make a point instead of being an organic whole. That says everything and nothing at the same time, I know.

  • JenM

    I didn’t enjoy this very much, but that may be because I’ve just been to a funeral earlier in the week.

  • Oonah V Joslin

    I understand the various reactions. I have bought my funeral already and will be scattered at sea. I suppose I was thinking how that would be done exactly when I wrote this. I still wonder… Do they do it with some words or just dump your ashes? Anyone know?