A Curious Etymology
Did you know the English word /morgue/ came to us from the Archaic French
verb /morguer/: to look solemnly? At one time, at the Grand Châtelet / in Paris /
on the Seine, below the streets / below the courts / below the police, you
could descend to the basement / the lowest level / la basse-geôle and peer through
open wrought iron grating in an aged, heavy oak door, more functional / less elaborate,
than the ornately carved cedar one at the entry portal of the courts. Through that grill,
you would glimpse the bodies, stripped bare / they don’t know any different / strewn
about recklessly / they’re dead, aren’t they? / on the unkempt stone floor, on display,
for the staff to confirm death, for the public to identify / to recognize / to call out
for a beloved. In a stumble towards decency, to avoid bad humors / to quench a stench,
they moved those souls to more solemn accommodations at the place du Marché-Neuf
on the Ile-de-la-Cité, to a grand exhibit hall all their own with an obscene expanse of glass
to accommodate the growing crowd. Each body was given its own marble pedestal
with a constant drip of cold water to preserve the mass of tissue and fascia; clothing
neatly displayed behind / amid fragrant blooms of orange trees, jonquils, jasmine,
and muscadine roses. Built in the Greek tradition for its own peculiar purpose, La Morgue,
was fashioned as an architectural splendor, a government efficiency where bodies caught
in the nets at St. Cloud easily arrive by boat, a hygienic achievement where scientists determine
when the soul had departed, a spiritual temple at which community could pray for these lost
as they gazed, and, maybe, identify a singular body or – always one for spectacle, always one
for show – all of us voyeurs, may examine our own intentions, even admit a morbid curiosity.
Curious etymology indeed. Such fascinating, vivid description!
Dude. Again. You are on fire.
So dense, the use of language(s) so “expertly” appropriated, this could be a page from an encyclopedia, only…
you’ve made it poetry. Sincere and thought-provoking poetry. Gut-wrenching, visceral visuals (invoking emotions) in lock step with the airy intellectual.
No, Jay, I didn’t know that. But now I do, presented in compelling detail. I shall not forget!