I make a seasonal Spotify playlist every season, which is to say I have for the past 6 years1. Every fall I try to get some good Halloween vibes into the thing. This year’s got enough Spooky Bluegrass for the algorithms to notice and start recommending it, and that somehow took me to this rendition of The Hearse Song.

Do you know the song? Apparently it dates back to World War I. You may remember its stirring chorus:

The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out.
The worms play pinochle on your snout.
They eat your eyes, they eat your nose.
They eat the jelly between your toes.

When I took my mother to Italy, we went to see the Capuchin crypt in Rome. Yes, it’s supposed to be a memento mori–but it seemed to me to have a different aspect of beauty to it as well. There’s something so lonely about a body rotting away on its own with only the worms for company. Even short of the beauty rendered in that place – vertebrae and scapulae put in the place of acanthus – there was something lovely about all the bones being mixed together. The whole thing only started because the Capuchins were moving and it was so unthinkable to leave the dead behind. What does it mean for a community to be buried together? I feel I can grasp at it in the case of the Capuchins–but in my own?

My paternal family has no common graveyard. My mother’s mother’s family is buried in Tacoma. My mother, father, and mother’s father will lie in a town I’ve visited many times but never called mine.

I cannot mingle my bones with the bones of the people I live among. Their remains will meet similarly disparate ends. People who’ve known each other their whole lives will be ashes mailed apart. It’s a small sadness that echoes the larger sadness of living in communities so fractured.

Us and the pinochle worms.

  1. The ~4 years before that I had a slightly less regular cadence and used Grooveshark, but those archives are lost. I’d recommend the practice for anyone who, like me, harbors a vague anxiety that their taste will calcify as they age, favoring whatever made them feel cool as a 15-year-old and missing the vibrance of the Now.