Touching Death

A great grandmother, rigid, propped,

her pink gown recalling the balter of dances,

her hair white and ratted, cheeks rouged red as a fever,

mouth sewn to trap the coo of lost loves, the quack and rasp

of cigarette laughs, and her doughy, garlic heart,

pickled beneath her frame.

 

A cousin and I dared each other, plodded into the room,

to touch her dead finger. I remember the pale,

wrinkled digit, the blue vein that piped

through her thin skin like the surface of an opal.

 

And the nothing that came behind it.

No backlit choir, no stentorian chants, floor cracking

like a faultline, purgatory or perdition, trumpets or harps,

no locusts, boils, quasars

aurating through stained glass, or wax streaming

down candles like ichor,

just the feral chatter

of those left, the mumble and stammer

of living flesh.

 

I remember, too, my cousin and I later

jumping through lawn sprinkler jets,

mud pulping through toes,

and that cold ice of early spring pipes, hissing and surging

up to shock our bodies and affirm this,

the quickening we had longed for all day.

 

Ancient Astronaut Theorists Say Yes

My husband says, “Drink,”
and I scarf the sharp, hopsy brew
to the Ancient Aliens refrain,
“Ancient astronaut theorists say yes!”

Von Daniken barks in my dreams
next to the Greek man
with pine needle hair. The scholar
who says, “some kind of”
as “some coined of” warbles
his earworm inside me.

They suggest lacunas in our history
as wide as the lymph rivers
pumping through us, fissions
in our past that we have snapped
away inside a Pyrex lid.

The fancy in us loves the ridiculous,
the fantasy too, in the twee of Sunday dusks,
the deep, eager notes of the voiceover asking,
“What if? What if?”

and imagining that alien visits
explain the genius of Einstein and Tesla
and Turin, the megaliths of Giza,
that a global conspiracy connects

Area 51 with rulers from Huangdi
to Odin and solves the riddles of cattle
mutilations, crystal skulls, and crop circles,
that drifting through the frozen

plane of our consciousness, fragile,
and gossamer thin, we have known
the answer for centuries,
that as we eat our chips and sip our beer,
our eyes tight on the screen,

a space station full of our alien
cousins watch us on the dark side
of the moon, bask in our ignorance,
cheer and gulp from steins
of stardust as my husband repeats ludicrous.

Kelly Whiddon's book The House Began to Pitch, Mercer UP, was honored in 2012 with the Adrienne Bond Poetry Award. She has published poems in Crab Orchard Review, Meridian, Poetry International, The Spoon River Poetry Review, South Dakota Review, and Slipstream, among others. She has has also served as president of the Georgia Writer’s Association and on the latest Georgia Poet Laureate search committee. Whiddon is a former associate editor for the Apalachee Review and a former poetry and fiction reader for International Quarterly. Currently, as an associate professor at small university in Georgia, she teaches poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction, as well as humanities classes.
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