My mother married a man who divorced her for money. Phyllis, he would say, If you don’t stop buying jewelry, I will have to divorce you to keep us out of the poorhouse. When he said this, she would stub out a cigarette, mutter something under her breath. Eventually, he was forced to divorce her. Then, he died. Then she did. The man was not my father. My father was buried down the road, in a box his other son selected, the ashes of his third wife in a brass urn that he will hold in the crook of his arm forever. At the reception, after his funeral, I got mean on four cups of Lime Sherbet Punch. When the man who was not my father divorced my mother, I stopped being related to him. These things are complicated, says the Talmud. When he died, I couldn’t prove it. I couldn’t get a death certificate. These things are complicated, says the Health Department. Their names remain on the deed to the house. It isn’t haunted, it’s owned by ghosts. When I die, I will come in fast and low. I will stick the landing. There will be no confusion. The dead will make room for me.
Copyright © 2020 by Richard Siken. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 4, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
There are never any suicides in the quarter among people one knows No successful suicides. A Chinese boy kills himself and is dead. (they continue to place his mail in the letter rack at the Dome) A Norwegian boy kills himself and is dead. (no one knows where the other Norwegian boy has gone) They find a model dead alone in bed and very dead. (it made almost unbearable trouble for the concierge) Sweet oil, the white of eggs, mustard and water, soap suds and stomach pumps rescue the people one knows. Every afternoon the people one knows can be found at the café.
This poem is in the public domain.