Once, from Iceland to Wales
people believed that the soul
rose from the corpse
as a tiny tongue of flame—
blue for children,
yellow for adults,
sometimes in groups
foretelling how many deaths
and funerals were to come.

As in many places,
whenever someone died
all the windows would be opened
and all the knots untied
so that the soul might go free.

And if a man died in the gallows
or from suicide, his hand
might hold curative powers
like the cow-dung poultice
smeared on by not-so-
ancient women, the first
antidote for breast cancer.

Now we see the splayed jaws
of skeletons and think of screaming,
and each night I see my mother
minus the yellow tongue
no camera has ever seen.

I know that had I lived
then, I too would
have bribed the hangman
to touch the still-warm wrist
just as the last breath
was leaving, the mouth

opened wider than a grin,
wider than the open
mouth of a tunnel
from which a giant
but invisible train
was quietly rushing out.

This is a reprint of work originally published in Tar Wolf Review.

Michael Meyerhofer’s fourth book, What To Do If You’re Buried Alive, was published by Split Lip Press. He is also the author of a fantasy series and the Poetry Editor of Atticus Review. His work has appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Rattle, Brevity, Tupelo Quarterly, Ploughshares, and many other journals. For more information and an embarrassing childhood photo, visit

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