It rained cottonmouths for 30 days after you died.
They wore proud boots and took over the streets,
slithered and kicked through the steel-plated doors.
They sat coiled or casually drooped in your special recliner.
They ate the last Tyson’s chicken in Arkansas—they did!
and then ravaged the okra and bean patches out back.
Then they took the tomatoes and purple-hull peas,
cutting a swath like Sherman’s army marching to sea.
Their white mouths turned a deep heliotrope purple.
We plied them with offerings of heavy red wine
and they turned all purple and died. We swept snakeskins
for weeks. Next the bats came, echolocating what we
humans heard only as a series of slight erratic clicks.
We developed a decoder that could read bat-tongue for us
and learned that they repeated through the walls a gossip chorus:
“You know he heard the wind chimes just before he died, a music
that played so hauntingly on the listening ears of time.”
We banged every pot and pan in the house like a marching band
starting off a Fourth of July parade with John Philip Sousa’s brass
until they gave up their roost, a lonely, leaning excuse for a chimney.
When finally we wept and muttered a flood of desolate words
over your cavernous deep rhombus in the earth, a dark hole really,
an aunt we barely knew said to me, “Give me your last skinny-back
wishbone hug and tell us how thin we’ve become.”
Pamela Sumners is a constitutional and civil rights lawyer born and bred in Birmingham, Alabama. Her work has been published or recognized by 30 journals or publishing houses in the US, the UK, and Ireland in 2018 and 2019. She was selected for inclusion in 2018’s 64 Best Poets, and she has been nominated for 2019’s 50 Best Poets. She was nominated for a 2018 Pushcart Prize. She now lives in St. Louis with her family, which includes three rescue hounds who think eyeglasses are a food group.
Really fascinating imagery in this that captures the bizarre and surreal feeling that seems to walk hand in hand with grief.