1) Breathe in deeply, exhale entirely. Refuse to inhale.
2) Make a list of people who must be notified. Imagine what you’d really like to say to them. Afterward, next to each name on the list, note what the deceased would really like to say to them. When you begin to hear what the departed has to say to you, lie down in its purity and wash yourself; do not soil the moment with reply or pity or sorrow. Later, compile the notes from your list into a prose poem sequence and call it Ghost Gossip.
3) Apply to the county recorder’s office for copies of the death certificate. Include the appropriate fees and be sure the application is filled out accurately and completely, signed in black ink. Upon receipt of said certificates, disburse as necessary to banks, insurance companies, pension managers, and other parties who will grudgingly trade the news for money.
4) Think of staring into nothingness as sleep.
5) Obsessively collect candles of every sort. Invent elaborate rituals for lighting and extinguishing, according to day of the week and month of the year.
6) Recall the body of the dead. With eyes closed, examine it carefully, allowing any thought to form or float by; having concluded sufficient examinations such that memory begins to blur, embrace the body as you would your own life. Then, release.
7) Crying is permitted only under the following conditions: a) Empathetic feeling for another’s experience of loss; b) Fussing and doting over pets; c) Pressing need to fill the hole with something, anything.
BECAUSE THE PLOVERS RETURNED FOR SPRING by Michael Dwayne Smith For Bonnie Ann
Because you kiss me like a gateway drug Because delicious Because everything blooms without thinking Because the one of us with a cold will give it to the other Because of hawk and wren and sparrow in your eyes Because of lemons asleep in our windowsill Because animals trust you Because the blueberries you brought me are thirsty for milk Because the clarity of laughter Because our dogs sleep like happy toddlers Because of fire, and orchids Because you left me and I died and you came back and I left you and you cried but then you released me and I said but I will choose you forever again and you said okay me too Because the sun, the moon, eclipse and light Because a beautiful son Because hope is not a bird but a bird’s call Because your shock-red hair makes people stop and use the word “love” Because the button of your jeans is the standard-bearer of creation Because we tried to scare each other away with lies but couldn’t Because I hear the mockingbird in our yard singing I-know-you-are but-what-am-I? I-know-you-are but-what-am-I? Because the breath of horses on your neck Because coyote scruff, and compassion without purpose Because we have old secrets pressed between us Because our cats purr like happy ghosts Because we trust beyond desire and wake up in love Because the plovers returned for spring to nest in our shade
SPRING AUBADE by Michael Dwayne Smith
Mute geese the taper of northern migration. The estranged know the moon is full every night.
Morning sheen is ice. What does it matter, this dictionary of spring.
Leaves pressed against definitions. Loneliness is a season, a woman’s name, a long thaw.
About the Author: Michael Dwayne Smith is a multiple Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee; he’s received both the Hinderaker Award for poetry and the Polonsky Prize for fiction. His work appears in many fine journals and anthologies, such as Chiron Review, burntdistrict, The Cortland Review, Word Riot, San Pedro River Review, Stone Highway Review, Monkeybicycle, decomP, and >kill author. Michael is publisher/editor of Mojave River Press & Review and lives near a Mojave Desert ghost town with his wife and rescued animals.
STARLING by Brianna Pike For Roger and Beth Young
This morning I shot a starling straight from the sky. The shiny, black bastard drove the sparrows and wrens from your carefully kept feeders, then strutted about the branches of our old apple tree.
You do not approve, Beth. Your gentle soul gives grace to all creatures, even your sisters who just arrived. You are pouring tea as I walk around the front of our house, shotgun resting over my right shoulder.
Three sisters swoop down on your small frame, pulling at your arms, pressing against your back. Their cackling disrupts our quiet home, dark eyes move over our stone floors,
pine paneled walls, and the small, cast iron stove smoking away in the corner. You look away, your eyes light, but your mouth a thin, rigid line slicing your face in two.
As the youngest you bear their burden, the blame for lost children and broken husbands. With each passing summer they move farther from you, carrying their judgment in packed bags,
buried beneath silk stockings and picture frames. Their misery will grow like your carefully tended lilies, and you, my love, will suffer. But for now, you will serve sweet tea and yellow
cake. You will forgive, slip me a quick smile as all four of you come round back, talking peonies, and oriental poppies, just in time to watch me string the starling up high, a warning
to his flock. As I descend from our tree, three sets of eyes meet mine, uncertain in the harsh summer sun. They move to bird’s broken black body, swaying. My warning is also clear.
First published in The New Plains Review, Fall 2013
FORSYTHIA by Brianna Pike
This summer, my father buried my bay pony beneath the forsythia. Earlier that fall, she lost her love: our old black gelding laid down one frigid morning, stretched his nose toward the sun and died, soon to be hauled out back to clusters of yellow blooms.
I imagine their carcasses meeting beneath my feet, their flanks brushing, quiet whispers when coarse hair meets coarse hair. Black manes and tails streaked with white, twining together like thick roots. I wonder if they will see our labrador, her coat the color of black olives, or my first cat, an ornery longhair who dug his claws into human hands.
A burial ground below my mother’s favorite shrub, a collection of rotting hides and bones feeding the lilies above. Our black gelding used to stretch his neck over the plank board fence and nip tender buds of forsythia, chewing the fresh green shoots.
First published in Glassworks, Spring 2015
STARGAZER by Brianna Pike
I have gazed into the night, wandered her vastness, communed with spirits she harnessed in the stars. I do not fear Orion’s arrows. Great Bear’s claws do not menace, and as much as I strain, I cannot hear Lyre’s notes. They are merely stories, legends hurled from the heavens.
Do not pray. Do not send offerings up to the night. Fish and flying horses have nothing to give. Their light cannot be captured in jars. I have tried. They will fade, vanish when a brighter light breaks. And I will have to shield my eyes and turn away.
First published in Rust + Moth, Autumn 2013
About the Author: Brianna Pike is an Associate Professor of English at Ivy Tech Community College. She received her MA from the University of North Texas and her MFA from Murray State University. Her poems have appeared in Bread & Beauty, Glassworks, Gravel, Heron Tree, and Mojave River Review among others. She lives in Indianapolis with her husband. She blogs at https://briannajaepike.