Poetry: The Other Dead

11/25/2009 4:00 AM |

The Other Dead

The summer my mother
grew algae in the arch
of a single red high-heel,
I got my first kiss
and listened
to my father’s dream-

the one where
the whale refuses to eat him
and he’s forced
to roll dice with the wind,
so he hops a bus
headed south
’til he runs into
his dead mother
who pats his bottom
and buys him a snow-cone.

Cherry. Cherry. Cherry,
he says,
but she can’t hear him
for the sound
of the clouds
moving the other dead around:

Dead Joe. Dead Michael.
Dead Harriet.

And so,
my father says,
I pour myself
a glass of milk and leave

but I do not know
if he is still talking
about his dream
or if it is something else
entirely, because I am 11

and have just been kissed
and my mother
is growing algae
in her red high-heel,
and seeing an orthopedist
who brings me pink roses
and all I can think of

is being under the stairs
with Nathan Clark’s
mouth on mine
and how I said,
mmm, because I’d seen it
in the movies,
and I slipped my tongue
between his skinny lips
and he said nothing.

We wondered when
the other six and a half
minutes would run up
until the end when
all we tasted were our
own mouths.

I walked back
to my house
that I remember
as paper
though I’m sure
it was brick or stone
or wood and my mother

was crying because
the orthopedist
was screwing a nurse,
she said,
then explained
that screwing is when
grown-ups kiss.

So I divided
a slice of chocolate pie
between the two of us,
and she said,

over and over,
chocolate. Chocolate. Chocolate.

Nicole Callihan’s poems, stories, and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in
Painted Bride Quarterly, InDigest, cream city review, and La Petite Zine. She was a finalist for the Iowa Review‘s Award for Literary Nonfiction and was named Notable Reading for Best American Non-required Reading. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter and teaches at New York University. You can find out far too much about her at thebluepitcher.com.