Dead Center

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In the half-lit rooms of the afterlife my stepbrother does business
    as usual. His hand slaps the table, he shouts Hell, no. No one
knows what he’s talking about. My stepsister, still looking like
    Lauren Bacall, smokes a cigarette in the doorway. Her son
watches Key Largo over and over on video, his head a little leaky
    where he shot himself. Mother ignores them. They’re not hers.
She rides her exercise bicycle and sings hymns. My sister-in-law,
    happy to be feeling no pain, dials on her cordless phone.
Grandmother arranges roses and preaches. Aunt Anne’s stretched
    out on the bed calling for someone to talk to. Aunt Maggie’s
in the kitchen canning peaches. The uncles sit together, hearing aids
    turned off. No one bothers my father, rereading the paper
in his big chair. They try to stay occupied, otherwise things get too
    dead. Sometimes they gather in the kitchen, pour a few drinks
and joke around. The party goes on for days, like one of their wakes.
    I hear them in the distance. Then I have to touch someone--
my lover, my daughter. I have to say something out loud.


First published in River City; also a finalist for Marlboro Poetry Prize. Copyright © Beverly Burch.

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