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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 hes 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. Theyre 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 Annes stretched
out on the bed calling for someone to talk to. Aunt Maggies
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.