What the Dead Do (after Marie Howe) Angele Ellis
“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is a choice.”
John, you stayed everywhere but in your body, leaving your sister this riddling wisdom.
And the virus that colonized you captured my old friend Louis—“visiting” in Syracuse
when he told his mother, Don’t worry, Ma, it’s alright, his last words bleeding into coma.
It’s summer again: the clouds a soft, reflective white, and the sunlight lies on them
like some screening-room version of heaven, but my window’s fogged up, I can’t open it.
For weeks now, writing bills or stumbling with numbed feet into puddles, breaking,
I’ve been thinking: this is what the dead do for us. My hot-coffee tears run and run,
but I refuse to display their ropy stains like Victorian mourning jewelry,
pinned pathetically to my breast—not when you and Louis and the others went
into the fathomless night like that: planning, insisting that your lives were happy.
This is it. Yes. You gave up yearning, as I will learn to do when losses burn too deep.
Hershey’s kiss, melting like sweet tar, baptizing us from sole to crown.
Waiting. Waiting for that call, bright rings signaling an ice cream van or a lover.
But there are moments, pacing, when I catch a glimpse of someone in the spotted mirror,
say, like a window into isolation, and I’m gripped by wonder
at the young men that you were, always will be, and I’m speechless:
you are dead. But your breath fills the air.
Angele Ellis—like Rod Serling, born in Syracuse—is a New Yinzer due to several alterations in the time stream. Her work has appeared on a theatre marquee (after winning Pittsburgh Filmmakers’ G-20 Haiku Contest), as well as in over fifty publications and ten anthologies. She is author of Arab on Radar (Six Gallery), whose poems earned her an Individual Artist Fellowship from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and Spared (A Main Street Rag Editors’ Choice Chapbook).