Vigor Mortis

by C. W. Johnson

My mother was dead for much of my childhood.
Sometimes it was for just an afternoon,
lying underfoot in the kitchen.
We'd prop her up at the table, or in a closet.
Sometimes it stretched into weeks, until
she began to smell and we buried
her in the garden,
my sister and I tugging her 
body on my little red wagon.
Father suggested the woods, or a nice cremation,
her ashes seasoning the sea. 
But I insisted she would be more comfortable in the backyard.
Sister got quite good at funeral oration, stuffed
animals and plastic action figures as mourners
while father watched like a 
moon from the upstairs window.
After a while mother got tired of being dead.
She would pick herself up off the floor,
or brush off the dirt from the garden and come inside
smelling like ditchwater.
I'd find muddy footprints on the 
kitchen floor, and mother cooking
beef stew with lots of onions.
After dinner she'd grab me and tickle me
and swing me up and up until 
I laughed so hard I couldn't breathe.
But in a month or two she would be 
dead again, wearing her gown of dirt.
After the divorce she planned to liven up, 
said she'd learn canasta and take up zydeco. 
Instead she mouldered in front of the TV,
her only exercise the phone calls reciting 
her troubles like a script. It was all my father, 
she said, he drowned her in the toilet, 
left a cobra in her jewelry box. And now,
now my sister insists mother is dead. 
The telephone's been quiet as a coffin, 
and last year sister bought a headstone, 
but I say, any moment she'll open her eyes, 
spit out the worms, 
and shake off the earth once more.

C. W. Johnson has trained in physics, mathematics, and poetry, and his poems have appeared in Stone Telling, Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, The New Delta Review, The Chiron Review, and other places. He grew up eating fresh-from-the-tree oranges and apricots from his grandparent's California farm, most days he has a banana for breakfast and an apple for lunch, but what he remembers most fondly is the electric shock of flavor from biting into a perfectly ripe peach.

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