Self-Portrait as Playlists

K. E. Ogden

1. In the Morning

My hands do not belong to my body. They reach to touch Mother’s shoulders. I am prepared to bleed: the rude half-light working me every night at 3:34 am. City lights, helicopters and cheap blinds. And storm too. It takes the light out of the room. Takes me back home.

I’d run my hands inside the rib cages of other people.

When Mama died it was two days after my birthday. The woman on the phone said “Marla Gregg is dead.” Like that.

Thunder road. Mama’s fingerprints in the tops of all those biscuits. Hands bigger than her whole body at the end of it all.

2. Pink Lemonade & Pulled Pork Sandwiches

Daddy used to cup his hands at my ear so I could hear the ocean. Every time the world stops, something is lost. Breath. Skin. Memory.

A field of dogs shouts at the moths in the trees. Empty skynight. A pig is buried in a pit and we’re standing around with cans of Bud.

Pull off one wing and then another. No blood. The names for sadness: a mechanical butterfly caught in a jar, and if you press this button it will push again and again against the glass.

And these are the synonyms for grief: door, dirt, macaroni salad, whiskey, cigarettes, shovel, biscuits, pine logs, fried chicken, cigarette smoke.

I open the door and beneath the door, beneath that space in the door, dust and bird wings don’t. No Gravity. People speak in thought balloons.

Daddy said you die when your heart starts beating. He said each day that begins with darkness is a good one.

3. For a Night When I am Experiencing Wanderlust and Wearing No Shoes

When Daddy died I didn’t know how else to—I love you. A mud-caked Ford, black-top stretched out through a pockmarked and lightning-stricken windshield.

Two hours across the state line to the oldest Baptist Church in Mississippi. Pile out. Honeybun wrappers and cola bottles. Daddy’s arm around me. Daddy talking out loud to her tombstone: my girl, Mama.

Mostly I go home for funerals.

4. Untitled

When Daddy died I was swimming with sharks in the Galapagos. I surprised myself by singing underwater. I write an X on my wrists when I need to stay alive.

Were his eyes green like mine? If I could say something else I would say: X.

The last time I saw Daddy was in June. I curled into his body and laid my head on his chest.

My daddy sang: Hello. It’s a wonderful day; it’s your birthday.

I move my body toward the plume cloud as it dissipates. His death: the way bat wings curl and the body gets chalky. The body stiff and rubbery.

Just inches from an open window. Daddy cut down trees and hauled them to the mill. He came home with pine dust in his chest hair. He hung the sun.

5. Songs for a Eulogy

I pick up fallen feathers and stick them into the nest on my head. I hold frames to faces to place them into museums. A gaggle of girls dances on a floor. They become invisible playing with each other’s fingers: collar bones framed in stained glass-light, their bodies curled against funhouse colors.

Blackens the sky.

I drink to say thank you or I hate you or go away or love me, please.

I pour a bit of myself onto each grave.

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