From Underwater

April 1985, I’d been dead

73 years. When they first

found me, their cameras didn’t

know what I was.  


A bloated carcass of dreams

and avarice, my helm tore

into sand, the arms of

sculptures outstretched, caressing darkness.


What am I to you,

some wrecked monster, decayed by

rust? Devoured by crabs, chipped

plates stirred into seafloor, remnants

of baby shoes, paintings, flowers?

Imagine all of their dreams.


Come and steal away everything

you can, Mr. Ballard. Be

sure to charge them, to

see my innards on display

in museums. Laugh now, at

the dust, the split staircases,

my beautiful body torn in two.


I was once gorgeous, lacquered,

glazed, plumes of smoke kissing

the night sky, until my pride

careened me into ice.

Laugh at me now. Probe

my darkest depths, unbury

me to see what went wrong.

Imagine screams, floating corsets, bodies

dancing together for all time.


One day you’ll be as me,

a lonely piece of carrion,

warped by time.

Witness to Emmett's Funeral

Today they say there’s a funeral.

It’s in the parlor on the corner,

close to the corner store where I’m headed

to pick up detergent, a Coke, maybe some cigs—

I don’t have too many plans.


My life is slow,

like my sneakers on the pavement,

light splayed through trees by my

window, the occasional chirp of birds.


I’ve never been to this parlor before.

It’s a stop on the cobblestone way,

and I’ve got nowhere to go, no rush in my steps,

only muggy heat cutting my stride.


I see hairstyles and limbs,

men dressed in tuxedos, white, black,

women in sundresses with hair curling

down their necks, clutching handkerchiefs,

their eyes red and cracked. Lines of them,

walls of flesh, faceless, circular,

backed up for miles.


Now I’m curious—why this?

Someone around me murmurs something

about a funeral for a

boy, black boy,

who they dredged up from the muddy

banks of the Tallahatchie last Tuesday,  

her roaring bed having

taken and devoured him, a black boy with

a pack of gum still in his pocket.


So I stand with them as lines

of us move on towards the parlor.

A woman, white and pockmarked,

escapes from the

inside and wails like a specter.

Her face is clouded by the

black lace of her hat. She shuffles past me

like she’s somehow embarrassed.

My face burns like shame,

like when momma switched me for

once bringing home a frog in my hands,

or hoarding pie.


We filter in like smoke,

and wind around a casket,

wooden, laced with white.

I notice the glass separating

what’s inside from the outside.

A man does not look down. He swings

past the casket like wind. Another dives

his head in close, squints like he’s trying

to find something.


I wind next to the casket. And I look down.

I don’t want to. I look down and I don’t want to.


That’s not a face. It’s driftwood collected from

a beach, gnarled by current.

That’s not a face, it’s barbed wire hugging a fence.

That’s not a face, it’s a burned book, eroded pages,

wrinkled and deformed by flame. I see no eyes,

I see no nose.

I see someone’s soul, bitten and chewed and

spit up. I see a baby wrenched from a mother.

He’s wearing a tuxedo.


Suddenly I’m outside again, engulfed in the

heat, humid and swarmed by

everyone, and I can’t escape it. I see a man with his son—

I want to hug him. I want to let him know how sorry

I am, though I hold nothing with this,  

but I am still sorry.

I think it’s time I start apologizing,

that we all start apologizing,

but everyone’s silent, except

for the birds chirping in the trees above

my head.

Ellen Shay Downum is a student of English and Psychology at Northern Arizona University, set to graduate in May of 2017. Ellen enjoys writing in all mediums of fiction, especially poetry and short stories, and hopes to continue working creatively. She spends her time frequenting cafes, wasting too much time on the internet, and hiking in the beautiful pine trees of northern Arizona.

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