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
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.