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Poem to Line My Casket with, Ramona

Come practice your whorish gestures in the graveyard, Ramona.
Come sharpen your teeth on the tombstones.
Cough up the roots if you know what’s good for you.
When coyotes are teaching their young to howl,
ghoulies rehearse the Courtship of Wristbones.
When you hear clawing at the square of styrofoam
serving as a window in the caretaker’s shack,
then you must count each step going up to the mausoleum,
and my ghost will appear in the churchyard.
He’ll kiss the back of your knee in the moonlight.
These are not promises, but eerie enough, regardless.
You must count out loud, Ramona, the steps,
because this is the time to watch what eats you.
I used to love the way the wind whistled through your teeth
when you drove the back roads, above your legal limit.
I used to have these poses. They turned into habits.
I used to love the folks that loved me.
And they’ve been sad ones, my years since being dead.
And they’ve been coming, the folks who claim to love me.
And I hardly recognize myself. There aren’t mirrors, as such.
The drum section rattles it out, down by the high school.
I hear them, or is it the caretaker drunk in his wheelbarrow?
You used to play the wheelbarrow, I recall.
You used to wash your underwear in the sink.
Above ground, the wind whistles through the tombstones.
Below ground, the wind sleeps and has colors.
Below ground, colors are how I dream of making my comeback.
There’s a difference between
a white dress and the white dress.
You used to strip off the white dress in a highly professional manner.
You used to dangle the remote, and I’d come get it.
You used to skip church. You used to skip dinner parties.
Now you’ve been seen hoisting condoms from the pharmacy.
There are twelve condoms to a pack. A pack of lovers mills outside your door.
A pack of the dead are heading toward the showers.
A pack of dead lovers is referred to as "a creep" of dead lovers.
More than one dead lover is weeping. But oh, how it was me who loved you then.
You with your cracked lips, with your love and your otherdefilements kept alive in a bucket.
When I first died, I stole a lock of your hair while you slept.
Now I dip it in ink when the mood strikes,
and the times you visit and kneel so pretty on the grass above me,
that’s not scratching you hear. It’s writing.

Originally published in the Summer 2000 issue of Boston Review

--Josh Bell



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