The Dead

by Kei Miller 

are only bones and wide
              acres of empty.

              They live
underground; they are, in fact, the ground –  
              the leave by which we walk.

Or else they live in air; they are here
             right now. You might feel them
                          as a sudden draught of winter,
                          a shock of cold against your back.

They are summoned by candles, or by sage,
             or by the holding of hands in a circle –
             whose centre holds the chalk of their names.

Sometimes, they break the frames that hold
             their photographs.

Sometimes, they play pranks by moving
             furniture, the armchairs they once sat in.

             Sometimes they just walk the streets,
                         on J’Ouvert morning, for instance.

Come evening, they raise their thumbs on highways,
             always seeking a ride home. For they

are constant roamers.
             Their roaming lasts exactly nine nights.
                         Or else, 40. Or else, eternity.

They visit us in our dreams.

And they are obsessed with counting. They count each grain
            of thrown salt until morning comes
            and they disappear

to ride in low-swinging chariots. Or on the backs of turtles.

            In the beginning, it is said, there were two turtles.
            One carried the moon; the other carried the dead.
            They plunged deep into the water
            but only the one with the moon resurfaced.

They follow Bin dir Woor who is the first of the dead –
            who having scared away a great bat
            from the forbidden tree
            brought death into the world.

They have returned to the Great Wheel and are waiting
            to be reborn.

They are weighed against feathers.

They are littered across the galaxies.

They live in the stars.
            They are, in fact, the stars. They hold council in the heavens.

They haunt the living. No. They are haunted by the living.

And they are rarely seen, but can be
            if you rub the gunk from a dog’s eyes
            into your own, or if you part your legs and bend over
            to look through the archway of yourself.

They rest in paradise. Or in Power. Or in Peace.
            Light perpetual shines on them.

They are our most certain future.
            And they are always remembered.
            And they are always forgotten.


Poem copyright 2023 by Kei Miller. All rights reserved.

See two more poems from Kei Miller debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: The Subaltern Dreams of Big,”  and  “A Mathematical Problem I Have Been Unable To Solve.”

Read more in this issue: Interview | Critical Essay | Writing Prompt

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