Feeding The Dead by M. Brett Gaffney

(originally published in the Fall 2014 issue of BlazeVOX)

Her name is Maria, comida.
They eat her a little at a time.

She likes to be needed, to feel her blood
ebb and flow from their mouths,
tongues like whales lost at sea.

She travels with them, a shadow,
city to city, sneaking them pockets
of herself on the train, offering
her slender wrists
like holy bread in taxi cabs.

Over time her face pales like the sugar
skulls on the streets of Culiacan,
where her father told her stories
of monsters who stole women
for their beauty, warm lips. Papa
she’d say, that won’t happen to me.

But Maria, comida dulce, never knew
creatures this grateful, humble
in asking her to be theirs,
blood-companion, their sated sighs
like a river flowing its waters down
down to thirsty children in villages
forever burning,
such fire-teeth.

They are her children and her
guides. This new life—a tinderbox.

Oh, papa she wants to tell him
if only you could see how they need me—
more than those boys next door
with hands like clumsy vines,
skin sun-kissed and greedy
—how at night they stretch open
like wings, like stars, like hungry pups.

The smallest one, her favorite,
asks her if she misses home
and its holidays, autumn always
a hard season, the hiding months.
Maria braids the girl’s hair and sings,
lets the question slip to dawn.

Sometimes she wants to light candles
and dance in a dress the color
of hot candies—
Dia de los muertos,
where feeding the dead means leaving
sweets and ripe fruit in graveyards,
where our bodies are still our bodies
and we find the way back to lit houses,
windows open and bright to remind us
the darkness can only stretch so far
before we decide to leave it behind
or let it burrow within us and feast.

Maria puts her monsters to bed,
sits to lazily stir beef stew in the belly
of her bowl. She leaves it on the table,
watches the sun rise over the strange
new city, nightgown swallowing her
tiny frame. She’s never felt so fed, so full.
M. Brett Gaffney, born in Houston, Texas, holds an MFA in poetry from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and is Art Editor of Gingerbread House literary magazine. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Exit 7, Still: the Journal, Permafrost, Scapegoat Review, Rogue Agent, museum americana, Devilfish Review, BlazeVOX, Fruita Pulp, Stirring, Blue Lyra Review, and Zone 3, among others. During the Halloween season she haunts the Dent Schoolhouse in Cincinnati, Ohio where she lives with her partner and their dog, Ava.

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