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The Dead Can’t Dance

ISSUE:  Spring 1999

The dead do not watch us sleep, don’t lay
their palms on our soft-sweatered shoulders and think
of the blood there, or listen, or leaf through our loosely-locked
diaries. They don’t spin wildly the dials
of car radios, don’t give us dreams. Like the ghosts

pictured in children’s books, they’re dull grey smudges
like careless erasures, and they wander
vaguely across dropped leaves, through hillsides
and woodsheds and houses left bolted and cold
for the season. Their skimmed-milk limbs might flicker

through brass bowls filled with false apples, antique
sterling brushes we’ve laid out on dressers, but they’ll leave
no traces for us in the dust; and when
they walk, limp-soled shoes make a whisking we hear,
if at all, as mouse-rustles or wrens’ feet or silence’s static.

A mournful-eyed girl might wake prickly from bed
and tip-toe to peer out a white-curtained window,
but the moon and the yoked and narrated stars
hold no message from them: to the toothless dead,
who do not cling, and hence have no stake in time passing,

pattern is moot, with its roots in return, repeat,
expectation. The dead have no rhythm,
no bones for percussion and no ears for rhyme,
no throats to say please or because or forgiveness
—Do you hear me?—Nobody’s Father will read this.


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