The dead boy glides in front of picture windows, sometimes catching errant birds before they thud themselves to death, before they hurl themselves into/against the illusion of clear, open space. Sometimes at dusk we spy him as we try to clutch the last few moments of light before the voices of mothers and fathers and grandmothers rupture the silence of our play, whether it be wiffle ball on the Peterson’s lawn of dandelions, batters lunging for the spin of plastic and air or the onset of lightning bugs blinking on and off as the night ushers itself in like a dark, fuzzy blanket—before those voices of authority rope us in for stringy roast beef and overcooked veggies, wakened from freezers then boiled.
The dead boy’s parents no longer call him in for dinner. They know he feeds on the change of day into night, spring into fall, childhood into a temporary, but eternal, future of acne, hair and breast growth, the general humiliation of the body.
The dead boy gurgles soft and low. He calls no one on purpose except for the birds: to those he snares before he sets them loose to the sky, the true opening of worlds; and to the occasional one he misses even with his elastic arms no longer bound by sockets and joints, even with his daredevil dives that put television highlights to shame. The message is always the same, to both sets of birds. Your song never ends in the universe as long as you remember to open your beak and breathe.
The dead boy’s older sister babysits for me, my little brother, and half the neighborhood.
She plays music that buries itself under my skin … and itches: static-charged LPs by evil-eyed men leaping on top of screaming keyboards; black and bad bluesmen who smoke their chooglin’ guitars; big mama jamas and their barrelhouse pianos who take no lip from the likes of me.
The dead boy is another story. He puts no platters on the record player, turns it on anyway, and lowers his ear to the spinning hum, which cause his lips to crack into a mockery of a smile, his capped teeth glowering like a great white shark.
The dead boy’s sister refuses to recite to us. It’s true we’ve been able to read ourselves for years. But we love her soft, breathy tones that stroke our ears like finely spun cotton candy. And I love the crinkle in her throat. She’s so soft, the music so hard.
The dead boy never thinks anything is hard. He is the resurrection and the light in his parents’ eyes, who are so grateful, minute by minute, breath by breath, that the dead boy refuses burial, remains at home, skulking in closets, juggling dust balls, and moaning like Muddy Waters into the clean sheets he never uses.
The dead boy serves a mean tea party. His guests, who stumble and stub their toes against the table legs, are mostly abandoned dolls he scavenges in alleys brimming with trash and leftovers, left out for the dead boy’s pleasure. Then, too, he uncovers them in dust-strewn garages among jewelry of paste and glass, the slanted light through gray, cracked windows piercing the pale blues and the tacky reds. This makes the dead boy’s eyes dance in their sockets. He does not see the rays, but senses them like a motion detector protecting your house from crimes and those crusted ones who commit them.
His doll-guests sometimes turn out in crusty dresses of their own. With one arm he pours, with the other he picks off flecks of cake and spit up set for years in their outfits. They come off like scabs, ones that feel so delicious as they leave the body, a tiny flake at a time, revealing the pink bed of skin, what lies beneath an advent calendar window.
Special thanks to contest judge Kimiko Hahn, whose most recent poetry collection is The Narrow Road to the Interior (W.W. Norton, 2006). BOMB congratulates the recipients of honorable mentions: Ravi Shankar and Megin Jimenez.