Mostly Alive

By Damen O’Brien

What did you mean when you wrote: those who

resurrect the dead, must take something of their

dying in exchange?

That question, after I’d woken to find him mumbling

and clattering in the kitchen, opening the

cupboard with numb fingers.

I did not know him, his barked

knuckles cracked with blood, his loose robe and sash.

He had been dead too long for even a necromancer’s

appetite, he had gone too far into the sun’s

glare and had come back mostly blind.

We settled to a cup of bitter tea,

his fingers slipping through the mug’s ear

and I grappled with his question under one dull

bulb within the darkened house.

We are mostly dead, aren’t we? Only somewhat alive.

There’s a whisker of interpretation in it,

consensus and a prayer,

the misting of a mirror, the tardy pulse,

the sluggish blood, the guttering of candles,

the conductor’s baton dancing on the ECG.

We’re finding new ways to compromise death,

not least memories, final romantic fling,

fanciful and unfaithful servant,

that email etched into the ether made

poor message by the boundaries of its text, nor

DNA whose staircase every beast will climb,

over the bones of their fathers,

but physics, that allows for time to be a place

to freeze into an ever-present now, where all ghosts

lean into the glass and stare into themselves

and call it new.

He laughs, a kind of graveyard laugh, all headstone and soil. 

That’s not what I mean at all.

We are not bounded by a sundial, or margined by

a door, we are not as a wave is to an ocean

where no drop is lost but who can tell

what was wave once and what was merely water,

but that’s your thing, he chides me,

drawing back his chair,

corporeal enough to scratch the polished wood,

the tea grown cold and churning in my gut,

can I influence events, knock out portents,

can I make the shot glass mark the letters on

the Ouija Board? If not, all else is mummery

and lights, enough for Tesla and for Houdini,

but when you take away the hiss

of the Big Bang making its entrance, and the gormless

gossiping of stars putting out their status updates,

the little pings of stars talking to lonely flashing stone,

what’s left is the crackle of the Dead,

desperate to get a word in edgewise,

and the speeches of the Dead

are nothing more than ham radio,

bouncing back against the shield of night.

A good image, he said, grinning as he rose,

if life is the virus and death is the cure,

then do not ask me if I’m okay,

I was never okay, I was only

fooling myself, renewing every licence,

paying every bill.

That was when I saw the figurative

rope wrapped around his neck,

and the ripe red signature

scrawled beneath both ears,

if you do not know the answer to my question,

it is because you have not written it yet.I do not write it for years.



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