960 Readings

Corpse Flowers and Grackles

Their cries want to be something else—the shrill of brakes, a crooked
cop’s static, the thump of a convict’s body off Highway I
down outcroppings of pink granite. Years ago you heard them

in Greenwood, Mississippi.
The sky’s wrinkled cornflower—the blue

of your aunt’s prison nurse pantsuit. Her stubborn refusal to name
anything: her two mean mutts called Hey Dog!, her half-Persian cat,
Little Girl. Even the stringy pot plants sagged

like battered palms between oaks, ignored.
What couldn’t be ignored: the story of her son

shooting a man outside a bar in Jackson, the scent
of the corpse flower—its tropic rot. Her library filled with world records,
medical oddities. Your sister and you decide the biggest
flower in the world is enough

to hold buckets of dead birds, a body stashed in Sumatra, or a cousin
who’d crawl inside the flower to escape. The smell
must be ground-fall festering. Who ever thought the afterlife

could smell like this? In the garden of paradise
the grackle dancing looks like a dead bird—
neck snapped back—they offer this ritual everywhere,

unhindered by traffic, black ballets in the spear grass.
Decide: grackles are better at being grackles
than being resurrections of your grandparents, for who would have ghosts utterly

uninterested in the living, ones that make such noise? Now, you are uncertain
about the scent of the corpse flower, whether it reeks

from standing water, a dark bird dunked in its fetid basket,
or its own body, its own body that, when it opens,
lets everything in.

Posted 02/22/09
"Corpse Flowers and Grackles" was first published in Diner.
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