Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsFall 2022  Vol. 21  No. 2
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Playing Dead
Sometimes when I catch these people I can have a little fun with it. I will take a video
confession, and I’ll say from behind the camera, ‘You’re not dead are you?’ To which they
tend to reply: “No, no, I’m not dead.”

—Steve Rambam, private investigator specializing in pseudocide

First, relax. Pretend you can feel the earth
press down on you in darkness as you lie.
Try counting how long you can hold your breath
until sleep heals the gashes of your eyes.

That’s me, pressing down on you as you lie,
tucking your blankets taut at either end.
Once sleep has healed the gashes of your eyes
and your lids twitch, it’s easy to pretend

the pressure of my tucking either end
is greater than the snugness of the grave.
It’s easy math. You’ll twitch, and I’ll pretend
to mourn you as a bored gravedigger might have—

head bowed in smug respect beside your grave.
You’ll see. Asleep, you’ll sink into a dream
of another morning digging graves that have
the smoothness of a surface without seams.

Then, you’ll see them sink into your dream—
the dead who swear they’re not dead. Even those
whose faces have melted smooth will start to seem
to titter in the dust like song sparrows.

You’ll swear you’re not dead, too, but even those
who hear you won’t believe the cries you make
mean much. Can you decode the song of sparrows?
You’ll keep insisting there’s been some mistake.

You won’t believe their rusty cries. You’ll make
a last attempt to claw out of the earth.
You’ll keep insisting, but there’s no mistake.
Try counting how long you can hold your breath.  

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