The Burden of the Dead
by Jessica Freeman

How much they want us to leave them alone

for a while,

they are tired of the thrum of motorboats,
the cargo ships

that beat in their ears

all summer

that sound stuck in mom’s ears forever,
beating against the roof of her coffin.

Maybe her ghost has forgotten
the dead fish, ragged fins
and drowned possums, their furry bodies

turned into soaked balloons

as they rode waves next to plastic buoys.

But they are always with me.

Today I watched a different river rise again,
in a different year, a different city—

nothing can be stopped.

A thin layer of steam reaches from
eddies, and comes up to meet me
in my swimsuit and sandals

and the oars I hold in my hands
like rakes that could stop the water,
like rakes that could stop the dead.

I sing her name again and again to the water
because I don’t know what else to do,

I don’t know how to cradle mud-soaked blue gills
and bring them back to life,

how to feed them to the hungry ghosts
in my dreams where I become part of the river,
where I become part of death,
where my bones turn to liquid, then mud, then dust.

Here is the blue gill I saved for you, on the longest day of summer.


Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 23, Issue 3.

Jessica Freeman has work published in Mississippi Review, The McNeese Review, Third Coast, Foothill Journal, UCity Review, Tinderbox, and others. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and has received an Honorable Mention from the Academy of American Poets. She is a former winner of the Joanne Hirschfield Memorial Poetry Prize, and a Slattery Arts Award. Currently she teaches poetry at The Women’s Center in Carbondale, IL. and English at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, where she is an MFA candidate.

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