The Dead

 It was the ones no one remembered who pulled at me.
 —Dorothy Allison

So tell me, who remembers Topa, her daddy, his face marked with smallpox
or his two sisters,
one that died one day, the otheren the next?

Who remembers quarantined houses marked with a red card, the brain  
fevers and blood fluxes, or the uncle who found a rafter in the tobacco barn

for his neck? And wasn’t there a second cousin
who phoned his brother before making a confetti

of his own brains? Or that other young uncle—
a good-looking
son of a bitch
—who, face-down in the river, took mud

into his handsome lungs? Or the babies—Jesus, always the babies—
drowned in washtubs or bit by brown recluse, or Claire, a girl born

four months early, small enough to crib in a shoebox
who thrived, but her brother—
full-term, healthy as a horse—  

who was sleeping sound on his second day when he
just died?

And who remembers Yael but me, that girl with the name so pretty
I could taste the syllables—
Yah Elle

and called her again and again? She was only
seven, her blood a sandstorm of cells, at war with itself.

Or my soft-spoken cousin, that kid
surfer who thought he could crush time-

release pain killers with his teeth and
live? Does anyone remember how impossible

death seemed in Florida, how like a sun-scorched
fern his hands curled, two black fiddleheads, the foam at his mouth

when all his chickenshit friends left him
for dead? On the way to his funeral, Fanny got after us for wearing black:

All you young girls always wearing dark, dark, dark, she said. You need to put on a bright
and purdy color, something that don’t make you look so depressed all the fucking time

We laughed, reminded her where we were going, but who can say
her fussing was a joke—her amnesia seemed

fender-struck, a switch flipped
off inside a woman
who couldn’t take no more.

Later that day we walked to church under mangroves swarmed
with the bright green fluster of wild parakeets.

I can’t say I remember much more than my aunt, how she looked
up into the trees, said,
Oh, little birds, don’t you know?

And the birds, briskly chittering back, answered her:
Nickole Brown received her MFA from VCFA, studied literature at Oxford University,
and was the editorial assistant for the late Hunter S. Thompson. She is the author of two
collections of poetry,
Sister (Red Hen Press, 2007) and Fanny Says (BOA Editions, 2015).
Currently, she is the Editor for the Marie Alexander Series in Prose Poetry and is on lives
with her wife, poet Jessica Jacobs.