Poem by Ania Payne


 

Banner design © TJ Edson

Banner design © TJ Edson

 

After Death

          A dead ant in a house is not a troubling thing; its removal demands only a swift kick
with the heel of your shoe or the breezy sweep of a dollar-store broom. A caterpillar whose
fleshy body is found rotting beneath your fridge has to be scraped off wooden floors, or, if
he finds it before you, a dog’s tongue might do the trick. When your tabby kills a sparrow
and leaves it at the foot of your bed, the body has to be dealt with immediately or else the
rotting bird smell will consume the house until it creeps into your cupboards and spoils the
taste of your seven grain crackers, your organic wheat pasta, your half-eaten cream-filled
pastries. The mangle-necked sparrow can be tossed out with the trash, or it can be buried
if you have enough time to stab your rusty shovel in the tough, clay soil in your backyard. If
your dog sinks his teeth into a chipmunk and then forgets its chewed body beneath a
rosebush, the easiest way to take care of the corpse is to get out that rusty shovel and toss
the chipmunk over the hedges and into your neighbors’ yard. You don’t feel too bad about
it, since the neighbors keep their dogs’ leashes just long enough to where they can run into
your backyard to poop.

          When your dog dies, the process becomes more complicated. He was young and he
dies suddenly. The vet says it’s because he ate daisies, which are poisonous to dogs. He also
says don’t you know better than to keep daises in your backyard? and he gives you a list of
seven-hundred common plants that are toxic to pets. Your dog’s death demands a period of
grieving, grieving that stains the knees of your favorite jeans brown after a week of
kneeling by his grave and crying. The neighbors help you dig through the clay soil the next
day, and they shorten the length of their dogs’ leashes for a couple of weeks.

          You haven’t known many people who’ve died; you’ve been lucky that way. Your
dog’s death hits you hard, and you worry about what will happen to you when your mom,
your dad, or your friends die. You realize that you’re still worrying about yourself. Way
too often, you see articles about lonely bodies that lay forgotten and undiscovered in empty
houses for two, four, ten, even forty-one years, and you wonder how easy it is to forget
someone; you wonder how many people you’ve forgotten about in your short twenty-some
years.

          You decide that you always want to keep a dog around. They’re great companions,
and you once read an article about how dogs will eat their owners’ deceased bodies if
they’re left on the bed, on the pullout couch, on the area rug in the living room. It’s a dog’s
natural instinct, and you’d be fine with that, since you don’t know how else you’d feed your
dog if you were dead. You hope that the ants can find a way into the house, too, and you’re
not sure if caterpillars are omnivores or not, but if they are, you hope that they find a way
inside, and that the sparrows and chipmunks can make nests with strands of your hair.

 

Ania Payne is an MFA student at Northern Michigan University. She has previously been published in magazines such as Imitation Fruit, Foliate Oak, Gravel, The Rusty Nail, and Perspectives.

 

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