Embalmment is quite inconvenient
for my grandfather.
Cotton balls in his throat
block the river of cheap vodka.
Hooked needle, green thread
do not hurt his purple lips,
but turn the nonstop talking
into a slightly more ghastly thing:
stitches pop like burned-alive eyes,
blue fluid glazes gold teeth and bridges
like boxer’s blood, stone tongue grinds
gums to gray dust.
But he keeps talking.
We at the wake could not escape
his husk, the sound of scar
salved with the wet ash
of his mother’s dress she burned,
along with the stains, the night
they fled Mississippi.
Alien archaeologists will crack his casket
five thousand years from now,
find him still spouting lies,
his stomach still a bowl of pigs’ feet, buttermilk
his heart a tarred hieroglyph
in which the scientists see a firework
of meaning: a red paddlewheel,
bomber blueprints, Cadillac radiator caps,
a yellowed photograph of him and my grandmother,
sixteen, his hands under her belly
of human ballast.
Brian Michael Murphy is an Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at Champlain College, and an Instructor in The Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop. He holds a BA in English from Capital University and a Ph.D. in Comparative Studies from Ohio State. Currently, he is writing a nonfiction book called We the Dead: Media Preservation and the Future of Memory in America. He lives in Burlington, Vermont. Follow him @raisedbymovies.