Riehlife Poem-of-the-Day: “Natural Causes” by Colleen McKee

I met Colleen McKee through a St. Louis poetry workshop “Loosely Identified.” Colleen, a St. Louisan, is the author of a collection of poetry, My Hot Little Tomato (Cherry Pie, 2007). She also co-edited Are We Feeling Better Yet? Women Speak About Health Care in America (PenUltimate, 2008).

“Natural Causes” originally appeared in Criminal Class Review (criminalclasspress.com). This is the first poem in her new manuscript I. She recently read with Fast Geek Press at the Holiday Club in Chicago. See her essay on the creative process of writing “Natural Causes” in her guest post under the Artists and Writers category. –JGR


Colleen McKee

I had to live long enough to perfect my own funeral.
I’d saved my pennies for an open bar
at the chapel, only rail liquors,
no cheap shit. You only die once.
I’d saved my sequins
for the just-so
little black dress.
I’d spent every Sunday
of the last year of my life
rolling out rugelach dough,
that, and sewing on sequins.
It turns out rugelach
thaws very nicely.
I’d spent every Saturday night
accumulating suitors
so I would have plenty of mourners, men
to cry and shuffle their feet,
clutch the pale stems of flowers
in clammy palms,
clench and unclench their handsome jaws,
clean-shaven for once; they wish
they had treated me better.
Tattooed and virgin-skinned,
beer-bellied and svelte in their suits,
blonde and red-headed and bald,
they look sideways at each other
over my plain pine box.
They drink and hope my family
doesn’t still hate them.
My friends whisper: She really could
pick em. Some guests
get in fist fights, of course,
a few ties loosened and rugelach-stained…
But after a few tears, a little blood,
some loose petals, people sigh.
They say things like,
I’m sorry. They say,
I wouldn’t go…They say,
I have work
in the morning.
So they go.
One final man sticks around
to turn off the lights.
We are alone in the dark, fragrant
with living white jonquils,
each bunch in its world
of sugary water.
He pats my hand, the naked ring finger.
Each vase will be spilled
with the sun.

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  1. J – I love the humor in the middle of the pathos. I visualize a quiet smile on her face. She is still in control. Hmmmmm.

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