Denise K. James: Four poems

Almost Like Death

is the swiftness with which
we are left behind:
a house settling on the eves, soft
spin cycle of non-human sound.
You pace and recall
those last few minutes–
an embrace with a friend
your own voice, the place it clings to–
all gone now.

You ask yourself
how many times you’ve been
abandoned here
after a lover’s tet-a-tet, family suppers,
the subtle intimidation
regarding one’s life.

It always finishes with you,
undressed, everyone else
disappearing in the flurry, you
picking at the soft twill
of the pants you sleep in
wondering whether there’s a reason,
really, to start getting dressed–
to seek your life out
once again.


At the Neighbors’

You know you won’t ever
recapture that age, that fear
of rejection, of a poorly
mixed drink followed by
a strange fuck, a virus.

And if you didn’t live this–
say you were square, saved
your virginity, never drank
before you got a job
–you’ll spend time wondering
during those years
well after forty
what if
you had married someone
you’d kissed as a teenager?
what if
you’d gotten pregnant
like a character in
those movies
your mother forbade you to see?



Your death will not temper
after the house is sorted, divided
like a family
sickened by money
broken like a cheap clasp.

I imagine we’ll argue
not over Persian rugs, the foreign-made
vase you kept from us as children
but wedding photos
your face of white frosting
the necklace you wore
on a voyage to Lebanon.

After all, you had five children–
two born so late
that you’d discarded caution,
lined your walls with bone china.

And we, your latter daughters,
yearn for the ancient
the chance for history
our mouths shushed with the present.

When you’re gone, we’ll seek out
the yellowest of pages.

When you’re gone, we’ll string stories
to your fragile beads.


Every Day

We remind ourselves how we might die:
pinned against the ugly Velour
driver’s seat, the car a dismal accordion
or smothered by a toaster’s smoke
blackness our halo as our souls rise
from brick chimneys.

We recall how all songs are a dirge
for whomever last hears them–
the fever-soaked child whose radio
lulls her to dreams,
the cancer patient flat in bed,
a sitcom theme chirping.

Death is everywhere
like the face of an old love
Always ready to tap you
or choke you, depending on the day

and you prepare for Her;
sometimes running away,
tight fists with your life inside,
and sometimes open palms
begging to hold Her.