Oh yes, the dead get peckish. Every winter,
they begin to sniff the air,
expecting their levy of tidbits –
they’ve been watching through
hollow sockets – femur crossing femur,
every overdressed Catrina
drumming her phalanges
on the nearest marble cenotaph
as we consider the relative merits
of crèmes brûlée and caramel,
and rotate piglets on spits. They dream
in their tiny plywood living rooms
of milk and eggs, of tearing open
bread loaves, while rats gnaw boredly
on their toes. Then the days
shrink, the moon swings, a hatch opens
and they’re back, shaking
the creases from their outdated finery.
They mill around the ofrendas
we’ve left, testing the ripeness
of pears, gorging on sweetmeats,
measuring love by who remembered
the mezcal and cigarettes.
They outnumber us, and we act
as though we don’t notice, savoring
the tres leches cakes we baked
in their name. We never think to ask
why they return underground
at all, whether it’s habit or whether
the dead abide by a system of honor.
One year, they might miss curfew,
move in, begin to fossick through
our refrigerators, our stores of preserves
and pickles. They’ll find the sugar skulls
on which we’ve written our names
and devour them, stopping only
to offer us a trepanned canapé –
knowing the sugar, set harder than bone,
will grind living teeth down to dust.
Chloe Wilson’s first poetry collection, The Mermaid Problem, was commended in the Anne Elder Award and Highly Commended in the Mary Gilmore Award. She won the 2014 Arts Queensland Val Vallis Award, and was a co-winner of the 2013 Gwen Harwood Poetry Prize. Her work has appeared in Best Australian Poems, Award Winning Australian Poems, Australian Love Poems, Meanjin, Australian Poetry Journal, Aesthetica, Island, Going Down Swinging and many other publications. She holds a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Melbourne.