Laughing Until It Becomes A Cough
by Lauren Vargas
The thin-lashed girl gets it,
a single spinal chill at every roadkill.
It’s not real, she repeats, picturing
a purple pig balloon that’d careened
through the sky, tangling about its
one dimensional, curly-tailed string
and fell at such high speeds that it hit
a telephone pole line, exploding ham
on either sidewalk. Waiting
and watching for a good laugh,
the kids give her a home and lodge
their popcorn kernels behind her tonsils.
She shoves a finger through her ear
to scratch the roof of her mouth, to
speak again if a loved one has been affected
by mesothelioma, legal compensation is
just around the corner. As children use their
heels to scrape sulphuric tar from the
defrosting water line and then
examine candied teeth with a
knife’s thinnest glittering edge between
waves, sweat beads accumulate on
the girl’s palms like transparent
bowling balls. She holds them out and
notices tremors. Asbestos rains down.
The kids ask her to drink fluids to cure
that dry cough but all the water is
leaving to house fishes in the dictionary.
At The Open House, My Aunt
Describes How To Deadhead
My aunt trims conversation with the real
estate agent. Mentions he might come back with a better
offer. All I ever wanted was a place to call home.
Deadheading helps the flower grow fuller, stronger, clearing her
throat with chested coughs, aunt takes cuticle
scissors to infected orchid roots hanging from slatted baskets
nailed to the mantle. Rotted tissue flutters mostly
to the wood. Careful to not slice any live stems, she issues
an apology to the dead leaves. My fingertips churn pots of fern
fiber and volcanic stone. I guide her root
before packing the surface with charcoal flakes. Now firmly
planted in the coconut shell, she emits a white
lemon aura. Her silhouette morphs. Purple fragile now, swallows
moisture from the air, and begs me to sacrifice
the bloom. Mindful of keeping her from lying in water,
I pray she’ll have room when fully grown.
But on a molecular level, dryness. No matter
the post-op sweat — her skin, like her emotions,
remains rubbery. To live in a white box shouldn’t cost
this much: a view of the stucco roof, its squares that
protrude from the ceiling to prop up a man in blue
who’s eating a wheat bread and jelly sandwich like
it’s the last meal. Scrubs, a patchwork of used vinyl
wristbands, collect in linoleum basements like fraud.
She drops her pendant cross in a tall glass filled
with denture solution, and hangs a row of teeth
from a silver chain around her neck. Her inability
to inflect certain vowels is as if her lungs occlude
apologies. Like the important things are slipping
away, she asks about the demon men in overalls
sitting at the foot of her bed. It’s hopeful to imagine
she’s talking about the food tray cluttering her toes.
Upon Hearing Of My Uncle’s Dog-Leash
Suicide, I Realize My Own Neck Pain
His children’s only solace
is desiccation. I say
sorry, he’s hanging around
in my mind pissing himself.
The doorframe — humor and bloat
are observed by relatives,
I hate their stiff face muscles.
Were you close to him? I’m just
asking how a two hundred
fifty pound man fits in a
small mahogany box. Voice
mail condolences begin
jarring birds from telephone
pole lines. After falling through
a cracked window, their necks thud
against marble countertops.
Chaos is the only true
family history. Home-
made soggy meat loaf leaves blood
streaks along the sink’s steel walls,
but I don’t speak because none
of this can be removed with
bleach. The oven light’s broken,
treats smell guilty. Duct taped glass-
ware fails to keep the juice in,
and cellophane bubbles up
around paper plates holding
stale brownies. I’m wondering
why a blue dog leash would kill
a man. You may be seated.
Lauren Vargas is currently working towards an MFA at Queens University and is a full time writing curriculum-tutor in Southern California. She believes in the power of language and poetry. Her works have previously appeared in ElevenEleven, Ampersand Literary Journal, Chinquapin Literary Journal, and CalibanOnline.