Up here, it’s a haunted house

“‘… up here’ –she gestured to her head– ‘it’s a haunted house.’” – Gabrielle Zevin, Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow.

We flew across the country to bury your ashes by your eldest daughter's plot. There was a barbecue in your niece's backyard that week, where your extended family — our extended family, I guess — gathered to see each other and share their memories of you. It was a sunny day, mid-July; I was exhausted. I took a nap on a loveseat in the empty living room. Like you had done during family gatherings when you were alive.

Water is boiling in an electric kettle on top of a file cabinet behind my desk. I pour it into a mug covered with titles of commonly banned books. I dig a teabag out of the drawer of the cabinet I emptied of files and filled with tea, coffee grounds, and snacks. I dunk the teabag in the water, watch the brown cloud stretch, grow. Steam sways like a wind chime's mallet in an autumnal flurry. Every few minutes, you remind me to take a sip, so I don't have to microwave it like you needed to near the end.

When I was in elementary school, I walked to your house when the school day ended. It was a cold, dark winter. I watched cartoons while working on math homework — simple multiplication, I think. You made me hot cocoa by microwaving a mug of milk, squirting in chocolate syrup, and twirling whipped cream on top. Did you add a cherry? Did you keep a jar of maraschino cherries in your fridge? I don't remember.

One of my students asks me to see their choir concert. I put it in my calendar to make sure I can attend. I arrive early, park in the same spot I left two hours earlier. I sit in the room where students ate lunch six hours earlier. They have a solo during the final song. My heart is full, my eyes teary. This must be a fraction of what you felt during my concerts. You tell me to help put chairs away when the concert ends. I tell them how proud I am of them and their performance. They introduce me to their family. You tell me how proud you are of me as I drive home.

It was spring. My mother, your younger daughter, buried some of your ashes along the edge of her yard which overlooks a small creek (which exists when it rains for a day or two). You are split between two sides of a continent; flowers bloom around your name every year. 

The World Is Ending

Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from April, 2023.

I. smittle, v.

The world is ending.

The world is ending and
you want to go get groceries.

You want to 
"Keep Calm and Carry On" 
the apocalypse.

The world is ending and
you "just need some cold medicine."

The world is ending.

My world
is ending.

II. schlafrock, n.

Wrapped in your robe, you lie
on the couch under a fleece blanket,
a cough drop skating around your mouth.

Snow falls fast, mixed with audible rain
outside the sliding glass door,
blinds turned toward the opposite wall.

I turn the stove off as steam erupts
from the kettle, whose water I pour
into a mug shaped like a camper van.

The bag of chamomile bobs to the surface
looking for air; exhausted, it floats
in defeat, waits for the end.

III. naumachia, n.

That was the last time before
the news broke. Before
the apocalypse arrived

as a push notification
on your phone. “Worst Case
Scenario,” you say. “Go.”

I reply, “Worst Case Scenario:
You cough so much at night that
we’re up all night and I fall asleep at work.”

“Worst Case Scenario:
I wake up so covered in mucus,
you realize I’m too disgusting to be with.”

“Worst Case Scenario:
You die and I end up staring to death,
because I forget how to cook anything.”

“That would be pretty bad,” you laugh,
cough into your blanket, place your phone
face down on the coffee table.

IV. supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, adj.

You like to watch Mary Poppins
when you’re overwhelmed.
An escape when no other
can be found.

V. grass line, n.

During the movie, you sink
below the hem of your blanket.

Your breathing is heavy, labored
through bubbling mucus.

You say, “A spoonful of sugar
wouldn’t do shit.”

These things help me know
you’re still here.

VI. paenula, n.

Priests visit our house
three days after
the apocalypse began,
sent by the hospital.

The doctors assumed
it would help. The priests
left Bibles and crosses
on the dining table. 

They live in denial of
the end of days
already being here —

VII. shishya, n.

We met at a training
for new teachers
the district required,
even though we had both taught
for several years prior.

We sat at the same table
in an elementary school library.
The instructional coach lead us
in too many icebreakers; we complained
about our wasted time instead.

VIII. om mani padme hum, n. (and int.)

In the morning,
after work, or
after your daily walk
around the neighborhood,

you sit on the patio
in a camping chair
next to pots of tomatoes
who refuse to grow.

IX. singeli, n.

It’s hard to breathe
when the world is ending.

Smoke envelops the sky
in a gnarled yellow hue.

My heartbeats intense as
when the bass drops in an edm song.

X. anago, n.

I insist on going to the store
for cold medicine.

I walk through the aisles
like a red-tailed hawk after its prey.

I stop by Trapper’s when I’m done
to surprise you with your favorite dinner.

XI. ristra, n.

I find you on the couch
surrounded by used tissues
under a garland of peppers

your mother sent for luck
after she heard
the world is ending.

XII. ogogoro, n.

You’ve been drinking more
since your diagnosis.

Soothes your throat,
helps you sleep,

helps you escape
your body.

XIII. volksliedjie, n.

I remember
our first concert.

You told me about this band
I’d never heard of

who played a genre
I’d never heard of.

You told me their songs
were full of magic.

XIV. wax comb, n.

We walk a bit further each day
to build up your endurance.

You want to climb Tiger Mountain
one more time.

XV. plámás, v.

You scoff when
I tell you you’re getting better.

You argue when
I say you’re not gross.

XVI. quotingly, adv.

You read articles about recent studies,
checkout medical journals from the library.

You tell me about the many branches
of if-thens in our future.

XVII. nemorivagant, adj..

We start our hike up Tiger Mountain
around dawn.

A slow pace with many breaks
in our ascent.

Once at the summit, you sit on
a rock,

watch the afternoon sun crawl over
Fall City.

XVIII. coursable, adj.

My paycheck goes to
various bills and groceries—

integers and decimals
losing meaning

each day.
All we have is time.

XIX. ventilary, adj.

I’m sorry, but sometimes,
when you fall asleep before me,

I listen to you snore, the rhythm,
where it becomes irregular.

XX. omen, v.

It’s difficult to not think about
the number of tissues in the trash,

the amount of wine you drink,
the increasing hours you sleep.

XXI. yum cha, n.

During your afternoon nap,
I clean up dishes from brunch.

Your tea empty, your plate still
covered in spring rolls.

XXII. novaturient, adj.

A spring breeze rolls
through our house.

You sleep the whole night through,
wake with a zeal not seen

in weeks—maybe months?
You make us coffee, eat breakfast,

begin tidying the living room,
washing and folding blankets.

Feels like the sun emerging
from behind a storm cloud.

XXIII. squaretail, n.

You’re mostly quiet as you walk around
the lake by our neighborhood.

But you still say hello to every squirrel,
every crow and goose.

XXIV. pad, n.

The world ends
the 24th of April.

I wake up in
around 3 am. 

You are cold
and still.

I hyperventilate through
our address with a dispatcher.

XXV. ombré, n.

I watch the sunrise
through sliding glass door
of the hospital lobby.

Stripes cut through the clouds,
sections that aren’t ready
to move on yet.

XXVI. manhwa, n.

When a doctor calls my name,
tells me about the apocalypse
in a calm tone,

my vision is stuck on
The God of High School
playing on a kid’s iPad.

XXVII. flag-off, n.

It starts— the forms,
paperwork, phone calls—
so many phone calls.

I have to keep saying you’re dead.
Present tense.

XXVIII. queachy, adj.

Our house feels uneven—
a slow-motion
earthquake, or
a blackhole
ripped through the living room.

XXIX. spaza, n.

Our neighbors and coworkers
set up a meal train
on some website.

Someone’s knocks
echo through our cavernous house
at random intervals,

leave casseroles, gift cards,
plastic bags of plastic containers,
on the doormat.

XXX. bodega, n.

The world has ended.

The world has ended and
people stand in line at the store.

They want to 
carry on like
nothing’s happened.

The world has ended and
they need something to take the edge off.

The world has ended.

No one seems
to care.

A Logical Conclusion of Hypochondria

Floaters crawl across an overcast sky.
Maybe your retinas are about to detach.
One day, you won’t be able to see anyway.

A cramp in your calf wakes you in the middle of the night. 
Feels like a mountain lion’s teeth ripping meat from bone.
One day, you won’t be able to walk anyway.

Hollowness erupts in your wrist halfway through typing an email.
You bend and stretch to fill the void.
One day, you won’t be able to type anyway.

A feeling in your chest like an icepick in your heart.
Each breath hurts. Is it your heart? Your lungs?
One day, you won’t be able to breathe anyway.

You can’t remember the word that describes this feeling.
It’s behind a fog rolling over a harbor.
One day, you won’t be able to remember anyway.