Rhonda Recalls the Origin of Death to Snake Baby

I don’t like to feel cold. I’ve always been cold-blooded which is fitting. It reminds me of nights on my old front porch looking over Springdale Cemetery. A place I was so fond of I gave up on school at sixteen to dig graves. Something about a burial made me feel warm, returning to earth. Our bodies are senseless in-betweens for the better thing we become. Which is my poetic way of saying life is shit. That cemetery was my calling. It led me all the way to here, through layers of fire and burning. It led my ex to me. One evening, I was so cold, I had just finished the grave, no one around. I decided to climb in, maybe steal that bit of warmth they get. I closed my eyes and imagined waves washing over me like someone was dumping their above ground pool down into this grave. I could almost feel myself reaching out for water wings and pool noodles, death is so beautiful that way. When I opened my eyes, his head was blocking the moon in a crescent. He was in the middle of assessing my jewelry and shoes when I up and started breathing. I wish I didn’t breathe. I wish he’d just taken my shoes. Rhonda and Jimmy, gravedigger and graverobber, what a match made in Tallahassee purgatory. I mean, it was okay for a while. I dreamed of death in the graves while he checked out the cargo. Then, he’d help me lower them which was nice because dead people are pretty heavy. It went this way for a while, long enough to get married. But Jimmy thought he was a savior, that I didn’t want to be covered in dirt and rot. Thought he was helping me be a better person, and that’s why it was okay to beat the shit out of me. I was learning to be normal. I was learning to be righteous. And I don’t know what it was about twenty-six months of abusive marriage that finally left a sour taste in me. The steak fat was grained in my teeth. I was tenderized, a perfect ribeye, flavorful. But I was dead. And not the beautiful kind in the ground watching the moon pass in phases. I was in a body, feeling pain, breathing, and powerless. I passed this row of bars to get to the corner market each week. Jimmy liked their meat or had some back door deal with the owner about selling grave trinkets. It smelled like prayer candles and stale bread. I was walking back and there was this man, confident but in this promising way. He was talking about self-worth, making uncomfortable eye contact with people like he was searching for something in them. And when he looked at me, I dropped the steak and limes like brains on the sidewalk. Splat. And for a second I stopped breathing. I wasn’t in purgatory anymore. I was meant for something, I had a purpose. Days were full of unlearning and relearning the world, people, the end. I was really brainwashed for a while. I really thought you were a Snake God. I really thought there was a prophecy and all that shit enough that I gave my hand up for it. For all the times I sinned by thinking I was less. That part woke me up, just like you. And when I figured out he was full of shit, I don’t know. He kept his distance, fed me, gave me a place to stay. It was better than frozen peas on my cheekbone. It was better than nightdreaming in graves. It was a pretty nice purgatory. And yeah, I was scared of you, but I’m scared of being cold, and I’m scared when men raise their voice, and I’m scared I’ll never get to die. You woke me up. For every moment you talk about times you felt rebirth, I was somewhere feeling death. I was there feeling it too. And I think all this weightless was my body trying to break free and find you. I think we’re meant to tackle this awful purgatory, these awful bodies, breathing and breaking. And I know I’m not Wichita, but I don’t want to be. I just want us to keep each other warm until the weight pushes us down enough to sleep the night.


Rhonda Recalls the Way the Ground Moves


The ground has been changing for a while. I was younger and the ground felt solid. Unmoved. Felt like holding me to this Earth in a way I said I was okay with. I said okay, and I meant hell yes please give me grounding in this shithole town with shithole parents and shithole existence.

It opened up one day and showed me every bone like a fossil like a smirk from the Earth like a fortune of my future like the perfect Tarot reading. Have you ever felt a hug from someone you loved and it stuck to you for a bit even after you hugged? And when they died you thought about that hug? I was ready for death to hug me in that long way. When I die, I will remember death fondly. I will say don’t get me wrong, he was sweet.

And when my mom kept reminding me I’d be nowhere without a dick in me and the know-how to cook a right good meal for a man, I felt the ground start to move. I didn’t feel stable anymore because I suddenly couldn’t make love to a grave. I had to fuck a guy with flesh and I had to tear open and feel it. I like to lay under a bed after sex. The closet can work okay, too.


My favorite part of summer is drinking a margarita while watching the excavator dig graves. The tequila makes my cheeks flush and the broken dirt reminds me of my skin and the way the grass crackles as it bends. Sounds of every time a man has ever touched me. But burial makes my heart flutter. So I keep going back. I bought up all the salt at Qwik Stop and the cashier wanted to know what dead animal smell I was trying to get rid of.

Axe body spray has no idea how to make a man smell like Earth. The Earth is better than that. It smells like rich blood coagulating in a single vein. It smells the way your mouth feels when you wake up hungover. It smells like seventy different pine trees, but it’s the perfect amount of seventy different pine trees. I tried to love a man who wore the stuff but he made the grass blades break off and I just couldn’t stop wanting to stab the center of his spinal column like stopping a tree at the root.

In the winter, when the ground stays firm, I go to the backyard and run my feet through the perimeter. Gauging every dip slope knob mound and all the flaws of her face. It’s like knowing every freckle. It’s like telling her she looks good this season. It’s how you can tell if something has changed. Like when he broke my arm three times before fall and suddenly the yard had tons of tiny divets like hard rain like hail had hit us.


I think sometimes there’s a magnet underground diverging me in directions I may not go. I haven’t figured out how to break the pull yet.

Snake Baby Has a Whole Mess to Tell Wichita

You’d never believe this story, Wichita. I mean, it doesn’t sound like real life. It’s got real crazy since you left me. I did right by you, though. So, I found out all this real crazy stalker stuff goin’ on with this Colonel Luther. I mean, dude had been followin’ me since day one. Not like he loves me but like he thinks I got some kind of answer. You know me, I’d normally high tail it outta Dodge. Never look back at him. But, see, he did one thing wrong. He took you from me. Paid off some desperate boys like you and me used to be to go and cut your brakes or some shit. We don’t split. Remember? We put our blood together after that one lightsaber fight when you licked my jaw real good and I told you to kiss it and you said only mommas kiss boo boos so you cut your jaw and we put our blood together instead. We don’t split. So, I go to this asshole’s office and I’m ready to tell him what’s what. I’m gunnin’ to give him a Wichita-style smackdown. I think about all the times you stood for me and I’m ready to stand for you. I walk in and he’s so cocky just standin’ there tossin’ damn popcorn kernels in his mouth like always. I’m so pissed I lose my words. I dunno what to make of it or him or anything goin’ on. I guess that’s what they call seein’ red. I don’t know why but I just start lookin’ through the hands on the wall to find mine. I guess somethin’ about a trophy wall of hands sort of distracts anyone. Then, I come back from it and toss the photos on the desk. Yours lands on top and I say that was you givin’ me strength to tear this guy up. Sunnuva bitch looks at the pictures and goes for more kernels and I smack those suckers across the room. I think to myself good luck pickin’ those up and start tellin’ him what’s what. How stupid he was followin’ me around my whole life when I never did nothin’ and how I know he killed you. This crazy bastard starts ramblin’ off about a prophecy. I mean, Wich, the man’s straight up lost it. I mean, cuttin’ hands off is one thing but talkin’ about me being his prophecy?! You dying is a prophecy?! No way, man. Before I can think about what I’m doin’ next or which way is up, I’m chargin’ at that wall for my hand. It’s mine, damnit. So this nut job starts wigglin’ his jaw around and I think holy cow this man’s gone done it and choked on one of his kernels. But no, it gets worse. He goes and flops to the floor like a fish outta water. Guess he never saw me takin’ my hand back as part of a prophecy. So I tell him how it’s really goin’ down. I say, and this is word for word now, I say I will make sure no one remembers you for this. You will be the damned, old minister who died alone. You won’t receive fame. You won’t receive redemption. No one will know a Colonel Luther. And your words will be buried with your body in a hole that no one will visit. I watch him gurgle and foam a bit and then I get this anger back in me again. I look at your photo and I know what I gotta do. I set the whole damn place on fire. Turn that loony tune into a sack of bones that no one’s gunna care about never.

LUCI BROWN is an Appalachian highlander currently pursuing nonprofit and educational work in the bourbon barrel hills of Louisville, KY. Her first chapbook, Home Brew, was published in 2015, and her work has appeared in Moon City Review, Rogue Agent, Menacing Hedge, and others. She is the managing and poetry editor for Stirring, board member and reader for Sundress Publications, and YPB member of Sarabande Books.