The Night I Let Death In by Philip St. Clair
I dreamed Death came to my front door: rattledy-tap,
rattledy-tap-tap-tap. He wore
a flat-crowned gaucho hat like Rudolph Valentino
in Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
His skull was polished ivory. His eye-sockets
were lined with black obsidian.
His teeth were white jade without blemish or chip.
I invited him in: I’m reckless
when I’m dreaming. “Have a seat,” I said. He did.
“You need to check this out,”
he said. He made a bony fist, slowly opened it up.
His fingers shot out two feet long
as quick as switchblades in Rebel Without a Cause.
Jesus!” I shouted as I jumped up.
“I got these for the heart and the kidneys and the lungs.
I’ll use ‘em when I come back,”
he said. “Too many packs of cheapskate cigarettes.
Too much ditchweed reefer.”
My rescue inhaler was close by. He picked it up
easily, like someone who could eat
a whole lobster with chopsticks. “Albuterol sulfate!”
he said. “If I had me some lungs,
I’d take me a hit.” Then he touched his wrists
and those horrifying fingers
snapped back into his palms. “You navel-gazers
are always trying to write
that next great New Yorker poem, so get busy.
And please do not whine
about your rotten childhood: I hear that every day,
especially if they haven’t left
the bargaining stage.” He rose to leave. “Remember:
none of that kid stuff,” he said,
and since he had no face, I couldn’t tell if he was
making a joke or being sure,
Godfather style, that I truly understood. I woke up
when the boy down the street
bounced the morning paper off the storm door
to bring me the news.
Philip St. Clair is the author of nine collections of poetry, most recently Red, Cup, Green Lawn (Main Street Rag, 2020). He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Kentucky Arts Council and was awarded the Bullis Prize from Poetry Northwest. St. Clair was born into a working-class family near Youngstown, Ohio. He has loaded cargo in the U.S. Air Force, mopped floors in a student union, tended bar in an Elks club, worked at the editor's trade, and taught at three universities. In 1991 he came to Appalachian Kentucky for a tenured position at Ashland Community and Technical College: he retired in 2010 and lives in town with his wife Christina.