From the archives — The Uninvited Guest by Wendy Babiak

The Uninvited Guest

So Death comes to call; I offer him tea and
take his sickle and hide it in the closet. Its handle
feels rough on my palm. The foyer smell of cedar
chases away the moths from his empty sockets.
His robes flutter with butterfly wings.
He wears a necklace of hummingbird skulls.

In the kitchen the refrigerator’s hum
drowns out his whispered words.
I pretend he isn’t talking while
I sweeten the tea with lavender honey
but birdsong from outside
rolls in bitter on my tongue

“In England, Shakespeare
had no trouble dying.”
Death’s voice rings out
razor sharp. I shiver
as my bare feet on the tile floor
catch February’s chill.

Rummaging in the cupboards, I think
Now that’s just swell. Death comes to call
and I’m all out of cookies
.
That’s what happens
when you forget to go shopping.
I make a note to write a poem later
on the back of a grocery list.

“God, that’s just like an American.”
Death’s disgust at my lack of hospitality
rankles. The overfilled pitcher of nicety
grows too heavy for my weakened hands
and falls, crashing to bits on the floor.

Like my own Lilliputian minutemen
the shards scatter into a circle around him
barring the way against his heavy feet
while I, light with emptiness
levitate over the painted table.
Arms crossed, I address my guest:

“And now Mama-san will tell you
you presumptuous usurper
what’s up: you will take your
rough-handled sickle, fluttering robe
and ominous whispering, and depart.
And you will stay long away.”

Death hangs his bony head, smooth as an egg
(his has no cracks, as ours do, for through which
birth canal did it ever pass?), already missing
the taste of my tea. I tell him I must find out first
what can’t be discovered. He laughs.
The birds outside sing Hoc opus, hic labor est.

The teacups dance to the sound of his leaving.
Pen in my left hand and rolling pin in my right
I hear his voice as he strides, resigned, away:
“Get to work, girl, and the next time I visit
you’ll be glad for the rest.” My refrigerator hums.
His parting words: “By the way, I prefer scones.”

by Wendy Babiak

from Autumn Sky Poetry, Number 2, September 2006

photo by Christine Klocek-Lim