Vocabulary Lesson

By Deborah A. Lott
May 17th, 2016

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The housekeeper changes the flower water.
Las flores están muertas, she says.
I repeat: Las Flores están muertas.
Muertas sounds closer to alive than dead.
Dead with its had single syllable.
Dead is dirty gray animals smashed in the street.
Dead is my grandmother lying in her coffin,
flesh powdered, waxen
lips turned up in an absent smile.
Dead reeks of the first time
I pressed the tip of my tongue hard against my soft palate,
gone, lost, never-coming-back, never.

And then there is the German tod
even worse than dead.
No glimmer of an afterlife in tod.
Bodies piled on top of bodies,
a man’s genitals flopping comically
as his body is tossed from a wheelbarrow into a mass grave.
Don’t let me be tod, I say.
Too many of my relatives were tod.
I am trying to get used to the idea of muerte.
I rehearse the announcement. Future tense:
you and you and you and I will be muertos.

The housekeeper removes the flowers from the vase,
the sour stench of their decay travels across my kitchen
from the cul-de-sac beyond language.
I retch. A feral animal retch.
The housekeeper strangles the already limp flowers in her hand.
Muertas? She says. A question.