Simon MacCulloch


Light of the Living Dead

I wasn’t there. I should have been, to watch them douse my wife
With gasoline, and torch her—second death for second life.
They don’t encourage relatives to linger at the pits—
They smell, the ones with rotten flesh, the ones they’ve shot to bits.
Go home, they said, and light a candle, pray and call it quits.

The journey home was uneventful—not like when I met her
(A day or two since giving up on trying to forget her)
Just walking to the store as usual, slow but smartly dressed
(We’d buried her the way she wanted, in her Sunday best)
And if you hadn’t known her well, I doubt that you’d have guessed.

The really funny thing was that she wasn’t out for meat.
You know, they tell you all the zombies want is flesh to eat
But that’s the kind of simple-minded stuff you get in fiction.
It’s being slave to habit that’s the heart of their affliction
And hunger hardly matters if your habit’s an addiction.

So what my Laura wanted was to buy her cigarettes
Her only vice, pursued for years, no quitting, no regrets.
She’d made it home while I was out and even found her purse,
A routine that her stiffened limbs found easy to rehearse,
A pattern that an interrupted life could not reverse.

I didn’t smile or speak to her—I didn’t think she’d hear me—
But couldn’t let her out of sight, I had to keep her near me.
Inside the mall, she found the store, and queued up for her smokes
And blended in quite naturally with all the living folks
And pointed out her usual brand with plaintive little croaks.

The sales clerk didn’t look too close; she had the money ready
And passed it on, and took the pack with hands like claws but steady.
And that was when it all went wrong. She couldn’t wait, you see—
She tore the package open, pulled a bunch of ciggies free
And put one to her mouth, then turned—I swear she looked at me.

I thought of all those other times, at morning, noon or night
When Laura needed cigarettes but couldn’t find a light.
I watched her pat her pockets, but there wasn’t any doubt
I’d kept her purse, I’d kept her watch, but thrown her lighter out.
A moment passed, and then she howled, and folk began to shout.

The mall police were quick; they dragged her out and put her down.
I caught a cab and followed when the van drove out of town
And waited while they dumped her like a log upon the stack.
I went to her, did what was needed, then they pulled me back
And sometime on the journey home I threw away the pack.

Well, like I said, I still regret they wouldn’t let me stay
But just as often tell myself it’s better done this way.
Just fixing it between her graying lips was pretty tough
And thinking of it now, I can accept that it’s enough
To know that when they lit her up she got her final puff.

Simon MacCulloch lives in London and is a regular contributor to Reach Poetry, The Dawntreader, and Sarasvati.