My First Death—Susan Cossette

I heard my first death whispered—
behind my mother’s prematurely veined hands.
I saw my first death lurking at the bottom of my grandmother’s bedroom wastebasket,
buried under mounds of damp teary tissue.

I saw my first death in the eyes of a blonde babydoll.
Her name was Giselle, her lace and prink frills Aunt Jennie’s last gift.
Giselle was quarantined, 
stuffed into the pull-down hatch of my bedroom closet.
My four-year-old self decided cancer was contagious.

I smelled my first death 30 years later, 
opening a garment bag in the basement to find Jennie’s dresses,
the verbena scent still clung to the turquoise taffeta.
A strand of hair stuck in a pearl hatpin on a matching pillbox hat, wavy and chestnut brown.

The garment bag a sarcophagus, the hatbox a coffin.

Susan Cossette lives and writes in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Author of Peggy Sue Messed Up (2017), she is a two-time recipient of the University of Connecticut’s Wallace Stevens Poetry Prize. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Rust and MothAdelaideClockwise CatAnti-Heroin ChicThe Amethyst Review, Ariel Chart, Poetica Review, and in the anthologies Tuesdays at Curley’s and After the Equinox.  

photo by Rodion Kutsaev (via unsplash)