Last Rites by Pamela Sumners

Last Rites

by Pamela Sumners

It rained cottonmouths for 30 days after you died.
They wore proud boots and took over the streets,
slithered and kicked through the steel-plated doors.
They sat coiled or casually dropped in your special recliner.
They ate the last Tyson’s chicken in Arkansas—they did!
and then ravaged the okra and bean patches out back.
Then they took the tomatoes and purple-hull peas,
cutting a swath like Sherman’s army marching to sea.

Their white mouths turned a deep heliotrope purple.
We plied them with offerings of heavy red wine
and they turned all purple and died. We swept snakeskins
for weeks. Next the bats came, echolocating what we
humans heard only as a series of slight erratic clicks.
We developed a decoder that could read bat-tongue for us
and learned that they repeated through the walls a gossip chorus:
“You know he heard the wind chimes just before he died, a music
that played so hauntingly on the listening ears of time.”

We banged every pot and pan in the house like a marching band
starting off a Fourth of July parade with John Phillip Souza’s brass
until they gave up their roost, a lonely, leaning excuse for a chimney.
When finally we wept and muttered a flood of desolate words
over your cavernous deep rhombus in the earth, a dark hole really,
an aunt we barely knew said to me, “Give me your last skinny-back
wishbone hug and tell us how thin we’ve become.”

Last Rites previously appeared online in Eunoia Review—July, 2019.


Pamela Sumners is a native Alabamian now living in St. Louis. A former ACLU lawyer, she is best known for her work against the likes of "10 Commandments Judge" Roy Moore, Jay Sekulow, and a governor who said the Bill of Rights doesn't apply to Alabama. Her first full collection, "Ragpicking Ezekiel's Bones," was released in December 2020 by UnCollected Press, and her first chapbook, "Finding Helen," (winner, Rane Arroyo Prize, Seven Kitchens Press) is forthcoming Spring 2021. Visit the author's website.

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