From Issue 19: The Reaper’s Child

Paul Sohar

Late October, leaves turning all around the house. The mangy rhododendron is dark bronze and brittle, but what the hell? Candy wrapper caught in the twigs, but on closer look it’s alive, it’s a flower, yellow going on red, a luxuriant but muted rainbow. Life born out of death, a dead mother giving birth to what must be the reaper’s child.

The Reaper’s Child, the sketchy poem I present to the workshop that evening elicits skeptical comments, the leader likes to see real life experiences turned into literary masterpieces and not abstract surrealist fantasies. There’s just one person who shows interest, a newcomer, and he claims my story is not original; just a few years back there was a case of a dead mother giving birth in the coffin, and unconsciously I must have been inspired by the news reports of the event. 

“The story was nipped in the bud,” he launches into his narrative taking off his glasses and rubbing his red face as if tired of the debate. “The hospital managed to hush it up with the connivance of the Governor and the FBI, like they always do…”

Conspiracy. Now we’re getting somewhere. Everyone perks up. The newcomer, now in the limelight of all those eyes, looks into a corner of the ceiling and, clutching his hands together, he continues his revelations.

“It seems, there was this woman in a coma, an accident victim on life support system, fairly young and not bad looking either, so much so that she seduced this security guard or male nurse one night. From then on he had sex with her whenever he was on night duty. When her belly started to grow he increased the glucose in the iv and the signs of pregnancy were hidden by general weight gain. All that time though there was no evidence of brain activity, so the insurance company decided to pull the plug on her. The rest is pure horror show: imagine the coffin lowered to the grave, the hollow bang of the first handful of dirt thrown on it, and suddenly a whimpering sound rising from the pine board box, the funeral party frozen stiff, the priest a solid funerary statue, and then the whimper grows louder like a baby crying its birth breath. Quick, raise the coffin, force it open. The mother still as dead as a brittle rhododendron leaf in fall, but the baby alive and well and screaming like the purple glow of an uninvited flower in the midst of a dying world, borne of a mother capable of birthing only lifeless leaves, a corpse raped by the grim reaper plus a devil child, a bloom stuck in the eye sockets of the skeletal temptress in a black cape, taking lonely mortals on a danse macabre.”

Our visitor falls silent, eyes still fixed on a far corner of the room. 

“Did the baby live?” a pudgy lady asks earnestly.

The narrator suddenly turns to face the group: “Thank you.”

Applause. 

I felt like an empty coffin walking out of the meeting room. What a stroke of genius: A dead mother giving birth in the grave. Why didn’t I think of that? Why, because I am a live poet giving birth to dead poems. I can never go back to that poetry group again. And I’ll have to get rid of that rhododendron. Unless I can think of a better story about it.

 

Paul Sohar has published seventeen books of translations earning three prizes. His own poetry: “Homing Poems” (Iniquity, 2006) and “The Wayward Orchard”, a Wordrunner Prize winner (2011). Prose works: “True Tales of a Fictitious Spy” (Synergebooks, 2006) and a collection of one-act plays from One Act Depot (Saskatoon, Canada, 2014).