Back to Issue Forty-Three

The Custom Casket


Quan left the earth ten days ago
and now D Black has to wrap the casket.

What a life.

And yes, the man can do anything.

Today, it’s adhering a vinyl print
to the white metal casket.

I watch him work.

He has printed the design,
gathered his tools—a silver box cutter,
a small blue squeegee.

He sits on a Lowe’s bucket, his body
eye level to the casket.

It’s a sad scene, our garage, the place
where we make things for the dead—
poems, prints, and now custom caskets.


Once Everybody Started Dying


we thought we could start a business. We even gave it a name, like it would come to fruition, like it was something worth trying. To be fair though, the hood was hittin’ us up every time a body dropped. This girl wanted a casket wrapped, that dude needed a T-shirt, a bio written, a band booked, a singer scouted, a prayer picked, a balloon released, a flyer posted, the photos gathered, remarks given. I even created a folder and labeled it Live Forever and inside that folder I made more folders and labeled each one with the dead person’s name. And just like a list, it grew too long so I had to walk away. Funny how death can make you feel invincible or is it incredible? I don’t have words these days, but it seems I do have dreams, or are they ideas that feel urgent and awful all at the same time? Who in their right mind can get to work in times of grief? We thought we could start a business. We even gave it a name.


Stretch Marks


First, know this:
when the inflammation of lupus
attacks the kidneys, fluid begins
to build in the body. And when fluid builds in the body
the doctors give it a name. They say edema,
but I just say swelling. Either way, the swelling
appears in your feet, legs, ankles, eyelids
and sometimes your entire body, which can be a sign
of something serious. The doctors call this
lupus nephritis, but I just say potential
kidney failure. And yeah, you guessed it—
this was my story back in ’07,
but here’s what you don’t know:
when my body began to swell
like, can’t fit my shoes swell,
like, I needed a kidney biopsy swell,
like, life or death swell—
all I worried about was getting stretch marks.
Every night, I had a thousand
questions for my nurse.
Will the stretch marks be dark?
Will they come on my arms?
What about my breasts?
I had the nurse rubbing Vaseline
all over my stomach thinking I could
outsmart the universe’s plan.
But, the stretch marks were victorious,
like a toddler scribbling lines.
Never once did I ask the nurse anything
about dying.


Ali Black is a writer from Cleveland, Ohio. Her work has appeared in The Atticus Review, Jubilat, Literary Hub, The Offing and elsewhere. Her first book of poetry, If It Heals At All, was selected by Jaki Shelton Green for the New Voices series at Jacar Press and it was named a finalist for the 2021 Ohioana Book Award.

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