Cluster Chords

by Joanne Mallari


When we were young, Mama made us
wear red after loved ones died—
otherwise, they’d come in dreams,

convince us to cross over. Now, I think,
more frightening than seeing the deceased
in our sleep is being seen while making

love. Imagine: the ancestors watch you
bare your skin, so carefully covered
around Catholic kin. I wouldn’t expose

my shoulders then, am still a self-conscious
lover. I leave my shirt on at times,
lose bravado stroking her thighs, to think

they’d see me as I really am. The night
can only cover so much. Even the blinds
can admit the dead, let them see into

the dark. For the living I lie by omission,
cross out letters the way I would
for an erasure poem, until all that’s left

are the words they want to see: underneath
I kiss another woman back. Her lips
loose monarchs in me. Each breath feels

like loud steps in an empty church—
the sound rising to the loft, knocking
on the confessional. I pray for more of her

whose tongue draws dissonant chords
from me. Under cover we fall in love
with the sound of longing and restraint,

clashing until we can see ripples in air.
I don’t know if there is heaven or hell:
only this—our hands awakening.







Joanne Mallari holds an MFA from the University of Nevada, Reno. Her poems are forthcoming in Crab Orchard Review, Palimpsest, and The MacGuffin. She reviews young adult fiction and poetry collections for


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