Meg Eden

Corpse Washing


after Rilke

I’ve grown used to all the bodies

But when the light reveals

what is missing of her, I realize

how working with the dead

doesn’t make them any less strange.

Her family shows me her class

picture, I compare it to

the body I have in front of me:

this skeletal hand; a burrow

of dark wet flesh, inhabited by maggots.

I wash what remains of her

under the funeral garb and, knowing

nothing of drowning, everything

of drowning, I imagine

the journey of her body.

I patch in the maggot holes. I fill

her mouth with cotton. The mother

brings me the lipstick she used to wear—

a bubblegum pin— and for a moment,

the girl’s lips look soft and alive.

I brush out the seaweed and trash

from her remaining hair until it is soft.

To fill her empty eyebrows and missing

eyelashes, I give the ends of my hair.

In front, the mother weeps, loud

like a wave, all the while the father

looks ahead, still. The girl on the table,

also still. Only the young boy squirms

and clears his throat. Unable to look

at his sister, his eyes wander

over the tatami floor to the screen

door which, against the light

outside reflects the shadow

of a stranger, a peach tree

contorted and brittle like

the girl’s hand, which I try to pose

into a symbol of prayer. The beads

between her fingers cannot hide

the skeletal hand, which, against

the fleshy one looks ghost-like.

The mother takes

the last water to her daughter’s

lips, but the girl rejects it.

She’s had more than enough

water for one life.

This is how we say farewell:

the girl’s favorite dress is brought.

A summer dress, short sleeved

and red like poppies. Laid over

her body, the dress is engulfing.

Inside her coffin, the girl is lifted

to the oven. The fire is living and god-like.

She is fed into there, quickly,

before anyone can imagine her burning

alive hair, the eating of that poppy dress.


Pantoum for the Diver on a Korean Ferry


In the dark of the water, we see with our hands—

This is how we encounter the dead.

They are small and decaying, their fingers

are broken and coming off.

This is how we encounter the dead:

on the walls, love letters to the living

are broken and coming off.

Algae has grown over names and faces.

The love letters to the living

will never be read.

Algae has grown over names and faces,

and life jackets sink to the floor.

Stories we will never read:

a boy and a girl tied together,

their life jackets sink to the floor.

They are too heavy

tied together. A boy and a girl

who did not want to be dead alone—

they are too heavy,

so I separate them, and go to the surface.

They did not want to be dead alone.

Oh! Who am I, to ruin them?

I go to the surface, separate.

I am a stranger, here.

Oh! Who am I, to know ruin?

They are small and decaying. Those fingers!

I am a stranger here

in the dark of the water, seeing only with hands.

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Meg Eden's work has been published in Rattle, Drunken Boat, Poet Lore, and Gargoyle. She teaches at the University of Maryland. She has four poetry chapbooks, and her novel Post-High School Reality Quest is forthcoming from California Coldblood. Read about her work at