Melissa Fite Johnson: "Being Human"




Age six or so, looking at my parents, 

imagining them in their coffins—

only I didn’t know 

people dressed up in coffins—

my mother in her elementary teacher’s 

jumper and wooden holiday pin; my father, 

scuffed-up work boots dipped in mud.   


I figured my brother would die 

if he didn’t buckle his seatbelt.  Every time 

we got in the car, for Florida 

or the grocery store, I tattled.  He glared 

as he yanked the strap across his chest, but 

this work was important. 

I could see him dead, too—

stonewashed jeans, ratty flannel, smirk.  


Then in college, actually seeing 

my friend in his casket, stupidly 

in a blue suit and tie.  I wanted to say 

good-bye to him, novelty T-shirt, sarcastic 

glint in his eyes.  Who was this 

waxy mannequin?  I marveled at his posture.  


Is this what it means to be human, 

sitting after a funeral in a hardbacked chair

in my quiet apartment, not bothering 

to turn the lights on when the windows 

start to reflect only darkness, 

listening to the ticking of my own watch?


Melissa Fite Johnson's poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in several publications, including I-70 Review, The New Verse News, velvet-tail, Inscape Magazine, Cave Region Review, The Invisible Bear, Bear Review, Red Paint Hill Journal, Rust + Moth, Red Eft Review, and Broadsided Press: 2014 Haiku Year in Review. Her poems also have appeared in the Kansas anthologies Begin Again: 150 Kansas Poems and To the Stars through Difficulties: A Kansas Renga in 150 Voices, a Kansas Notable Book Award winner.  In February 2015, Little Balkans Press published her first book of poetry, While the Kettle’s On, which recently won the Nelson Poetry Book Award.