I Fell in Love With a Coffin Woman

Though my lover left, the puff of her perfume

lingers, a pervasive apparition. I still hear her

whispering jokes. Our giggles sound alarms

in tone-deaf ear. Her absence is a cluttered room

exchanged for a relationship, shrouded in smoke.

She crafted pristine palaces, the master of pretend.

We modeled matching hazard tape sashes.

She disguised lovers as friends, and

our castle became a tomb, caked with ashes.

Our romance was a car crash, pieces of us scattered.

Roads littered with her broken bottle heart,

left for me to find. I ignored the sirens and

embraced the glass shatter. How do I gauze my heart

from the mess she left behind?

Summer is here and I’m cleaning debris,

mourning the season when she loved me.


Can’t Afford to Miss 

Our trailer hosts the cruel chill of winter,

relentless but familiar. Turns out

food stamps won’t pay the power bill.

Water is a privilege and we’ve earned a drought.

My mother begs the church for aid,

Renae, just this once, but never ask again

I go to school, fourth day without a shower.

Do they notice I’ve bathed myself in perfume?

In class the teacher asks, What is your favorite food?

Anything that isn’t rice and pinto beans,

we’ve been eating that shit for a week.

Society spits: the needy seek a handout—

Out of shampoo, out of soap, out of toilet paper.

This family’s existence: a burden to society.

My father’s drug addiction: a stereotype.

The government gifting funds to feed

the bum’s next binge. Why can he afford meth

but not milk? Breaking the law, cheating the system,

stealing taxpayer money, is what they all say—

We’re merely a penny: worthless, yet expensive to maintain.

Healthcare isn’t necessary for those who heal with Christ and crank.

My father, a firm believer, hasn’t seen a doctor in a decade.

The night he has chest pains, he diagnoses it as indigestion.

He doesn’t worry my mother who works that night.

She can’t afford to miss, and

he can’t afford the debt.

She goes to tell him goodnight and

finds him dead.

The coroner assures her, father is

reaping his eternal reward.


December 12, 2017

It’s a month after the funeral;

I saw you cold in a casket

wearing a lilac colored shirt

that matched the bruises

under my eyes for weeks to come and

I still hear the whispered sermon jiving

the cliche of the crack addict

decaying long before the wake.


Airea Johnson attends Flagler College in St. Augustine, FL, where she studies English Literature, Creative Writing and Philosophy. Her work reflects her childhood in Alabama, the gratuitous nature of grief, and the raw reality of substance abuse. Her work has been featured in Third Wednesday Magazine.