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Ja’net Daniello decorative flourish Dead Relatives

Over the washing machine’s hum

or the hollow drip

of the kitchen faucet, I hear them

knock at the door. Always,

I answer.

They file past me, clutching

sweaters and coats at their throats,

smoothing disheveled hair.

Their scent is gathered by the wind:

lilac dusting powder, mothballs,

orange cloves, the smoke of cigars.

They make for bad conversation,

never speaking, not even to answer

my questions. My great-grandmother

sinks into the red velour couch, clings

to an over-sized vinyl purse cluttered

with hard candy. She sneaks a piece

into her mouth while the others

inspect beaded tassels on throw pillows,

and frown at paintings that mount the walls

in place of photographs of themselves.

My grandfather pours himself

cup after cup of coffee in the kitchen.

They do not stay long, yet

overstay their welcome.

As I shuffle them out the door,

back into the cold, my great-grandmother

presses her cheek to mine and whispers

an inaudible secret. It lingers,

warm, in my ear like her peppermint breath,

like the lilac. Only later do I know

what she means. It wakes me from sleep,

sends me groping for pen and paper—

it is how the dead live forever.

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Ja’net Daniello was born and raised in New York. Her poems have appeared in The Cortland Review, Rainbow Curve, and Red Rock Review, among others. When she is not writing, Ja’net is teaching college writing or grading papers. She currently lives in Long Beach, California.