Cue Lazarus

By Carl Marcum Carl Marcum
Start this with the invocation:
             a seventy-seven Pinto,
             an eastbound freeway, two boys
a few months from their driver’s license.

It happens again because you’ve
             said it. You sit in the back seat,
             a ghost of red vinyl, to listen
to these boys—one of whom was you,

the one along for the ride—talk
              brave about cheerleaders
              and socket wrenches as they pass
a stolen cigarette between them.

They don’t know you’re there,
              wouldn’t believe in you should
              they look backstage, backseat.
The boys are driving back from an October

orchard where they’d gone to see leaves
              change. You remember: orange, brown,
              as though you’d just seen those leaves,
because in this proximity

to yourself—the boy in the passenger
               seat—you are thinking the
               same thing, and each of your in-
carnations feels like they’ve thought this

before. Your ghost, your present tense
               thinks that maybe this isn’t right.
               Now you’re along for the ride.
These boys haven’t cuffed up against

their own mortality yet, though one
               of them is sick. The other one,
               driving and picking at the thin
hair falling from his scalp, will die

soon, because what lurks in his dark
               blood can be cured by medical
               science. And that cure is what will
kill him, as it leaves him weak,

unable to fight off infection
               in his lungs. But that comes later.
               You are here with them now to find
out what you owe to whom—your life,

mortgaged to one of these boys
               and you’ve never been able to
               rectify that debt. You are the
stage direction, a ghost backstage,

wanting a spotlight, a soapbox
               a soliloquy. Dissolve
               back into your life, like sugar
in tea—exit this scene now, stage left.


You are the apparition again
               in your mother’s house. You follow
               yourself down the yellow hallway
to the ringing phone in the kitchen.

You already know who’s calling,
               the way you knew then—when you were
               the self you’re haunting. Your friend
is dead. You know this even before

his sister tells you—but because your
               ghost is too close, the boy can feel
               your grief, but can’t feel his own.
And you did know then, didn’t you?

You knew that morning, that the earth
               awakes closest to the sun—four
               days into every new year.
And Lazarus, dead now, four days.

Roll away the stone. Believe
               in something besides the past.
               Awaken from this dream like
a man called out from a cave.

It happens this way each time:
               a bourbon breakdown in January
               rain—weeping an invocation,
cursing corollary.


Can you go to Tom’s grave today
               and mandate him back to this life?
               Should you cue him from the wing
like a stage direction? Would he

damn you—a sadness, a gravestone
               on your chest, for calling him
               into this mortal suffering?
If you had been in Houston that day

he’d have died anyway. You’re a fool
               to think you can bargain across the river.
               Haunting the past won’t stop
it from happening each time, exactly

the same way. Won’t stop your heart
               from breaking like a glass decanter,
               brown whisky sliding
mercury across the tile.

Carl Marcum, "Cue Lazarus" from Cue Lazarus. Copyright © 2001 by Carl Marcum.  Reprinted by permission of University of Arizona Press.

Source: Cue Lazarus (University of Arizona Press, 2001)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Carl Marcum

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Subjects Living, Coming of Age, Death, Sorrow & Grieving, Life Choices, The Body, Relationships, Friends & Enemies, Love, Heartache & Loss


Born in Nogales, Arizona, and raised in Tucson by his Mexican mother and Caucasian father, poet Carl Marcum earned a BA and an MFA from the University of Arizona.
Marcum is the author of the poetry collection Cue Lazarus (2001), part of Camino del Sol’s Latina and Latino Literary Series. With humor and imagination, Marcum writes poems that explore his experience as a medio, or individual of mixed race, growing up in the . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Coming of Age, Death, Sorrow & Grieving, Life Choices, The Body, Relationships, Friends & Enemies, Love, Heartache & Loss

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.