“How To Tell When Things Are Dead,” by Ron Riekki

Dec 20th, 2022 | By | Category: Poetry

Cartoon characters—after they have completely disappeared when falling into an abyss. There is no other surefire way to know a cartoon character is dead, so if you are ever wanting to kill one, ensure an abyss is nearby.

Plants—I have no idea.  Since that’s the case, just keep watering them.  Who the heck knows if it’s alive or dead?

Celebrities—when they are doing an interview on Fresh Air with Terry Gross.  Any celebrity being interviewed by Terry Gross has a fifty-fifty chance that they’re dead.  Just wait until the interview is over and then Terry will tell you if it is a repeat of an earlier interview she had done with the celebrity and then she will sadly tell you that they died last Tuesday.  Otherwise, if she doesn’t mention them being dead, they’re alive.

Serial killers in horror movies—completely impossible to tell if they’re dead.  If you are in the audience, you’re fine.  If you’re in the movie, you’re screwed.  Make sure you’re not in the movie.

Sleeping lions—very difficult to tell if they are dead.  One way to check is to pet them.  Another way is to throw rocks at them or crank Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All.  Or both.

Flamingos—really easy to tell if they’re dead.  They’ll be lying down, all dead looking.  Like I said, one of the easiest things to tell is if a flamingo is dead.

Zombies—kind of a trick question.  Zombies are the living dead, so they’re already dead, but they’re also alive.  So this is just simply a really hard question.  If it ends up coming up on the MCAT, just keep answering all of the other questions and you can come back to this one later, if you have time.

Finnish people—I’m Finnish, so I know this one pretty well, but Finnish people are mostly the same as normal people, so a Finnish person will be dead just like other people are dead, but they’ll just be more Finnish than other people.  Even when we’re dead.

Cobras—man, fuck cobras.

Man with a hat over his face—just pull the hat back and you’ll see his face.  You can tell a person is dead by looking at their face most of the time.  A common error is that some people look at the person’s feet or sometimes even at their watch.  Don’t get caught up on feet or watches.  Just look at their face.  If a hat is on their face, don’t look at the hat.  Remember: remove the hat.  The face will be right there.  If the face looks dead, the other things like the feet will probably also be dead.  Also, sometimes the watch is dead too, but that’s just a coincidence.

Dead people—this one’s easy.  They’re dead.  It’s in the title.  If a person calls someone else a “dead person,” they’re most likely dead.  The only thing to be aware of is if it’s a fight.  If two people are fighting and one person calls the other person a “dead man” or says something like, “You’re dead,” they’re not really dead.  People say the opposite things in fights.  This is why I hate fights.  You can’t tell who’s telling the truth.

John Wilkes Booth—he died in 1878 or one of those years like that.  The point is a long time ago.  But he’s definitely very dead.  Once you die, your death just keeps getting older, so he’s very dead at this point.  That’s one thing I’ll always remember about John Wilkes Booth—how dead he is.

The Easter Bunny—can’t be killed.  Trick question.

Navy Seals—also can’t be killed.  Trick question.

Trains—this is just stupid.  Trains can’t be killed.  If someone ever asked you this, just ignore them.  Unless it’s a child, then you can explain to them how trains aren’t alive and they’ll learn something valuable.

My neighbor who says he owns an Orange Julius—I see him walking around in front of my apartment complex, so he’s alive.  But if he’s ever lying there on the sidewalk, he’s probably dead.

Queen Elizabeth I—dead.  All queens are dead.  I think.  I don’t know much about history or other countries or anything like that, but if someone’s a queen, always assume their dead.  Just like John Wilkes Booth.  (But there are probably actual queens out there somewhere in the world, but if you live in the U.S., then just consider a queen to be dead.)

Janeane Garofalo—she’s alive.  She did a show in the city where I grew up a few weeks ago.  So she’s alive.  But if she was dead, it’d be like a regular person, so just look at her face.  She doesn’t wear hats, so you can just walk up and look at her face.  She’s an easy one to figure out if she’s dead.  (Also, I’m glad she’s alive, because she’s really cute.)

Spiders—man, fuck spiders.


Ron Riekki’s books include Blood/Not Blood Then the Gates (Middle West Press, poetry), My Ancestors are Reindeer Herders and I Am Melting in Extinction (Loyola University Maryland’s Apprentice House Press, hybrid), Posttraumatic (Hoot ‘n’ Waddle, nonfiction), and U.P. (Ghost Road Press, fiction). Right now, he’s listening to Kay Starr’s “The Headless Horseman.”

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