From Atlanta, Georgia to a Deadbeat Dad’s Ambiguous End: Narrative Poem by Kathleen S. Burgess

Image of deadbeat dad in narrative poem

Dead Man’s Petition

With a last what-the-hell round, a chaser
of self-pity, he drove to Atlanta, Marathon,

parts south. His ex-wife didn’t see him go.
He’d been lost since the factory closed.

And he owed a year’s back child support.
From Ohio, his decades as deadbeat dad

were untraceable under an alias, living
underground in a work-for-cash economy.

Twenty-odd years later, and beseeching
the same county judge who’d declared him

deceased, he remembers those days past.
His ex doesn’t want him alive—can’t afford

to refund the Social Security spent long ago
for their children. Life got away from him,

he says. But he doesn’t account for much.
Doesn’t visit. Defeat transfixes him again.

Then the gavel pounds. The man stands down.
No one buys back time. A heart in purgatory,

he wanders away. The children are grown.
His ex is getting along. She says he’s better

left a citizen of the Republic of the Undead.

Kathleen S. Burgess About Kathleen S. Burgess

Kathleen S. Burgess lives in Chillicothe, Ohio, and writes narrative and lyric poetry about the American experience in a variety of voices. Her work has been published in North American Review, Evening Street Review, Main Street Rag, Atticus Review, The Examined Life, JMWW, r.kv.r.y, Central American Review, and others. Shaping What Was Left, a chapbook, and Reeds and Rushes—Pitch, Buzz, and Hum, the anthology she edited, are Pudding House publications.
Gardening with Wallace Stevens, a chapbook, was published in 2017 by Locofo Chaps, a site for politically oriented poetry, with cover art by Linda Holmes.


  1. Roy Bentley says:

    Kathleen, this poem reminds us of a principle many would like to ignore: actions have consequences. This persists in the mind after, like all the best work.

    Nice. And a treat to see!


  2. “Life got away from him.” Ain’t that the gospel truth! For all of us.

  3. Cynthia Davis says:

    Wonderful composition and so true. You are the best in my book Kathleen!

    • Kathleen S. Burgess says:

      Cindy, thank you for your more than generous response. It’s definitely a mutual admiration society.

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