how my husband took her
to the river, this young girl
he couldn’t leave alone. I saw him
smile wrong at her when she came
by that first time, looking to run errands
because her father broke his back,
and they were going poor. I saw my husband
staring at her breasts,
making me a part of his secret.
What made it worse was how
the papers would tell it, the drowning,
the girl and my husband pulled out
of the nightwater, the used condom
on the riverbank and the empty bottle
of wine she wasn’t old enough to drink.
Worse even than that, her father,
who it turns out never broke his back
at all, and would later send me the bill for his daughter’s
burial. And not because he was going poor
the way she’d said, but because he had given
up on her, after his wife caught the two of them
in the attic, and left them together forever.
The daughter deciding right then she’d had enough
and started looking for her father in other men.
It became the town secret
that everyone knew. Her father, who had now gone
booze-crazy, and the mother, living hidden
in another town. And the girl, just hours
before meeting my husband that night
primping for their date, maybe
fluffing up her hair, checking her lipstick,
her red mouth pouting and unpouting into
the air like a beautiful, doomed fish.
You are bad at family dinners, those cattle calls
of memories and walking ghosts. You’d much rather
live in the now. What you want to call your grown-up
life. Instead, you are sitting across from Uncle Max,
dead in five years, who keeps shaking his head
at your mother, his younger sister, who, herself,
will be gone in two. How they thought you’d be married
by now, or famous. And you are nowhere near either.
You butter your bread, your go-to move. No eye contact
needed, and besides, the food is good.
Later, the train will rumble you home, back to your
one-room life with its stack of magazines and people
you are meaning to get to. But listen, one thing at a time.
First, there is saying that today is the last day
of your childhood. And then, later, when you lie
down to sleep, be sure to close the curtain
on the moon staring at you through
the window like your mother’s watching eye.
Francine Witte is the author of four poetry chapbooks and two flash fiction chapbooks. Her full-length poetry collection, Café Crazy, has recently been published by Kelsay Books. She is reviewer, blogger, and photographer. She is a former English teacher. She lives in NYC.