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Women At Play Group

ISSUE:  Summer 1998
How ordinary we are, beautiful
only to our children,
and without much to say,
not really friends,
we stroke our babies’ heads
absently in the lulls between
trading our one story and giving
directions to outlet malls,
the way survivors of a flood
linger after church to chat,
and repeat too often what
happened to them the day
the water rose, swallowed
familiar fields and streets
and pushed and pushed and
pushed at the bridge, until
that miracle of engineering
shook, groaned, nearly
gave, but somehow
held, as the river tore
head first through
the pilings, and out to sea.

Kelly Rowe


Music of voices
on the street, music in the form
of oranges, of kisses, it could happen to anyone: a middle-aged

man stumbles
on the walk ahead of me, spilling
his paper bag of clamps, glue and screws. He must be going home

to fix something,
whatever it was he touched
and broke. He looks up, and I see it’s my dead friend, but how

can that be?
I help him stand, and straighten
his rumpled clothes, his cheeks ashen, creased. Raspy traffic

music, or is it
the greasy throb of work, turbines
braying in the sky, spirits in flight. He’s been gone so long

he’s changed,
which is only to be expected, his coat
silky, glimmering, who used to find his clothes in the freebox.

And he’s calmer,
almost peaceful now, who used to hurl
curses, stoning the police, awash in hate and love and terror.

Wan, polite, he waits
for the light to change, his hand
beginning to twist, who used to gnash, who used to burn and burn.

John Witte


Perhaps he was mistaken.
He pulls over, and gets out, stepping
onto the bridge, something overlooked, the surge and flurry

of water under the road, a shoe, a twisted shirt, his funhouse
face clinging to the surface. He asks to speak
to the swallows scrawling

their longhand between him and the river. He asks for quiet,
to hear what the water was saying, a heron
cramping into the air. He asks

the cars to still
their ratcheting pistons, the quick
explosions in the heart. He cannot help it. He wants something

more, the mind
weaving and teeming, the white
bones of someone’s cat lodged on the bottom. He asks for sleep,

for anesthesia, for the river
to admit him in his robe, and rinse,
and cut him, using all its silvery instruments, its glistening

scrapers and scalpels, its swabs, its blue surgery leaving him
scoured as a tin can, a rubber boot
emptying and filling,

the way the heart fills and empties, collapsing, leaving him
ready for love, for singing, the light splayed
and radiating around his head.

John Witte


Because we feared the call,
I let you answer the phone
and turned my face away

not to see yours
when the doctor spoke,
watching our son who smiled

as he read. I closed
you out by listening only
to traffic on the street

because I could not bear
to have you turn and say,
The test was positive.

Hours later I scorned
the use of that word
for such destruction:

knowledge of cells berserk,
months of chemo and rads and white
spaces between more tests.

Silence began when we glanced
at each other, mute as stones,
before our child asked What?

What happened? and we rushed
to fill the void with assurance,
telling him cancer need not kill,

these things happen, hard, yes,
but most survive, and so on
into the night when I woke

and you were weeping beyond
the meaning of tears
or any sorrow you’d known,

and I could only hold
your body shaking
in a cold and naked wind.


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