Donna Sums Everything Up

And that’s where it ends. The rest are
if not scribbles, exactly, not as compelling
as these poems, I guess you would call them.
I was their only little birdie, as it turned out,
and I hope I was enough, or as close to enough
as any one person can be. The briefcase was
on her bed when I came to clear out her things,
and the key was in a little envelope that said
For Donna. The typewriter was missing—
she gave it to someone else who needed it,
the attendant told me. Nothing more than that.
Sometimes I arrange the papers on the table,
trying to make sense of the web of people,
who said what to whom, all the things
they couldn’t say. Other times, I hold these
pages close, breathe the lingering smoke
from a thousand cigarettes, peer through
the thin paper as if I could see her.

I believe I can.


Unknown Speaker, Unknown Subject

NEXT! Number 29? Number 29?
said the counterman at the supermarket deli,
and I realized I was Number 29, and I was
in another world, with seven people behind me,
fuming. But when I think about
[something crossed out, perhaps a name?],
tell me, what am I supposed to do? It’s all
a to-do list, isn’t it, life? Much ado about
nothing [crossed out] everything

[and here it all drifts off into cross-outs,
Wite Out, eraser dust, the rest of the page



Ruth Has Some Regrets

I wish I had known to slow down.
By the time all the magazines told us
about family togetherness,

it seemed like it was too late—Ralph
taller than I was. So I just kept going:
meals on the table, safety, an extra

quarter with his milk money so he could
buy the cookies they made at school.
It was enough, I thought. And wasn’t it?

A lot of those together families ended up
broken, I know, but we stayed together.
Still, I wish I had asked, that day, why

Ralph tried to run away. Do you suppose
I still could ask? I still love him.
That much, I do know.


Belén Speaks to the Writer

Well. Bueno.
Put me in your story
for I belong in it,

am already there,
have always been.
Say how I learned

many things for my family,
English, yes, but also
how things work here.

Say that I learned from girls,
especially the almost-nice one,
almost rhyming name girl.

Say a thing about me
that’s almost


Ellen Celebrates Thanksgiving

My gratitude fits on the head of a pin sometimes—
like angels—but today I am thankful for this drive,
alone, after dinner. Across the bridge to the reservoir,
the factory where they used to make veggie burgers
(the scent of soy belching out of the smokestacks;
we said we could smell it on the kids who lived nearby),
the place where the apartment buildings begin, houses
tailing off, smaller and smaller. Belén lived there,  
and so did the one bad boy I ever dated. No need for
his name, or not just now. But sometimes, my car
finds its way over that bridge, back to that complex
of apartments, filled with other families by now,
of course, nothing remaining of Belén or Nameless.
I’ll have to find a store on the way home, any one
that’s open, to buy the Cool Whip I said I needed
for the pies. A house full of company, and I drive off
looking for ghosts of friendship and love—ashamed,
maybe, but so grateful, I could almost burst into tears.


Pat, on the Subject of Barbara

I don’t know what she was thinking,
after all this time, breathing at me
about Modigliani, my red hair

as if—what—I would leave Ralph,
break his heart, for what amounts to
girlish heavy petting, at most,

or the Victorian model of friendship?
Read any old novel, and you’ll find
girls in bed together, panting and

talking about bosoms—and then
they marry men. So, it’s not worth
thinking about. I wish she hadn’t.

Still, though, when I saw her email,
all the old lights lit up again, a whole
harbor, a fleet of ships in her name.



Ruth Seeks Ralph’s Attention

Plug in your better eyes
and look at this.
This is how I used to bake,
back when I felt better.

These days, as you know,
I mostly say, Why bother?

Years of storebought pies
before I ever let on, and no one
said a word—so, the pies I made
must not have been that extraordinary

after all.

But in case it matters,
I want you to watch as I flour
everything—the board, the stockinette
over the rolling pin, the air I still breathe.


Barbara Writes to Pat

I saw a poster in a shop once,
years after we

parted ways,

that reminded me of you—

a young woman with short, dark hair,
large, dark eyes,

one strap of her camisole
sliding down her shoulder

the way yours used to.


She looked nothing like you.
I remember your eyes are green, Pat,
and from the pictures I saw on Facebook,

your hair is still that same soft

There was something about the one strap,
I guess, or the directness of her gaze,

so I put you in the painting
even though you weren’t there.

Funny how the mind works, isn’t it,
when you’re in love?