Hair hennaed to a martial tease,
left arm and leg dead weight, brain seared
by errant surgery and strokes
you mangle social niceties,
harangue off key, laugh late at jokes
old friends find inappropriate.
Your garden flourishes and sours
untended, rampant in neglect.
Rose arbors buckle under thorns;
the Women’s Club no longer tours.
Couch pocked with burns from cigarettes
set down while nodding off you read
Murdered wives, suburban nightmares,
kids exiled to their predators
in wooded lots or storage sheds,
cast under spell, preserved in thrall
until awakened with a kiss.
Satisfied, you close the lurid
thing, gleaming like a casket lid.
“These people must be idiots.
Since when does money guarantee
release? Nothing’s automatic.
Funny: they all believe in God.”
Your granddaughter tunes in and out,
hearing aids abuzz with static.
She’s culled your girlhood library
from boxes marked Don’t Throw Away:
Reader’s Digest Iliad,
Alice, Mowgli, first-edition Oz,
Little House and Little Women.
Misshapen hobbled words emerge
through awkward lips and tongue, her brain
short-circuited by voltage surge
like yours, outriders freezer burned
between that sunless world and this.
You scrutinize her head to toe,
a pro appraising deficits
beneath her hearing, under breath.
“Those doctors really fucked you up.”
She nods to hide confusion. “Huh?”
You smile as if to reassure—
too wide, she flinches back in fear,
the mirror image strange, undone
but recognizable from long
ago, familiar passerby
accosted with their given name
who stops, aghast, then turns away.
George Witte is the author of two collections, Deniability (2009) and The Apparitioners (2005), both in print with Orchises Press. He received the Frederick Bock Prize from Poetry magazine and a fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. For twenty seven years he has worked at St. Martin’s Press, where he is editor in chief. He lives with his wife and their two daughters in Ridgewood, New Jersey.