My sister is dying
and not because she wants to,
and not because we didn’t know
about death, but always thought
it was for other people, like our crazy
drunk neighbor who smashed his car
and was talked about in whispers after that.
But now, my sister lives alone in a house
that holds her like it’s a giant mouth,
and she is just a word it wants to say.
She’s widowed and her children grown
and gone. She’s too young to be this old,
and so she flirts with sickness the way
she used to flirt with boys. Pills and
joint aches fight off the loneliness that
stares at her like she’s a giant television.
She keeps telling me that death is near.
Syrupy slow, but coming. I want to say she’s
wrong, that things are not always as they
seem, that it turns out our neighbor wasn’t
drunk, but rather had a heart attack, and that
the stink was lifted off his death. I want to say
it’s okay to be cool, to treat death like it’s a boy
we know will call, but it might be good
to play a little hard to get.
We never met. I knew you only
from his voice hunching up
with your name. His first loss.
Each autumn, on the anniversary,
he’d light a thick candle, let it burn
into another year you wouldn’t have.
I once saw him sob for a woman
on TV whose cancer, like yours, wouldn’t heal.
When we visited the school where you taught,
I watched as he stood and stood by a tree
with your name. By now, you know
he’s remarried. Children and all.
On nights like this, just past summer,
air crisp as apple-skin, you and I
almost meet. There we are, in a swirl
of thought just above his head.
You, with your dress the color of wrong
sunlight that funerals sometimes have, and me
tinged with the shade of faint regret
that the once-loved always wear.
The two of us transparent, real
as breath, our hands about to touch.
Francine Witte’s poetry and fiction have appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, Wigleaf, Mid-American Review, and Passages North. Her latest books are Dressed All Wrong for This (Blue Light Press,) The Way of the Wind (AdHoc fiction,) and The Theory of Flesh (Kelsay Books) She is flash fiction editor for Flash Boulevard and The South Florida Poetry Journal. Her chapbook, The Cake, The Smoke, The Moon (flash fiction) was published by ELJ Editions in September, 2021. She lives in NYC.