Francine Witte

Bad enough

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.

How the car was in neutral

sliding backwards, the baby
still in the backseat, and the mother
who would later tell the jury, tell
the judge that she could have sworn
that the car was in park, how she got
out for a second, a second to wipe
the birdshit off the windshield. How
she couldn’t have known that the scrubbing
would slide the car from behind
her hands. How the wiper blade
would snap as the dinosaur weight
began to build, what she would later
tell the grief counselor was like death
winning an arm wrestle. How all the time, the baby
was strapped in good and tight, never
once crying, not even with her
running behind, screaming
into the open-mouthed air.  How the car
reached the lip of the cliff that would unhinge
its valleyjaw and swallow the car like a gumdrop,
how there would be that second of pause, of hope
that everything could freeze right there,
but doesn’t.

And then, how she would feel
each night after that, lying sleepless next
to her husband, the steady breaths that
snored accusation, his chest going up and down
till she finally shakes him awake, spits out
that the kid wasn’t even his, so quit it.  How as soon
as the words leave her mouth, she can feel him slip
away, his body behemoth, unstoppable.  How
she can hear him padding past the babyless
nursery, and when he does come back it’s with
a kitchen knife that he slides down the road
of her throat.  How she could see her own life
slipping out from under her, heading towards
the cliff.  How she hopes this time, she can make it
pause, make it stop right there.  But how, in the end,
once again, all she can do is watch.


Francine Witte is the author of four poetry chapbooks and two flash fiction chapbooks. Her full-length poetry collection, Café Crazy, was published by (Kelsay Books.)  Her play, Love is a Bad Neighborhood, was produced in NYC this December. She is a former English teacher. She lives in NYC.