Francine Witte is the author of four poetry chapbooks and two flash fiction chapbooks. Her full-length poetry collection, Café Crazy, has recently been published by Kelsay Books. She is reviewer, blogger, and photographer. She is a former English teacher. She lives in NYC.
Pretend you don’t see the photo
hung up in the hallway, the one of you
and your father fishing where he dangles
his catch from his scratchy hands. Later,
he would tell the neighbors how the fish
was so much bigger than it looked. The same
way he would tell you the moon is hanging
in the sky just for you, and when you grow
up you can choose the nights it will shine.
Pretend you weren’t angry
when you did grow up and wished
the moon away those final hospital nights
where your father gasped like
a dying fish, and the moon prying in
the window which was framing the night
like an unpeopled photograph where
you could shout and shout about
that time you stood knee deep in that
long-ago lake, and your father
promised you he would live forever.
*from Café Crazy
In My Poems, Sometimes I Have Children
Daughters mostly, because I know
their routines. Flatirons and tampons.
To invent boys, I would need to ask
questions, learn to talk sports.
In my poems, sometimes,
my children appreciate
me. Pretend daughter Fiona,
says things like Mom, if it weren’t
for you, I’d be living in an essay
for crying out loud. She’s right.
If I were a made up child, I
would prefer the crinoline
swish of a simile, so much kinder
than the hard angles of non-fiction.
A pretend son wouldn’t be so generous.
He would say he’s a lie I tell
myself to feel better about what
I haven’t done. I would laugh at him.
Pretend mothers can do that.
Then I would sit him down
and tell him my poems aren’t lies at all.
They’re just the truths that didn’t happen.
*from Not All Fires Burn The Same and Café Crazy
**second place, Paterson Literary Review
My Dead Florida Mother Meets Gandhi
Of all the things she could ask, she wants
to know how he managed the India heat.
“Boca’s a swamp,” she tells him, “humidity only
an alligator could stand, and I swear it was enough
to kill me, which, in fact, it probably did.”
Gandhi takes a gulp of heaven air, lavender and cool.
“To be honest,” he says,” I hated it. Hated the salt
lick film of weathersweat. Would have much preferred
it all went down in a tundra climate, Greenland, for example.
Some unfair tax on ice cubes, and me leading polar bears
into the Arctic Sea. There we would chip at the glaciers, bagging
up chunks of permafrost, my breath, visible and white.
My mother takes his bird-boned hand and holds it
for a while. “You did good,” she tells Gandhi. She looks
at him the way she looked at me when Davey Goldfarb
called to say that, yeah, he was gay, after all. The way
she looked at me the night my husband said that by other
women, he meant our neighbor, Ruth, and the way she looked
at me that last time in the nursing home as if to say
it’s not your fault, it’s not.
“You’re a good boy,” she tells Gandhi, who I think
should be horrified, but isn’t. Instead, he squeezes
my Florida mother’s pillowy hand,
his naked shoulders squaring off, his slick bald
head rising up like a new, sudden moon.
*from Not All Fires Burn The Same
**first place, Slippery Elm Poetry Contest