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Dialogue of the Tenement Widow

From The Kenyon Review, New Series, Winter 1987, Vol. IX, No. 1

Blistered, battered, ransacked,
Sold. God, I have heard stories
Issue from the mouths of these girls
I never knew were aching,
Hurting with the kind of pain
No one can be held responsible for,
Not even God. I rest on Him
When I can, when my skin has been toughened
By the news of a thousand hostages
Tortured in a country so foreign
The TV announcers can’t even say
The name right. Then I see these kids
With their scars and their torn bodies,
And something inside goes human
Something kicks in, sobbing.

You say you’re in college? Good.
My daughter didn’t like school, married
Young. Sometimes I think
Too young. Some afternoons
I used to find her crying
Out on her front stoop, hair
Still in curlers, balls of tissue
Wadded up all around her feet.
“Jimmy has someone else,” she’d cry,
And I’d stand there helpless, voiceless,
Barely able to bring my hand to her head.
I’d touch just where I used to
When she was small,
The fine baby hair.

She’s moved out now, out
To where Jimmy says there’s money.
I get letters from different places:
Dayton, Chicago, Des Moines.
My daughter dreams of the Sun Belt
Where there’s hardly ever rain.

New York’s mine, though.
I was born here, will die
Here. My peace is here,
My friends are here.
And to greet me when I wake each day
Is another version of me,
With a living husband and a child
Still walking as if she might fall.

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Allison Joseph lives, writes, and teaches in Carbondale, Illinois, where she's been on the creative writing faculty of Southern Illinois University since 1994. Her most recent books include My Father's Kites (Steel Toe Books), Trace Particles (Backbone Press), and Little Epiphanies (Imaginary Friend Press). A 1988 graduate of Kenyon College, this poem was her among her first published poems.