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Trying to Explain

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When Cat died, I pretended I didn’t notice.
The economy had tanked and I ran for home,

gave away books, barbells, finalized papers,
watched a high school play that made me cry for hours.

I didn’t even know Nicky had passed:
heard it in a startled phone call, found the obituary and memorized it word for word
downloaded the picture of his ghost
counted memories in the streaks of his gray hair.

I stood at my mother’s bedside the day before she died,

her nightgown tangled across skeletal arms, her eyes already sealed shut, she hummed,
mumbled in her half-sleep about a trolley ride, ate imaginary ice cream.

But not Michele.

In impossible absurdity, I drove, my speed measured against Jagger’s falsetto on the radio,
the few miles between here and the hospital distorted into decades of distance;

two nights before, we drank decaffeinated coffee in my bedroom, shared Twitter feeds in the dim glow
of dueling laptop screens, and waited for the lights to come back on after the storm;
we passed footage from Standing Rock and Aleppo back and forth between us, assessed incoming
and outgoing administrations, the two of us rarely silenced, suddenly stunned into speechlessness,
by children forced to witness the imminent implosions of missiles plummeting toward earth.

I don’t know how to grieve: I have no ability to accept or lament.

That is why, when you are sleeping, I
count the steady intake of your breaths, and sometimes
grab your breasts too roughly, my ear against your ribcage
and bury myself inside the hollows of your skin.

That is why I argue when we are happy,
until you slam your glass against the table,
and rage pulses through your temple, and your jaw shifts
in that stark angle, like you are biting on dried leather

until from all the way across the room, I can feel
the raucous rhythms of your heart’s sharp beats.


Angela Gaito-Lagnese earned her master-of-fine-arts degree and Ed.D. from the University of Pittsburgh. Her poem “It’s Hard to Tell What Race My Son Is” will be included in
Nasty Women & Bad Hombres Anthology, coming out this summer. She is an associate professor of English at Community College of Allegheny County and lives in Brookline. Many writers featured in Chapter & Verse are guests of Prosody, produced by Jan Beatty and Ellen Wadey. Prosody airs every Saturday morning on WESA 90.5 FM.


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