D’Anne Witkowski

It’s Right Under the Skin

There’s a story I’m telling myself
and in this story you call me are calling me
are calling with a touch tone phone
at your fingertips I am at your fingertips
and I hit you with the phone book
to leave the perfect bruise.

I have a purple flower of a bruise
on my thigh like I’ve been pinching myself
to wake up, looking in a dream book
to decode signals you’re sending me –
loosening teeth, apple cores, snakeskin fingertips,
a sound like a siren, a woman wailing on the phone.

I’ve made the wrong impression on the phone
when I said I had to go I meant I bruise
easily and please hold for the next (fingertip,
fingertip) operator. I’m talking to myself.
There is no heart here. No golden me.
No cure for uncertainty, no yellowed book

no chance encounter at a shopping mall book
store. My God, who even reads any more? Phone
call, wolf whistle, Doppler effect, nobody heard me
and anyway I said nothing, tossed a plum, bruised
and ripe your way. Take a bite. I have myself
counted out in doses, each pill as big as a fingertip

and by that I mean a small one, a fingertip
like yours, the same one you placed in a book
so as to not lose your place. To not lose myself
I use a mirror, a gun, and a cell phone.
Look at this here: a text message, a bullet, a bruise
on the side of my face. I fell. You can’t keep me

upright. That god damn moon. Goodnight me.
If things turn out, you won’t need your fingertips.
I’ll be closer while you’re asleep, an untethered bruise
in your body, looking for the left ventricle, a book
about blood and the ways of blood. How a phone
call could’ve saved you from what I call myself.

You could have had me. I could have had myself.
Two to four red lips. A phone and a fingertip
pressing a bruise between the pages of a book.

Race Ball

My son and I watched a movie about baseball

or, more specifically, about a white kid on a quest

to find Babe Ruth’s stolen bat with the help

of a talking ball and a little black girl.

Babe lets the kid hit during the 1932 World Series

because, hey, the Yankees were losing anyway,

so of course the kid hits a homer though

such a thing would never happen in real life

especially the part when the kid’s black girlfriend

just runs onto the field to congratulate him,

I mean come on it was 1932, she probably wouldn’t

have even been allowed into the stadium, let alone

on the grass but this is a cartoon and watching that

little girl get tackled by white security guards and

dragged out by her hair onto Clark street isn’t

G rated and I wouldn’t want my son to see such a thing

in the first place because what would I say? I mean,

when the man with the stinky feet chased the boy

through the train I said, That man is not nice,

when the boy jumped from one train to another

I said, That is not safe, but when a little girl is turned away

because she’s “colored?” I’m supposed to already be talking

about race with my son, who is not even three,

explaining that our skin is white and that not all people

have white skin, but that doesn’t mean white skin is better,

except it is. It will open doors for you that brown skin

would nudge closed and black skin would slam shut.

And I’m supposed to tell him that it shouldn’t be like this

except it is like this and the people with the power

to change things like it like this. My boy with his blue eyes

and golden blonde curls. My boy who looks angelic in a

hooded sweatshirt. My boy who could carry a Louisville

Slugger through a dark park and no one would bat an eye.

All the Way to Brazil

Look, my wife says, thumbing through glossy pages
of nude women in a South American guidebook.
Maybe we should plan a trip to Brazil?

The woman in the photo is bronzed, wearing
a yellow bikini bottom, her breasts are pert,
shimmering in full sun.

I’m not going to go all the way to Brazil just to see
brown nipples, I respond, which sounds racist
but what I mean is that Brazil is far away,

and nipples are nipples, aren’t they?
Granted my experience with brown nipples is nil.
I grew up in a very white town where

I met my very white wife, the very woman
reclining on the couch carefully studying a map of
Rio de Janeiro tracing bus routes like veins.

She is, no doubt, picturing herself in Copacabana,
strolling the sand in a colorful beach wrap, while I picture
her kidnapped by Columbian drug lords with machine guns.

I have a theory that most people’s nipples are the same color
as their lips, Stacy says, and as I lean in to kiss her,
the woman in the yellow bikini stares up at me,

thigh-deep in impossibly blue water,
arms sweeping outward as if to say, Menina,
there is no limit to what you do not know.

Sty

In fourth grade Amanda A. had a sty on her eye
and you feared it

just like you feared any thing that could grow on a face
especially that look,

the one that says – and this was later, much later –
You are so full of shit.

Twenty years on you got a sty of your own and knew it was
your rottenness manifesting,

that God made this happen which is what N. said whenever
you hit your head

on the way to the basement where she had a mattress
and some music.

Most nights you didn’t take anything but there were nights
you did

and worse, nights you didn’t come at all, just left her
blinking in the dark.

Let’s Lie About This and Other Things

It wasn’t like a pig with an apple crammed in its mouth,
or a bird’s nest made of sticks that look like Top Ramen

nor was it like a wet baby in a too-full tub slipping
through Daddy’s clumsy hands. It was more like

seeing my third grade teacher in the supermarket,
steak and a box of tampons in her cart. Wait. Not quite.

It certainly wasn’t like a smooth jazz song from a rusty
boombox set on a construction site’s highest steel beam.

Nor was it like my grandma showing me her heart tattoo,
Leroy in the center, though my grandpa’s name was Mitch.

And it was nothing like watching a fireman swing his ax at my
neighbor’s door after newspapers piled in the drive for weeks.

It wasn’t like the time my brother was suspended for calling
the school’s only black kid “Blackie” or like my father’s plan

to take a baseball in a sweat sock on an airplane to ward off
hijackers or like the time my sister hit me in the head

with a frozen loaf of Wonder Bread and I knew
what it meant to see stars. It was nothing like seeing stars.

It was, if I were forced to pin it down, more like
when someone sneezes and pees a little. Or that feeling

when you simultaneously think you’ve locked your
keys in the car and realize you haven’t. Or when

you laugh so hard you end up sobbing and can’t recall
what was ever so funny in the first place.

D’Anne Witkowski is a poet, writer, teacher, wife, and mother living in Michigan. She received her MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan where she currently teaches writing. She also writes a nationally syndicated weekly column for the LGBT press.

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