(Note: This is a reprint of a poem I published years ago in Licking River Review. Not sure why, but I’ve been thinking about my long-gone friend Cheryl, who died when we were ten. The poem also appears on jamesrichardstewart.com.”)
When they took your leg I understood.
It was your hand I wanted to hold,
for no reason other than to quiet
the strange bird in my chest.
Your gray house was on the corner
where we’d catch both frogs and the bus to school.
After healing you came to our house to swim and
everyone looked away while you hopped in.
I put on my mask and went under the water
so I could stare at how your short leg
ended without anyone watching me.
You made sure I got a good look
from both sides as you sat on the steps
in the dancing turquoise shallows.
A ridge had formed where your skin
was gathered and folded.
Your bathing suit was blue.
When I heard later that they
hadn’t got it all I cursed god
and waited defiantly for lightning to strike.
You were gone before we turned eleven.
I saw you late in that tenth summer
being wheeled around
our loop road and even though
it was your mother at your back
it took me two short breaths to see you
in those wrapped bones hunched there with
abandoned hair staring at something I could not see.
I was on my way to that swampy little creek.
Our eyes met and you were embarrassed.
I became your mirror.
I wanted to tell you that I was after frogs,
but your mom gave just the slightest
shake of her head and sadly smiled for you.
The next time I get back East
I’ll drive to the cemetery and stand in
that arc of pine and oak and maple.
I know I can find you as soon as I
get used to how the trees have grown.
I will catch a frog and let her go
and for me too.