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Denise Duhamel - Fear on 11th Street and Avenue A, New York City

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Fear on 11th Street and Avenue A, New York City

Now the papers are saying pesticides will kill us
rather than preservatives. I pass the school yard
where the Catholic girls snack. Cheeze Doodles and apples.
No parent today knows what to pack in a lunch box
and the plaid little uniforms
hold each girl in: lines in the weave cross
like directions, blurry decisions.
A supervising nun sinks in her wimple. All the things she can't do,
she thinks, to save them, her face growing smaller.
She dodges their basketball.
Who said the Catholic church has you for life
if it had you when you were five? I remember my prayers at odd times
and these girls already look afraid.
But it's not just the church. It's America.
I fear the children I know will become missing children,
that I will lose everyone I need to some hideous cancer.
I fear automobiles, all kinds of relationships.
I fear that the IRS will find out the deductions I claimed this year
I made up, that an agent will find a crumpled draft of this poem
even if fear edits this line out... I have no privacy,
no protection, yet I am anonymous. I sometimes think
the sidewalk will swallow me up. So I know when the girls
line up to go inside and one screams to her friend
"If you step on a crack, you'll break your mother's back..."
she means it. She feels all that responsibility, that guilt.
There's only one brown girl who doesn't do what she should.
She's dancing by herself to a song on her Walkman.
One of her red knee socks bunches at her ankle and slips into her sneaker.
And the shoulder strap of her jumper has unbuckled so her bib flaps.
Maybe she can save us. I clutch the school yard's chain link fence.
Please, little girl, grow up to be pope or president.

Denise Duhamel


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