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THE SOPRANO LISTENER                         for Winnie

When she was eight and cross-eyed her teacher stood her against

the enormous auditorium wall with several others like herself.

She stood behind her glasses while everyone sang around her,

proud of her new title, “Soprano Listener,”

and wondered where the voices went when

their echoes finally died.


Her mother brought her to the Relief Office monthly where

she had to listen very hard, then repeat soundless words, slowly,

so her mother could read her lips.


Her mother was deaf, she tone-deaf.

She owned a doll and a shoebox but no dressy dresses.


When she was eighteen, she married a school teacher with a ukulele

who taught their children to read music when they were each eight years old,

while she wrapped left-over pot roast and hummed a different song,

a song without words

for the Soprano Listener.


On school day afternoons she hung the laundry out to dry and

watched the water-heavy clothing plummet to the alley

with a slap.


Two years after her divorce she woke her kids at midnight

for a pancake party.

When she was middle-aged her eldest son died.

She listened to the rabbi's litany, to the office ladies she had worked with for seventeen years, and, finally to her little grandson who asked if his dead uncle

had any bones left.

Copyright 2018  Rachel Levine


The dead leave messages on his answering machine.

He dreams he is wandering through a junkyard of prosthesis, and amid the debris he finds the gun.

It seems to him the important thing is to remember if

he had these dreams in the past.

Instead, he remembers his wife's face the day

they fled their home.

They were propped against someone's new Buick

when a neighbor finally took them in,

ashen and trembling in the July heat.

That house was so much like his own that

he nearly wept;

he could see his second story window; his son with a shotgun and a German Shepherd.

The neighbor was understanding but insisted on

calling the police because

someone had to take control of the situation.

He watched the heat rise off the car tops,

watched the cops march in and take his son out,

his body on a small stretcher, his feet

dangling like a baby's.

In spite of what he was told, he wonders how

his son could have fired through his own head with

a shotgun.

But in the debris of his waking hours he finds no answer;


nothing at all,

nothing but silence.

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