I’m posting two poems today that create the spirit of my artistic life. One is about storytelling and needs no further introduction. The other is about stopping and was written in March of 2000. I had given up most media about five years before I wrote this poem because I found I could not expose myself to the news and then go into work and listen to my patient’s stories. It was one or the other and of course my “children” won. A favorite line is “I don’t know why I stopped the stopping.”
I have heard it said that when a woman tells a story
She becomes both mother and child teller and listener curator and ticket holder
to this event that catalogues
her life and her destiny.
Julia W. Burns, MD
Where is your Sister?
I stopped reading the paper
two years ago, when the choking
began. The stories lodged tight
against my Adam’s apple til I
couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t sweep
the swallow stuck in my throat.
So I stopped reading about them early,
first thing in the morning with my
green tea and bagel. Stopped reading
so I could pretend I could
breathe at work when I listened
to my children’s stories.
But I broke, read about you,
February gray and twenty nine
days which evolved through
four years. Leap year 2000.
Little lost boy, his gun, his fight with a friend
on the playground that led to this vendetta.
Seventeen children filed out to lunch in a single
line, obedient, order well-formed,
as he whipped out the barrel,
pointed at his enemy and then swung
and shot her in the neck. I
don’t know why I stopped the
stopping and read about you.
Looked at the picture of your
mother’s front page weeping in
the courtroom, read about your father’s
release from jail to appear
at your side, after it happened.
But even though I
read about you, your mother
and father, the flop house
and crack, the policeman
who said you didn’t stand
a chance, the man who left
his gun on your pillow, the little
girl who will never go
to church again, her mother, who
may not either, the thing I remember
most, can’t shake from my brain,
the refrain stuck like the swallow,
“The boy and his brother were placed
with a maternal aunt. There is a sister but her
location is unknown.”
So now as I sit in the morning, not
reading the paper again, I can’t help
How did they lose your sister?
Where is she? What is her name?
Julia W. Burns, MD