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A Reading
by Gary Swaim

She was an apparition
as she materialized before her audience
wearing literary dignity like a cloak wrapped
blackly about a thin frame. She read, light
frothy poems at first, evoking mandatory
titters from a gathering of knowing listeners
dressed in polite gray.

Then she set them aside, audience and poems
alike, like single sheets of thin, frivolous paper
and reached deep down where vital organs live.
Miniature narratives she called them, exercises,
warm-ups for the big stuff, stuff that stumbles
into anthologies to be read by freshmen frocked
in pink in Biloxi, Mississippi.

She read casually at first,
occasionally adjusting dark stringy hair
falling over her broad-rimmed glasses.
Something about a woman sitting in an empty
house, listening for the closing of a door, I think.
I didn't really hear the words. I tasted them.
Acrid to the tongue, frightened, desolate.

And as they wore on, with a tragic theatricality,
she grew noticeably uncertain of words her own pale
lips formed, as if too bitter for the mouth, too painful
to her ears, too lonely to be so. Then she stopped,

turned her back on an audience long forgotten
and gathered what composure could be gathered
into the small, white school-teacher blouse
I now noticed she was wearing.

Turning again, in time (eyes yet moist with a soft
blue embarrassment), she suggested someone else
might need to finish her little story, but silence
pushed her to the last word, when she vanished
from her listeners, only to be seen two years later
in a new literary anthology, under short fiction.

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