Self-Portrait with Alternate Ending by Anna Ross

Keep 5:30, perfect June almost evening. Keep
forgetting dinner and walking out into the day exhaling
sweat, exhaust, and unseen sea like a lost gull.
Keep the mile-away bay we head for now,
the baby in her stroller, queen at ship’s prow,
trying her new word—kitty, kitty
on every moving thing. Keep kitty, kitty. Keep
the humped driveway that catches the stroller’s wheels,
the cracked sidewalk and ragged curb,
where we stop to let three boys run past—
t-shirts flashing white. They don’t turn to see us.
Keep the boys as we start out again to cross our street
and, kitty, kitty, keep three more boys running,
not so fast but tracking the first three. They stop
for us who have interrupted, we think, their game,
the tallest one—his red and white striped shirt,
his hand in his pocket. Keep the shirt.
Keep the hand, but not the pocket.
Keep the movement of his legs as he again begins to run,
keep the neighbor who waves and calls to us as we cross over.
Keep the mother who is sitting home with supper,
or who is working in a hotel changing other people’s sheets,
or who is pulling into her driveway and calling to her neighbor
Have you seen him?—her boy who stops now
to take the gun out of his pocket
to fire its pop-pop-pop at the other boys retreating,
their t-shirt flags waving—how can we keep this?
And the unsound as it tunnels through the air,
and the whirring of the stroller’s wheels as our legs unfurl—
no wall or open door, but endless pavement and a bullet
that is somewhere. Keep it somewhere,
somewhere fallen in the grass,
where later plainclothes cops will find it, reassure us
that we weren’t an intended target. Take out target.
Take out intention. Keep the baby in her stroller
singing softer now her kitty, kitty
as we jolt home, the sky a mask behind us.
Anna Ross is the author of If a Storm, winner of the Robert Dana-Anhinga Prize for Poetry. Her work has appeared in Barrow Street, Memorious, The Paris Review, Salamander, and Southern Poetry Review and received fellowships from the Squaw Valley Poetry Workshop, Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and the Massachusetts Cultural Council.