Lois Williams

Excerpt from ďTwo Bodies BreathingĒ

by Lois Williams

Over bagels and decaf at Brown Bag Deli, Myra wants to know what brought me to America.  She pauses her coffee stirrer, looks me square on, and tells me she canít imagine leaving England, leaving family, to live in Pittsburgh: ďYou married, kid?Ē Twelve days on the job, I donít know Myra well enough to talk freely about myself. We track sales contracts for a lab equipment manufacturer: beakers, hotplates, unbreakable thermometers.  Iím much better talking shop.  This monthís top seller is a sturdy micro-centrifuge, great for spinning blood into its raw constituents.  I want to say Iím learning how to be unmarried, how to live alone in America. Secretly, I think the heart is a centrifuge flinging out whatever cannot settle in its muscle.  I nick the lip of my Styrofoam cup. ďWeíre separated,Ē I say.  I feel as if Iíve lied.


Calling Out the Days

This morning the moonís still there
when I shift the drapes to see if weíre

having rain or sun or more of that gray
indeterminate Pittsburgh weather that looks

cold but isnít and I think of Stephen
and his love of the 5-day forecast

and how when I first came to America
I learned the shapes of the states that way:

all those animated clouds scudding over Illinois
crossing Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania

the way Iíve known women at work
to drive weekends across state lines to buy

lottery tickets, and heíd be calling out the days
sunny Tuesday Wednesday  thunderstorms

and 85 on Friday, and how a week of sun
looked like a jackpot on the one-armed bandit,

like putting in a quarter and walking off with
summer in your pocket, and I see now

thereís some joy in prediction that I donít understand,
some energy that comes from thinking you know

whatís coming up, which is maybe why I canít go
happily to church (although Iíll still say the prayers)

or why my friend whose protease inhibitor might quit
insists on telling me itís the idea of illness heís afraid of,

not the living in his body.  Breathe all you can, he tells me. 
Donít worry so much. Last week I drove to Minneapolis

where skywalks warm pedestrians for miles in circulated air
and saw the cornfields weathers move across

before they settle Pittsburgh, and how the shadow
the car makes at seventy-five is the same shadow

it makes at thirty and what does it matter
if on the way up I stopped

at the South Bend Howard Johnsonís
and on the way back at the Rockford Super8?

The rooms were the same room decorated differently.
Eventually I slept and when I got back in the car

at 6 a.m., there was the moon a bit thinner than before
but the moon all the same and worth looking up for.

óLois Williams


Gist Street Reading Series
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