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Tina Kelley

The Least Known Crime

Pompeii Prostitutes, Pantoum

To Our Babysitter, Dead at 22

The Least Known Crime

Here, perhaps, is really the worst one you could commit.
Do you consider yourself a kind, loving member of your family,
an enthusiastic producer of important work, a nurturer and provider,
with warm wit and warm hands, an insightful gift-giver,
a considerate errand-runner when anyone is ill or grieving,
the kind the neighbors would never describe to reporters
as “one of those people who always kept to herself”?
Then here it is: murder yourself.

This is not suicide, because the victim does not desire an end to life.
This is death, against your will, nothing after. Stalk yourself,
learn your habits, observe when your guard is down,
when you fumble around for your keys in the vestibule,
and there, after dark, with a silenced gun (quick, less painful
than a knife, more certain of its mark, and with that element
of surprise)

The authorities will not know how to fill out their forms.
There were no witnesses.
The victim may have known her attacker.
There were no apparent signs of struggle.

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Pompeii Prostitutes, Pantoum

A dozen Greek slaves whose names we know,
painted on the walls of the Pompeii brothel,
Beronice, Fortuna, Restituta-with-the-pretty-brow,
What did they hope for when darkness fell?

Painted on the walls of the Pompeii brothel,
an ad for Mola she-who-is-fucked
What did she hope for when darkness fell,
The tender Myrtis she-who-sucks.

An ad for Mola she-who-is-fucked
lasted 2000 years more than Mola.
The tender Myrtis she-who-sucks
died behind Cressa, Fortuna and Marca.

Lasting 2000 years more than Mola,
the urge to buy sex is older than this.
Dying behind Cressa, Fortuna and Marca:
Panta, Victoria, and the Daughter of Salvius,

The urge to buy sex is older than these:
A Conqueress, 14, and Nike from Crete.
Embarrass your father, daughter of Salvius,
Or your island, Nike, walking the street.

A Conqueress, 14, and Nike from Crete.
Beronice, Fortuna, Restituta-with-the-pretty-brow,
missing your island, Nike, walking the street:
a dozen Greek slaves whose names we know.

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To Our Babysitter, Dead at 22

I saw the mess of mascara on your mother’s wadded tissue
and felt as if I’d sinned, violating her privacy. But what
privacy is there at a daughter’s funeral, an attentive daughter,
dead of gallbladder problems, after four days in the hospital?

I had been lulled by the lies of the homecoming service,
time for rejoicing, angel called home, etc., until your cousin
said how scared you were at the end. Of course. And how you
closed your eyes only after your mom arrived, at 5 a.m.

What can you think about this freakish turn of time, and you
not here? Your boyfriend of four years, alone; your dream
of fashion design, shot. There’s much we hadn’t known about you
in your months serving snacks, dear stranger and family member.

Drew searches for images of heaven, saying, “Mommy, now
are her two dogs sad?” and “Does she miss us in heaven?”

And Kate wonders why, and why, and why someone evil
and in prison didn’t die instead? As happens after a death,
my friends tell me all the recent tragedies in their spheres,
one’s best friend’s daughter with rare, aggressive cancer,

a drunk driver taking a father who had long fought MS,
a dog flattened in front of the twins, a cornucopia of grief.
The count for the year seems to be down 20 souls, up one,
a neighbor’s preemie. Proof: life is tenuous. Life, snappish,

requires we walk on eggshells, and I fight that. I rebel against
your melodic laugh, silenced, and the loss of your patience.
I hate how the clothes you folded, til our closets looked like store
shelves, a sweet surprise, will dissolve to chaos. I hate your ending.

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Tina Kelley’s third poetry collection, Abloom and Awry, came out in April from CavanKerry Press, joining Precise (Word Press), and The Gospel of Galore, winner of a 2003 Washington State Book Award. She co-authored Almost Home: Helping Kids Move from Homelessness to Hope, and reported fo rthe New York Times for ten years, sharing in a Pulitzer for 9/11 coverage. Her writing has appeared in Poetry East, Southwest Review, Prairie Schooner, and The Best American Poetry 2009. She won the 2014 New Jersey Poets Prize, and lives in New Jersey with her husband and two children.

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