Dark Wisconsin


Leah Sewell

 The first winter I live with
Aunt June in Madison, God
docks his dark ship over
the schoolyard. I go pale.

Afternoons, I wait
on the window seat for my mother
to stand from the wreckage, make
her way down Bonner Lane
in scuffed Keds, press
the chime doorbell, take me home.

Each evening when the light
shifts from gray into cobalt,
Uncle Jeff comes in
stomping snow, fills the bathroom
with Old Spice steam. I sleep

in the sewing room with
a life-sized doll in the closet
keeping watch and the mean
cat curled in the corner. On weekends,

Uncle Jeff tickles me until I cry
real tears and Aunt June appears
in the doorway saying stop. Sundays
are tights, church, and ladies
snipping coupons in the kitchen,
laughing through their noses.
Uncle Jeff struts in, wearing only
his Velcro towel fastened
at hairy waist, dribbles
coffee into catchphrase mug
till the ladies howl and

Aunt June’s mouth tightens.
Mother never comes. Sometimes
I grimace so hard my chapped cheeks
break open. I lock eyes with the cat
until his amber globes glow like planets
and I know he longs to be wild,
sun warming the body and
everywhere to go.

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