They sit across from me at cafeteria tables
biting their cuticles
and flicking bits of skin
off the ends of their fingers, firing questions.
Hey lawyer! When’s your baby due? Whatcha gonna name him?
Their straw hair streaked bleach blonde,
studs and hoops ladder ears.
They fish grubby papers from the butt pockets
of their jumpsuits, thrust them into my hands, flesh puffed
around my wedding ring.
They let their tipped-back chairs fall
to all fours
with a startling clunk. My baby replies with a kick.
Listen, Carla, Tenisha, I say.
Your court date, the coiled copper wire, the convenience store clerk,
the cocaine, your boyfriend…
He’s not my boyfriend!
Sometimes I stop by their kids’ schools to check the playground,
sometimes I make it up.
Is my mother bringing George, Jr. on Sunday? My kids
BETTER not be with their father!
I won’t cry.
They leave me with advice echoing
down the cinderblock hall:
Don’t pick up the baby every time he cries!
Make sure your man changes diapers.
You gotta have a life too.
A native New Yorker, Erica Bodwell is a poet and attorney living in Concord, New Hampshire. She has poems appearing or forthcoming in Red River Review, Crack the Spine, Emerge Literary Journal, The Orange Room Review and FictionWeek.