i pulled a napkin from the silver tin,
wiped the table clear, drops of ketchup staining the center.
i crushed the paper in my palm, felt the dampness reach the edges.
hurt cloud, she said as i let it roll across the table.
shooting baskets as the day ended,
the ball went over the backboard, disappeared into the dark.
she shrugged, then bent low, picked up pebbles.
your poor hands, she said. you have so many scars,
and you're still so young. (she, younger than i, saying this)
she touched one hand, then after a pause she took the other
without looking at me.
some things take so much courage.
we sat like that for a long time,
i passed two old women by the river.
one stopped, pulled off her shoe
and shook a pebble out.
it dropped into the water
and she continued on,
from the absence dented into her foot.
the other had stopped a ways ahead.
she waited and said, a pebble?
the woman nodded. her whole life
having led her there, she was carried
a memory: the night i was married,
while everyone danced and ate beneath the lights,
i kept my fingers on my bride's knee beneath the table.
the fabric of her dress and the skin beneath slid when i moved my hand.
her bone flashing white, her shape gathering in the hardness,
so white it ached, so hard it changed.
i covered my face with my other hand.
when she saw she put her hand on my knee
and we were really married
my dog stopped eating, only took morsels. her ribs became prominent.
it made me wince to run my hand over the sharp ridge of her spine.
her belly grew, and became hard.
at the clinic, the vet knelt down to inspect her.
he pressed on her sides and stayed like that
for a minute. she looked at me, then stared at the floor.
there is a tumor in her abdomen, it has grown quite large.
he rose, folded his hands and spoke gently.
there is nothing we can do.
okay, i said.
something hard stuck in my throat,
kept me from swallowing.
there is one window i keep open no matter what.
it faces west, toward the river you can hear
but not see.
there is a row of stones on the windowsill,
small forms that are a relief, hard and anonymous
i sit and run my fingers back and forth over them.
they wobble and dance, then recover.
with a breeze,
the curtains open and close
around the stones i've found.
the stones i've kept