The little one she said was mine—
I didn’t bother to argue.
Mother said, Be sure.

But what at eighteen or twenty-two
I didn’t know I never learned.

The textbook I ran a finger through…
Little Miss Crash & Burn, the white trash
cake she fed me from her hands.

Who could tell from among the lot
she ran with—the B-Boys with narcotic
smiles that got her to spread her secrets,

open her Pandora’s purse to anyone
with a laugh, $20, a smoke or a drink—
who couldn’t be her father: raisin-eyes

and quiet in the incubator, the smallest
trouble, then gunpowder in her nighttime cry.
Jaundice, asthma. I didn’t ask.

She didn’t ask. She took the girl
to Bakersfield —a new uncle, a soon-
retired parole officer. She called

my mom, sometimes drunk, sometimes
to ask for me.  I sent money for the girl.
Julia, Julia. She called me Romeo.

2nd Period History playing with the clips
in her hair so easily undone. Thinking
I was brave. She called my mom. For

the girl. The officer, now security guard,
beat her. Crying. I’m leaving. I never
should have left. Ten years, one college

class. Holding on to a job. Safe like a man
crosses a fast river, stone to stone. I
never left. I send money for school photos:

fourth grade, fifth. She needs help in Reading .
You’d be so good for her. It’s too bad
you’re not here, we’re not together.

It’s too bad it worked out like this, Romeo.
Maybe we’re not ready for the lives
we find ourselves in. Maybe there’s another

world where you and I work this out.
Thank you for the check. We both
appreciate it. You know I hate to ask.

Romeo, Julia. What it sounds like now.