Happy Second (, April Leigh.)


Down the road where they boast Grace Kelly’s birth,
you — sitting in a nest of spindly limbs, in
a tangle of girls, cross-legged and secret-sharing,
like a ballet class awaiting warm-ups
but slower
and sadder, with heavy eyelids hanging
as crescent moons.

You are wearing a plastic birthday crown.

Sudden — my fingers recall the muscle memory
of a years-old task:
gathering inches of slack fabric onto a
safety pin that strains to accommodate.
The doings of ink-smeared high school hands
that still draw hearts in notebook margins —
yours, wringing each other
mine, taking care not to pierce your paper skin
in a bathroom thick with corsage smells and
your relentless, silent mantra:
“I don’t need to, I don’t need to,
I don’t need to.”

You used to swim at West Point when you
were 13 & Broad, like a city intersection.
In that moment
in the grass
on the hospital grounds,
you are the butterfly stroke,
with your brave face, and your water wings.