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Wallet Photo w/ Litanies

25 April, 2021: Wallet Photo w/ Litanies

Read a Poem

Wallet Photo w/ Litanies

By J David

teeth bared toward camera flash, four smiling teens
wrap our arms tangled birch across shoulders and laugh
beside a ferris-wheel stuck like a gourd in the dirt
in this photo tommy doesn’t have cancer
in this photo he has thick follicles of hair pouring from his scalp
in this photo he is probably, most likely, in all honesty, holding
shelby’s hand behind our backs and texting sam about it later
and in this photo sam is sober and certainly asking
for a funnel cake
in our estimation, things will be like this forever,
we tell ourselves—forever,
not thinking of:
pulses broken open onto bathroom tile
toxicology screens reading oxycodone, xanax, cocaine, heroin
shelby’s front lawn survivor’s guilt
shouting at her mother for dropping the casket
there is only a picture I should’ve taken:
four children holding each other and laughing,
one solitary star marking rejoinder against the murk,
and a night sky that belonged to us.
a whole sky—dark, and shatterproof, and ours.
“wallet photo w/ litanies” by J David. Copyright J David 2020. Used by permission of the author.
J. David is a Ukrainian-American writer living in Cleveland where they are an MFA candidate at Cleveland State University. Their debut chapbook Hibernation Highway was released from Madhouse Press in 2020. A Baldwin House fellow, their work has appeared in The Colorado Review, Salt Hill, Redivider, Passages North, The Journal, and elsewhere. Find them on twitter @LookingAtLilacs, or their website

Write a Poem

Write a poem on a body part that has little to no function, or one that is often removed such as adenoids, tonsils, gall bladder stones, the appendix, or the spleen.
Laurie K
@Paddy, here's more information about the use of they as a personal pronoun:
4/26/2021 9:42:23 AM

@Paddy Raghunathan, the author uses the singular they/them pronouns.
4/26/2021 9:41:03 AM

Sierra Polsinelli
Left over appendage
Keeper of the magic
gut bacteria
held in storage
against a rainy day
or mass infection.

Most say no.
BUT when that rainy day
it MIGHT save the day!

I remember that
wild ride
in the icy snow
down the mountain side.

All the kids piled in
the 50’s Chevy wagon
no seat belts
no safety
at the dark of night
in a blizzard.

I STILL have
4/25/2021 6:01:37 PM

Paddy Raghunathan
I find the poem touching, but I'm confused by the bio. Is it one author or a duo writing?
4/25/2021 2:57:05 PM

RE: Wallet Photo w/ Litanies
Sweetness. such a sweet poem of pictures and what struck me the most was the balance. The poem balanced every word so effectively--not so easy to balance "forever" but this poem successfully did just that.
4/25/2021 11:55:07 AM

POEM DAY 25: Write a poem on a body part that has little to no function, or one that is often removed…


On that day? Eighty-seven. The doors, opened; windows too, screens in place, filtering the sky. Her grand-daughter removed the white-skin, peeling it carefully until it became that sought-after creamy flesh:

“What perfect skin; ankles bony as a thirteen year old!”

Pink walls, pastel; pictures of her father, mother, grandparents; even the greats…

“Still, that nasty, worthless prominent-toe, beckoning elsewhere, beyond boundaries, forever bent, as if in prayer…”

Matching comforter; folded like a gift, caressing, elevating—lifting the sun onto a fat cloud if need be.

“…My prayer, leave it. It’s a growth, prayer that is, not my big toe. Uproot the toadstool-joint. It’s female-tribulation—too many miles in stiletto high heels. It’s a woman-thing, so who cares? Bind it with that breeze or shut the damn windows. Listen, speaking of useless, I don’t want any men in here!”

Her great-grandmother voice was a smile, slicing ice. No men remained anyway, except for pictures on her pink walls. Pink hue always keeps family-women compliant in laughter.

Her daughter made two indentations with both thumbs, pressing gently into the calves. No trace remained, just density; one slow breath aimed toward the backyard and we all began counting… four generations, the fifth on the way—a load of women, barefoot, some wearing puffy, sheepskin socks. Her breathe made us look at our toes, questioning meaningful placement or future surgeries for that matter.
“Us too? Our great toes?”
Belonging does that…it too is a kind of prayer shawl poised like a grand-tent.

“That toe-bunion. Let it pray. It hangs like butter-milk in a gauze hammock; fermenting, dripping until it becomes feta and the kitchen smells from goats. Damn toe. Let it pray; let it ruin the spring air.”

Nothing is wasted, or useless. Things close when the door or window is ready.

On that day? Eighty-seven. Nothing stayed quiet. The breeze stuck to every finger. We had to lick it away; kiss our fingernails clean; account for every dance not accepted, heel print in the garden; hug executed from a crouched position…
…the final count tossed the sunlight over a cloud just as it was supposed to happen;
every twisted corner, crooked bone making just the right sound:

first voices,
then fingers,
our ears;
nothing useless, gratuitous—not really.

© Tovli 2021
4/25/2021 11:49:34 AM

This poem certainly touches your heart in more ways. The author reaches the heart of many in their golden years. Beautiful!
4/25/2021 9:46:06 AM

Mary M Chadbourne
A poignant & striking piece. I wonder how many of us have pictures in boxes, albums like that described in those last lines: "four children holding each other and laughing, /
one solitary star marking rejoinder against the murk, /
and a night sky that belonged to us. /

a whole sky—dark, and shatterproof, and ours."
4/25/2021 9:38:59 AM

READ + WRITE: 30 Days of Poetry is a collaboration between Cuyahoga County Public Library and poet Diane Kendig. Our thanks go to Diane and the poets of Northeast Ohio who allowed us to share their poetry.