Francine Witte

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I forgot this one. The password, too. Online shoe store
I only needed once. Not like those other usernames

I used for a bit longer, daughter, girlfriend, wife.
My mother gave me a username the day I was born but

how many times did I forget? That night I sank
into high-school Kevin’s leather jacket, smell of danger

and cool. How he told me I wasn’t his girlfriend.
How I slept with him anyway. How years later,

my husband fessed up about motel charges
on our credit card. How I stayed with him

anyway. Maybe those times, I reset my username
because I was going to be a whole new person. A person

who needed online shoes. That’s probably why I opened
the account. Bought a pair of shoes I never even wore,

wrong color, too small. But maybe this time.
who knows? Maybe I would go hiking if I had

the right pair of boots. I try to remember who I was
when I made up the username for this account. Adventuregirl

or Powerchick? Or maybe I went with the truth.  I think
how every day, people around me or on the evening news

are putting their usernames on hospital charts, on grave markers.
I think back to my mother who, last time I ever saw her, had no idea

what her own username was but still was putting red lipstick on,
The nurse’s aide standing next to her repeating my mother’s username

careful and loud. My mother staring into a pocket mirror, the lips
of a stranger pouting back. Locked, forever, out of the rest of her life


When they rename the 59th Street Bridge, my father
will have none of it. Tells me they got the Triborough, too.
My weekly visit to Queens, my parents in their garden
apartment, same pole lamp and china closets, figurines
and shag carpet. Not one for change, my father, and I think
back to my teen-aged years, me 16, my sister, 12, and all
of us driving into Manhattan, that gorgeous quilt, a blanket
really, that would scratch us, make us bleed if we tried
to snuggle in. Crossing the river to Grandma’s house,
Upper West Side before the condos. My father dropping us
off while he circled the block for parking. My mother
holding a babka she bought at our local bakery, the warm
aroma through the carton, tied up with string and spicing
the dirty air.

Years later, myself, crossing the bridge back to Manhattan,
my weekly visits shorter now, because Mom says “your
father needs his rest.” I think how so much has changed,
even with my father foot-dragging it not to. My grandmother’s
apartment, gone condo now and worth millions, my father
sleeping most of the day, The Daily News open across his chest.
On the bridge back home to Manhattan, I open the windows, the air
a crackle, the lights ahead of me wink and wink like a lover,
who promises this is a city where nothing needs to sleep.

Things You Don’t Need to Know Anymore

How to fix a broken record. How to dial a phone.
How to break up over coffee. How to program a VCR.
How to say that virus, the one that’s an ocean away.
How to look someone up in the phone book.
How to tear a phone book in half. The weather.
You don’t need to know the weather. How to dress
to go outside. How to go outside. How to count
the dead. They have people to do that now.


Francine Witte’s latest books are Dressed All Wrong for This (Blue Light Press,) The Way of the Wind (AdHoc fiction,) and The Theory of Flesh (Kelsay Books.) Her chapbook, The Cake, The Smoke, The Moon (flash fiction) was published by ELJ in Fall 2021. She lives in NYC.