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Tania Runyan

I Wonder What Happened

To the San Francisco belly dancer

who undulated on our table on my thirtieth,

I in my first, first trimester,

and falafel one of the few things 

I could keep in my own eddying stomach. 

The dancer smiled down at me, 

pinged her cymbals, ruffled my bangs

with the breeze of her turquoise skirt.

“Your last birthday, just the two of you!”

My friend winked at me and my husband.

I nodded, squinting at a baby across the room

who revealed herself with each 

leftward shake of the hip

as the mizmar and rebaba rippled

from the speakers. I’m turning 48

this year, that belly dancer, I’m sure, 

hitting 40 at least. I wonder 

if the deeds of her children 

keep her heart jangling all night, too,

or hamstrung with anxiety

in the middle of the day, when she clenches 

her gut and wills those wayward lives

to roll away from her for once, then return, 

a quiet lapping at the Golden Gate’s feet.


In less than ten minutes, half of them try,

their stories unspooling from a will that will not hold.

When they were small, they never thought they’d die.

It’s not sadness, you understand. They pry

the snare trap on their brain till their fingers go cold,

and in less than ten minutes, half of them try.

Last week, she went dancing, karaoked “Staying Alive.” 

A headshaker for sure! Always so bubbly and bold.

When she was small, she never thought she’d die. 

Yesterday he met friends, schemed the future over chai.

One half of him ambled home, the air flecked with gold. 

In less than ten minutes, the other half tried

to hang himself from a doorknob with a tie. 

His dumbstruck mom cut him down. Breathe? She cajoled.

When he was small, she never thought he’d die–

not now, not like this. He woke up, surprised.

What can I do now but keep watch? She begs. Refill? Enfold?

In less than ten minutes, half of them try.

When they were small, they never thought they’d die. 

Tania Runyan is the author of the poetry collections What Will Soon Take Place, Second Sky, A Thousand Vessels, Simple Weight, and Delicious Air. Her guides How to Read a Poem, How to Write a Poem, and How to Write a Form Poem are used in classrooms across the country. Her poems have appeared in many publications, including Poetry, Image, Indiana Review, Atlanta Review, and The Christian Century. Tania was awarded an NEA Literature Fellowship in 2011.

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