On learning of the suicide of an 11-year-old boy I didn’t know

The first response is incredulity: eyes wide
in hope of having misread the message. Salt
scratch-leaps to make tears; throat catches because
breath won’t pass through paralysis. Pity
and sympathy hand in hand with horror.

By the time true compassion comes, I can’t
un-know how altered that poor family’s
life will be, split into before and after, never
resuming its former course, each year the landmark
anniversary with its mountain of wreckage.

Into the echoes that separate me from true grief,
my hands lift to wring and plead. I want to shriek
at the phantom youth: oh, child! you have murdered
the wrong person. The boy you killed was only
a stranger passing through whoever you were going to be.

Annie Stenzel was born in Illinois, but she has lived on both coasts of the U.S. and on other continents at various times in her life. Her book-length collection, The First Home Air After Absence, Big Table Publishing, was released in 2017. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in journals from Ambit to Willawaw Journal with stops at Allegro, Catamaran, Eclectica, Gargoyle, Kestrel, The Lake, and Whale Road. She lives within sight of the San Francisco Bay. For more, visit