The 2River View 21.2 (Winter 2017)

Jeanne Wagner

Unreal City

for my mother

San Francisco

A dream-city. The right place,
seeing her own face
in a nightscape’s window.
A skyscraper’s view of the rarified air.
The wide desk and swivel chair
of success.
Grey lapels and phones ringing
like prayers to God.


A house that was both her home
and later, yes,
a series of unappeasable
The table set with kitschy red napkins
and placemats,
where she always felt like a guest.
Every conversation,
a scene staged without a part
for her to play.

Afternoons she’d drive downtown
in her Nixon-cloth-coat
and high-heel shoes, a pretty
new hat,
though it was summer and 100 degrees.
I used to work in the City,
she’d say to the clerk,
who’d smile,
thinking This is a city too.

Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook

One theory has it that song
was the beginning
of speech,
and I’d like to believe it,
because the first time I listened to Ella
I was thirteen.
I could hear my brother
in the next room
making the sounds of pain
and thwarted longing
mixed together,
just like Ella singing the words
of Cole,
and I knew
it was the cry the body makes
trying to free itself
from that dumb-show of joy
and loss
we called the soul.

Jeanne Wagner is the winner of the 2016 Sow’s Ear Chapbook Prize. Other poems appear in Alaska Quarterly, The Cincinnati Review, Hayden’s Ferry, Shenandoah, and Southern Review. She is on the editorial board of the California Quarterly.

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