Before twilight bloodies the sky.
Before the wily autumn wind
whisks their voices away.
Before I see my daughter’s bicycle lying
on its side, motionless as an afterthought,
paralyzed in moan, as if assembled
from fractured bones, my son’s scooter
flipped against a tree, dizzy from the hurling
or maybe the earth has swung me up
onto the carousel of its spin.

Before the details flash through my mind
like a film frozen on fast-forward
I hear a vehicle, not the crunch of its tires
as it turns the corner, but the sharp spray
of gravel clattering against my memory
as if memories were made of glass,
shatter-prone, flesh absorbent, reflector
of fear. I holler my children’s names,
uncertain whether there was a slam,
whether it was a door
or a bird striking a window.


Days after I scold our children
for playing hide-and-go-seek behind

some rusty old cars parked
on a gloomy street, my wife is lying

in a hospital bed, awaiting an operation.
A poem I hope never to write lodges

in my throat as I describe the bewilderment
flooding their faces, their tears turned

to sizzle in the flames of my anger.
How a movie in the interim can mock

your fears, all bearded, hooded, and holding
a dazzle of candies in its outstretched hands.

On the screen, the father diving into a lake
to rescue his drowning son, a crowd

converging on the dock, and before I know
to switch off my phone, his youngest daughter,

Missy, aged halfway between our children,
gone from the picnic table, crayon drawing

writhing in the wind. No, I tell my wife
as they’re wheeling her out of the room.

Mysterious ways or not,
that kind of forgiveness pours forth

from a marrow buried too deep
in my bones to ever uncover.


If his throat had been strong enough
to resist a chokehold.

If the sirens had been silenced,
the footsteps on the stairs, muffled.

If his friend had screamed
or pulled him away or kicked
the man, instead of letting him go
into the apartment building.

If his parents, if any of the parents,
had looked through the window
of the restaurant at the exact moment
the man was luring him away.

If puppies and kittens and parakeets
weren’t so irresistible.

If the older kids hadn’t left
two nine-year olds alone
on the playground.

If his friends from the neighborhood
had warned him about the creepy man
who always loitered around the square,
watching them play, promising them
wonders for a few minutes of their time.

If the police hadn’t ripped
parents’ reports of attempted
abduction into scraps of doubt
on multiple occasions.

If he had chosen to be Spiderman
or Batman or Count Dracula or a cowboy,
anyone but the long-haired girl
from The Exorcist.

If he had fallen ill with COVID
and stayed home from the Halloween party.

If the judge hadn’t released the man
who had sexually assaulted
and murdered a real estate agent
five years before his sentence was up.

If little Alex had known to say no.
If little Alex had known to say no.
If little Alex had known to say
no, no, no. No!


Where water once fell
and children stood giggling
as they washed chlorine

off their bodies, there is only
a yawn of space so immense
it gulps me as if I were nothing

more than an intruder,
its fangs sinking
into my stomach, a reality

as red as my daughter’s lone
sandals spilling across the corridor,
toward the edge of the pool

where I see a swirl of faces
and colors and movements,
none of them hers.

In the time it takes
a drop of water to slide
down the drain, I stream back

to the changing room, where
I’ve left my younger son
half-dressed and alone among

strangers, a thousand spirits
of missing children swimming
in my lungs, gasping air

that was meant for me, my throat
strangled with all the ways a child’s body
could evaporate under a shower.

I grab my son’s hand
as if he, too, might vanish,
as if the path through our grasp

might lead us to my daughter
who emerges at last,
all breath, sparkle, and sashay,

unaware of little Alex, found lifeless
in his killer’s arms, of Missy,
buried naked under a pile

of blood-stained rocks, of Ilene,
my childhood friend who never
made it home from middle school,

of all the predators in the world
lurking in shadows, waiting,
watching, ready to pounce.

Julie Weiss

Poem Written in the Eight Seconds I Lost Sight of My Children, Part II

Julie Weiss is the author of The Places We Empty, her debut collection, and two chapbooks, The Jolt: Twenty-One Love Poems in Homage to Adrienne Rich and Breath Ablaze: Twenty-one Love Poems in Homage to Adrienne Rich, Volume II. She lives in Spain. You can find her at https://www.julieweisspoet.com/.