Lamp Post and Stop Light

 Lamp Post

Stopped at the light and from across the street, you know at a glance that the woman leaning against the lamp post on this overcast day leaning toward rain is Debbie, your first wife, whom you haven’t seen in twenty-five years, which means the infant in her arms is who? Probably a grandchild. It’s the way she leans, the way she holds her head. You wouldn’t have been able to identify any of your other wives this quickly, but there has always been something about Debbie that none of your other wives and girlfriends have, and you feel her loss in your chest in a way you didn’t when you were twenty years old.

She must feel you staring because she looks up, tilts her head at you and then mouths the question, “Chester?” She was the only one who ever called you that, everyone else calling you Chaz.

You smile and raise a hand in a wave, and she holds up the baby so you can see his or her face, and that’s when the light changes, and you exit her life once again.

Nine months ago you would have turned around and asked if you could give her a ride especially now as it begins to drizzle, but you can’t do that anymore, so you head to your COVID-empty apartment where you know you will spend the afternoon dreaming of her. What else is there?

Maybe it’s time to get a cat. Maybe it’s time to rejoin Facebook. Maybe it’s time to dial up the last ex-wife to see how this new world is treating her.

Stop Light

In the year and a half since you’ve been back in town, you’ve seen Chester, your ex-husband 23 times, each time relieved that he has been so lost in his cell phone or newspaper or walking purposefully through a grocery that he has not seen you, but today holding your grandson waiting for your daughter on the sidewalk, you feel his eyes on you, and you look up to see him staring at you from his car stopped at the stop light.

“Chester,” you say, too quietly for even the baby to hear.

You read his lips as he mouths “Debbie.”

He waves to you, and something primal in you forces you to show him his grandson, Trevor, named of course for his step-grandfather, his real grandfather, but this is blood, and your blood forces you to hold the child up.

When the light changes, he drives away, probably confused as to what you were doing because there is nothing primal in Chester and nothing real either. Back home tonight, you will rock this baby and speak to little Trevor in the words that all babies understand, words that are the language before language, words that babies and grandmothers speak and grandfathers too, but only when they stay.


John Brantingham was the first poet laureate of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, and his work has been featured in hundreds of magazines and in Writer’s Almanac and The Best Small Fictions 2016. He has eleven books of poetry and fiction including Crossing the High Sierra and California Continuum: Volume One.He teaches at Mt. San Antonio College.



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