Carl Dennis

July 22, 2011 Dennis Carl



If I told you simply that the bed in the Baptist Hospital

Last occupied by Cora Stokes is empty again,

And the patient didn’t go home, you’d be likely

Not to feel much interest.  So I’m adding here

The news that she’s gone missing, that any tip

On her whereabouts will be highly prized.

Cora Stokes, female, African-American,

Forty-seven, five feet, five inches,

Slender, with a mole on her chin

And a small scar over her right eyebrow.

Last seen the day before yesterday

In the cardiac wing by a night nurse

Who didn’t like the looks of her chart.

Till a week ago, a teacher of botany

At Jefferson Junior High in Chesterfield.

On Wednesday nights a player of bridge

With three women she’s known since grade school.

Left-handed.  Slaps her head with her left hand

When she makes a mistake in bidding

Made by beginners. Owner of a bungalow

On Cherry Street, three bedrooms,

One occupied by her mother, Bessie,

Seventy-six, crippled by arthritis,

One by her daughter, Trish, eleven,

A fifth grander at Holy Angels, no Baptist school

Near-by being available.  Single mother

Observed by neighbors on weekends

Working with daughter in vegetable garden

While mother looks on from a canvas chair.

Observed on Sundays driving the pair

To Second Baptist on Randolph Street.

Believes that her god sees everything;

Not sure what he does with the information.

An abstainer from alcohol for eleven years

Except for the break after the operation

When a lump in her right breast was removed.

Movie-goer, with a preference for heavy

Domestic drama, three-handkerchief features

That serve to keep her heart soft and flexible.

Worried she has no room in her heart

For two back-biting colleagues,

Two teachers she’d assign some serious time

In Purgatory if she were Catholic.

Reader of the personal columns in the Star,

Confident she’ll be happier when she swears off men

And doesn’t relent as she did the last time.

Lover of swing-band music, owner of a canary

She gives the run of the house an hour at dusk,

The time of day that for her seems least confining,

Most open to possibility, to change.

If you can provide any clues on her whereabouts

Please step forward.  If they lead to her being found,

The reward you’ll receive will be substantial,

Though a mere token of what you’re owed.




Carl Dennis, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his book Practical Gods, is the author of eleven books of poetry, including, most recently, Callings. He has published poetry in Atlantic Monthly, American Poetry Review, Kenyon Review, Paris Review, New Yorker, and Salmagundi, and his work appears in numerous anthologies, including Best American Poetry and Pushcart Anthology. He lives in Buffalo, New York.