Witness by Mary McCarthy


At the mailbox
a woman I don’t know
paused to talk.
I don’t remember her name
or how the words began
but before she took her mail
and left, she told me
she had a daughter
who committed suicide
12 years ago.
And. she said, “No one knows
No one else can know.”
Dropping the weight
of her shame at my feet
taking her grief away with her.

I was not even surprised—
had been so many times
a witness
for some random stranger’s pain
at a bus stop, mailbox, train station,
anywhere we wait alone
for the next step,
part of an unplanned group
of incidental strangers
unlikely to meet again.

I’m never quite sure
what inspires them
to lay their strange gifts
in my arms—
stories of loss and shame
regrets and sour refusals.
I wonder what they saw
that told them it was safe
to leave their secrets with me
as though I could carry
some of that weight
without payment or penalty
shock or disbelief—
letting them rest
if only for a moment
if only for the length
of one deep breath.


Mary McCarthy is a retired Registered Nurse who has always been a writer. Her work has appeared in many journals and anthologies, including “The Ekphrastic World,” edited by Lorette Luzajic, “The Plague Papers,” edited by Robbi Nester, and recent issues of Gyroscope, 3rd Wednesday, Caustic Frolic, the Blue Heron Review, and Verse Virtual . Her collection How to Become Invisible will come out from Kelsay early next year.

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