LISA, 1969 AND 1979 SUMMERS by Ellen Ritterberg

Her body squat, solid, thick,

a Three Pigs’ house of brick,

Lissa leaned heavily against me

flute thin

taller by a head

both of us, seventeen,

the pair of us a listing ship

as I steered her

down steep hills

cobbled streets

to local doctor

then translated

English to Spanish

Spanish back to English.

Recovering quickly,

she was blithe,

said she’d forgotten to

give herself her insulin.


The locals:

servants scurrying

to early mass at

Church of the Nuns,

its spire, high enough to

pierce a cloud.

and Raimundo, an American,

who said he’d performed

in Chicago, guerrilla theater

and why doubt him

who everyone except

much younger non-locals

who he shared his stash with,

thought he was a narc,

and Jan, who,

even with that scar

running halfway down her face

was beautiful so you’d notice,

who I badly wished I could ask,




Memory lifts, a scrim:

Lissa, from Los Angles Valley

before Valley Girl was a thing

and I, from the East Coast,

went out each night

to local discotheque, La Fragua,

she, to watch her American

boyfriend lead his rock band

from his wheelchair,

gnarled body

a vine snaking up a banyan,


to watch my almost-boyfriend

Fernando, the Mexican drummer,

who I hadn’t thought of

for fifty years, until now

in service of this poem,


the crowd, mostly American

and a sprinkling of locals

who met each day in the

French-inspired wrought iron-

adorned jardin.


Lissa and I had little in common.

Other than an apartment

partially subsidized by her father

and my favorite Superman tee shirt

which she either borrowed without

asking or took.


Back home, my last year of

high school

no longer thin

I hid a row of eight

Mister Chips Chocolate cookies

under my pillow each day

ate them at night,

pined for my Mexican life.


The following summer

Lissa and I shared an

apartment in Los Angeles.

Part-time we made rubber stamps,

the glue, pungent

redolent of commerce.

Stamps trumpeting

in double legged capital letters

Net 10/30

High priority


Thank you for your

continued patronage,

Then, there was fewer

of everything

except war.


We were paid minimum wage

or possibly a tad more —

the owner was her


a summer job for me

soon due back East,


Fans whirred

fanning our



A dry hot LA summer

superior to torpid

New York ones

or so I was told

by the locals.

Hellacious hot.


Lissa and I lost touch.

But this past summer

I thought of her, googled.

Dead at twenty eight,

cause unknown to me.


I felt sad

for her mostly un-lived life.


For years I pined for my lost

Superman tee.

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