I’m trying to remember the word for coward. There’s
a man there beating a woman. Naked in my window,
awakened by her screams, I’m looking down on the
street below. I want that word but for the life of me,
it doesn’t come. So, invisible I send my breath into the
darkness, “Hey.” And there it is, the sound of my meager
voice floating in the night, “Hey.” Then, as if I were brave,
as if I’d sprinted my stairs, to the asphalt, barefoot, crushing
his skull with bare fists he stops kicking the woman,
who stops screaming, who’s lying on the ground, her oil
black hair spread out behind her, a silken fan shining in
the streetlight.“Quoi?” he yells back arms spread out his
face a dirty bowl of milk upturned to the sky as if he’s
Job addressing God. “Quoi?” He says again more quietly.
I’m trying to remember the word for coward but standing
in the cold frame of the open window I realize it is
one of those things I simply don’t know, not a question
of recollection, nothing there to recall. There’s just the
emptiness of ignorance. And then there’s the woman
running barefoot up the street her high heels in her left
hand the man swearing gently at his feet while I stand
alone in the dark without the word for coward.

Alexander Maksik is a Truman Capote fellow at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.