I do not tell him that the woman
in the photo, who looks just like me,
only 12 years younger, does not exist.
She is smiling in the way that only
a woman who has not yet had children
can smile. She knows nothing yet
of how desperate she will become,
how she will lie, how she’ll tell the truth,
how she’ll lose her sense of worth and
replace it with, well, it’s impossible to say.
So instead, when he says, “Is this you,”
I say, “Yes, travelling to Chicago today.”
I do not tell him that the woman
I didn’t mean to exit, actually,
but I couldn’t see the highway lines
beneath the snow, and by the time
I realized my error, I was already
partway down the exit ramp.
I have spent so many years
as the driver in this seat, thinking
I know just where I am going.
It is not hard to see that I
have also been the snow,
obscuring my own path,
though as we all know
there are infinite ways to get
to where we’re going.
Whatever that means.
And today, I see I am also
the exit ramp with its promise
of having arrived somewhere, and here
in fact, I am, though it is not where
I thought I would be, as it seldom is.
Mama, she says, tickle me mercifully.
We both know that this means that when she says stop,
I stop. We begin. I plunder her sides, her ribs,
the tender spot above the knee—she writhes and giggles—
her feet, her belly, beneath her chin, oh such sweet
and terrible vulnerability. Stop! She shouts, and I stop.
But my pointer finger and thumb still bend at the knuckle tips,
ready to start up the game again.
It takes only seconds before she’s caught her breath,
and it’s squirm and wriggle, wriggle, twist,
I pause, I tickle her armpits, she thrashes
and struggles and giggles and squeals and says, Stop!
I think of times I have wanted to shout, Stop! for myself,
for others, for strangers, for friends, when the world goes too far
and the pain is too great. And the stones are thrown and the bodies
are burned and the borders are crossed and the cries
are unheard and where, where is the mercy?
Tickle me more, she says, when my fingers are quiet too long.
And I tickle her, tickle her mercilessly until she is done
with the game. And then it is over, except it is not,
as those of us know who have lived beyond
the times when we’ve said stop, and the world’s gone on.
Night unbuttons its coat
and all those stars fall out—
I feel no need
to name them
nor order them
nor to measure their distance,
to calculate their age.
I still cannot find
the lines that others use
to link one to another,
but sometimes I sense
the invisible ladders
that link the stars
to you, to me.
Your eyes. I used to believe they created me.
One look from you, and I became chalice,
lotus, lioness, crane. Woman. Without your gaze,
I was unformed clay. Your absence, my absence.
It was like some strange twist on what Ptolemy said—
he believed that rays emanate from the eyes,
rays that traverse the air and find the object, allowing
it to be seen. If a woman dances alone in a room,
and you do not see her, is she really dancing?
Does she exist at all?
But Ptolemy was wrong, love, and so was I.
And this is not really the story of photoreceptors
and environmental stimuli. It’s the story
of how we long to be seen—it begins with such
innocence, a longing to please. It’s the story
of how eventually a woman might find herself
dancing for the leaping, whirling pleasure of dancing.
driving through the stoplight—
too dark to notice if your eyes are green
after all that bad news
I teach the radio a love song