In the pandemic, I remember you. July, 2020.
(Beyond Words, Issue #7, October 2020)
Because I can no longer be with any of you, it seems that I must remember all
of you. You demand this of me. You return in foggy dreams and idle reveries,
and you are as mystifying now as you ever were.
The one who nearly escaped my awareness,
you were the child who always remained silent as we others spewed noise.
Seated in the last row, at the back of the classroom, elfin behind your giant desk,
you hid from the onslaught of the world’s meanness.
The one who ignited my nascent desire,
you invited me to travel your body, a furtive excursion, undertaken long before
I learned to read a compass. It was all wilderness and I knew I would never find
my way back. When I stumbled upon your mouth, I mistook it for my destination,
and stayed as long as I could.
The one who grazed my edges,
you were the passerby on a crowded sidewalk in the dead of winter, your down coat
a match for my inflated parka. Our bodies puffed so beyond their perimeters,
their polyester surfaces brushed each other momentarily, strangers miming the
first touch of tentative lovers.
The one who violated my core,
you cornered me on an empty street, pistol in hand, poised to end my life.
We contemplated each other across this threshold of ultimate intimacy, your audacity
and my fear intertwined like dancers over an abyss. You turned and walked away,
while I breathed again, like an animal that had been hunted.
The one who ruffled the quotidian,
you encroached my space on the subway, your legs set in a display of territorial
manhood. My annoyance gave way to bemusement when you carefully inserted
a sliver of space between our hands on the strap overhead, the polite distance
that avoided an actual touch.
The one who disrupted the festivities,
you were the clumsy guest who crashed my boundaries when you mistook my
reticence for weakness, the close talker who moved in for the kill. You assumed
that you had won the argument. You were too occupied to see that I had stopped
listening and was instead greedily eyeing the camembert.
The one who wore the air of sociability,
you gave me “besos” in the sunshine of Barcelona, “un bisou” for each cheek
in the chill of Paris, and in Brussels, a third kiss, because that is the custom there.
In New York, a nod passed for a conversation, telling all we needed to know.
The one who carried the weight of the eternal,
you anointed my head at Baptism, slapped my cheek at Confirmation, and when
you drew an ashen cross on my forehead, it was an annual remembrance of loss
as I understood it then.
The one who manifested the ethereal,
you rounded the corner like a drugged somnambulist, breaking the haze of another
too long night that had spilled into another too early dawn, gliding the street on a
bicycle like early morning mist. You stopped and asked “How do I come down?”
The one who transcended the corporeal,
you were the engine of delirium, the centripetal force in a sweaty heaving mass,
bodies daring the limits of their genders and their appetites, sanctified by rhythm
and glitter. You were wild and beautiful and I fell toward you like a wobbly planet
crashing into its sun, bending time and space to pure joy and exultation.
The one among many, the thrum and the drumbeat,
you were the elbow in the crowd, the arm waving in the stadium, the fist in the protest.
You strolled the boulevard, picnicked in the park, shopped the mall, ambled through the museum, sunbathed at the beach. You were the roar in the arena, the bravo at the opera,
the shrieks at the races, the hymn in the church. You sipped cocktails and drank beer.
You ran in marathons, walked miles for causes, assembled in parades and gathered for celebrations. You read from your poetry, sang your songs, and danced your joy and sadness. You were there always, in all my days and in all my places.
Because I can no longer be with any of you, I must remember all of you. And you demand
that I acknowledge this truth — without you I am disembodied, without you I am not whole, without you I cannot be present to myself.
When I can be with you again, this truth is what I will remember.