Hazy Shade

It’s 12:45 AM and we’re walking, the three of us,
through downtown Houston. The air is patterned lightly
with the scent of French fries and mustard,
sparked with orange from the welders
across the street, and as I hop from one
concrete island to the next all I can think about is how,
if my elementary school had a drama program, I’d be walking
a little taller tonight, my voice would have a little more
weight to it instead of simmering away
on the November breeze. I am twenty-one and already tired
of my voice, but there it is, just like the hair on my arms
or the low, wide angle of my hips, structured
to last me for decades. Now and again, I catch snippets
of the conversation my friend is having
with the man walking on his other side. It sounds like
he wants to teach drama, which makes me fidget
with the bottom button of my peacoat as I struggle
against the words Where were you ten years ago,
but they notice nothing, and the tears in my eyes
eventually roll down my face, one after another,
and blow away into the darkness.

I decided a long time ago that art was important.
How important is a different question and
not one I’m ready to answer. I already know
that poetry cannot protect me – not from greasy fingers
sliding around the edges of the shorts
my mother bought me at Macy’s, not from my own
fingers scrabbling for the keys late at night, and not
from the absolute terror that fills me as I wait
for audition results, or exam grades, or the next words
from the doctor’s mouth. In the face of failure
I am ten years old again, looking for a way out,
bony chest alive and crawling with fear.
The last train slides by. North. The same direction
from which the wind is blowing. We reach our destination,
pull the door shut behind us, lock it firmly against the cold.
Everything will be okay, not tonight, but
maybe tomorrow. Sunday, or next April.

In the morning, when it is tomorrow, I will walk alone
down the steps and pass someone, an engineer I think,
who I knew years ago. Creativity is useful in business
and science, I will remember her telling me. I will think,
as I look down at the edge of her butterfly-embroidered
scarf, about the strange places we find beauty, and step out,
blessed for now, into the sun.


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