When I walked across a room I saw myself walking
as if I were someone else,
when I picked up a fork, when I pulled off a dress,
as if I were in a movie.
It’s what I thought you saw when you looked at me.
So when I looked at you, I didn’t see you
I saw the me I thought you saw, as if I were someone else.
I called that outside—watching. Well I didn’t call it anything
when it happened all the time.
But one morning after I stopped the pills—standing in the kitchen
for one second I was inside looking out.
Then I popped back outside. And saw myself looking.
Would it happen again? It did, a few days later.
My friend Wendy was pulling on her winter coat, standing by the kitchen door
and suddenly I was inside and I saw her.
I looked out from my own eyes
and I saw: her eyes: blue gray transparent
and inside them: Wendy herself!
Then I was outside again,
and Wendy was saying, Bye-bye, see you soon,
as if Nothing Had Happened.
She hadn’t noticed. She hadn’t known that I’d Been There
for Maybe 40 Seconds,
and that then I was Gone.
She hadn’t noticed that I Hadn’t Been There for Months,
years, the entire time she’d known me.
I needn’t have been embarrassed to have been there for those seconds;
she had not Noticed The Difference.
This happened on and off for weeks,
and then I was looking at my old friend John:
: suddenly I was in: and I saw him,
and he: (and this was almost unbearable)
he saw me see him,
and I saw him see me.
He said something like, You’re going to be ok now,
or, It’s been difficult hasn’t it,
but what he said mattered only a little.
We met—in our mutual gaze—in between
a third place I’d not yet been.
Copyright © 2017 by Marie Howe. From Magdalene (W. W. Norton, 2017). Used with permission of the author.
You are standing in the minefield again.
Someone who is dead now
told you it is where you will learn
to dance. Snow on your lips like a salted
cut, you leap between your deaths, black as god’s
periods. Your arms cleaving little wounds
in the wind. You are something made. Then made
to survive, which means you are somebody’s
son. Which means if you open your eyes, you’ll be back
in that house, beneath a blanket printed with yellow sailboats.
Your mother’s boyfriend, his bald head ringed with red
hair, like a planet on fire, kneeling
by your bed again. Air of whiskey & crushed
Oreos. Snow falling through the window: ash returned
from a failed fable. His spilled-ink hand
on your chest. & you keep dancing inside the minefield—
motionless. The curtains fluttering. Honeyed light
beneath the door. His breath. His wet blue face: earth
spinning in no one’s orbit. & you want someone to say Hey…Hey
I think your dancing is gorgeous. A little waltz to die for,
darling. You want someone to say all this
is long ago. That one night, very soon, you’ll pack a bag
with your favorite paperback & your mother’s .45,
that the surest shelter was always the thoughts
above your head. That it’s fair—it has to be—
how our hands hurt us, then give us
the world. How you can love the world
until there’s nothing left to love
but yourself. Then you can stop.
Then you can walk away—back into the fog
-walled minefield, where the vein in your neck adores you
to zero. You can walk away. You can be nothing
& still breathing. Believe me.
Copyright © 2015 by Ocean Vuong. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 2, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets