The Affliction

Marie Howe

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.

More by Marie Howe

After the Movie

My friend Michael and I are walking home arguing about the movie.
He says that he believes a person can love someone
and still be able to murder that person.

I say, No, that's not love. That's attachment.
Michael says, No, that's love. You can love someone, then come to a day

when you're forced to think "it's him or me"
think "me" and kill him.

I say, Then it's not love anymore.
Michael says, It was love up to then though.

I say, Maybe we mean different things by the same word.
Michael says, Humans are complicated: love can exist even in the
     murderous heart.

I say that what he might mean by love is desire.
Love is not a feeling, I say. And Michael says, Then what is it?

We're walking along West 16th Street—a clear unclouded night—and I hear my voice
repeating what I used to say to my husband: Love is action, I used to say
     to him.

Simone Weil says that when you really love you are able to look at
     someone you want to eat and not eat them.

Janis Joplin says, take another little piece of my heart now baby.

Meister Eckhardt says that as long as we love images we are doomed to
     live in purgatory.

Michael and I stand on the corner of 6th Avenue saying goodnight.
I can't drink enough of the tangerine spritzer I've just bought—

again and again I bring the cold can to my mouth and suck the stuff from
the hole the flip top made.

What are you doing tomorrow? Michael says.
But what I think he's saying is "You are too strict. You are
     a nun."

Then I think, Do I love Michael enough to allow him to think these things
     of me even if he's not thinking them?

Above Manhattan, the moon wanes, and the sky turns clearer and colder.
Although the days, after the solstice, have started to lengthen,

we both know the winter has only begun.

What the Angels Left

At first, the scissors seemed perfectly harmless.
They lay on the kitchen table in the blue light.

Then I began to notice them all over the house,
at night in the pantry, or filling up bowls in the cellar

where there should have been apples. They appeared under rugs,
lumpy places where one would usually settle before the fire,

or suddenly shining in the sink at the bottom of soupy water.
Once, I found a pair in the garden, stuck in turned dirt

among the new bulbs, and one night, under my pillow,
I felt something like a cool long tooth and pulled them out

to lie next to me in the dark. Soon after that I began
to collect them, filling boxes, old shopping bags,

every suitcase I owned. I grew slightly uncomfortable
when company came. What if someone noticed them

when looking for forks or replacing dried dishes? I longed
to throw them out, but how could I get rid of something

that felt oddly like grace? It occurred to me finally
that I was meant to use them, and I resisted a growing compulsion

to cut my hair, although in moments of great distraction,
I thought it was my eyes they wanted, or my soft belly

—exhausted, in winter, I laid them out on the lawn.
The snow fell quite as usual, without any apparent hesitation

or discomfort. In spring, as expected, they were gone.
In their place, a slight metallic smell, and the dear muddy earth.

Part of Eve's Discussion

It was like the moment when a bird decides not to eat from your hand,
and flies, just before it flies, the moment the rivers seem to still
and stop because a storm is coming, but there is no storm, as when
a hundred starlings lift and bank together before they wheel and drop,
very much like the moment, driving on bad ice, when it occurs to you
your car could spin, just before it slowly begins to spin, like
the moment just before you forgot what it was you were about to say,
it was like that, and after that, it was still like that, only
all the time.