Self-Portrait as the Bootblack in Daguerre’s Boulevard du Temple

An erasure of Grant Allen’s Recalled to Life

I don’t believe
I thought

or gave names
in any known language.

I spoke
of myself always

in the third person.
What led up to it,

I hadn’t the faintest idea. 
I only knew the Event

itself took place. Constant
discrepancies. To throw them

off, I laughed,
talked—all games

and amusements—to escape
from the burden of my own

internal history. 
But I was there

trying for once
to see you,

longed so
to see you.

I might meet you
in the street:

a bicycle leaning
up against the wall

by the window. Rendered
laws of my country

played before my face. 
Historical, two-souled,

forgotten, unknown
freaks of memory.
 
The matter of debts,
the violent death

of a near relation,
and all landing

at the faintest conception.
Dark. Blue. And then.

All I can remember
is when I saw you. 

It was you
or anyone else. 

The shot
seemed to end

all. It belongs
to the New World:

the Present
all entangled, unable

to move. Everything
turned round

and looked
at you.

More by Robin Coste Lewis

Summer

Last summer, two discrete young snakes left their skin on my small porch, two mornings in a row. Being post-modern now, I pretended as if I did not see them, nor understand what I knew to be circling inside me.  Instead, every hour I told my son to stop with his incessant back-chat. I peeled a banana.  And cursed God—His arrogance, His gall—to still expect our devotion after creating love.  And mosquitoes.  I showed my son the papery dead skins so he could know, too, what it feels like when something shows up at your door—twice—telling you what you already know.

Reason

God goes out for whiskey Friday night,
Staggers back Monday morning
Empty-handed, no explanation.

After three nights of not sleeping,
Three nights of listening for
His footsteps, His mules sliding

Deftly under my bed, I stand
At the stove, giving him my back,
Wearing the same tight, tacky dress, same slip,

Same seamed stockings I’d put on before He left.
He leans on the kitchen table, waiting
For me to make him His coffee.  

I watch the water boil,  
Refuse to turn around,
Wonder how to leave Him. 

Woman, He slurs, when have I ever done
What you wanted me to do?

Math

And then (at some point) as you step more vigilantly into the middle of your life, you begin to realize that they are all dead. Or more honestly (it takes even more years), you begin to realize that—perhaps—they are not all supposed to be dead. Or. You still remember. You can still feel yourself there. Standing. Knee-deep. In cement. A particular square on the sidewalk. There were dandelions. That odd, eternal sun. When a dear friend, your sister’s best-best friend—drives by—stops her car in the middle of the street. And then tells you. Screams out of her car window. And says it: your first beloved—that boy for whom you were slowly unfolding yourself from inside outward—that boy, whom you had yet to kiss, but would one day soon kiss certainly—that monumental boy, who smiled at you differently—that boy—had just been shot and killed. By strangers. Just for fun.

You are fourteen. And it is the beginning—it is the very first day—when the World confirms that new gleam of suspicion layered on the surface of the dark violet lake inside, that, Yes, slaughter is normal.

Slowly, over the years, you train yourself not to want this—you—a body in your bed with whom you can have a real conversation—a body with whom you can walk anywhere, talk anywhere, hear anywhere. At some point, you gave up expecting to be understood. English was too many red languages at once. And History was just a very small one—a ledger, and always in the black. You took out your sheerest sword. Your tongue: a sheath of arrows.

Perhaps, not by coincidence—once you began to trip around fifty’s maypole—you and your sister find together the courage to do the math: of all the boys whom you had known as children, at least eighty-percent were all either missing, in jail, or dead. Blood on the streets, bullets in the walls, the police always flying overhead. In your head. You thought it normal. When boys disappeared, were shot, killed, cuffed or thrown onto a black and white hood for simply walking down the sidewalk. Or asking merely: What have I done? Normal. As expected as the orange poppies, your quiet state flower, blossoming on the side of the streets year-round.

And then. Finally. You and I. Our bodies. Together. For a few hours: Time loves me. Every minute a gift so tender, each second announces itself. And then, just as quickly, equally: every second is stolen—erased—washed away—you. I understand, somehow, it will be another four years until I see you again. We walk through the night, arm and arm, across the wet sidewalk, and—besides my son—I am the happiest I have ever been with another person. But it is a silence. A happiness that rare. Unexpected. Quiet. And I wait. And wait. And no one shoots you afterward. Or. Maybe this night was God’s way of saying to me—finally: Yes, I do realize you exist. And this one night—just this one night—is all the complete happiness you can ever expect from Me.

Related Poems

Coherence in Consequence

Imagine them in black, the morning heat losing within this day that floats. And always there is the being, and the not-seeing on their way to—

The days they approach and their sharpest aches will wrap experience until knowledge is translucent, the frost on which they find themselves slipping. Never mind the loose mindless grip of their forms reflected in the eye-watering hues of the surface, these two will survive in their capacity to meet, to hold the other beneath the plummeting, in the depths below each step full of avoidance. What they create will be held up, will resume: the appetite is bigger than joy. indestructible. for never was it independent from who they are. who will be.

Were we ever to arrive at knowing the other as the same pulsing compassion would break the most orthodox heart.