A Study in Perspective

Looking at you was the hardest thing.

Taking off my clothes
While you stayed dressed,


My body a knife, my shoulder
Its blade, I cut a path before me.

Or sometimes I’m an apprentice ghost
Unsure in the art of haunting;

No one sees me as I pass.

No one sees me as I pass
Though someone is always looking,
Translating texts of skin and eyes
As: our lives are whole without her. 

The intention of the taker doesn’t matter;
Shame lies only in not being had,
Pain in too much having.

If you weren’t older by twenty years,
Superior in race, middle-class
By marriage and sighted,
You couldn’t whisper strip
And then refuse to do the same.

We get away with what we can,
And this poet gives what she gives.

Historically, it was a woman’s fate, a slave’s:
Submission to a gaze s/he can’t return.

I am not you; that’s you and not me.
From a distance the boundaries stay clear,
And fear lies coiled and sleeping in its place.

Up close, I look at you, give you
My body without its mask of blindness,
Allow you to see me, my eyes
As they work at seeing you.

And not because, as I have said,
I loved you more, or am most good,

Just well-rehearsed as vulnerable. 

From A Protocol for Touch (University of North Texas Press, 2000). Copyright © 2000 by Constance Merritt. Used with the permission of the author.