I was a real cute kid. Ask anybody. My father
likes to tell a story about a modeling scout
who spotted us out midday shopping
at the Briarwood Mall. Imagine five-year-old me,
all sailor stripes & junior afro, doing a full pull-up
on the magazine kiosk: Got any Keats? No doubt
something I’d heard watching Jeopardy
with granny, but it mattered not
to the tickled pink lady. Oh, you’re just soooo
sweet! What a cutie-sweet! she decreed, handing dad
her flowery card. It wouldn’t stop there.
My 10th birthday, whole neighborhood invited,
I strutted down the stairs in a white sports coat
like, Look, folks. In case you’re wondering,
I’m the host! My mother told Mrs. Holbrook
He was born full-grown with a briefcase. As I’m sure
you will be, little sewn seed, undone. Future me.
Dear son, the defacing starts much later.
After desegregation sparks the awkward clutch
of Coach clutches on campus busses, but before
the riots in Baltimore. It started a few days before
I turned thirty, Invisibility. Home from teaching
the sons & daughters of Indiana farm hands
it’s ok to write poems, same briefcase slung
tired across wrinkled linen, you’d have thought
I accosted her—Maria—when I stooped down
to pluck my mother a pair of magenta tulips
from her own thriving garden, & she shrieked
Why are you staring at my lawn! Maria who
used to slide teen-me a twenty to occupy her
daughter in the playpen while she grabbed
a bottle of Bordeaux from the basement
before the real nanny arrived. She must have seen
straight through me, into the distant past, alternate
reality when your grandparents’ neighboring
residence would have been a servants’, & I
in that moment, for the first time, unsaw her.
As primer. A kind of manila cardstock
I’d failed to imprint. Son, sometimes this happens.
It happens in gated spaces when you look like
a lock pick. See the 44th president. Scratch that.
It happens in gated spaces, as the lone
locksmith. & if I’m being honest,
the happy way things are going between
me & E., you may well resemble him.
Don’t count yourself precious. Truth is,
too soon, you will bend down to rob a few
bright blossoms from your own land &
look away from the earth
to make certain you haven’t been ogled.
This phantom guilt applied to a nape
through the eyes of every blind Maria,
here’s the key: try not to let it die.
Now run to the closest mirror, quickly
remember how sweet the fleeting love.
Copyright © 2017 by Marcus Wicker. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 27, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
About this Poem
“‘Close Encounters’ began as a therapeutic exercise—an invective written to an ex-next-door neighbor who was unwilling to acknowledge my presence as anything other than a threat. But during revision, when the actual healing took place, the poem’s tone and audience changed. It never ceases to amaze me, the anodyne that is poetry."
Marcus Wicker is the author of Silencer (Mariner Books, 2017). He teaches at the University of Memphis.
Date Published: 2017-04-27
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/close-encounters