Self-Portrait on the Street of an Unnamed Foreign City
The lettering on the shop window in which
you catch a glimpse of yourself is in Polish.
Behind you a man quickly walks by, nearly shouting
into his cell phone. Then a woman
at a dreamier pace, carrying a just-bought bouquet
upside-down. All on a street where pickpockets abound
along with the ubiquitous smell of something baking.
It is delicious to be anonymous on a foreign city street.
Who knew this could be a life, having languages
instead of relationships, struggling even then,
finding out what it means to be a woman
by watching the faces of men passing by.
I went to distant cities, it almost didn’t matter
which, so primed was I to be reverent.
All of them have the beautiful bridge
crossing a grey, near-sighted river,
one that massages the eyes, focuses
the swooping birds that skim the water’s surface.
The usual things I didn’t pine for earlier
because I didn’t know I wouldn’t have them.
I spent so much time alone, when I actually turned lonely
it was vertigo.
Myself estranged is how I understood the world.
My ignorance had saved me, my vices fueled me,
and then I turned forty. I who love to look and look
couldn’t see what others did.
Now I think about currencies, linguistic equivalents, how
lop-sided they are, while
my reflection blurs in the shop windows.
Wanting to be as far away as possible exactly as much as still
Shamelessly entering a Starbucks (free wifi) to write this.
Copyright © 2015 by Jennifer Grotz. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 21, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets
About this Poem
“Ut pictura, poesis: as with painting, so with poetry, the saying goes, and perhaps this is why from time to time poets, like painters, use the exercise of the self-portrait to practice seeing. If either the poet or the painter is lucky, sight leads to insight. In this unabashedly autobiographical poem, I use a shop window on a busy street, not a mirror, to view myself, and though my poem aims for truthful precision, I think it renders what, I’m convinced more and more, poems are meant to achieve, that is: registering what it feels like to pass through time.”
Jennifer Grotz is the author of Window Left Open (Graywolf Press, 2016). She teaches at the University of Rochester and lives in Rochester, New York.
Date Published: 2015-09-21
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/self-portrait-street-unnamed-foreign-city