by Matthew DeMarco

my face is fixed ahead at the Southern Illinois highway, at the half-mast sun
more than halfway to where we're going. My head doesn't swivel left to catch a glimpse
of her present face—as much as I could have seen through her wall of hair where
the ember of a cigarette is peaking through a brown-streak screen. It's a thing about looking.
It's a thing about catching her eye in the rear-view mirror or not,
of thinking that where we sit in the car is excuse enough to not see her face.
But everywhere's a split. The yellow-dash line down her side of the road,
the jack-knife windshield wiper stuck straight up, the rip across the billboard,
the lighter in the cup between our seats, and the steady sun leaking red as it surges
to slam the horizon. Fuck. What that face must have been. Her square in hand,
I catch her eye in the mirror before she shifts it back to the road, and her eye
cannot be ignored. Its home in her round face is real, and she pulls her hair back
into a mess while cruise control keeps pulling us along. She is in profile. Her nose
is full without a kink. It takes mental work to keep it that way, to not feel it crash and flatten
into the wind breaking at 80 miles per hour, the window open whipping back
loose threads of her hair, cigarette butt disappearing through the window. It takes
mental work not to see blood unstoppable streaming down the lines in her lips, and
fuck. If a face can split—where was I? “Why did it take so long for you to tell me?”
“Oh, man, I mean, nobody wants people to think they're a freak.” If I can hear this
and not see the way it was, the way her nostrils must have fallen to the sides an swollen,
then it's the sinister thing about not looking. Her profile comes full round and for the second
it stays there we stare quietly without a screen between our eyes. How much a face
can heal in silence. I can see from my seat at her right how much she needs
to bend her face to the wind, to rip into the airstream, to shove sun away from ground.