Sitting here on a stone bench after a lukewarm second date, watching the dog busy herself in a square of park, I think back to the sting of hot smoke in my lungs at a hookah bar in New York City some six months ago. A young man was singing along to the music while two girls listened to his side, and as I watched from across the table. The lights were purple, or so they seem when their flashing smiles reflected off the blue plumes exhaled from their cherry lips. What a pretty picture. They asked for a picture, the girls, and he told them they were a picture. They laughed, teeth white as ice in the room’s humid lilac and he snapped a drunken blur–from our two beers and rum and cokes–yet the women were radiant in the lens’ lazy capture. They sang along with him, throats bare and vibrating to the beat. But yet there I was, interrupting, not knowing the lyrics. But yet there I was, dumpy, unpolished, humany, sliding between him and the liquid women with hard muscles and harder curls. But yet there I was, unworthy, in the blue smoky world of the beautiful, hand on his chest, hoping to push the chirping nymphs from his mind, pulling the white champagne-flavored ash from his tongue, breathing in smoke and sweat and exhaling a most painful hope into the space behind his ears. The glittering ladies, disinterested, had dissolved into clouds, returning to their giggling conversations, leaving me with a demigod I didn’t deserve. The dog licks my ankles. Time to move on, she whines, to the next park, to our apartment in this city so much smaller than New York. I stand from the stone bench, the imprint of hard edges on my thighs, the weight of unsatisfactory carbonara sloshing in my stomach. That was six months ago, the divine boy, the pretty picture. There’ve been other men since then, over other drinks, or in mediocre Italian restaurants over forced conversation. Men as human as myself. Ah well, might as well head home, send a half-hearted “I had a great time,” then light a cigarette. My fingers crave a slow burning.
At this precise moment I close my eyes
and on the insides of my lids,
I paint a map, of everything:
I paint the physical universe,
its enormous stars’ dead light, in white,
and then outline in pencil, the most miniscule flowers
both blossoming and rotting, regardless.
I cut and paste like in a scrapbook, the various versions of history,
as well as every evolution of every living or once living thing.
I even color both inside and outside the lines of gravity,
with a crayon, in case you were wondering,
and to be exact, I measured out all the realities
both parallel and perpendicular,
with a wooden ruler.
And now with it all behind my eyes,
dotted and ex’ed and complete with navigational symbols,
when I’m lost, tomorrow on my way back from work,
or in the next life in a tiger’s midlife crisis (as one can hope),
I’ll follow my way back, across this work of art,
skipping over ink and graphite and glue,
slipping into something akin to this very moment.