By Emily Gaither
The drink had stopped helping, and I felt dizzy, not from the wine,
But from feeling small and insignificant. I felt like wives
Whose husbands leave them for younger women must feel.
Places like that make me feel uneasy, like someone prone to seasickness. The only thing I could think to say, to ask, was of
this boy sitting nextTo me who said he was from Yugoslavia. I asked him
About Slobodan Milosevic. Maybe I shouldn’t have asked him that, but
We were in that place, with the loud music and smoke and laughter of
Sleek seals who made me squirm. It was college; I wanted to sound smart,
And when the words fumbled their way out of my mouth, he gave me
A look of horror of offense, and then his mind helped his features remember
Where he was, and he broke into a slow smile that didn’t bore me.
In another smoke-filled place, humming with music and laughter, with money stolen
From my sister and mother, I had gone with no one I should’ve and breathed
In cigarettes with heady confidence — and kissed a boy — and played pool.
There were cool, tough boys who James Dean might’ve known.
He didn’t get in that car; he decided to leave the world of facades, but he still dangles
A cigarette between his lips as though Sal Mineo could happen around the corner
In any instant, and the leather jacket in tossed over his shoulder with one finger.
He could materialize now and ask me to go for a ride.
I once packed my car and escaped to a place named Conshohocken, where I met a Jewish Swinger and his wife — I wanted
to report him to the Jewish Anti-Defamation League for besmirching their image, not for being Jewish, but for being a
small, slithery man who watched me at night — and then I went to Manayunk, and I squeezed myself into an overcrowded
city, not to fit in, but to go unnoticed for a while.
You can’t do that in the South.
I met idealists and masquerading capitalists, and I could be whichever I needed to be,
Because I was reborn like a phoenix.
And I ate things that I took from men I couldn’t understand, food that dripped onto my hands and burned my tongue and filled me.
There were involved discussions with wine about politics and feminism and things that made me insides hum.
A man opened his coat to me on the street, and I loved that no one else was shocked, and I recovered quickly.
A taxi driver cursed at me when I thought he wanted to say hello, but I learned.
The streets screamed some nights, and I watched the light dance on the roofs of cars and inhaled it.
Once, during a bout of loneliness, a possum in the driveway comforted me and reminded me of muddy rivers and gravel roads, so I came back to see the mud settle for myself.
The Yugoslavian and I left together, not to discuss Milosevic.
And after, in the sweat and the slickness, we immediately hated each other.
We had nothing to say, and it made us sick,
That we needed each other that much for such a short time.
I wondered if he missed home or felt out of place, and if he felt good about himself,
But I couldn’t vocalize it, and he couldn’t understand me if I did.
The light was filtering through the gauze in the window,
And he became shy and different about seeing me.
I left as quickly as I could find my crumpled underwear, and I can’t remember his name.