For years I thought in circles
but finally taught myself to use ruled lines
and keep the penmanship neat.
For years I worked at understanding. The pay
was lousy, hours long, perks a joke.
If a full moon rose at dusk, I saw a tin-can lid,
dented and pocked with rust. When others
at the clinic said my history wasn’t me,
I scoffed. Blood is easy, I told myself
on the El rides home. It’s grease
that won’t come off the hands. It burrows
in the grooves of thumbnails, stains
the cuticles black, digs into the lifeline
and clots the heart. It makes children look
like grown-ups, even more than
the adults themselves. And narrows the path
to righteousness till no one fits.
But grease is nothing beside perfume—
peddler of concealment, making sweat
a secret, sweat and the bleach of motel towels.
You see, to remove her memory is not
like tearing underclothes off a body,
sheets and blankets off a bed.
Our faces hover still, side by side,
in a mirror webbed with cracks.
And every other woman’s hair
is that of a broom. Any wonder
my boyhood has pressed its face
to the windows of every house I’ve owned,
hammered ghostly fists on doors,
demanded entrance, demanded to be
fed and held. Any wonder
I’ve misplaced the key to the good.