--for Dawn Lundy Martin
No matter how many human beings are born to overflow the land, we are still careful to touch. We are careful with the touching. On an 8-hour flight I took notes about a man pressed against my arm. There are so many men and I know almost none of them, even this one whose forearm heat mixed with my forearm heat. When he slept, quietly snoring, dreaming, jumping slightly in his seat, looking to recognize me from the dream? From the airport? Who is this? Who? Why who?
People he loved knew him in the past, and would know him again in the future. In the present he slouched against me and none of his loved ones were there to see him breathing the smaller breaths of a body taking down to rest. No matter how many human beings are born to push plants and animals off the planet, we only permit touching strangers in a few locations: crowded subways, buses, airplanes. You do not touch a stranger at the checkout counter, unless it’s an accident, and then you apologize, sorry, say sorry. You cannot touch a stranger at the restaurant. You are not going to hold the stranger’s hand while they cut meat because you will be called insane and asked to leave. If you refuse to leave, if you refuse to stop holding their hand, the police will be called. But if you know them, a little, you can shake their hand Hello and all is well. If you are friends you get a hug. If you are lovers you can taste and smell one another and this is a marvelous thing the world awaits.
When he woke a little startled I waved my turquoise glitter fingernails. Glitter twinkling in lamplight, his eyes caught by glitter, smiling and nodding. What a nice smile a stranger can have. My notebook was small to conceal my notes for the poem, notes on the experience of pressing against a man for 8-hours and to never see him again. Will he remember the glitter? How could he possibly forget? There is no way to prevent the cost of living a day as the loss of that day, closer all the time to no more days. Death pisses me off and I want strangers to know this about me. I will make a sign HONK IF DEATH PISSES YOU OFF and they will honk even though we don’t know one another. There’s just not enough time to know us all. My goal is to relax with you, stranger, to not fear grabbing your hand at the doorway and introducing myself with a poem.