Says fifty-four-year-old obese Hispanic
female — I wonder if they mean the one
with long black braids, Peruvian, who sells
tamales at the farmers’ market, tells
me I’m too thin, I better eat; or is
she the Dominican with too much rouge
and almond eyes at the dry cleaner’s who
must have been so beautiful in her youth;
or maybe she’s the Cuban lady drunk
on grief who I’ve seen half-asleep, alone
as if that bench were only hers, the park
her home at last; or else the Mexican
who hoards the littered papers she collects
and says they are her “documents”; if not,
it could be that Colombian drug addict
whose Spanish, even when she’s high, is perfect;
or maybe it’s the one who never says
exactly where she’s from, but who reminds
me of my grandmother, poor but refined,
lace handkerchief balled up in her plump hand,
who died too young from a condition that
some doctor, nose in her chart, overlooked.
Not long ago, I studied medicine.
It was terrible, what the body told.
I’d look inside another person’s mouth,
And see the desolation of the world.
I’d see his genitals and think of sin.
Because my body speaks the stranger’s language,
I’ve never understood those nods and stares.
My parents held me in their arms, and still
I think I’ve disappointed them; they care
And stare, they nod, they make their pilgrimage
To somewhere distant in my heart, they cry.
I look inside their other-person’s mouths
And see the wet interior of souls.
It’s warm and red in there—like love, with teeth.
I’ve studied medicine until I cried
All night. Through certain books, a truth unfolds.
Anatomy and physiology,
The tiny sensing organs of the tongue—
Each nameless cell contributing its needs.
It was fabulous, what the body told.
Before the glimmer of his sunken eyes,
What question could I answer with my lies?
Digesting everything, it’s all so plain
In him, his abdomen so thin the pain
Is almost visible. I probe the lump
His boyfriend noticed first, my left hand limp
Beneath the pressure of the right. With AIDS
You have to think lymphoma—swollen nodes,
A tender spleen, the liver’s jutting edge—
It strikes me suddenly I will oblige
This hunger that announces death is near,
And as I touch him, cold and cavalier,
The language of beneath the diaphragm
Has told me where it’s coming from
And where I’m going, too: soft skin to rocks,
The body reveling until it wrecks
Against the same internal, hidden shoal,
The treasures we can’t hide, our swallowed gold.
A golden age of love songs and we still
can’t get it right. Does your kiss really taste
like butter cream? To me, the moon’s bright face
was neither like a pizza pie nor full;
the Beguine began, but my eyelid twitched.
“No more I love you’s,” someone else assured
us, pouring out her heart, in love (of course)—
what bothers me the most is that high-pitched,
undone whine of “Why am I so alone?”
Such rueful misery is closer to
the truth, but once you turn the lamp down low,
you must admit that he is still the one,
and baby, baby he makes you so dumb
you sing in the shower at the top of your lungs.
While jogging on the treadmill at the gym,
that exercise in getting nowhere fast,
I realized we need a health pandemic.
Obesity writ large no more, Alzheimer’s
forgotten, we could live carefree again.
We’d chant the painted shaman’s sweaty oaths,
We’d kiss the awful relics of the saints,
we’d sip the bitter tea from twisted roots,
we’d listen to our grandmothers’ advice.
We’d understand the moonlight’s whispering.
We’d exercise by making love outside,
and afterwards, while thinking only of
how much we’d lived in just one moment’s time,
forgive ourselves for wanting something more:
to praise the memory of long-lost need,
or not to live forever in a world
made painless by our incurable joy.