Written on the back of a napkin with pen pulled from a purse,
Dents and punctures in the pressed plush of the paper,
Sketched on the back of the notepad by the cash register,
Pen drops from fingers as a customer comes,
Tapped as a rhythm on the taut leg of the jeans
Once the keys have found the pocket, as the feet cross the street,
Hummed at the stoplight,
Drawn on the back of the hand,
Drawn on the back of the newspaper,
Drawn in a margin,
Drawn on the notebook’s muted brown flipside,
Drawn in the seventh hour
Out of eight in the shift when the feet are sore and the task feels meaningless and every task feels meaningless and exhaustion is two warm dry foreign fingers lowering your eyelids against your will.
Outlined on the back of a receipt.
Scarred by a jagged scribble when the bus rolls over a bump.
Folded, and slipped into a pocket.
Unfolded, smooth, pen-lines like a blueprint.
The click of a pen. Its tip glints in the light.
I started drinking coffee because
I wasn’t depressed,
Every day was just incredibly exhausting
And every task just felt insurmountable
But with my heart caffeinated and pittering as fast as a hummingbird’s
I was a wind-up toy able to lift my arms and legs and
Smile weakly at the right times and say half the right things
As the last caffeine would leave my bloodstream at the end of the day,
I’d retreat to my mattress,
Turn on both hot, salty taps,
Now I take a pill, 8 am, half white half green.
It facilitates serotonin’s chemical reactions in my brain.
When I started treatment, a couple people noticed
That I looked more rested, energized. Caffeinated.
But I still drink coffee, black, 3 cups daily.
Black coffee tastes like woodchips.
I CRAVE woodchips.
At least I’m addicted to something
That’s warm and comforting held in my cold hands
Something I can fidget with at work
An ingestible, smooth security blanket
That makes me look alive and awake.
When I said those words I did not mean them
As an incantation to incite reciprocality,
Nor as a binding contract
Nor, necessarily, for obligatory reply.
As you pulled your hands out of my hands
And I pulled my sleeves over my knuckles
to protect them from the cold whistling wind
I wondered if you knew
I didn’t mean I thought we were cut from the same cloth,
Cortexes, parallels, halves of a whole.
I just meant that I could feel my blood pressure drop
And my breathing steady when you’d sit down beside me as I typed,
That I appreciated the time you held me when I was sick
And the way your apologies were not stick-on bandages
But warm steam rising from cups of loose-leaf tea.
I meant that I like sitting in silence with you as much as I like listening
As much as I value being listened to.
I guess I could have said,
“You are a warmth and a peace and a light.”
But I didn’t.
I said “I love you” and you walked away silent.
All I want to be is generous but not stupid.
Is it insane to leap and leap
and hope to always land upright
because I mean well, want to mean good
I feel the threads in the five-dollar bill
As I hand it over to you
you need it more than I
the look in your warm, tired brown eyes
I hop back in my car, turn the key in the ignition
The engine clears its throat
In my rearview mirror
through my glasses
I see the tattered brim of your Coca-Cola baseball cap
as you lean up to the window of the rusty Buick
lean up to check on the sleeping silhouette in the passenger seat
I pull the stick, bring the car into drive
warm hum steady
And behind me you hold up the waist of your too-big pants
while you push open the door of the Super America,
Cig ads swinging,
Sleigh bells beneath the “Open” sign jangling.
When I say “Godspeed,” I’m really wishing you
Not velocity but a higher love and protection, stranger.