Collecting bottles, tossing leftovers, taking out the garbage
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The magazines in the dermatologist’s waiting room
show the women of Afghanistan;
or rather, show their veils,
no trace of a separate body, only
occasionally, a dark, unsmiling eye
penetrates the camera in reproach or appeal.
We are left to imagine the rest.
The nurses here wear white;
I’m in jeans, of course.
The doctor is too young, but sweetly serious.
He sports a nice blue tie. It is a turning point of sorts,
having a doctor who looks just a few years older than one’s students.
It will burn a little, he explains earnestly:
there will be a tiny scar.
I am lying on my side, breathing deeply,
thinking of the women of Afghanistan
behind their layers of veils, women who will never see a doctor
even when their bodies bloat and blacken with disease,
women whose flesh so rarely drinks air.
My shirt is pulled up and he is bending
over the curve where waist swells to hip.
He is not quite young enough to be the son
I never got around to having, his hands are careful and warm.
Can you feel this?
he asks, after the stinging pinprick, and I can’t:
now he is picking something up
with tweezers, and putting it in a vial
to be biopsied. It is a small thing;
it could be my life, but still I feel I am in good hands.
I think again of those women.
who has no words to exchange with you yet
and instead offers up her favorite drooled-on blanket,
her green rhinoceros as big as she is,
her cloth doll with the long blond pigtails,
her battered cardboard books, swung open on their soggy pages.
If you were outdoors she would hand you a dead beetle,
a fistful of grass, a pebble,
by way of introduction or just because.
And if, a moment later, she wanted it back,
it would be for the joy of the game
that makes of every simple object an offering:
This is me. Here is who I am.
In the same way, sun
drapes a buttered scarf across your face,
rose opens herself to your glance,
and rain shares its divine melancholy.
The whole world keeps whispering or shouting to you,
nibbling your ear like a neglected lover,
while you worry over matters of finance,
important issues related to getting and spending,
having and hoarding,
though you were once that baby,
though you are still that world.
It was a new old man behind the counter,
skinny, brown, and eager.
He greeted me like a long-lost daughter,
as if we both came from the same world,
someplace warmer and more gracious than this cold city.
I was thirsty, and alone. Sick at heart, grief-soiled,
and his face lit up as if I were his prodigal daughter
coming back to the freezer bins in front of the register
which were still and always filled
with the same old Cable Car ice-cream sandwiches and cheap frozen greens.
Back to the knobs of beef and packages of hot dogs,
these familiar shelves strung with potato chips and corn chips,
stacked-up beer boxes and immortal Jim Beam.
I lumbered to the case and bought my precious bottled water
and he returned my change, beaming
as if I were the bright new buds on the just-bursting-open cherry trees,
as if I were everything beautiful struggling to grow,
and he was blessing me as he handed me my dime
over the dirty counter and the plastic tub of red licorice whips.
This old man who didn’t speak English
beamed out love to me in the iron week after my mother’s death
so that when I emerged from his store
my whole cockeyed life —
what a beautiful failure! —
glowed gold like a sunset after rain.
Frustrated city dogs were yelping in their yards,
mad with passion behind their chain-link fences,
and in the driveway of a peeling-paint house
a woman and a girl danced to contagious reggae.
Praise Allah! Jah! The Buddha! Kwan Yin,
Jesus, Mary, and even jealous old Jehovah!
For eyes, hands
of the divine, everywhere.