As soon as I see the needle, I want
to turn on my heels, leave my fear to skitter
across the cool tiles, staccato
of childhood ghosts.
I am furtive with my panic, swallow it
in the clammy, strobe light
swirl inside my chest. Still, I blurt,
“I’m terrified of needles.”
The nurse’s eyes meet mine, sharp blue
of surprise, glimmer of gentle humor.
I know this is routine, a blink
between breaths, and yet my runaway mouth
continues: “I think I’m going to pass out.”
She smiles, the only softness in the scanty
white-walled room. “It’ll be OK. Just talk to me.”
A ladled warmth. My empty mind. The seconds
inching by. “Tell me, how was your day?
Just keep talking.” So I begin to prattle,
though the twinge comes before she will know
what I write for a living, how the hours have been a famine
of fertile ideas, or the way her kindness burrows
deep to startle a sheen of tears.
I carry its scent, balm of myrrh, corolla blush
unfolding against the memory of the old man
who is all teeth in a cracked olive sun, a mouthful
of questions in his grin as he approaches me
in a bookstore, hopeful in his loneliness.
I abandon my reading when he stops at my table,
though it’s the book that breaks the ice, unfolds
his curiosity, the lilting thickness of his voice.
He settles into the chair I offer, we slice
into the afternoon, no exchange of names
only laughter and a few ragtag notes
from the canyon stretch of our lives.
When he leaves, he pats my shoulder, lets
his fingers linger, imprint of blessing,
of something remade or found
like the nod of the supermarket cashier
when I tell him Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror,”
delivering its third incantation that week, is a song
for our times, as its final falsetto note
exhorts us to “make that change.”
“Don’t even get me started,” he says, bagging
my soy milk, organic berries and our eyes meet
with all our brown skin and bruised steps
and scalding affront cannot say.
Behind me, a customer waits. Another exits
with a jangle of keys, a paper bag rustle.
We stand still, anchored in a new
communion, the language
of being seen.