The Innisfree Poetry Journal
by Debra Bruce
A woman I once knew is now a man,
or on his way—though I still see her face,
the razzed-up haircut, earlobes that could wake
the masters of the centuries to collect
their colors, wet their brushtips and regard
such beauty as goes forth beneath the clouds
or some such exhalation that could cloud
the summer of a girl becoming a man.
One drop if ice-cream on her lip —regard
another man who stopped to scan her face
as if he'd found a portrait—shrewd collector—
of a banished girlish earl and hoped to wake
the art world up. My friend is lying awake
at dawn her first day back as him. No cloud
surrounding him, he hopes—he will collect
all queries, swift and forthwith as a man.
Whatever they think of him he's ready to face.
No reason he should drop in their regard.
Pop him with helloes, or disregard
the obviousness of his awakening?
Does anyone look right into his face?
Some keep their voices muted, in a cloud,
thinking about the woman who was this man,
as they glance down pretending to collect
paperclips from a magnet while they collect
themselves. They must stay wide awake—
They practice saying his new name, regardless,
but stumble on the pronoun he for man.
They concentrate like kids who stare at a cloud
until it clarifies into a face.
Newcomers in his life won't have to face
him with such vigilance, recollecting
a woman they once knew, circling in clouds
of ambiguity, a place with no regard
for thumping on solid ground and waking up
in a world of this-or-thatness. He's a man.
He's now a man. The thought keeps me awake.
His voice collects a thickness like a cloud.
Regardless, I see her face.
You wouldn't believe it! One minute
he's just my husband, soaping a dish,
but when he turns to me, lifting a towel,
I have something to tell you—presto!
My chest is a cavity filling with crushed ice,
the air a shattered windshield I haven't even hit
yet as he steers me over familiar hardwood
to the couch.
How did he do it?
I stared down hypnotized by our braided rug circling
and circling, as it has all these years.
And then it disappeared.
His Dad's specialty—
charcoal-flamed chili burger
followed by bad news.
Mouthful of gravel,
rock dropped in a hole, his Mom
squeezing his hand hard
as if to get tears
out of him. He wouldn't play
any of their games.
His room a gray pit.
She knocked all day, then slipped in
for dirty dishes.
His cellphone's smothered
metallic buzz—can't find it
or maybe he checks
then listens later
to Dad’s brand-new chipper voice.
Delete. Or he checks
in his sleep, then rolls
away to stare at the wall
for a few more years.
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