Various and Sundry Poetry

We Are This Close

in the next lane, eyes steely on the road,
a woman makes the smallest adjustment to the bandanna
covering her scalp and I think,
cancer.

The light turns red, and we both stop, parallel.
When I let myself linger on her face,
I see she's pencilled in her eyebrows.
They're perfect arcs of chestnut brown, unreal as anything,
but still, she looks like a fading movie star,
skin a little loose around her neck,
her lips a dry crimson pucker.
And still, all I see is
how the chemo's tired her out,
made her hands papery, withered with unwelcome age.
I think of her kids, and her husband,
and even if there might be none,
I imagine she's driving toward groceries,
the pick-up at school, to drop off the dry-cleaning,
any of those artless domesticities
that keep us all fixed to the calendar -
I think about how she's part of those, too.
And maybe I'm stretching here
but I wonder if, now, these mindless daily tasks have been elevated
to a kind of fresh reverence, how maybe this woman feels
the sheer good luck of surviving long enough
to run this humdrum errand, and the next, and the next.

When she passes me, I notice the plastic dahlia
she's notched into the hood of her car,
a plume of aubergine and magenta
that revives the dull grey of her Accord.
As she drives, the stem waves with her growing speed,
until I lose the car, the flower, the scarf,
the pencil-thin eyebrows, the skin, the chemo, the cancer,
the woman.

And I'm thinking, we are so close, you and I.
We are always this close.