It’s silly to think a grocery store
the day before Thanksgiving will be anything less
than manic. Woodland’s is a veritable obstacle course,
carts bulbous with raw turkey, the produce shelves
picked clean hourly by buzzard housewives.
You are here simply to gather ingredients for stuffed
mushrooms, your small offering for tomorrow’s meal.
There’s no reason to stop at the butcher’s,
though you’ve always liked the guys behind the counter,
their easy camaraderie, their confidence with the sirloins.
You envy their fraternity, their banter, their pride.
You had something of this once, a basketball team,
a crowd to go to parties with, gatherings an easy transit ride away.
Now, a long and busy highway separates you from that intimate domain.
But you walk by and the butcher pauses between customers to greet you,
and you appreciate his time, his interest, the way he leans
his forearms right up against the glass to get closer.
In another life, this might be called flirting, but from where you stand
this is simply called contact, and you don't remember a time
you've been this hungry.
It’s not just your move to the suburbs. The world has gotten so skimpy
with trust, with care, with diligence and kinship, and you have simply
come along for the ride, kept yourself at a neat and fractious distance
that makes it possible to mutter a string of obscenities at a jaywalker
or spend years not knowing anything about your neighbors except
the car they drive.
In your own way, you’ve become inured to suspicion and scrutiny,
the friendless wave of the airport security wand, every gaze
that doesn't quite land. You expect less from a woman walking her dog
than the dog himself.
Now, it’s kindness that disarms you, the invisible
hand of love, the impromptu phone call, a dinner invitation,
letters nosing out from among the bills,
spectacular, unprovoked gifts that keep you hopeful,
and even the minor warmth from the butcher reminds you
all is not lost, that you still have it in you,
that under your own thick skin your heart is pounding visibly,
tender and permeable as ever.