Various and Sundry Poetry

phantom love

take, for example, the little boy,
age 7, who told you raptly of the minor
characters in "The Night at the Museum,"
a movie you knew you would never see and yet,
which came alive in the boy's telling.
You fell in love with him, so briefly,
in the time it took to bend down
eye level with the DVD jacket he was holding,
you loved everything about him in just one minute,
the small gaps between his front teeth,
his sweet lisp, the mop of hair dropping
over his forehead, the way he launched so breathlessly,
enthusiastically, into the story, his eyes widening
in sheer delight and whimsy.

the other day, you fell for the old man holding court
in front of the Walgreen's on Fillmore, his toothy grin,
his palm facing upward waiting for change. you loved
the way his eyes explored your face, how he really looked,
in the way few people do, in the dead center of you,
and you loved him for his bravery, for his honesty,
for the boldness in his question when he asked you
if you could spare anything.

last month, it was the cashier at the Safeway
at the Red Hill Shopping Center, because she was
impatient and scrambling and looked on the verge
of emotional collapse, braids swinging violently
as she rang up your purchase. you fell for her
hardness, her upset, her bad customer service,
and you really caved in when out of nowhere,
after you asked her how her day was going,
she spilled the beans about her financial woes,
the full-time class load, the child at home,
the health insurance premiums going up, those rotten
scoundrels at corporate who were responsible
for dealing these blows, and all she needed was
$400 to get her through the month, and by God
she'd barely make it, three double shifts this week,
you couldn't help yourself then, all that trouble,
how you ached and loved and ached again.

you are so good at this, this phantom love,
this dalliance with affection and sympathy,
this earnest fidelity you dole out barely
blinking an eye, and there is even a kind of
swooning, a vertical fall to somewhere you
don't quite recognize yet feel so comfortable in,
and you stand there, gluttonous with purpose,
your heart flying open, all that love pouring out,
bucketfuls, a whole galaxy, you are spilling over
with it, unabashedly, having forgotten yourself,
the frumpy minutiae of your day, your pasty-white
dissatisfactions, you let it go like snowflakes,
like lint, like an afterthought, and fill yourself to brimming.

and it's strange how quickly you wanted to run this morning,
love's gaze right on you, persistent and real, the opposite
of the fleeting warmth you've given so recklessly
to the boy, the old man, the cashier—this love, instead, bright
and bold with promise, deep and searching and true
and oh, how you wanted to run. and maybe it's because sometimes
this kind of love is glaring and relentless and refuses
to leave, despite your best attempts to shatter it,
and you don't know what do to about that kind
of love, which is to say you don't quite know
what it means to stay stock-still and let love wrap around
you with its solid, warm wool, you don't quite know
how to bury your head in it and close your eyes
against its embrace, and you don't quite know what it takes
to put your arms down and stop fighting.