Volume 31, Number 2

For You, Again

What would you say
if I told you
I see your face
when I avoid the eyes
of a woman begging for change
on the street corner
and when I return to press
some crumpled bills into her
outstretched hand?

At the shelter for homeless women,
I stand behind
the lunch counter
offering spoonfuls
of donated food
to the smiling, unsmiling,
battered, crazy, addicted
hapless and hopeful
young and old.

One day, a young woman
—blonde ponytail, blue eyes—
(blackened and missing teeth,
tattoos sliding out of her sleeves
and creeping above the neckline
of her misbuttoned blouse)
appeared at the counter,
and I had to turn from not you
and not call her by your name.

I’d hoped to not hope
to see you there.
The stories I tell myself
about your life
are rich in detail
but short on facts.
I imagine you everywhere
and nowhere I would
wish you to be.

—Cindy Buchanan