The man in the middle seat
has a calm energy about him.
I am in the aisle seat,
so we are constantly playing the game
of respectfully adjusting our shoulders
to try to give the other comfort.
I pass a pillow to his wife –
she’s in the middle seat across the aisle –
and I pass him her credit card
when he buys a pack of pringles.
He makes a joke about how
he’s done nothing nothing on this flight
I laugh, we smile,
and we return to ourselves
(me, to my book; he, to his).
Despite our efforts, his upper left arm and my upper right
are touching for most of the flight.
As much as I love it when the middle seat is empty,
I didn’t realize how comforting it would be
simply to feel the platonic pressure
of his body against mine.
Category Archives: poem
The man in the middle seat
We both believe in mad money.
Those pennies and singles and whatever else
you set aside and disclose to no one
because it’s there strictly for when you go mad.
We are excellent at putting madness off
and letting cooler heads prevail
in front of those who need to see our strength.
But it’s in the off-putting that the madness
gets to grow in its intensity
so that when we feel it – boy,
do we feel it.
We nearly crave it.
And instead of madness being a splurge lunch
or a frivolous item online,
it is a stamp in our passports,
a car payment’s worth of hair care.
We are sitting in chairs next to each other,
hair wrapped comically in foils
and damp with chemicals
that will make us feel frivolous and beautiful
and more like ourselves.
We are shedding the old
and creating the new.
We are talking, laughing, sharing,
In my mind, I see us as the cartoon women
sitting under the dryer hoods,
reading magazines and gossiping.
But by the time our hair is washed,
trimmed, and dried,
the madness has abated,
the mad money is spent,
and we’re ready to go out
and start saving again.
I hadn’t planned to stop anywhere on my way home.
That’s always how it is, though –
that whim takes you exactly where
you need to be.
I am waiting in line behind another car
to get back onto my route home
when I hear the short screech,
a sound like a baking sheet
bending in the heat of the oven,
and the grinding gravel beneath his wheels
and then beneath his helmet when he falls.
It’s all muffled from the fishbowl
of my own car,
but before I can finish thinking,
my fingers are dialing 9-1-1
on my cell phone.
I hadn’t planned to stop anywhere on my way home,
but now I am in the restaurant parking lot
listening to myself calmly give the location
and the nature of my emergency.
I am standing with the others,
telling them I’ve called
and help is coming.
Help comes, and it blocks the exit lane,
so we stand and watch them
place one man on an ambulance cot,
give the other man a clipboard to write down his story.
I am making small talk with the woman next to me,
and she comments that I seem to know
what I’m doing.
I tell her I hadn’t planned to stop on my way home,
but the same thing was also true the last time
I had to be the one to dial 9-1-1.
“Looks like your vision’s gotten stronger,”
she tells me, flipping the page of my chart
forward and back.
“Really?” I ask.
“Yes, in both eyes.
They’re the same prescription now.”
For six years,
I was imbalanced —
one eye somewhat stronger,
one side of my brain slightly weaker
than the other.
I know my body is finally manifesting
the balance I’ve been seeking.
We’ve only just shaken hands
and introduced ourselves —
so good to meet you,
heard so much about you —
and already she’s said “fuck”
and offered to buy me a scone.
While she’s in line,
I read a few more pages
of 100 Deadly Skills,
its hazard yellow cover
a stark contrast to the earthy tones
of the vegan coffee shop.
She’s asked me for advice,
and I mark my comments
on her paper
with a sturdy black pen,
to sip dark roast.
She takes pages of notes
in a sketchbook
with a purple marker,
stopping every so often
to try the mango cayenne kombucha.
We stand up to leave,
and as I extend my hand
to shake hers again,
she embraces me instead.
We take the same path in the cold
and say goodbye —
so great to have met you,
thanks for taking the time —
and drive opposite directions home.
They’ve danced before.
circling one another
with calculated patience
and anxious nonchalance.
They’re evaluating —
risk of falling.
They start to move again —
separately, but in tandem,
watching and waiting
and tensing for action.
He cocks an eyebrow,
and when she smirks,
and prepares to leap.
I slept uneasily.
Every few hours,
I awoke as though gently coaxed
out of the dream and into the dark.
I drank too much coffee.
Sipped throughout the morning,
it gave me something to do
with my restless hands.
I still have too little focus.
I skip from tab to tab,
task to task,
interest held by nothing.
None of it is really mine —
I know it’s hers.
It’s apart from me
and a part of me.
It’s the heady emptiness
of a hangover.
and I’m fresh out of whiskey.