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To the Bronze Boy at the DMV
I will call you Pip because for the next half-hour
I have great expectations for you:
You will listen to every telepathic thought
and respond with the twitch of your foot
or the brush of your arm against mine
to let me know that I have your complete attention.
You see, I trust you because only an honest boy
would wear Oxfords in the South on a weekday
to a place crawling with unattended,
unwanted, wailing children
and bubble gum
that has been stuck to these chairs
since the year we were born.
I knew you were scared when you walked
through the door in your t-shirt the shade
of the shamrocks I plucked from my backyard
as a child, the way your knees shivered at the sight
of the fruit salad of America sitting in the waiting room—
John Doe in his baseball cap and holey blue jeans,
the working-class, self-made man
with a wife, two kids, and a Labrador at home;
Juan Carlos, green card clutched between his white knuckles
like a lifeline, huddled in the corner, taking extra care
to stay out of everyone’s way;
Mary-Grace Miller flipping her cherry pompom ponytail
over the sleeve of her boyfriend’s red,
white, and letterman jacket
as she winks at the college kid
with the slicked back hair beside her.
But this is not about them.
This is about you:
About the freckles peppered across your nose and cheekbones;
about the ball that was going, going, gone to the fence
before it hit the metal and bounced back onto the field
where you were one run away from winning the game
until you were tagged out between third and home;
about the little sister in preschool who follows you everywhere,
as if you are the wind and she doesn’t understand
that chasing you
won’t make you stay.
An employee with eighties blue eyeshadow
growls, Blue twenty-seven,
from the front of the room.
You check your card even though
you’ve flipped it over once every three minutes,
and we have both memorized your number:
Blue ticket fifty-five. I am blue forty-two.
We sigh as if we are a team in Battleship
and Foxtrot twenty-seven is just another
white peg nowhere near the patrol boat.
You flick your wrist just before you place
the paper on top of the stack of certificates
in your lap, and the slip lands beside my sneaker.
I have seen this trick; often considered using it—
deliberately dropping a pencil, a water bottle
in order to stimulate conversation with a stranger
if they’re kind enough to pick it up.
I’m sorry, Pip, but are you not satisfied
with our sixth sense communication?
You haven’t asked me for my story.
It’s not pretty, unembellished,
the inner volcano that can’t be seen
from sands the shade of ignorance.
This is why I cannot retrieve your ticket:
There is a boy at school with
a wit as sharp as the shrapnel
lodged a little deeper
into my chest every time
that I see him, realize that imagined
scenarios are not equivalent to this
mythical emotion called “love.”
Maybe I’m just looking for it
in nonexistent nothing places
because I never found it at home.
Every time Mom says,
Your father, your father
I feel the sting of his leather belt
against my skin, hear the way
the air let forth a cry just before the lashing.
I replay Daddy coming home
on the twenty-fourth of December
for his toolboxes and coffee pot
and walking out the door
with Mom’s pride.
It’s never feeling proud of myself
because I can’t look at the staircase
and be thankful that I’ve conquered
another flight when there
are ninety-nine more to go
that won’t even lead to the top.
You scoop up your ticket
as Miss Eyeshadow returns;
the spell of intuition broken.
I can’t read you anymore.
your patrol boat,