by Omotara James
Should have asked for more, but was afraid to—
Should have tied you up with those bed sheets
I wrapped around my belly, in shame
against those words you called me, that still stick,
walking through Penn Station as if it was a portal
back through time, my arms folded tightly around me
not wanting to touch or be touched by anything or
anyone who might break the spell I cast on myself.
The most valuable tool of the oppressor is the mind of the depressed? The oppressed?
I don’t know. I mean, I think someone said that, I can’t remember
This noise underground, I mean the sound doesn’t travel so well,
the music distorts itself and I feel just like the bow
in the hand of that busker—pressed hard against the throat
of that violin that trills, not like music, but like crying: down here
where the uncirculated air is damp with hurry and waiting.
No, it doesn’t sound like crying, it just makes me feel like tears
as I make my way to the escalator that leads to the street,
dragging my left foot like chalk against a blackboard.
I’ve managed a small miracle of the subway, having avoided
touching or being touched by anyone and I am grateful,
as grateful as the day that you left without a kiss, a note or
a thought for a woman who never asked you to love her.
You just came running in my direction like someone smeared
my drawers on your nose, whupped your ass and said go!
It’s a grey day and the sunlight is darker than the underground
lightshow. I smell lamb, gyro and every legal
street meat, make it six feet before tripping over Kassie
with a K, wearing a blanket as a dress that’s yellow now
and a scarf as a hat. Almost twisting my ankle and hers she sits,
amused, on a box, with a cat swaddled like a baby. Jesus,
she looks like the forgotten Mary. Eyes so huge, she could be Cleopatra
when says, I’ll take anything, even fifty cents, in a voice so soft
I close my mouth and think of you, as I dig into my bag for loose change: hand her
2 quarters. Her hands know she might have been Sappho. Lips so pink, maybe Helen, or Dido.
She says: I’ll take anything, even fifty cents. So that’s what I give her.
Omotara James is a poet and essayist. The daughter of Nigerian and Trinidadian immigrants, she lives and studies in NYC. Her chapbook, Of the Tara, is forthcoming by APBF & Akashic Books. You can find her online @omotarajames