You remind me of someone,” says the stranger at the bar. “Do you have any doppelgängers?”
“I’m singular,” I say.
“The freckles,” he replies.
That good night on the stoop, Simon asked me if I’d ever noticed how machines mostly make sounds of woe.
A subway had just passed nearly beneath us, grumbling through the grate.
“There’s a lot of grinding and screeching, it’s true,” I said.
“They’re all expressions of being worn out and tired from use.”
“Buses exhaling sighs all the time, kneeling.”
“Most machines just don’t have that broad a range of emotion.”
“There must be a machine with a spectrum of sound that can express joy,” I said.
“You know what a machine that has emotional range is called?”
“A musical instrument."
“It turns out I didn’t have any leadership qualities,” one square tells another, ahead of me in the deli line for our soups and wax-papered sandwiches.
I see my mother.
“I’m not trying to be difficult,” I tell her.
“I know, sweetheart,” she says, looking past me. “You never had to try.”
So I go uptown, because I'm already halfway to where he is.
He's scruff-faced, Simon, with that big coppery mess of hair, a new fleece sweater over his collared shirt and tie, saying he worked late, taking off his shoes.
We’re sitting on his familiar couch, the cushions grooved to our bodies.
I decline a beer, sip his, and, restless, say, “Take me to bed?”
“One sip,” he says, "a new record,” and kisses me. He stands, bends to where I am, hoists me over his shoulders. Then he carries me, fireman-style, to his room.
I meet my mother for lunch and a movie. As she pays, she tells me, “If you’re serious about your future, don’t waste your heart on anyone trivial.”
There’s a man at work I chat with to break up the day. One afternoon he suggests we write poems as an exercise.
“Okay, haikus,” I G-chat. “5-7-5, by EOD.”
At day’s end, we go to the neighborhood bar we go to and exchange scraps of paper. His reads,
Oh god I wasn’t
prepared for you to believe
I meant what I said.
And how one judges triviality is a question I haven’t yet answered.
A long weekend. I visit my father, my little siblings. Today, my brother baited our sister near the henhouse. My father intervened.
“If you don’t want to be bullied, don’t react,” I heard him say. “When a bear approaches, make yourself neither big nor small.”
At our park date, Liz tells me a story. She was doing puzzles with her young daughter, Esther, and told her that when she was a kid, she also liked to do puzzles. Esther thought that over and asked, “When you were a kid, was I your mom?”
“You know what I like about a tyrant?” says the man in the bar, conjured from the dating app. “When it's time to burn a village, he burns a village.”
When it’s time to go: “We’re off — like a dirty shirt,” Esther says.
“We’re off like spoiled milk,” Liz answers.
Winter passes. On the first day more gold than grey, a painter I know texts me to come to the botanical gardens with him. I’m inside some work.
“The next first perfect spring day is yours,” I write back.
So I start things up with the painter.
“Oh, man,” I say, quietly, waking beside him in the morning.
Then, so this won’t be misinterpreted: “In a good way."
His eyes squint over at me, from the ceiling they’d been open to, to determine if this is true.