by Alison Luterman
A kid you teach at juvenile hall tells you his father is on death row. You carry the story inside you until it comes out three days later over glasses of wine, after we have finished the latest installment of our Big Fight and are making up. It’s been a gray week, when soup simmers on the stove but the house never gets warm, and piles of dust lurk in the corners of every room. Now I carry that story inside me also: about your student’s father who killed more than a dozen people. But that’s not the point. The point is how, through you and the hours you spend tutoring this boy, sounding out simple words – table, motorcycle, release date – I touch his sadness and his hope. Remember, too, that when you touch me, you are touching the years I worked with refugees, speaking a foreign dialect, and the needles and thread and fried cabbage of my great-grandfather the tailor, eight languages resting in his mouth as he pinned and measured men’s trousers in New York. And you: cities, music, women, ladders, windows. Our dead skin is flaking away and leaving us, our cells dying and vanishing. More silver in my hair daily. Dust of our lives, eye grit, detritus – we are too lost in its swirl to notice how many worlds there are within two people. And how when those worlds touch, the whole web lights up, every strand. And it was dust we fought about so bitterly: dust on the piano keys, under the coffee table, insinuating itself into the computer keyboard. Dust that may be vanquished for a day but always returns, creeping seeping, too humble to be humiliated and thus invincible. Dust of our own bodies, their sweat and longing, illuminated in a stream of sunlight just for a moment.
Tagged: , poetry , poem , san francisco