Poem for the Boy Who Told Me I Was Pretty, Ithaca 2010

there are these things to understand
you see
I was having the most terrible day
wanting something to yell about
when you came up to the counter
and asked what was up
and I was feeling like
I have no patience for this shit
and was only cursorily polite
It was the wrong thing to do
because then you said
you just wanted to say hi
and that I was very pretty
and I, rude to the last,
gaped like a fish
and said, "...Thank you."
Thank you like you'd handed me back
a nickel I'd dropped
not like you were brave and kind
and had done something
that must have been very hard
and should have made my day
Thank you like waving to cross the street
or getting a cup of coffee
with one specified inch for cream
and then you said,
"I'm awkward,"
(or something like that)
and ran out
and at your back I cried,
"You're not, you're sweet!"
trying to reel you back in,
but I guess I sounded too much like an aunt
because you were gone
with your long skinny legs and your oval glasses
you had already left
and just like that,
the tide of the night carried you away
and I still wonder
maybe if I had been in less of a bad mood
if I had let you cheer me up
if I had said, like a person,
"Wow.  I was having a really bad night
until you said that"
and maybe made something come out right once
for awkward young guys in glasses
who tell the girl covered in cream cheese behind the counter
that she's pretty, when they think she's pretty
who give away this secret part of themselves
to women like me who, clumsy,
drop it on the floor and lose it like an earring,
stepped on, kicked away and, too soon, unrecoverable
maybe we'd still be friends now, or if not,
maybe at least I'd have an extra nice memory in the bank
to gain interest,
of a cup of coffee, maybe, or a movie
instead of this gnawing and embarrassing what if,
this yet another pettiness to atone for.


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