The Secret Life of People Who Care
after Phyllis Bramson
On the platform, I notice a woman’s tote:
You Can Never Have Too Many Books.
I’m trying to rid myself
of mine. So sorry for my shelf,
so old, and with chipped black paint,
that has to carry the weight of
my attachment. I slide through closing
doors, eye a seat closest to the emergency
exit, motion for the girl there to move
her bag. She is reading something
on human behavior. I follow
her pen, skimming the page and
want to tell her I’m not done
before she turns.
I revisit the Cultural Center because
it’s free. I get off at State & Lake.
I walk against the wind, climbing
up the stairs. I clutch the buttons
of my winter coat, ignoring the man
asking for change. Feel three quarters
in my pocket as I near the top floor.
An exhibition by an artist whose name
I don’t recognize.
Standing too close to the painting,
I notice I can’t see the corners.
I teeter, lose perspective, to gain
a better grip, backslide, break
out in tears when I realize what
I’m staring at—
A woman, the clown,
her polka-dotted handkerchief
blotting her rosy cheek,
unable to gather the tears
dripping onto her bare breasts.
Doting upon her shoulder, a boy,
his small cheek pressed against hers.
The security guard catches me.
She tells me I’m too close.
You’re two weeks dead.
I’m in a mood. It’s January.
Trees are in bloom, still.
I pull at the roots. I catch
the seasonal sale, serendipitously.
I don’t need anything, but I push
jeans along the rack, reduced
but out of budget. They don’t fit
but they’re perfect. Vintage,
but like new. I tell myself,
This is what your life is missing.
At the Dior counter I tell
the woman I’m looking for
shades of purple. I sit down
in her chair. As she primps
my cheeks, she says pop of color
seven times. I ask her how long
she’s been doing this. I don’t care,
but I want to talk to someone
about anything. I spend
two hundred dollars
and feel alive.
MAYA NORDINE lives in Chicago, Illinois, where she runs a bi-weekly writing workshop called Study Hall. She holds an MFA from Antioch University Los Angeles.