Some days I can go nearly an hour without thinking of the taste of your mouth. Right now, I'm at school watching teenagers fidget through a test. Outside, the sky is smoky and streets are wet and two grackles step lightly in yellow grass.
Two weeks ago in Atlantic City I stood on the boardwalk and looked out across the water – the railing was cool, broken shells dappled the beach – I had been playing the slot machines and lost all but a dollar. I tried to picture you in Paris, learning the sound of your new country where, at that moment, it was already night.
I thought maybe you'd be out walking with the street lights glossing your lips, with your eyes deep as this field of water. Maybe someone was looking at you as you paused under the awning of a bakery where the smell of newly risen bread buttered the air.
I remember those suede boots you wore to the party last December, your clipped hair, your long arms like the necks of swans. I remember how seeing the shape of your mouth that first time, I kept staring until my blood turned to rain.
Some things take root in the brain and just don't let go. We went to a movie once – I think it was "The Dead" – and near the end a woman told a story about a boy who used to sing: how, at 17, she loved him, how that same year he died. She remembered late one night looking out to the garden and he was there calling her with only the slow sound in his eyes.
Missing someone is like hearing a name sung quietly from somewhere behind you. Even after you know no one is there, you keep looking back until on a silver afternoon like this you find yourself breathing just enough to make a small dent in the air.
Just now a student, an ivory-colored girl whose nose crinkles when she laughs, asked me if she could "go to the bathroom," and suddenly I knew I was old enough to never ask that question again.
When I look back across my life, I always see the schoolyard – monkey-bars, gray asphalt, and one huge tree – where I played the summer days into rags. I didn't love anybody yet, except maybe my parents who I loved mainly when they left me alone. I used to have wet dreams about a girl named Diane. She was a little older than me. I wanted to kiss her so bad that just walking pst her house I would trip over nothing but the chance that she'd be on the porch. Sometimes she'd wear these cut-off jeans, and a scar shaped like an acorn shone above her knee. In some dreams I would barely touch it, then explode. Once
in real life, at a party on Sharpnack Street I asked her to dance a slow one with me. The Delfonics were singing I'll never hear the bells and, scared nearly blind, I pulled her into the sleepy rhythm where my body tried to explain. But half-a-minute deep into the song she broke my nervous grip and walked away – she could tell I didn't know what to do with my feet. I wonder where she is now, and all those people who saw me standing there with the music filling my hands.
Woman, I miss you, and some afternoons it's all right. I think of that lemon drink you used to make and the stories – about your grandmother, about the bees that covered your house in Africa, the nights of gunfire, and the massing of giant frogs in the rain. I think about the first time I put my arm around your shoulder. I think of couscous and white tuna, that one lamp blinking on and off by itself, and those plums that would brood for days on the kitchen counter.
I remember holding you against the sink, with the sun soaking the window, the soft call of your hips, and the intricate flickers of thought chiming your eyes. Your mouth, like a Saturday. I remember your long thighs, how they opened on the sofa, and the pulse of your cry when you came, and sometimes I miss you the way someone drowning remembers the air.
I think about these students in class this afternoon, itching through this hour, their bodies new to puberty, their brains streaked with grammar – probably none of them in love, how they listen to my voice and believe my steady, adult face, how they wish the school day would hurry past, so they could start spending their free time again, how none of them really understands what the clock is always teaching about the way things disappear.