HOW I ARRIVED
in flight from a war for my own holy self
clinging to a steamship.
the old farm house one day fell in cinders
but today, first, burned into my corneas.
it’s still visible when I close my eyes:
a tangerine aura with no center.
I told them I would not fight.
they mailed me from Mississippi
in a metal ice chest
I taste salt at the sight of honeysuckle,
recalling some kind of way
the last bacon grease to touch
the back of my hand.
I danced, once
from Alabama westward
the longest cakewalk
I rode in on a bumblebee.
I fell out of the dirt.
I disguised myself as a painter in a time of artless men.
I remember every note you ever wrote to me.
when you pull all day from the coldest water you can find
and do not mind carrying your bicycle up the stairs,
July twilight comes so late
you might forget to end the day at all.
one day the pain is so intolerable
we do nothing but stare shamefacedly
at each other, and the wall,
and at the pile of dirty towels on the floor.
I refuse breakfast on your behalf,
and when I am well enough
palm some dirhams and put on a long skirt
and walk alone through the dusty streets
to the pharmacy, marked from afar
by the green T which, upon sight, filled my head
with the nasal wail of a French ambulance.
the same cross. new dust and new smells.
here the kelly neon is emblazoned onto white plaster,
not the stone and brick of Rue de Rivoli.
no, I cannot name this street. my tongue pushes
foolishly against the brushstrokes on every wall.
I can say la
and nothing more.
but my heart and this city
we share a colonial ache
and I can say it all in the way I began with
yes, very sick, yes
fever, yes, and dehydrated
and I can buy ginger ale and bland and salted things
and I discover that I brought too much money.
no one wants to make change for me
so I accrue debts all over town.
demain, demain, vous payez demain
I thank them so politely and wonder if you worry for me
making my way through the narrow passage
where the men smoke hashish and tell me to smile.
after Tom Waits
Never eat a ripe peach when you are dying.
Never sweep the floor when cicadas are singing.
Never widen your eyes at a book if the pages have yellowed.
Never wander when you have pain in your fingertips.
Never swallow a bottle of India ink.
Never travel after a violet sunset if the wind blows west.
Never drink from a cracked vessel.
Never look askance at a spider.
Never listen to a man on the night’s last train.
Never believe a promise written in pencil.
Eve L. Ewing is a Chicagoan, a writer, a teacher, an artist, and a doctoral candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She lives in Boston, where she coordinates youth arts programs, including the Louder Than A Bomb poetry slam. More of her work lives at eveewing.com.