Itch of an Amputated Leg
I turned up the volume
for 'Waiting for the Man'.
Sweat gathered in the furrows on the forehead
of the man pruning roses
and he squinted to see in our room.
Mopping his brow
he noticed the young American
who returned his smile and passed on by.
His eyes followed her bare legs
and for a moment he remembered...
something without words –
or thought he did.
24 May 1982
Over the past six months I’ve been posting poems that span my relationship with my first wife. I’ve not posted them all—some were just too embarrassing (in more ways than one)—but when you look at the body of work there are some interesting (if only to me) patterns. I’ve already posted ‘Heat’ (#530) and in a while I’ll post ‘Empathy’ (#542) which is the first poem I wrote after my wife left me and all three of them involve wordless exchanges with strangers.
It was very hot in 1982. The young American lived in the block of flats across from us, the building we could see out of our living room window, and I often saw her walking up and down the steps. She was a teenager and pretty without being stunning. And she caught my eye. One of dozens over the years who has. I would love to see them all lined up to see what physical characteristics they have in common but I don’t think that’s it. Mostly I never had crushes on these girls—that’s the kind of thing I’d need regular contact to form (so we’re talking co-workers usually)—but I very much wanted to understand this “at first sight” phenomenon. I’ve kinda always pooh-poohed the notion of love at first sight but we’ve all experienced something similar: we’re walking along the street and happen to meet a stranger’s gaze—full eye to eye contact—for a second, maybe two (although it feels so much longer) and something passes between the two of you, something you can’t put into words and often something a little uncomfortable too.
We’re all familiar with Proust and his madeleine cake
No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me.
but what I’m trying to capture he is something less, much less. There are only so many faces on the planet and so every one of us will remind someone of someone they’ve once known or met in passing but there are simply too many people to remember. And yet there is a sense of the familiar that persists.
The reason I know she was an American by the way is because her photo appeared in the local rag. I may even still have the clipping somewhere. I don’t think I ever spoke to her or even passed her in the street and my only actual memory of her is of her sunbathing outside our window although she’s not the sunbather in ‘Sunbather’ (#550).