for Sister Monica Joan
I’ve sort of lost track of time,
but it must have been, oh,
a dozen or so years ago
that I put a rear-view mirror
on my medicine chest,
so that now when I shave of a morning
I can only see myself in the past.
And therefore, by a process
I cannot pretend to understand,
do I grow one day younger every day.
As long as I keep shaving,
I’m slipping backwards
twenty-four hours at a time,
growing gradually more limber,
my synapses finger-popping
like Hank Ballard and the Midnighters,
my beard no longer bristling with silver
but turning to a burr of golden blond.
When I remember how to move
the appropriate muscles in my face,
I catch the reflection of
something resembling a smile,
teeth sparkling, eyes bright.
And well might I smile,
now that my past is my new future,
going sixty to zero in that many years,
a sort of slow Corvette in reverse gear.
I’m headed toward my first kiss,
my first heartbreak, my first
unbearable loss and I can hardly wait.
I wish I’d thought of this years ago.
There is, however, one disturbing side effect.
My memory isn’t growing more vague
and granting me forgetfulness, as memories should.
It’s growing deeper, more lucid and double-edged.
Every tomorrow now has two yesterdays.
Every night, I remember, in dreams,
that day as first I lived it,
back when I was still growing older,
remember it in graphic detail,
as though I were walking through my own ghost,
and its mist, what once was flesh,
is refreshing my reminiscences
I used to dream in the first person,
I was the narrator, the point of view was mine.
But now, at night, the POV
belongs to women I once knew,
women I met and loved and let down,
or helped to be happy for a while.
It’s not that I know what they are thinking,
I think what they are thinking
when they look into my eyes.
It’s unsettling. I still play the male leads.
It’s my life, after all, being rebroadcast.
But the scenes reenacted from my past
are as they were to the women I’d been with:
I may have remembered them as, say,
a seductress who could turn a brass bed
into a railroad car, a mistress
of sinuosity leaving only smoke
in her wake as she went around the bend.
And I always conceived of myself as cutting a
rather dashing if not a downright heroic figure.
I thought that was how they looked back on me.
But in their eyes, which now I borrow at night,
I am a paragon of foolishness, silly,
irresponsible, all right for getting her
through a night, nothing more. I thought we’d
had such good times together, that they would
never forget me. But I had barely
qualified as a passing fancy
Most of them thought I was funny,
some found me merely laughable. I preferred funny.
Now in the mornings, I have hangovers without
ever downing a single drink. I suppose that
when I become too young to grow a beard
I will take the rear-view mirror down and
begin to grow back up. I can’t help wondering, though,
how my memory will work then. Will I retain the women’s
recollections of me along with my shattered illusions?
It could be like passing yourself on an escalator going
the other way. Will I remake all of my favorite mistakes
or hide out and hunker down with the blinds drawn?
This time, I’ll know more about what is to come,
more than anyone should ever know about
the hazards and the horror shows, how much of our lives
is decided by a hairline fracture in our dice.
But I’ll be sailing in uncharted waters as well.
Suppose I were to meet the daughters of the women
who’d been kind to me when I was coming up.
What if they take me home to meet their moms?
It could be awkward. There’s a saving grace, thank goodness.
I’ve seen a lot more than what they thought of me,
I’ve seen what they cared for, why their glances
fell on me in the first place. I know what no
man has known before. I am, for a few hours each night,
a woman trying to make her way in the world.
They were looking through me and past me when we were together.
Not for other men. What they’d been looking for was the
children whose names were already waiting.
I was the means, found wanting and soon discarded,
of arriving at a devotion that would endure.
These days, I awaken overwhelmed with confusion.
If I’ve been nothing more than a pawn
in some evolutionary three-card Monty scheme,
has my own love been true or is it too discredited?
For that matter, was theirs for going
through me rather than coming to me?
I came to the conclusion that it was the wrong question.
Who cares if the love (whose object I mistook for myself)
was part of a con, so long as it was a long con?
Long enough that one day we may learn,
by adding to its sum, what love is for.
And, who knows, if I keep taking the
mirror down and putting it back up again,
circling the block until
the block has undergone demolition
unto the seventh generation, maybe
I’ll meet a woman who does her makeup
in a rear-view mirror, who catches my eye
from an escalator going the other way,
It’s really quite simple,
she might say with a sidelong look,
Life is not a battle between good and evil,
but a contest between cruelty and kindness,
and love helps us to choose the latter.
Though life may end, kindness never does.
It stays, it stays in the other and in the ether.
This woman is rather eloquent
in the matter of sidelong looks.
And if she dreams of me that night
she might see in my eyes a name for
a daughter whose day is coming.
Growing younger and wiser,
I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
But this girl, I have a feeling about her.
Call it a hunch. I believe she’ll allow me
to step off the escalator and into a world
where there’s just enough love to go around.
Michael Larrain was born in Los Angeles, California in 1947 and has lived for many years in northern California’s Sonoma County. He is the author of twenty books of poetry, prose fiction and children’s storybooks. This is his sixth contribution to Fictional Cafe. See more by searching “Larrain”