c62At twenty
when most young people
have such inner light they need
no tanning
I stood in the Pre-Raphaelite section
of the foreign museum
where prisms of light gathered
in tepees over head
born with an exaggerated self-consciousness
it felt as if all the disinterested
milling around staring at art
with their mouths open and crumbs from croissants
smearing their lapels
were disapproving
it wasn’t self aggrandized
I knew then as I know now
I am just one of a million million
but the glare of the crowd
was like a purse being pulled inward
gathering her fret
I’d been inspected too closely, too frequently
as a child prone to blunder and freedom
reined by yoke of adults disapprobation and neglect
now it felt like every stare
was a leach on my skin
sucking for marrow
I wondered
at the girls who posed for masters
in cold bathtubs of water
approximating Ophelia’s death throes
or imagined when they
lay quiet in their grave
mouths still stained with laudanum
life plucked by the need for art
art approximating life and not
artifice struck me then
unable like the fawn colored girl beside me
to walk with certitude
she was only a few inches taller
though her neck was more a swan than cat
she held little more potential
yet held the world by its umbilical
whilst I sought out back doors
to any exhibit of youth
it didn’t sit well on my angular shoulders to
flaunt or even preen unaware
I had never known how to un-know
the unbearable lightness of being
(last line and title from Nesnesitelná lehkost bytí by Milan Kundera)