A woman comes into the bookstore
late for the reading. Already the poet stands
at the podium, book open, his voice moving precipitously
over the page as if it were bruised skin and each word
printed there not a word at all, but a wound.
The late arrival takes the seat next to me,
no greeting or nod, she is already absorbing the poem,
the longing inside her stronger than anything
the poet might say. Her name may be Susan or Carol,
or even Isabelle, but she is just as likely to answer
to dirty floors, coupons, Clorox, aluminum foil.
She wears her life in the strands of hair
coming loose from the rubber band
looped around it, and in the man's shirt
drooping off her shoulders.
I smell her history in the cigarette smoke lifting off her coat
when she moves to hang the garment
across the chair's curved back.
Her needs show in her cheap shoes, discolored teeth,
and dark half-moons deepening her eyes.
And here I find the proof of her longing.
It is in the single red glove
clutched in her hand, and in the way she wrings it
like a cloth soaked with blood.
--This poem first appeared in the UK magazine, Mslexia
Jayne Pupek is the author of the novel, Tomato Girl and two books of poems, Forms of Intercession and The Livelihood of Crows.