Today on the train to work I watched a couple
completely strung out, endure a train ride home,
presumably. they sat, backpacks in tow, weathered shirt sleeves spilling out
of rain-spotted plastic ponchos
with their eyes so squinted and hands
reaching out for each other in their own darkness,
as if babies outside the womb
for the first time,
hands desperate, extending out to wrap fingers
around anything, simply as reflex; the man
calling out his lover’s name over and over as she sank
to the subway floor each time her eyes closed, something
magnetic calling her to a blackout, to crumpling.
I flinched, remembering all the days I’d come home from school,
find my brother looking not unlike this couple splayed out before me,
but I could not look away.
I watched people look on in concern, or to laugh, or
shake their heads at what they did not understand,
at what they were thankful they, themselves, were not,
averting their children’s faces from something they did not want to explain,
thinking love is protection,
and he just kept calling her name, calling her
JESS, JESS, JESS
to wake up, to sit back, to stay with him there a little while longer,
calling for her in his own, self-inflicted blindness.
and isn’t this love, too?
isn’t this love, too?
they are almost home or they are far from home or maybe they are not going anywhere
in particular, at all.
the man rocked in and out of consciousness, too, but
left his arm across her torso like a safety bar on a carnival ride,
catching her nose dives even though he had also faded.
I imagine someone has been calling her name like that for a long time now,
to wake up. and I understand the desperation of it all, of screaming for someone who can’t hear you.
I have not spoken to my brother in almost two years
but I have dreams about him dying sometimes,
in similar situations as this. on subway cars, in street alleys, in contorted,
I gave up on the idea of him a long time ago, but my mother still
drives by his last known address every once in a while
just to see if his car is still there, some sign he’s okay,
isn’t this love, too?
she’s finally stopped calling him, used to shout his name like me, like that,
over and over
to wake up.
I shake my head when his name comes up, like those parents do now,
in shame for the peace I could not give my mama,
for all the ways I could not be both her son and her daughter,
to make up for what she had lost.
she thinks I hold on to too much hate, but I call it keeping my eyes open.
I don’t say his name anymore, only wake up and clutch my knees
to my chest in the after sweat of night terrors.
and isn’t this love, too? wanting to brace my arm across his
chest like this dude in front of me,
if only when I am not awake enough to remember all the things he has done,
to be the good girl,
to think myself the only child.
I think about what black dress I would wear, to be prepared,
agonize over the idea of my parents’ heartbreak,
how I would take care of them, myself.
how I would take care of myself.
and isn’t this love,