Standing before this stranger,
I become the silhouette
of a fair-faced man who doesn’t exist;
I am a dark spot in the middle of the sun
whose brightness surrounds and haunts
me wherever I go, even inside
my own home where my eyes adjust
to light’s absence by summoning black floaters
to hover between me and my body,
to obstruct my vision and consume
my skin. They seem to never leave
but settle in melanin like smoke
trapped inside a glass candle jar,
the wick extinguished. Like me,
did this stranger lather his arms and face
with a bottle’s worth of skin lightening
lotion, an attempt to make
eye contact with his own reflection?
In this self-portrait, his straight-
legged shadow undermines
his casually bent knee.
Beyond this frame, I imagine
the rest of it sprawled across marble
steps, pinned against alabaster pillars,
kicked by shuffling feet, unable to rise
from the scorching concrete.
Did he, too, learn to survive
by avoiding eye contact, by staring
at the ground and watching
his feet enveloped by the shade
of kids taller and paler than him?
Like me, did he believe his skin
color came from the dirt,
impossible to scrub away?
There’s strange comfort in steam
fogged over a mirror where,
for a few moments, my body
may be exchanged for a foggy
silhouette. Or, I can press
my palm against warm glass, wipe
the mirror clean, and feel heat
rise from my own reflection.
Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 18, Issue 2.
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