July 1, 2008

Craig Beaven

ARE YOU OKAY?

1.

It was always a teacher asking,
or a close friend, never

a girl on her knees, never
a stranger.

The light shining on her breasts
makes them gleam like polished metal.

Really it was always high school,
teachers who stopped me in the hall
between bells, to mutter something inaudible
nervously, before the hand on my shoulder,
the question.
Maybe they cared, or maybe
they didn’t ask once, and another student

disappeared in a puff of gun smoke, or laid down
on the train tracks, cut from the picture
forever. Here, the hand on the shoulder

guides her at this work
or holds the body still–

the subject line of the email asks
Are you okay?, but no note of concern
on the other side, just a pause
while pixels compose the bodies

of naked men and women, various positions,
and the center photo, the largest:
girl on knees, white foam of semen
smearing mouth and chin. Inches past
her grinning face, the penis juts
from beyond the frame:

click here to come inside.

2.

How many people died that day? It was years
before they could all be counted, we knew of six
in the blast, and then some on the streets, some above
and some below, and then there were heart attacks
when loved ones were told,
and the bombers, we think the bombers
sent themselves into the fire, but getting an accurate report
from the government…it was ages before the small number
was released, released, like someone letting go
a slip of paper from a window, held
among tree branches, turning brittle in the sun,
by the time anyone sees it
there is a whisper of ink, a number with no context,

and the record of what happened: surveillance camera photo
from around the corner
becomes famous, somehow, becomes emblematic–
bank wall and street scene and the middle
just a hole, white emptiness, we could fill it
with anything we could think of–panicked phone calls,
worried emails, footage of people
telling it, retelling it, telling it
again, it was historic–no one
had ever done this before–email

now a part of it, Are you
okay?–a girl
on her knees, small thing tentacled
to the smoke and debris, I thought

maybe she meant it, the look in her eyes,
but pixels are rarely honest about such things, and later
I discovered everyone in my office
got the same thing that day,
opened it expecting some hug, sat
in the monitor’s shaky glow, forced into asking,
are we okay? It seemed improbable.

3.

People still ask occasionally–most recently
my boss, and it always surprises me: what must my face
be saying? That day amid the explosions
it was no longer the good doctor
who’s paid to care, no longer
the sister or friend, was it her
or who directed her
to turn from him, to face us, so we may see
everything being offered–tan skin, waxed crotch, navel filled
with some diamond costume piercing?
The first naked woman I ever saw–
torn from Playboy and left
to blow into the schoolyard–all I could think was
why wear a cowboy hat, and boots, and nothing else?
It seemed sad and poor, to lie naked
on a bale of hay; is it real?, I wondered, but I let her go,
let the wind take her back
to soften and tear in the afternoon rain,
and now this body
in infinite shards of light, pinging
through phone lines, reassembled; a small story
among the larger, among
rubble and fear–are you okay?–just camera flash, the body’s
private business of making, some of it
even animated, each pair

a different position, floating
in their lighted portals against
a black background, a constellation,
a heavens; and caught unaware, small
amid the moment,

I gave her my stock answer
for any who ask me that question:
Of course (shrug),
Why wouldn’t I be?
What do you even mean?

from Rattle #28, Winter 2007