SOMEONE ELSE’S WET STYROFOAM
I practiced flirting on an Italian train
leaving Switzerland, with a European boy
camped out across from me.
I liked him when he sat down,
liked his messy hair, his loose sweater,
his weathered pants that hung on him
the way pants ought to hang on a boy.
I pretended not to notice him,
tried to look my prettiest staring out the window.
He tried, too, not to give himself away,
but we each caught the other staring more than once.
Little smile, wet my lips.
I watched like a child while he rolled cigarettes,
smoked them between sips of coffee, and glanced
out the window, then back to me.
I wanted him to speak English.
I wanted him to ask my name.
When he fell asleep against his backpack
I imagined myself moving
like a thief across the tops of the seats,
to kiss his eyelids without a word of hello.
But it wasn’t for me to wake him up
and the men who did were far less sweet
than I fantasized I would be.
Nine sweating Italian police hurried toward us,
looking more like commandos covered in green,
with weapons too large for such a confining space.
Swinging their rifles round to their backs
they flipped through my passport, and they examined
my body. The dogs watching me at their knees
were not the dogs I knew from home.
Turning to my boy still sleeping
they slapped his forehead, and unpacked all his things.
His embarrassment was racking for us both.
The Polizia Ferroviaria, yelling and laughing
and slapping my boy on the head,
didn’t mind my watching. I knew they were talking about it.
When they pulled him out of his seat
and threw his things on the floor he looked at me again
and asked for a cigarette. I knew enough Italian
to understand sigaretta, but couldn’t lift my arm to give him one.
I watched, behind the window, as he was taken away.
When he was gone I took a sip from his cold cup of coffee,
and smoked that cigarette myself.
—from Rattle #29, Summer 2008