Most days, online dating feels like another
kid’s birthday party—like getting lost
at Fun World, waiting to cash in
our cupful of hard-won tickets
only to learn we’re six hundred short of
anything with batteries included.
Wearing our candy necklaces,
biting off the chalky disappointments one
by one, burning our last quarters
on a chance to win the cutest teddy bear.
If only we could master the joystick, if only
the toy machine’s awkward claw were made for
holding something worth its weight.
The plush teddy dangles
then tumbles back to the mountain
of prizes that will never belong to us.
Yet here we are, flashing our teeth
and other marketable, socially acceptable
parts of us before a parade of perfect
strangers, crushing on glimmers of people
who may not exist. How will they rate
our potential on a scale of fling to ring?
How will they see us with or without
our glasses? Will they swipe away
self-professed nerds fluent in sarcasm,
Netflix junkies who only speak Emoji,
women more at home in hiking boots
than we’ll ever be in heels?
The fact that we don’t cook
but love to eat and expect to be fed
could tip the scale. Whether we look like
we were born to play with babies
or whether we confess we don’t have a passion
for collecting miniature versions of ourselves,
the dreamboat might pull away without us.
Who knew there’d be such an abundance
of reasons to pass? We translate the shrug
in sloppy grammar, they’re too cool to smile
and we can’t read their sunglassed eyes
in their driver’s seat selfies,
their collar chain says even their shirt
needs to be attached to something.
Even if they are impressed by us
jumping off a cliff in Greece
or shaking Hillary Clinton’s hand or cruising
in a Ferrari as loud as our lipstick,
and we are seduced by them crooning
over a guitar’s curves, doing pull-ups shirtless
on scaffolding, or sporting a stethoscope
as if they’re eager to listen to our hearts,
we might still leave the chat room
blowing bubbles of good wishes
over our shoulders after they admit
they’re mean to their fairy companions
in Dungeons & Dragons.
Or they may ghost us when they realize
they’re not interested in complicated stories.
The only way to find out is to let ourselves
be found. So we wait for the arcade game
to light up again. We polish our profiles,
build bridges out of air, put our best
question forward. When Maybe calls,
we answer. We do things we never
thought we would. We borrow a pair
of bowling shoes. We troll the Yelp reviews
for vegan restaurants. We practice
singing into shampoo bottles
to save ourselves from being immortalized
in the Karaoke Hall of Shame.
We hit the freeway in our big-ass Silverados,
our soft-spoken Prii, our adventurous
Kia Souls that have never been touched
by a vacuum. We venture beyond the mirage
till we are Out There in the desert,
where the most unlikely living things
can bloom in wild ways.
We don’t know whose life depends on
us showing up. But someday theirs
will be tangled up with ours and we’ll wake up to
the sunlight sliding through the blinds,
our cellphones sleeping face down
on the far side of the room because who needs
to check check check who’s next
when messy and strange as it is,
love is in here breathing beside us?
from Rattle #76, Summer 2022
Emily Ruth Hazel: “Once, after an arts showcase, a man confessed to me, ‘When I heard that the next performer was a poet, my eyes rolled back in my head.’ Then he told me he’d been won over by my opening poem about being delayed at an airport. Whenever I share my work, I think of people like him who will stumble into poetry and receive something they need—a moment of human connection, understanding, humor, hope, or healing—because my words were there to welcome them. I write for the people hovering in the doorway, those who don’t yet know if they want to be in the room, as well as for the eager listeners in the front row who’ve already experienced how nourishing and delicious poetry can be.” ( web)