Ellen Bass, Poet

IF YOU KNEW

What if you knew you’d be the last to touch someone?

If you were taking tickets, for example, at the theater.

Tearing them, giving back the ragged stubs.

You might take care to touch that palm.

Brush your fingertips along the lifeline’s crease.

When a man pulls his wheeled suitcase too slowly through the airport.

When the car in front of me doesn’t signal.

When the clerk at the pharmacy won’t say, “Thank You”.

I don’t remember that they are going to die.

A friend told me she had been with her aunt.

They’d just had lunch and the waiter,

a young gay man with plum black eyes, joked as her served the coffee.

Kissed her aunt’s powdered cheek when they left.

Then they walked half a block and her aunt dropped dead on the sidewalk.

How close does the Dragon’s spume have to come?

How wide does the crack in Heaven have to split?

What would people look like if we could see them as they are?

Soaked in honey. Stung and swollen. Reckless.

Pinned against time.

What if you knew you would be the last to touch someone?

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