Charles Flowers

The Way We Were

The east village glows with slush in early February.
             It’s Monday & the week seems endless
at the Second Avenue Laundromat, where a girl
             with cropped green hair & silver nose ring
sits reading Portrait of a Lady, while two waiters
             from the Indian restaurant across the street
wash & fold a pile of burgundy tablecloths.
             A trace of cardamom & cumin cuts
into the warm, soapy smell of love, which hangs
             over all in this place, even the gym queen
who pouts while his boyfriend sorts their Calvins.
             When the radio turns to all news,
the Latina laundress stops making change to reach
             for the dial & a sad, clear voice fills the room,
which seems to sigh as the present slips away.
             The girl with green hair stops reading
to stare at the dryer, thinking of the farm
             in Wisconsin where her mother
hangs their sheets out to dry in the wind.
             The waiters stop folding to smile
at one another, as if to croon like shiva divas,
             while the pouty boy rises to tickle
his boyfriend, who’s lipsynching, eyes closed,
             remembering their first kiss.
And me with my Voice, projecting nostalgia
             onto strangers, willing the present
back to a memory of wanting to be held
             by my father, my desire unnamed,
before boys, before I glimpsed the way I would be.
             What can heal the churning
shame of childhood? Only the future forgives,
             the image of yourself
beyond the present, which allows you
             to smile at strangers listening to Barbra,
whose voice carries me into the winter night,
             whole & alone & humming.



“The Way We Were” first appeared in Gulf Coast.