Listen to a podcast of this poem here.“You see someone on the street, and essentially what you notice about them is the flaw.”
~ Diane Arbus
I drive onto campus where trees, shrubs and curvaceous
roads, easing through roundabouts, soften the hard and fast
boxes, wings, rises, windows and corners of university halls.
I’m grateful these mornings for the continual parade
of flowery trims and perpetual grooming the horticulture
students slavishly maintain so that I can find relief
from steel, chrome, glass and brick hardnesses.
My small car follows the same route like a silvery beetle
who knows the way, and I casually eye students up and down,
admiring bodies, remembering my own smooth
skin and streaming hair. We who are not students now
laugh at the changing uniforms students don — one year it’s plunging
necklines, another, skintight leggings and flowing blouses, this
year hip-high shorts and skirts, and my imagination curls
into the non-academic rhetoric these long legs create.
A beautiful student walks the sidewalk, her long billowing hair
the color of the Red Cedar River, and shining that way,
rippling as if over rocks, with the cadence of feathered
wings flapping up behind. I see that her hair jerks
up and down more than it should, more violently than a breeze
on such a sultry summer day would blow it, and in my momentary
and casual passing, in my need to balance the ugly structures
of the world with something lovely of visual or philosophical
pleasure, I recognize that one of her legs is much shorter
than the other, in movements that cause her to travel nearly as far
between ground and sky as she does on her horizontal path, her
left shoulder diving down toward the sidewalk when her left foot
steps, and swinging back up with the right leg’s rise. The effect
mesmerizes me as her hair sweeps the air like the rhythmic
motion of a broom reaching down from the sky to brush
the sidewalk, but never getting close enough to touch it.
Almost hypnotized, I follow her dancing hair.
She slips into my rearview mirror, and I know what I want
to believe: that there is purpose in beauty, a cleansing of the
air, or the path, the way raking the stones of a Zen garden gives peace
to the soul, organizing them in gestures that are steady, meandering,
repeated, in parallel lines, drawing me forward where I ride
and rest in their mindless destinations, somewhere between
heaven, and earth, with here and there a rock, a bench, a stream,
or an oscillating wing, surprising me with spontaneous irregularity.