Too many years: and I’m struck with sad amazement
how much you’ve aged since I last saw you—
your face wearing away like sand, grain by invisible grain,
the skin leathering, sinew and muscle starting to sag
to craggy jowls beneath your bearded jaw,
your hair withering like grave-grass on the stone.
You’ve grown a mustache to compensate.
Your charcoal pin-striped suit is cut to kill.
Your body still unbowed, but soon to stoop and slow.
I see you clearly. And yet the memory of who you were
as a young man, or might have become, lies like a film
over who you are: strange tear burned into each nerve,
strange lash impossible to pluck from the eye.
The mind-light makes you look immortal,
like a soldier who cannot be struck down again.
I feel my neck flush under your watchful brown eyes,
try not to stare at every fleck of amber, scarab-copper,
flint-spark or char, every ember of crackling bark—
Pretend to study the menu and its arsenal of drinks.
I wonder what you see, when you watch me watching you.
I must look like a younger version of your dead wife.
It hurts to know this and know no more.
The waiter pours another round, then another.
The Shanghai sky-bar hushes as it empties, soul by soul.
Outside, the Huangpu River glitters like gasoline fire,
lit by skyscrapers and Maglev tracks flashing with bullet-trains,
until we talk past last call: now fighting the push-pull
of elevators speeding downward, floors heaving upward,
now fighting to betray nothing—
Life whirls past like drunken wildfire.
This poem appeared in the August 23, 2012 issue of the magazine