I don’t recall what led up to the conversation
But I remember where we were going.
You, bound up in your coat and cap,
your hair still black and longer than it is now.
Me, rigid and hard as the cold air
Unmelting, like the ice on the street.
We crunched on the snow-soaked ground
and made way for the tram.
Pressed against metal and the lurching hooks,
each person bound and spewing breaths of hot air
I watch as the puffs in front of me exchange torrid glances
while the puffs behind won’t make eye contact
Not unlike how I won’t look at you.
I don’t recall when you started speaking,but I remember foreign vowel sounds.
Consonants, a blur of everyday conversation
or blatant secret-sharing
or shaming all around me.
As you practiced your English syllables with me
your stutter from nerves
your formation of the ‘eh’ vowel a tad too pronounced
each sentence ending with a question mark.
You said it, the one line where I could find a response.
“If I ever see you again.”
How you must have twittered back and forth
tripping over your thoughts like too many shoes in the entryway
or stuffing them back in the salad bowl
or folding them into napkin rings and pressing them together
with your lips
those lips of iron fire that could seal me like a letter
or shred me like a document.
I let you sit with that statement,
and in that moment of staring back at you, stopped at a red light inside a sauna of puffed air,
I saw the flutter of the birds.
Beyond your left shoulder, against the monochrome sky
Each black speck of fowl amassed on the sidewalk
sprang into flight at once
as if there were a loud gong sounding for dinner
that only they could hear.
Had I not been looking back at you, I would not have seen
the uniform release of their inky presence into the air
to blot out the tired sky
or dirty the crystalline bleakness of this winter tale.
Had I not been looking back at you, I would not have felt the peace
that comes with the surety of birds.
The wonder of such routine significance
As sure as the surprise on your face
The bubble eyes
and matching mouth
“I will return to you,” I said
“But I am done here.”