the fear

I had money when you asked me, my wallet was
weighed down with it, to the point that it
frustrated me, all that space taken up by
so little value but when you asked me madame, une pièce
c’est pour manger
I shook my head and hurried on pretending
my bag did not contain a tiny pirate’s loot. When you walked
along the metro carriage announcing that you had not eaten
in 24 hours I looked at my feet, stuffed into boots not yet worn through but that I already
had a mind to replace in les soldes because
I’m in Paris and
I want Parisian boots
and I did not look up even though I carried bread and fruit I would not eat
when I got home, deciding instead to pay double for
risotto aux cèpes and rosé at the bistrot
that faces Saint Laurent.

My friend says, people are not open here. He says,
(brows cutting deep into his genial face) no one
cares here. When he was in America, he says,
he was stranded at an airport until a stranger
offered him a bed, and a ride to it, and when he said yes what he found at the end was
a new friend. He shakes his head, remembering: people are not kind,
here.

And I gaze up at him, mute, wondering
how it feels not to be afraid. How much more
space his brain can find for things when it is not
calculating risk and planning exit strategies, when it is not weighing up
the guilt of not fishing out some extraneous coins against the fear that
that hungry man might also be a violent one, when it is not
registering the time it takes to open-slide through-close the front door
to an apartment building,
just in case, and trying every day after work, subconsciously, to do it
just a little faster,

when it is not scanning for signs that no will translate as
once more with feeling

I have long since forgotten to resent the mental energy it takes
just to exist; maybe
it keeps me sharp. I’d be lying if I didn’t get a kick out of my
highwire freedom, balanced, muscles working,
and more beautiful because of it
but the fear has stolen my empathy and that I mourn, along with
the stories you might be able to tell me, if it would let me stop and ask you for them

But it is just me, and it takes
onemississippitwomississippithreemississip
for me to get inside my door.

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