Denise Duhamel



I stared at the floor, lifting up
the black tiles from the white. I could
do that, make flat surfaces
3-D by crossing my eyes. I could
spell anything, even words I didn't know
the definitions of--like "botulism"
and "claustrophobic" and "thyroid".
I'd close my eyes and letters would spill
like blocks and I'd get everything right
in the spelling bee. I'd know the exact
ages of people -- 41, 37, 56, 24 -- people
I'd never met, people who stopped by
Uncle Albert's big New Year's party
where I sat at the card table, beating
the old men at dominoes because I could see
how many dots were lying face down
so I always grabbed the ones I needed.
I understood foreign languages,
like French or Latin. I'd hear my Aunt Gigi
or the priest and I'd translate like
a pocket dictionary. I'd add up
three or four big numbers in a second
and a nearby adult was sure to kiss my forehead
or clap. I'd know the punch line
to jokes I was hearing the first time
and nothing much could scare me --
not the car that hit me when I was six,
my mother and her moods,
not the few things I couldn't predict.
I understood something bigger than the hums
that filled my ears like vacuums or
air-conditioners. I understood
if things got too bad I could die
if I had to, drink some bleach
when no one was watching.
I understood there were angels in my
thumb prints and sprites who lived
in my ear's hills who'd whisper
all the answers. I was full of confidence and will
as I plunged my hand into the cookie tin
filled with buttons and the first one
I grabbed was the same size
as the one that needed replacing.
I mean, that's just how I lived
until one New Year's I guessed
a 29-year-old-woman was fifty.
Her blue cat's-eye glasses threw me
and everyone laughed except the woman.
They laughed right over my begging
for a second chance. I fell
like a shooting star in slow motion,
one everyone gets to see and is
therefore unremarkable. The next week
I spelled dessert "desert" on a spelling bee.
Suddenly, ordinary.

GRACE appeared in "The Star-Spangled Banner" (Southern Illinois University Press, 1999)