My Red Lady
By Blake Tan
Nights I used to wake up in torment, you hanging over me,
a spirit conjured up by my sleep,
white, cold fingers wrapped around my heart,
crushing and squeezing until it fought no more.
I couldn’t let myself heal over. No one else to fit
the wound in my breast, to staunch the bleeding.
All I’d see was your face superimposed over theirs,
golden, brown, or black hair – it didn’t matter –
you were always there. Half a hundred girls
all wearing your face.
But when I thought it’d never end, when I’d resigned
myself to the quiet of solitude, when I had accepted the comfort
of bachelorhood, along came a vixen with flames in her hair.
She set me afire, rekindling dead flesh with feelings I thought
buried: half-shy glances, our bodies like palms touching,
the hypnotic sway of her hips. I was newly made, reborn
in the rippling music of her voice, every flicker behind her lashes
Christmas lights veiled in chimney smoke. There is yearning there,
I cannot resist, but yearn back.
I thought myself broken.
When I saw my friends go stupid, swooning over a pretty face,
I would scoff and dismiss the very notion. You taught me yourself,
showed me the truth of it: love was foolish. People just got hurt.
Why even bother?
But my red lady put her sweet lips to my sodden, lifeless mouth
and breathed fire. I felt like fresh steel
pulled from the lip of molten metal, what I was forgotten –
burnt away – ready to be shaped anew.
Maybe one day, when you and I are old you’ll ask
how all this went, if she made me happier than you ever did,
but I won’t say.
You’ll just never know.