Man in the Elevator

With my tooth filled
and the side of my face thick as tongues,
I push the button and wait for the elevator
to carry me the twenty stories to the street.
When it opens a black man is the only
other passenger and without thinking,
without having to think, I look past him
and pretend that I have forgotten something
back in my dentist’s office and let the doors close
while I walk a few feet down the hall
so the man can see I’m going
then circle back and wait for the next elevator.
He is on his way down the street,
thinking about what happened or having
already shrugged it off, a cliche
too common to mention
the way a woman barely notices
a man grabbing his balls when she passes.
If he had been a white man I would have felt
fine letting the elevator pass, which I might
or might not have done
and to be honest if he had been Chinese
probably wouldn’t have, navigating
the mythologies of danger.
When the elevator opened I saw
who I was in that particular frame
before it closed its metal wings
and its cables returned it to the ground.
The man from the elevator is somewhere
on the street ahead of me, I could not
identify him, he is no one I know
but part of the story I tell, the way supposedly
everything in our dreams, the car,
the road through the mountains,
the mountains themselves,
are another face of the self.
A black man in an elevator
perhaps with his own filled tooth
and numb cheek,
some instinct in me refused
to spend even sixty seconds of my life with him.
He is no one I know,
but the intersection
of his life with my life
produced a chemical
like acid on tin,
metallic as blood in the mouth,
that I carry, that is as complicated
as change or as damage.

Look at anything long enough to love it.