In her own words...

"Figure Approaching, Opposite"


It was someone I knew, had known in one of those lives
somewhere but where it was whispering so fast I needed time;

not sure, and yet a girl-shape so like Nina — just thinking of Nina
was a smile spreading along my spine — although of course it

couldn't be Nina: so in a hurry high heels tapping on pavement,
arms hugging a plastic bundle, yes, Nina's moon-face under a shag.

If this was now, Nina back then, how far back might be only last year
when events had begun to take their toll on her imperturbability,

cramped her style, if style it was, wearing no makeup with jeans
that always turned out to be Claire's. Closer now I see it's not Nina

but Claire, the only one we called reasonable, trying to keep Nina
from ruining Kevin's life (and her own), Claire holding up Jenny as

a model of happy union with Rick; she believed it until the night
Jenny was found slashed and comatose in the bathtub, lovely Jenny

giving all she had in the world to promote Rick's so-called career
in that dedicated way Claire so loved, not realizing it was Jenny

herself she loved — or was it Nina — but wanting them all to succeed
in spite of rent and the violence that sent Jenny to her, tender Jenny

but transparent — Claire could see right through Jenny if she danced
in front of light and fast as if there might be other dances waiting

to be danced; that was Jenny and here she comes, it's Jenny not Claire,
I might have known, Jenny now working in some convenience store,

its logo half-visible on the bag clutched to her chest. I open my mouth to
say Hi, the bundle snorts at me from a dripping snout between red eyes

while Jenny's stare shoves the void in my gaping mouth that I close
barely in time to see that it wasn't Jenny after all, nor was it Claire

or even Nina, just someone with a bundle of virulent Convenience,
behind me now, my grateful breathing glad she did not know me.


About this work

“Figure Approaching, Opposite” was first published in The New Yorker, January 6, 2003, p. 64.  It is also included in Dorothea Tanning's book, A Table of Content: Poems, New York: Graywolf Press, 2004, pp. 16-17, and may not be reprinted without the publisher's permission.