Mapping Distance


Fifth Estate # 336, Spring, 1991

a pen-and-ink drawing showing abstract figures with allusions to living things such as birds and leaves. Handwritten lines read, "And this is not my nature / This is not my dream / These are my pieces." Signed by Lynne Clive.
Lynne Clive

A stone’s throw away—

here, behind the pane, housed,

relatively safe.

But you, you draw me out,

outside my house, outside myself,

you, homeless one,

urban nomad.

I think some sleepless nights

to join you,

to close this box and break

my pane, to move, walk

away, walk about.


But I romanticize you with daydreams

of comfort and choice

and know well the insults

of a poet’s pretension.

Here, the real,

sharp as the edge of the broken

glass of my car

where you slept one January night

when the temperature plunged

below zero,

rank as your sickly shit

steaming behind my flowering bushes,

my stinking shoes sitting out

by the back door for days to remind me.


I give you the little others do—

a pittance, a quarter, a dollar, a pear,

the rest of our pizza from the parlor

after we’d stuffed ourselves

and met you in the street, you

in a ragged whining wheelchair, you

with no feet, no feet.


You said something about how kind

white women are. I thought how

full of guilt, how

powerless, how patronizing,

how inadequate.


I meet your eyes, I speak to you,

but always I walk away,

walk home, climb the stairs,

walk inside, close

and lock doors, windows.


In sleeplessness I wander through enclosures,

pace the hallways connecting the limits

of our longing.

I read about the ones who roam, who migrate.

The warblers return, invade our broken

spaces with the breath of their wild wintering.


I map the distance between nomadic

and vagrant, drifter and bum,

pilgrim and tramp.

I pull back the curtain, lift

the long-drawn blind.

I watch you watching the ground before you.

Then, sometimes, before the day returns

to circumscribe, I fall deep

into a sleep the dreams

of crossing over.