"This time last year I was an astronaut
in a window display at a department store
that has since been bought out by another
department store. I wore a gray crepe dress
and a helmet they pumped full of oxygen.
I had one line to say. I mouthed the words, but
no one ever heard me. They tapped the glass,
saying, We can’t hear you on this side. Take
off the helmet. Take off my helmet?, I mouthed
back. What?, they said. This time last year I
thought I was speaking English, but lip reading
has become a forgotten art. This time last year
I learned to speak in the dark with my hands.
I know the sign for tree and forest; dead bird;
the spelling of my maiden name; long walks
on the beach of Normandy. You think everything’s
about you and you’ve been right since the end
of the war. I took that astronaut job so I could
tell you I took it. I took that astronaut job so I
could miss you from the cosmos beyond the glass.
This time last year it was snowing when you kneeled
to lace my skates and it was so nice to run into each other
under our pseudonyms like that. I said, Times of duress
call for a record. You said, Did you say something? No,
I said. You said, Why don’t you take off that helmet.
I can’t hear you when you do that thing with your mouth.
What thing with my mouth, I said, and you closed your
eyes. And you held both my hands so if I tried to spell
our names you wouldn’t see. I cut the number of my age
in ice. Will I ever be any older. No. I will not. Where
you’re from they’re cosmonauts, but you’re the one
that left, I said. I could feel the oxygen running low.
The snow blanketed the totality of all existing things."