I’ve Been Looking Everywhere for Me

Two poems by Shira Erlichman

woman hugging tree

I’ve Been Looking Everywhere for Me

Missing Woman Unwittingly Joins Search Party Looking for Herself

They had water. They suckled canteens,
wiping their mouths with the backs of their wrists.
When I say they, I mean for days all I saw
were walking lampposts. Then, them: a crowd in red shirts,
“so as to be visible in shrubbery,” I was later told.
They had dogs, who sniffed everything in sight,
often leaping up at nothing. The walking lampposts
were a mirage, I was later told, even though they had feet
and burned no matter the hour. The moment I found
the crowd, I couldn’t find my words. My mouth so dry
I wretched. A man tossed me a red shirt, called me “Kathy,”
so I became her. They fed me peanut-butter bars and soon,
my legs jelled. I started to skip, skip, skip down the path.
My hearing returned. The air blurred with crickets.
“I found her!” I yelled into a blackberry bush or was it
a fox filled in with flies? They tore me
from the woman I found. Locked me
in the backseat of a squad car, pressed wet washcloths
to my forehead. I could hear them whispering
beyond the zipped up windows. A man shone
flashlights in my eyes. It took three sedatives to bring me
down. I was later told that I was later told that I was.
“Where is she?” I demanded. Clouds ate my vision.
Sleep forced her fingers down my throat.
“We found her,” a cop barked into his walkie-talkie,
eyes fixated on my dirty ankles. I threw my arms
around my own shoulders, “Thank heavens,
I’ve been looking everywhere for you.” Once they knew
I was me, they fed me orange slices. I’ve never been
loved like that before. Everyone calling my name
with such desperate attention. Even me.

The Symphonic One

For a wedding present, my husband gave me a cello.
From the beginning, I was afraid of it. It hulked
in the corner of our new bedroom in our new house,
huge and lumbering. I knew it would tear our marriage
apart. The first time I played it, Timothy wept. He said
all the secret notes that were in his body were coming out
of the instrument. I knew right then that my gift would
make me famous beyond compare. At Timothy’s urging
I joined the local chamber orchestra. The effects were
disastrous. The violinist swore off ever playing again.
The pianist cut off her thumb to prove a point. Soon, the media
got a hold of what was happening. I was asked to join the Symphonic
Four, a nationally touring ensemble of great prestige.
I had only been playing for a few months;
my skill was unfounded. But it was more than that.
I was doing things skill could not account for. Soon it became
the Symphonic One. The other musicians were admitted
to various institutions for their overwhelming joy. The instrument
beckoned desire and blood. I remained untouched.
When in the night I would return to my hotel room
to find silence I would have to fill it and the filling
would leave me empty. The low notes rumbled the room.
My hotel neighbors ceased making love to knock on my door
in their bathrobes. They sat on my bed while I played.
Across the country Timothy was asleep and I wondered
if this would wake him. “Every time you play, even
if I can’t hear it,” he once told me, “I feel the bow against
my heart.” He was not simply being romantic. One night
I was playing in France. It was the largest crowd I had ever
played for. In the midst of the last movement, the cello
snapped in half. I sat there in that crowded theater, with a thousand
faces looking at me. No one applauded. No one got up. It was clear
I would never play again. When I got to the hotel, I ran the bath
and filled it with turquoise hotel soaps shaped like stars and fish.
I put my head completely underwater and opened my eyes.
Bubbles filled my ears. I saw the moon floating above me,
leaking silver-green smoke, and tried to remember
what his voice sounded like. I stood up in the bath
and dried myself with a towel that smelled of stale cigarette smoke.
I knew that to step out of the bathtub would be to step into
an unfathomable life. I counted to three. In my new, unfathomable life
I was a woman who would never again hear her husband’s voice
and the bathmat I stepped onto was not a real bathmat
but a thin towel laid on the bathroom floor.

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