Photograph from Okinawa
In the photograph
she is coming down the stairs
from the bath house where she lives.
You are the 19-year-old Marine
from North Carolina
whose words flow into her ears
like an exotic song
from the other side of a mystery.
You are tall, handsome
and the wide muscles of your arms
push into the seams of your shirt
before you scatter your uniform
on her tatami floor.
She is lost in the cornflower blue
of your eyes as you rock
her narrow bed
and fill the halls of the bath house
with cat sounds.
And in the geisha curves
of her perfect island body
you are trying to forget the daylight
of the military base
where you don't have a voice.
When you ask her to smile
for the photograph
you don't notice the way
her eyes are glazing over the pain
she feels every time she remembers
the soldier who went to Vietnam
and exploded one afternoon
in the middle of the jungle
in a cloud of orange fire.
And you are unaware
that moments before you leave this island
for the last time
she will try to fold herself
in your suitcase.
A week later
two of your friends will tell you
that they found her at midnight
running naked down the street.
When they bring her back
to the bath house
she will dream she is eight years old
trying to dig a tunnel to North Carolina
with a silver spoon.
She has no idea
that twenty years later
after your round-eye wife
breaks all of your dishes
and walks out of your house
for the last time,
after your next girlfriend
is dragged out of her apartment in Manhattan,
tied up, and thrown into a suitcase,
after five pilgrimage journeys
to holy places in the Himalayas
at altitudes beyond where
the people you've left behind can breathe,
and the other woman you have finally come to love
walks out of your house for the last time
and won't even answer your phone calls,
you will find her photograph.
She doesn't know
that you worship her now
inside a golden frame
beside your paintings of bodhisattvas
and holy stones from the Ganges River.
She has no idea
how much you loved her,
and you didn't either
at the time.