Kelle Groom



Charles decorated Nagasaki with cut petals, thousands
of pink and white stars to throw into Cio-Cio San's hair
like a night sky. On the fire ladder, I swayed

as if over sea, reached the fly loft. On a gangplank of sails,
I looked up into a giant harp, as if I were nothing
but the music inside, scenery below flying on ropes—cream

Austrian drape, American flag with 45 stars. It's the early
twentieth-century, a 999-year marriage contract with a monthly
renewal, teenage girl like a delirious bird, here come the flowers,

here comes the moon, little wing. My red-haired neighbor
was Suzuki, wringing her hands outside transparent paper walls
when the sailor stayed away, no parasols, no fans.

The bird girl killed herself with her father's knife, sailor off
in the distance calling. He may love her sideways, but the facts
are bald, her heart fasting. When I called you, and a woman laughed

like a banjo, refused to let me speak to you, I rocked without
a rocking chair. Night after night, the same story told, drapes fly,
a giggling cloud of flowers, the girl's devotion escaping back.




If I'm at the opera, the kiss will be on both cheeks, & I don't know
where to start. The kissee might think I am going to kiss on
the mouth. The kissee might kiss me on the mouth. After kissing
one cheek, it's like a dance to move to the other, & my timing is off.

For instance, on the way to Cheek Two, what sort of expression
is appropriate as you make eye contact over your nose? I wear a lot
of lipstick and will leave kiss prints. My loneliness is so deep that if
I enter the force field of kissing, I may not be able to pull back out.

I may wind up with my head on the person's shoulder. My mouth
might respond like a hand to a cookie proffered, an automatic
response of mouth to mouth. I might want to jump, like at the top
of the Provincetown tower or in Sierra Nevada, an urge to fill

the emptiness of the fall. I'm germ phobic. A kiss is acceptance
or betrayal, & I can't decide quickly. My aim is off, unless I have
a non-moving target. Kissees don't stay still long enough for me
to reach a cheek—they keep moving forward, so that I frequently

kiss an ear. I don't want to kiss many ears. Or, it becomes a cop-
out hug, with my ear embracing another's ear, the bony
fleshiness startling and unavoidable, as if we both have huge
Dumbo ears. My facial flaws are evident up close. Cheek kissing

is inevitably in the light whereas I have had my kissing lessons
in the dark. After kissing, I might not gracefully depart, like when
you find someone you can talk to at a party.



When I worked for the local opera company, it was my job to throw the backstage parties after the shows. I had to prepare while the performances were still going on, and I loved being backstage, trying not to smack into anything in the dark, climbing the fly loft to look down on the singers, standing in the wings. "Little Wing" is from Madama Butterfly. "20 Reasons I'm Afraid to Kiss People on the Cheek," began at the opera too. I had never been around so much kissing before and felt awkward, though I did love the extravagant affection.

My reading list: Michael Burkard's Entire Dilemma (Sarabande) and My Secret Boat (Norton).