X could make a face like a fish.
Standing on the sidewalk,
he threw underwater kisses
at a store window where he saw himself.
Someone thought he was crazy.
But X had a theory that had to do
with memory, change, music, and danger.
Everything he remembered
turned purple in his mind,
or it remained this dead white thing
he’d want to shake out of his head.
Plus there was always a difference
between what was and is,
a sad gap like a pause in a song.
Everything converted to fiction
because of the passage of time,
mythless histories that bent in the telling,
like pencils placed in glasses of water.
Since knowing himself
required a marginal reading
too distant for eloquence,
too intimate for communion,
he was always, in theory, something else.
This made beautiful sense.
And yet there was a terror of being
neither person, dream, nor language.
He was, in a sense, a story of his own invention, except without design.
Each step across a room
required a degree of calculation,
like a painter doing self-portraits
who erases the face each morning.
“Inexact but precise”
in his rendering of life,
X saw a fish with tinfoil eyes
drowning in light outside a hardware store.
This was only a theory and yet
what is a stone but a theory of change?
– from The Best American Poetry, 1993
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