Black Light

A. Van Jordan

Our bodies cast a shadow of one
Body under a black-bulb pulse
In your mother’s basement. Light, even

When it’s black, moves faster than
Youth or old age; it’s the constant in
Our lives. But I remember when

I thought your house—always ready for
A party, even during the week—
Was the fastest element in my life.

Toenails, lint, teeth,
Eyes—everything was holy
Under the glow. I suspect

Even my bones were ultraviolet
When we danced, which was always more
Of a grind than a dance.

Whether the song sung came 
From Rick James or Barry White,
We called what we did in the coatroom

Dancing, too: My hands, infrared
Under your dress, but innocent: We
Were only kids, after all,

I was 16 and you were a woman of 18.
Already, we knew how to answer each other
Without asking questions, how to satisfy by seeing

What nearly satisfied looked like
In each other’s faces. This all before
I ran out to sneak back into my mother’s

House in the middle of the night.
But, now, it’s eight years later,
You’re walking, it seems, so I offer

You a ride. And you look in and smile.
And when I see you I wonder
What would have happened

If we had stayed in touch. I have to get back
To work the next morning in DC, 
A five-hour drive; it’s near dark

And I want to get on the road before night
Falls completely, but I stop anyway.
It’s been too many years.

And I mistake your gesture.
And then I realize you
Don’t really recognize me,

Until you back away and turn
On your heels.
Then a man with a Jheri curl

And a suit that looks like it’s woven
From fluorescent thread
Walks up and looks at me

Like I wasn’t born in this town,
And for the first time in my life,
I question it myself. He walks up as slow

And sure as any old player should on Sunday night.
While walking away, you two exchange
Words. You don’t look back. But

We see each other in our heads—aglow,
Half-naked—under our black-bulb pulse 
In your mother’s basement. Given a diadem

By the lucid night and the streetlamp’s
Torch, the man wearing the fluorescent
Suit casts a broad shadow

Like a spotlight into which you step.
Maybe he’s the reason we’re here tonight
Beneath these dim stars, casting

A light true enough...finally,
For us, after all these years, to see each other.
© 2007 University of North Carolina Greensboro
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A. VAN JORDAN is author of Rise (Tia Chucha Press, 2001), winner of the PEN/Oakland Josephine Miles Award. For his second collection, M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A (W.W. Norton & Co., 2004), he was awarded a Whiting Writers Award and an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award. A Pushcart Prize winner, he teaches at the University of Texas at Austin.