Because my husband is going slowly
blind, the lights in our house have motion
sensors. As I walk through the rooms
I am the star of the show, lit one-by-one by
spotlights as I go. Desiring the dark,
I must sit motionless. One itch, one twitch,
and up come the houselights, rendering
me suddenly—again—audience of me.
Tonight we are sitting in the dark
beside the Christmas tree. Its strands
of blinking lights remind my husband
of his childhood, when he could see.
I find it funny they don’t remind him of
the blinking lights that ring the edges of
his eye field, proof of his rods and cones
one-by-one dying. Not ha-ha funny, the other kind.
There are things ha-ha funny about going
blind though. Like that time he walked
wearing a three-piece wool suit into the deep
end of a swimming pool in a hotel in Italy.
I wasn’t there—he told me later.
I was at home, turning lights on and off
through only my anxious pacing.
Sitting by the Christmas tree, I squeeze
my husband’s hand—squeeze and release,
squeeze and release—my hand blinking
in his. It’s such a tiny motion the sensors
don’t detect it. Someday my husband will
sit in the dark and wave his arms wildly
and still be in the dark. One-by-one every-
thing happens, every disappearance appears.
My father used to sing to me a song about how ugly I am
but he was wrong. Is wrong. I am beautiful the way the ceiling of
one two three four I can’t stand to look no more, you’re ugly, Jessica
the Royal Palace of Brussels is beautiful—left unfinished, blank
for over a century before a million and a half jewel
three five seven nine you look just like Frankenstein, ugly Jessica
beetle carcasses were glued there in a luminous green mosaic
of fadeless iridescence. I am beautiful the way a girl trapped
two four six eight you can’t even get a date, you’re ugly, Jessica
in this Hall of Mirrors who can’t bear her own reflection can look up
at a swathe of dead beetles judged as better than emptiness, and nod.
five four three two hurts my eyes to look at you, you’re ugly, Jessica
I am beautiful the way my father, now in his dementia, his
emptiness, says, ‘Your hair—you look beautiful,’ but never says my name.
JESSICA GOODFELLOW’s books are Whiteout (University of Alaska Press, 2017), Mendeleev’s Mandala, and The Insomniac’s Weather Report. She’s had poems in Best American Poetry, Scientific American, The Southern Review, and Verse Daily. A former writer-in-residence at Denali National Park and Preserve, Jessica lives in Japan.