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by Zoe Pollock

"Blind Date" by Steve Orlen originally ran in The Atlantic in April of 2003:

After Where were you born? and How long were you married?
Comes the first sip of wine, and after that the clash of cutlery
And the shuffling shoes of the waiter, then the silence so brief
You almost don't hear it. What are the smallest objects you have lost?
What sudden smells make you stop and think back?

And the struggle, the summoning up, the visualizing, the squinting into the past.
Now and then she interrupts and asks
For a story, a theory, speculations, interpretations.
How many close friends have died and where do you think they went
And how do you talk to them now that they're gone?

And your mind is eagerly opening, swelling, a cavern in which
What have been formerly hidden from you by the public din
Now dart around like bats with their insistent, intimate squeakings.
Did your mother like you? How do you start a conversation with a stranger?
By now, the answers come easier, more flowing, a zone, a spigot, a well.
What parts of yourself have you given up since leaving your home town?
Have you ever been lost? Broke? Hungry? Have you ever asked your sister
What she thought of you back then, when you were kids?

The conversation a call and response, and when she enters the taxi,
And waves bye-bye, you are left standing at the altar
In the Church of Lost Memories wearing that ridiculous tie,
Your hands in your pockets, jingling the change, sniffing the ancient air
For clues, for distillations, perfume fresh from the flowers.
Have you ever? Have you ever?

(Photo by Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images.)

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