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Poetry #403
(published October 9, 2008)
Photo Gallery 1983
by Leah Mueller
I didn't own any photos of myself
from my rollicking early adulthood
until recently, when I had dinner
with someone I hadn't seen in twenty years.
He and his ruddy suburban wife were friendly;
he drank a huge amount of whiskey and
talked about his diabetes while his three kids
watched television in the basement.
He told me I looked exactly the same
and he would mail me the photos.
Two weeks later, the photos arrived, and I
tore the envelope open eagerly
expecting a ragged apparition of my younger self—
hung over, puffy-eyed, showing the strains
of all of my internal and external toxins,
like my breakup with my junkie boyfriend
whose collarbone I had recently cracked in a drunken feud.
It ended with the police arriving—
the two of them in a jovial mood,
asking me what I did for a living.
I told them I worked as a preschool teacher.
The cops were sympathetic,
told me I was certain to find someone better;
my boyfriend had sprayed graffiti on his apartment walls
and drawn caricatures of cops with magic markers.
I told them that I knew he was a loser.
"But you love him, right?" one of them snickered,
before escorting me back to my own apartment.
I tore open the envelope,
but the photos showed me with a look of joy
an impossibly tiny waist
and no awareness of the years ahead.
I never could comb my hair properly;
I couldn't afford a decent haircut,
although there was no reason why
I should have been so poor.
Why didn't I know how beautiful I was?
I could tell the woman in the photo
to offer a bit less of herself,
and expect a great deal more,
not to always side with the underdog,
not to bet on horses certain to lose.
She would never have listened,
she has not yet given birth
or owned anything that has her name on it.
Twenty-five years later,
I still don't know that I'm beautiful
and for the first time,
more years are behind me than ahead.
Yet my friends say I look the same to them,
and that has to be sufficient,
since they're looking fairly haggard
and I have an inexplicable glow
despite the extra thirty pounds.

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