“When I Think About the Time the Man Asked Me To Stop Fidgeting With My Pencil”

Click here   to listen to Christopher Cunningham read this poem.

He muttered his way across the cafe,
mumbling through people eating
and talking, the chatter of lunch, and stalked up to my table, and he said
—no, not said, something more like squeezed
or clenched, strenuous and painful—Will you stop that.
Will you put your pencil
down, and stop touching it, stop moving
it, moving and shaking and twisting
it. Will you stop. Stop.

I wonder about him sometimes, worryat him, turning him over and over,
considering his edges and angles:
When he walks down the street, does he stumble as the traffic stutters
forward, brake lights flashing like strobes?
What does he do with the contrapuntalstaccato of children at hopscotch,
the herky-jerky rhythm of play?
—I imagine little girls in braids and t-shirtslooking at him with blank stares raw
as skinned knees as he pleads
his muttering commandments.But on that day, stubborn
with surprise, undismayed by the jaw
of his fervor, I said, No. He stared, fastened by wonder
and agitation, his fingers moving, nervous digits
tying and untying themselves, fretting at some insoluble knot,
but I said, No. I said, Don’t Look.
Just don’t look
, I said.