That was not the man.
—Robert Browning, How It Strikes a Contemporary
Maybe it’s early, and he’s taking the switchblade shortcut through
a headlit billow of black jacket, an onward angle;
Or maybe he’s out on Geary, nicotine-giddy, loitering
in the passing regard of passers-by, giving back shine;
Dissolved by dusk into a strange neighborhood, he studies
mimed intimacies broadcast from bay windows,
ambiguous flesh. He measures these lives out to the second
and carries them with him, sheaved in butcher paper.
But if, one evening, stepping out from an alley
like a backlot actor who’s wandered into the wrong picture,
emerging, straggling, struggling into shape
like a long-suppressed idea, who should appear
but you, one acquainted with his private life.
Then you call him by name: I must answer. I’m always afraid.