The Travellers

by Tony Hoagland

In the coffee shops and restaurants,
the airport terminals and lounges,
the lovers are debating
the pleasures of presence versus
the pleasures of absence,
drawing diagrams and dotted lines
in the wet glassrings left behind
by other customers,
building little barricades and highways
out of breakfast crumbs.
And if, looking up, they find that they’ve arrived
at no conclusions,
who can blame them?
–considering the mileage on certain parts
of the vocabulary,
considering they’ve been stranded
once or twice before
upon the road between desire
and its destination—like a car
that’s out of gas,
or a noun without an adjective.
Still they want so much
to mash their faces
into the mushy sky of something warm
and human; want to make some sweeping declarations
about the rest of their existence;
about the rest of their existence;
want to flap their arms
and swear that they can fly.
No jury would convict them
of anything but being hungry
for proof of their existence,
anything but the bigamy of marrying
their favorite mistake
one time or two too many.
So he draws a line of water on formica,
like a car following a highway 
between A and C. She rubs a circle
in a splash of tea
like the circle you might clear
in the breath-fogged window of a speeding train.
He shreds a napkin into triangle-shaped bits;
she pierces them with toothpicks,
and together they have fashioned
the small white flags of their surrender,
the truce with fear
that lets them move a little farther out
into the foreign country
of the future
where all of us are strangers.

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