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I’m a Stranger Here Myself

by Gail Mazur

Sometimes when you stop for directions,
when you ask someone who doesn’t look
threatening or threatened the way to a gas
station or restaurant, the person stares at you,
dumbly, or seems apologetic or guilty,
and says these words as if they’d been
scripted: I’m a stranger here myself—, shaking
her head, or his head, and you’re especially struck
by the bond between you, your strangeness,
and the town, or city, changes to unnumbered
anonymous facades, but generic, unmistakably
New England—white clapboard houses, black shutters;
or Texas storefronts—low porches, two-by-four columns,
longhorn arches; or even Southern California,
the faces its bungalows make, the expressive mouths
of, say, Los Angeles doors—and suddenly you want
to live there, wherever there is, to belong
in one place, to read the surviving daily,
you want to get a grip on the local mores,
to pay taxes, to vote, you want to have cronies,
be tired together in the Stormy Harbor
Coffee Shop, to be bored with the daily specials:
you want not to be like him, or her, not the outsider
who’s never sure where things are; so you say,
“Thanks, anyway,” and find the worn face of a
native who’ll point you to a real estate office,
which hadn’t been where you were going—
But then, you stop cold, scared, wanting
only your own room, the books under the bed,
the pencils, the snapshots, what’s left
of your family, the dead flies on the windowsills,
the exhausted scorched-coffee smell of your city,
familiar as your own particular dust—and you turn
on a dime, shaking off Church Street and School Street,
the allegorical buildings, the knick-knack bookshelves
in the glowing blue family rooms blind to the moonlit
Main Street night, the lonely, confused, censorious
American-ness of places you drive through, where
you can get ice cream or a flat fixed, places where
strangers get hurt, so you jump back into your car
and head out to the highway, until the town,
that stage-set that almost swallowed you,
disappears at last in the fogged rear-view mirror,
and you drive to the next and the next and the next,
fleeing that vicarious life for your life.


Gail Mazur’s two book of poems are Nightfire and The Pose of Happiness. She is the founding director of the Blacksmith House Poetry Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and poetry critic for The Boston Globe. (1992)

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