by Maxwell Lakso

I can hear your music muffled through the wall.
I’ve never felt more or less alone.
My heart aches with the joyful knowledge of what those nights feel like,
Screaming soft lyrics with people I know well and still desperately wish to learn 
Every fiber of
My heart aches
For the younger me, who could only imagine
That feeling: Joy,
Collaged together from beautiful nights with people I never saw again,
People whose texts petered out,
Mentally scrapbooked from scraps 
Into ideas of nights so perfect, like yours must be.

I know that this isn’t how people do things, but
I want to go over to your door and invite myself in.
You sound like raspy giggles and good company,
I imagine you must be happy, or maybe you just know
Something is growing.
You sound like you throw yourself into emotion,
Deeply, messily—
Like the grown-up version of fingerpainting,
Smearing marbled sunsets so surreal you wish you could swallow them.
You sound, Beloved Stranger, 
Like holding hands, lots of hands, years of hands,
Creased and calloused, soft yet clammy, smooth and warm and strong,
Wrapped around my own 
Trembling, blotchy peach knuckles. My hands, 
With the memories of calluses, with
The lump of scar tissue on my right middle finger, 
And the silvery dash struck diagonal across the same knuckle on my left, 
A mismatched pair, and I like them despite the pain they carry
Clutched tight like a grudge, folded inside that pumice skin.
I like to hold up my hands, like two flightless birds,
And show you, etched into my skin, the most crude and vulnerable tattoos.

I love the idea of tattoos, of scribbling all over something sacred and
Making it more valuable.
I love graffiti, scrawled in sharpie or
Scratched into benches,
Defacing this old city with love.
Rough-hewn initials representing real faces.
Glyphs begging the pedestrian anthropologists, “Remember me!”
Remember me.
Hearts and ‘me & you’s, immortalized,
Like this is the most important love of all time,
Your Helen of Troy,
Your Patroclus.
Like this is the most important thing you’ve ever felt—
You’re right.

It is the most important thing to go for walks into the foggy night
With someone whose warm palms convince you that
Umbrellas are worthless, and that
Your nose isn’t red with cold, but red like a valentine.
Valentines, whether scrawled in red spray paint, or sold in dollar store boxes,
Are all so infused with love,
Even the commercial, plastic cupids. Even despite
The sandpaper sidewalk grain eroding
The skin of your knees and the rubber of your treads,
Despite the way concrete digs graves into the earth
And the city is one giant cigarette sobbing toxins,
The rain still makes the wet streets gleam like black opal.

I like stickers on lampposts, and I like people scrawling masterpieces where they
More than I like sanctioned murals. I delight
At the thought that someone decided this space needed art, and decided
They couldn’t wait around for someone else to do it.

I think we are all dragging worn soles through the world, resisting the urge 
To cry on the shoulder of every stranger, asking them with desperate eyes 
If they know you, 
And thinking that you want them to say yes, but 
Your heart is silently begging them to admit that 
They don’t, but that they could, 
Because they want to.

Begging them to say it as a promise,
That they’ll always want to know you—
That impossible promise. That they’ll meet you again and again and always
Be the familiar stranger, who already felt like a home.

But we all walk by each other in the street
With shut mouths, and eyes repelling each other like magnets, and then 
We go home and text no one in particular that you miss them, and you’re sorry
That you didn’t say hello today, and you’re afraid 
That you may have missed your only chance.

We all have a collection of sticky note phone numbers 
Scrawled with a younger self’s pen. The names to the numbers,
Rubbed out by wear but you know them 
By the pads of your fingertips against the numerals on the dial.

We all have stacks of empty calendars, blank dates on blank pages, 
Full of no-shows, uninviteds, and maligneds. A collection of forgotten
Grudges. We are a Russian doll of all the younger selves who ever wept.

All anyone desires is the chance to hold hands 
If they wanted to. Just that 
If you ever needed it, someone would be there
To twine their fingers through your own.