Touch

Riding the el today, I had the strangest urge;
   I wanted to reach out and touch a man’s hand.
He sat in front of me, slumped against the window,
   dozing, resting his head on crossed arms.
I wanted desperately to feel the skin on the back of his fingers, 
   dark against the glass.
They looked so warm from the heat of his resting head,
   only inches from my own hands.
I held a book before my face, trying to remember the story,
   trying not to think of anything.
Sudden tears, and I looked away hard,
   staring out the window at black subway walls.
No one tells you, but when you get divorced,
   you lose physical contact with the world.
I am reduced to hand brushes as I pay for my iced coffee
   with exact change.
I bond briefly with the dry cleaner as I pick up
   my severely pressed shirts and pants.
I think fondly of my visits to the physical therapist,
   where touch was often painful.
Or I give thanks for small ear canals – recessive genes, perhaps?
   – requiring irrigation at the GP.
I am secretly disappointed when he says “great progress,
  let’s cut back your visits.”
But no one else touches my face, I want to protest,
   or listens to the beat of my heart.
I understand why single, middle-aged women of my
   acquaintance are so health conscious.
They never miss a routine exam, an annual physical,
   or even a Pap smear.
They know about the invisible bubble that surrounds us
   and protects us from human contact.
They know about the absence of touch.

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