Temperature

Photo by Greta Unetich

By Greta Unetich

This December

The snow falls beneath the streetlights,

My guardian angel,

As soft as it ever has—

Saying you name and touching my face.

The clouds are as bright as day.

I squint upwards towards each of the one million tiny, white prayers.

It feels like it is snow from the past, all but aimless and impermanent in my memory. 

It feels like my eyes have seen this before, illuminated in exactly the same way.

Twenty minutes later, I step into someone else’s warm apartment. My hair is damp. Snowflakes melt on my clothes in the temperature of the room. The snow still falls soft across the center of the city, across the open fields on the outskirts of my soul. You crawl into your bed, and I follow. I didn’t know if you thought I would. We sleep, curled together like a breath of wind, and the snow still falls soft on the other side of your wall. 

Yes, it is different, but it is better, better by a hundred times, better by the temperature outside, better by pressing against your back like it means something. I always open my eyes first, and you are always facing me with your hands beneath your chin. 

I think of a toothbrush that belongs to me, sitting on the edge of a bathroom sink that’s not yours. Or mine. I think of sleeping by your side.

Maybe I would if my slate was clean. The snow tapping at your window late at night wipes it clean. I can hear it when we’ve finished talking, in those few seconds when I am falling asleep in the temperature of your room. The water runs over my shoulders. How can I say no to you now?

The text at the bottom of the darkening screen, reading: Sleeping through this night. It lives behind my eyes, too, every night. 

These past two Decembers are the coldest I ever remember being. It was like being stuck in a deep, navy blue sleep where I never dreamed. Now, my hands don’t hurt because they’re not cold, because you dream every night, even when you’re with me. 

We would leave your little apartment to do rounds at 10:30 at night, 12:00, 1:30 in the morning on an Ithaca January night, each of us in a pair of your flannel pajama pants. The temperature was negative, single digits. Looking out over the hill climbing up across the lake, the gold lights of the city were sharp and frosty in the cold air, reflected in the night sky as the stars. We walked around until your eyelashes froze. Then, we would return to the temperature of your apartment, and all would be well to fall asleep with each other, you in my arms. 

You asked me to cut your hair while you sat in your bathtub, the darkest hair I’ve ever seen piling up on the white acrylic floor, falling from your head, falling from the teeth of the electric razor. It’s the coldest room of your otherwise one-room apartment, and you’re sitting, shirtless, on your knees, with your head down at the bottom of the bathtub. I think of you now, in the shower, rinsing the stray strands from your shoulders, and I think of myself laying in your bed, writing this poem while you’re getting clean, all of it, the hair, the words, you, me, all seashells cast out to the ocean, picked up and picked over by more hands than we both have seen in our lives and tossed around in that big, blue bowl by the tides. All of it will find its way back to the sea.

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