By Nancy Miller Gomez
I used to keep old black-and-white photos in my wallet.
They weren’t people I knew, just snapshots of strangers
fished out of a shoebox at a junk store: dark-eyed men
in bomber jackets leaning against muscle cars, or sitting
astride a tractor wearing khakis and an undershirt, a pencil
of mustache above their lip. Women with cat-eyed glasses,
dressed up in feathered hats for a night of gin rickeys,
arms draped across each other’s shoulders and angling
for the camera. Even in grayscale I could see their cheeks
were rouged and their lips were slick with lipstick.
Sometimes I would take these people out and show them
to someone I’d just met. This is my family, I’d say
and watch as they shuffled through the pile of strangers
politely noting how nice-looking they were.
I don’t know why I did this. But it felt good
that all anyone could ever know of me was what I was
willing to show them. This heavyset blonde posing
on the steps of a California bungalow wearing a fur coat
in the obvious heat of summer. These children splashing
in a kiddie pool on a lawn cluttered with beach balls
and hula hoops, a spray of water suspended mid-air
as the camera clicked on the girl’s congenial scream,
her brother’s swashbuckling grin, while father watches
from a folding chair, a beaming fat baby on his lap.
I keep them ready, these people I don’t know. That’s me
I say, pointing at the fat baby. I was happy then.
Originally from Kansas, Nancy Miller Gomez now lives in Santa Cruz, California. Her work has appeared in Best American Poetry 2021, Best New Poets 2021, The Adroit Journal, New Ohio Review, Shenandoah, River Styx, The Rumpus, Rattle, Massachusetts Review, American Life in Poetry, Verse Daily and elsewhere. Her chapbook, Punishment, was published in 2018 as part of the Rattle chapbook series. She co-founded an organization that provides poetry workshops to incarcerated women and men. More at: nancymillergomez.com