- The Amazing Tomkins—Readings by Touch—No Appointment Necessary
Manhattan: thirty million yards of cotton, denim, and leather hiding two million bodies, each infected with memory. The walk from Grand Central to my shop on 45th is crowded with perilous touch, the beggar or stranger who brushes a coat sleeve against my wrist and pollutes my morning with secrets. I learned long ago that most people dwell on terrible things. My mother
discovered my gift for finding lost keys by touching the owner's hand, and when I was eight, she gave me my father's tie and together we learned about Madeline. The image was as crisp as if it were my own, the hotel sheets, the headboard slapping against the wall, Madeline's face crumpled as she said, "Oh yes." She had a pimple on her chin and a fine sliver of lash on her left cheek. I should have been angry at my father's lies or at my mother for making me drag him from the sewer of his memory, but I was frightened of my hands, of all skin and all the ways we hide. I learned about the body through touch, and I wore gloves for years.
I grew up losing jobs and lovers. I couldn't handle money, and a woman's hand in mine revealed the beautiful men who filled her fantasy bed, the deep-chested equestrian shadows who weren't me. I left home at eighteen, taught myself to pick pockets, and survived by stroking the buttons of cash machines and coaxing out numbers, passwords, and eventually twenty-dollar bills. Manhattan swallowed me in human traffic— the press of hands, the rush of worlds and things—and I learned
that memory is contagion, bleeding from nerve to shirt, multiplying on door handles and subway seats. Time was just numbers in a clock, not a movement forward or away. In the crush of a crowded train, every living past becomes now: wars overlap, the news is forever new, faces jitter from young to old [End Page 51] and back, and the car fills with ghosts of children, brothers and sons long vanished from everyone but me. Took me years to mute the remembered world and finally hear what everyone is thinking. And here's
the weird part: everyone knows someone's listening. Or hopes for it, anyway. They're thinking: Listen. Listen to me. Don't leave me. Just listen. They're thinking: Oh yes. This is the world and this is my body in the world and how did I get here. How much does this cost and how much do I know and what if no one believes. Believe me. There is so much to listen for and so much world and so little body for such a great cost. I'm lonely. Don't leave me, not yet.
I could have been the sideshow that ran the carnival or one of those detective psychics who finds the missing and the dead, but being freakish bores me and the city vibrates with tortures and murders that everyone but the city has forgotten. Instead I make my living from tourists, who come into my little shop looking for a laugh or the past. I hold their hands and tell their secrets back to them, and they sit there blinking, infants discovering their reflections. Sometimes I wish I were speaking, but it's enough to know I only have to listen to one person and not a street's worth of thinkers. With only one pair of hands in mine, I can listen deeply, see your daughter's face, taste the salt of what you've lost, find the part of you that sings.
Preston Mark Stone’s work has appeared in the Red River Review, Lumina and the Crab Creek Review. He holds an MA in writing from Sarah Lawrence College and was a winter fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, where many of these poems were written.