I Am Like You, I Am Not Like You

In-between, we watch each other
The cat cannot see us
unless the cat is half of who we are
Then the cat can look at itself
even in the dark
Asleep and awake
when I was a cat
I hid under the slacks and dresses
in my mother’s closet
The river appeared in the dark
when the door was locked
I jumped into the river
and rode on the catfish’s back
We circled an eddy for hours
until we became the eddy
afraid but open
When the door of the closet opened
I climbed onto the riverbank
and counted the red and white squares
of my mother’s checked red dress
which was her favorite

There’s a (Freudian) Resemblance

My head lives inside his head
He is a hand inside my head
My head is in his hand
which isn’t sexual
He says he reads my mind

He is a clamp inside my head
gray and shiny like a jaw
Place is what we are, he says
and loyalty to place
He is a place inside my head

Once I was a baby
He was one too
Did someone live inside him then?
A Russian nesting doll inside a Russian nesting doll
inside his Russian head inside my head?

Giving birth, being born, and loving one another
is ordinary, he says
He says we think alike
I am a part of you, he says
which used to comfort me

I tell him to move out
He says, I’ve nowhere else to go
He is a mirror propped in front of me to see inside
which isn’t sexual
Without resistance you’ll be happier, he says

Confess! Confess!

Why keep a barrier between us?
There is no barrier between us
All my thoughts lie on a plate
like deviled eggs at a picnic

If you look but do not listen
if you think but on the surface
then without me you absorb me
but you cannot know my thoughts

though I give you my thoughts
like deviled eggs at a picnic
In the sun the next day
they are pretty but rotten

There’s a tangle between us
I give you my secrets
my feelings, past and future
I want to make you happy

I am a present though I’m absent
My bow is your bow
my box is your box
you are my present in your absence

You say you always knew me
My cells multiply inside you
I move into your head
like a house inside a home

I tell you what you want to hear
I want to make you happy
I am one who is not two
I run around you in a circle

You press my neck
I am in front of you
like love
which is impossible

I am a chicken and an egg when I confess
a rope inside me
I trade my thoughts for kisses
I confess because you look at me

Jan Freeman is the author of three books of poetry, most recently Blue Structure (Calypso Editions). Poems from her new manuscript, “Mobius,” are forthcoming or recently appeared in Barrow Street, The Brooklyn Rail, North American Review, Plume, POETRY, Salamander, and other publications. She is a 2023 MacDowell fellow and was awarded the 2022 Spiral Shell Fellow at Moulin a Nef/VCCA and a 2020–2022 associate at the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center.

She is the former director of Paris Press (now housed at Wesleyan University Press), which she founded to reissue Muriel Rukeyser’s The Life of Poetry. She teaches ekphrastic poetry workshops and the MASS MoCA Poetry Retreat, and assists poets and writers with their manuscripts.