(the challenge levied by my poetry group: a prose poem. Since I don’t really care for/believe in prose poems, I can’t tell you if I succeeded.)
There is only one picture of him among the hundreds that freeze the dipping palm trees, the rocking grasses, the swaying people. A fellow American traveler sneakily took the shot of us saying good-bye just beyond the Papua New Guinea customs desk. The flash did not go off, though, and so now, a year later, all that is visible is a foggy version of me: pink lips wide, eyes cast down demurely, and white face shining both from the New Guinea humidity and the attention. In the photo, his features are indeterminable, his dark face blending into the shadows of the background. All I can remember are his white teeth, the tribal tattoo imprinted on his arm, and that I’ve never been looked at like that in all my life. Because, for once, in the eyes of another, I was exotic. Foreign. Beautiful.
I met him over the Pacific Ocean, in that halfway space between here and there. I felt his gaze as soon as I sunk into the gray leather seats of the Air Niugini aircraft. He let me sit by the window when he heard it was my first trip to his island, and he was pleased by my nervous anticipation. With his quiet voice, just barely audible above the jet engine, he was eager to share stories of his tropical home and the tribal beauty that lay within. I said told him we were going to meet a village, and he smiled, a silent smile with bright teeth, before saying they would paint my face. I could see through his eyes the delight of this white girl in the clothes of his ancestors.
On a whim, I asked for advice, and he told me, do not be afraid. I could see he was his country, and so was asking me to not be afraid of him. I smiled and responded, I will not be afraid, and the look of his white teeth gleaming through his lips is the only picture I have of him now.