you think it’s odd the first time you hang out with someone
and they sit on the arm of the couch instead of next to you.
or when they look you in the eye when you talk,
like they’re listening to you,
the way people think they should but generally don’t,
the way they should ask you questions and express curiosity
and notice all the little motions you make the very first time
you speak — he does all of that.

a hundred questions are unsettling because you’re not used to
people expressing so much interest in you.
and he is so consistently perceptive that
every time a silence comes because you’re uncertain
or you’re uncomfortable,
or you leave something out of a statement because you’re nervous,
he always notices.
he asks you to read him one of your poems, the second time you speak,
and you hand him your phone, but he says he wants
to hear you read it out loud. the whole time you’re reading
you’re drunk and you’re stumbling over your words and
you’re thinking you hate the sound of yourself talking and
when you’re done he’s quiet and then he says nothing about the poem
but rather, “you have a good reading voice,” as if he had read
your thoughts coming into your head like a teleprompter.

he finally sits next to you on the couch and when your knees touch
he asks if that’s okay. of course it’s okay, you’re thinking,
that’s too much, too much, you don’t need to ask,
“if it were a problem, I would say something, don’t worry.”
but he says he’ll ask anyway because he would hate to intrude.

every time you both consume media, he asks you what
you think of it. and every time politics come up, he asks
you your opinion. and every time you enter his house,
he asks you how you’re doing, and you realize you’d never heard
a single person in your life ask that question before he did
because none of them even knew they were asking it.

did anyone ever ask you a question at all
before he did?

he is so quick to express understanding that you’d think
he didn’t mean it. but he always means it.

the first time you kiss, it comes at 2am and he asks permission first.
what an odd thing to do, to ask consent for a kiss.
you never think to do something like that, but
he wouldn’t have it any other way. so you are given a moment
to think before it happens. it’s strange and vulnerable
and so open that you feel as if all the fog has been cleared from your mind.
“do you want to kiss me?” he asks, and after maybe a minute,
you ask, “do you want to kiss me?
and he says, “I’d like that.”
so you say “okay” and he kisses you.

and even after he’s put his tongue in your mouth, he asks permission
just to put his arm around you when you sit together on the couch.
it is so easy for him to read you.
when you’re nervous, he knows. but it takes time to understand
that he doesn’t mind.
all the layers of expectation you built up over your life
are peeled away. why is it that consent feels so strange for so long
before your identity comes back into focus?
this man’s never-ending questions tasted strange until you
realized he was looking for the nucleus of your character
that lay beneath your denial.
when he asks you permission, the difference in tone
between one “yes” and another becomes akin to black and white.
there is more you leave unsaid
than you ever knew.
he wants a “yes” from you that is as clear and sharp
and full of adventure as an infinity mirror.
he wants you, not a reluctant copy.