Missing Person Sign at a Rest Stop on the Pennsylvania Turnpike

Kate Deimling

A blue line of highway snakes across the map.
Alongside, a girl named Jean is enshrined
in image on the screen.

It’s unmistakably a school picture:
heavy blond bangs, face framed by ponytails,
wide smile asking to be liked.

Here’s her birth date,
and I calculate she’d be 59.
Contact state police if you have information.

Is there any chance this girl
in a pixellated portrait in central Pennsylvania
between Arby’s and the men’s room

is still in the world?
Could I spot her by the motel pool
reading a book, gray curls under a baseball cap,

its brim shading a sliver of her face?
Or reaching out her hand to feel
the tight skin of a tomato in the vegetable aisle?

Older than I am,
she’s eternally young,
frozen in time, cursed.

How insincere to have her image here,
no more than a warning to vacationing families
entering these air-conditioned halls,

like a cow skull at a desert threshold,
betokening danger and death
to all who venture there —

though her face is full of life
and trust and, to us,
some unsolvable mystery she couldn’t have foreseen

the day she stood in line chatting,
adjusted her cardigan, sat on the stool,
and thought of something happy.

Kate Deimling is a poet and translator from Brooklyn, New York. Her poems have recently appeared in Rockvale Review, Ekphrastic Review, Slipstream, and Grey Sparrow Journal, and she is a poetry reader for Bracken. She has also translated six books from French on topics ranging from the wine industry to Renaissance art. Find her gazing at bird photos on Twitter @DeimlingKate.