A year ago, I was licking wounds as a first-year teacher—
exhausted, heavy, having given it more than my all.
A year ago I was reading letters from students,
where they shared their suicidal thoughts, their private horrors.
A year ago, slipping into peace and relaxing my burdened back
for the first time in forever, it seemed.
And here I sit, in the same space but so far away.
Mozart on the radio, the same keyboard at my fingers.
A year from now, I fear to say.
Already my world is lost, destroyed, dismissed.
A year from now, will my heart be valued?
Will I see the same sky, the same walkway I traversed today?
A year from now I will be alive.
Those who take from me cannot take me.
And they will sit, in the same space they’ve always sat.
Mindless of Mozart, or this space, or the heart I hold.
It’s been a long time since I’ve used this plastic, black contraption to tickle
words onto the page. Even though I’m a damn good typist.
These days it’s been the long-hated longhand, yellow
pads of paper with blue lines like veins,
and my scratching handwriting, sometimes worthy
but most times not—scrawling stanzas and flipping the page.
I’ve gotten quite good at it, to the point that now this feels like returning
to an old lover I never quite appreciated, or
perhaps I’ve been cheating, and am returning to my partner,
long overdue. And together we can make familiar music
in the way we used to.
Dear C.O., these
sandwiches are horrors,
of salty pink shit,
and mysterious crunching
bones from the factory.
They are almost useless, except
which is why many of us
eagerly line up to receive
your dreaded, salty communion:
so that we can pad our heads against
the ridiculous hardness
of our situations.
When you’re in an unkind space
it’s hard to remember the kind ones—
in the middle of coldness,
in the middle of pain.
It’s the animal side of us, I think, cringing against
the existence we endure, unsure of its safety.
It makes us tense against each other,
forget how to smile or laugh—forgetting memory.
Forgetting, even, the places we’ve sat
which are warm and soft, and
those we’ve met who’ve marked us with kindness—
the friendships of space and place and people.
The best of us look and by looking let it slip in:
laughter in the cold places, a moment’s relaxation
with humanity. Sometimes eye contact, sometimes
a smiling nod. Better, still, a story told to a friend
whom you may have just met
in your darkest place, and with whom you decide
to share a little bit of your humanity.
Warmth and camaraderie as we travel to the grave.
Or the simple act of looking, seeing,
paying attention, we recognize our fellow animals,
move next to each other in the cold places,
become friends for a few minutes or hours,
nod and smile as if forever bound.
This is why the coldness never wins.
This is the remarkable warmth of connection—
the kindness of humanity in the unkind spaces.
A power too many of us forget but some of us
and his hope,
with the strength of gravity,
and the axis of the planet
tilts toward permanence—
a solstice of union
as if true north,
and every magnet
on this rocky globe
swings hard needle
to her power
Letting go is as hard as it sounds—
like forgoing oxygen,
or choosing to fall backwards
into the arms of your classmates,
at summer camp,
before your sixth grade year.
Pausing to exhale into the cloudless sky
and trusting not to look—
except at the vapor trail
left by a far-flung plane.
The catch is as beautiful
as those interlaced arms, somehow
so much stronger than you’d imagined.
And what amazement waits
when you give yourself over—
forgetting, even, the greed of breath.
Butterflies of hope feather their wings against my stomach,
and I am somehow twelve years old again,
thinking of the girl with long hair and eyes like a doe’s,
who sits in my home room class.
Long hours are wrapped up in love:
long hours flying fast, together,
before long hours apart—
when the moons of our existence
orbit in opposition
and the immovable mass of this planet
holds us from one another.
Long hours of nervous anticipation which
I seem far too old to still encounter.
The miracle of this hope is that
it has come to me again.
Like a schoolboy I am powerless
in its presence, only shaking
my head in wonder,
swinging in this orbit,
incredulous that the path of my life
might splash into yours.
Photograph thanks to Simona T., 6eternity9
A lone bird perched
atop a tree,
blue sky and melting snow.
His whole world the view.
Nothing but promise and purchase.
There must be something more.
Geese pick at ground—
paths tread by people
to and from their business.
Not heaven, but they make it
close, the pair of them.
Trying not to miss
what they cannot see:
The exchange of breath,
soft lips so close
it’s as if souls
share the same body,
and together set winged upon the air.
I fly to you.
Yours just came
and mine comes tomorrow.
Oh the love we bear
and which is borne for us—
friends, parents, lovers,
daughters and sons.
38 years of life
teach the black and white
of pain and love—
despite the loneliness.
the terrible bleakness.
I love you
more than all the stars
in this night sky.
The ducks and geese stay
in the same spot, frozen over
in the middle of the night.
A salutary honk here and there,
under the shade of apartments
and the bold, hunter constellation,
sheltered against the cold in fours
and fives. Teaming against the night—
watching me on the shore.
They don’t go anywhere, and no one
picks them up, dear Holden, to save them.
They simply hunker, somehow shiverless.
Maybe it’s the duck next to them,
the concept I always missed,
or maybe it’s the broad swath of cold
darkness against which they wait.
Maybe it’s the connection to each other,
which saves them against the change.