What by Stephen Dunn

•June 9, 2014 • 3 Comments

In those few precious seconds before impact I am certain time didn’t stop. Instead it staggered and stuttered and skipped a circle around me: I blink, and the cab driver is honking at someone on the road. I blink, and suddenly a 4×4 vehicle has slammed to my side. I blink, and both of my hands are on the dashboard. I blink, and we are in the middle of everything on a Friday afternoon.

I force myself to check for broken bones. HOW DO I KNOW IF ANYTHING IS BROKEN, a voice shouts inside my head. IT’S CHARACTERISED BY INTENSE PAIN, somebody else answered. I THINK YOU’RE IN SHOCK SO YOU WON’T FEEL ANYTHING, says another voice. YOUR WHOLE SOUL IS BROKEN TO BE HONEST, says a wound. Shut up, I whisper. I blink, and I look at my sisters outside the window, their mouths open, their hands flapping in the wind like small birds. I blink, and I recognise that I’m the only one left inside the cab. I try to push the door open, but it wouldn’t budge.

If we have stopped to buy bread, we would’ve missed this by a few seconds. If I have lingered any longer at the sparse poetry section at the bookstore, we would’ve taken another cab. If I haven’t called my father, we would’ve taken another route. I blink, and it’s a steady beat inside my head: if, if, if, if, if. I blink, and I realise that something is throbbing. I blink, and I look at my knee, wedged in an abnormal angle between the passenger seat and the door.

The average person blinks fifteen to twenty times a minute, according to the Smithsonian. My eye takes snapshots and in sixty seconds I’ve got fifteen to twenty images of an air freshener, a little tree swaying in the wind. The driver has left his door open. I blink, and there’s a man gesturing with his palms open. His lips moving, fifteen or twenty pieces falling into place. I blink, and the words register: there’s no driver in the other car.

I blink, and noise returns: the traffic is starting to build up behind us. Ah, I thought. That’s the weight that was missing. I never knew that sound could be so heavy. I blink, and I start to move my toes. I blink, and the engine of the other car started. I could hear the metal breathing a little, and yes, maybe that’s just my imagination. They pry the door open. I blink, and I’m stepping out. I blink, and suddenly I’m afraid that my legs have forgotten themselves. I blink, and I’m standing outside.

I try not to feel fragile. It’s just a swollen knee, after all.

I try not to think about the things I didn’t think about. They have all fallen into the cracks between the moment that my eyes opened and closed, opened and closed, opened and closed, opened and closed, opened and closed. That is the only place where time stopping to accommodate a flashback of your life is a miniscule possibility, after all.

In those few precious seconds before impact I am certain time didn’t stop. I am certain because the world doesn’t slow down, ever, for anyone. But wouldn’t it be nice if it did. Just for a second. Long enough to think, there are no words for this. Long enough to think, there is a word: your name, maybe. Long enough to think, will they remember me? Long enough to think, it is done. Long enough to think, is this all there is, after all? I blink, and the universe goes on. I blink, and the moment has passed me by.

Stephen Dunn

What starts things

are the accidents behind the eyes
touched off by, say, the missing cheekbone
of a woman who might have been beautiful

it is thinking about
your transplanted life-line going places
in someone else’s palm, or the suicidal games
your mind plays with the edge
of old wounds, or something
you couldn’t share with your lover

there are no endings

people die between birthdays and go on for years;
what stops things for a moment
are the words you’ve found for the last bit of light
you think there is

Riveted by Robyn Sarah

•May 7, 2014 • 5 Comments

There are words for it. Something clinical, something cold. No. Something vicious. Attacks, most would say. Panic. Anxiety. I imagine them as dark clouds, wisps of terror, filling up my lungs and throat, threatening to make the world disappear.

Whenever it happens it feels like they have taken everything away from me, and I am left clawing alone in the deep dark.

It’s difficult, finding my way to the surface. I slide back to myself, only to feel like I have shrunk, dried up in those few minutes, and now my skin hangs loosely from my body.

A poor fit, says a voice in my head. A poor life.

I said, I should really learn how to say yes more than no. I said, remember when I was that person? It’s as if she’s vanished, these past two years, and instead was replaced by an empty shell, which is also myself.

Somebody asked a question, and it took me hours, days, to come up with an answer. I sit in a corner, my head between my knees, gasping. How do people do this without flinching?

What does it mean to say yes?

Gumption, I whisper furiously to empty room. Living, said the echo.

Robyn Sarah

It is possible that things will not get better
than they are now, or have been known to be.
It is possible that we are past the middle now.
It is possible that we have crossed the great water
without knowing it, and stand now on the other side.
Yes: I think that we have crossed it. Now
we are being given tickets, and they are not
tickets to the show we had been thinking of,
but to a different show, clearly inferior.

Check again: it is our own name on the envelope.
The tickets are to that other show.

It is possible that we will walk out of the darkened hall
without waiting for the last act: people do.
Some people do. But it is probable
that we will stay seated in our narrow seats
all through the tedious denouement
to the unsurprising end— riveted, as it were;
spellbound by our own imperfect lives
because they are lives,
and because they are ours.

(from The Writer’s Almanac)

God Says Yes To Me by Kaylin Haught

•March 15, 2014 • 11 Comments

Happy birthday, T., you old fool.

Another revolution around the sun is done again. So is three hundred and sixty-five days of worrying about nothing and everything.

Ah, my dear self, have you always been this neurotic? I suppose so. I suppose so.

But: here’s to being twenty-eight, and trying again, and believing again. Love will come, and joy, too, and perhaps things will finally fall into place. If not, well—you’re not alone.

Raising a glass. Staring at the sky.

God Says Yes To Me
Kaylin Haught

I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic
and she said yes
I asked her if it was okay to be short
and she said it sure is
I asked her if I could wear nail polish
or not wear nail polish
and she said honey
she calls me that sometimes
she said you can do just exactly
what you want to
Thanks God I said
And is it even okay if I don’t paragraph
my letters
Sweetcakes God said
who knows where she picked that up
what I’m telling you is
Yes Yes Yes

(from The Writer’s Almanac)

Untitled by Jonathan Greene

•March 5, 2014 • 1 Comment

Who are we, really, in the grand scheme of things? And is there a grand scheme, even?

We wake up, we go to sleep. Day by day. After a while, the days accumulate. After a while, we start to call it life. But is it worth giving it a name? A context? Can you see the thread holding it all together?

Are you special because you are loved?

I changed rooms but I still sleep on the floor. One night a few months ago, I found a caterpillar trying to crawl up my arm. I freaked out. I killed it. I didn’t think. Just reacted.

I wonder if people arrive at their mistakes in the same way.

Who are you in the dark, I ask myself.

Jonathan Greene

Honored when
the butterfly lights
on my shoulder.

Next stop:
a rotting log.

1 This is from American Life in Poetry: Column 464 by Ted Kooser.

2 Here is a complete life cycle of a monarch butterfly.

Other Lives And Dimensions And Finally A Love Poem by Bob Hicok

•February 8, 2014 • 5 Comments

My dearest Y. and B.—

I’ve written and rewritten this letter many times. Didn’t want to sound trite, didn’t want to come off like a cliched greeting card either.

How does one find the right words for joy, for knowing that you’re spending a lifetime with the one person in the whole world that fits you? How can I describe how happy I am to be made part of this, to witness two people turning a page, writing a new chapter together? I take a cue from Nicole Krauss, in her book, The History of Love:

There is no word for everything.

Nevertheless, let me try to say it the best I can:

Y.—we’ve called each other Soulmates for as long as I can remember (senior high school, I think?). I haven’t the slightest idea anymore why—perhaps because we stood in a small room and realised exactly how much we have in common?

Or don’t have in common—because look at how our lives have diverged, the paths we took, the people we met, the changes we went through. And yet some things still stay the same. And yet the universe still made sure that our threads continue to tangle.

There was a meeting of minds (and hearts) the day we forged our friendship. I am crossing my fingers that this bond will always keep. Today though, Y., you will be walking towards your true Soulmate, and how lovely to see you off, to watch him receive you in his arms! I think it will be a beautiful sight—a privilege, really.

B.—one of my memories of you was one afternoon talking about Murakami. You spoke of staying up late in a coffee shop, asking them to let you finish the book before they close for the night. I can’t remember what the book was—was it Norwegian Wood? (It was my favourite, you know. It will always have my heart.)

That image stayed with me, all through these years. I remember thinking, I remember feeling relieved and sure—that you will take care of my friend. That she will be safe with you, and grow with you, and be loved. All because you told me you read a book until the end.

I didn’t know that years later, I would be here, writing this letter. Perhaps you knew. Perhaps both of you knew.

Thank you for showing me that love is real.


Other Lives And Dimensions And Finally A Love Poem
Bob Hicok

My left hand will live longer than my right. The rivers
           of my palms tell me so.
Never argue with rivers. Never expect your lives to finish
                       at the same time. I think

praying, I think clapping is how hands mourn. I think
           staying up and waiting
for paintings to sigh is science. In another dimension this
                       is exactly what’s happening,

it’s what they write grants about: the chromodynamics
           of mournful Whistlers,
the audible sorrow and beta decay of Old Battersea Bridge.
                       I like the idea of different

theres and elsewheres, an Idaho known for bluegrass,
           a Bronx where people talk
like violets smell. Perhaps I am somewhere patient, somehow
                       kind, perhaps in the nook

of a cousin universe I’ve never defiled or betrayed
           anyone. Here I have
two hands and they are vanishing, the hollow of your back
                       to rest my cheek against,

your voice and little else but my assiduous fear to cherish.
           My hands are webbed
like the wind-torn work of a spider, like they squeezed
                       something in the womb

but couldn’t hang on. One of those other worlds
           or a life I felt
passing through mine, or the ocean inside my mother’s belly
                       she had to scream out.

Here, when I say I never want to be without you,
           somewhere else I am saying
I never want to be without you again. And when I touch you
                       in each of the places we meet,

in all of the lives we are, it’s with hands that are dying
           and resurrected.
When I don’t touch you it’s a mistake in any life,
                       in each place and forever.

1 This is from Plus Shipping by Bob Hicok, published by by BOA Editions, Ltd., 1998.

2 This is a draft of a letter I wrote to Y. on the day of her wedding.

3 Here is Bob Hicok reading his poem, after answering a question about it.

4 I first read this in 2005. Somehow Y. found it, too. I remember when she told me about a poem she loved. Something about hands, she said. I looked at her and asked, “Hicok?” She nodded, and we didn’t need any words after that.


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