Sometimes you write something and you know it’s good.
You suspect it might be among the best things you ever wrote.
That you’ll ever write.
Sometimes, you write it four years before a global pandemic and, upon re-reading, are surprised at how prescient some of it seems.
Here is my long poem, “Winter, Break” which was written during these ten days of inter-semester break a few years back. It is about seasonal depression, connection, disconnection, nature and relationships.
It features Sea Monkeys.
I am grateful to the editors of TAB Journal for publishing it in their March 2017 edition.
I am grateful to you for reading it, now.
The sun shone upon us until yesterday.
Not thin strips of light, no wan slant,
but full-face blaze and glow. So like summer,
though it is Pittsburgh and December.
Party trick, climate jolt, who knows.
We turned ourselves into house plants
happily. Christmas cactus,
mother-in-law’s tongue, lucky
bamboo. We greened, greedy
in every window. We grew.
In every window we grew
creatures, microscopic and ravenous.
We can hardly keep ourselves fed
yet turn the sea monkeys toward
the drear morning, sprinkle them
with algae and pretend them to be pets.
We want to go into the earth now,
seep through crumbled concrete,
to chew on Morning Glory roots
before the ice heaves burst the road.
Before the ice heaves burst the road
there will be yellow buds tricked toward
opening. We will watch the periphery,
every unseasonal swish of green a near
tragedy. We know some things now
that we couldn’t have known before the hills
grew straight up from the riverbed. Before
our desires broke the soil, too early, too lush.
But oh how we secretly willed them, though
we knew they would crack against the cold.
We knew they would crack against the cold,
but we left them on the white bench anyway.
Terra cotta pots we angled away from the shade
tree in summer. Leafless branches now, we love
their scrawl against this grey always. These days
are waning, we know. There are things we
could have done to prepare for dark. The light
box in the basement, a mug of coffee, blueberries,
exercise, sex. Instead we take up the shards and crawl
inside each other’s dazed and anxious radiance.
Inside each other’s dazed and anxious radiance,
nothing rings or beckons. Dull, comforting expanse,
the sound turned low, our eyes not straining to adjust.
We must try, we say, to move with intention into
if not through the workaday world. We wait too
long to dress ourselves, pour more coffee than a body
ought to have. We say, there will be other opportunities
to run errands, speak with neighbors, email friends
we miss. It’s been months since we ventured anywhere
and we resent the brightest days the most.
We resent the brightest days the most because
they make us feel like terrible people. We lie
in bed lit by rectangular glow and listen to cars
on the highway. Not many yet because it’s early
and this is a holiday week. We click and scroll past
other people’s Christmas pictures, grim headlines
about children who keep dying by gunfire. We hide
our bodies close but under separate covers. Sometimes
the train wakes us earlier still. The long, low pitch of
the whistle tells us we’ve failed the world.
The whistle tells us we’ve failed, the world
prefers us dull and overwrought. Spent. We’re so good
at this. We used to call it survival, up every three
hours all night long to soothe, change, pace and feed.
A blank rhythm would take us so that we could both
forget we had bodies and also be nothing more
than skin and need. We probably imagined we’d grow
sturdier, more capable in these motions. We’d move
through the long hours with purpose or something like resolve.
Maybe we’d even dance a little as the sun broke through.
As the sun broke through, we considered our options:
root ourselves to broken floorboards, clean out storage
rooms, shop for seafood, maybe dance a little, stay in bed.
More to the point: what’s wrong with us? Why can’t we
just get right up and start moving like people do? But it’s
nice, too, to feel closed up, shut in. There’s no snow
but there should be. Why don’t we imagine that—
dense drifts blocking the back steps, ice heaves cracking
asphalt all the way down our street. What choice do we have?
It’s dangerous out there. We can’t leave the house.
We can’t leave the house without feeling dangerous
and bold. Watch us drag ourselves through grocery
aisles. Seltzer and clementines to slake, whole-bodied
fish squinting into feckless fluorescence. Here, we flirt
with commerce and connection: spend more than we earn,
practice chit chat, hold eye contact with cashiers ten seconds
longer than feels easy for anyone. Watch us strut
from parking lot to trunk. We load the bags haphazardly.
Bread and eggs on the bottom, milk, heavy, on top. We like
to play the profligate. We know what’s good for us.
We know what’s good for us though we don’t always
like it. Plink pills into porcelain and set them
next to breakfast. They spin in the dish as we consider
what we’d be without their buffer. One, two, we
swallow with water or spit, and we do not dither
or choke. Not while the kids are up and the old
cats nap against radiator heat, not while frayed prayer
flags flap above cracked concrete and green things
ache toward ice-glazed glass. Soon we’ll splinter like sun
in the kitchen windows: mythic, scattered and undone.