Thank you, Robin Williams, for everything.

"The lovelorn, the cry-for-helpers, all mawkish tragedians who give suicide a bad name are the idiots who rush it, like amateur conductors. A true suicide is a paced, disciplined certainty. People pontificate, ‘Suicide is selfishness.’ Career churchmen go a step further and call it a cowardly assault on the living. Oafs argue this specious line for varying reasons: to evade fingers of blame, to impress one’s audience with one’s mental fiber, to vent anger, or just because one lacks the necessary suffering to sympathize. Cowardice is nothing to do with it—suicide takes considerable courage. Japanese have the right idea. No, what’s selfish is to demand another to endure an intolerable existence, just to spare families, friends, and enemies a bit of soul-searching. The only selfishness lies in ruining strangers’ days by forcing ‘em to witness a grotesqueness." —from Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell

If a painting really works down in your heart and changes the way you see, and think, and feel, you don’t think, ‘oh, I love this picture because it’s universal.’ ‘I love this painting because it speaks to all mankind.’ That’s not the reason anyone loves a piece of art. It’s a secret whisper from an alleyway. ‘Psst, you. Hey kid. Yes you.

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

After Twelve Days of Rain


I couldn’t name it, the sweet
sadness welling up in me for weeks.
So I cleaned, found myself standing
in a room with a rag in my hand,
the birds calling time-to-go, time-to-go.
And like an old woman near the end
of her life I could hear it, the voice
of a man I never loved who pressed
my breasts to his hips and whispered
“My little doves, my white, white lilies.”
I could almost cry when I remember it.

I don’t remember when I began
to call everyone “sweetie,”
as if they were my daughters,
my darlings, my little birds.
I have always loved too much,
or not enough. Last night
I read a poem about God and almost
believed it—God sipping coffee,
smoking cherry tobacco. I’ve arrived
at a time in my life when I could believe
almost anything.

Today, pumping gas into my old car, I stood
hatless in the rain and the whole world
went silent—cars on the wet street
sliding past without sound, the attendant’s
mouth opening and closing on air
as he walked from pump to pump, his footsteps
erased in the rain—nothing
but the tiny numbers in their square windows
rolling by my shoulder, the unstoppable seconds
gliding by as I stood at the Chevron,
balancing evenly on my two feet, a gas nozzle
gripped in my hand, my hair gathering rain.

And I saw it didn’t matter
who had loved me or who I loved. I was alone.
The black oily asphalt, the slick beauty
of the Iranian attendant, the thickening
clouds—nothing was mine. And I understood
finally, after a semester of philosophy,
a thousand books of poetry, after death
and childbirth and the startled cries of men
who called out my name as they entered me,
I finally believed I was alone, felt it
in my actual, visceral heart, heard it echo
like a thin bell. And the sounds
came back, the slish of tires
and footsteps, all the delicate cargo
they carried saying thank you
and yes. So I paid and climbed into my car
as if nothing had happened—
as if everything mattered — What else could I do?

I drove to the grocery store
and bought wheat bread and milk,
a candy bar wrapped in gold foil,
smiled at the teenaged cashier
with the pimpled face and the plastic
name plate pinned above her small breast,
and knew her secret, her sweet fear—
Little bird. Little darling. She handed me
my change, my brown bag, a torn receipt,
pushed the cash drawer in with her hip
and smiled back.

—Dorianne Laux

When I am frustrated with poetry, or lost and unsure of how to feel, or heartbroken even, I turn to poets that I already know and love. Last week, I read Dorianne Laux’s collection, What We Carry (BOA Editions, 1994), for some guidance—even if I didn’t know what I was seeking.

It’s hard to describe the muted autopilot I’ve been on lately, the way I’ve spent my days packing up boxes and boxes of books (47 or 48 so far), going to the gym in order to prepare my body for the sacrifice of moving, going through the mundane motions I’ve been through so many times before: choosing an internet provider, rerouting my subscriptions, setting up university accounts. When I move this weekend/next week, I will have lived in four cities and states in two and a half years. In total, I will have lived in Kentucky, Missouri, France, Georgia, Chicago, and Louisiana. And every time I move, even when my mom and a best friend or two helps, I move alone.

This poem knocked me out of autopilot. Whether I have been feeling “the sweet / sadness welling up in me for weeks” or not (or nothing), I am reminded what it feels to be alone. Especially the two lines at the beginning of the fourth stanza—“And I saw it didn’t matter / who had loved me or who I loved. I was alone.” Look at that line break. The words “it didn’t matter” are set off, separated from love. The second line ends with the word “alone.”

I am alone.

This poem reminds me that when I am done packing and driving 850 miles to Louisiana, when my mom and my best friend leave, when I am left alone with my boxes and my two cats in a new town where I barely know anyone, I will feel it again: “I finally believed I was alone, felt it / in my actual, visceral heart, heard it echo / like a thin bell.” I am excited about moving, but I am alone. And I wish I could say I’m scared of this lonely feeling again, but it is almost comforting in its pervasiveness. I’d rather feel alone than numb, and I do now.


Summer to Fall


The cool & rattly can
of spray paint felt
human in my hands as
it spit neon green
on my high
school’s brick wall. The mural
was wide, like Buddha’s belly.
We’d even brought
a ladder, for height.
The wall told me
not to look
for answers. All answers

are platitudes. The
only urgent work is in
the question,
the questing. But
when the
cops came and
chased our
scattering gang
to the edges
of the wet night,
I still thought
I needed answers.
Hiding in the
Russian sage

bush seemed like a start
to me, until three police
cruisers hemmed me
in. Maybe it was the forty five
crouched minutes I spent
boiling there under the stars
& moon & sirens, red & white &
blue, and all the books
I hadn’t yet read, and the way
college was looming and I was afraid, but

I assessed my life
and decided yes,
there are degrees
to which one can feel
alive and yes,
this is the most alive
you’ve ever felt,
way back when
every star seemed
like a tiny fist,
and the sky was

in an uproar
as I hauled up
the ladder’s wooden
weight and ran,
slicing the
street with it,
then down through
damp backyards,
then down through
the woods and down