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No Children Were Harmed in the Writing of this Poem

When a small child you have never met
picks up her foot to step off a curb
and into rush-hour traffic
approximately thirty feet from where you are sitting,
right now,
idly drinking your iced coffee
and letting the pattern of the metal patio chair beneath you
imprint itself onto your thighs,
and you look up from your newspaper just in time
to see the sole of that one tiny shoe leave the earth,

you will work so hard.

You will topple your chair without hearing it clatter to the ground,
you will pump your knees,
and you will see only one thing in this world.

All of you will move in the same direction at once,
more quickly and more slowly than ever in your life,
all of you on fire,
none of you caring whether you put on makeup today
or whether you dropped your ATM card down the storm drain this morning
or whether anyone loves you.

There is no effort,
no slap of your feet against the concrete,
no twang in your hamstrings,
no thump in your chest;
nothing of that you can exist where you are.

You have dropped every mask and cloak and box
you have ever hidden or trapped yourself in;
all have burned away as you launched yourself
toward this one thing,
forever toward it,
this one and only thing you can remember ever wanting.

You could sprint right out of your clothes
and you wouldn’t care, not a bit;
you are, in just this one moment, free
of almost everything you have ever learned
or worried about
or been led to believe.

Not just the petty problems, but bigger problems, too,
are gone from you.
Hunger, poverty, war, torture:
you have heard of none of them.
You have rendered them nonexistent
with a power that you had not been able to find
until just now,
when a child picked up her foot to step off a curb.

Out of concern for the potentially dead child,
whom I assure you I have completely made up,
you may not yet have noticed that what I am describing
is not only remarkably easy,
but also wonderful.

So perhaps instead I should tell you,
even if it is a far less illuminating example,
that a baseball is falling from the sky
toward your spot in the bleachers,
and you are rising up to meet it.
You are not breathing with the lungs you don’t have,
and you are unfurling a pair of legs that your mind has disowned,
and you have forgotten how much you weigh,
much less that bayonet of a remark
that your own mother ran through you
just ten minutes prior, when you ordered nachos.

The ball is dropping,
and you are reaching,
and this will never be over,
nor should it ever be over,

because the slap of that ball in your hand is not the climax
but the resolution begun,
at which point the world and its mess
will spring up around you once more,

unwieldy and bittersweet all over again.

The key to peace, I have decided
is not praying,
or thinking,
or sitting still,
or humming,
or chanting,
or lighting candles.

The key to satisfaction, I have discovered
is not a new kitchen countertop
or a new pair of shoes
or a faster car
or–dare I say it?
any given cellular phone.

It is to find within yourself a desire so intense
that it drowns you out and washes you clean,
and yet so simple
that even if you fulfill it,
the result will be nothing more costly
than the back of a child’s shirt clutched in your fist
or a dusty baseball in your hand.

I only know this because

(despite the nonexistence of a potentially dead child,
who, again, I assure you I have completely made up)

all of me is moving in the same direction at once,
more quickly and more slowly than ever in my life,
all of me on fire,
none of me caring whether I put on makeup today
or whether I dropped my ATM card down the storm drain this morning
or whether anyone loves me.

14 Comments

  1. Avitable wrote:

    I love this. And I’m sorry that you dropped your ATM card down the storm drain.

    Saturday, August 14, 2010 at 7:06 am | Permalink
  2. Erin wrote:

    What an awesome poem. I really love it!

    Saturday, August 14, 2010 at 8:39 am | Permalink
  3. I love the poem. Two days ago I saw a child run out of a shop towards traffic. I have never seen anybody move as fast as his father behind him.

    Saturday, August 14, 2010 at 11:15 am | Permalink
  4. Emma wrote:

    Very cool! You’re so right on.

    Saturday, August 14, 2010 at 11:54 am | Permalink
  5. I want that.

    Saturday, August 14, 2010 at 3:50 pm | Permalink
  6. Fan-freakin’-tastic. When you publish your book of poems I will buy the first copy.

    Saturday, August 14, 2010 at 7:03 pm | Permalink
  7. (Okay, your mom will probably buy the first one. But I’ll pre-order!)

    Saturday, August 14, 2010 at 7:05 pm | Permalink
  8. jeci wrote:

    I often think it’s understood that you know I love everything you write (and you), but I suppose this is the kind of redundancy we can embrace in the name of cherished friendship, non? So: I love everything you write, I love this poem, and I love you.

    Sunday, August 15, 2010 at 7:58 pm | Permalink
  9. Titanium wrote:

    This completely took my breath away. You’ve taken words and spun them into a kaleidoscope of emotion, traction and energy- describing a powerful, all-consuming desire that very few people will ever know (much less understand).

    Brilliant.

    Monday, August 16, 2010 at 4:53 pm | Permalink
  10. Jen wrote:

    Thanks, everybody!

    Becky/Steam Me Up Kid, I want it, too. I only have it sometimes, but when I do, it’s total fucking magic, and I am learning that it’s up to me to focus on the right things and ignore the rest in favor of going after that baseball. Hmm, perhaps I should add a “harder than it looks” category to the blog …

    Bethany, I write like a poem a decade, so you might be waiting a while. :) (Also, I’m not sure my mother is going to be very invested in my poetry career if I continue to imply that she calls me fat at baseball games.)

    Jeci, it’s going to be weird that this doesn’t merge into a heart and spin right side up: <3

    Monday, August 16, 2010 at 5:02 pm | Permalink
  11. Ellie wrote:

    I think I have a new blog crush.

    Wednesday, August 25, 2010 at 5:59 pm | Permalink
  12. Victoria wrote:

    oh.my.god.that is awesome!

    Saturday, September 4, 2010 at 5:02 am | Permalink
  13. Kerri Anne wrote:

    What Jeci said. Basically word for word.

    Thursday, September 9, 2010 at 10:35 am | Permalink
  14. Meaghan wrote:

    This is an amazing poem, and if you only write one poem a decade, that is really sad for the rest of us.

    Friday, September 24, 2010 at 8:07 am | Permalink