everything I miss / is a monument / I cannot see through
It is midterms and finals week at the school I taught at this past fall. Semester over. New block classes beginning in February, a strange freshness in an otherwise stagnant, gray month. My e-mail account is still active, and notifications flash on my phone.
Testing Schedule, Review ASAP
Working from home today
The e-mails from admin aren’t the ones that interest me. It’s the automated ones from students that snag, submissions for their online assignments, ones I assigned months prior. An essay on “All the Gang Bangers Forgot About the Drive-by” by Hanif Abdurraqib. The Othello literary analysis. Socratic seminar questions.
It takes all the meager self-control I possess not to click on them and read their work.
E-mail me with any questions, anything at all, I told my special ed co-teacher and my replacement teacher before I left. I think I left everything in good shape. They waved my concern off. We’ll figure it out; it’s not your problem anymore.
It’s not your problem anymore.
It’s not that I want it to be my problem, not exactly, but I don’t care about the clean hand off. There’s a part of me that wants them to ask: Can you explain how you left the gradebook? What did you mean when you handed out this assignment? Just checking in to tell you how the semester ended. Sometimes I think we just want to be needed.
I don’t open the essays. I am too scared I will leave some sort of digital trace.
And besides, I’m trying to be better about moving on.
i will tell you that true wealth is the ability to embrace forgetting.
memory is as fleeting as any other high
A fight broke out in the grocery store at eight in the morning the other day. I was there to buy last-minute sunscreen for my canyon hike when I heard, All available security to self-checkout over the PA system. Never a good sign.
When I got there the guy was already on the ground, a smear of blood on the tile and his drink a brown puddle around him. He was still for a concerningly long time, but he eventually stirred and heaved himself off the ground. His tirade wasn’t over. He threw two weak punches at the general manager’s face while yelling about unfairness and accosting other staff members. He was about to throw a punch again when a customer came up behind him, pulled him into a headlock, and tossed him to the ground.
And just like that, he became a baby. Everyone filming stepped closer.
Don’t hurt me. I had surgery. I have a hernia, he mewled while the tattooed man kept a knee on his back. My shoulders hurt, he begged. Be careful. It hurts.
And then he said it:
I can’t breathe.
He was white. This middle-aged, presumably drunk man who started a fight in Albertson’s at eight in the morning to the left of the Starbucks kiosk who was now on the floor for the second time in five minutes with minor blunt force trauma and his blood on the linoleum.
I thought of Eric Garner in New York who died saying those exact same words. And I thought of how those words became co-opted by the right, how they made jokes and ridiculed using the phrase of a dead man, how videos would surface of people laughing and joking about it, a dead man dying on the sidewalk in New York, and here is this white man being put in cuffs now that the officers have arrived, and sometimes life feels like a film reel only someone spliced it with scenes from another movie and you see another reality in the space of a blink, is that real, is that life, and you realize the plot only works because someone engineered it this way, that the universe is only random when society is removed, and that depending on who the person is lying on the floor, we might already know the ending.
the walls opened up bullet holes
like the small mouths of boys
trying to sing along to hymns
Nostalgia has long, sticky hands.
My staff were making plans on Friday afternoon—a bonfire that evening, surfing on Sunday—and it was a strange, knotty feeling that none of that involved me. I didn’t want it to, not really, but it was a sudden reminder of all the things that were no longer mine, places & moments & people cemented firmly in the past. Life moves forward, whether you want it to or not.
stubbornly in love
with the idea of staying.
The eight-in-the-morning Albertson’s fight made me think of the school I’d left behind, the fights that broke out like tornadoes.
There was a nation-wide school shooting threat on one of my last days there. Another teacher and I sat in a darkened room during an off-period to grade and last-minute lesson plan, and we chatted about the atmospheric threat. I was listening to Barb talk about it, he told me, and what she said made total sense. I’d never really thought about it like this, but there’s no Black school shooters, you know? And she was saying how when students like ours get upset, they take it out one-on-one. They target that person and just punch them in the face. But when it’s a white guy, he feels like all of society has wronged him, like everyone needs to be punished because he didn’t get what he thought he deserved.
but then how
do you explain
the way the space in between
bodies in a shared
bed can feel like an entire
There’s a long, cone-shaped plant that grows around here, something I used to know the name of. In my head, I call it green gentian, even though I know it’s wrong. Wrong name. Wrong place. Wrong time. But wasn’t it just yesterday I was learning my Rocky Mountain wildflowers? Wasn’t it last season when I would try to get a picture of penstemon in perfect lighting and imagine how columbines looked like tiny baby squid?
A man paused on our hike today. Do you know what this is? He asked me as our group walked ahead. Looks like yarrow, I said, thinking of Colorado and the yarrow plants I identified for the first time on our staff camping trip, how Nika said it was her favorite. You’re right. Good job.
I didn’t know yarrow grew out here. Maybe I never knew.
I imagine in a field somewhere all the parts of myself I left behind
writhing themselves back together
On my way out of the canyon yesterday, after the eight am Albertson’s fight, after my staff had a bonfire with only each other, after I woke up with a blank canvas day ahead of me—no retail gig to work, no papers to grade—I found my first bay tree since being back. I walked out of the canyon with my right hand smelling of bay and my left of sage, and I sat for half an hour under a sprawling coast live oak and watched cows roam the hills while mountain bikers raced by below them, and the other day I watched monarchs rest in the lemon tree near my porch, and the laser was broken so I couldn’t show my staff Taurus high in the sky during astronomy, but I found it for myself and maybe that’s all that matters.
i’m kind of a hive with no begging & hollow cavities.
Hi Ms. Kaiser…
the email lands in my inbox.
I open it.
Sections in italics are taken from the poetry collection “A Fortune for Your Disaster” by Hanif Abdurraqib.