Friday, August 7, 2009

Ich war endlich an zu weinen. Es fühlte sich gut. Es fühlte sich nach rechts. Aber ich bin auch froh, dass ich gestoppt

Long Distance by Aleda Shirley

I found this book of poetry, Long Distance, by Aleda Shirley, over 12 years ago on the campus of Miami University. I was doing something I was not supposed to be doing - shopping the books required of other creative writing classes, classes for which I was not registered, and buying them. Not too many, just a couple. And I'm so glad I did, because I would have never discovered this poet had I not.

More importantly, I found that which I still consider to be my favorite poem. And over the last 12 years ago, this poem, along with my second favorite which is also in this book, have evolved in meaning for me. For every different journey in my life, including those in which I traveled abroad to escape (not a recommended practice just in case you're considering it...), traveled to strange towns and cities, met people in those "in-between" places that would change my life forever, this book of poems has followed me. Literally. For most of the year I lived in Wooster, this book was always with me, in my writing bag which was always with me.

I mention Wooster because when I read this poetry today, I don't think so much of the Arizona man I left behind me in Oxford, OH or his random reoccurances in my life up until he married the girl from Poland, and even years after that, running into him once again in Oxford, an encounter that left scars that I can still feel freshly today, two years later.

Or of the deaths of those I've loved so much, Julie especially dying at the age of 19 - that which still brings me to tears every March since. Or Eric, who had the unfortunate reassignment to New York City's Twin Towers at the exact wrong moment in time - that which has me in tears right now.

Or of the other random heartbreaks.

Or even of the other heartbreak - the one that will remain in my life forever. You know, the kind where you love that person so much, especially the friendship you have shared with that person, that regardless of the pain you do feel, sometimes more sharply than other times, to not be his friend would hurt worse...

No, just life in general and all the things you learn about yourself, from your past, the past your family finally chooses to share with you - the kind that nearly tears you to pieces and nearly leaves you incapable of functioning completely for many days on end... until you must do something to forget about it just to continue breathing, even though it hurts so much to breath - that tightness in your chest.

Whether we talk about these things or not, to friends or family - and most likely we don't say much when we do, they still exist in our heads, in all our bodies. And the choice we have, though definitely not simple or easy, is not just to live or not live, but is whether or not we will continue to love or not love.

And Wooster continues to remind me I wouldn't be here today if not for Wooster.

Long Distance
Aleda Shirley

A man in California says he understands me,
and i don't object. Only the faithful believe
in edges, as if a clear boundary between something

and something else were proof of God. Lately
I've sensed a tidal movement in the past
as it moves into the present and out again,

and in the dead shimmering from death into dreams
and standing like thin silver trees at the foot of the bed.
I take solace in a thing that is absolutely itself

or itself no long. And what's the difference
between those presences who come in the middle
of the night and the man who asked me to sail

down the waterways that thread the Atlantic coast,
the east side of the country where the sea releases
the sun in the morning? The boat was made of wood:

it shone. Or the woman who could bend and open
light, suspend it in the palm of her hand like water
in the deep bowl of a wineglass. I'm talking

about the night of the night, a length darker
and deeper when night is most itself; even the watchman
in the warehouse dozes for a while then jerks

himself awake at the sound of a car horn,
the sharp edge of a motion sensor in the parking lot.
A cleark at a convenience store makes change,

gives a ten back when she means to give back
a five. In California my friend is awake
and not becuase it's earlier there. We talked

for hours one night; I described the waterways
as the trees changed from latitude to latitude,
the estuaries and finger lakes,

the birds moving north as we sailed south.
Of course I was talking about something that never
happened, which is a way of saying no all over again.

Are you happy is one of those questions people
ask each other only when they've been apart
a long time. Later, when I looked east, I was looking

for two things, two things at least. One was morning.
I asked him to tell me how to give up.
Tell me how you do it, I said, and then go on.