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He’s back, almost two years later. Everyone is unsure how to feel. Happy, at first. Excited for some amount of joy, eager to soak any of his sunshine in during the dark times. Confused, unsure, hesitant, guilty.

Was he guilty? If she thinks so, does it matter? What matters? Does he still matter to us? Are his words still important? Can a man be separate from his work? Am I?

He painted in rainbows, in sunshine, in colors so bright they might still blind us from our harsh realities.

It’s been more than a decade, more than a moment, more than that night we sat together in the same room and thought about the same things. But he was with other people in other rooms, too.

We move on.

There are seedlings growing in the sunshine on my balcony. Sunshine itself is sadly not enough for you and I to grow. Apart or together.

They abuse the colors of the rainbow to make money, to spread fear and misinformation, to tell truths we may or may not need to hear. There is very little silence. Here, too.

Writing is speaking. Speaking is wind rushing out of your lungs, through your vocal cords, over your teeth – back into the air. Release it all.

There is very little space, now. Too many people stuffed in too many homes. Don’t spread anything. Keep quiet. Share nothing. Don’t move. Stay still.

Yes, you’re all special. Loud and terrible beings. Your mother is the worst, your dog is the cutest, your life is the most important. Here, too.

It is warmest in the sunshine next to the window. From there you can look out onto the street, watch the people riding their bikes, buying fresh bread, holding hands.

It’s always been very distant. There’s never been a goal. I’ve never been part of it.

He’s back, feeling not too bad about any of it. He tells us he’s learned a lot about himself. Is that possible? Do we care?

Everyone is very tired. They nap in the sunshine, in the quietness, next to the colors of life.

The old man walking down the road calls to his little dog: Come, come here.

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I am a fucking child of snow.

I flew into Detroit the day before Christmas eve and saw the blanket of white covering our bit of Earth. Veins of streets that had already been plowed and salted and driven over fearlessly. Strong winter people.

I had a window seat and as we landed I watched the world tilt and wrote poems in my head about the lines and the white and the snowy trees; “Thin but sturdy mother fuckers who hold their weight in frost every year.”

No wonder we are better at living our lives than those sunny Californians. Not living through seasons seems like the equivalent of being an only child.

I would like to tell him to stop listening to the songs I sent him. I would like to tell him to forget me. I would like to pretend none of it ever happened. Cover it with snow and let it melt away in the sun a few weeks from now.

I am a strong person. And weak. I am a snow-covered tree.

Seasons are reliable. Unreliable weather is reliable. My memory is bad. My sight is getting worse. I am old and still have no idea where I’m going and it’s getting harder to see.

I love you but it is cold and California is far away.

He is slightly wilting.

I am walking down the hall and it is bright and there are students. They are clean and carry many, many bottles of water. I have been here before, but not for a long time. I look out across the city, it is the same but some things have changed while I was not there.

He is wilting slightly. He was different before, when I used to look at him. He was sunny. But he hides away from the sun, and now I see it. I cannot see him; I know nothing. All I know is that this room was not in this building before, they built up the walls and made a new space for all of the shiny, growing students.

There are pictures of me here. Proof that I existed in this space. My footsteps fell on these same stairs I climb with the same lack of breath. They are still celebrating their existence here, still living, still crossing the streets.

I do not know him. The picture of him is slightly wilting. I should not be so quick to judge anyone. Especially someone I love. The girl holds the door open for me and I smile at her for something she always does. I am a foreigner with people now. I am relearning how to be with them.

I am waiting here. How many hours have I spent in this building, in this city? Too many. Too many still. I am waiting, and still waiting even when I leave.

He was good because he was what I was. I must be changing, growing, crossing these streets. He is different to me, but the same to himself. Maybe, I don’t know. I don’t know him anymore than the girl who held the door for me.

It is cold here, early Spring. Yesterday’s snow is clumped on the ground. They say the buds on the trees might die because of it, who knows. It usually happens. They might or they might not. He might or he might not. I might or I might not.

I’m sitting on the upstairs staircase looking out the window and I’m crying. I’m watching leaves blow past, tumbling, and I can see them, picture them in every moment they’ve ever blown across that patch of land. I’m thinking about the decades of years, the piles of blowing leaves. I’m listening to my dad and my uncle, who are downstairs talking about Christmases of the 1960s. They’re talking about my grandparents, and the piles of presents under the beautiful pine trees. I’m watching the leaves blow and listening.

 “Wasn’t that something? Creeping downstairs, hoping that Santa’d come, wondering if we’d been good enough for presents that year? And there would be presents every year, Mom would make sure of that. Do you remember the piles of presents, stacked up around the tree? Man!”

You sit down on the stairs because you feel like you have to and you watch the leaves blow out the window even though you’ve never done that before and you cry and you don’t know why. It’s everything. The past and the present and the repetition and the memories. The old black and white television shows that your dad watches and he says, “When I was young, T.V. was good and music was music!” And he pats you on the shoulder and it makes you feel sad.

And your great-aunt, your grandpa’s sister, she shows you the wedding photo of your great-grandfather, at the funeral of her sister. You are surrounded by family and you talk about death and memories and everyone cries together and she hugs you tighter than she ever has. You listen to distant relatives all talk about this person that they’ve loved all their lives. And they are a stranger to you, all of them. You listen like it’s another story from some other place, some other family.

All of this is swirling like old leaves in your head. The same problems repeating in your life like another Christmas on the calendar. You wonder what it would be like if your grandma was alive, if you had known her. You wonder if you would be brave, if she would’ve helped you to be. You wonder what all of your past Christmases would’ve been like, if you would know the names of those second cousins, if you would still be sitting, crying on the staircase.

The leaves keep blowing and it doesn’t matter. People have died, leaves have crumbled and grown and fallen again and again. Children have awoken on Christmas morning with the feeling of magic, have grown up and become Santa Claus, have felt scared and weak, have cried at funerals and lost loved ones or once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Grand memories have faded from old minds like dying once-fresh-cut pine trees. People have watched squirrels climb trees and leaves blow across their lawns. Year after year.

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1. Stop calling yourself an “unknown poet”, EVERYONE is an unknown poet!

2. Things you are not allowed to say: “I miss you”, “I had a dream about you”, “I think your baby is actually quite ugly”.

3. We’re all scared. That shouldn’t stop you.

4. Some girls speak poetry as their first language and don’t know how to stop. They wear dark eye makeup and thrift store sweaters and listen to music they choose to like. They take pictures day after day from the exact same angle of the exact same face until they’re convinced that they’re beautiful. Sometimes they all look the same.

5. It’s never going to be simple.

6. Horrible things just keep happening in the world, don’t they? And it seems so terrible and evil and sad. And it is. And then you talk to your friend or meet a nice lady at the grocery store who tells you about her daughter or someone does something nice for someone else. And at least there’s a balance of terrible and wonderful.

7. I’m currently growing daisies in a tiny pot in my room under my desk lamp. It’s a tiny rebellion against winter. Or something. Maybe it’s just tiny daisy plants.

8. You should read Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. It’s a really simple and beautiful book.

9. Tell them, just tell them! UGH!

10. “When I save up lots of money, I just buy piggy banks.” – small girl with, apparently, lots of money, and, most likely, lots of piggy banks.

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Think about how many places you and your boots have traveled to (and from) together this winter.

Think about how many cold breezes your coat and hat and scarf and gloves protected you from.

Think about how many times you were kissed while you wore your favorite sweater.

Think about how many times you laughed in your long thick socks.

Yes, winter comes and goes. Yes, sometimes it seems like all we need is a change of seasons.

But just think, next time you stamp the snow from your boots, about how many different places that water has been.

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Someone take a photo of that window and send it to me. Be sure to get the frame in frame, the one I swiped my hand over and picked the peeling paint from. That’s the most important part. Of course, I can still see it in my mind, the shaded glass I poked my head around in an attempt to see the sky, to see only roof instead. Was it raining? Did it snow? I don’t know, I couldn’t see.

“Chad”, I say, apropos of nothing, informing my mother of a country in Africa, standing in the middle of her kitchen under a skylight. “Is that the name of my future son-in-law?” She asks. No. Probably not. I can see the blue of the sky from there; perhaps the same color as his eyes. Probably not. I’m sure they are brown. They always are.

The pictures they put on the cover of magazines and in travel guides are so ultra-contrasted and over-colored. I’ve never understood why that’s necessary. I’ve seen some of those places with my own eyes, and the blues aren’t that color, the cobblestones not so gray. Those pictures look like nostalgia feels. Is that the point? Only $6.99, and less if you sign up for a whole year – that’s 12 issues, and 50% off the cover price.

Once I met a boy named Chad in Las Vegas. He was a waiter with a complicated story. I recently deleted his number from my phone. I don’t think he had blue eyes. They never do.

The most beautiful things can’t be photographed; can barely be seen at all. The silence of all of us sitting there, next to the lake, sitting silently together in a ring of padded patio furniture. Later, all of us, none of us with blue eyes, but all of us beautiful, a woozy slumber party of supposed-to-be-adults. The late summer sun rising the next morning, us rising, rushing, back to somewhere. All of it beautiful, and it still is.

Winter, a few seasons later, almost Spring, and the skylight in my mother’s kitchen is dripping, dripping, dropping once-snow water onto the floor. I pull a pan from a cupboard, and it’s grey and scratched, a bit rusty on the bottom. I set it on the floor, also grey and scratched, a bit wet. There are pinging sounds as the drops hit the empty metal container, a rhythm of indoor rain. I look up, and the sky is a kind of blue-grey, a darkening, changing color as the sun slowly sets.

I remember Chad talking about his step-father, and saying that he’d moved out of his mother’s house and left to find a job in Las Vegas. He ended up as a waiter at a steakhouse. I don’t think that was his dream career move, but it had happened, and it paid his bills, for the most part. If he put on his waiter-face properly and acted like he cared enough, he got pretty good tips. It was Las Vegas, after all. People went there to drink and lose a pre-determined amount of money that usually slightly increased once they’d lost it faster than they had expected and still had three days left of vacation. They knew the price of steak was slightly higher there, so a slightly higher tip was also in order. Sometimes it was even included in the cost of their all-inclusive vacation package.

The pictures of the Las Vegas strip in travel guides are surprisingly accurate. The neon lights, the casinos that are also hotels, the hotels that are also casinos. That’s the face of it, the story, the main plot line.  It’s an easier story to tell than most places: an over-colored, over-built, long strip of road. It has an easy cover photo, unlike “Winter” or “last Summer” or “Spring in my mother’s kitchen”. It is a place, a snapshot, a photograph that exists and is easily defined, not like Chad from Africa or Chad from the steakhouse.

The sound the water droplets made changed as the pan filled, from a steely ringing to an almost-noiseless splash. The rhythm changed, too, slowing, like the roof was running out of water. When it finally stopped, I emptied the pan in the sink, watching the grayish water swirl down the drain, leaving tiny white bits of plaster or drywall behind. The skylights were dark now, almost black, and I could see myself in the reflection, looking up and back down at the same time.

I pressed a fingertip to the condensation-covered window, watched as a droplet formed and fell, sliding down the glass, gathering more water as it went, leaving a streak of clarity in its path. And that’s typically what happens, isn’t it? Like salt water traveling on skin — it must happen to you, too — losing something, even that small, leaves you with something else.

I hadn’t heard from him in a few days. Didn’t know if he was alive or dead. That was me being dramatic, but it was also true. Somewhere out there between here and there was a postcard, full of cramped writing, the few sentences I could write when I wanted to say so much more. I was sitting there by the window thinking about that little card, flying somewhere over the ocean — or maybe it was on a boat, I don’t know, I didn’t know, what do I know about the global postal system? — It’s amazing how much we don’t know.

A few days later the “January Meltdown” stopped and the water turned back into ice and it snowed again, covering the tracks in my front yard almost entirely, leaving only tiny impressions in the snowy expanse. And that’s typically what happens, isn’t it, memories almost completely wiped away by some deciding neurons in our brains that don’t ask us permission. And now I can barely remember her sitting across the table from me, and I have no idea what we talked about for so long so long ago. It’s amazing how much we can’t remember. Time doesn’t go by quickly, we forget it.

I’ve been listening to this one song a lot lately. It has this clicking sound in it, made by those wooden instruments, Google says that they’re called claves. That sound reminds me of you, reminds me of other songs we listened to together. I almost sent you the link, almost told you to listen, hey, listen, you might like this song, but I didn’t. I would have, four months ago, two months ago. Too much time has passed between us now. Too many changes of the seasons, too many new days, too many memories wiped away, filled in with something else.

Now we’re all different people who can’t remember what it was like before — it must happen to you, too. And it doesn’t matter that we all don’t have to wait day by day for a tiny postcard, doesn’t matter that we’re all at each others fingertips. There is still a silence, and it grows, time freezes it over like the water on my window.

I see two women walking together on the side of the road as I drive past, and I wonder if the woman waving her hands is talking and talking and talking too much, and if the other woman is regretting inviting her friend to exercise with her on this chilly late summer afternoon, since that’s what she really wanted to do, exercise, not walk slower than she normally would and listen to all of her friend’s  updated life struggles. “My cat just won’t stop staring out the window,” I imagine her saying, waving her arms as she walks, pretending that she wants to exercise, too.

And now the women are in my rearview mirror, I can look back and see them, and see the leaves turning orange or brown on the trees they walk under.

People are already complaining about the cold, about how it’s almost fall and the weather is colder than it was a month ago, and I think about how this always happens, every year, everything. Hot in the summer, cool in the fall, cold in the winter, with snow, and the same fetching of the dusty snow shovel from the basement.

I look in my rearview mirror at the beautiful orange leaves and I think about how I’ve seen this all before, seen those women before, or women like them, had those same experiences, talked about that same cat, seen those same leaves change from green to orange to brown, raked them into piles and jumped in them, or left the piles to rot. Again and again, year after year.

“It’s so cold!” she says, another faceless woman in my mind, pulling on the sweater she hasn’t worn in nine months.

Winter will come. Snow will fall. Salt trucks will melt it away, or try, or make ice patches that are worse than the snow was.

Again, again, of course. And of course the people will go on, dealing with seeing their breath in the air on cold winter mornings, plowing through snow drifts and piles of paperwork and gallons of hot coffee. What else can they do?

Three years ago, back in the autumn of 2010, I had an English class at my University, where all we did was read poetry and examine poetry and talk about poetry, etc. It was sort of an introductory English class, with simple goals for its students: learn how English works; learn all the little rules of grammar; learn how to read and think about writing – stuff like that. I’d had a few English classes before it, and I’ve had many since, so not much that I learned in that class has stuck with me – I made a few friends, have a few good memories, and, I’m sure, was sent away with a greater appreciation for poetry. One thing, though, from that class, has always stuck with me. Or, rather, has refused to stick with me. A poem.

I remember this poem vaguely. I remember that it was about a woman driving her car along an expressway during a traffic jam; that she noticed a flock of birds flying through the sky – I remember it was simple and beautiful and that even as a newly enrolled English Major, way back when in 2010, it spoke to me.

I’ve been searching for and wondering about this poem for a long time. Over time, I forgot who wrote it. I forgot the title. The only things I could remember were the birds and the traffic jam and that I loved it.

Now, fast-forward to 2013. I’m about to graduate college – I’m finishing up one last semester – and that poem still finds its way into my mind from time to time. Today, going through some of my files on a computer at school, I came across an old paper I typed up three years ago in that English class where we talked about poetry.

The file was called “Poetry Journal”, and I opened it only with mild curiosity, not yet realizing what I might find within it. Inside, a list of titles to several poems, with my thoughts of them underneath. I scrolled down the page, skimming with uninterested eyes. Then, I found it. My poem. The title, anyway. And the author. With a quick, excited trip to Google, I quickly found the words I had been searching for. I read it again, and I still loved it. My eyes followed along with the lines of the poem as if I had never lost it – perhaps I have dreamt about this poem many times.

It seems funny to me that the file containing the title to this poem has been around all this time, and I’ve just now found it. Maybe because I’m feeling nostalgic – I’m wondering about the person I was three years ago, when I still had so many moments to experience, so many new things to learn, so many more people to meet. Three years from now, I’ll be long gone from the University I’ve called home for so long now – and maybe I’ll find this poem again and think back to this moment.

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