Ashley Wilda


Author: ashley (page 2 of 13)

a poem by e. e. cummings

a poem by e .e. cummings

your homecoming will be my homecoming–

my selves go with you,only i remain;
a shadow phantom effigy or seeming

(an almost someone always who’s noone)

a noone who,till their and your returning,
spends the forever of his loneliness
dreaming their eyes have opened to your morning

feeling their stars have risen through your skies:

so,in how merciful love’s own name,linger
no more than selfless i can quite endure
the absence of that moment when a stranger
takes in his arms my very life who’s your

–when all fears hopes beliefs doubts disappear.
Everywhere and joy’s perfect wholeness we’re


I have felt, lately, that I have no new words. I do not have new things to say. I have said it all already, even if I feel the desire to express the same feelings and thoughts over and over again. For when expression does not bring change, and does not bring some new revelation, then it starts to feel useless. Words do not feel as powerful as they once were. For words to be powerful again, they must bring life. And right now, I do not see the life I wanted my words to bring about. My journal sits unfilled. I started writing about my life first because it was new and wonderful and the emotions and experiences begged to be chronicled and understood and valued, and then later because everything was so hard and I felt so lost and alone.

I find myself returning again and again to the words C.S. Lewis wrote. “I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process. It needs not a map but a history, and if I don’t stop writing that history at some quite arbitrary point, there’s no reason why I should ever stop. There is something new to be chronicled every day. Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape. As I’ve already noted, not every bend does. Sometimes the surprise is the opposite one; you are presented with exactly the same sort of country you thought you had left behind miles ago. That is when you wonder whether the valley isn’t a circular trench. But it isn’t. There are partial recurrences, but the sequence doesn’t repeat.” If I wrote every day, there would be bright spots, but mainly sorrow. I cannot change that. But it feels pointless now to chronicle it, when I do not know when it will end. Perhaps I have done all the understanding that I can do. I am sure I will write about it again, when I am driven to, or when my thoughts produce something worth writing. I am a writer. I cannot help myself, when life reaches its heights and depths. I must record the words to keep from bursting.

For now, I will turn to the words of others. Books are my friends, I hide and find comfort in their worlds and people. They affirm me. They remind me of hope. And so, when words of a wiser writer reach my heart where it needed to be found or express  what I feel better than I, I will share them here. For after all, understanding is also a function of writing. And I, like everyone else in the world, long to be understood.

I Do

Do you ever wish there were

stress-o-meters for every person so that

when the level jumped into the yellow edging

toward red it would start

beeping so that everyone would know to just

back off?


Do you ever wish there were

better things to say than the flat, stupid

words ‘I’m okay’ which call for extra, evasive

explanation when pressed which cause

your bald friend in front of you to say ‘I’m

worried about you’ and you just force

a laugh, a playful

punch to his shoulder and say, ‘How

are you feeling?’ because he has

leukemia and what right have you to

feel depressed?


Do you ever wish there were

better solutions when you wake up and

just feel nothing but know that nothing really means

something means this awful ocean of

everything deep pressed down inside you

and you just

sit and stare at the woods of your backyard and feel

empty and pointless and realize that

you can feel like you don’t exist even when

you’re breathing thinking walking and that

sometimes feels the worst of all?


Do you ever wish there were

reasons you could reach out to the person

you love rather than freeze when that song

plays in the coffee shop and you get up and walk

out into the cold or make some silly

excuse to go to the bathroom once twice because you just

can’t handle the sound wave memories

of him and his closeness and everything

you used to have?


Do you ever wish there were

days you could go to sleep again after

waking up because you went to church and then

crawled back and bed although

it’s not socially acceptable to go back to bed after

having emerged and trying

to explain to your mother that it’s like

there’s this ocean of sadness and pain inside

your chest and soul and you’re just trying

to keep the lid on but when you open it just

a crack for release the whole darn thing tries

to escape?


Do you ever wish there were

lists of all the ‘rules’ that make your life just

a tad easier like

don’t listen to acoustic music

don’t remember anything at all

don’t talk about work or school

don’t ever say you’re not okay

don’t step foot on campus

don’t get too close

which are all so obvious and easy to remember but

there are always others, hidden IEDs that

blow up in your face because you didn’t

even know they were a rule and now

you’re crying and wishing

you could go back a few seconds or minutes or hours to

avoid them?


Do you ever wish there were

things that made you feel like you

used to feel without the anticipatory

fear of that momentary light being

snatched away

things better than the

awful crushing sensation of driving

back onto campus for the first time in

six months even though you knew you

knew it was a rule but you needed to

break it anyway and

the fake smile waving your friend goodbye at

drop off and driving

away to the river after and striding in

determined even though its

February and feeling the

shock when the icy cold closes

over your head and emerging to

look at the silvery blue-gray world and remembering how

this used to inspire laughter and alive but

those days are gone and

the people are just echoes in your heart and at least

now it still makes you feel

awake like

your eyes work again?


Do you ever wish there were

roadmaps to guide you to the correct journey, the one

that tells you what to say what to do

what you should have said should have done

what you shouldn’t have said shouldn’t have done

what is needed and what is true

that leads you back to the person

you love?

on this day of love

the more I know about love

the more I can only compare it to

natural things, forces of nature

unfathomable, constant

powerful, beyond us

the mountains, blue

curving one after the other


the flowing river, alive and beautiful

over mossy rock and through quiet forest

the tree, branching and green

rooted, reaching

rough and brown, alive

the pair of hawks, wheeling

feathered and fierce, borne on wind

wild and unstoppable

the more I know about love

the more I can only follow it to God

the more I know about love

the more I can only think about you


I’ve never seemed to care much about what people think. In fact, there are some who would say I think about others’ opinions too little. But actually, I often care too much.

I care so much about if other people accept me or not, whether they approve of me or not, that I try hard not to. But that doesn’t mean I’m secure in myself. Quite the opposite. And I think that’s the root of the problem—I find difficulty in accepting myself and not letting others’ opinion’s influence me. Just letting God’s thoughts define me.

But when life goes dark, you have to think about it.

Self-criticism can go a long way when used to push yourself to reach a material goal, or do better at work or in a sport. Analyzing your weaknesses and areas where other people seem better than you. But when it comes to emotions, matters of heart, I’m finding that kind of judgment can only ever be damaging.

I’m weak.

I’m worthless and lost.

No one thinks I’m beautiful or strong.

I’m stupid and cowardly for avoiding things that hurt.

I’m weird for not wanting things I should want. For wanting things I can’t have.

I’m wrong for not being able to be happy.

I’m crazy for avoiding things I used to love.

I hate the person I am.

When I’m feeling down, it is so crazy easy to think like this. In a way, it’s my mind’s attempt to get me to feel better, heal myself. But unlike physical problems, the “you’re so weak, try harder, be like everyone else, see what they think of you” motivation strategy doesn’t work. It can’t move my heart a muscle. It actually digs me deeper into whatever hole I’ve curled up inside.

And in fact, it’s nowhere near the way God sees me.

Oddly enough, it’s probably not the way most other people see me either. So I’m trying to accept everything that I am right now, in this day, instead of obsessing over the past or future or trying to “fix” myself. It’s okay to accept the way I feel. As long as I don’t let it take over all my actions, make every decision for me, halt my ability to think. That’s one thing. It shouldn’t immobilize me or stop me from trying things that feel improbable or even impossible. It doesn’t mean I don’t seek hard after truth and challenge the way I see the world. It doesn’t mean I don’t do hard things, right things. I should always do that, but I should do it while not hating myself for how I feel while I do it. And my feelings are not always right… the feelings that say, this is beauty. this is love. this is goodness. this is pain. this is loss. this is longing, those are almost always true. the feelings that say, there is no hope. that dream is not possible. you should be afraid. you are empty and worthless. you should never try, those are almost always wrong. I should accept the fact that I feel those negative things while refuting them with what I do, how I act. That’s so so hard for me. I’m bad at it. But it’s worth it to keep trying to be better at it. But accepting where I’m at—that’s a powerful thing. It’s saying, I’m okay with the way I feel. And the way I live and try to fight for love and truth, regardless of how I feel—well, that’s important too.

No one can take that away from me.

Can tell me to love someone or stop loving someone.

Can tell me to live this way or that way as long as I’m striving to live what is good and true.

Can tell me what’s possible or impossible.

Can tell me whether to be sad or happy. Because I can’t tell myself that either.

As long as I let God define truth and goodness and chase hard after that, no one can define any area of my life for me. And I’m not wrong or sinful for being me.

Being kind to myself, when life is hard, when I’m not happy, when I’m stuck in a waiting I cannot change—that is one of the biggest and hardest things of all.

Here’s to giving it my all, no matter how much I have to give. It is enough.

on a year and four days ago

I don’t think anyone

falls in love all at once.

I think it’s gradual



almost like magic.

but looking back

I can remember the moment

I began to realize–

Mario Carts

tickle fights

laughing as the projector

almost met its end

sitting close

everyone falling toward sleep

in the dark

feeling a little cold

feeling you wordlessly

lay your blanket over me

as if you knew.

quietly walking out into the street

looking up at the sky

this odd, incredible feeling

filling my chest

pushing at the boundaries

a feeling I had never felt

didn’t know what to do with

or how to understand

but oh so strongly drawn to

almost like magic

and I knew it had to do with you.

and as I looked up

a shooting star streaked

lighting up the sky behind the clouds

almost like magic.

and so I went to my room

wrote about the night

went to sleep

but I treasured that feeling

paid attention to it

and as it grew it changed

into something beautiful

and aching

and totally unexpected

almost like magic

definitely like you.

and beneath it all

my heart has felt it

ever since.

1/24/18 – for you


I’m on the train

heading south

heading to memory

to all I’ve ever known

to where I started from

where so much started from.

and you—

you are about to fly across the ocean

to a place you’ve never been.

I pray that good winds

will lift your wings,

I pray that if you’re looking for something

you’ll find it,

I pray that you’ll know what your heart tells you

and that you’ll have the courage

to follow it,

I pray that God meets you there

in ways you’ve never felt,

that you’d know yourself better,

deeper than ever before,

I pray you will come home safe.

I am always on your side,

always here to lean on

if you need it, if you let yourself.

I will always be waiting here

as I always am

and one day, if you want to tell me

I’d so love to hear

all about it.

poems, unlimited

At the beginning of my 18 day trip, I decided I wanted to write at least one poem every day. And so I did… well, almost. If I missed a day, I wrote a poem the next day about the previous day. And sometimes, there was just too much to write about for one poem, so I wrote two. These poems are mostly unedited, unlimited, uncensored, just as they ended up on the page. Many were scrawled in the nonsensical moments right before sleep. And yes, that’s a lot of words. But here they are.

journey, the world keeps on spinning

train lurching past
one two one two
train lurching softly
whisking me away from here

winter brown fields
hawk spread in air
alighting in an edge tree
a nest belonging to someone

ice, clean, ice, innocence
white blue ice
frosted mirror spreading
half frozen precarious beauty

trees, tall bare trunks
regal pine dark, close
thin snow gracing ground
bitter cold, glistening embrace

crisp sky, litter beneath bridge
bright splash of graffiti
primary colors bubble blocky
black outlined, playful

rowhouses, horizontal stacked
faded shades
tired, regal
sagging grey shingles

crying woman on her cell
blues and greens, scarf tied ‘round her head
tears, past caring who may hear
a daughter lost in childbirth
prayer, Jesus, please be here

quiet heartbreak
dark sharp deep
pang, something I know
I can be a hand to hold

my heart cries
with you, eyes water
a pain not my own
yet mine

leaving the familiar
chest aches with step into unknown
excitement, yes, swirls, small
but lonely, oh so lonely

empty seat next to mine
memories of your word and touch
as others’ homes
blow me by.

It’s snowing in Prospects Park.
Quiet bootsteps on semi-packed snow
The trees, the white path
The stillness
Remind me of the time
Perhaps a year ago exactly
When the three of us walked
Through forest snow
Fresh and full of awe
Hushed beauty.
I ache for you
Feeling quite alone in this new world.
But the Tigger onesies
Orange and yellow
Bright and odd
Two people skiing complete with tails
With their dog across the field
Make me stop,
And smile.

I tap her on the shoulder
she’s so glad to see me
I wonder if she’s seeing
the same person I think she is
can’t help it—
a grin splits my face too
and I laugh as her arms
wrap around me
and tighten like they’ll never let go
she says something to B.
about me being amazing
just for existing
how could she know
that’s just what I needed
to hear
just needed to see
someone’s face light up
just because I’m there.

I have always felt
that beautiful things
are meant to be touched
perhaps this is why
the branch of an evergreen
the veins in your forearm
and the thick painted pages
of this sketchbook
seem an infinite universe
at my fingertips
meant to be reveled in
with lit eyes
and a quiet smile
perhaps this is why
when I behold the moon
and the two people watching
below it
or the green, red, blue tree
and its treehouse
I can only think of you.

leaving home
always hurts
this messy apartment
the creaking wood floors
the leak in the ceiling
his warm, fuzzy hug
walking into the dark
causes a pull hard deep
but I’m too tired to cry
home is people
home is souls in connection
home is love
and that’s why missing you
is the greatest void
I can never fill

snow on green metal roof
black rock of wet mountain
swathed in mist
and white air
rain pattering down
making wide window ledges
cozy spaces
I want to crawl into
and disappear
I belong here
yet I don’t
it is beautiful
and yet I ache

you’re the musician!
the girl at the counter exclaims
I guess I am—
I’m just a girl
who likes to play her guitar
and sing
but when I pluck my courage
with the strings and vocal chords
and let the last note
of the first song fade
people clap.
soon, there’s a tip in my jar.
I’m getting into the music.
the night is dark and snowy
and bitter cold
I trudge back up the hill
feeling the knot by my shoulder blades
tighten and ache
from carrying the heavy case.
but when I open the door
my whole class erupts
in cheers.
why didn’t you tell us?
they say, like I’ve done
something big.
and for a moment,
I wonder if I have.

we name our heater Harold
Harold the Angry Heater
because he makes clanking
banging, crescendoing noises
that keep us up at night
although the room is icy cold
ice on the windowpanes
a cinderblock refrigerator.
the maintenance girl comes
and I go to lunch.
A. approaches me—
‘so she found a little alligator!’
she says, ‘with a hammer.
they’re going to rehome him
at 1:30.’
oh, Harold is an alligator.
not a heater.
perhaps he was just
trying to get out.
we talk to another student.
his heater is making noises too.
it must be an armadillo,
we say.
pushing along a little ball
with her nose.
plip-plopping quickly along
on little legs.
‘oh,’ he says. ‘I’ll leave her treats
and she’ll come out and play cards with me.’
we nod. that is the only
obvious solution.

neon tutus
tights, legwarmers
side ponytails
red laser lights
floating across floor
arms moving
in silly beat—
I do not belong here.
not because
I wasn’t alive in the 80s.
not because
I’m too young to drink.
not because
I don’t have a costume.
not because
I’m awkward at dances anyway.
I am not happy.
and this is why
I do not belong.

sometimes hiding away
is the best thing you can do
for yourself
open the inner window pane
swing it wide
feel the freed layer of cold
seeping quietly in
see the almost silent snow
kids tracking sleds far below
pillow behind back
lean against window ledge edge
pay attention to your heart
comfort in familiar shows
hug stuffed animal close
and let yourself just be
whatever that may be

really good poetry
is like breathing
like someone’s pouring starlight
into my lungs
I just sit with lips parted
like I’m waiting for a kiss
as goosebumps take me
in waves
and something burns a little
inside my veins
and yet, it cannot satisfy
when I walk into the night
bitter cold, the kind that bites,
icy grey slush under boots
I speak to you through the stars
and wish for an answer
to fill me.

I look into the mirror
straight into my eyes
and try to see
the girl that you saw
the girl I was then
the girl deep inside
the girl that’s the best me
the girl that’s whole.
it’s meant to be a good thing
but I fast realize
it’s too painful
way, way too painful
shattered chest blaring
‘extraction should not be attempted.’
oh yes, she’s still in there
she’s quite real
she did indeed exist
and it was wonderful
alive in color and movement
connected existence
but without you
she cannot come out.
I do not blame her
for her innocent refusal
her inability.
she shakes her head, shrugs
I cannot.
I nod.
I let her be.

snow sifts down
floating in a silver
misty sky
wet, large flakes
frosting every delicate tree
I stick my tongue out
to catch the falling cold
‘lazy snow,’ A. calls it
and she is right
the beauty surrounds me
I am walking in it
I wish to be of it
watching world through
flaking window pane
peeling white paint
fogging glass looking out
at magical shrouded evergreens
and down at children
dragging sleds
tracking through smooth field
stories swirl around me
the air is full of them
good and bright, dark and lonely
I cannot escape them
the voices murmur
asking me to feel
asking me to connect
asking me to remember
asking me to dig deep
to bring out handfuls
of the rich dirt inside
I am like a piece of pottery
thin and brittle clay
ready to shatter
from this aching
a string pulled taught
straight to you

she says
‘your story idea
reminds me of The Little Prince’
and all of a sudden
I’m all choked up
I remember
magical music from the credits rolling
dark bedroom
you next to me
I remember
last residency
walking to the bookstore
buying a copy of The Little Prince
(and Mary Oliver’s Felicity)
reading them aloud to myself
the isolation of my bedroom
crying all the way through
a tear sneaks onto the page
a permanent warped puddle
I remember
placing it on my college shelf
unable to open it since
I remember
drawing baobab trees
taken over my scribbled black planet
no rose
no rose
no rose
I remember
dreaming up a story
of two kids looking for home
and finding it in each other
I remember
‘it reminds me of The Little Prince’
she says
my hands go to my face
my eyes fill up
‘thank you’
I say
‘that means so much to me’

all around
he says cupcakes
I think cream cheese icing
she says
we had a tree of apple fritters
at our wedding
no cake
and I think of sneaking
a bite of yours
I am always
at war with myself
hammering at boarded up
I wish I could just
let them all in
but I can’t.

grey fur
white splashes
velvet nose
so much less soft
than when you held him
so much more time
spent in my arms
a small soothing comfort
as I missed you
I said, I hurt so much
I will hold you close
I said, I remember too much
I will hide you in my closet
I said, I cannot breathe
I will hold you just for tonight
and tonight turned into weeks
tucked under my chin
clutched close to the hollow
of my chest
some thing inside begins
to unclench
just a little
just enough
a vulnerable kind of relief
a release of tension
I remember how
you kept him for two nights
when we were staying away
from each other
I remember how I took him along
on nights beautiful and hard
there’s still traces of pine sap
on his left bottom paw
it’s funny how something
can become so much more
than anything I thought
it would ever

today the graduates
said goodbye to a place
and people
that had been their dearest home.
I felt with them but knew
it is not mine.
it is hard to find home
in a place
when mine lives in memory
pancake parties
in a faerie lit room.
it is hard to find home
in people
when my heart still rests
where I left it
in your hands.
and anyway
even if I’d never been there
even if I’d never met you
this would not
be my home.
and so tomorrow
I move on from here
and I am ready.

I pop the latches on my guitar case
one, two, three, four
sit cross-legged on the cold sidewalk
pull the strap over my head
begin to strum
push my voice to reach out
stretch over the streets
my hat is my tip jar
and I am surprised when
dollar bills tumble in
strum till fingers numb
warm them, a moment
then strum again
strangers stop
strangers smile
strangers say, you have a beautiful voice!
strangers say, aren’t you cold?
strangers say, do you write your own music?
I laugh, and answer
more comfortable with the strangers
than people I know
or feel like I should.
strangers owe me nothing
and I owe nothing to them
but somehow
we meet in the middle.
time trickles on
legs protest
as I finally stand
guitar back in its home
snap, snap, snap
and I wait for the bus
ready to be just another person
who was here
and then was gone.

I wonder if I could be
happier as a wanderer—
freed from feeling like
I’m ‘supposed to’ belong
somewhere in particular
with someones in particular
perhaps people would put fewer
‘supposed to’s on me
perhaps I would but fewer
‘supposed to’s on myself
perhaps I could just let myself
be me
perhaps I could more constantly
find this in-between
the compromise
of living and wanting
because on this day
in this unrooted world
I am content to be in motion
I am content to ache a little
I am content with being
with my joys and sadnesses
I am okay with just me
just for today
to be with friends
and be alone
to explore this city
that doesn’t know me
to let my feelings
do what they will
but not drown me
to feel both light and dark—
to accept myself.
and I want to hold on to this
this okay-ness
for more than just

last night we sat on the couch
two almost strangers
and became friends
sipping thick red port
I found I kind of liked—
sweet at first
although later it burns a bit
going down.
we talk honestly
words flowing naturally,
never forced.
we talk about holes.
about how sometimes a loss
leaves a hole you will feel
for the rest of your life,
and how it’s so easy to be
with people when they can’t
fill the holes in the way
that one person did and yet
we expect them to—
no, not quite right,
we just want them to.
we speak of how
we should embrace many people,
many people who each help fill
one of the many facets
of who we are,
wondrous, complex
they can’t fill the whole hole.
I should stop
being disappointed, feeling
let down.
we should notice how
their many spirits
fill up our many different places,
and who knows,
she says,
maybe we’ll find people
who fill up something
we look at each other
with smiles that speak of more
than just happiness
finding truth, and safety,
in each other’s hearts.

the unrelenting rain, downpour
floods the streets
sheets of water
whooshing up to get me
as tires sush through
indifferent to my walking there.
I find refuge in Turkish coffee shop,
used bookstore, Raven,
the museum where I read poetry,
where I step inside
the huge stained-glass globe
the world mapped out in light and color
frozen in the moment
of its making.
I am mesmerized,
the wond’ring inner child and
fierce knowing girl inside me
both stand together beneath the North Star
listen to the acoustics like a microphone
look at where you and I are, and have been,
and will be
and whisper,
those three words,
always those three words,
hoping the magical globe will catch them
and whisk them away to you.


Boston Is

I think every place means something slightly different to each person that’s been there. It is fascinating to me that my experience can be completely, radically different from someone else’s, even if we happen to be standing on the exact same spot in the exact same moment. I think that’s something to remember… that our minds and hearts and lives shape the reality we create around us, the reality we see and feel, and that we can’t presume to know the colors and frequencies of the strangers that move around us. Even people that we do know well have hidden parts of themselves… and if you’re ever let into those spaces, you are a very special person indeed.

That said, here is what Boston is to me.

Boston is the T, another subway system to master, another subway system to get lost in before then. But this one is smaller, and I have the knowledge I’ve hoarded away in my brain from my attempts at independence in another larger city, and it doesn’t take quite as long. Boston is more little paper tickets with the arrows that point their way into the machines that grab the edge and suck them in and spit it back out, gates opening abruptly. More little tickets only good for one use, accumulating in my pockets and the back of my phone.

Boston is the car with its flashers on, the car coming to pick me up, pluck me out of the wet, dark streets. Boston is a friend I haven’t seen in a couple years. Boston is familiarity I’ve forgotten, a face and voice that hasn’t played clearly in my head in some time, not since that year when he called me on my birthday – it made my day, although T. probably doesn’t know it. When people do things like that, you know they won’t mind when you show up at their door.

Boston is a cute, clean apartment in the second story of a family’s home, back entrance atop slippery porch steps, through the edge of a muddy yard. Light wood floors, cards and pictures, plants, spinning chairs. Memorabilia from landmark moments, tags from used salt containers and a wrapper from a round of chocolate gifted on Christmas, all stuck to the wall by tan masking tape. Boston is a guitar in the corner, a surfboard behind the door, a Millennium Falcon pencil sharpener on the desk piled with haphazard papers. A whole drawer full of loose leaf tea and chocolate – the best logical combination for two things living in the same drawer. A Harry Potter mug. A taco ornament perched on the cabinet in the bathroom. A vase of clementines on the counter. Boston is the mini rubber ducky tea steeper that bobs in my cup, perpetually smiling up at me with its orange beak.

Boston is E., the girl T. moved to Boston for, on very short notice, I might add. I like her immediately, her pixie cut contrasting wonderfully with T’s shoulder length hair, slender and bright, eyes and voice full of life. She’s someone who has light in her, and depth. I quickly inform her that I forgive her for stealing T. away from all of us. Boston is E’s laugh in response.

Boston is figuring out the bus system. And realizing my card doesn’t have any money on it, but the bus drivers really don’t care. Boston is waiting and waiting and then walking and walking until I pop into the doors which open up to grey-tan walls and holds I recognize. Boston is feeling relief at the comfort of being around a place and people that are somehow familiar even though you’ve never met them. An unfinished puzzle on the table. The growl of drills held by routesetters crafting new problems. Boston is shredding my skin all too fast, feeling my heartbeat kaboom in my throat at the top of boulders that are a wee bit taller than I’m used to, and feeling my muscles give out faster than I’d like. Boston is watching the couple in the overhang, the easy language of laughs and brief touches, somehow casual and somehow more. Boston is wishing I had a friend to come with me.

Boston is the Turkish bakery with the menu up on cardboard sheets and sharpie letters, chocolate ‘earthquake’ cookies covered in powdered sugar which I promptly make a mess of, pita bread with piping hot sausage and spice. Boston is coming back the next day for another cookie and coffee with an inch of foam on top. I fish out what’s left at the bottom with my finger. Boston is Boston cream pie, cobbled streets, subway ride after subway ride. Boston is pouring down rain, pelting and pelting, puddles so deep I don’t walk through them for fear they will overflow the top of my boots. Boston is my phone almost dying right when I need it, and barely squeaking by on 7%. Boston is that happening a million times.

Boston is the cemetery, almost misty in the descending dusk, closing in about me, wrapping itself around the white statues and gray tombstones and wet, dark trees. I walk up to the tower, feeling like I’ve stepped into a Gothic novel, feeling like ghosts could actually be a thing, peeping down into green glades and almost-there paths branching off from the safety of asphalt and disappearing. I look out at the city from the base of what looks like a giant castle chess pawn, out at the lights, yellow and white, glowing through the mist of near night. Boston is the cemetery that closes at 5pm. Boston is me discovering that the gate through which I planned on leaving is actually closed. Boston is sprinting through the looming grounds as night claims its reign, making it back to the huge iron gates, still open, with only a few minutes to spare.

Boston is a small bookstore, poetry books under my arm in a brown paper bag. Boston is reading in the museum lobby in the kids area with the picture books and the bright green shag carpet and the hanging letters on a string which say, ‘I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree.’ Boston is the enormous stained-glass globe I walk into, mesmerized by the colors and lights that wrap around me, encompassing and beautiful. The tour lady tells me that each one was handmade, that the globe is frozen in time after World War II, that if you stand under the North Star the room’s acoustics amplify your voice like a microphone, that the other day there was a visitor from Christchurch, New Zealand, who turned out to be the choir director of a Protestant church who burst into boisterous song as soon as he stepped inside the world, standing suspended on the walkway, and the lady was scared he was going to break the glass, like in the cartoons. Boston is me looking at all the countries, at me whispering my own song that’s in my head, listening to it echo, wishing you were beside me to hear it.

Boston is watching a Japanese reality show with E., which actually turns out to be pretty cool. Boston is play-arguing with T. about literature and categories of fiction and what literary fiction is and isn’t and what genre fiction is and isn’t and does it really matter in the end? We talk about jobs and school and transitions and trying to find community. Boston is finding out I kind of like port. It’s rich and red and not as dry as wine, but tiny little sips in a tiny little shot glass are enough for me. Boston is snooping in the rich neighbors’ huge house because T. is dog/cat/house-sitting and trying to get the weird dog to play with us and petting the insanely fluffy cat that yawns like a lion and playing a cooperative board game and failing to stop the epidemic from spreading to the whole cardboard world and not caring because it was fun anyway.

Boston is sipping tea and talking with E. much later than either of us had planned to. We talk about friends and relationships and holes and balance and work and struggles and hard things and beautiful things and pretty much life. We both say things which make each other think, make each other smile. We understand each other more and deeper than either of us were probably expecting. We make the air between us a comfortable space to sit in and speak into. Boston is her fierce hug the night before I leave. Boston is knowing I can come back, and they can always come to. Boston is sleeping on an air mattress at least two feet tall. Boston is a fleece blanket. Boston is watching Sherlock in the light of a reading lamp. Boston is stealing one last piece of chocolate before walking out onto the frost-slick predawn street.

Boston is knowing myself better. Boston is still being the same me. Boston is friendship, known and unexpected. Boston is being alone. Boston is thinking, and Boston is talking. Boston is balance. Boston is wishing, and Boston is exploring. Boston is not wanting to leave.

The Things I Wrote by Accident before I Could Write on Purpose

So I’ve spent the last week and a half in the whirlwind that is residency. I am exhausted. And I am inspired. And did I say that I was exhausted? I don’t think I can say that part enough. Physically, emotionally, spiritually exhausted.

Something I have discovered this week is that in order to write stories, I have to write about my own self first. Clear out all the things that are haunting the back of my brain and swirling around in my heart so that I can write what I actually am sitting down to write. In other words, I find that I have to write some things by accident so I can write other things on purpose. And yet I found meaning and beauty in those musings, no matter how odd or painful they may be. They demanded to be heard. So here they are. Apply them to your own life. Take what you will, leave what you wish. They are merely the scribblings of a mind always in motion.

When my appendix burst, I walked through the ER into the hospital hallway. The anesthesiologist, a friend, held my CAT scan in his hands, seeing whatever the nasty stuff I drank lit up as wrong with me. He looked from the sheet to me and back down again. “How are you still standing?” he said. The scan revealed the truth of what was inside, shouting that I should be in intense pain. But there I was, standing. It didn’t mean there hadn’t been pain. But I was still there on my own two feet, the proof of my struggle in his hands.

So many times, this is all I have wished for. For someone to come up to me, and not say “You’ll be okay,” or “I’m sure that was hard,” or “What happened,” or “Doing this will help.” I’m not wanting someone to fix me or tell me how ‘fine’ I will be in the future or listen to me rehash every moment of my intimate experience. I just want someone to look at me and say, “How are you still standing?” I want someone to see right through my skin and bones and muscle and the smiling shield I project or the chatter or the quiet I pull around me like a cloak. I want someone to pierce through all that and just see the location and magnitude of my pain, how it lights me up like a Christmas tree, bright pulsing colors of agony. I want someone to not care what precisely caused it, not compare my pain to someone else’s or their own. Just to look at me and with wonder say, “How are you still standing?” To treat me like something strong and beautiful and fragile and tragic.

Perhaps I want this so much because I so rarely get it, am offered its warm, gentle comfort. Perhaps it is because when I look at myself in the mirror, look deep into my eyes and sometimes find nothing, true seeing masked by love and pain inextricably mixed – perhaps because I look at myself then, and think, “How are you still standing,” both a little proud and a little shocked. How are you still standing.

Perhaps I want to hear someone say it, just because I wonder if anyone else, when they look at me, feels it too.

Missing you is like walking in a tide pool. Wading ankle deep, bare feet, trying to avoid stepping on the memories that are just too sharp to bear. The ones I know will draw blood, cloud the clear blue water with a rusty bloom, salt stinging the curving cut. I can’t avoid all the pointy edges – some camouflage themselves just too well, are too much a part of me to see, and others look innocent and then jump out at me, like the one with purple spikes that sproing out when my toe nudges too close. Other memories are beautiful, like the small, pearly-pink conch shell softly sparkling, or the unassuming sand dollar nestled quiet, precious, in the sand, just waiting for someone to look closely enough to see it. You are like both of those things. Obviously beautiful and a treasure waiting to be uncovered. For someone to just stop long enough and see. You saw me like that too. I love this tide pool, and yet I don’t. I wish all the sharp edges would be gone and everything would be safe to pick up, to turn over and over in my hands, to close my eyes and run my fingers over all the curves and lips, to feel every texture, ridged and scalloped and speckled, to press the smooth egg-like stones into my palms. I wish. I wish. I wish. Tide pools are good places for wishing. So many of my wishes have come true here, a small watery universe of life and color, and yet so many are aching to be reborn. The tide pool is lonely without you. I need your bare toes next to mine, leaving little prints in the white, soft sand, dimples for the friendly water to gentle at the edges, yet never erase.

I realized today I’ve picked up your habit of laughing before everyone else does. Or at least, at a different time. I don’t know how. I don’t know when. It’s like I suddenly ‘get it’ before the rest of them, and I can’t help but laugh. Or the things they think are funny, I don’t. I think other things are funny.

Maybe it’s like how you started saying “Sad day,” and “Oh bother,” just like me, partly because you knew I’d like it, and partly because people pleasantly rub off on each other when they hang around so much. Just like I started quietly “sssshhh”-ing loud noises and loud people under my breath. Because you did. I always loved that. I started doing it because you did. And then I started doing it on instinct. Every once in a while, it’ll just happen, and part of me wants to smile, and part of me wants to cry. I really want to do both.

Maybe it’s like how once in a blue moon, I drink my coffee black. Because it’s just one little step closer to you. One small, pointless connection, that somehow doesn’t feel pointless, even though it’s like a game of pretend. And when I do that, instead of adding the cream and three packets of sugar that I usually do, I actually like it. Don’t ask me how. Maybe because I loved how different we were. We like each other not in spite of that difference, but because we felt a pull to who we truly were.

I still maintain we were better together.

And so I will continue drinking black coffee when the mood hits, shushing random strangers, and laughing before the rest of the world even notices.

Maybe somewhere, a little part of me is still with you, too.

The tree is still there – the tree I climbed in July, the tree that enabled me to climb up and away from all the things that choked me, the atmosphere that grew thicker and thicker until I left the giant chapel lecture hall with its organ and Victorian walls and echoing words and out into the buzzing air and green to find somewhere I could breathe.

Now the ground is covered in snow, snow which has lain there for days and days, no longer new snow, but still somehow white. I walk over to the tree, seeing the animal tracks and footprints indenting the surface, paw prints and boot steps. The thought crosses my mind – if I was the old me, I’d want to touch the snow. I’d want to bend down and feel its coldness between my fingers.

I am at the base of the tree. I touch the low, smooth, textured branch, the one so low to the ground it made a perfect foothold. Last year, there was a little painted rock that someone had placed in the wide crook where branch met trunk. A whimsical surprise for someone to find. I loved that. The rock isn’t there now.

I think about old me’s, new me’s, me’s I liked and me’s I didn’t. I don’t think that’s true, that there’s old me’s and new me’s, not exactly. I think there’s the real me, and not me. I think there’s one true, realest me, and all the different me’s are just varying degrees closer to or farther away from that real me. The me’s I liked were closest to that real me. The me’s I hated being were the ones farthest away. There is no old and new. There is just real and untrue. Untrue things do exist, you know. That’s why they feel so wrong.

As I walk away from the tree, I touch the ground, feel the snow between my fingers, because I feel like I should. That’s what the real me would do.

I would like to call B.S. on something.
We’ve all heard the song that says, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
That’s not true. Not for everybody.
Not all pain makes all people stronger. I would not say that I am stronger. That’s not the right word.
I think pain can make you indifferent.
I think pain can make you deeper.
I think for me, it does both.
But I hope I end up with more ‘deeper’ than more ‘indifferent.’
And sometimes hoping makes all the difference.

I’m sitting in graduation at the end of the marathon that is residency for the MFA in creative writing for children and young adults and boy, am I glad that it’s over.

Something can be incredibly inspiring and terribly exhausting at the same time, and at this point, at this most sentimental and emotionally-charged of all moments in this ten day period, everyone is crying. And I mean, literally, almost everyone.

The graduating class has decided to play a piece of piano and violin music, live, to celebrate their time here. It is meant to symbolize what this school means to all of us, all us writers and students. For most students, this place holds the most magical community they have ever found. This is not true for me. There are many things I appreciate about this place, but it is not ‘my place’ or ‘my people.’ But I have made my peace with that.

So when the music begins to play and steals a bit of my soul from my body, I do not think of school. For the music speaks of home. Loudly, clearly, unmistakably. Resonating in my bones. Carrying me way. Home. I am full of a feeling, and I follow that feeling, and it leads me straight – to you.

Of course it does. For when I think of home, you are what my heart invariably turns to. It does not take effort. It does not take thought. It just does. Home.

You holding me is home.

Or just you. Just you will do. Just you is home.

And in this moment, I realize something that I hadn’t thought of before. I have always known that you have changed me as a person. I am inexpressibly glad for that. But what I didn’t realize is that you have changed my writing too. It is deeper. It ranges farther and wider. It rings truer. Because you are one of the deepest, farthest, widest, truest things I have ever known. And whatever a person treasures will change them.

Martine, the speaker, begins to talk. At first she is funny, and then she is profound. She speaks of why we do what we do as writers for children. About why we are important.

She uses the phrase “radical empathy.” This is our work, our heart, who we are. Radical empathy.

For me, radical empathy means deep knowledge. Knowing something in the deepest way you can know it and feeling a deep love for that thing that you know so very well. Radical empathy is that deep knowing with other people, between people.

I knew you so well. I tried to know you harder than I had tried to know anyone. And it worked. And I felt a love that I hadn’t felt for anyone else. And I think that counts as radical empathy.

And because of that, I think you are now in everything that I write, because you are part of my heart. You are part of the deepest knowing I have ever known. You are part of the deepest desire I have ever had for someone else to know me.

And so much of writing is a keeping on going. Of pushing on when things are hard and long and just plain frustrating. I didn’t know how much “keeping on going” I had in me until this last year. I don’t know how I’ve kept going on, with everything, from the smallest thing to the biggest things, but I have. And inadvertently, you taught me that too. Even when it doesn’t feel like I’m keeping on, even when I don’t think I can keep on another step, I somehow do, only with God’s grace. And here I am, still keeping on. And here I am, still caring about you. I can’t explain it, but I do. And if I can do that, then I can do this. I can write. And keep on writing. And keep on and on and on and on until someone somewhere reads something I write and says wow, I am not alone. I never knew. And they will keep going on. And that will be radical empathy, even if I never know.

So for these things, I thank you. I have many things to thank you for, but I did not know that this may be one of them. Even though I wish I didn’t have to keep on going without you, I do. And so do you. And I hope that one day, just maybe, we won’t have to, and we can have “radical empathy.” Maybe we still have it. Maybe one day, we can have a deep, true knowledge again, and from a distance that can be crossed by the simple, small touch of a hand.

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