I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.
I was thinking the other day about how contagious hurt can be. I remember feeling very hurt by a break-up in New York City years ago and everything I did or said was poisoned by that hurt. I remember being in a cab with a friend going from Manhattan back to Brooklyn and just nastily picking apart the personalities of everyone we had just been with. And my friend, my dear friend, she wouldn’t agree with me. She wouldn’t back me up.
She wouldn’t say what I wanted her to say, which was that everyone was awful and everything in the world was terrible. She wouldn’t say it and I held it against her. I still remember the smell of the heat coming on in the cab, the human smell of the seat, the flashing red lights in the rain on McGuinness Avenue. The whole world was against me.
Later that night, she sent me an email saying she realized I was hurting and observed that it made me want to hurt everyone else. She was so kind about it, but also so honest, and I knew it to be true. I had been heart broken and stuck and grieving and I wanted everyone to grieve too and I also wanted everyone to just be wrong. Because if they were wrong maybe I could, just this once, be right.
If it hadn’t been for that email I might have gone on spreading my hurt, which was the opposite of who I was. I was a supporter, a friend who showed up, who checked in, and somehow in my own solipsistic brain I had turned into someone who was spreading the very ugliness I was trying desperately to bury within myself. To this day, I am grateful to that friend who trusted me enough to tell me the truth, who was brave enough to say, “enough.”
Today’s poem does that work of going towards the pain and somehow, remarkably, pulling back towards the center. I love this poem because the speaker lets the poem guide her to the lighter side.
by Alexis Sears
I know I could do better. I could go outside, get some sun. Instead, I watch from my window as the snow falls as if God is grating parmesan over the city: Say when. I’ve never had the chance to love desperately, but I’ve felt rage worm its way through my stomach like a parasite. So many things I cannot say aloud: It would be wrong to bring a child into the world to watch me suffer, to suffer with me won’t win me any friends. Am I worse off than anyone else, though? I sip my dark roast, spell my name in carrots on the counter. I am no longer, at least, a monument to damage: my ribcage a coliseum, its broken edges jabbing at the sky. The faint sounds of Earth, Wind & Fire play in my kitchen, and I smile, even shimmy a little. None of us will last forever. Someday, maybe soon, everything will ache a little less.
Alexis Sears, “September” from OUT OF ORDER. Copyright © 2022 by Alexis Sears. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Autumn House, autumnhouse.org.