957: Rooms by the Sea

957: Rooms by the Sea

957: Rooms by the Sea


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown

My early adult years were a stream of impulsive decisions. Some worked out and many did not — for example, the used car with the too-good-to-be-true price tag, as well as my brief career as an accountant. 

Back in high school, during one lunch period, my counselor called me to her office to help with my college application. Mrs. Nesmith pulled out a course catalog, just as her phone rang. She quickly said, covering the phone’s mouthpiece, “You’ve decent test scores in Math and English; choose a major.” Then went to her call. While she talked to a parent, I opened to the first page of the Undergraduate Catalog of academic programs, arranged alphabetically, and chose without thinking the first major listed: Accounting

I stood up to gather my book bag and windbreaker then pointed to the page. With the phone crooked between her ear and shoulder, she circled with a red pen. I walked out the door. Just like that, my college career was determined by a hasty need to get back to my friends in the cafeteria eating tater tots and square pizza. Yet, I stuck it out, happy in the end to learn obscure principles such as Accounting for Acquisitions and Mergers and the time value of money

While other life moments unfolded similarly, I increasingly made room for slow deliberation in my decision-making, then eventually tried to abandon spontaneity all together, fearful of making blunders. Yet still they happened.

The speaker in today’s poem also realizes our best laid plans are often thwarted by unforeseen consequences. Some decisions work out, some do not. Even well-reasoned choices are not guaranteed to bring our wishes within reach, especially when it comes to love.

Rooms by the Sea
by Lauren Aliza Green

The man who lives in the apartment 
below me died last night.
I saw his daughter in the stairwell,
holding groceries. She asked if I knew him.
Yes, I said. I don’t know why.

There were times when I thought
I knew what I wanted. And then
there was privation, which I was asked
to fill. I tried letting down my hair,
tried sleeping pills. I wanted fog
over the small islands. Cafés shutting
off their lights up and down the block.
I even wanted April. More than all
that, I wanted to be driving
through a well-lit tunnel
that went in only one direction.
To lie in sand and have it
hold my shape. But it’s all
irrelevant. A life cannot be lined up,
stacked neatly like the bananas in their bowl,
the lemons and asparagus in the crisper.

Hours I used to spend on the balcony,
brazenly watching my neighbors
dance on the roof of their building,
though my living-room floor
was covered with a lovely Turkish rug.
I lost so many nights and gained 
so few days. In this manner I began to grow 
a little old. It used to be
that feelings could be parsed, 
like coins into a till. The dead man below—
was he ever afraid?

Good morning, Lord.
Good morning, bees.
The ocean is rising into
the apartment beneath mine.
Give me some part of it I can hold,
and I will lead it up the stairs.

Reprinted from A GREAT DARK HOUSE (Poetry Society of America, 2023) by permission of the author. All rights reserved.