984: Poem at the Top of a Mountain

20231025 SD

984: Poem at the Top of a Mountain

Today’s episode is guest hosted by Shira Erlichman.


I’m Shira Erlichman and this is The Slowdown.

As a teen, I was a jock and an artist who floated between differing social groups with ease. I was bubbly and optimistic––but I was also closeted, pining after my best friend, and constantly troubled by school as an often dehumanizing place.

I regularly felt that I needed to be submissive to adults who didn’t seem to care to know me as a person, but as a piece of paper to address with red pen. I moved dizzyingly from class to class in a building of 2,000-plus people. High school was probably the most social time of my life. But loneliness doesn’t care about how many people are around you. To not feel connected, especially when surrounded by so many, is lonely-making.

When spring erupted my sophomore year, I felt fully locked inside my unexpressed queerness, unexpressed love, unexpressed self. An ennui had settled inside me, only a stone’s throw away from recognizable depression.

There was one place in my life where I felt the difference between being lonely and alone. It was the Art room. The advanced class started at 8:45 AM, but I’d be there at 7––even before Ms. Sens, our offbeat and bespectacled teacher, arrived. Ms. Sens was different from the other adults. She was candid, passionate, and teasing. Four times a week, she’d allow that I could let myself in and paint undisturbed.

I’d press play on my Discman, Santana glazing my mood with zingy solos. I’d let my loneliness fall away like a dense wool coat, and immerse myself instead in aloneness. But this transformation took place before I stepped through those blue double doors into the sanctuary of an abandoned art room.

Our high school was only a ten minute walk from my home. On those art-room-destined spring mornings, the air was lit by pollen, the sun was 6:45 AM high, the air heady and swollen with conversing blossoms and bees. Allergies made my eyes itchy-red, which hid some of the secret crying I did about that girl.

My walk was quiet except for the chittering of winged insects, who had so much to say! It was just me, and them, and the blooms, and my thoughts, which were thinned by their proximity to recent dreaming. I was connected. And content. In this state, I could hear the world unfolding, almost like I was praying. I wasn’t that shut-down sixteen year old just getting through a day. I was open.

Today’s poem is about that prayerful space which offers not just withdrawal, but perspective. I see in this poem what it was that I found on my walk to my art room sanctuary. What appears to be aloneness is actually a deepening camaraderie.

Poem at the Top of a Mountain
by Angel Nafis

The cypress are davening
The lake disturbing itself on a loop
From branches tea olive petals undo themselves
Mess the air where the 
falcons plot on the grebes
Bedsheets clapping on the line
Crumb by crumb ants procession
old meals back
into the earth
The earth is up
in puffs 
of umber dust
More evidence
of the fingers of wind
Mischievous composers
of the box braids’ 
Conspiracy is truth 
God’s sweet tooth
Okay. Okay.
I’m listening

"Poem at the Top of a Mountain" by Angel Nafis. Used by permission of the poet.