Another way of saying young, or sapling, or hapless: green, as a blade of grass among countless other grasses, bookbag slung over a nonchalant shoulder, or a shoulder full of trying to be nonchalant, there on the corner of Brattle Street and Eliot, steel-toed boots laced tight, poems blooming in my heart like mute swans, like acorns. I tried to force life into them, but they wouldn’t speak, leaned away from me with their long necks, their hard shells, with their meat hidden from me and any listener, but still my feeling that they should be poems, the way learning to bicycle is something you can try but not make happen until at the last moment you don’t fall, a swoop in your stomach the arc of a dark bird rising above rooftops, black against the sky, its wingspan a kind of bridge between effort and what happens at the edge of knowledge. The stumble that wasn’t, nested inside of the flight that was. That was 1987, Harvard Square the hub of cool, buskers with their open cases, a bustling world within a world that I would visit and try to belong to, with what sophomoric friends I traveled there with on the train. It was summertime, our hours our own, our grasp on each “I” of us inexact and blurred, to ourselves and to each other. How could I pin it to the page, when to be alive and growing was such an exercise in being lost? That wobble, on the curb’s edge, that posture of daring, or not caring, or not knowing much of anything at all. Had I found myself able to look into a mirror and see my self, I would have met what is my soul, the tail end of a good dream, dissipating at the brightness in a morning window. Impossible to hold—light on the surface of a lake. A huddle by the newspaper stand on the corner, clutching our record store and thrift shop finds, we just stood there, not yet us but trying to be, and watched.
after Jean Valentine
When I was young and tried to pray by staring hard at the sky, looking for illumination in a cloud, here on the ground our steadfast gravity kept proving itself, as do dear friends— the one I made and kept so many years, who knew and loved me as I became me, who died last year. I knew her, too, from a first fall to the last, and loved her ardently for all—that year we shared a dorm room with homesickness and glee, and on until her deathbed, when the end came in the first hour of the fifteenth day in a fresh year and I lay my body next to hers, before they came and tagged her toe and bagged her bones and took her away, she who was so much and who was no longer there. It surprises, every time, the will to live, how it thrives, then gives over to a readiness to die. Oh, my brave friend, I can’t stop thinking on this January memory—a basement nightclub, Prague, the year we circled Europe on the train. I want to say let’s never stop our dancing, or disembark, or speak of endings. In your final week, I held you as a midwife does, supporting your labor, birthing into the next realm. Now I think praying is like the language of bees: A humming I do. The humming back you do.
-- Rebecca Hart Olander’s poetry has appeared recently in Crab Creek Review, The Massachusetts Review, and Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and her collaborative work has been published in multiple venues online and in They Said: A Multi-Genre Anthology of Contemporary Collaborative Writing (BLP). Rebecca is a Women’s National Book Association poetry contest winner and a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee. Her chapbook, Dressing the Wounds, was published in 2019 by dancing girl press, and her full-length collection, Uncertain Acrobats, is forthcoming from CavanKerry Press in November 2021. Rebecca teaches writing at Westfield State University and is editor/director of Perugia Press.