It's my last day in Massachusetts. Tomorrow morning I'll hop in my Honda Fit and head to Oklahoma to stake my claim. Call it a modern day land run. A lot has changed in the 120 years since the first land run, though some things remain the same. I may not be riding in a covered wagon, but it's opportunity and the promise of a better life that brings me out west. I am a pilgrim, a frontiersman. Call me quintessentially American. Call me Oklachusan.
In my first month in Massachusetts, in my first workshop at Emerson College (lead by the inimitable, infamous Bill Knott), I encountered the following poem by Elisa Gabbert, a young woman fresh from Texas. I'm pretty sure Bill offered Elisa $10 to buy this poem from her, which is a high form of praise in Bill's world. I wrote Elisa to ask if I could publish it here, and thankfully she agreed. She had never revised it and had forgotten all about it, but this poem has always stuck with me. I love how uneasily it combines nostalgia for the past and hope for the future, as seen in the coasting of the bicycle (this poem reminds me why I love riding bicycles). Elisa is a first-rate poet and a dear friend, and I can't think of a better way to suggest that endings are also beginnings than to shut up now and give you this excellent poem.
LAST DAYS HOME
by Elisa Gabbert
I feel like there’s something in my hands,
a present: I’m going all the places
that I’ve never been, and all at once. The other
end of America, and across a whole
ocean. Already this city (its disproportionate
dimensions, cranes like dinosaur skeletons)
feels temporary. I bike around the blocks
I know, saying hello and goodbye. It’s early
morning, and the air is still waving
from yesterday’s heat. A glitch in time.
Summer. I can almost see my brother,
in Prague at night, drunk, trying to find a place
that serves absinthe. In Venice, the first peach
he ever ate. Or walking Berlin in his long coat
and deep snow, grinning at the new adversity.
Being older, he did everything first. When
he was sixteen years old, he pressed two pennies
for me at the top of the Empire State. Does he
remember that? I still wear them at my neck,
and I remember everything. I saved every postcard,
though he never said enough. Just Having fun.
Amazing here. I miss you guys. Missing home.
Now that I’m leaving, maybe I will too.
This road, it wouldn’t be here in a year,
how it becomes the sidewalk, which
becomes the park. The light starts to edge
through the haze. No one thinks this place
is beautiful, but it’s close to that sometimes,
to something striking, like a good lie. The wind
blows the fountain all over my face
and the street. Coasting—the bottom of
my pedals scrape the grass, and the whole world
smells like sweet gardens, like California.