We are all damaged, it seems.
In a committee meeting, a veteran
who walks with two canes and a dog
whose main purpose, as far as I can tell,
is to comfort him in some way.
He says, when it is almost appropriate,
I don’t have all my organs.
A young woman across the table,
introduces herself as if her name
were a question she wonders
about. No matter what issue
is at hand, what question anyone raises,
she tells a story that could relate
if today were Tuesday or if it were hailing,
but it seems like the goal is to hear
her own voice, as if it is a lullaby
her mother sang to her when she was worried.
They watch my nervous hands,
the way they move on the table
like a fish in the bottom of a boat,
like my father’s often did.
When I see myself moving
this way, I put them in my pocket,
still pick at my nails or car keys.
I’m never comfortable being in the same
room as myself, always worried
about what I will say next,
what I might do to draw attention
to me, or worse, let it drift away.
And so my hands move
from the table to my pockets
back to the table, end by running through
what hair I have left, as if I could push thoughts
of myself out the back of my mind,
start all over again.
At a convention for college students, a young woman reads
“Root,” a poem, she says, about Kansas,
the place she calls home, the place she wants
to leave. Other students nod knowingly, bobble heads
living in that liminal state themselves, loving what they want
to leave, leaving those they love. Even the professors agree,
though with less enthusiasm, having left enough places
and people by now to know this feeling
never stops. After my first semester of college, I drove
the ten minutes from my dorm to my parents’ house—
a distance that felt like decades—still lived in the same
city, but no longer loved it, had nowhere else to go.
I had already left; I just didn’t know it. My parents saw
my departure in the way my mouth moved, though
they thought it was arrogance, that I believed I was better
than them because I was different. Maybe I did. I was young,
thought my way of seeing the world was the best way,
even if it was different than six months before. I had learned
about Plato’s worlds of ideals and forms and about Beowulf
and derivatives, but I had not learned how to imagine
myself as someone else, to see the world the way they did.
I could not see the eighteen-year-old sitting on the pastel couch
talking to his parents about everything they would not
know as if it was the only thing that mattered.
Kevin Brown is a Professor at Lee University. He has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. You can find out more about him and his work at http://www.kevinbrownwrites.com/