Near the end, if we are lucky —
then or in the in-between,
at an emotional way station
we hoped would arrive, not knowing when —
we gather again, broken.
The lover and the leaver,
the feckless parent, the helpless child,
the endless variations of victim and perpetrator
between which, here, distinctions fade
in scalding light:
The criminal we agree to name
and the one we don’t, the one who
did the best she could at the moment.
Call one sin mortal and another venial,
but we become each other in time.
All, finally, guilty. Or all, not,
when we gather again, broken.
I consider that moment,
a million distant pasts coalescing:
You knot the towel
loosely around your neck —
red or some other bold color — and
run as fast as you can
toward the edge of air
at the top of a short, sharp flight of stairs or
the lip of some minor, magnificent hill.
And launch your child self into space,
arms outstretched because this is the moment,
the last moment before doubt,
and you know you can fly. You know.
And there it is: Grace suspended,
stretching before you,
gathering around you.
Purity and power and goodness.
You are a hero.
Then the earth rushes to meet you,
to steal your breath, constrain your small body.
You crumple, and though you are
only a little hurt, some other
wounding has occurred.
You are not only embarrassed but
You are a human being, not
a bird, or
a plane, or
You are ordinary.
And you know at that moment —
though you haven’t yet words for it —
that you will not rid the world of evil,
nor even — this you learn later — yourself.
In the years to come
you will do harm,
again and again.
acknowledged and unknowable.
And find yourself, near the end, if you are lucky —
then, or at some emotional way station
whose arrival you could not predict —
not alone, finally, but the opposite of alone:
scattered and taken up by
the countless other children who,
near the end or somewhere in the in-between,
gather again, broken.
This poem first appeared a year ago.