Susan Gillis

A Story

In town, people were unzipping their coats,
carrying knit hats. It was the kind of day

strangers step aside for each other readily,
bestowing small gestures, the shoulder pull,
the bent arm aside, the chin tuck, the almost nod.
I cruised the block and parked in the last spot

behind an idling truck.
It was the shady side, and I found it
a different world when I got out and began to walk,

a world of clutched fabric and flapping ends,
rough winds roiling up among buildings.
A phrase from an old song came to me
about walking on the sunny side of the street,

meant, I knew, as a lesson about complaining.
Such simplification is a hallmark of moral lessons.
Can it ever be otherwise?
Learning happens in retrospect, except in those most

charged and fortunate circumstances
when it drops on us like clear northern light.
The day before, I had walked the back field

through gem fires bursting from snow.
This, I thought, this is my beating heart.

Nothing had ever been more exciting or exact.
The world had opened, revealed its inner minerals.

I had no sense of having left my body
the way sometimes I have felt beside myself,
felt left,

yet my body too could have been flaring out,
maybe was.

Was it a vision of the end?
I came indoors, made coffee, went to my study as usual.
Each time I spoke of it reduced it a little
while expanding it in my mind.

This is how we reach knowledge of others:
finding what we cannot make understood.

Did we share a smile as we approached the door,
you and I?

The story lies; all stories lie;
they are like snow,

bodies formed by solidification of elements
with regular repeating structures of atoms and faces.
Most of the time they are all we have,

selves we reach out to
or hurry past, depending.



This poem is published in Vallum: Contemporary Poetry 14:2 in PRINT and DIGITAL! This issue also features work by John Kinsella, Mary Jo Bang, David Eso, Elisa Gabbert and more! Plus a conversation with Pultizer Prize-winning poet Rae Armantrout and an excerpt from an upcoming chapbook by Bhanu Kapil. To order your copy, please visit our ONLINE STORE!



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