2 Poems by Devin Kelly
Devin Kelly is a high school teacher living in New York City. He is the author of *In This Quiet Church of Night, I Say Amen* (Civil Coping Mechanisms), and his work has been published in* Longreads, The Guardian, Lithub, Hobart, DIAGRAM*, and more.
A SUN SETTING THROUGH A WINDOW or SEVEN LAYERS OF PAINT
after Matthew Yeager
If you've said you were going to quit
but didn’t. If sometimes even the largest room
feels cramped. If you leave the ones you love
to be with the ones you don’t. If you’ve built
a house of fire. If you left the food in the microwave.
If you forgot to fall asleep. If you woke to find
a fly crawling the long crack between the wall
& ceiling. If last year’s clothes no longer fit.
If it’s not a question of size. If it’s always something
else. If you’ve spent an hour looking for what
was in your pocket. If you’ve collapsed out of
sheer annoyance with the self. If you’ve wanted
to scream but knew only the neighbors would
hear. If you do not know their names. If you’ve
cultivated a life of conscious avoidance. If you
sometimes forget your mother’s middle name.
If you do not always get the job done. If desire
is your best kept secret. If it’s just one more
cigarette out the window. If it’s just one more.
If your friends are getting married. If sometimes
you want to reject the invitation. If you think
about joy the way a child thinks about algebra.
If you’re just trying to figure it out. If it’s just
another day. If you’re fine. If you don’t know
what to order. If it’s another conversation. If you
begin with I’m sorry, I forgot. If your friends say
you worry too much. If you worry too much.
If there’s gum all over the sidewalk. If the sign
that reads caution, paint drying is five years old.
If it seems everyone is throwing their furniture
out in the rain. If you want to walk alone. If you
don’t want to walk alone. If you want to say something
about this life. If you don’t want to fight. If your pants
are stained. If all your plants are dying. If you have no
idea why. If you forgot to give them names. If there’s
another life beyond this life. If there’s even tomorrow.
If you hold your breath. If you’re holding it now.
TONIGHT I AM THINKING OF EMIL ZATOPEK
After the frost came, the cold stayed, & everything it touched
began to hold a wind, like even the walls had holes.
& on the subway this morning, two mice wrestling
slid skidding on the ice between the tracks --
it looked like one of them might’ve been the other’s
brother — & then the train came & they disappeared
beneath it. Sometimes, in weather like this, I wonder
what is going to become of us. It’s not the stuff
of party-talk & banter. I can’t begin a conversation
with the sound of my heart waking me up at night
& how I stayed up in bed waiting for it to burst
out of me. I get the feeling it happens to all of us
but I wouldn’t say it. I’d say Hell I Didn’t Sleep Well
Last Night & someone would nod, maybe, & say
Me Neither & then the rest of the night would carry on.
I think odd things when I’m alone. Tonight
I’m watching videos of Emil Zatopek, who, after winning
the gold in both the five and ten thousand, decided
to run his first marathon at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki.
Ten miles in, he pulled beside the favorite, asked him
what he thought of the race so far, & the favorite,
thinking it would ruin Emil’s confidence, said
the pace was too slow. It wasn’t. But Emil pulled away
& the favorite collapsed to the ground & almost died.
The favorite didn’t know then that, when it was too cold
to run, Emil would draw the blinds of his apartment
that looked out on streets emptied by occupation
& fill his bathtub with water, soap, & dirty clothes, & run
in place over them for hours until everything was clean.
What we don’t know about us is what makes us.
Because everything is approaching the infinite
it is how we approach the infinite that changes our lives.
I am thinking of what to do with the unsaid,
of all the empty space caught between us
that could be filled with me telling you I Love You,
over & over again, each time for the first time.
This is the story, though, of my life, the story
I want to tell the next time I cannot sleep, how
it has nothing to do with you, this heavy beating
of my heart, but how I want you to know anyway,
how the pace is not too slow, but too fast,
& how maybe you feel like this also, just sometimes?
The weather outside, cold. Your mind running
for hours in the dark room of your body. Everything
about the world both too much & too little, all at once.
4/28/2021 11:37:57 am
Devin, I said YES to most of the "If-yous" here. It was liberating and made me feel hopeful. We're all slobs on this bus, yeh, yeh....
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