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In most thesis courses the professor sends out a survey at end of the semester. Typical questions included:                 What do you intend to do with your degree?      Have you secured placement with either a full-time job in your field or a related graduate studies program?                Where do you see yourself in 5 years?    What do you see yourself doing in 10 years?             The point of this exercise being to provide enough data for your college to list headlines like “98 Percent of graduates either employed full-time or in grad school within six months,”    “[X] ranked for the third straight year as one of the top research schools in the country,”    “For the past forty years our alumni have been changing the world in big ways, join us in wishing our newest grads luck as they continue this tradition (followed by a long list of the students all the other kids wish they turned out like).”

I don’t answer the questions. I close the survey and open a new document:   Most days I have a hard time.  I haven’t thought about tomorrow in weeks, folks like me don’t get that luxury. Our brains never let us. We’re stuck in survival mode, always fighting today, always meeting whatever grief waits at the door without any say in the matter. I never imagined making it to 23. In fact, I thought any number past 17 to be too large, and had I not failed so miserably at suicide the few times I tried, I could have been right. I think the problem is we’re too compartmentalized; we like to pretend one aspect of our life doesn’t have an impact on the others—pulling the rug out from underneath one foot always throws your balance, no matter how many rugs you’re standing on. Whether it be mental illness, poverty, grief, or any other member of the litany, some of us don’t get to dream about tomorrow—we’re far too busy with today.

I email this to my professor instead of filling out the survey, and close my computer. After, I pull The Afterlife by Larry Levis from my bookshelf. Critic Steven M. Wilson said of Levis “his [poems]… are moving, insightful meditations on living. Levis uses his life, but also looks outside himself and beyond the events he remembers to find connections with broader truths… [considering] the issues involved with being human.” Poets like Larry Levis and Phil Levine have always appealed to me because of their attentiveness to the present. Their poems often stay rooted in the moment and care about the complexity of humanity, as if genuinely reaching out to know and welcome you—regardless of where you are at the moment. Surprisingly, you’ll find yourself in their poems time and time again; and maybe this isn’t surprising—Phil Levine cared deeply about correspondence, to young poets driving trucks, or working on farms, or waiting tables, or college students. He frequently got into trouble for letting older poets who couldn’t afford college tuition to sit in on his classes, and firmly believed in having more than one kind of poet with one kind of background.

Steve Abbott’s book A Green Line Between Green Fields follows in the footsteps of Levine and Levis. Steve, like them, pays excruciating attention to what’s going on around him and acts as a gentle listener that asks of you: what have you been meaning to say?  Done with the full intent of making your voice heard. (Pulling Yourself Up By Your) :

“ bootstraps will do nothing

but leave you where you are,

 

knocked on your ass…

//

a form of hyperbole

describing the impossible.

 

Which explains why

those on top keep

 

telling everyone else

that’s how they did it. ”

 

He is interested in our shared griefs and joys, the threads that have been running between us for years, but what makes Steve special though, is his interest not only in meeting you in your today but also in the things we take for granted. Not just as humans in the broad sense but also as individuals. In doing so, his poems sometimes meditate on the ways we each store joy where it is accessible for when it is necessary (Shells):

“ At the nursing home, others brought only distress

or annoyance, claiming to be daughters or

nephews, most looking—for all her squinted effort—

 

like faces in a stranger’s photo album…

//

On a nightstand I found a fishbowl shaping

a collection of seashells culled from both costs…

//

When I carried it to her, she studied the globe

like a child, frenzied beyond containment of

 

a miracle. Her fingers traced the open face

of the jar as she named what seemed parts of

her own body: scallop, mussel, cuttlefish, cowrie

 

  limpet, retrieving a vanished litany

  trapped beneath the barnacled surface of her

own voyage. It’s years. ”

 

 

If nothing else, this book is an ode to the journey; an ode to reaching today (Arriving at This Point):

“ In the end, it’s everything

you expected. The animal

instinct told you…

//

the words you said

to yourself in the dark

are pouring out of you. ”

 

and no matter where we go from this point, whether we have planned the road or are walking hands-first though the dark—this life, all of its joy and pain and wonder, is going to be so worth it.

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