Rending Wall

Poetry inspired by Donald Trump, with apologies to Robert Frost

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Someone there is who loves a wall,
Who foments the hate that boils up to build it,
And creates fake news, equates terror with one religion,
And makes a place where predators can grab a breast.

The work of the people is another thing:
I have joined them in their marches, their peaceful protests,
Which met with tear gas, resentment, and bile,
The resistance that has irked the angry dogs.

At mending time, a time to heal all wounds,
My neighbor lets me know beyond the hill,
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And crack the wall between us once again.

We smash the wall between us as we go.
He is all pine and I am apple orchard,
but together we get nourishment beneath the shade.
He’s heard “Good walls will keep out bad hombres.”

We wish we could put a notion in Trump’s head,
How do you know they’re bad before you meet them?
But Trump believes Breitbart News and watches Fox,
And thinks a wall’s the trick, doesn’t care if he gives offense.

Nature it is that doesn’t want the wall,
That tears it down when the people gather, rise up.
I see Trump there, hiding in his fool’s gold castle,
Peeking out behind the shades, afraid of another’s difference.

He takes no self-exam and can’t see similarities
With the very people he chooses to detest.
I want to pelt him with a barrage of ripe red apples,
The age-old symbol for knowledge he so disdains.

My neighbor wants to make a drone of pinecones,
And deliver a prickly payload of stark reality.
But Donald is the duck in a raincoat.
His conscience doesn’t work like yours or mine.

He moves in darkness, a product of his party’s mindless rage.
And doesn’t read a book nor turn a page.

Let’s Get It On

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Protesters gathered on Monument Square Friday night, with sign-holders chanting to passing cars and each other that “Hey Ho! Donald Trump has got to go.” The woman on the bullhorn implored art walkers to come out each month in similar fashion. Across the street, in the atrium of the Portland Public Library, critics of the current regime took another approach, gathering musicians from several immigrant communities for the Portland Culture Exchange’s music jam and dance party. They had “Mainer” shirts especially made for the day, crafted by Pigeon, the street artist name for Orson Horchler.

This first public event comes after a year of several impromptu house parties, introducing newcomers to the city to their neighbors and future friends. Lilly Pearlman anchors the group and plays fiddle and bass guitar. She grew up in Portland, went to college in New York, and then spent time in Brazil.

“When I moved back, I wanted to know a Portland that wasn’t as homogenous as the one I grew up in. I thought ‘What stands in the way?’ I realized that we’re not homogenous, we’re segregated.” She wanted a project that called upon peoples’ various skills and yet somehow united them. She started going to English classes, where she met new Mainers and talked about their interests. Almost everybody she met loved music; most played an instrument. Cuisine and culture quickly became two additional distinguished commonalities. They started holding monthly French-English discussions, and the group plans to add Spanish and Arabic exchanges to the mix. Despite national concerns with immigration policies and the swirling confusion of their effects on locals, the Portland Culture Exchange has remained intent on sharing traditions, food, and music.

“We are bridging the gaps between American-born and new Mainers through common passions to create the opportunity for building relationships, friendships between communities that are usually segregated,” she said. “Frequently, even when there’s interest between multiple groups to get together, it’s uncomfortable. There are cultural barriers. Sometimes people think the differences are greater than they are.”

The group started having informal parties that turned into Monument Square street jams. The library’s atrium was packed at Friday night’s event, and they’re considering moving to a bigger space the next time. But for the group, it’s not all song and dance.

They’re planning a big event called “We Sing for Peace,” using some of the Jewish traditions of Eastern Europe, especially the notion of a tisch – a joyous public celebration with a meal set up on a long table, often held on a Friday, “when Orthodox Jews aren’t supposed to play musical instruments, so they sing into the night,” Pearlman said. “Niggunim, or traditional melodies, for example. Based on that, we are going to have people lead easy songs in their languages that call for peace. We’ll probably need more space, perhaps the auditorium.”

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“The notion of a tisch comes from my Jewish (Ashkenazi, Eastern European) heritage,” said Pearlman, who teaches ceilidh dances from her Scottish heritage at their jams. She says the project works to build a real multicultural view of what ‘Portland culture’ is, based on Portland’s residents and their multifaceted histories and traditions.

“We Sing for Peace” is modeled after a tisch because that, too, is part of Portland’s traditions. “While the project is grounded in the sharing, appreciating, and exchanging of traditions and cultures, we put great value on the people who bring Portland’s cultural richness,” she said. “When Eric Simido sings an Angolan song, he makes his Angolan culture essential to Portland culture. When the folks at Chez Okapi – a Congolese restaurant on St. John’s Street where we host our French-English language exchanges – cook fufu and pundu in Portland, they bring their home with them, and they build Portland’s culture. When any brilliant foreign-born Mainer uses their ingenuity to create a new business in Portland, their unique way of thinking and being makes its way into this community’s roots and foundation. So we see our exchange as part of an intertwining of long histories in the place where we all now share common space: Portland.”

The musical regulars include Pearlman and her brother Neil on the keyboard. Majoja, on the drums and guitar, and Eric Simido, vocals and guitar, are both from Angola. Ness Smith-Savedoff, who grew up in Portland and Switzerland, plays drums. The Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda are regularly represented. Everyone is invited to bring an instrument and come and dance. At “We Sing for Peace,” tentatively scheduled for April, they hope to have as many as ten countries joining voice.

Majoja is the nickname or artistic name for Kingebeni Kilaka Kelorde, who is originally from the north of Angola. “I had to go to DR Congo, the country where I lived for about two decades because my country was in civil war.”

He studied art in high school, and is now a painter and musician. “I have loved the music since my childhood because it has been part of my traditional culture,” he said. “I have been in Portland since October 2015. It was not easy for me to be accustomed with the weather, oh nooo! So cold, the lifestyle is so fast and busy. When I met with Jenny van West, she connected me with Pigeon and he connected me with Lilly Pearlman. She talked to me about the Portland Culture Exchange. It seemed to be an interesting project and I promised her to give all my energies because I believe that everyone has something special to share to make Portland a better place for everyone. I live in the US , and I love this multicultural country. Culture is the identity of people. I’d like to see Portland growing up like all the metropolitan cities around the world. Portland Culture Exchange is our first step.”

 

For more information, contact portlandcultureexchange@gmail.com

Scott Cairns talks poetry, politics and the possibility of peace

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Scott Cairns was born in Tacoma, Washington. He earned a BA from Western Washington University, an MA from Hollins College, an MFA from Bowling Green State University, and a PhD from the University of Utah. This interview was conducted by Tim Gillis ahead of Cairns’ reading in South Portland on Jan. 30.

 

TG: How does geography influence your poetry?

 

SC: I don’t know that I consciously am aware of how it might. I do know I’ve been in exile for 40 years, in the wilderness. I grew up here, but left for grad school in ’77 and then didn’t really get back until just now. Despite having lived and taught all around the country, this landscape has always been the landscape of my imagination. Maine is similar, the evergreen trees that creep down to the shore, the low skies on a cloudy day – I found it analogous to the kind of quiet that one pursues when settling into writing a poem or saying a prayer.

 

Besides writing poetry, Cairns has also written a spiritual memoir, Short Trip to the Edge (2007), and the libretto for the oratorios “The Martyrdom of Saint Polycarp” and “A Melancholy Beauty.”

 

TG: Talk about the element of spirituality in your work.

 

SC: When I started out, I was like most of my American contemporaries, working off of my own experiences and trying to find something useful to talk about. I guess at some point, around my second book, I started writing to find out, instead of writing what I thought I knew, pouring over the language on the page looking for something I hadn’t apprehended. Most of my career now has been comprised of composing that way. Not too far along that way, I started attending to my own personal obsessions with God – using that practice to lean into an understanding of the nearness of God, developed through the poems, meditations, through that contemplative compressing of language, and figured out how I commune with God. Not every poem, but most in the past 30-plus years have commenced that way.

 

Cairns has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and was awarded the Denise Levertov Award in 2014. He has taught at numerous universities including University of North Texas, Old Dominion University, Seattle Pacific University, and the University of Missouri. He also directs a low-residency MFA program at Seattle Pacific University.

 

TG: Tell me a bit about the nitty-gritty of your writing process?

 

SC: I use a legal pad and a pencil, and am usually reading something. What I’m reading is varied – a great poem or some theological text – Patristic Greek, the fathers of the church, early saints and their writings.

 

TG: Can you contrast when process when writing poetry, memoir, and libretti?

 

SC: They require a different filter of the head. With poetry, my primary mode, I write to find things out. If I have an idea before I start, I wait for it to go away. I want the language to tell me something I don’t yet apprehend. With the memoir, a template of actual events that I allowed into the text in a way I wouldn’t have done with a poem. I wanted the events to be recorded and examined. Memoir is a way to revisit those occasions and glean from them a more useful sense of what to make of them, these visits to holy places and discussions with holy men. Libretti were pretty much defined by historical occasions – e.g. the martyrdom of St. Polycarp of Symrna. I worked with a composer who did the music. He supplied verses for moments in the score. Then the composer worked from those and educed from those musical phrases.

 

TG: You’re founding director of Writing Workshops in Greece, a program that brings writers to study and engage with literary life in modern Greece. How did that enterprise come about?

 

SC: In college, I started reading patristic texts, which led me into becoming an Orthodox Christian. Most noticeable Orthodox Christians in America are Greek Orthodox. An understanding of the faith led me to pay more attention to these early writings – usually in Greek. I started learning Greek and going to Greece. I visited a monastic enclave at Mount Athos. The Byzantine Empire covered much of the Mediterranean from Venice east, and subsequently succumbed to Islamic takeover. This place is the last vestige of the Byzantine Empire, a finger of a peninsula. It still goes on to this day, a part of Greece but self-governing, like the Vatican. I developed the writing program as an excuse to go to Greece more often. By now, I have gone to this holy mountain 24 times.

 

TG: A sharp contrast to disturbing recent new of religiously motivated attacks and threats of violence nationally. In Portland last Thursday (Jan. 19), a bomb threat was called into a Jewish pre-school. You’re reading at Congregation Bet Ha’am, a Reform Jewish congregation in South Portland, at an event hosted by the BTS Center, a United Church of Christ affiliate that’s ecumenical in nature. Talk about these intersections of politics and religion, and the possibilities for peace. And how can contemporary poetry speak to that end?

 

SC: Orthodox Christianity is probably the most Jewish of Christian expressions. In orthodoxy, that connection has been maintained, even the way the priests dress. I studied a lot of rabbinic texts, a lot of early writings that revolve around a puzzling moment in scripture. In terms of poetics and politics, one writes poems from a place of understanding words, and the power of words, and honoring what truth and attention can avail. If there is a relationship between the poet and the politician – the poet examines the language of the politician for veracity. Poets in our culture now are in a position to challenge careless or misleading uses of language in the political realm. We have to call people on it. For that reason, we have an obligation to share what we see against euphemism or obfuscation.

 

 

 

 

Details:

Poetry Reading by Scott Cairns

Hosted by The BTS Center

Congregation Bet Ha’am

81 Westbrook St, South Portland

Monday, Jan 30 7-8 p.m.

Cairns is the author of eight books of poetry, including The Theology of Doubt (1985), The Translation of Babel (1990), Philokalia (2002), Idiot Psalms (2014), and Slow Pilgrim: The Collected Poems (2015). His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, The Paris Review, The New Republic, Poetry, and elsewhere, and has been anthologized in Best Spiritual Writing and Best American Spiritual Writing.

 

What to do when not tuning in

Wicked Good, Halfway Decent Un’naugural Ball

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Jenny Van West, Troy R. Bennett, and award-winning gospel singer Fiston Bujambi Seba
By Timothy Gillis

What better way to celebrate the inauguration than to skip it altogether and spend the evening laughing and dancing and raising money for a great cause? Mayo Street Arts Center is hosting the Wicked Good, Halfway Decent Un’naugural Ball on Friday, Jan. 20, to benefit Mayo Street Arts and the Maine Immigrant Musical Instrument Project, which helps new arrivals reconnect with their musical roots by finding them instruments and introducing them to local like-minded communities.

The Wicked Good Band will team up with the Half Moon Jug Band for the event. Troy R. Bennett, on guitar and banjo, says he is known as the Van Gogh of the banjo since “I only give the impression that I’m playing it.” He’s joined by “Frost” Steve Brewer on bass, kazoo, and sax and Jeff Hamm who plays a suitcase drum set made from old American Tourister luggage.

Bennett says the idea for the show came to him after the presidential election, but stresses that it’s all positive vibes, not a protest.

“Everyone’s getting worked up over it,” he says of the election results. “They feel like they’ve lost control. We wanted to have a fun concert in town, where you aren’t spinning your wheels, to think about our own neighbors right here.”

That desire to help Portland’s new neighbors led him to Jenny Van West, the founder and director of the Maine Immigrant Musical Instrument Project. Bennett had written about her efforts for a local newspaper and quickly realized her story went on from where he’d left off.

“She had run into a new Mainer from Africa, who commented on the guitar she was carrying,” he says. “She found out that he’d fled Africa but was not able to bring his guitar. You know, while immigrants are waiting for a ruling on a green card, they are barred from working, but it’s free to make music.”

After that initial chance encounter, Van West started work on the project, which is part of a larger effort called “Welcoming the New American Family,” orchestrated by Pastor Maurice Namwira. It brings together recent arrivals with folks who’ve been here longer, “making sure they are oriented, have household items, know what they need to do next for their asylum cases, and getting together to eat and play music and relax,” she said.

An early gathering at her house brought in “a mélange of people from 10 different African countries. We had all kinds of music – country, folk, traditional African music. Out of that, a grassroots network started to grow. There are a lot of them in Portland and they are starting to connect, moving into a more formal direction to tackle issues like housing and education since a lot of people are afraid to speak up. For now, we quietly see what can we do for someone to help them feel a little more integrated.”

She notes the various and deep psychological pressures on immigrants, based on what they’re been through and how well they acclimate to their new surroundings. “Music is a common thread. They could be from several different countries, but they all know all these songs,” she said. “Recently I delivered guitars to two people on the same night, men who are living in the same apartment. Typically, roommate situations for recent arrivals seeking asylum are not by choice – more like they are thrown in together because they all need a room and one is available in a particular apartment. One knew that I was coming; the other one did not. The one who knew I was coming is from DR Congo. There, when you receive a gift, the polite thing to do is to put it behind a closed door and open it later. To open it right then is considered rude. So that’s what he did and quietly returned to talking with me. While my American self was disappointed that I would not see his reaction, I knew he was receiving this gift in absolutely the most respectful way possible, which made me feel great. The one who did not know I was coming is quite extroverted, and when he got the word I was there, came running out of his room so completely excited. He opened the thin case right up, and pulled out the guitar. He sat right down, started playing and singing in a big gorgeous voice.”

Moving experiences like this one are not only felt when she delivers instruments to immigrants, but also when she receives a donation that has been played for generations.

“One of my African friends told me that giving instruments is an act of family,” she said. “If you’re here with no biological family, you feel like you’re at home.”

That sense of family pervades these organizations, and is the driving force for the Un’naugural Ball. “We’re totally into having a good time,” Bennett says. “Whatever happens with the new administration, people are going to need good times. We’re not against anybody. We’re just for stuff – for good times and making sure musicians get instruments in their hands.”

 

Details:

Wicked Good, Halfway Decent Un’naugural Ball

Friday, Jan. 20 at 7:30 p.m.

Mayo Street Arts, 10 Mayo Street, Portland

Contact mayostreetarts.org for more info

Matisyahu’s undercard

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By Timothy Gillis

Rustic Overtones opens for Matisyahu at the State Theatre on New Year’s Eve in an all-ages show. For Dave Gutter, the band’s frontman, it has been a year of collaboration and fruition for projects that highlight his wordsmithing for others and influence on their musical careers.

“A lot of stuff I’d been writing the last three years culminated this year,” Gutter said.

Aaron Neville released “Apache,” with lyrics Gutter co-wrote with Eric Krasno based on Neville’s poems.

Of the release, Krasno said, “Working on the Neville record has been a dream gig.” On it, he worked with Gutter, imagining Neville’s life through at least 50 poems he had sent them.

“The cool thing for me was laying down music and melodies, like painting a picture. We created the sketch and Aaron would add the color. He was very involved in the process, something he had not done on his records in a very long time,” Krasno said. “The excitement level between all of us was high.”

Gutter pushed Krasno, the songwriter, to move to the front of the stage and sing his own songs, which resulted in Krasno’s debut album, “Blood from a Stone.” Krasno credits Gutter and other Maine musicians with helping him make the jump, giving him the necessary confidence in his own voice.

Another high note, literally, for Gutter was his work on a single from GRiZ’s new album. In addition to the novel song, Grant Kwiecinski, who at 25 is already an electronic funk icon, also introduced GRiZ Kush, the artist’s own strain of weed that is sold legally in Denver, Co.

“With the writing thing, it’s been a busy year,” Gutter said, but added that the creative, collaborative process dates back even longer. “We started that four years ago. So sometimes after you write the songs, the bands tour and play them, record them. Now we’re at a place where it’s looping around and seems current.”

Over time, Gutter’s vocal range has moved from sandpaper scratchy rock anthems like Paranoid Social Club’s “We All Got Wasted” to hauntingly mellow love ballads like those off his new album “Armies,” a duo endeavor with Anna Lombard.

His songwriting may have been overlooked comparatively, but industry insiders know he can crank out catchy bumper sticker lyrics and social commentary with music’s best. In a year that saw Bob Dylan win a Nobel Prize for Literature, the establishment types are starting to appreciate songwriting as an art form.

For Gutter, a low note this year was the death of David Bowie. The Maine minstrel joined up with other local legends in a tribute to Ziggy Stardust held at the State Theatre right after news came down. He played “Sector Z” with Jeff Beam, Dominic Lavoie, and Mat Zaro.

A high point for Gutter, again literally, was when he and fiancée Kaitlyn Gradie had their engagement photographs taken on the side of a cliff in the White Mountains.

“We went to the top in the early morning dark,” he said. “They dropped us down with harnesses, and as the sun came up, they took the pictures.” Philbrick Photography provided the aerial hijinks on Cathedral Ledge. The couple plans to get married, perhaps in the new year, but they are waiting to announce a date, “waiting to throw a crazy party.”

More big news for the coming year: Rustic Overtones have begun work on a new album, one that will be a decidedly different product than in years past.

“It’s a collection of instrumentals I’m currently writing over,” Gutter said. “A world music vibe, heavily South American and Brazilian. I discovered some cool music from the late 60’s and 70’s, from Brazilian psychedelic rock bands. We love to make music like that, always trying to push forward.”

From the studio to the stage, the band continues to break barriers. “We resurrect all of our music when we play live,” he said of the upcoming State show, “and we’ll have fresh new versions with a different feel.”

Gutter has not played with Matisyahu before but knows several of the guys from his band, having met them through Krasno. “I’ve never even seen Matis live, so I’m looking forward to do my set and then just chill, hang out with the drunk guys who know every word to your songs.”

 

Details:

Matisyahu w/ Rustic Overtones & Alec Benjamin

Doors: 8:00 pm / Show: 9:00 pm

$20 Early Bird / $30 Advance / $35 Day of Show

This event is ALL AGES

Mallett Bros go back to Maine roots

By Timothy Gillis

Coming off a whirlwind tour of the United States this past year, playing as many as 190 shows, the Mallett Brothers say it will be “cool to cap it off at home,” on New Year’s Eve at the Portland House of Music and Events.

“In 2016, it turned into gigging harder than ever,” Luke Mallett said, “playing five days a week throughout the summer. We’ve gone to Texas twice, back and forth to Colorado.”

After several years as a tight, cohesive group, the band has been practicing overtime to fit in two new musicians – Adam Cogswell on drums who replaced Brian Higgins and Andrew Martelle, formerly of North of Nashville, on fiddle and mandolin.

“In seven years, we’ve gone through more than one lineup change,” Luke said. “When we lost Brian and started with Adam, it took some adjusting. With these two new additions, we now have even more renewed energy when we play live. Martelle is a great element to add. Having a fiddle brings things to life.”

The band is based around Luke and Will Mallett, on vocals and guitar. Along with the new additions, Wally plays guitar and dobro and adds vocals. Nick Leen plays bass guitar. Their release last year, “Life Along the River,” garnered widespread acclaim and raucous crowds.

What may surprise their loyal following is a secret work they’ve been honing for several years now. Expected to come out in February of 2017, “The Falling of the Pine” is a return to their musical roots with a typical added flourish. It is inspired in part by their time in the Maine woods while working on their last album and a book Will found on his parents’ bookshelf. “Falling of the Pine” offers up ten tunes based on lyrics discovered in that book, Minstrelsy of Maine, a 1927 collection of folk songs and logging lyrics written by Fannie Hardy Eckstorm of Brewer. The band met each day for a few hours, delving into some of this rich Maine history for the new material.

“We’ve been working on it long enough. It took us quite some time,” Luke says of the upcoming LP, for which they added the musical score to the words. “We picked at this in between (live shows and other studio work). We’ve got the record finished, the artwork back, and we’re feeling close.”

The band plans a Maine theater tour for the spring, playing in some opera houses as well in a fitting backdrop for the traditional tunes. Coveting the value of the stories behind the songs, Falling of the Pine” is the band’s first record for which they will release a booklet of lyrics. “We’ve been asked for years to do that, and finally thought – this is the one. It has the lyrics as well as quotes from the author,” Luke said.

The Mallett brothers come from a family with a strong folk tradition. Their father, Dave, has churned out Maine folk songs and ballads for four decades and featured on their last album. Their mother, Jayne Lello, worked with a University of Maine professor, Sandy Ives, back in the 1960’s, collecting and archiving traditional songs when she first learned of Minstrelsy. Although the researching duo created some vinyl versions of the songs, the Mallett Brothers were keen to keep away from their influence and, in the folk tradition, rework the music.

“They were singing some of these songs in the traditional Irish folk way. Our mother has a copy. We heard it and knew about it, but we tried to avoid it,” Luke said. “We had a pretty good idea anyway, but we started from scratch. We wanted to match the feeling of the lyrics to the instruments we are playing now and the general feel of the whole thing. It is different, definitely not a traditional record. We did traditional songs in a non-traditional way.”

Excitement brims for the new work with the old songs, but the singer took a moment to reflect on the hubbub of the outgoing year. He said a high note was playing at Floydfest in July.

“It sets the bar for festivals,” he said. “It’s smaller than some, tucked in the mountains in Floyd, V, in Blueridge. It’s a real scene – a collection of music lovers like I’ve never seen. The people are cool, and the bands they brought in offer a lot to up-and-coming bands.”

Turning their sights on the year-ending show, the band is thrilled to be billed with Samuel James and his full band. They see the “grit and gravel” performer as a perfect fit for their folksy, countrified sound. “We have been trying to put a show together with him for five years, and it just finally worked out.”

Ocean wakes

By Timothy Gillis

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I wake up early to check on the ocean.

After another night of teaching dreams,

I wake early to check on the shore,

make sure she is still there

after a year of removable news.

In my inbox is a poem from an old friend who

still persists in sending them to me,

even though I never reply in kind.

As with all the others, I’m moved to try but

this time I really do. Letters continue to fail me,

but I email him back anyway, to thank

him for the intentions.

 

I go outside, ahead of Wyatt to check for skunks,

then let the dog out to join me.

The moon is still up, a fingernail with clear sights

on the rest of her phases.

The sun is rising and gives me a dual perspective of

dark and light, night in its unceasing tussle

with day’s break.

 

Coffee and the day’s first cigarette do their usual business,

rousing in me some kind of buzz, some kind of human hum

against the machinery.

Wyatt sniffs last night’s proceedings,

carousing the ground at our new home, then

raises his snout to the moon

and whatever’s in the air that only a dog can know.

Looks to the ocean to ask if we’re going.

 

We will, I tell him, when mum’s awake

and can join us. I consider the double impact of

two competing celestial bodies, usually

unaware of each other but now occupying the same horizon.

 

I sip and smoke and say good morning to my dad,

tell him I have always believed in him, tell him that

I still do now, even years after I cannot see him anymore,

tell myself to believe in myself, believe in the possibility

that two conflicting emotions can coexist,

that it’s okay to doubt and still don the

morning cap of capable, the fingerless gloves that let me smoke and write

and still stay warm, find the letters that come together in this poem,

rusty and out-of-shape but still in key.

Tell myself that, for now, that’s more than enough.