Poem of the Week | April 17, 2017

LG Crop

This week, we are excited to offer a new poem by Lia Greenwell. Greenwell’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in the American Literary Review, Ruminate, Flyway, and Witness, among other publications. She is a graduate of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College and has received scholarships from the Rona Jaffe Foundation and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. She lives in Detroit, Michigan, where she works with the InsideOut Literary Arts Project. Her website is www.liagreenwell.com.

Author’s note:

When I began teaching creative writing to college students, I was surprised by how the boundaries of the teacher-student relationship, the safe distance I thought would exist between us, quickly began to breach. Many students faced hardships that made their way into writing and the classroom. It wasn’t possible to teach craft as if it were anatomy.

Quantum physics and Zen monks have both said that separateness is an illusion, but I’ve resisted that idea. Individuality and independence have always been great comforts to me. When I taught, however, I saw that it was impossible to not take in others’ pain, as if by osmosis. Together in class, we tried to make something of it.

This poem is from a series about this year of teaching and the black bears living in my backyard, which seemed both in danger and dangerous.


Last Day in the Mountains


I walked toward the cow pasture,
a steep hill where the mountains
circle around, like standing


at the bottom of a teacup.
I wanted to sit in the weeds grown tall,
to cast a long, strange shadow—


to let the year go. On the path, the trees
held that impossible syrupy light
in their canopy. I never made it—


because on the path through the hills,
a woolly bear cub shot up a tree,
a black smudge in motion.


My body knew, animal as anything.
I didn’t have to choose to run.
My student who wanted to die


was hit by a car
while riding his bike up the mountain.
I hoped it would frighten him


into living, how close—
He said it was exciting.
Bruised, he took the exam in my office,


at the last moment and without notes.
He knew everything. I had kept reaching
for him, like some glint in water.