by Joseph Baldwin

I am saying goodbye now
to the scene outside the window:
certain trees, a familiar tilt of land.
Travelers through called it flat country,
but we who lived here knew
that it leans this way and that, by turns.
Witness: during the ice season, some intersections
needed sand, else you couldn’t get started
if the red light halted your car upgrade.

Well. It was nothing to see, our place,
even with its up and downs. Travelers
went through here on their way to the mountains,
forests, canyons, lakes, geysers; and (eventually)
the ocean. Only stopped among us for
gas and food.

People who lived here came only for the job.
The place was… nothing much. And
always open to the wind. You wouldn’t choose it.

No one would hymn this place; not
ungrudging hymn it. Instead, some
hymn their forbears for having
endured it and brought it under cultivation.

And this place I’m telling goodbye,
with nowhere else in particular to go.
Where would I go, if I’d not walked or worked there?

They tell of prison librarians, who,
having built the collection, and having
found a function, regret being paroled.

And we who worked in ampler prisons,
on tasks we hardly chose at will, but
fitted into, and had our orbits:
home-to-work, home-to-church,
home-to-the-movies, to the stadium,
to Chinese food, to… in short, to
the limits of this wider prison,
saw the travelers going through, and
saw it with their eyes, and knew it.
It was… nothing much.

But what our keepers in this prison
never figured, never counted on — if ever
they thought of us who were only functions,
people you’d never hear about, people
who could be laid off in slack seasons
and never missed — what they never counted on
was this: we could love. Love
certain familiar trees, the slant
of land, buildings kept in poor
repair but still inhabitable,
where our work-benches were and
where our tools were kept.

In the slack season, they didn’t see us
come down to the old buildings, use
the keys they didn’t take back from us,
open the doors, and sit at the work-benches,
picking up the old tools one at a time,
and looking at them as if they were strange:
feeling their heft in the hand, just in case —
what? — they might be used again?
They forgot we were human and had to love
something.

And now
even that scene is outside my window
and I’m telling it goodbye.
I didn’t choose this, either.

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