Two Poems by Lauren McKenzie Reed

After Kilimanjaro

I dream I’m descending;
night after night is just down.
Sleep, wake, pack my fictional orange tent,
and down. How deep is this mountain?
I haven’t had a recurring dream before
but, here I am, now reliving
an endless version of
the quick two days of leaving.
This whole week I’m disembarking,
each night, plunging
down the side of the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Maybe I don’t want to reach the base:
back to reality, where my partner
slept at another woman’s house
the first day I was gone;
back to my job,
where I am less extraordinary
than I was on the mountain.

Up – I could ascend forever;
leaning in to height,
weight on my back never
holding but pushing me,
air thinning, clouds beneath me:
for days looking out is looking over
the blanket of weather
created by the thing I am conquering.
My seven-day climb felt a lifetime:
so many moments crystal clear
while time does not move generously
here, in real life, on the ground,
where we’ve been told we belong.
No one tells you that, after
you’ve summited, you see life this way,
you awaken to the fact that
you are on the bottom,
every day, your whole life,
looking up.

There are two phases to this:

An exile that is physical – you have
ten days, three days, and then you cannot return here,
to your spiral cooktop, to your view of the construction zone,
to the broken stairs leading to the park,
to the fire escape where people light fires,
to where the cleaning lady put down her broom
and used her dirty hands to teach you how to peel potatoes,
to the window seat you made and dreamt about –
big enough for two bodies to stare at the lights at night –
to the shop downstairs that knows which tea you like
and has it ready in the morning when you stop by –
you never asked for this, the favor just began.

An exile that is mental – don’t talk
about the pain, don’t cry
when someone asks why you left,
learn to shrug when you say war,
learn to lie about how things are
better in the new country,
not that things aren’t more plentiful, or expensive,
sure they are better, better, but don’t tell others
that you long for the uncultivable dirt
and the street dogs; you long for the
imprecise bus schedule and the unpredictable route –
changing based on the driver’s mood or a rider’s wallet –
learn to ignore the desire to talk to everyone you meet
with a tee-shirt written in a language
that you know just because you want to
share stories about the streets after the rain
and make a joke only they might get,
because they might not get it,
it might just be a tee shirt, you might just be a refugee
even if you’re back in your birth country
because you had to leave, you were given no choice,
and the only decision left to you
is deciding which is worse.

Lauren McKenzie Reed received her MFA in Creative Writing from West Virginia University, where she taught for six years. She also has an MA in TESOL and, in addition to teaching and publishing, has studied and worked in several countries, including Australia, Hong Kong, China, Ukraine, Mali, and Germany. She adamantly opposes the proposed cuts of 32 degree programs by the WVU administration.

Appears In

Issue 20

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