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If I had died today,
that would have been it –
no more sunset skies,
no more birdwatching,
no more being

a midwife at the birth
of a beautiful baby,
no more writing
poems or stories or songs,
no more telling
the ones that I love
that I love them.

I get that.

If I had died today,
my last memories
would have been surprisingly good,
if fairly ordinary:

reading in the morning,
and praying (of course –
who doesn’t pray?),
walking, going to work,
talking with the teachers’ union rep,
joining the union,
hurrying through the grocery store –

and that’s one thing
I would have liked
to do differently:

Why was I rushing?
Why was it more important
for me to go first
instead of letting the other
woman go ahead?
I smiled apologetically
at her later, but still.

If I had died today,
I might have been comforted
by the knowledge that I
helped my students:

I wrote a letter of recommendation
for one who wants to serve
with Teach for America, and later,
sat talking with several of them,
one after another,
in conferences about their research papers,
helping them develop their ideas

about how history affects geography,
and what it means
to understand,
in a complex way,
cause and effect,
short-term and long-term:
the evil that people do,
the redemption that sometimes comes.

Really. That’s what we
were talking about.

If I had died today,
it could have happened
at least three different ways
because after teaching

I start my drive home
the usual way,
and I am in the left-hand turn lane
sitting at a red-light
getting ready to merge
onto I-80 East
when I hear sirens.

I look in my rear-view mirror,
and I see seven or eight cop cars
with their red lights whirring and flashing
coming up over the hill behind me
and down my way

so I flip on my right blinker
telling those around me
that, hey, remember, we’re supposed
to get over to the side of the road,
when the cops are coming,
but they all seem to be
weirdly frozen,
and I can’t go anywhere from here,
my light is red,
I can’t enter the intersection –

really, I can’t get away,
I’m a sitting duck,
which is awkward
when you’re human
(or even when you’re a duck).

If I had died today …

That’s when the car
the cops are chasing
reaches my lane,
and when the driver can’t go forward,
because we’re in his way,
he decides to pull into
the lane of oncoming traffic
right next to me
in order to try to get on the freeway
and, to stop him, the cop in pursuit
slams into the back of his car.

Just slams him.

That car, dark with tinted windows,
does a 180 right next to me,
and suddenly stops,
just a few feet
from me,
but I’m not hit –
it’s a miracle.

If I had died today …

The cops jump out
with their guns pulled
and point them directly at the dark vehicle
angry and shouting,
“Get out of the car!
Get out of the car!”

as they come closer,
one cop in the lead,
his gun almost touching
the driver’s side window
and a German shepherd
is right behind him.

I’m watching this,
but I’m trying to get down in my own car,
trying to duck,
because I don’t want to be shot –
my God, I don’t want to be shot
by the cops or the driver in that car
who might come out
shooting, God knows, it happens –

If I had died today …

I can’t get very far down,
and I want the light to turn green,
and I think, maybe they’ve frozen
the lights, and I’m never going to be able
to get out of here

and that’s when another cop
starts running toward the scene
from the opposite direction,
and he is holding his gun out
and pointing it straight at me,
straight into my driver’s side window 

and I hold up my hands to my face, palms out,
and I begin frantically waving at him
to say, no, don’t shoot, I’m not the suspect! 

And I wonder:
didn’t the dispatcher tell you
what the suspect’s car looks like?
I’m in a white Toyota Corolla!
It doesn’t look a thing like that dark car right next to me! 

Meanwhile, the other cops start shouting,
“Crossfire! Crossfire!”
to warn the cop that if he shoots,
he’s in danger
of injuring them.

And I am thinking to myself
that I don’t want to be shot,
and I don’t want to see any cops
accidentally shoot each other,
and I don’t actually want the cops
to shoot the driver in the car, either,
I don’t want to see that –

and I’m a midwife and a teacher,
and my purpose is to save life,
not to take it, and I don’t want to die,
not today, not right now,
because there are so many things
I still want to do before I die,
Jesus have mercy

And the light turns green.

It turns green, and I think to myself,
I am under no obligation to stay here
and watch anyone get shot,
and I turn onto the freeway,
and I drive straight to the church
where I pray with the secretary
and call the police department
to tell them that I am a witness,
this is what I saw …

If I had died today,
that would have been it:
no more sunset skies,
no more birdwatching,
no more being –

I get that.

But I didn’t die today.
I lived.

Jane Beal
sanctuarypoet.net

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“I lift my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD, the maker of the heaven and earth …
The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in
from this time forth  
and forevermore.”

~ from Psalm 121

Tree at my window, window tree,
My sash is lowered when night comes on;
But let there never be curtain drawn
between you and me.

Vague dream-head lifted out of the ground,
And thing next most diffuse cloud:
Not all your light tongues talking aloud
Could be profound.

But tree, I have seen you taken and tossed,
And if you have seen me when I slept,
You have seen me when I was taken and swept
and all but lost.

That day she put our heads together,
Fate had her imagination about her —
Your head so much concerned with outer.
Mine with inner, weather.

Robert Frost
(posted in honor of my pomelo tree)

“On a round ball
A workeman that hath by, can lay
An Europe, Afrique, and an Asia,
And quickly make that, which was nothing, all:

So doth each teare,
Which thee doth weare,

A globe, yea, world by that impression grow,
Till thy teares mixt with mine doe overflow
This world, by waters sent from thee, my heaven dissolved so …”

~ John Donne, “A Valediction: Of Weeping”

Psalter_World_Map,_c.1265

Mappamundi: The Geography of a Medieval World-View
by Jane Beal

“The history of my life will say to the world what it says to me —
there is a loving God, who directs all things for the best.”

Hans Christian Andersen (1868)

Spicy grove, cinnamon tree,
what is Africa to me?

Countee Cullen (1925)

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

J.R.R. Tolkien
sung by Bilbo in The Hobbit

Note: J.R.R. Tolkien was born January 3, 1892.
Happy birthday, Professor Tolkien!

j-r-r-tolkien

Joy to the World!

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Joy to the World!

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