Poem: When You Came Here

Poem: When You Came Here

New York is strange that way

shedding shops and

birthing new buildings,

all while you’re

waiting to cross a street or

watching a parade roll by.

 

In the years since you’ve been here

violent waves of gentrification

have washed over the land

you once knew.

It seems to some like

a shot to the concrete heart

but is a death much slower

change strangling livelihoods

so you’re left to mourn

your favorite places

McLoughlin’s and Boyle’s Bar,

Benny’s Burritos,

the deli around the corner

with the nice man from Pakistan,

as the paint dries

and the sun winks

knowingly

at the streets.

 

New Yorkers are strange that way

missing the ways things were

forgetting the ways

they’ve changed shape

to find a place

in this endless puzzle

of nine million people.

 

But under the layers of soot and grime

in the rare moments of quiet

between sirens and shouts

in the early hours of morning

when the buses sleep in Jersey

and the Hudson flows in silence

you can find exactly who you were

when you came here.

 

Dedicated to Papa, my favorite New Yorker

Letter to my freshman self

Letter to my freshman self

This piece was originally published in the anthology, A Letter to my Freshman Self: Domers Reflect on their Undergraduate Experience. 

Dear Sara,

When you arrive at Notre Dame that hot afternoon in August you’re not going to feel at home right away.

This becomes especially apparent during your first-year seminar when your professor asks the class to write reflections on the meaning of “home”.

One by one, your classmates will talk about Notre Dame as a second home, a place that felt “right” the very first moment they stepped on campus. You do not read your reflection out loud. You are embarrassed, ashamed. Why does Notre Dame still feel unfamiliar to you, but is already home to others?

The first thing I’ll tell you is there is nothing to be ashamed of. The second thing I’ll tell you is you’re not alone.

Sara, there will be weekend nights when you’ll lie in your dorm room, listening to the sophomore girls next door giggle and blast music before going out. You’ll scroll through Facebook photos of high school friends partying at other schools, worrying you’ll be replaced by Thanksgiving. This notion is ridiculous. College won’t change what you’ve built over many years.

But you’ll make new friends for life, too, and these friendships will start budding early on. You don’t realize that some of the people you wandered campus aimlessly with those first few weeks will become friends you cry with at graduation.

So give it three months and everything will be okay. I can tell you all major life changes will take about this amount of time to adjust to. The only way to overcome homesickness is to endure it – but I know that’s not what you want to hear.

Sara, you were a perfectionist even before coming to Notre Dame, but college will exponentially pronounce that aspect of your personality. While it will help you succeed academically, I want you to be aware of its pitfalls.

Papers can only be perfected to a point. As an English major you’ll write so many of them but there’s no use getting frantic every time one’s due, skipping lunch with friends to rework a single sentence. Try to finish papers earlier so your days feel less crazed. I know that’s easier said than done.

Of course, perfectionism also extends to body image, especially at a school like Notre Dame of people where 75% of students were varsity athletes. You are so terrified of gaining the freshman fifteen that you become hyper-conscious of everything you eat. It doesn’t help that many other girls hold the same fear, silently comparing plates at the dining hall and working out five times a week. You are healthy, active and young. Care less.

And try new things. That’s what college is for.

Sara, I’m proud of you for walking into The Observer office in the basement of South Dining Hall the third week of your freshman year. It won’t be easy stepping into an office full of strangers, but this small act will have the greatest impact on your college career. The Observer will help you dive into the larger Notre Dame and South Bend communities, and you’ll go on to become one of the leading editors as a senior.

Breaking out of your comfort zone is the best way to meet new people. Freshman year, do this as much as possible. Go to the dorm party even when your only acquaintance is the girl from Welsh Fam who sits next to you in Genetics class. Join a sports team even though you’re not very good at the sport. There are so many opportunities to get involved at Notre Dame and you never know the experiences you might have.

I promise, the loneliness you feel at first will fade fast. Milestones will fly by – you’ll cheer at your first football game as a student, watch snow fall gently on the Main Building, dress up for your first SYR. You’re not sure exactly when it arrives, but the “feeling” you’ve envied in so many others makes its way to you, and you’ll know you’re home.

I know the beginning is rough, but there are so many exciting things ahead of you. From studying abroad in London to living with friends off-campus senior year, some of the best four years of your life are yet to come.

So relax and enjoy them.

Love,

Sara

A poem for my grandfather

IMG_2496.jpg

The painting you painted for me, and for my siblings, is unlike any other work you’ve ever done.

Different from your other pieces, which are so precise, relentlessly realistic, this painting is full of broad brush strokes, composed of love and light. The painting captures essence and exact truths fall away. Because when I look at this painting a C+ is an A+, a failure is a learning moment, and no matter what I say or do, I can do no wrong.

That’s a very special work of art to have.

This painting you painted for me reflects your humor, and just the sight of it makes me smile. And if this painting depicted you, it would capture your laugh, the endearing way your eyes creased when you told a joke, and the way you beamed when surrounded by family.

This painting began when I was born and grew into something magnificent, a mural expanding over the 28 years I’ve been alive. And no matter where I was or what I went through, when I looked up, this painting was there.

This painting you painted for me. In your humbleness you’d say it’s worth nothing but it’s the lens through which I see the world. And because of this painting, everything I see is colored by your kindness and your light.

This painting, Grandpa, is forever hanging in my heart.

Seen in Astoria…

A couple sits
In the corner of a dive bar
She’s smiling
Absentmindedly pushing around
Scrabble pieces
Rearranging the letters
Admiring her work.

He hardly notices what she’s doing
Because his eyes never leave hers
And in her presence
Everything else is a blur

Suddenly he checks his watch
They jump off their stools
And run out of the bar

Left behind are words unseen:

YOU
CHANGED
EVERYTHING

Poem: Decisions

Poem: Decisions

Some are light and airy

As a feather

Inconsequential as

Blowing on a cottony dandelion

And watching the pieces

Float onto the grass.

 

But others

Others take all your energy

To even lift

To contemplation

And just when you know what to do

They change form

Slipping through your fingers

Like water

 

But the hardest part

If you’re anything like me

Isn’t the decision,

But the aftermath of one

 

When regret and anxiety

Swirl manically inside of you

Like a fan you can’t switch off

A fan that’s spinning so fast

You fear

It might become unhinged

 

The days flutter by

While this decision somehow

Shades every aspect of your life

Crawls into parts of your body

You didn’t know

Doubt could reach

 

Until one morning you wake

Look around

And feel a strange sense of

Serenity

Because finally

You and your decision

Are one.

Poem: A Smile

Poem: A Smile

Every day I saw you

Straight-faced

Tight-lipped

I’d smile, say hello

Nothing

So I decided

Why should I bother?

 

I didn’t notice

When you were gone

Then they told me

You were sick for months

Finally succumbing

To a disease

That caused so much pain

 

And I thought to myself

You never really know

What someone’s going through

 

I thought to myself

What could it have hurt

To smile once a day

Knowing I wouldn’t get

A smile in return.

Poem: After Stella

Seen along the East River pathway near Carl Schurz Park, after Winter Storm Stella.

walking the winding

east river path 

just after snowfall

a few people

scattered here and there

weak, distant lights

straining to be seen

 

right where the path turns

i see a ballerina

dancing alone,

seizing solitude,

her arms fighting

the pull of the wind

 

though she has no audience

empty benches 

line up to watch her

and the river reflects 

her every move

 

as i approach her stage

she catches my eye 

stopping, for a moment 

than completing her pirouette 

 

twirl, bend, twirl, bend, twirl

moving gracefully into the night 

 

no music

just the silence of the city

and the crunch of the snow

beneath her feet