In May, I wished for an emergency exit from my own life, some way to flee a body wracked by COVID-19, the flu and stress. In June, I wished for familiar company, for my parents and boyfriend to revel with me in a country I had come to love. In July, I wished to linger in moments that made me happy, wished to get ABBA’s “Slipping Through My Fingers” out of my head. August’s desire was that I had started writing poetry sooner. And now, I wish I could have realized that wishing was fruitless, because I fell in love with what I did not — could not — wish for. I fell in love with writing poems before bed, à la my favorite poet, Billy Collins, poems I hardly count as real poetry but that mean more than almost anything else I’ve written to date.
I can’t tell you why I like Billy Collins, nor how I emulate his style exactly. Yes, he’s old, white and famous, a poet for the masses. But he writes about things I realized I care about this summer: mornings, good books, the weird gut feelings that follow perfect, serendipitous moments that only happen after long days by the water. He writes about common feelings clearly and concisely, though never diminishes their sublimity. In his poems, I sit at the kitchen table in Nice and watch the birds gobble up the seed my host dad left on the sill. I hear Sheku Kanneh-Mason. I am able to name stillness.
I am unafraid of trying to mimic his mannerisms. When I read the poems I started to write towards the end of June, and then shared come July and August, I hear “Marginalia” and “While Eating A Pear.”
I revisited these poems recently, many of them the product of that final five-minute push to focus just before bed, crafted amidst the ignorance of burning citronella, crinkly air mattresses and cramping in my hands and wrists. I hardly cared to edit these formless poems, typed out on my phone before setting my alarms to wake up. I wrote about sparkling grapefruit San Pellegrino and the delight of decent people. I wrote about late-night sprints to Grand Central and tan wool sweaters, Debussy and my mom’s jewelry. I wrote about how iPhones either make all the noise in the world or no noise at all. And then I wrote about Yale, and the many things I’d forgotten about this place — and also what it’s like to forget forgetting.
I wrote not with the intention of becoming a better writer or poet but with the aim of trying to understand what the hell was happening in my life. In a way, these poems were love letters to my younger self, whispering “Hey, you’re still in here” to the wide-eyed 10-year-old who would be awed by who she is now. They were the one thing I could do no matter where I was and feel as though, for that one moment, I was a naive 19-year-old enjoying the world before her.
My summer took me from staring at live, beating hearts in an operating room in France to playing Taboo with my cousins on the Mississippi River to scrubbing F-150 taillights in a suburb of Seattle. It saw me both walking the red carpet of the Cannes Film Festival and wringing the fur of three Irish Setters out of the back of a Tesla that was most definitely not mine. It was jet-setting through Milan and the French Riviera studying abroad, yes, but also long, hot days in the sun washing cars for pocket money and then training to walk on to the Yale soccer team before collapsing in a heap on my bedroom floor. It was bouncing from place to place praying that the gate agent wouldn’t weigh my suitcase and looking for someone — anyone — to show me how to put the genie back into the lamp. I wasn’t dreaming of Jeannie, rather I was chasing her in circles, asking for more when I was already overwhelmed with what I had.
These poems are proof that I knew who and where I was as I got on train after plane, Uber after car after shuttle, and proof that I knew my world was — and still is — changing, and that it could change without looking for an exit sign. When I read these poems again, I can see that even though I didn’t realize it at the time, I cared deeply about the places I visited and those I was with.
As I reread each poem now, my toes dig into sand as a sea of perfect moments brush my ankles. I fill my lungs not with wishes, but with hope: no matter the hour, no matter the exhaustion, the stress, the spiraling fear that one day I will look in a mirror and be disappointed in myself, I have poems showing me that life is simple. Simple is hard, but simple is good.
I’ve found the ocean I crave. Let me fill my lungs with its salt.
You can read some of these poems at @anabelgmoore on Instagram.