Among the things she does not deserve

Buttery bright Italian olives, a friend’s tears falling freely, 

easy sleep, rainy Saturday mornings, mentors who respond 

with warmth for years, a lump of clay spinning silkily 

beneath her hands, empathy, sauvignon blanc served on 

a sunny patio, two full bookcases, the subtle curves of 

a horse’s hip and leg, friends sprinkled across half a dozen 

states, a heartfelt response, a yoga teacher pressing 

her shoulders against the ground, building anger, 

brittle fir needles, faith and doubt in equal measure, 

the desire to write, January, a grandmother with Irish blood, 

relief, handwritten letters arriving in the mail, too much 

salt on hot fried potatoes, a flattering dress, another plane 

lifting her into the sky, soft green jersey sheets, 

the gentle gift of his hands holding her face. 

*With many thanks to Dan Albergotti, from whom I stole the name of this poem, its general structure, and the inspiration for more than one item in the list. We all need more poetry in our lives. Go to it.


For Ryan

Ryan Hardin dazzled. I had gold sparks in my eyes and my brain for hours after meeting him. He came into a small conference room at my high school flashing his lopsided grin and an impeccable outfit, topped off by what he would later tell me was a half-windsor knot, a guaranteed sign that he would get the job. He did.

He settled into a classroom at the end of our school’s one hallway with his coffeemaker and his sharpened Dixon Ticonderoga pencils and a firm set of rules. He had impossibly beautiful handwriting, all uppercase. He loved politics and the Lakers, Alton Brown recipes and playing the guitar. I admired him as my teacher and then later, as my friend. He would walk me out to the very edge of my beliefs, challenging them but never asking me to change them.

Ryan introduced me to The Shins and the Buddhist concept of suffering and some of my favorite novels. He could flip a quarter across the backs of his knuckles and twirl a pen around his thumb. He took me to sushi for the first time, back when my high school crush on him hadn’t quite ebbed, and I was torn between enjoying the flavors exploding on my palate and hiding a bulging mouthful of sushi behind the back of my hand.

I wrote for Ryan and read for him. I expanded my vocabulary and sharpened my wit in his presence. As I went to college and then started a career, we would meet a few times a year for drinks. He was always ridiculously early. We exchanged bad dating stories and I would catch him up on the lives of his former students. He would tell me I had a book in me. I felt myself shining brighter in his presence because that’s what Ryan did to people: the brilliant flame of his personality encouraged others to flicker, too.

He had a loud, startling laugh that rippled through a room. He was silly and entirely committed to a dramatic reenactment or an impression. I think he won the limbo contest when he chaperoned one of our high school dances.

He once wrote to me: “Life is filled with wonder, sadness, fear, hope, rhythm, laughter…it is this rawness of emotion that makes life worth living.”

Ryan was my friend and my mentor, a whip-smart mind and a genuinely good human. I find it hard to accept that I am living in a world where he no longer jokes and thinks and loves. All of us who knew him give off more light because he was here.