Brad Aaron Modlin on the Lessons We Learn Alone

“What You Missed That Day You Were Absent from Fourth Grade” from Everyone at This Party Has Two Names // Brad Aaron Modlin

Mrs. Nelson explained how to stand still and listen
on the wind, how to find meaning in pumping gas,

how peeling potatoes can be a form of prayer. She took
questions on how not to feel lost in the dark

After lunch she distributed worksheets
that covered ways to remember your grandfather’s

voice. Then the class discussed falling asleep
without feeling you had forgotten to do something else—

something important—and how to believe
the house you wake in is your home. This prompted

Mrs. Nelson to draw a chalkboard diagram detailing
how to chant the Psalms during cigarette breaks,

and how not to squirm for sound when your own thoughts
are all you hear; also, that you have enough.

The English lesson was that I am
is a complete sentence.

And just before the afternoon bell, she made the math equation
look easy. The one that proves that hundreds of questions,

and feeling cold, and all those nights spent looking
for whatever it was you lost, and one person

add up to something.

I’ve often felt like the deeper discipline of poetry is overhearing yourself say things you didn’t want to know about the world, something that actually emancipates you from this smaller self out into this larger dispensation that you actually didn’t think you deserved. So one of the things we’re most afraid of in silence is this death of the periphery, the outside concerns, the place where you’ve been building your personality and where you think you’ve been building who you are, starts to atomize and fall apart. It’s one of the basic reasons we find it difficult even just to turn the radio off or the television or not look at our gadget — is that giving over to something that’s going to actually seem as if it’s undermining you to begin with and lead to your demise. The intuition, unfortunately, is correct. You are heading toward your demise, but it’s leading towards this richer, deeper place that doesn’t get corroborated very much in our everyday outer world.”

David Whyte

W O R D S // Manuela Zammit