2023 Foley Poetry Winner: Letter to Myself While Learning to Read
These nights out on the cold closed-in porch
on your folding cot because your teenaged
cousin takes your bed all season, your many
hours surrounded by dark windows as if you
are a theater for stars and ghosts that your
family believes in, as if you are a child lost
on the water in a boat cast off from its lines—
this must be why your father sits and reads
to you, the only time he will do this, teaching
the terror to skip you out here on the edge of
a family to which you feel like an afterthought.
This crowd of people he brings into the room
to keep you company. A girl named Heidi
halfway up a mountain with a gruff grandfather.
Also Robinson Crusoe, a stranded sailor not
all alone on an island, since a man he treats
like a child still chooses to stay and help him.
Another story that sounds like a real family,
not incidental like yours, Swiss but also named
Robinson and how they go high into trees,
taking everything up one level away from what
can grab them in their sleep. Their platforms
that say every time you shipwreck down below,
you will still be whole somewhere up above.
And as you turn a page to learn its letters,
you start to reach your hand out into
the night, where someone from another
world wants you enough to squeeze back.