Four Poems

What Doesn’t Die

I imagine your closet was a kind of garden.
Babylon couldn’t hold a candle to your head scarves.
They bloomed by the dozen, in every color,
one for every adventure, every mountain climbed,
every rainforest and wild land.

I didn’t know you long enough, but I know
you’re still here. When the diagnosis grew worse
and you weren’t sure how long you had left,
you chose a scarf for each of us and mailed them
one by one. All I can think to say is that
you were a tree shedding leaves.

Were the letters you sent with them
hard or easy to write? You wrote to me
you hoped you would be at my wedding.
You made jokes, still, through everything.
I hoped you’d be there, too.

The night before you died I texted you
the following message I will never delete
from my phone: No matter how you feel
today or any other day, know that the world
holds so much love for you—I’m honored
and humbled to carry my piece of this love.

My Christy Bailey pañuelo is blue and rose and cream.
It’s been with me on job interviews, hard days, good days.
It’s moved with me. It was with me on the plane
when I flew back home with my wedding dress.
It’s with me now as I remember you,
my fingers running over the fabric flowers, the knot I tied
when I wore it to your memorial, each element its own keepsake.

This is for you. It isn’t for anyone else.
It’s for the you I knew and the you that comes back
fresh in each new season of memory
just like you’ve been planted again,
just like you’re starting to grow.

What People We Could Become

I’ve been twice to the Lincoln Memorial.
Once as a little girl with my dad
and again by myself over twenty years later.

The first time I remember climbing the stairs
to see the stone man. I remember the closeness,
the smallness in the little room, some idea of America
growing in me. It was a clean day, a bright day.

My dad bought me a book of paper dolls
of the whole Lincoln family. When we got home
I cut their shapes—a mother and father, sons.
Abe was tall and lean, stoic in his long johns.
He had his famous hat. Mary Todd had so many dresses
in so many colors, all mushrooming wide
from the waist down to the floor. My favorite
was a yellow one with tiny thread flowers.
The boys had uniforms for war. One of them had a drum.

I liked how I could take their costumes off,
change in and out the type of people they could become.
All I had to do was release the fold tabs from their fancy clothes
and they’d all be back in their underwear
—real, vulnerable, undone, waiting,
like any of us.

The second time I remember a larger history.
I was in town for a conference and snuck away
for a visit. I walked up the stairs,
but it was new this time. I could feel the energy
of all the moments and all the people who’ve sung
and spoken and rallied there. There was all of that,
but also the feeling of being a little girl again, of hope,
of learning from my father about what could stay
good in this world.

Nothing is perfect. This country will never be perfect.
Specific, grievous, power-hungry injustices
are committed every day by politicians with small hearts
and even small imaginations.

But on that day America was the idea I learned about
with my dad, was a monument to what we can change.
I sat in a corner on the floor with Lincoln for almost an hour,
timing out the minutes I had left
before I’d have to get back on a plane.
I watched parents raise children on their shoulders.
I watched the light shift in.
I sat, quiet, listening to pieces of stories, of new memories
being made, connections in too many languages to count.
Each voice held its own clarity in the noise,
like a bird in a forest.

I remember I didn’t want to leave.
There was something fragile, tenuous.
Like once I turned my back the whole scene
would collapse and wouldn’t even be a memory anymore,
all the people reduced to paper, to souvenirs,
to dream stuff.

But no. They are here. We are here.
Real, vulnerable, undone
like any of us.
Like all of us.


is the name
I gave to the girl
who read through a book
for the first time,
all by herself,
and unlocked what she saw.

Like a sun exploding.
Like the colors that leap
out of fireworks.

She travels through me
opening every door she can,
her pockets heavy with keys.

When she smiles
it’s the same as the light
that searches through trees
for what sleeps
in the ground
waiting to grow.

When a new key fits a new lock,
everything clicks
not just her and me and the door,
but all of it, suddenly,
like a reckoning,

like what I never knew
is now a movie
I’ve seen a thousand times.

We Are the Sweet Cold Water and the Jar that Pours

~after Rumi

We are the moon and the gravity that anchors it.
We are the bird and the song, the meal
that turns inside feathers and sends out the warbling.
We are the green in the grass and what it dies into.
The night and the space before night.
The day and the time the day holds.
We are books and the frontier they take us to.
We are stars and the bombardment
of particles inside stars.
We’re in each other all along.
That’s how it goes.
We learn this sometime during the travel,
that we’re handed back to ourselves
when we arrive. We suspected this
the way iron suspects its own rusting.
The way snails know to leave
the closeness in the shell for new homes.
We are in these rhythms
of knowing and unknowing.
We’ve been mouthing them
as long as we can remember.

Rebecca Macijeski holds a PhD from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She has attended artist residencies with The Ragdale Foundation, The Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, and Art Farm Nebraska. She has also worked for Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry newspaper column, as an Assistant Editor in Poetry for the literary journals Prairie Schooner and Hunger Mountain, and is the recipient of a 2012 Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Prize. Her poems have appeared in The Missouri Review, Poet Lore, Barrow Street, Nimrod, The Journal, Sycamore Review, Potomac Review, Storyscape, Fairy Tale Review, Puerto del Sol, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Gargoyle, and many others. Rebecca is Creative Writing Program Coordinator and Assistant Professor at Northwestern State University. Visit her online at