“My Neighbor” by Steve Cushman

Steve Cushman


who tried to hang himself from a garage 
rafter two months ago, seems fine this 
morning, blowing leaves off the back porch.  
Last night I saw him cooking burgers, a beer 
in one hand, spatula in the other, surveying his 
backyard, as if surprised by its simple beauty.

What makes a man want to take his life?
Mental illness, chemicals, abundant sadness?  
Yes and yes and yes and a million more yesses.

When is the bottom the bottom?
I don’t pretend to know, but he looks fine 
now. But how can you forget 
that moment when you kicked the chair away, 
everything tightening as your throat snapped shut?
How can you ever forget that?  
Maybe you lock the door 
and throw away the key, so that even 
on those days when you reach 
for the door again it will not let you in. 

Last night, while grilling, I watched him 
plant three pansies in a large backyard pot, 
orange and purple and yellow,
as if he was trying to brighten the world a little. 

When I asked how he was doing 
he said, fine and day by day,
and he does look pretty good, 
maybe thinner and a little shaky,
but if you didn’t know you wouldn’t suspect
he was someone who had stood on the edge of a cliff 
and someone or something beyond himself
pulled him back, an act that surprised even him.

from Rattle #67, Spring 2020
Students of Kim Addonizio


Steve Cushman: “I studied with Kim and a wonderful group of poets in 2014 via an online class. It was at a time when I was transitioning from primarily writing fiction to writing poetry, as well. The class allowed me to test myself, to see if I could write poetry at all. The students in the class were amazing and pushed me as a writer in ways I hadn’t been pushed since graduate school. Kim was a gentle and strong teacher, allowing us to each move in our own way but still pushing us to do more. Now it’s been five years since then, and I’m still trying to figure out this poetry thing, but I have no doubt that Kim’s class, and the poets writing and studying along with me, made a huge difference on this journey.” (web)

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