FreeVerse: The Walk — a poem for Rolin

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(FreeVerse is hosted by Cara at Ooh…Books! Unfortunately she’s been on a blogging hiatus, but I wanted to put this one up anyway.)

Back in 2006, there were three plays nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. One of them was The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow by a man named Rolin Jones. I was pretty freaked out by this, because I knew Rolin Jones. Not well, of course — we were really just acquaintances. I don’t know if he’d remember me, even…but maybe, maybe he would.

I was attending Smith College, and needed to make up a credit. I think it was the fall semester of 1993. (I transferred to Smith, in Northampton, Mass., from Community College of Rhode Island. I was there for five semesters, fall 1992 through fall 1994, and officially graduated in May 1995.) I’d helped out backstage on a high school play once and loved it, so I signed up to work on a play at Smith to get my one credit. It was The Crucible by Arthur Miller, and it was amazing.

Rolin wasn’t the lead; I think he played Judge Hathorne, maybe. He wore glasses, and he just looked so smart, and of course drama folk are really creative — and he wasn’t turn-your-head-to-look-again gorgeous or anything, but he was certainly nice-looking. He caught my attention early on, maybe it was even the first day I was in the theater, when I overheard him talking to someone about irony in Edith Wharton. Yup, I had my eye on him.

At the end of the run, after the cast party, I ended up hanging around with a guy named Tom (I think), upstairs in the house he rented in downtown NoHo. Rolin was downstairs with the girl who played Tituba in the play. If there were any possible way I could have switched places with her, no question, I would have done it. But then in the spring, the poet John Ashbery was doing a reading at Smith, and I was thrilled to see Rolin in the audience. I went up to him, he seemed happy to see me, I grasped his hand, and we made plans to meet the next day at the Japanese Tea Hut, near Paradise Pond.

This is what happened after we met:


The Walk
(for Rolin)

It’s April. Winter
grips the woods.

The forest path cries
under ice.

We stroll near
a stream, feet slipping

in old snow. I hear
the chilly day

in our breath,
and an echo of highway

by another water body
one hundred miles away.

I forget the year I’m in,
think of Providence, a park

on a dock, filthy water
slapping stones

along the land’s edge,
a power plant across the lake.

His voice stops me; we pause
where the walk bends.

He sings a birdcall, listens
to cooing replies. A motor

squawks far off, and he tells
me the world is ending.

I kick a broken branch
off the footpath, but he

smiles, moves it back,
teases, then leaves me.

The water sways my head,
clouds darken the afternoon,

my hands pray for
something warmer than rivers.

A bird repeats my scream.
Day waits. I’m under.


I don’t know if I’d remember Rolin Jones as well if I hadn’t written the poem, but I did, and so I do. I’m impressed by what he’s accomplished so far, and excited to see what else he’ll do. I’m proud to say “I knew him when…” He didn’t win the Pulitzer; they decided not to award one that year, which just seems wrong to me. But now, Rolin’s just been nominated for an EMMY award. Hopefully that story will be my next post. 😉

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