At the college gym
I run into Walter
a colleague from English
who tells me
he’s thinking about crying
not actually crying
like right there between
the dumbbells
and the rowing machine
though for the record
there’d be no shame
in someone crying openly
in the middle of a set
of biceps curls
what Walter means is
he’s working on a book
about the history
and semiotics of crying
specifically Margery Kempe
a 14th century English mystic
who enjoyed what Walter
following Catholic tradition
calls “the gift of tears”
which means you’re unusually close
to the spirit of God
which suddenly
without warning
fills you and causes you to weep
on a regular basis
this reminds me
of my eldest sister who
when we were growing up
often wept openly
and to me mysteriously
since I was too young to know
what it meant to be
a clinically depressed
teenage girl growing up
in Tennessee
and how painful this might be
especially back in the dark ages
when people including my parents
thought the solution was more
or less sleep and leafy vegetables
the weird part of this
is that both my parents
were in seminary at the time
at the University of the South
otherwise known as Sewanee
the campus of which is famous
for its gothic stone buildings
complete with gargoyles
in the Oxford-Cambridge style
and there was my sister
regularly weeping
in the shadows of those structures
just like Margery Kempe
in medieval England
while my parents were training
to become priests
and probably yearning
for mystical experiences themselves
I try to remember
how long it’s been
since I had an actual conversation
with my sister
and while I don’t know exactly
I know it’s been years
maybe not ever
not even during her divorce
or breast cancer or struggles
with lithium and ECT
because she was so much older
growing up we never had a reason
to hang out or become friends
and besides she locked herself
in her room much of the time
not to mention I found her
crying frightening
now I regret the distance
between me and my sister
who in many ways is exactly like me
and I mourn the loss
of those many decades
during which we could have
comforted each other
and maybe become friends
all these thoughts
are racing through my head
while Walter talks to me
but now he pauses
a concerned look on his face
and asks if I’m okay
then suddenly
without warning
he reaches out and hugs me
and while I don’t believe in God
and don’t believe in spirits
I do feel grace
moving through me
as I weep
right there
between the dumbbells
and the rowing machine


(winner of the Editors’ Prize in Poetry for issue 37)