An Elegant Variation by Jennifer Sutherland

Jennifer Sutherland is the 1st place winner of Streetlight’s 2018 Poetry Contest


An Elegant Variation

One quiet Sunday we drove south on silver-leafed Charles Street,
ducked into one of the gingerbread warrens between
the university lawns and wondered at the late day’s water-light
reflected in the leaded panes, the four-centered arches,
the oriels, the pitched slate, and we watched the nannies in their strolling
from chimney to chiminea as autumn wound itself toward sleep.
As the bricks slid by I catalogued the ghosts of all the lives
we might have made but for, and it wasn’t sadness, not quite.
You don’t own the avenues that wind and pour,
braid, shoot tender vines, loop themselves into careless
spirals named for Domesday saints, until you map the architecture
of perimeter and it traces you back. You begin
in the place where you begin and you survey the topography,
but your history, which springs from your selected special cases
and your figurative configurations, is intermodal. You make a study
of your getting on and getting on without, negotiate your bills of lading,
punch your card with accumulated hours, work the shifts you were
allotted on the day you earned your route, but you can graph
in only two dimensions, the you and the I, because this is the way
to locate your position when there are no monuments
to orient by. Your pace is always relative, unless
you fold the figures once, then twice, upon themselves
and peer in at the trees, the children, the blackberries
which marked the stages of your progress. You may calculate
the coordinates of your destination
but it could be moving faster than you are, or
heavily slow, and you might miss your connection at the station
and tuck the ticket stub into your pocket like an anchor and hope
the variables arrange themselves around another train.
This is all you’ll know. You will assume your bearings then,
when you have boarded your carriage finally and the fields are rolling by,
but you won’t see the bending grain, you will only see,
reflected in the nighttime glass, the tokens left
behind you all the years you tilted toward eternity.

Jennifer Sutherland
Jennifer Sutherland was born in Baltimore and practiced law there for twenty years. This fall she will begin studying towards an MFA degree at Hollins University. Her work has also appeared in the Northern Virginia Review and the Maryland Bar Journal.

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