Ellen Goldsmith: Walden

Posted:  Tuesday, May 22, 2018 - 9:30pm


was the homework for my evening class at a community college where I was pretty new and the students came to class tired from a hard day’s work, tired but they did the reading and I was tired too because my house was being painted and I felt weighted down by too many coffee table photography books and more dishes than I could ever use so after the inspirational “Only that day dawns to which we are awake” I read quotes like “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone” and “ greatest skill has been to want but little” and I had more, but you know how you can feel people leaving the room even though they’re there, how their bodies empty out and everything that makes them vital recedes beyond the back wall. So I stopped with my quotes and asked what was going on and after some silence one man said something like, “Lady, you may feel weighted down by stuff but we don’t have a lot, we want more, doubles, triples even” and then it was my time to be silent and the silence was like a border between some kind of not knowing and knowing and it isn’t that I was completely unaware that different life experiences lead to different views but I learned more that night than I learned from my multiple readings of Walden and I try to carry it with me but just now it’s hard, hard for me to stay in the room, hard to ask why as a genuine inquiry as I did in my class that night because the people in my country elected a President I think unfit, even dangerous (although I remain grateful that I feel safe writing the word dangerous).

Ellen Goldsmith is a poet and teacher, author of Where to Look, Such Distances and No Pine Tree in This Forest Is Perfect, which won the Hudson Valley Writers’ Center 1997 chapbook contest and was described by Dennis Nurkse, the contest judge, as an “incandescent collection.” Recent poems have appeared in Antiphon, Connecticut River Review, Dash, Earth's Daughters, Mount Hope, Off the Coast, Third Wednesday and The Whirlwind Review. She teaches poetry for Five Town CSD Adult and Community Education, is professor emeritus of The City University of New York, and lives in Cushing, Maine.

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