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"Stoicism": a poem by Jarret Keene

Stoicism

for Frieda

 

Little librarian lady, last time I saw you

You stamped my book at circulation:

The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca. I was going

 

Through some shit, and I sought clarity

From the Romans who, in my narrow view,

Grasped how to suffer without tears. This was

 

Months ago, before you were diagnosed

And showing up to work in a wheelchair,

So back then what did I tease you about?

 

Whether you planned to see Thor: Ragnarok

Dressed as the Enchantress, and you smiled.

I don’t know anything about you, Frieda,

 

Except you are kind and fun to chat with

And you remind me of the cracker girls I

Stomped around Tampa with as a kid.

 

We used to shoot pellets into stingrays

In the brackish waters of the Hillsborough

Near the old stadium on MLK Boulevard.

 

So I guess you conjure nostalgia in my mind

Whenever I see you, pale thing. I won’t see you

Again, though. Your co-worker says you died,

 

And my Seneca is overdue, fine growing.

I was going to ask you to make it disappear

Like you always did as I quizzed you on who

 

Your favorite Star Trek captain or Doctor was.

Now I have this book, heavy like a stone,

And in the library, the sun streaming

 

Through glass windows, I open it and read:

Wherever there is a human being, there is

An opportunity for kindness. I think of

 

Seneca mentoring Nero, whose name means

Cruelty. I recall you at your computer, smiling,

Waving me forward. The sentence I just read

 

Sits on a page damp with tears.

 

Jarret Keene is an English instructor at UNLV.

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