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“What You Missed That Day You Were Absent from Fourth Grade” by Brad Aaron Modlin

Mrs. Nelson explained how to stand still and listen

to the wind, how to find meaning in pumping gas,

how peeling potatoes can be a form of prayer. She took

questions on how not to feel lost in the dark.

After lunch she distributed worksheets

that covered ways to remember your grandfather’s

voice. Then the class discussed falling asleep

without feeling you had forgotten to do something else—

something important—and how to believe

the house you wake in is your home. This prompted

Mrs. Nelson to draw a chalkboard diagram detailing

how to chant the Psalms during cigarette breaks,

and how not to squirm for sound when your own thoughts

are all you hear; also, that you have enough.

The English lesson was that I am

is a complete sentence.

And just before the afternoon bell, she made the math equation

look easy. The one that proves that hundreds of questions,

and feeling cold, and all those nights spent looking

for whatever it was you lost, and one person

add up to something.

- Brad Aaron Modlin

Special thanks to Toni Goodman, who read this poem to us in her Poetry Circle, years ago, and to Martha Mattus, who sent me an email just a few hours ago, reminding me of it.

Today would be my mother's birthday, and I'm very grateful for the kinds of things that I learned from her, such as her persistent stubbornness and her ever-present, unapologetic laughter.

With my mother at Butchart Gardens, Victoria, British Columbia.

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