Third Meditation
by Clare Flanagan

Runestone, volume 4

Prostrate on the September sidewalk
near 50th and Bryant, I watch leaves just shy of turning
as they swivel in the wind.
I am on the phone with my brother,
who is telling me from California
about Descartes, because I ran out of things to say about you.
He’s learned that each pair of eyes perceives
a different reality – for instance,
the late shade of green I see in these leaves just commencing
their death ritual might not be the same hue
that you register. (Everyone draws different truths
from wavelengths of the same frequency). But also
that the real is quantifiable – if two people
agree that the leaves are green, they are that much greener, and that
if three people see the tree, it grows
with more conviction, stands realer yet.
I stop listening
because I am remembering when I first saw you, or when
we first saw each other, your face a clear bell
singing me out of a dream. We showed each other
that we were breathing. Saying nothing,
we reminded each other
of our earliest names.


Later, when I tell him
about everything that still hurts,
my brother says the word ecstasy
means an experience “outside the self.” The nearest
he’s come to anything resembling God, he says,
is when he stepped from the night of his body
into the cold dawn of another. He saw it
in the eyes of someone he loved: there is God
in everyone, he tells me, even you.
All I can think of
is last Christmas Eve mass
at Our Lady of Grace, the crushing chords
from the looming pipe organ, an answerless Jesus
hanging, doe-faced, overhead. I saw your name
in the hymnal – same as a prophet
who wrote vivid treatises on the mystery of faith.
I held it silent in my mouth
like wine willed into blood, bread
into flesh. I thought,
Show me. I want
to believe.

I remember the beginning
and I remember the end:
wheeling faceless down that bridge
over the grey Willamette, running far
and nowhere. Three nights in a row,
a different concierge saw me stumble upstairs,
glowingly alone. You watched me grit my teeth
against an inked needle, rattling first
across my ribs, then over your own fleshless knuckles –
I looked deep into the pool of you, couldn’t find pain
swimming anywhere. You heard me cry,
but only once – not the last morning
when I found the pants you’d left behind, or on the discount return flight
high over Oregon, watching all that green recede.
You never saw me the way I was
when I got home, hovering and drunk
in the small hours, like some pathetic hummingbird
pollinating a handle of Seagram’s. I got sick
of my reflection, the way it wavered
like a rank apparition – I’ve had nightmares
that seemed realer. I ask you, though I know
you cannot tell me –
did any of this happen to me,
or is this story only true
because I am writing it?

Some answers
are not worth knowing – what her name is,
what might be waiting for us
beyond the breath, or if you ever looked at her
the way you looked at me. But certain questions
can’t be disassembled, prayed into silence. Tell me –
do you remember the way
I tasted, what color
my eyes are? Would we agree
on any of the answers? You said on the porch
last summer, before the solstice, that maybe none of this
is even real, and in that moment
I could not have been less concerned. Give me a vision.
Tell me that our true bodies
are together, under the sheets somewhere, waiting to wake up. Tell me
there are constellations spelling out my name, and I
would read it into being, if it meant
we were standing beneath the same sky. Tell me,
when you are ready, what ghost
passed between us, what we both know to be true –
Only say the word
and I shall be healed.


Stanford University

Clare Flanagan is a senior at Stanford University, pursuing an English major with a concentration in creative writing. After graduation, she hopes to work in a setting where she can amplify and share powerful writing, such as teaching or publishing. She hopes to add her own voice to the literary chorus wherever possible. She draws influence from Ellen Bryant Voigt and Elliott Smith. 

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