A Poem for Staying

April Bannister
March 13, 2020

In the span of a few hours, I have watched the end of my study abroad experience approach far more rapidly than I ever could have predicted. I don't have the words right now to explain the pain or the devastation I'm feeling, but I wrote a poem a week ago — when I was on the beautiful, unforgettable Writers' Retreat, blissfully ignorant that any of this would be happening — that I'd like to share for the occassion. I am leaving Ireland in a matter of days, but here is a poem about staying. It's what I can offer, and I think it's important.


alive i have been

china — careful

placement of expression, precise

edges clean. i swallow sharp

bites, cliff faces plunging neatly

under my toes. this

is acceptable. i am typical.


there will be no miracles

here. cliff faces

crumble before i step back, before someone

pull me back —


if i see warning

signs will i heed them. sometimes the choice

to step back is more

painful than falling.


to stay alive i have been cold

machine in crying

wind, toes blue within boots, laughter

that carries


me across glass and lifts me

above the storm. please can you

quiet down you are being so

annoying disruptive please

shut up i have asked you

nicely. sometimes the laughter hurts

more than the reaction and i am learning

to flee toward both. broken

skin shelters warmer.


breathe once — smoke

in, hold fire. let burn, let

singe, no fleeing i have asked you

nicely. breathe twice. ash

out. wipe away with stinging

hands to rid the outside of evidence.


sometimes to stay alive hurts

more than the falling but i

am china armor with paper

sword and i shatter

on landing. i cannot rid

of my own evidence i am trying

to ask myself nicely please


stop the hurting. set flame

to the machine and warm

skin as it burns. i am tired

of the pain, the broken, the 

cliff face the warning

signs i step past. maybe the miracle


is to enjoy the view. keep toes on

land. don't walk

too close.



here i have been

witness to open

skies and white water, leaned

out to open air and wide

smiles. in a painting i see myself

framed together

with the headland and think of my hair,

short strands i cut myself

just two nights ago as a way to fill

an hour of searing

time. here my hair remains

short but i look different

when the sea is behind me.

two nights ago is a searing i no longer



to distance


myself is possible in such

spaces but not in others, not those

to which i am rooted. i wish

the waves refused to turn when i am not

near but they are apathetic

to my existence. how can i convince


the world i want to stay

in it when the world will turn

without me. am i enough

impact net positive to remain

rooted am i net positive at all.


but staying

here i have been witness

to smiles in sun. open

joy, careless and reckless, something

of the self beyond the self maybe

to be happy isn't selfish.


each time i see the ocean i think someday

i will live in a place like this but i have to stay

alive to get there. someday cannot happen

if i am not alive for it if you are not

alive for it if you die

your voice dies with you, your words your

handwriting the way you tap your feet

when you listen to music meet me

at the coast. play me your songs

as we walk on the beach. write me

a letter in your hands.


it is not selfish to stay


alive just for the moments

that make you say god i am so

glad i didn't die when i wanted to.


the moments come

in waves. i stand. lean

out. try through darkness

to see them approaching.

April Bannister

<p>I am a second-year student from Saint Paul, Minnesota, studying English and Creative Writing at the University of Iowa. I enjoy writing across all genres, especially within the focus of mental health, and I hope that my words can inspire education and awareness on the subject. Outside of school, I can often be found rock climbing, running, and spending time with my dog.</p>

2020 Spring
Home University:
University of Iowa
Saint Paul, MN
Creative Writing
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