Returning to Blacksburg

Today is the five-year anniversary of the shootings at Virginia Tech that claimed thirty-two innocent lives. I was an English major at Virginia Tech back in the nineties, so Blacksburg is a place full of memories for me.  Like many other alumni, I mourn the loss of those lives, and the loss of innocence that occurs when a place we love becomes forever enmeshed with tragedy.

I visited the campus in July 2007, and shortly thereafter wrote a poem about Blacksburg. I realize now that that poem, and many of the poems I wrote that year – “Thingvellir, Iceland,” “Snow,” “Thaw” – were about trying to preserve places I knew, and our attempts to defer the inevitable shifting of earth beneath our feet. Here is an excerpt from my poem, “Returning to Blacksburg:”


Wind swerves through the trees,

dividing the absorbed, the detoured,

the crashed atoms. The leaves tip up,

then dip, symmetry balancing

what is likely to survive. A swan

divides the water into coiled channels,

sending the synapses back

to be caught downstream.


Time is still in play, reversing its revisions:

the trick of the evergreen gathering

its tactics. Moss patterns on these stones,

borrows water to leave its stain –

a counterfoil – the way that what I give you

and what I keep are the same.

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