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Poem: "One Man at a Time" - The Wordsmith's Forge — LiveJournal
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Poem: "One Man at a Time"

This poem was inspired by a discussion with johnpalmer about what it means to be a hero and what heroes do.  It also fills the "depression" square on my 8-12-13 card for the Hurt/Comfort bingo fest.  It has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette.

One Man at a Time


The autumn air is cool
and crisp as lettuce,
turning toward evening now
as I walk home from my last class.

The Quadrangle spreads out
between the buildings,
a quilt of green grass
hemmed by white sidewalks,
filled with aimlessly wandering students
that give it the nickname of the Rangle.

Along the sidewalks,
the globe lanterns are turning on
like small pale moons.

Under my feet,
the brown leaves crinkle
as I walk on them.

There's a black man sitting
on the low sandstone wall
in front of the Student Union.
He looks at me, looks away,
lost in his own thoughts,
then looks back again.

I don't remember him,
but he's watching me
as if he knows me.

I tuck a thumb under
the strap of my backpack
and hitch it a little higher
as I turn the corner
to pass in front of the Union.

"Hey," he says,
voice low and rough.

Inside I can feel
my headmates stirring,
Keane and Clement
jammed together
as they both try
to crowd forward.

Maybe they know
who this guy is.

When I don't answer,
he drops his head,
and then I think about
how hard I try to keep touch
with all of Maisie's friends.

It's not fair for me
to ignore someone
who's friends with
my headmates.

"Hey," I say to him,
pausing by the wall.


I push my way forward
because it's good
to see Dace again,
to know that he's still here
even after the disaster
at the frat house.

"How's it going?" I ask him.
"Not so good," he replies.
"I thought I'd like
Cultural Studies as a major,
but it's harder than I expected."

That explains why I've seen him
around the Theatre Department --
there's overlap between the programs
in media theory and film studies.
"First year is hard on everyone,"
I point out.  "Second gets easier."

He gives a cynical grumble.
"Believe it when I see it,"
he says, "if I see it."

I can't help but remember
that when we met
he was drunk on a roof.

I had called the
Student Health Center
and kept him alive
long enough for help to arrive,
but saving people
isn't always that simple.

Sometimes it's something
you can do once and be done,
but other times, it's something
that you have to keep doing.
I learned that from Maisie's training
as a student responder.

"Want to talk about it?"
I ask Dace.
"Nah," he says, but then
a moment later, "Maybe."

It's getting later,
and I have homework to do.
I could be walking campus
keeping an eye out for trouble.
I could be at home making sure
my housemates don't trash the place.
There's always something
that needs doing.

There's Dace, too,
right here and in over his head.

I sit down beside him,
sliding my backpack to the ground.
"Trade you stories," I offer.
"Okay," he says.

I start with a funny mishap
from Method Acting 150,
when Maze tried to play a knight
using a stick-horse as a prop,
only to have its head fall off.
She wrote about it in the journal
so I remember it that way.

Dace doesn't laugh,
but he smiles just a little.

Then he tells me about
his mass media class
and what a drag it is
to watch television shows
mostly about white people.

I listen to him,
nodding occasionally,
as the shadows deepen
and wrap around us
like blue afghans.

Dace leans toward me
until our shoulders just touch.
He startles a little at the contact
but does not pull away.

I smile into the shadows.

You can't save
the whole world at once,
but you can save
one man at a time.

* * *


Dace Graham -- He is a student at Urbanburg University, majoring in Cultural Studies, minoring in Art.  He sketches with charcoals, among other techniques.  Dace is black with chocolate skin, full pink lips, and a wide nose.  He has short, tightly curled black hair and brown eyes.  He is average height and slender.  He has a low voice that roughens when he gets upset.  Dace constantly overestimates his ability to do things like take a beating or hold his liquor.  He can be cynical, and he's not the best student.  He doesn't make friends easily, although he's a nice guy once you get to know him.  Dace is a friend of Damask, primarily Keane and Clement.
Qualities: Good (+2) Artist, Good (+2) Generous, Good (+2) Meticulous
Poor (-2) Constitution

Introduced in "Through the Haze."

* * *

"You begin saving the world by saving one man at a time; all else is grandiose romanticism or politics."
-- Charles Bukowski

In architecture a "quadrangle" is a courtyard between buildings.  It is typically shortened to "quad."  However, "rangle" means "to wander irregularly," and that's the short form used on this campus.

This is the Rangle in front of the Student Union. You can see some of the "moon globe" lights that characterize the campus in singles, pairs, and clusters. Globe lanterns are a popular form of lighting, particularly for campus streets and sidewalks.

Cultural Studies is one college major.

Student First Responders are trained to handle a variety of crisis situations.  They are particularly useful for preventing minor issues from becoming major ones.

Depression poses a significant challenge for many college students.  There are tips to help a depressed friend in college and in general.  Among the most important things you can do is just be there for them.  Depression makes it difficult to maintain relationships right when someone needs a support network the most.  Understand what to do if you are depressed too.

A stick horse is a toy made from a long handle with a horse's head on one end.  They are easy to make.

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2 comments or Leave a comment
thnidu From: thnidu Date: April 18th, 2014 04:34 am (UTC) (Link)
Does Dace know about ("Maisie"'s)/Damask's multiplicity?
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: April 18th, 2014 04:49 am (UTC) (Link)


Not yet. Damask haven't told anyone.

However, the differences are enough that some people are starting to notice. One person, Dan the ice cream man -- who ironically is an ordinary guy -- has figured out that Maisie has "moods" consistent with flavors of dessert. That's in "Favorite Flavors" which hasn't been sponsored yet. Dace has been interacting mostly with Clement and Keane. Farce has seen a lot of Ham and Clement.

Anybody who spends enough time with Damask may eventually figure out that this isn't Maisie anymore, or that Maisie has changed a LOT, or something like that. This is a panicky topic for Damask at present, not being really comfortable with themselves yet, let alone trying to talk this out with anyone else. But I think it would help a lot to talk with someone who knows them for who they really are, instead of hiding behind a ghost all the time. That is not what I'd call a viable long-term solution.
2 comments or Leave a comment