A Delicate Balance

Tending to the cosmic ledger.

A Delicate Balance

May has been a wild rollercoaster of a month. It began with the afterglow of wonderful news — I’d received tenure at the University of Baltimore — and the shadow of a new medical condition: I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Later in the month, my student loans from grad school, almost $40,000, were forgiven via the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. But then, just yesterday, my father decided to disown my brother and me.

On the cosmic ledger, I am at net-zero.

Even in so much tumult, I’ve sought to be attentive to the poetry that has been the work of my entire adult life. It’s nearly summer, and climate change has unscrewed the clock of expectations for seasonal weather, but without fail, the annual war with the birds attempting to nest in my back-porch awning has begun. Only now, I can attend to cleaning out their efforts on the same schedule as I check my blood sugar. Routines help me manage the stress.

I read a tweet reminding me of a statistic from 2007 that stated the amount of Black tenured faculty in the U.S. is under 5 percent. That same week, I read from Czeslaw Milosz’s collected essays To Begin Where I Am, “I am here. Those three words contain all that can be said — you begin with those words and return to them.” What will it mean for me to be a Black professor in a Black city who can say, “I am here” to other Black professors, to potential Black students? For this and for my children and for my wife, I’ve radically changed my diet.

A line from a poem I wrote called “Ode to the Letter S” states, “Stay tuned says the sunset.” I realize that the most important word in that line is “Stay.”

This is the dual obsessive assertion of all nerds to one another: “I am here” and “Stay.” This is the call and response between father and son (or any parent and child). This is the echo among the dead poets and the living poets. This is the antechamber of faith and doubt — the burning bush of I AM saying “here,” and the human heart saying, “Stay.” Invitation and invocation.

But all that is a bit lyrical. Let the conductor’s baton in the poet’s mind start waving about, and the orchestra will play. What I really mean to say, dear readers, is that you have time to affirm who you are and who you want to be. Even when the cosmic ledger seems tilted toward disaster — Write it! as Elizabeth Bishop said — you have time to call out to those who love you, those who are attending the same conventions and browsing the same comic book shops and watching the same TV shows as you.

You have time to play with the action figures you love despite your age. You have time to love again and to find new love. You have time to turn the plow — volta! — of self-doubt toward a renewed faith in yourself. You have time to pray if you pray. You have time to tell Death, “Not today,” like Arya Stark.

You have time. Use it.

Steven Leyva’s poetry collection is The Understudy’s Handbook.

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