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  You could have a big dipper   

1985 by Jesse Lee Kercheval

I came in with Halley's comet in 1835. It is coming

again next year, and I expect to go out with it.

Mark Twain

Iowa City, December, 1985 and the radio is warning of 15 below tonight—so cold if you go outside and fall down drunk, you will freeze and die. Here the students are always wandering around drunk. Each morning, the Press-Citizen publishes the names of students who were arrested for public urination after the bars closed—as if there were no other news worth the ink to print. I’m a student again, at the Writers Workshop, so I am outside despite the weather warning. Not very drunk, but I am crying tears that try to freeze my eyelids shut. I am crying because I want to be a writer and I am not sure that is going to happen. I am crying because everybody here wants to be a writer and that makes us all quite cruel. I am crying because I am trudging past the Laundroma on East Burlington where Ray Carver, when he was a student here, is said to have stood watching a load of laundry in the dryer and decided, then and there, he couldn’t take it anymore. He left. I think I might too. Get in my car and drive back to Tallahassee where people really know me, it’s rarely below freezing, and if you pass out drunk, all that happens is someone takes you home. But then I remember Halley’s Comet and look up and I think I see it. I take this as a sign of things to come. I think it’s saying, Come on girl, you can do it! Or I didn’t see it after all. Just made myself believe it. It could have been the neon lights of the Laundroma reflected through those frozen tears. I was a fiction writer then—and what I wrote were lies.


Jesse Lee Kercheval is a poet, writer,and translator. Her most recent book is the poetry collection America that Island off the coast of France. She was born in France and currently divides her time between Madison, Wisconsin and Montevideo, Uruguay. Twitter: @JesseLKercheval

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