How to Act

Honorable Mention: 2022 Sandy Crimmins Poetry Contest


Pretend you are waiting for a bus.

It is best to practice this

while waiting for the bus.

It’s called Method.

While waiting for the bus,

check your wrist as if

you had a watch on.

Gaze fixedly at a spot

several blocks away as if

expecting a bus to round

the corner. Gaze as if

conjuring the bus like a rabbit

from a hat. Now look away.

Tap your foot to indicate

impatience. Pretend

not to be listening to the couple

arguing on the bench.

yes it is no it isn’t you always do this

no I don’t yes you do GODDAMN IT

It’s OK to wince when he punches

the bus stop. No one’s looking

at you in that moment.

OK, beat. And—take out a cigarette.

This is your motivation

to move off—out of the wind

so you can light it. Otherwise,

it looks as if you’re reacting

to the argument you weren’t

listening to. No—you are a poet,

preoccupied with subtler things.

Smoke implacably—world-weary as if

waiting on the 53 Godot line.

Consider the pigeons pecking

at the rice from a discarded burrito

on the ground. Pretend to think

about their lives. How long

has that burrito been there?

How do they not get salmonella

or botulism—whatever it is

you get from eating a burrito

off the sidewalk? OK.

Shake it out. Focus. Now, say

your mobile rings and it’s your mother.

Pretend you are receiving

a phone call from your mother.

“Sad news.” You know what it is

before she says, but must act

surprised, dismayed. Your godmother

has died, whom you didn’t really know

but who showed up in your mother’s stead

at your first big reading, exactly as if she

were your godmother. What is appropriate

for this level of connection?

Decide how you will feel about it

and commit to that. Don’t oversell it.

While this is happening, imagine

it is really happening to you.

What would the person playing you

in the movie of your life say?

Console your mother. Wait

for the mood to even out. Hang up.

You are so far beyond

the squabbling couple and the pigeons

now; they have no idea the depth

of your emotion as you stare

at a shred of plastic snagged

in a filthy municipal tree. Pretend

not to hear the diesel motor

lumbering up the street, your reverie

broken only by the pneumatic sigh

of the bus doors opening beside you.

Brave face, chin up; stride ponderously

onto the bus as if departing your home

forever; find a window seat.

Pretend to be looking through

your reflection, instead of at it.

Cleveland Wall is a poet, teaching artist, and librarian in Bethlehem, PA. She performs with poetry improv troupe No River Twice and with musical combo The Starry Eyes. She is the author of Let X=X (Kelsay Books, 2019) and many small, handmade chapbooks.