In the courtyard outside my window, the plain trees have shed their leaves. This makes more visible the playground in the center crowded with children on a balmy December morning. An out-of-the-blue warmth, after two days of rain, seems to have everyone in good cheer. There’s already a line for the swings. One child carries an over-sized stuffed bear as she waits.

I regret her the moment I see her, knowing I won’t be able to get on with other things — unanswered email, a flat bicycle tire, an end-of-year purge of closeted items belonging to my ex-partner — until she’s given a turn, until the choice between bear and swing has been negotiated. She cannot hold onto one and make full use of the other.

That there is no trusted person in view to hold the bear when she arrives at the swing is simply good writing by any standard. Why should our choices be easy — even on a warm December morning? I go to the terrace for a closer view. She is my morning meditation, my mantra.

She looks around. First, she tries the swing holding onto the bear. Next she climbs off the swing and steadies it. She puts the bear onto the seat. It topples onto the muddy ground. She grabs it quickly. Children waiting, some with parents, coax her: a circle of pressure. Oh, the external forces asking us to hurry.

What difference does it make anyway to lose this one chance at the swing? There will be other opportunities, and many, though perhaps not until late spring.

The experience will give her nothing to cling to — before or after — no prize at the fair, no coins under her pillow — just the flying in air, the present tense, that sliver-size glimpse of eternity.


GAIL SEGAL is a writer and filmmaker living in New York City. Her most recent collection of poems, “The Discreet Charm of Prime Numbers,” is just out from Finishing Line Press. She holds an MFA from Warren Wilson College and at this moment is at work finishing a narrative short, filmed in the Arabian Desert. She’ll travel almost anywhere, but her favorite perch is the wide sill of her living room window.

A Note from our Editors — Issue 18, our Annual Prizes, Submission Calls & more!   Read