Soft Skills: A Thank You Note for Wayne Zade

In 1995 I wore long shorts and a class ring and I stepped into your office with a handful of poems.

By 1999 I was a traveler and a deconstructionist and I returned to your office to sit, embraced by your walls of books, and hear the jazz.

You told me about Rilke, Ashbury, and Coltrane. We listened to Seamus Heaney, to Quincy Troupe, to Ornette Coleman. And I kept coming back—

From New York to Iowa—by way of Norman Dubie, Murakami, Lady Day—From here to there! New poem to another new poem. You told me, without telling me, how to keep your calling close, like a halo of lamplight around the fragilist part of you.

In 2002 I was mountaining and floundering and businessing and marrying. But I didn’t forget.

In 2006 I was a poet and it was because of you.

In 2009 and again in 2012 I thought life was breaking me—But then I remembered that, once, you said my poetry reminded you of Chet Baker. So I came back.

In 2014 an 8th grader bested the high schoolers in a Poetry Slam that made my whole body smile and I—I was his teacher!

In 2015 I brought my own students with me and sat beside you at a classroom table and talked about books again.

Though I still hope I’ll be remembered for my angel-throated words, my revolutionary, post-punk ideas, I realize it will really be because of the artists I teach from my own life-crafted room.

And whenever I think I don’t need mentors anymore because I have become one, I realize that the soft skills in my life originated in your lamp-lit office. And I’ll always want to come back.