Present Tense

by Geoff Schutt


It wasn’t that long ago
that we would have pounded our fists
on the ground
and just shouted (not screamed),
trying to wake up something.

We would have pounded our fists
just to let us see (for ourselves),
just to let us open our eyes,
to just
listen to the shouting (not screaming),
the sound of our own voices
trying to wake up
something we
could not understand why —
it was not happening.

(How difficult
it is
to listen.)

It wasn’t so long ago
on New Year’s Eve
the only thing that mattered
was a kiss from you
on my lips
to welcome the hope
of something new,
beyond our expectations.

We marked the New Year
(each year)
on the calendar,
even though it was
already marked.
We wanted exclamation!

But this year
we waited too many days
for our new calendar.
The one for the New Year.

The old calendar just wouldn’t do
because it was leading up
to an end,
and not a beginning.
And we always had a new calendar
for the New Year,
that we placed over
the old dates,
saying Goodbye & Hello
at the same moment.

I suppose that’s how time works:
Goodbyes & Hellos
pass in the night,
and one says to the other:
“No, you first, really.”

Time can be really polite
or time can just forget about it,
if you know what I’m saying.

This year’s calendar
came half-off (smart shoppers, we are,
we consoled ourselves)
during the after-Christmas sale
at Barnes & Noble.

I remember the calendar
I wanted,
and the one you chose instead:
the calendar of faraway places,
because here isn’t
far enough distant
to capture all of our dreams
you said
opening your mouth.

I wanted the calendar
with the recycled photos
of the horses.
Each month another pretty horse:
a gelding
a colt
a filly
a mare.
I wanted the recycled photos
because beauty isn’t supposed to change.

Just as I wanted your kiss on New Year’s Eve
and you weren’t —
how should
I say this —

My dreams are like those faraway places
in the calendar you liked
at the after-Christmas sale,
this is true.
Places we might never visit
but places
refrigerator door,
marking down
every doctor’s appointment
and wedding
and birthday, always
looking ahead.

Can you hear any of this?

It wasn’t so long ago
that we would have pounded
our fists
on the ground
against the wall
against ourselves
just to feel something,
as in,
the time when
never lose dates
in fact never go out of date,
and certainly are never last year’s dates,
and best of all
are never, ever in need
of replacing.

Why else would Barnes & Noble
have calendars still on sale
(even at bargain prices)
with months already lived?
Like November.
Like December.

Dates on these calendars —
dates like New Year’s Eve, I mean,
as right now
two weeks into January
as they were three weeks ago.

I mean, are as right now
as a kiss
on the lips
on New Year’s Eve
right now
next to me.

I know you have to be listening, so

Please keep
your fists
even as you
grow tired.
do this for me:

Let me know that
the kiss
hasn’t happened yet,
that I’m not too late.
That this is still,
all of it —
present tense.



Geoff Schutt’s short fiction has appeared in The Quarterly (edited by Gordon Lish for Vintage Books/Random House), The Best of Writers at WorkThe Wastelands Review and The Laurel Review, among others.  He has received three artist grants for his fiction-as-performance art from The Arts Commission of Greater Toledo. After living in Ohio for many years, he now resides in the Washington, D.C. area, where he has completed his first novel.  He is represented by James McGinniss of McGinniss Associates Literary Agency, New York City.  For more of Geoff Schutt’s work, see his blog, “This Side of Paradise,” at http://geoffschutt.blogspot.com



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