Tag Archives: saying goodbye

My Last Letter to Flagstaff

Dear Flagstaff,

autumn forest

There’s no easy way to say this, but I have to say goodbye.

Northern Arizona University

It’s not that I don’t like you. On the contrary, you’re the finest community I’ll ever know. Never mind that you’re the only community I’ve ever known. Having lived in Flagstaff for twenty years and with no actual memories of my life in Pocatello, Idaho, before moving to you, it might be unfair to future communities, but I mean it, Flagstaff. Where else can I see a herd of deer pass in front of my car just uphill from my high school? Where else can I have a mountain for a backyard? Where else will I be an hour from the Grand Canyon and Sedona?


You’ve been great to me, Flagstaff, but it would be naive to say it was all fountains of chocolate. I mean, you are in Arizona, after all. The snow was nice, but driving downhill on an icy road to a stop light was a little scary. I appreciated the dog food factory, but the smell was a little overwhelming sometimes.


Everything good and bad that has ever happened to me, with a few exceptions (Ireland, Montana, Minneapolis), has happened to me in Flagstaff: failed orchestra concerts, a broken arm, publication, falling in love for the first time, crippling self-doubt, hangovers in church, learning to play the violin, becoming an Eagle Scout, rejections from journals, writing my first good poem, writing my first bad poem, saying goodbye at the train station to the woman I loved. I’ve had colds and stage fright, I’ve had frog dissections and marching band performances, I’ve had reader’s theater and photography gigs. I lurched through high school and college in Flagstaff. Spending two decades in a place allows for the accumulation of immeasurable joy and bitterness, and leaving you, Flagstaff, is a tough decision, perhaps the toughest I’ll ever have to make. Sticking around is quite tempting.

Train Station Bench

But I need to see other cities, other states, other countries. I need to travel. I need to study and write and learn. I’ll start by going to graduate school in Lincoln, Nebraska. Lincoln may be the opposite of you, Flagstaff, but everything is packed, and I’ll be out the door by the time you read this. After graduate school, I’ll traverse shores yet untarnished by my footprints.

Duck Pond

Even if I fall for Lincoln, I’ll always miss you, Flagstaff. You were the rough draft of a misshapen side character dropped into the world; you were a place of enlightenment in the saints’ cult of writers; you were the architect of this backpack stuffed with art and questions that I am honored to call my soul.

Christmas in Flagstaff

I owe you more than I’ve given, and you’ve given me more than I deserve, Flagstaff. Perhaps I’ll come back to you someday. I would like to see you at least once more before I die. If I do make it back, I hope you have not changed except to become more beautiful, but I cannot, for the life of me, imagine a more beautiful city.

Pipeline Trail

I’ll miss the hippies and cowboys and geriatric motorcyclists. I’ll miss the perpetual smell of pine trees and incense and dog food. My memories of Flagstaff are like photographs in a gallery hung at random. No real structure binds these moments, and it’s more breathtaking that way. With that, I say goodbye Flagstaff. Wish me luck.



Duck Pond After Hours


Poem: Cantata for the End

It’s National Poetry Month, and by tradition I endeavor to write one poem every day during April. I won’t specify how many days I’ve missed, but I’ve written more poetry than usual this month. Here is an example of the kind of thing I write when I have ten thousand final projects due plus graduation in only a few weeks.

Lovely Sunset


This is it.
The curtain is falling, the fruit is molding,
the milk is curdling, the kidneys are failing.
This is the last sunset before we dive into a bomb shelter.
This is Dr. Nietzsche standing over God’s hospital bed,
looking at his watch and preparing his declaration.

All the unresolved chords are clamoring in ecstasy,
and the caps are falling on graduates like rain.

This is the last-minute cancellation of the Resurrection.
This is a black hole on its way to work.
This is Eternity hanging up the phone.

The end is near enough to kiss
but time has not accommodated
all that is still left to accomplish,
the everythings still on the shelf,
how many alltogethernows are waiting on the rim,
the countless curiosities that are yet unraveled.

There is still the Pope looking into the fridge,
there is Steinbeck sitting at a bus stop,
there is Elie Wiesel shaking his head,
there are neverminds to bury
and sleepwells to evaluate,
a whole patchwork quilt of deadline half-life.

So this is it, a cacophony of goodbyes
and the past stuffed into a sarcophagus.
This is wiping the lipstick off the collar
even with so much desire left.
This is us mapping the final frontier,
buttoning up our coats,
and walking out the door into the wind
for the last time.


Photo (La Jolla, California) generously donated by the marvelous travelers at Keene Short Photography. Poem copyrighted work of Keene Short, 2015.