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R.A. Villanueva (he/him/his) reads the poem "On Kindness" by Aracelis Girmay.

R.A. Villanueva:

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I'm R.

A. Villanueva, and this is a poem by Aracelis Girmay called "On Kindness," which I think about often as a kind of inoculation against sadness and anger and cynicism.

At the Detroit Metro Airport with the turtle-hours to spare  between now & my flight, there is such a thing as the kindness  of the conveyor belt who lends me its slow, strange mollusk foot  as I stand quiet, exhausted, having been  alone in my bed for days now, sleeping in hotels, having spent months, now,  without seeing the faces of my family, somehow its slow & quiet carrying of the load  reminds me of the kindness of donkeys & this kindness returns me to myself.  It reminds me of the kindness  of other things I love  like the kindness of sisters who send mail, wherever you are, &, speaking of mail, there is the special kindness of the mail lady who says, "Hi, baby" to everyone, at first  I thought it was just me, but now I know she says "Hi, baby" to everyone. That is kindness. Too, there is the kindness of windows, & of dogs. & then there was that extraordinary Sunday back at the house, I heard a woman screaming about how she was lonely & so lonely  she didn’t know what she’d do, maybe kill herself, she said, over & over like a parrot  in a cage, a parrot whose human parent only taught it that one sentence.

I looked out the window & saw her from behind, the way she flung her arms like she was desperate & being killed or eaten by an invisible predator, like a tiger or a lion, in the chest. & her voice seemed fogged out with methadone, I don’t know, something, & I walked away from the window  & sat, angry with her for screaming, & sad, & not long after, I heard her saying, What’d you say? What’d you say to me? & a man’s voice, low, I could not tell if it was kind. & she said, I’ll kill myself, I’m so lonely.  & did I tell you, yet, that it was Mother’s Day? Flowers & mothers, flowers & mothers all day long. & the woman saying, I’m so lonely.

I could kill myself.  & then quiet. & the man’s voice saying, It’s okay. It’s okay. I love you, it’s okay. & this made me get up, put my face, again, to the window to see my landlord’s nephew outside, just hugging her so, as if it were his mother, I mean, as if he belonged to her,  & then, again, quiet, I left the window but sat in the silence of the house, hidden by shutters, & was amazed.

When the front door of the brownstone opened up & let the tall nephew in with his sad & cougar eyes, handsome & tall in his  Carolina-Brooklyn swagger, I heard him start to climb the stairs  above me, & my own hand  opened up my own front door, & though it was none of my business  I asked him, Do you know that women out there? & do you know what happened next? He said, No. The nephew said no, he didn’t know the woman out there. & he told me Happy Mother’s Day as he climbed the rest of the stairs. & I can’t stop seeing them hugging on the street, under trees, it was spring, but cold, & sometimes in the memory his head is touching hers & sometimes in the memory his eyes are closed,  & sometimes she is holding him & singing to him I love you.

It’s okay. I mean to tell you that everywhere I go I hear us singing to each other. This way.

I mean to tell you that I have witnessed such great kindness as this, in this, my true life, you must believe me. I mean, on a Sunday, when nobody was supposed to be watching. Nobody at all.

I saw this happen, the two of them hugging, when nobody was supposed to be watching, but not a secret either, public as the street, not for glory & not for a joke,  the landlord’s nephew ready to stand there for the woman  like a brother or a sister or a husband or son, or none of these at all, but a stranger, a stranger, who like her, is an earthling.  Perhaps this thing I am calling kindness is more simple than kindness, rather, recognition of the neighbor & the blue, shared earth & the common circumstance of being here: what remains living of the last two million, impossible years…