Poem of the Week, by James Baldwin

IMG_4907Last week, late at night, the fire alarm in my cheap motel began to shriek. Doors opened up and down the hall and men began to emerge: huge men, small men, men in their underwear, one on crutches, one pushing a walker, one carrying a case of beer, one sweating as if just out of a sauna. This is the strangest assortment of men I’ve ever seen, I murmured to myself. One of the men leered or smiled, hard to tell.

Next morning in the breakfast room I sat tapping on my laptop while the hallway men shuffled in one by one. The leer/smile man sat next to me. I could tell he wanted to talk but I pretended to be too absorbed in my work to look up. This did not stop him.

“Hey! I like your pink hair! How’s it goin’?” 

It was early. There were six hundred miles ahead of me. I didn’t want to talk. But then the last lines of this poem by James Baldwin came to me and I closed my laptop and turned to him and smiled. Had a long conversation about the fire alarm, the slim pickings at the breakfast buffet, his favorite smoking rituals back when everybody smoked, hard to believe it now, right? 

He was a lonely man. He just wanted to talk. Sometimes it feels like most people are lonely, and most people just want to talk. 


For Nothing Is Fixed, by James Baldwin

For nothing is fixed,
forever, forever, forever,
it is not fixed;
the earth is always shifting,
the light is always changing,
the sea does not cease to grind down rock.
Generations do not cease to be born,
and we are responsible to them
because we are the only witnesses they have.
The sea rises, the light fails,
lovers cling to each other,
and children cling to us.
The moment we cease to hold each other,
the moment we break faith with one another,
the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.


If you’d like to read more about James Baldwin, this is an interesting profile.



Facebook page



  1. Barb m · October 19, 2019

    Perfect day starter. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Diane Gottlieb · October 19, 2019

    Thank you for that simple, moving example, Alison, of “holding each other” and for introducing me to Baldwin’s poem.


  3. This is beautiful and thought provoking. It reminds me of a time in a café when I sat talking to an older man for 30 minutes about art and Esperanto. He wasn’t a predator – he was just lonely. Sometimes we conflate the two, as women, because we know there’s a danger in returning that smile – engaging with a strange man.

    Liked by 1 person

    • alisonmcghee · November 2, 2019

      Yes, that’s it exactly. So many people are lonely, and because we don’t say “I’m lonely, please talk to me” in our culture, the underlay of the smile isn’t always obvious. Art and Esperanto? That’s an interesting human. . .

      Liked by 1 person

      • He was very interesting – the sad thing is, though, I gave him a fake name. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could fully trust the strange people we make connections with? Well, at least we learn to touch the strange people we spend time with, who become less strange as we see them more.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. alisonmcghee · November 2, 2019

    “The strange people we spent time with, who become less strange as we see them more.” Lovely.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s