The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Lisa Birman’s “How To Walk Away”



     They tell you the return will not be as kind as the leaving:
     Which comes as a shock at the time. Usually in the midst of leaving. Imagining ourselves in the worst of it. Because it is not possible in that exact moment to think of dipping lower. Because we know the possible ending and cannot think ourselves there.
     And so to hear that a safe return still falters, it doesn’t seem real. Maybe that’s how it is for other people, you think. Probably they already had problems. But that’s not us, you tell yourself. We were good and are good and will be better after this. And then the thought lingers. Wakes you up or stops you sleeping. It circles you. Makes every future conversation, every future touch, a question.
     They explain that the other will change in your absence. That they have to change in your absence. They have to move forward. Occupy space. They tell you that you will also change. That you may be hurt. That you may hurt someone. That you will have friends who suffer and for whom you suffer. This has always been true, you think. This is true of any marriage, you tell yourself. Making everything more normal. Just like the neighbors. Just like any other job, any other place.
     They remind you that you’re in separate rooms now. You try to keep a line between, but the line wears no matter what you do. So when you get back into the same room, you notice all the spaces you no longer meet. That’s 7 when it can break. The disappointment of those first moments. Of not living up to the promises of absence and return. But if you can make a new agreement. If you can put aside the details of who you were before and find the new. If you can remember the small things. If you can let yourself limp along. Not try to get it all back at once.
     You don’t believe it until it happens. But when it happens, there’s a shadow. An echo. You’re exactly what they said you were. There’s something of a disappointment in it. A reassurance too. But first a disappointment. And so you take yourself back to that moment. Try to remember what they told you. You slow down. And hope that she slows with you.

This selection comes from Lisa Birman’s novel How To Walk Away, available now from Spuyten Duyvil Press. Purchase your copy here!

Lisa Birman is a poet and novelist. She has just published her first novel, How To Walk Away (Spuyten Duyvil Press, 2015).

Lisa is the author of the poetry collection For That Return Passage – a Valentine for the United States of America (Hollowdeck Press), and co-editor of the anthology Civil Disobediences: Poetics and Politics in Action (Coffee House Press). Her work has appeared in a wide range of well-respected poetry journals and she has published several chapbooks of poetry, including deportation poems and a trilogy of chapbooks in collaboration with Berlin-based singer/songwriter Josepha Conrad.

Lisa has been teaching writing in the United States, Australia, and the Czech Republic for the past fifteen years. She served as the Director of the prestigious Summer Writing Program at Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics for twelve years and continues to teach for the MFA in Creative Writing.

Originally from Melbourne, Australia, Lisa moved to New York via Seattle in 1995. She moved to Boulder, Colorado in 1997 to pursue her MFA in Writing and Poetics. Now a dual citizen, she’s still Australian at heart and often trades the Colorado winter for a few months of Melbourne summer to spend time with her family.

Lisa resides in Boulder, Colorado, where she works as a freelance writer and editor. She is the editor of a forthcoming collection of letters from Frances LeFevre Waldman to poet Anne Waldman, Dearest Annie, You wanted a report on Berkson’s class (Hanging Loose Press), and is currently completing her second novel.



Beth Couture‘s work can be found in a number of journals and anthologies, including Gargoyle, Drunken Boat, The Southeast Review, Ragazine, and Thirty Under Thirty from Starcherone Books. She is currently working on her MSS at Bryn Mawr in Philadelphia.


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