by Jo-Anne Cappeluti

My 30-something self is walking down a dark hallway, holding a piece of paper with a brief passage followed by a blank signature line. She stops beneath one of the lights to read what she immediately recognizes as that children’s prayer asking God to keep your soul if you die in your sleep.   

I know she was drawn to the prayer at a young age but is put off now as to why that message has followed her here and why she has to be the bearer of such a message, let alone find someone to sign for it, in effect, to ratify her, as if she is some lost, little girl who can’t sign for herself.

I also know she is dead tired—and that she thinks, in fact, that maybe she has died and is on some final journey to meet God but doesn’t think she has much chance of finding him in some office in this dark hallway—besides, if it were true that dying in your sleep is supposed to be the most peaceful way to go, I am sure she’d be quick to add that waking from it (if, in fact, she is waking now) is hardly peaceful.  

I also know how strongly she continues to feel about coming back to college to complete her B.A. then earn her M.A. and Ph.D., all in English. It is her dream-come-true, culminating in writing a dissertation focused on Romantic to Modern poetry—the poetry based on the poet serving as his or her own subject, writing about the strange and beautiful stuff that comes to consciousness of its own volition and sense of timing—the stuff of memories recast as waking dreams, happening in present tense.

I know as well that facing the job market continues to be a nightmare to her. She is so tired of applying for jobs in her area of emphasis then finding out instead that they were looking for someone to teach online, remedial composition courses. She is an accomplished scholar with degrees, published papers, and teaching experience and feels she deserves a chance at something a lot bigger than anything this narrow hallway has to offer—and certainly something more astute to comment on than the children’s prayer.

Yet she stops and knocks at every closed door—finally arriving at the last door at the end of the hall—and the end of her 30s.

Looking down at the petition in her hand, she composes in her head a half-apology, I’m sorry to bother you, but I’ve got this paper that needs to be signed, and I was wondering, it’s kind of silly—I’m even half-afraid that I died in my sleep. I know you’re busy, but if you have a minute—

Then she notices the petition is signed—the signature as large and irregular as hers has become while earning her Ph.D.—a process, it strikes her, that begins when she is three, drawn to explore the mysterious beauty in the first line of the children’s prayer that offers an I laying a me down to sleep.

I am that I, her soul—never too busy to ratify me—as I do again now, sending my doubting 60-something self back to seeing how herself at 30-something—and at three—are drawn, like her, to a task ahead—

Jo-Anne Cappeluti has recent poems appearing in Spiritus, Blue Unicorn, Whistling Shade, and Gold Man Review. She earned her PhD in English at the University of California at Riverside.