I happened to be in my Omaha apartment one afternoon last April, eating a sandwich in between my opening shift at the bookstore and my closing shift at Petco, when my landlord brought potential renters through the place. I usually only saw him once a month when I went to drop off my rent check, where he would regale me with every detail of his latest trip down south with his Civil War reenactment buddies. One retelling of the Battle of Bentonville was enough for me, so in an effort not to seem spectacularly awkward and to distract the potential tenants (and my landlord) from the fact I hadn’t swept the living room in a while, I asked them where they were moving from. Fort Collins, they said. They would be graduating from CSU’s veterinary school the next month.
I’m not sure how much stock to put in coincidences. Nebraska and Colorado border each other. CSU’s veterinary program is well known and a lot of people in Nebraska have farms and raise animals. But what are the odds that the one apartment tour I was at home for would bring people who were moving from not only the city, but the school I was soon heading toward?
I didn’t move straight to Fort Collins from Omaha. I traveled around a lot that summer, then drove out to Fort Collins from my hometown of San Diego. My mom and I didn’t take the most direct route; I wanted to go through Phoenix so I could see a friend of mine from college. He suggested we drive through the Malpais Wilderness then continue up through New Mexico. We did – it was beautiful! – and stopped in Santa Fe for a night.
The next day was the day I had to move into my apartment. I planned to move in just a few days before orientation (which everyone had told me not to do) so we only had one morning in Santa Fe before we needed to leave for Fort Collins. (If you are a potential MFA reading this, do not be like me! Follow the advice of the kind and intelligent people of this program and don’t move in three days before GTA orientation!)
When I told my parents I was going to get my MFA at CSU, my mom requested Joy Harjo’s memoir from the library. I read it that summer; I knew she lived in Santa Fe. But I didn’t bother looking up readings or signings. We would only be there for less than a day, and besides, as the newly named Poet Laureate she probably traveled a lot. What were the odds she would be there at the same time?
My mom and I ate breakfast, then wandered aimlessly around downtown. We saw a bookstore and went inside. As I entered, I heard the woman behind the counter say, “We have all the books ready for your reading tonight, Ms. Harjo.” I froze. There she was! The poet laureate of the United States! My heartbeat filled my ears. I glanced at my mom. Phew, she hadn’t heard. My mom goes wild about celebrities, and the last thing I wanted was her to ask Joy Harjo to make me her assistant or something. I felt like I was back in middle school, wanting desperately to be noticed but also thinking that if that happened, I might internally combust.
Be cool! Be cool! I approached slowly until I stood arms-length away. I picked up a book on a display and pretended to read the back. I could not make any sense of the words. What did I possibly have to say to the US Poet Laureate? Someone whose life I now knew intimate details of from her memoir?! Funny I should run into you – I’m about to start an MFA program! I’m a poet too! I admire your work. I admire your… life? Resilience? Inner strength? It all seemed trite or banal or like overeager, clumsy attempts at sucking up. I said nothing. She left the bookstore. We would miss her reading. I bought two of her books, then we got back in my car and drove to Colorado.
I’m not sure how much stock to put in coincidences. I knew Joy Harjo lived in Santa Fe. It’s a small city – there can’t be that many bookstores. But the odds she stopped at the exact time we chanced upon that bookstore… on my way to start my MFA in poetry… Does it “mean” anything? I doubt it. But in moments like these I feel the universe knit together with innumerable threads – and how do they move? How do they – or might they – cross, overlay, interweave? A whole net of these threads, spread out across the spaces I work in and live in and move through. And my life among them, serendipitous, somehow charmed.
Annmarie Delfino is a first-year MFA candidate in poetry. She hopes to someday hear Joy Harjo give a reading. | Annmarie.Delfino@colostate.edu | Visit CSU’s Creative Writing MFA program at https://english.colostate.edu/cwmfa/