The Impact of Study Abroad

As I write this final blog post, I am sitting on a train watching the sun set illuminate the Tuscan mountains as we fly by. This place is beautiful, not only because of the scenery, but also because of the memories I will forever share with this place. It’s all so bittersweet. It’s like the saying, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” And for every tear I have shed this past week and for the ones I know are to come in the spirit of nostalgia, there were many more laughs and tons more smiles. So, as hard as it is for me to write this post, here are all the ways studying abroad has made an impact in my life.

Friendship

A place is only as great as the people in it. That is what has made Italy so special for me. Every day I was able to wake up with endless possibilities about what Italian-ism I would learn that day all the while knowing that there was a support group of people there to back me up or scream at the top of my lungs with or binge watch Stranger Things. Those people I got scammed with in Paris, those people who were lost in Berlin with me at three in the morning. Those people who traversed a fun house in Amsterdam with me like children. Those are the people that made this place so special and noteworthy. It would not have been the same experience without them.

Thankfulness

I did not get here on my own. I realize fully that me being here is fully through God. He laid a path and he has a plan for what this will do to my life. He spoke to those people who gave me words of encouragement or funding to get me through the semester. Every night walking home from babysitting, I would just ponder over the amazing state of my life. I would wonder how God could make something as small as babysitting children have an impact on me. I would wonder how he could create such beautiful oceans and mountains and cityscapes. The most breath-taking moments I had were realizing how thankful I was to get to see the world. I am so grateful and humbled to have had this experience.

Ethnocentrism

I know this may come as a surprise to some people, but America just is not the best. Now, I’m not saying it’s horrible (that would be a polar opposite instead of a logical opposite – LSAT where you at?) but there is just such a big wide world out there with so many different great ideas. There are so many things I will miss from Europe that I just cannot get back home. That being said, there are so many things and people I missed from back home that I could never get in Europe. You win some and you lose some. My point being, open-mindedness is essential. It is so important to appreciate the world and different cultures for what they are. Comparison is the killer of progress. Near the beginning of this trip, I had a difficult time adjusting to Italian life because I kept thinking about life back home and wondering which I liked better. You know what? Neither place is best. I just had to accept Italy the way it is and I am so glad I did.

Be Present

We live in a finite world. Our lives are precious. Every second that passes is one more that we should be thankful to be on this gorgeous planet with incredible people. But we do not always see that because we grow complacent. I’m that way. There are so many times that I have stayed in bed all day just because I can. But that leaves me with one more day gone away from my very finite life. Study abroad gave me a timeline. I was given four months to explore Europe and learn more about myself. Something I learned in the very beginning of this journey is the importance of taking it slow. Instead of looking forward to the coming day, I was able to relax and just enjoy the present. I was able to take in my surroundings and get to know people and try new things.

Calling

The most nagging feelings I had while abroad was the suspension that I do not deserve any of this. I still wonder if I do. It is hard to feel comfortable being truly happy knowing that there are people out in this world starving or people who will never be able to afford going to college let alone study abroad. And maybe it is non-PC for me to feel guilty. I’m really not sure. But I do know that privilege got me here. That being said, the realization that my privilege plays an integral part in my life really made me understand that it is important to make a difference. Today I might be a broke college student, but tomorrow I could be a lawyer helping defend human rights or the mom of a child that was left without a home. The possibilities are endless. But knowing this privilege and seeing it in action, whether it was passing refugee families in the street or seeing men struggling to sell roses just to get by, really shows me that I cannot be complacent. I came to Italy to learn more about the world. Now I can go make a difference.

 

And that is all folks. My time in Arezzo has come to a close. To see more about my adventures, follow me on Instagram or give me an email shout out.

Arrivederci!

A Brief Description of Arezzo

Although Arezzo appears to be a small untouched Tuscan town, there is a rich history that makes the city what it is today. From the architecture to the art to the medieval and fascist history, many factors contribute to modern day Arezzo. This creation of Aretinian culture cannot be defined by a stereotype because every person is individual. However, the more one knows about the history of a city, the more one can integrate and understand the mores of its people.

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Arezzo has been ruled by many different groups: The Etruscans, Romans, Florentines, Medici and fascists to name a few. Throughout time, the city was built upon itself. This explains why the architecture throughout Arezzo varies from place to place. In one quarter you can find a Roman amphitheater, in another a medieval fortress and in yet another, fascist statues. This architecture is frozen in time and gives us a glimpse of what life was like in Arezzo at any given point. The presence of this architecture in everyday life is important to understanding the community. Architecture makes Arezzo stand out from different cities and reminds citizens that they are tied to the past. The history of the city permeates, not only architecture, but also, traditions. When I first came to Arezzo, all anyone could talk about was the Saracino Joust. After observing the pomp and pageantry of the event, I understand that it is the main bonding event for the city. Even though the quarters battle for the most points, everyone from Arezzo can share in parades and food and the joy of the event. Even more important are the historical ties. The event began in the Middle Ages as an actual battle training against the Turks. The event was reconstituted under Fascist rule to bring tourism to the city and promote Italian camaraderie.
This event is a part of a rich history that explains Tuscan life and Italian culture. Because Arezzo was on its own on top of a mountain, the city was ruled by particular groups for long periods of time. This seclusion from the rest of the Italian peninsula caused Tuscans and, more specifically, Aretinians to have a strong sense of local pride as opposed to Italian pride. Furthermore, the late unification of the province of Italy perpetuates further the variations in not only Italian regions, but also Italian cities. As expected, Italian cultural stereotypes cannot exist in a reality outside of movies and television. The differences among Italians from different regions proves that Italians have unique histories that shape who they are; they cannot be put into a simple one-size-fits-all box that stereotypes create. Needless to say, the Arezzo I expected before I arrived is not the Arezzo I have come to know and love. Even more interesting is the fact that Arezzo is so different from other cities that I have visited outside of Tuscany.
I have learned that every cultural norm in Arezzo is not the same throughout Italy, but that everything is attached to history. There is no mafia crime in Arezzo because of the history of wealth in the city. Citizens are learning English in droves due to the growing tourism industry fueled by architecture. Parents bring their children out late at night when they drink or visit with friends because the prominence of wine in Italy takes away the taboo of alcohol that would be present in the United States. In the recent past, Arezzo took in major economic gains from the gold business; this span of wealth gave the city a reputation for being the “new rich.” Americans I have talked to outside of the University do not appreciate the “new rich” lifestyle and attitudes. However, I have found Aretinians to be nothing but accommodating. Learning about the history and architechture of this city has opened my eyes to why the people of Arezzo have such a complete sense of culture.

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Three Days in Paris: tips from a 20-something

Bonjour!

 

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As you may know from previous posts, this semester I am studying in Italy to finish up my minor in International studies and fulfill a study abroad requirement for the Global Engagement Fellowship.

One of my recent weekend trips was to Paris (Cinque Terre, Genova and Sienna/Capri posts coming soon). In order to give a steady rating system for every major city I visit, I have created a ranking with sub – scores based on categories I find important for the 20-something traveler:

Transportation, Helpfulness, Affordability, Sightseeing, and Overall Opinion.

Below you will find my brief review of Paris within these categories that includes things I wish I knew and helpful tips.

Transportation – 9

Getting to Paris from another European city can be rarely cheap if you play your cards right. If you are in France already or a country pretty close, you can overnight train for a low price.

Because I am all the way in Tuscany, flying seemed the most practical. If you haven’t discovered skyscanner.com you need to check it out. You can enter a destination (without specifying an airport or with specifications) and it will scan the web for the best flights for cheap. I flew out of Pisa to Paris for 24 Euro through Ryanair.

Paris has an insanely efficient metro system. There are pretty much stops every three to four blocks. Maps in the subway are easily navigable and most lines cross over at some point so getting anywhere can be reached by only a few stops or none at all.

If you are spending a few days in Paris, it would be useful to buy a daily metro pass that can be bought down at the ticket machines in every station. At busy times, scammers will try to take advantage of mass amounts of tourists by “helping” them buy tickets. These people look official. They work in teams and wear badges. Let me save you the trouble of being scammed out of 37 Euro and tell you that ANY UNSOLICITED HELP IN PARIS IS NOT HELP. Buy your tickets on your own. Tickets can be bought in zones. The zones range from 1 – 5. 1 – 3 can be considered the main tourist/sightseeing areas of Paris. Zone 5 will get you to the outskirts of Paris to places like Versailles.

Tip: anyone under 26 years of age is considered a child. Buying children’s metro passes can be the difference between 17 or 8 Euro.

Metro is the best form of transportation in my opinion. Trains are always on time and run pretty close together so do not fret if you think you missed a train. The busiest hours are weekends and then weekdays around 9 am and night from 5-7.

Other systems are pricy and less efficient than the metro. If you want, you can uber, taxi or rent a bike.

When it comes to walking, make sure to wear comfortable shoes. I know the Parisians are fashionable and you want to fit in, but your feet will thank you if you wear tennis shoes. A lot of places are cobblestone which can hurt if you don’t have proper arch support, and you will climb a lot of stairs if you visit museums and monuments. On my first full day in Paris I walked more than 30,000 steps.

Always beware of pickpockets no matter how you travel around the city. Keep a hand or eye on your bag at all times and keep important items tucked away. People may ask you for help to distract you or “bump into” you.

When walking you will run into persistent people trying to sell you items on the street. You can give if you want, but know that everything is overpriced and you may be contributing to an underground business. Just say no or keep walking.

Helpfulness – 3

It is probably not a surprise to most people that Parisians are not the friendliest or most helpful. It isn’t that they mean to be rude, but Paris is one of the biggest cities in Europe with a plethora of annoying tourists. For them, it is easiest to tune you out and keep walking.

What worked best for me was asking other tourists for help or asking police. Don’t be surprised if you get attitude from people who are supposed to help you, though. I was ignored by airport workers and told to learn French by desk operators at important sights.

Only three people helped me the whole trip (which is why I gave “helpfulness” a 3 out of 10): two youths we asked for directions to Notre Dame, our Air B&B hostess who let us store our bags for free (great location and price here) and the metro worker who printed out a google translate document saying we were scammed on tickets (still bitter).

If all else fails and no one will help, do what everyone else is doing, but (and I will emphasize this until I die) ANY UNSOLICITED HELP IN PARIS IS NOT HELP.

Affordability – 1

I came into Paris not really knowing what to expect. I was so accustomed to small Italian destinations that I didn’t think about how costly Paris would be. Unfortunately I need to save up and really buckle down for the rest of the semester because of how much money I spent. Below is a breakdown of what I spent and tips on how you can save.

Train to and from airports (two trips) – 46.10 €
Hotel in Pisa for one night – 25 €
Taxis to and from airports (three trips) – 8.5 €
Flights – $92.43
Bus from airport to city & vice versa – (two trips) 34 €
Food – 83.10 €
Scammed for metro pass – 37 €
Metro pass for three days – 33 € (didn’t know about Child’s pass until day three)
Paris museum pass – 48 €
Souvenirs – 12 €
Air B & B – 58€ (split five ways)

For a grand total of 467.57 €

Yikes. Looking at this list of prices pains me. I only spent three days in Paris (four days traveling) and spent more than 100 Euro each day. Spending money in Paris is inevitable, but there are so many things I learned that could have made the trip so much cheaper. Don’t be like me. Here are tips that could save you money:

Early morning flights may give you more time, but overnight stays in small cities to accommodate your flight may cost you. Save yourself the cash and get one at a later hour.
Pack snacks! I really went cheap on food if I’m being honest. 84 Euro for Paris and four days of travel is not a lot. Look for hole-in-the-wall restaurants with low prices and then splurge on one real Parisian meal. I saved my money for macaroons from La Duree. Some of my meals I bought from a local grocery store and farmers market for around 5 Euro. Remember that water costs a lot in Paris, so bring a water bottle and (I know it sounds gross) fill up in the sink.
Don’t get scammed. I could have saved myself 40 Euro if I had been vigilant and seen through the situation. Always know where your money is going and question every person who offers to help you. ANY UNSOLICITED HELP IN PARIS IS NOT HELP.

If you are under 26, get a children’s metro pass. It is significantly cheaper. I’m talking 5 – 7 Euro cheaper which can make a difference.
The museum pass from the tourism office can be great if you are into history and art like I am. It is 48 Euro and gets you into pretty much every thing you could want to see in Paris. (Check it out here.) However, I wish I had known that my student visa gets me into most places for free anyway. The website is confusing and makes it sound as though only EU students get in for free, but flashing my student visa got me in plenty of places and I’m from the U.S. The museum pass is also a waste of money if you are only wanting to see a few select places that may be free on weekends. Between free weekends and my student visa, I could have skipped the pass altogether.

Sights – 10

Paris is a 10 out of 10 when it comes to sightseeing. Not only is the cityscape beautiful from all angles, but the amount of rich history and arts contained within its borders is unmatched. Below are the top things I think everyone must see in Paris.

Arc de Triumph

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It might seem obvious, but your mind will be blown by the sheer size of the arc. It looks tiny in pictures, but from the top you can see all of Paris and take beautiful pictures (plus it’s free to enter on Saturday).

Eiffel Tower

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This is also obvious. Tourists love it here (and so do pickpockets) but standing at the bottom of the Eiffel Tower and looking up makes you feel so small. The amount of time people took to make something so magnificent possible is unreal. Pictures don’t do it justice either. My recommendation is to skip going to the top if you want to save money and just view the tower and the city from the arc, but make sure to have a picnic at the bottom of poo champagne.

Musee de Louvre

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Ever wanted to see the Mona Lisa and Venus in one place? Then the Louvre is the place for you. A museum pass will get you in for free to see some of the most famous artworks in the world. The Louvre is something I wish I had slotted more time for. It is massive. To see it all would take a full day at least. It is worth the time though to see pictures you’ve only seen in history books right before your eyes. Not only is the art gorgeous, but the building is a work of art itself. If you go on a Friday, the museum is open until 9:30 so you can stay a bit longer taking in the art. Here is the website:

Musee D’Orsay

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Smaller than the Louvre, the D’Orsay is an old train station converted into an art gallery with famous Monet’s and Van Gogh’s. Originally this wasn’t on my bucket list for Paris, but I’m glad my friends dragged me along because I can finally say that I’ve seen some of the most famous works of art.

Musee de Picasso

Although Pablo Picasso was originally from Spain, he lived and worked in France for most of his life which is why the Picasso museum is home to many famous works of his. The museum has a free guided audio tour that takes you through the background of his art and tells you more about the phases he went through as an artist.

Palace of Versailles

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This is an obvious choice for any tourist. During tourism season, Versailles can be packed and less than luxurious. We went on a cold and rainy day at about eleven in the morning which was perfect. The line to enter was not too long and there were a lot of tourists, but not so much that we couldn’t get around to the important areas. The palace is even more beautiful than in pictures. A guided audio tour can give you the history of every room through the centuries. To fully see the palace and gardens would take a full day. Museum passes will not get you into the garden if there is a show. If you are not using a museum pass, you have to buy two separate tickets to the garden and palace. Take a look at the fountain homes, Marie Antoinette’s estate and the royal family’s summer home.

Overall Opinion – 5

I begrudgingly give Paris a 5 out of 10. It might be my fault. Honestly, I feel as though I needed more time to appreciate the city without feeling overwhelmed and annoyed with all the people. It would have been much better if I had gone later in the winter with fewer tourists. The city has a ton of downsides. The people are mean and it’s expensive and dirty. I just could have spent time in a better city and spent less money. I would like to visit France outside of Paris so that I could have a better opinion of the country as a whole. The only reason I even gave Paris a 5 is because the metro system rocked and the amount of history and art I was able to see is unattainable anywhere else. Someday I plan to visit Paris when I have more time and more money to blow.

Until my next adventure ~~~~

 

xoxo

Giostra del Saracino

What does someone expect a joust in the 21st century to look like?

I personally expected something like the medieval fair in Norman, Oklahoma with the works: a band, turkey legs, all sorts of unsavory characters and booths selling “renaissance” items (no matter how authentic to the time).

Fortunately, I was able to experience a legitimate joust straight out of medieval times at the Giostra del Saracino in Arezzo, Italy thanks to my semester with the University of Oklahoma in Arezzo.

The Giostra del Saracino was a training for war in the 1600s and has continued (interrupted at times by war and other hardships) ever since. The city is divided up into quarters: Porta Crucifera, Porta del Foro, Porta Sant’Andrea and Porta Santo Spirito. They are all “porta” because of the four gates that were the main ways in and out of the walled medieval city. The event is ultimately run by the mayor of Arezzo and the president of each quarter. The people plan for the jousts all year and host fundraisers for costumes and equipment. They even have block parties in each quarter that feed 700 people.

I live in an old monastery on San Domenico in Porta del Foro. Porta del Foro’s colors are crimson and gold. It’s symbol is a chimera after the chimera statue left by the Etruscans who inhabited Arezzo thousands of years ago. I could have chosen a different quarter to support but I am all about home turf spirit.

During the week of (and especially on the day of) the joust, people come from everywhere wearing their flag or their quarter’s colors. There are parades in each of the quarters with a procession of flag bearers and drummers. The flags are a big part of the joust. The tricks are well practiced and impressive.

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The joust is held in the Pizza Grande, the biggest square in Arezzo and the center of life for hundreds of years. The ceremony begins with the parade of hundreds of people marching in to the beat of a drum. People pay to stand on the ground or sit in erected metal bleachers to cheer on their team. The best part of the procession is the flags. Because of the size of the square, the tricks are bigger and the show is more elaborate than the parade in the streets.

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After the procession of the flags, the quarters come in one by one and the crowd goes WILD! Like OU football game wild. They sing the song of their quarter and chant and wave their colors.

We had a moment of silence for the victims of the earthquakes in Italy and then the joust began.

Each team has two knights who each get a turn to joust. The goal is to hit the lance in the very center of the target held by a dummy without getting hit my a mace attached. The closer to the center, the more points. Breaking the lance doubles the points.

First to go was Porta Santo Spirito who got five for hitting the very center. It was amazing. The lances are extremely heavy and the horses are running as fast as they can so hitting the center is impressive. After the first round, Porta Santo Spirito was died with my team, Porta del Foro.

Astonishingly, Santo Spirito hit the center AGAIN giving them ten points total. To win, Porta del Foro had to get a perfect score, and, unfortunately lost by one point. I have a theory that I am bad luck.

Even though my team didn’t win, I still wanted to see the blessing of the lance at the Duomo (the magnificent cathedral in Arezzo). So I tucked away my flag in shame and climbed up the cobblestone streets to the church. Everyone and their dog was there (literally there are dogs everywhere), so I could not see a thing. All I heard was the chant of Santo Spirito, the shouts and music as the band marched in with the lance, and I could make out a few words as the priest blessed the lance (in Italian of course).

The joust was something made up in a movie or fairytale. It still doesn’t seem to be real. I could equate it to an OU football game, but the history and tradition and rivalry just is not there. To say that you are still a part of a tradition that is hundreds of years old is remarkable. Yes, many things about the joust have changed, but it still represents the civic pride that the people of Arezzo still have. The best part about the rivalry is that, at the end of the day, all of these people are still a citizen of the city. They are still neighbors and best friends and family.

The more I get to know this place and culture, the more I understand the strength that Arezzo and, ultimately, Italy has that you just don’t always find in the United States. They are all proud of where they come from and proud of their tradition. They don’t care about making money. They don’t care about commercialization. They just want to have fun and celebrate life and the traditions that make Italy what it is today. And guess what? I’m into it.

Ciao for now!

Ivey

Why Italy?

If you have been keeping up with me, then you might know that I, Ivey Dyson, am about to spend a semester in beautiful Arezzo, Italy. But you also might ask yourself why a girl who studies Arabic and wants to go into development would spend her time in Europe, the west-of-the-western and first-of-first-world places. Well I have some answers for you. Here is a little listicle of the reasons I chose to study abroad in Italy:

 

1. The Refugee Crisis

With the Syrian Civil War being waged at full force, an influx of refugees has poured into the European continent and, while most people would shy away from the almost 85,000 people who entered the European Union through Italy in 2016 and the roughly 130,000 who reside in Italy, I welcome the exchange of cultural ideas. My hope is to meet and talk with these people, not only in Italy – but everywhere in Europe. I have heard from friends with refugee parents how frustrating it can be to live in a place where your language isn’t spoken, where you have no money and no way to sustain your livelihood. It can feel hopeless. I want to be a kind voice who can understand these people and learn what it is like to be in that situation. The root of peace is found in understanding. I want to understand.

2. Academic Opportunity

So I have changed my major like 12 times. And by 12 I mean three. My academic adviser, Katie, would tell you that I should probably stop now while I’m ahead. But I think I’ve finally found the one: economics. However, because of my requirements for the Global Engagement Fellowship, I have a lot of International Studies hours under my belt. The great thing about the OU in Arezzo program is that I will be able to gain 12 hours worth of International Studies credit, completing my minor and thus bringing me closer to graduating.

3. Exposure to Cultures

Ahhhh Italy. It is the pinnacle of culture. From art to food to people – Italy has it all. But, even better, is the advantage Italy has as a member of the European Union. With virtually no borders, Italians can travel anywhere within the EU with ease. I plan to take advantage of this opportunity to see Amsterdam, Germany, France, Croatia and Spain. However close these countries may be, their cultures differ. Each one offers something different to the table. If I were to study abroad anywhere else, I might not have the exposure to such rich cultural backgrounds.

4. English

Call me basic, but what a joy it is to know that my classes will be taught in English (besides my Italian culture class but that’s to be expected, right????). The classes I’m taking are going to be difficult enough in English. How am I supposed to have an in depth conversation about Mussolini’s rise to power or break down definitions of European feminism if I can barely ask for the restroom? Don’t get me wrong, I could have chosen an Arab country and tested out the limits of my Arabic, but I feel so much safer knowing that, if I get hurt or have an issue, there will never be any miscommunication. I know someday I will need to dive in deep out of my comfort zone by going somewhere I am not easily understood, but this is the first step in getting there.

5. Peace of Mind

Did I mention that all my classes transfer credit without any question? Did I mention that this is a University of Oklahoma institution with OU faculty and staff? Did I mention that I will be surrounded by OU students who understand the culture shock I will experience? No? Well, have no fear. I am well taken care of and extremely confident that the program I chose is the perfect one for me. Italy is a great country and OU is a great school and I have a great support system. As I begin this journey, I have no doubts or fears.

 

And with that, let the adventure begin.

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games

Push me.

take two fingers and press them firmly against my vertebrae

until I lean so far forward that I can’t bounce back

until I feel the ground disappear from beneath my feet – the wind rippling through my hair serving as a goodbye

let me blame you for this amazing feeling

F R E E D O M

from the world speeding by in a watercolor blur even Picasso couldn’t create

let me see time

slowing down: birth, 10th birthday, today

I’m smiling, a cheshire cat as the world rips to newspaper shreds

Whooping until my last exhale of breath before slicing into the ice water of Puget Sound

freezing my mind, the blood in my veins,

sinking to the bottom like a boulder

time standing still

looking up at the world through waves, light reflecting and refracting like they teach in science class

I was born to be a fish.

at least that’s what my mom used to say

I was born to be a fish

 

 

milky way

There’s a space between our fingers when we hold hands
where time & space freeze.
Our bacteria intermingle in a jubilant promenade
dancing from one digit to the next, swapping secrets as they go
about their most beloved memories & cruelest heartbreaks.

There’s a space between our kisses
when we come up for air and move back in for a sloppy wet one
like life depends on it
where birds croon, leaves fall from trees & God chuckles
at the innocence of his children
not knowing where he will take them next, but caring nonetheless.

There’s a space between our dialogues
where silence sings
like the 80-year-old soprano in the church chorus
where the vehicles on the freeway shudder angrily, awaiting
the tiniest hint of acceleration
where a man rests on a street corner with a sign reading:
Anything will do.

There’s a space between then and now
when shit went down & people got hurt & she learned
never to kick a man when he’s down
or trust an outsider with a sideways grin
or ask forgiveness before the go-ahead
a space where disappointment bleeds into anger
then disbelief
then absolution.

There’s a space.