Skyscraping - Cordelia Jensen


I have everything I need.

My bag. My key.

The security man knows my name,

lets me in.

Soon the school will be full;

for now, quiet, empty.

Climbing stairs,

the room halfway between floors.

Just the way we left it:

A tidy stack of blue layout sheets in the corner.

Two long rulers.

Side by side.

Font book in the drawer.

White counters flank me,

like plane wings.

In the corner, the books.

In order, from year to year.

All those smiling faces.

Expecting. Believing.

I open my favorite:


the year I was born.

I spiral into their past:

girls with ironed hair,

boys in bell-bottom jeans.

Wonder who’s still friends with who.

If they kept their yearbook.

Shutting it gently,

it’s my time now.

I unpack:

new erasers, set them in a row,

paper clips, labels.

Take out a rag.

Wipe the layer of dust from the counter.

White can always get brighter still.

Wings after the rain.

In just two days,

we launch.

And maybe, years from now, some baby,

born today, will grow up to be an editor like me:

Someone who knows how to turn the present into memories.

Someone who knows how to capture time.

She will see our faces.

Me. Chloe. Dylan.

Wonder who we grew up to be.

Then, she’ll sit,

use her own silver ruler, draw her own lines

like I’m doing now.

Taxiing just before



In my windowseat—


spying on Riverside:

a ponytailed jogger, an old man walking a poodle,

a balcony of trees sweeping over the Big Rock,

cars breeze up the Henry Hudson,

four boats bump down the river,

Manhattan’s skyscrapers dwarfing North Bergen.

Dad peeks in, giantlike, fills the whole doorframe:

his round face, his fading tan.

Mira, he says, it’s time. It’s a big day.

I watch New York City blaze by.

The sun almost swallows the sky.

I’m ready.

Touching the window,

the glass warm,

I leave my very own mark,

floating up, high


the pulsing orange sky.


Today, I’m a Senior.

My sister, April, a Freshman.

Dad pecks our cheeks,

Mom, still sleeping.

He claims she said

have a nice day.


April hands Sam

the homeless man

a Pop-Tart tucked in a paper towel.

Dad would be proud.

Past Cafe 82, Celestial Treasures, Harry’s Shoes.

Past a yellowing leaf twirling with a Burger King wrapper,

floating, then falling together, on the cracked curb.

Time flies—

once we were little girls dancing to the Go-Go’s,

mirrored walls showing us ourselves,

matching long blond ponytails,

April arms out, voice open, singing loud.

Me, taking the slow part, spinning in circles.

Now, eyes locked, under the glass bus stop,

a sign reads:

In December, not just tokens only, MetroCards too.

Write it down in my planner; make sure April sees.

Our backpacks heavy with possibility,

a million taxis storm by,

blowing our hair up in this September breeze,

the bus yawns, opens its doors to us,

like it has just woken up.



April and I sit catty-corner,

back of the bus.

Dylan comes on,

flashes his pass,

flannel heavy with smoke.

Ask if he’s ready.

He shrugs at me.

I tell him I’m psyched,

he mumbles high school’s wack,

I tell April to ignore him.

Dylan scored 16 billion on his SATs,

the rest of us have to work,

he sticks his tongue out at me.


The bus crawls through tunnels,

lands straight on Park.

We file out,

windows above

lighting us,

so bright

we’re fluorescent.

Chloe, at the corner,

somehow earlier than us,

a lit cigarette, fountain Coke,

cutoffs, Sharpie-drawn Converse,

Mother Love Bone T-shirt.

Me in a plain white V-neck,

plain blue blue jeans,

I click my brown clogs together.

Chloe and I, different styles,

friends our whole lives.


April, nervous, says she doesn’t want to go in.

I whisper Dad’s go-to line:

let the butterflies into your heart.

Some girls from her class fly by in formation,

she picks up their wind, glides into their frame.

I grab Chloe’s ringed fingers,

no more waiting, let’s start—

we move from sidewalk to gates—

Dylan winks at me,

we swarm in—

our last first day.

I squint back into the sky

knowing that this is the moment

in the movie of our lives

where the prop guy

rains down



Adam, white cap, used to wait

inside the school lobby, his palm

gently on my back, steering me

into the school elevator


Now he’s at college,

not with me to celebrate

this beginning, this end.

Not here to steer me


So many afternoons spent with him

at school in our Yearbook office.

Supplies in order,

all our plans


So many evenings

in his beige-carpeted apartment,

yearbook pages spread out around


Watching The Princess Bride,

sipping crushed ice Cokes,

resting gently on coasters,

working, watching, kisses

in between.

Though we aren’t together anymore,

we keep in touch,

my inner eye is locked on Adam’s gaze,

he’s smiling at me, applauding almost,

as I make this steady, even flight

my own.


First up, Astronomy,

push in the heavy black door.

Seat by Dylan,

a game of hangman.

I guess the word, Existentialism,

he draws a happy face

on the dying stick figure.

Mr. Lamb projects:

slide after slide,

Earth from the moon,

blue and green swirls of beautiful.

My heart pounds:

I am inside of it.

I am part of the rotation.

Dylan passes a note,

says that he’s been reading

the Existentialists,

that Senior year, by definition,

means we are in crisis:

Questioning what, if anything, has meaning.

Asks me to join him and Chloe after school

to ponder