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  • Caitlin M.S. Buxbaum

On the First Day of School After a Student is Killed in a Car Accident

Updated: Apr 29, 2023

By Caitlin M.S. Buxbaum

after Marjorie Saiser’s “This is What Life Does”

for M.S., in memoriam

I think of all the ways that

I have cheated death. This is

only the first thread of what

we call survivor’s guilt, life

after another’s passing—does

anyone know why luck gives

more days to some? Picture me,

chest trembling, sounding another

person’s words on a Tuesday morning

to tell a handful of teens how fleeting

heartbeats can be. Do they need reminders

of how little intention matters, how small

we are in our soft, impermanent

bodies? We all must wonder what flashes

before our widening eyes, trapped in

those final moments. That’s sad, the

snarky boy says. I imagine the shards of glass.



Paper plane flies in face, face crumples like paper.

Words fly first, then fists, the seated at a loss for words.

Accidents happen, but there are no accidents

when the blamed bleeds beneath eyes ablaze, when

faces turn to teacher, witness: the boy’s face is

rough with pain, and she’s not thinking fast enough

because other students are starting up, because

one face is swelling and one is swearing and one

is firmly saying stop and I realize it is

me telling a man to leave the classroom, me

calling the front office for backup, calling

boy-with-broken-glasses to the sink, voice

low like his, hands shaking like his, eyes low.

He goes to the nurse. I tell his friends that he

could not have been helped by them, that they could

only have redirected such senseless wrath. Only

man-once-boy holds the reins to his rage. Man

trying to heal his boyhood wounds without trial.


Life Story

What do you say when someone

hands you their life story

with the words “it’s kind of sad”

spoken as a preface to

the tragedies you’ll read,

the wrong turns that led to them

becoming who they are?

That’s OK.

Don’t say that.

I kept it academic,

perhaps appropriate

to the task at hand

of organizing and

analyzing thoughts,

but was there something else

I should’ve said?

Don’t be ashamed.

Don’t be afraid.

Don’t give up.

This does not have to be

the end of your story.

Your life is not an essay

with one conclusion printed

in permanent ink, and you

are not some Sisyphus, doomed

to roll your past up that hill you see

when you look back in the mirror.

Write yourself out

of those paragraphs of pain,

those doldrums of disappointment,

into a new, chosen future,


in the best way





Caitlin M.S. Buxbaum is a writer and teacher from Wasilla, Alaska. She currently serves as CEO of Red Sweater Press, President of Alaska Writers Guild, and Editor-in-Chief of The Poets' Touchstone, a publication of the Poetry Society of New Hampshire. Learn more about her and read more of her work at

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