1. There is a path.
2. There are many paths. Pick one.
3. Or pick none. Follow the line of trees that suits you best. Forge out into an empty field (only it’s not empty; it’s filled with wildflowers and thorns). If you trip, don’t worry. Blood always has a purpose.
4. When you get to the top of the hill, pause.
If you look behind you, you’ll see that there are footprints and deep trenches from wheels of all kinds.
If you look in front of you, you’ll see fruit trees. The fruit is for you to share with those who came before you, and those who will come after. You can leave a plum here, and your future self will pick it and enjoy it and thank you.
Always thank your past.
5. Continue down the hill, and come to a valley. Here, you feel alone. Here, you think perhaps you want something more, so you make your way to the road.
6. There is another road beside this one, of course, if you choose to take it.
There is always another road.
7. If you cross the road instead of taking it, you will find train tracks. Follow them, and see–
8. If you take the other road, you go back to where you came from. This does not have to be a bad thing. You may encounter your earlier self along the way.
9. If you are sick of directions, you do not have to walk. You can stay exactly where you are.
Some of us derive pleasure from watching the world go past.
Some of us make tea and sit by the fire.
Some of us sit on the porch and watch the rain.
10. Some of us walk in the rain.
11. Some of us go outside on a winter’s night, and listen to the stillness.
12. If you found this guide on the road, give it to the person behind you. They may need it.
13. If you bought this guide yesterday, there may have been changes. Don’t be afraid to ask someone coming down the hill if theirs is the same. Compare them for differences.
Remember: the newer version is not necessarily better.
14. When you are finished, please keep this guide. Give it to your friend. Put it in a book.
Cut it up and scatter the steps to the wind.
15. If you are lost, keep going. Everything you may find is ahead.
Marisca Pichette is a queer author of speculative fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. She earned her BA from Mount Holyoke College and MFA from Stonecoast. Her work has appeared in PseudoPod, Daily Science Fiction, Room, and Voyage, among others. She lives in Western Massachusetts.
Author of “Fifteen Steps”
What inspired you to write this poem?
I wrote the initial draft of “Fifteen Steps” two years ago, and I’ve been struggling to define it ever since. It grew out of an exercise in defining place, and describes an area I’ve explored many times throughout my childhood and into adulthood. “Fifteen Steps” began as a nonfiction exercise, turned into a short story, and finally a poem. I like to consider the “steps” as both physical and mental.
What do you hope readers take from this poem?
I don’t write many hopeful things. “Fifteen Steps,” for me, is an opportunity to stop–collect oneself–and relax. I think it can be read more than once, and returned to whenever the world becomes overwhelming.
To give other writers hope, would you mind sharing with us how many edits and/or submissions this poem has been through?
I can’t say for certain how often I tweaked this piece, bringing it in and out of the trunk, though the main structure has never changed significantly. It was rejected from various publications…*checks spreadsheet*…twenty times!
Recommend something to us! This could be a book, a short story, a video game, a project you’ve heard about, something you’re working on, etc. Anything that has you excited and that you want people to know about.
The structure of this poem was inspired in part by Anna Maria Hong’s hybrid novella, H&G. In a similar vein, her genre-blending poetry collection, Fablesque, came out in 2020. I would highly recommend both works.