Walking out of a coffee shop on a dreary December afternoon last year, I noticed out of the corner of my eye a familiar face.

Last December, when Krysteana Scribner ran into Martin Steingesser, her high school poetry teacher and past Portland poet laureate, the two had a conversation that both took her back to days past and encouraged her to look to the future. John Ewing/Staff Photographer, File

My high school poetry teacher, Martin Steingesser, was walking through Portland wearing his signature cap and glasses. Shuffling through a disarray of paperwork, he seemed deep in thought as he pulled his heavy coat close and scanned Monument Square.

“Hi, Martin,” I said as I approached him. In an instant, a big smile spread across his face. His laugh lines caved in like newborn canyons along the edge of his lashes.

“What a surprise to see you!” He sighed happily, reaching out his arms. We embraced.

“It’s been too long,” he said, raising his eyebrows and looking down as if he’d only then realized it had been over seven years. “How is life?”

I told him both the good and bad moments. I’d traveled across the country, finished college and become a journalist. I laid out more recent plans to move away after ending a long-term relationship.


“Sometimes the best adventures yet to come are born of difficult decisions,” he said with a hint of melancholy.

He told me of the people from all walks of life he’d had the opportunity to teach and read poetry to.

As he spoke of his experiences, he sifted through his documents, one by one pulling out poems and placing them under his arm.

“A poem for each moment that changed me,” he pointed with his eyes to the separate pile he’d created.

As the city marched on around us, Martin began to read aloud. His perfectly paced, meticulous, droll voice took me back to those days in the dusty, dim-lit library, huddled with my friends by his feet as we soaked in the magic of spoken word.

Martin has a way of making the world his stage. He reads with passion, poise and a palpable sense of pride in his work.


After he finished, we chatted until the cold nipped too hard at our noses. I wrote my mailing address on a crumbled receipt in hopes he would send me more of his work.

“Until we meet again,” he said, putting his hand on my shoulder to signal our departure had arrived. “I’ll write you in the meantime.”

I watched as his thin figure swiftly disappeared behind the old brick buildings.

Our chance meeting that day reminded me to listen to my heart. It solidified my decision to move, even though it would cost me the familiarity and love I longed for.

Surprises such as these in life are stupendous and rare, much like Martin himself. He taught me to look closely for the beauty in life, even when clouds of despair are obstructing the view.

If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t understand the importance of kindness in a world where everyone experiences the collateral damage of life.

“Each person has a story,” he’d taught me all those years ago, “so listen closely with your heart.”

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