translated by Tess O’Dwyer
Nostalgia is a fruit with the pain of distance in its seed.
Giannina Braschi, 1980. Translation Tess O’Dwyer, 2020
Tonight my brother, in heavy boots, is walking through bare rooms over my head, opening and closing doors. What could he be looking for in an empty house? What could he possibly need there in heaven? Does he remember his earth, his birthplace set to torches? His love for me feels like spilled water running back to its vessel. At this hour, what is dead is restless and what is living is burning. Someone tell him he should sleep now. My father keeps a light on by our bed and readies for our journey. He mends ten holes in the knees of five pairs of boy's pants. His love for me is like sewing: various colors and too much thread, the stitching uneven. But the needle pierces clean through with each stroke of his hand. At this hour, what is dead is worried and what is living is fugitive. Someone tell him he should sleep now. God, that old furnace, keeps talking with his mouth of teeth, a beard stained at feasts, and his breath of gasoline, airplane, human ash. His love for me feels like fire, feels like doves, feels like river-water. At this hour, what is dead is helpless, kind and helpless. While the Lord lives. Someone tell the Lord to leave me alone. I've had enough of his love that feels like burning and flight and running away.
From The City In Which I Love You by Li-Young Lee. Copyright © 1990 by Li-Young Lee. Reprinted with permission of BOA Editions, Ltd. All rights reserved.
An absence declares
its blunt self. I can’t believe the extent
of my luck, heard twice, like violets
in a bath of lukewarm water.
The city was my father’s though none
of its sweetness appears here living
before you. A strong instrument.
A blowing on the hands
and neck. A curtain almost open.
I inherited a stiff collar sewn
against loveliness where once
we must have walked freely into
the city square and gathered
there like an intention. Two lips bloomed
on my mother’s cheek. I felt
a heavenly peace. Here, the marker you
might have waited for: ancient
dough, rolled and fried. These days
the lyric’s sentiment floats
away from me. Like a river someone
forgets to bless. Memory, to memory,
to the dirt path opening
again in a dream. I have not been back
for so many years. I walk the distance
in my mind, the margins flowing by
like so much foreign water.
Copyright © 2018 Wendy Xu. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Winter 2018. Used with permission of the authors.
The diagnosis was god, twice a day until the spirit untangles itself. I took a trip into unscripted days past, teenagers submit to the window an open facing yawn. A walnut fell into the grave of my loved one and stayed there beating patient like a word. I was still unmoved by disbelief watching my father mumble the pledge and hot white stars he can’t remember. Nobody got hurt, some un- fulfilled potential exits the room. Enter, knowledge. Men came to dispel ambiguity and raced my intention to a hard boiling over. Each new decade we stayed was a misinterpretation of genre. We showed our teeth over the years to those who would listen. In the face of the absent subject I felt my desire go flaccid. The leaves fell dutifully one by one from their limbs. But I wrote to you against all odds. Money. Paperwork. Love’s heavy open door. Critique. Indignity. Vision and often enough time.
Copyright © 2018 by Wendy Xu. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 5, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Forget each slight, each head that turned
Toward something more intriguing—
Red flash of wing beyond the window,
The woman brightly chiming
About the suffering of the world. Forget
The way your best friend told the story
Of that heroic road trip, forgetting that you drove
From Tulsa to Poughkeepsie while he
Slumped dozing under headphones. Forget
The honors handed out, the lists of winners.
Forget the certificates, bright trophies you
Could have, should have, maybe won.
Remind yourself you never wanted them.
When the spotlight briefly shone on you,
You stepped back into darkness,
Let the empty stage receive the light,
The black floor suddenly less black—
Scuff-marks, dust, blue tape—the cone
Of light so perfect, slicing silently that perfect
Silent darkness, and you, hidden in that wider dark,
Your refusal a kind of gratitude at last.
Copyright © 2019 by Jon Davis. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 26, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.