In the burned house I am eating breakfast.
You understand: there is no house, there is no breakfast,
yet here I am.

The spoon which was melted scrapes against
the bowl which was melted also.
No one else is around.

Where have they gone to, brother and sister,
mother and father? Off along the shore,
perhaps. Their clothes are still on the hangers,

their dishes piled beside the sink,
which is beside the woodstove
with its grate and sooty kettle,

every detail clear,
tin cup and rippled mirror.
The day is bright and songless,

the lake is blue, the forest watchful.
In the east a bank of cloud
rises up silently like dark bread.

I can see the swirls in the oilcloth,
I can see the flaws in the glass,
those flares where the sun hits them.

I can't see my own arms and legs
or know if this is a trap or blessing,
finding myself back here, where everything

in this house has long been over,
kettle and mirror, spoon and bowl,
including my own body,

including the body I had then,
including the body I have now
as I sit at this morning table, alone and happy,

bare child's feet on the scorched floorboards
(I can almost see)
in my burning clothes, the thin green shorts

and grubby yellow T-shirt
holding my cindery, non-existent,
radiant flesh. Incandescent.

From Morning in the Burned House by Margaret Atwood. Copyright © 1995 by Margaret Atwood. Published in the United States by Houghton Mifflin Co., published in Canada by McClelland and Stewart, Inc. All rights reserved.

In the beginning there was darkness,
then a bunch of other stuff—and lots of people.
Some things were said and loosely interpreted,

or maybe things were not communicated clearly.
Regardless—there has always been an index.
That thing about the meek—how we

shall inherit the earth; that was a promise
made in a treaty at the dawn of time
agreed upon in primordial darkness                

and documented in the spiritual record.
The nature of the agreement was thus:
The world will seemingly be pushed past capacity.

A new planet will be “discovered” 31 light-years away.   
Space travel will advance rapidly,
making the journey feasible. The ice sheets will melt.

Things will get ugly. The only way to leave
will be to buy a ticket. Tickets will be priced at exactly
the amount that can be accrued

by abandoning basic humanity.
The index will show how you came by your fortune:            
If you murdered, trafficked or exploited the vulnerable,

stole, embezzled, poisoned, cheated, swindled,
or otherwise subdued nature to come by wealth
great enough to afford passage to the new earth;

if your ancestors did these things and you’ve done nothing
to benefit from their crimes yet do nothing to atone
through returning inherited wealth to the greater good

you shall be granted passage. It was agreed.
The meek shall stay, the powerful shall leave.
And it all shall start again.

The meek shall inherit the earth,
and what shall we do with it,
but set about putting aside our meekness?

Copyright © 2020 by Rena Priest. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 4, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

From The Woman Who Fell From the Sky (W. W. Norton, 1994) by Joy Harjo. Copyright © 1994 by Joy Harjo. Used with permission of the author.

I’m watching Madagascar 
with the boys—hilarious 
hip city zoo animals end up 
in Africa but long to come 
home to the Central Park Zoo.  
With the emergence of zoos, 
pet keeping and animal toys, 
John Berger explains that animals
were slowly disappearing from 
our daily lives. When the boys 
take a bath, Luke stretches his 
long young thin body under 
the warm water and we play 
with little action figures 
and plastic frogs. Then I put 
my feet into the tub, singing 
row row row your boat gently 
down the stream. Later 
it’s raining and we’re together 
under an umbrella, walking 
through the park. Surely, 
radioactive ocean water 
from the Fukushima Daiichi 
nuclear plant will migrate 
around the globe and even if we 
don’t die this year, we will 
all die eventually, so for now, 
let’s hold each other loosely. 

From A Day Like Today (Negative Capability Press, 2015) by Barbara Henning © 2015.


Andante con grazia e molto maestoso.

The morning dawns, and shakes the stars
    From the raven locks of the queen of night,
        Some ripple down into the sea,
            Some drown in the morning light.

The morning dawns, and strange white forms
    O’er the silent waters stray,
        As if they were searching for falling stars,
            Whose gold has dripped astray,
                             Slipped away
              From the rose of morn
               To the shoreless waste,
                That, dull and grey, with its misty bars,
                  Yields no reflection to the death of stars.

The morning dawns, and the starting breeze,
   Rends the curtain of silence and mist
       Whence, tinged with roseate morn,
   The pirate’s galleon drifts—
                    Away from the shore,
        Where the watchfires gleam
           And the sea-gulls scream,
               To her daily toil
                    In quest of spoil
                       To waylay some wanderer of the sea.

With plumage strange and wings outspread,
   Like some huge bird from earth long fled,
      The highwayman of the main
                           Veers his way
To some blood-red day,
    Out of the silent, gray and shoreless night,
        As the stars ripple down into the sea
            Or drown in the morning light.

            Allegro con passione

The sea is white with the noonday glare,
    Save a dark unrest and reddish flare
        That troubles the seashine in the West.

There the fight is on—
    With yards entangled and sails aflame,
        Enveloped in clouds that darken the sky,
            Two dark hulls, lashed fast together,
                Motionless on the noonday waters lie.

                              The fight is on—
Amidst the clank of weapons, and powder scent,
    The rattle of muskets, wild shuffle of feet,
        Like the hissing groans of some soul accursed,  
            With lightning flares and fanlike bursts,
                Pass shot and shell.

The mouth of the cannons grow a grinning stare,
    With blood are daubed masts and spars,
        And the sparks blown to the lurid air
            Fall on the sails like a rain of stars.

                              The fight is on—
Black death with his wings of flame
    Now dominates this scene,
        This scene of black and red.
            Like a snake of fire in dismal desire
                He coils up the rigging, chars every plank
                    And gnaws his way towards the powder tank,
                        While lurid streams of red
                             Gush from the wounded and dead
                                  To the passionless flood,
                                       Stained with fire and blood.

The hours pass, and the crews are thinned,
    Both demand quarter—but none will strike,
        And still they fight—and fight—and fight—
            Till the blackened masts crash on the burning decks,
                Strewn with bodies in formless stacks.
                    The shrieks of the wounded die away,
                        Silence takes the place of carnage and fray,
                            And as a change to all things must come—
                                Even death ceases his fire-song.

Riddled from bow to stern with leaks on the gain
The hulls sink deeper into the passionless main,
Still lashed together as in the hours of fight,
   Like wounded beasts in wild despair,
        They suddenly leap into the lurid air,
                     Then roll to the side
              And glide from the day’s waning light
                         Down to the dismal night
                            Of the passionless flood,
                              Stained with fire and blood.

The sun swings from the hovering murk,
    Dark crows, that follow the pirate’s wake,
        Flap over crushed timbers and shivered beams,
           Adrift on the blood-stained flood like dismal dreams.

            Adagio non lamentoso

Thirty times the cannons roar
    Over the black and barren shore
                   Of the pirate isle,
    Under whose rifts of shifting sand
        Lies buried the gold, the pirate’s hand
           Wrest from the sea wanderer of many a land.

On the black banner that never was furled
    Lies dead the pride of the pirate’s race
       The crew shifts over the quarter deck
            Once more to gaze at his stern sea face.

                Then the anchor is hoisted!—
                   Drenched in the twilight’s gold
                       The ship shakes out every sail
                          And sweeps before the gale
                              Towards the highway of the deep,
                                 To put its hero forever to sleep.

What mean now thy hords of gold
    A-dream in the depth of the wind blown sand?
        What remains of thy sea face fantastic and bold
            When you have reached that coral strand,
                          Where the mermaids dwell,
                 Who love their pirate sweethearts well?

                            A last farewell to the sun and air,
                             To the twilight flare
                               With its pennant unfold
                                  Of crimson and gold!
                                    As strapped to the plank
                                      On the gangway you stand,
                                         To make the bold leap
                                           To the emerald deep.

Harsh as the winds over your life have blown,
  Your fate will be in the lands unknown
           Of the moonstone twilights of the sea
    And as its currents toss thee from shore to shore
        Through coral halls on the moss-grown floor,
          Moss grown since the days of yore,
                               You still will be, 
                                 Fearless and free,
                                    Lord of the sea.

Finale sotte voce e legato.

On emerald waves o’er which the moonbeams flow,
   Lost like a song on the winds that blow,
     An enchanted castle, a phantom sail—
               In silent flight from the rolling orb
                 Pursuing the wanderers of the night—
                   Strays with the wayward breeze
                     To be lost on the murmuring seas,

Like a ghost that rose from some emerald tomb
To haunt the murmuring main
And tell the tale of the pirate’s doom,
The end of the seaking’s reign.

From reddened wave and blackened shore
  The galleon has vanished forever more
    In the moonstone twilights of the sea;
     And only the music the seaweed brings
       Tells of the dauntless deeds of the dead seakings.

From Drifting Flowers of the Sea and Other Poems (1904) by Sadakichi Hartmann. This poem is in the public domain.

The scientists say fungi are more closely related to animals—to us—
than multicellular plants. The truth: the shiitake in your fridge
             would treat you better than half the men in the bar tonight,

and it’d taste better too.

I won’t cry when the Anthropocene ends.
             Instead, I’ll breathe in the spores and thank God.

You’re calling it the apocalypse,

and I tell you that it means lifting the veil

I tell you this thing is ancient—a revelation. This is the last orgasm.
             It’s Eternity. Soft skulls of mushrooms are pushing up
             through our pores

and I’m whispering to you that they’re loving us like men would—
             eating us raw, sucking on our bones, marrying our bodies—
             only, this is better than men.

             But when the mycelium fills my mouth, and I can no longer
             breathe, I want to tell you how
             you remind me of the moon; to hold your hand;
             to let you know

I’m still here, but this

             is inescapable.

You’re looking at me with eyes that ask
             if this is the end, but I think:

This feels like
             coming home.

Copyright © 2021 Edwin WIlliamson. This poem originally appeared on as part of the 2021 University and College Poetry Prizes. Used with permission of the author.