The pond of bones begins to rattle. Even Mother’s
throne collapses, her body disassembles. The ground
turns to quicksand as it trembles and swallows
every socket, every thorn, every pebble. In a single
gulp the bed beneath the Smaller Ones swirls down
a funnel. The earth has groaned like this before.
We know what to expect though it doesn’t help
us guess which plate will lift its crust and which
will crumble. The dust is blinding. It separates us
as we scramble. Unknowingly, some of us run
right into the opening and plummet. We hear
no screams. We hear no cough though we see us
spitting ink—the gas unleashed has cooked our
lungs. Slowly the collective gathers in the shadow
of the clouds. We must guide our shattered spirits
to a shelter before the mists release their acid.
In our ears the ringing doesn’t stop. It will take
a week and some of us will get the sickness—that
rabid urge to kill and tear apart what’s whole.
We fear no second crack. We fear another purge.
We wrap our arms around our bodies, swaying back
and forth—we’re motherless cradles, candle stubs
whose flames have melted down to callus. We are
silent but for the piercing shrill inside our heads.
Cocooned in misery, we might have missed this
spark of light entirely, but there it is, lifting heavy
chins from chests: a firefly—an actual firefly,
beautiful bug from our fantasy game, a reality
here among the detritus of the world, rising from
its dregs, a flicker, a flash, a wink of vital breath.
We try to catch the little star but it eludes our grasp.
We let it be, it comes to rest upon a knee. Dare we
ask if this means the planet now spins in opposite
direction? Does it begin to mend its ruptures, unclog
its river paths? The firefly fades but its ghost remains.
No more dreams, no more questions. Sleep, tiny hope,
we do not know what threats or sorrows we’ll
encounter next. Tomorrow is a story for those who
make it through the present chronicle—uncertainty,
scarcity—we the ephemeral have inherited this earth.
From The Book of Ruin. Copyright © 2019 by Rigoberto González. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Four Way Books.
I have seen a tree split in two
from the weight of its opposing branches.
It can survive, though its heart is exposed.
I have seen a country do this too.
I have heard an elder say
that we must be like the willow—
bend not to break.
I have made peace this way.
My neighbors clear-cut their trees,
leaving mine defenseless. The arborist
says they’ll fall in the first strong wind.
Together we stand. I see this now.
I have seen a tree grown around
a bicycle, a street sign, and a chainsaw,
absorbing them like ingredients
in a great melting pot.
When we speak, whether or not
we agree, the trees will turn
the breath of our words
from carbon dioxide into air—
give us new breath
for new words,
new chances to listen,
new chances to be heard.
Copyright © 2021 by Rena Marie Priest. Originally published in Spark: The Magazine of Humanities Washington, 2021, issue 2. Used with the permission of the poet.
for the cloak of despair thrown over our bright & precious
corners but tell that to the lone bird who did not get the memo
dizzy & shouting into the newly unfamiliar absence of morning
light from atop a sagging branch outside my window—a branch
which, too, was closer to the sky before falling into the chorus
line of winter’s relentless percussion all of us, victims to this flimsy math
of hours I was told there was a cure for this. I was told the darkness
would surrender its weapons & retreat I know of no devils who evict themselves
to the point of permanence. and still, on the days I want
to be alive the sunlight leaves me stunned like a kiss
from someone who has already twirled away by the time my eyes open
on the days I want to be alive I tell myself I deserve a marching band
or at least a string section to announce my arrival above
ground for another cluster of hours. if not a string section, at least one
drummer & a loud-voiced singer well versed in what might move me
to dance. what might push my hand through a crowded sidewalk
towards a woman who looks like a woman from my dreams
which means nothing if you dream as I do, everyone a hazy quilt
of features only familiar enough to lead me through a cavern of longing
upon my waking & so I declare on the days I want to be alive I might drag
my drummer & my singer to your doorstep & ask you to dance
yes, you, who also survived the groaning machinery of darkness
you who, despite this, do not want to be perceived in an empire
awash with light in the sinning hours & we will dance
until our joyful heaving flows into breathless crying, the two often pouring
out of the chest’s orchestra at the same tempo, siblings in their arrival & listen,
there will be no horns to in the marching band of my survival.
the preacher says there will be horns at the gates of the apocalypse & I believed even myself
the angel of death as a boy, when I held my lips to a metal mouthpiece & blew out a tune
about autumn & I am pressing your ear to my window & asking if you can hear the deep
moans of the anguished bird & how the wind bends them into what sounds like a child
clumsily pushing air into a trumpet for the first time & there’s the joke:
only a fool believes that the sound at the end of the world would be sweet.
Copyright © 2022 by Hanif Abdurraqib. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 23, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.