I have not disappeared.
The boulevard is full of my steps. The sky is
full of my thinking. An archbishop
prays for my soul, even though
we only met once, and even then, he was
busy waving at a congregation.
The ticking clocks in Vermont sway
back and forth as though sweeping
up my eyes and my tattoos and my metaphors,
and what comes up are the great paragraphs
of dust, which also carry motes
of my existence. I have not disappeared.
My wife quivers inside a kiss.
My pulse was given to her many times,
in many countries. The chunks of bread we dip
in olive oil is communion with our ancestors,
who also have not disappeared. Their delicate songs
I wear on my eyelids. Their smiles have
given me freedom which is a crater
I keep falling in. When I bite into the two halves
of an orange whose cross-section resembles my lungs,
a delta of juices burst down my chin, and like magic,
makes me appear to those who think I’ve
disappeared. It’s too bad war makes people
disappear like chess pieces, and that prisons
turn prisoners into movie endings. When I fade
into the mountains on a forest trail,
I still have not disappeared, even though its green facade
turns my arms and legs into branches of oak.
It is then I belong to a southerly wind,
which by now you have mistaken as me nodding back
and forth like a Hasid in prayer or a mother who has just
lost her son to gunfire in Detroit. I have not disappeared.
In my children, I see my bulging face
pressing further into the mysteries.
In a library in Tucson, on a plane above
Buenos Aires, on a field where nearby burns
a controlled fire, I am held by a professor,
a General, and a photographer.
One burns a finely wrapped cigar, then sniffs
the scented pages of my books, scouring
for the bitter smell of control.
I hold him in my mind like a chalice.
I have not disappeared. I swish the amber
hue of lager on my tongue and ponder the drilling
rigs in the Gulf of Alaska and all the oil-painted plovers.
When we talk about limits, we disappear.
In Jasper, TX you can disappear on a strip of gravel.
I am a shrug of a life in sacred language.
Right now: termites toil over a grave.
My mind is a ravine of yesterdays.
At a glance from across the room, I wear
September on my face,
which is eternal, and does not disappear
even if you close your eyes once and for all
simultaneously like two coffins.
Copyright © 2013 by Major Jackson. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on September 11, 2013.
The people of my time are passing away: my wife is baking for a funeral, a 60-year-old who died suddenly, when the phone rings, and it's Ruth we care so much about in intensive care: it was once weddings that came so thick and fast, and then, first babies, such a hullabaloo: now, it's this that and the other and somebody else gone or on the brink: well, we never thought we would live forever (although we did) and now it looks like we won't: some of us are losing a leg to diabetes, some don't know what they went downstairs for, some know that a hired watchful person is around, some like to touch the cane tip into something steady, so nice: we have already lost so many, brushed the loss of ourselves ourselves: our address books for so long a slow scramble now are palimpsests, scribbles and scratches: our index cards for Christmases, birthdays, Halloweens drop clean away into sympathies: at the same time we are getting used to so many leaving, we are hanging on with a grip to the ones left: we are not giving up on the congestive heart failure or brain tumors, on the nice old men left in empty houses or on the widows who decide to travel a lot: we think the sun may shine someday when we'll drink wine together and think of what used to be: until we die we will remember every single thing, recall every word, love every loss: then we will, as we must, leave it to others to love, love that can grow brighter and deeper till the very end, gaining strength and getting more precious all the way. . . .
"In View of the Fact" is reprinted from Bosh and Flapdoodle by A. R. Ammons. Copyright © 2005. With permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
You can get there from here, though
there’s no going home.
Everywhere you go will be somewhere
you’ve never been. Try this:
head south on Mississippi 49, one—
by—one mile markers ticking off
another minute of your life. Follow this
to its natural conclusion—dead end
at the coast, the pier at Gulfport where
riggings of shrimp boats are loose stitches
in a sky threatening rain. Cross over
the man-made beach, 26 miles of sand
dumped on a mangrove swamp—buried
terrain of the past. Bring only
what you must carry—tome of memory
its random blank pages. On the dock
where you board the boat for Ship Island,
someone will take your picture:
the photograph—who you were—
will be waiting when you return
"Theories of Time and Space" from Native Guard: Poems by Natasha Trethewey. Copyright © 2006 by Natasha Trethewey. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
Then there was beauty in what clung,
vertical and multiple against a damp tombstone
where no one goes, or has gone forever,
the stone carved in another language
and the weed-life overgrown.
We knew they must know movement,
but they would not move
while being what they meant to us.
Where the headstone's windowpane
meant to protect the crucifix and photograph
was cracked apart, we saw how
on its inward, wetter side,
the infant shells began self-generation in a line
like vowels strung inside a child's understanding:
this belongs to this. O perfect succulence
with which interiors adhere to forms, O open mouths.
Should we have found the world more often
clinging to words describing it?
What would have been the afterlife of that?
From The Ardors by Kathleen Peirce. Copyright © 2004 by Kathleen Peirce. Reprinted by permission of Ausable Press. All rights reserved.
The Blue Dress—died on August 6,
2015, along with the little blue flowers,
all silent. Once the petals looked up.
Now small pieces of dust. I wonder
whether they burned the dress or just
the body? I wonder who lifted her up
into the fire? I wonder if her hair
brushed his cheek before it grew into a
bonfire? I wonder what sound the body
made as it burned? They dyed her hair
for the funeral, too black. She looked
like a comic character. I waited for the
next comic panel, to see the speech
bubble and what she might say. But her
words never came and we were left
with the stillness of blown glass. The
irreversibility of rain. And millions of
little blue flowers. Imagination is having
to live in a dead person’s future. Grief is
wearing a dead person’s dress forever.
Copyright © 2018 by Victoria Chang. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 15, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
I’ve heard this thing where, when someone dies,
People close up all the holes around the house—
The keyholes, the chimney, the windows,
Even the mouths of the animals, the dogs and the pigs.
It’s so the soul won’t be confused, or tempted.
It’s so when the soul comes out of the body it’s been in
But that doesn’t work anymore,
It won’t simply go into another one
And try to make itself at home,
Pretending as if nothing happened.
There’s no mystery—it’s too much work to move on.
It isn’t anybody’s fault. A soul is like any of us.
It gets used to things, especially after a long life.
The way I sit in my living-room chair,
The indentation I have put in it now
After so many years—that’s how I understand.
It’s my chair,
And I know how to sit in it.
From The Theater of Night by Alberto Ríos. Used with permission by Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org