Everybody is doing trigger warnings now, so To Whom It May Concern, I hated God when my sister died. I didn’t know it was coming, but we were at the hospital in a private room for family, and our pastor was there, the one who baptized me, and he said Let us pray, and I kept my eyes open to watch everybody, but listened, and when he said Sometimes God has to take back his angels, I was smart enough to know, I was 14, that he was saying she was gone or going and I loathed him so much, he didn’t see the look on my face, that blazing anger blank heart f-you-forever look, but then my parents told us we were going to take her off life support, and I died then, and after they took away the machines we had solitude, family time the five of us, mom, dad, me, my brother, and my sister. Holding her body she was warm she wasn’t conscious but she could hear us I know it, then they opened the door for other family to say goodbye and I was hugging her back in her bed, my face against her face, my tears wetting her cheek it was flush and her wavy hair, I wanted to hold her forever I was hurting but felt selfish like other people wanted to say goodbye too so I let go, and her head kind of tilted to the side and I straightened it so I was a mess then goodbye goodbye we left there to clean the house for mourners to come.
Copyright © 2018 by CM Burroughs. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 11, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
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 love it, I love it; and who shall dare
To chide me for loving that old arm-chair?
I’ve treasured it long as a sainted prize,
I’ve bedew’d it with tears, and embalmed it with sighs;
’Tis bound by a thousand bands to my heart;
Not a tie will break, not a link will start.
Would ye learn the spell? a mother sat there,
And a sacred thing is that old arm-chair.
In childhood’s hour I linger’d near
The hallow’d seat with list’ning ear;
And gentle words that mother would give,
To fit me to die and teach me to live.
She told me shame would never betide,
With truth for my creed and God for my guide;
She taught me to lisp my earliest prayer,
As I knelt beside that old arm-chair.
I sat and watch’d her many a day,
When her eye grew dim, and her locks were grey;
And I almost worshipp’d her when she smil’d
And turn’d from her Bible to bless her child.
Years roll’d on, but the last one sped—
My idol was shatter’d, my earth-star fled;
I learnt how much the heart can bear,
When I saw her die in that old arm-chair.
’Tis past! ’tis past! but I gaze on it now
With quivering breath and throbbing brow:
’Twas there she nursed me, ’twas there she died;
And memory flows with lava tide.
Say it is folly, and deem me weak,
While the scalding drops start down my cheek;
But I love it, I love it, and cannot tear
My soul from a mother’s old arm-chair.
This poem appeared in Melaia and Other Poems (Charles Tilt, 1840). It is in the public domain.
From Don’t Call Us Dead (Graywolf Press, 2017) Copyright © 2017 by Danez Smith. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Graywolf Press, www.graywolfpress.org.
My love looks like a girl to-night,
But she is old.
The plaits that lie along her pillow
Are not gold,
But threaded with filigree silver,
And uncanny cold.
She looks like a youth maiden, since her brow
Is smooth and fair,
Her cheeks are very smooth, her eyes are closed.
She sleeps a rare
Still winsome sleep, so still, and so composed.
Nay, but she sleeps like a bride, and dreams her dreams
Of perfect things.
She lies at last, the darling, in the shape of her dream,
And her dead mouth sings
By its shape, like the thrushes in clear evenings.
This poem is in the public domain.
In the museum of sadness, in the museum of light—
I would climb so carefully inside the glass coffin and lower the lid.
Do you think the saying is true: when someone dies, a library burns down?
Maybe just a sentence, scratched slowly on the lid, Say what you mean.
From Please Bury Me in This. Copyright © 2017 by Allison Benis White. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc. on behalf of Four Way Books, www.fourwaybooks.com.
Inside this grave
womb that drums
as it takes
of my spine
I hear it
seem to say
go / you go
don’t / you go
don’t go / don’t
go now / don’t
I’m 52, inside
this calibrated tube, this
and singing machine
that will tell
my doctors if
the drugs and
the tumors set
on killing me
go / don’t grow
don’t / go
chant of this
to Junuh at the ocean
into the waves
the two of us
the fleshy swords they are
the water beating us
we Charge! again,
roaring the whole time.
We can’t give up. We
have to fight, he says.
And back in we go
wild into the wake.
don’t go / don’t
go / don’t
go now / grow
grow / you
grow / no
don’t / go
don’t / grow
go / no
From Filched (Dos Madres Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by James Tolan. Used with the permission of Holly Messitt.
In memory of David Ruenzel, 1954–2014
I searched for twenty minutes
For my murdered friend’s grave,
A small, white marker,
# 356 it reads. He is not
This number, or any number,
And he is not earth,
But a memory
Of how he and I hiked
Through this Oakland cemetery—
What, six months before
He was shot? We stopped
At the Fred Korematsu stone,
Righteous man, stubborn
Behind bars for refusing
The Japanese-American internment in 1942—
Jail for him, in suit and tie, god dammit.
We righted flowers at his grave,
Bright with toy-like American flags,
And shaded our eyes to follow
The flight of the hawks above.
We left and walked up a slope
And visited a part of the cemetery
Where the Chinese are buried,
A division of races, a preference?
Now I’m at his grave marker—
The stone for him has yet to arrive.
His widow lives a mile up
In the Oakland Hills.
Here is truth: she has a telescope
Trained on his grave.
She pours coffee—she looks.
She does the vacuuming—she looks.
She comes home hugging bags
Of groceries—she looks.
Perhaps she is getting up
From the piano, an eye wincing
Behind the telescope.
If so, she would see me
Looking at marker #366—
This plot is available,
For a down payment.
But the first installment
I must pay with my life.
What then? His widow
Will still keep the telescope
Trained on his grave,
Now and then swiveling
It to #366, his friend.
The buzzing bees would languidly
Pass the honey between us.
Copyright © 2016 by Gary Soto. Used with permission of the author.