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.
There are more songs in the far corners
of my soul
Than I shall ever be able to sing.
I shall go away long before they are
And they will wait for another life, for
To give them birth; another life and many
And love, to make them open their eyes to
It will take many lives to express all
I hear singing to themselves day and night.
From On a Grey Thread (Will Ransom, 1923) by Elsa Gidlow. This poem is in the public domain.
The world will keep trudging through time without us
When we lift from the story contest to fly home
We will be as falling stars to those watching from the edge
Of grief and heartbreak
Maybe then we will see the design of the two-minded creature
And know why half the world fights righteously for greedy masters
And the other half is nailing it all back together
Through the smoke of cooking fires, lovers’ trysts, and endless
Maybe then, beloved rascal
We will find each other again in the timeless weave of breathing
We will sit under the trees in the shadow of earth sorrows
Watch hyenas drink rain, and laugh.
This poem originally appeared in The New Yorker (October 4, 2021). Copyright © 2021 by Joy Harjo. Used with the permission of the poet.
translated from Romanian by Seamus Heaney
Loneliness is a town
Where everyone else is dead.
The streets are clean,
The street-markets empty,
Suddenly everything’s in a true light
Through being deserted – exactly
The way it was meant to be.
Loneliness is a city
Where it’s always snowing
Prodigiously, and no footsteps ever
Profane the layered
Drift of the light.
And you alone, the unsleeping eye
Keeping an eye on the sleepers, you
See, comprehend, and can’t have enough
Of a silence so pristine
Nobody fights there,
Nobody’s lied to,
And even the tear in the eye
Of the abandoned animal
Is too pure to hurt.
On the border
Between suffering and death,
Loneliness is a happy town.
Excerpted from The Translations of Seamus Heaney by Seamus Heaney and edited by Marco Sonzogni. Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Copyright © 2022 by The Estate of Seamus Heaney. Introduction and editorial material copyright © 2022. All rights reserved.
If we could return from our last long rest
And seek out the ones we loved the best,
Though not in a form to cause them fear,
Just gently to let them feel us near,
Would we come in the scent of the evening flowers
Bringing to mind past happy hours?
Would we come in the song of the mourning dove
Recalling to them our endless love?
Would we come in the sound of the falling rain
Telling them gladly “We shall meet again”?
Would we come in the silently falling snow
With memories of rosy cheeks long ago?
Would we come in the rainbow or sunset’s hue
Repeating to them “Be true, be true”?
Would we speak in some sad sweet song’s refrain
Bidding them wait in gladness, not pain?
These are but fancies, faint and dim;
For dare we question the wisdom of Him
Who gave us through death the victory sweet
To be with our loved ones in joy complete?
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on November 27, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
From the French of Massillon Coicou (Haiti)
I hope when I am dead that I shall lie
In some deserted grave—I cannot tell you why,
But I should like to sleep in some neglected spot
Unknown to every one, by every one forgot.
There lying I should taste with my dead breath
The utter lack of life, the fullest sense of death;
And I should never hear the note of jealousy or hate,
The tribute paid by passersby to tombs of state.
To me would never penetrate the prayers and tears
That futilely bring torture to daed and dying ears;
There I should annihilate and my dead heart would bless
Oblivion—the shroud and envelope of happiness.
This poem is in the public domain.
O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up- for you the flag is flung- for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths- for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head!
It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
But I with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
This poem is in the public domain.
She wears, my beloved, a rose upon her head.
Walk softly angels, lest your gentle tread
Awake her to the turmoil and the strife,
The dissonance and hates called life.
She sleeps, my beloved, a rose upon her head.
Who says she will not hear, that she is dead?
The rose will fade and lose its lovely hue,
But not, my beloved, will fading wither you.
From Caroling Dusk (Harper & Brothers, 1927), edited by Countee Cullen. This poem is in the public domain.
I’m in the world but I still want the world.
I’m full of longing and can’t move,
enthralled in the garden. Having died
all the way back to the root, I grow again
into a version of the thing I love. I’m her
and not her, hermaphrodite with a heart
like a plateful of black flames.
The bees inspect me like doctors.
All my hard little tears, future selves
who haven’t grown. Bedclothes swell on the line
while around me giant sunflowers burn
through their masks of radiant desire.
Copyright © 2022 by Jenny George. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 2, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.
They hurried here, as soon as you had died,
Their faces damp with haste and sympathy,
And pressed my hand in theirs, and smoothed my knee,
And clicked their tongues, and watched me, mournful-eyed.
Gently they told me of that Other Side—
How, even then, you waited there for me,
And what ecstatic meeting ours would be.
Moved by the lovely tale, they broke, and cried.
And when I smiled, they told me I was brave,
And they rejoiced that I was comforted,
And left, to tell of all the help they gave.
But I had smiled to think how you, the dead,
So curiously preoccupied and grave,
Would laugh, could you have heard the things they said.
From Enough Rope (Boni & Liveright, 1926) by Dorothy Parker. This poem is in the public domain.