The afternoon light lights
the room in a smudged
sheen, a foggy-eyed glow.

The dog digs at the couch,
low-growling at the mailman.
I’m spelling words with pills

spilled consolidating bottles:
yes and try and most of happy:
Maybe I’ll empty them all.

A woman I don’t know
is having a drill drill into her
skull. To get rid of the thing

requires entering the brain.
How to imagine a story
that ends with that ending? 

I don’t know how to live my life,
but at least today I want to. 
 

Copyright © 2015 by Aaron Smith. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 7, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

I plucked my soul out of its secret place,
And held it to the mirror of my eye,
To see it like a star against the sky,
A twitching body quivering in space,
A spark of passion shining on my face.
And I explored it to determine why
This awful key to my infinity
Conspires to rob me of sweet joy and grace.
And if the sign may not be fully read,
If I can comprehend but not control,
I need not gloom my days with futile dread,
Because I see a part and not the whole.
Contemplating the strange, I’m comforted
By this narcotic thought: I know my soul.

This poem is in the public domain.

Focus for
us was a thing hard to
come by. We would have to make due with
whatever

we had: these
were pills and a pencil,
blue earplugs to block out the voices
inside of

our heads, which
would tell us time passed and
these thoughts that would shine like soft lights on
our brains would

one day fade
into invisible
relief. We would write in our binders,
pass classes,

allow for
a moment of grief. We
were deeply aware we would have to
make up for

lost time, but
when we took our pills, the
world would seem fine, seem as if it had
always been

fine. Once we
had adequate supplies
we’d sell, but until then we decid-
ed to re-

fill. We had
determined that we would
not brood. Instead we charted out our
moods and light-

ened up our
loads. Before the rest of
time unfolds, we would like to hold on-
to this life,

feel like it’s
beating, there, deep inside
of our chests, not out of fear. We are
just children.
 

Copyright © 2014 by Katy Lederer. Used with permission of the author.

Admit it—
you wanted the end

with a serpentine
greed. How to negotiate

that strangling
mist, the fibrous

whisper?

To cease to exist
and to die

are two different things entirely.

But you knew this,
didn't you?

Some days you knelt on coins
in those yellow hours.

You lit a flame

to your shadow
and ate

scorpions with your naked fingers.

So touched by the sadness of hair
in a dirty sink.

The malevolent smell
of soap.

When instead of swallowing a fistful
of white pills,

you decided to shower,

the palm trees
nodded in agreement,

a choir
of crickets singing

behind your swollen eyes.

The masked bird
turned to you

with a shred of paper hanging
from its beak.

At dusk,
hair wet and fragrant,

you cupped a goat's face

and kissed
his trembling horns.

The ghost?

It fell prostrate,
passed through you

like a swift
and generous storm.

"Six Months After Contemplating Suicide" first appeared in the December 2015 issue of Poetry. Copyright © 2015 Erika L. Sánchez.

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
One luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

This poem is in the public domain.

Sometimes I don’t know if I’m having a feeling
so I check my phone or squint at the window
with a serious look, like someone in a movie
or a mother thinking about how time passes.
Sometimes I’m not sure how to feel so I think
about a lot of things until I get an allergy attack.
I take my antihistamine with beer, thank you very much,
sleep like a cut under a band aid, wake up
on the stairs having missed the entire party.
It was a real blast, I can tell, for all the vases
are broken, the flowers twisted into crowns
for the young, drunk, and beautiful. I put one on
and salute the moon, the lone face over me
shining through the grates on the front door window.
You have seen me like this before, such a strange
version of the person you thought you knew.
Guess what, I’m strange to us both. It’s like
I’m not even me sometimes. Who am I? A question
for the Lord only to decide as She looks over
my résumé. Everything is different sometimes.
Sometimes there is no hand on my shoulder
but my room, my apartment, my body are containers
and I am thusly contained. How easy to forget
the obvious. The walls, blankets, sunlight, your love.

Copyright © 2015 by Matthew Siegel. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 8, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

A shattered bottle tore through my hand last month and split 
a vein until every finger was purple and I couldn’t
 
make even a tentative fist. I used the other hand to indicate
 
I’m okay. 
 
How unwise I am, how polite in a crisis.
In triage, an overheard photo of someone’s lover 
 
almost 3000 miles west made me seize with longing 
when I spied a palm tree in the background.
 
I understand what it says about me 
that my body lustfully wishes to place itself where it was never safe.
 
I have put enormous energy into trying to convince you I’m fine and
 
I’m just about there, no? 
 
Besides, decades on, poorly healed bones help me to predict rain!
though it’s true I like to verify weather
 
with another source because I tend not to believe myself.
I’ve been told repeatedly that I don’t understand plot but
 
it would be a clever twist, wouldn’t it, if in the end 
I realize it’s me who does me in.
 

Copyright © 2017 by Lynn Melnick. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 26, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

                  everyone asks for the you they remember
                  I wish for no new way to feel alone again
                                                                  America is
                                                           the wrong angel
                                                     a classic wristwatch
                                             on the arm of a man who
                                               thinks he owns himself
                                                 back to the borrowed 
                                                         amount of living
                                    here is a rough sketch of what
                          we look like inside when mortality
         distracts us from how we destroy the world
                                          I draw Odin’s ravens 
                                             under the shelf of
                                                teapots in the 
                                                  department
                                                       store
                  may the tea bring us strength
                  may wings lift us to revolution
 

From While Standing in Line for Death (Wave Books, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by CAConrad. Used with permission of the author and Wave Books.

The bumper sticker says Live In The Moment! on a Jeep
that cuts me off. I’m working to forget it, to let go
of everything but the wheel in my hands,
as a road connects two cities without forcing them
to touch. When I drive by something, does it sway
toward me or away? Does it slip into the past
or dance nervously in place? The past suffers
from anxiety too. It goes underground, emerging
once in a blue moon to hiss. I hear the grass never
saying a word. I hear it spreading its arms across
each grave & barely catch a name. My dying wish
is scattering now before every planet. I want places to
look forward to. Listen: the earth is a thin voice
in a headset. It’s whispering breathe... breathe...
but who believes in going back?

Copyright © 2018 by Ben Purkert. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 2, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

To be a good
ex/current friend for R. To be one last

inspired way to get back at R. To be relationship
advice for L. To be advice

for my mother. To be a more comfortable
hospital bed for my mother. To be

no more hospital beds. To be, in my spare time,
America for my uncle, who wants to be China

for me. To be a country of trafficless roads
& a sports car for my aunt, who likes to go

fast. To be a cyclone
of laughter when my parents say

their new coworker is like that, they can tell
because he wears pink socks, see, you don’t, so you can’t,

can’t be one of them. To be the one
my parents raised me to be—

a season from the planet
of planet-sized storms.

To be a backpack of PB&J & every
thing I know, for my brothers, who are becoming

their own storms. To be, for me, nobody,
homebody, body in bed watching TV. To go 2D

& be a painting, an amateur’s hilltop & stars,
simple decoration for the new apartment

with you. To be close, J.,
to everything that is close to you—

blue blanket, red cup, green shoes
with pink laces.

To be the blue & the red.
The green, the hot pink.

From When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities. Copyright © 2016 by Chen Chen. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.

That everything’s inevitable.
That fate is whatever has already happened.
The brain, which is as elemental, as sane, as the rest of the processing universe is.
In this world, I am the surest thing.
Scrunched-up arms, folded legs, lovely destitute eyes.
Please insert your spare coins.
I am filling them up.
Please insert your spare vision, your vigor, your vim.
But yet, I am a vatic one.
As vatic as the Vatican.
In the temper and the tantrum, in the well-kept arboretum
I am waiting, like an animal,
For poetry.

From The Heaven-Sent Leaf by Katy Lederer. Copyright © 2008 by Katy Lederer. Used by permission of BOA Editions, Ltd, www.boaeditions.org. All rights reserved.

When you quietly close
the door to a room
the room is not finished.

It is resting. Temporarily.
Glad to be without you
for a while.

Now it has time to gather
its balls of gray dust,
to pitch them from corner to corner.

Now it seeps back into itself,
unruffled and proud.
Outlines grow firmer.

When you return,
you might move the stack of books,
freshen the water for the roses.

I think you could keep doing this
forever. But the blue chair looks best
with the red pillow. So you might as well

leave it that way.

From Honeybee (Greenwillow Books, 2008) by Naomi Shihab Nye. Copyright @2008 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Used with permission of the author.

and there was light.
Now God says, Give them a little theatrical lighting
 
and they’re happy,
and we are. So many of us
 
dressing each morning, testing
endless combinations, becoming in our mirrors
 
more ourselves, imagining,
in an entrance, the ecstatic
 
weight of human eyes.
Now that the sun is sheering
 
toward us, what is left
but to let it close in
 
for our close-up? Let us really feel
how good it feels
 
to be still in it, making
every kind of self that can be
 
looked at. God, did you make us
to be your bright accomplices?
 
God, here are our shining spines.
Let there be no more dreams of being
 
more than a beginning.
Let it be
 
that to be is to be
backlit, and then to be only that light.

Copyright © 2018 by Mary Szybist. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 1, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

If only each line of a poem could be its true beginning.
If only each moment could know every other moment
and we could hold them all at once the way we wish to,
the way we keep imagining we can. I don’t care
what anyone says about the impossibility, for I step
into the same moment again and again. I’ve lived
such a blessed life, a dying friend told me as I
leaned in close and caressed her face. I am writing
this line, this poem’s true beginning, six years later,
touching her radiant face again. Every moment is
the time I followed a yellow leaf downstream when I
was nine. To be, or not to be, Hamlet asked, and two
centuries later, Issa’s poems were born. And yet, and yet
the cancer still arrives to steal her breath, the same
breath blessing all her time. Just now a purple bird
flew up and startled me, and I said, Yes, yes, and raised
my hands. To live lightly in the body is to live deeply
in the spirit—I say her words out loud some days,
holding them all at once, and follow a yellow leaf
through overhanging limbs and enter my grandfather’s
quiet steps along a ridge a century ago when he was young.
He is being and not being, in and out of shadows,
arriving wherever the next step takes him, here and here.
When rain begins, he just keeps walking, drenched
and smiling, emerging decades later, holy. Sometimes
an echo hints from half a life ago. A driveway puddle
trembles at the foster home I lived in when I was three.
Good Lord, son, how did you know how to get here,
the father asked when I showed up, adult, from two
towns over. In the beginning was the Word, John wrote,
for each word starts anew, each word startling the sky,
the cells, the breath. Each word, each line, is an echo,
an arrival, a blessed breath, being and not being. I don’t
care about the impossibility of anything. The dawn keeps
breaking for which I am awake. The prologue is the epilogue,
the epilogue a leaf holding everything at once. I keep
arriving where I am, born and blessed again. I lean in
close to radiance: I’ve always known how to get here.

Copyright © 2017 Jeff Hardin. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Summer 2017.

When I look out your window I see another window
I see a wedding in my brain, a stylus and a groove
a voice waving there

When I look out your window I see another window
these trees are not real they grow out of air
they fell like dust they fell

So singing is seeing and vision is music
I saw diadems and crowns, daisies and bees, ribbons, robins,
       and disks of snow
sprung effects in pencil-light

When I look out your window I see another window
I see a fire and a girl, crimson hair and hazel eyes
a public in the sky

When the world comes back it will be recorded sound
that cooing shrub will be known as dickinson
the syllabic, fricative, percussive, and phatic will tear open

Out your window I see another window
I see a funeral in the air I see alabaster space
I read circumference there

"This World Is Not Conclusion" from Archeophonics (Wesleyan University Press, 2016) by Peter Gizzi. Used with permission of Wesleyan University Press.

Accurate like an arrow without a target
and no target in mind.

Silence has its own roar or, not-roar,
just as Rothko wrote “I don’t express myself
in my paintings. I express my not-self.”

A poem that expresses the not-self.
Everything but the self.
The meadow’s veil of fog, but is veil self-referential?

Already, dawn, the not-birds alert to what silence has to offer.

The fog, one of Rothko’s shapes,
hanging there in the not-self, humming.

Mikel, before he died, loved Rothko most.
When he could still think, he put his mind
to those sorts of judgments.

If I pull the fog away like theater curtains, what then?

Sadness shapes the landscape.
The arrow of myself thwacks the nearest tree.
Fog steps closer like a perpetrator or a god.

Oh. I’m weeping.
Tears feed the silence like a mother drops
into her baby not-bird’s open beak

some sweet but dangerous morsel.

From Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl (Graywolf Press, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Diane Seuss. Used with the permission of Graywolf Press.

Of course I don’t know what
happens to us: if we survive in the
hands of love; if Cal, if Simone
and all the trembling answers
those questions entail; whether
by time or by disease or by
an atom bomb right in the eye. Is it
possible death could be thrilling
and fun? And after could there be
something somewhere and what
will we do if we see each other
there? Will the same songs stay stuck
in our heads? Will medicine
succeed in making life so long
we will beg for medicine to end it?
One cannot lock eyes with a bird,
its eyes vacant as ball bearings, but
mustn’t there be some recognition
in everything? Some fury, some
questioning? If one phrase could echo
throughout eternity, would the ear
on the other side return
a word? But what am I asking?
Will I ever see a whale, and will his size
compared to mine be a true
form of knowledge? Loneliness
has depths writing fails to fathom.
I could be clearer, say more, but
it wouldn’t mean as much. Mother
will I ever find you again? Is fear
of spiders fair? Is a power
above minding the scales, be it
science or gods or the weather,
and can they be tipped toward
balance from here? Is beauty more
than another form of pleasure?
What, which, when, how is better?

From The Trembling Answers. Copyright © 2017 by Craig Morgan Teicher. Used with the permission of BOA Editions.

A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”

This poem is in the public domain. 

There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away,
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry – 
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll – 
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears a Human soul.

This poem is in the public domain.

Scrolling through the at-the-limit list of names,
I’m caught unaware: my phone displays a friend
I’ll never be able to call again.
Now that all that’s left of her are memories
I can’t delete her entry, it seems too final,
as if it would erase our entire past together.

Phones are democratic: jumbled together
are lovers and colleagues, name after name
in alphabetical order. It was she who finally
convinced me to get a phone; the day my friend
and I went to buy it is still a vivid memory:

I was having one of those lapses of memory;
not long before, he and I had spent the night together.
We run into him on the street; both he and my friend
expect an introduction, but I’ve forgotten his name.

I’ve now forgotten so many boys; only their names
remain, stored in my phone’s memory.
Those I can delete, but not my friend’s.

It’s as if all that remains of our friend-
ship is this metonymy of her name

on a SIM-card full of memories and names.

From Deleted Names (A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2013). Copyright © 2013 by Lawrence Schimel. Used with the permission of the author.

We could say that Rembrandt was a greater painter than Kandinsky. We could not say that Rembrandt was three and a half times better than Kandinsky. . . . We could say, "I have more pain than I had yesterday." When we tried to say, "I have nine dols of pain," we found we were talking nonsense.


		   - Leshan and Morgenau

This is the pain you could fit in a tea ball.
This is the pain you could pack in a pipe
 – a plug of pungent shag-cut pain,
a pain to roll between the thumb and the forefinger.
Here: this pain you could pour down the city sewers,
where it would harden, and swell, and crack
those tubes like the flex of a city-wide snake,
and still you would wake and
there would be more for the pouring.
Some pain believes its only true measure is litigation.
For other pain, the glint of the lamp
in a single called-forth tear is enough.
Some pain requires just one mouth, at an ear.
Another pain requires the Transatlantic Cable.
No ruled lines exist by which to gauge its growth
(my pain at three years old. . . at five. . . ) and yet
if we follow the chronolinear path of Rembrandt's face
self-imaged over forty years - a human cell
in the nurturing murk of his signature thick-laid paint – 
we see the look-by-look development,
through early swank and rollick, of a kind of pain
so comfortable it's worn, at the last,
like a favorite robe, that's frayed by now, and intimate
with the frailties of its body, and has
an easy fit that the showiest cloak of office
never could. In 1658, the gaze is equally
into himself, and out to the world-at-large
 – they've reached a balance of apportioned
disappointment – and the meltflesh under the eyes
is the sallow of chicken skin, recorded
with a faithfulness, with really a painterly
tenderness, that lifts this understanding of pain
into something so accommodating, "love" is the word
that seems to apply to these mournfully basso
bloodpan reds and tankard-bottom browns. Today
in the library stacks, the open face of a woman
above this opened book of Rembrandt reproductions
might be something like the moon he looked to,
thinking it shared in his sadness. What's
her pain? her ohm, her acreage, her baker's dozen,
of actual on-your-knees-in-the-abattoir misery?
I don't know. I'm not writing this
pretending that I know. What I can say is that
the chill disc of the stethoscope is known to announce
an increment of pain not inappropriate
to being blurted forth along the city wall
by a corps of regalia' d trumpeters.
Who's to say what a "unit" of pain is?
On a marshy slope beyond the final outpost,
Rembrandt stares at the moon, and stares at the moon,
until the background drumming-in of the ocean
and the other assorted sounds of the Amsterdam night,
and then the Amsterdam dawn, are one
with his forlornness, and the mood fades
into a next day, and a woman here
in Kansas turns to face the sky: she's late
for her appointment. She's due
for another daily injection of nine c.c.'s of undiluted dol.

Copyright © 2007 by Albert Goldbarth. Reprinted from The Kitchen Sink: New and Selected Poems, 1972-2007 with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota.

I was sympathetic to language, but often
it shrugged me and kept other lovers.
I crawled through the commas of 

Romanticism and rejected the rhythms,
though sometimes at night I could feel
a little sad. I could emerge now

into a new kind of style, but the market 
is already flooded and my people
have lost faith in things meant to land

a clear yes or no. It’s good to welcome
a stranger into the house. Introduce her
to everyone sitting at the table and wash

your hands before you serve her, lest
the residue of other meals affect your 
affections. “If something is beautiful we do

not even experience pain as pain.” (A man said
that.) “I think I owe all words to my friends.”
(I said that.) “We speak to one another

in circles alone with ourselves.” (He said 
that, too.) That’s why we go to war.
We’ve gotten too big to be friends with

everyone and so I like to feel the fellowship
of the person next to me shooting
out across a foreign plain. The streams

of light on the horizon are something
I share with him and this is also a feeling
of love. I spoke to his widow and touched

his dog. I told his daughter how his last breath
was Homeric and spoke of nothing but returning home.

From The Tiniest Muzzle Sings Songs of Freedom. Copyright © 2019 by Magdalena Zurawski. Used with permission of the author and Wave Books.

          If many remedies are prescribed
          for an illness, you may be certain
          that the illness has no cure.
                              A. P. CHEKHOV
                             The Cherry Orchard

 

1  FROM THE NURSERY

When I was born, you waited 
behind a pile of linen in the nursery, 
and when we were alone, you lay down 
on top of me, pressing
the bile of desolation into every pore.

And from that day on 
everything under the sun and moon 
made me sad—even the yellow 
wooden beads that slid and spun 
along a spindle on my crib.

You taught me to exist without gratitude. 
You ruined my manners toward God:
"We're here simply to wait for death; 
the pleasures of earth are overrated."

I only appeared to belong to my mother, 
to live among blocks and cotton undershirts 
with snaps; among red tin lunch boxes
and report cards in ugly brown slipcases. 
I was already yours—the anti-urge, 
the mutilator of souls.


2  BOTTLES

Elavil, Ludiomil, Doxepin, 
Norpramin, Prozac, Lithium, Xanax, 
Wellbutrin, Parnate, Nardil, Zoloft. 
The coated ones smell sweet or have 
no smell; the powdery ones smell 
like the chemistry lab at school 
that made me hold my breath.



3  SUGGESTION FROM A FRIEND

You wouldn't be so depressed
if you really believed in God.



4  OFTEN

Often I go to bed as soon after dinner 
as seems adult
(I mean I try to wait for dark)
in order to push away 
from the massive pain in sleep's 
frail wicker coracle.



5  ONCE THERE WAS LIGHT

Once, in my early thirties, I saw 
that I was a speck of light in the great 
river of light that undulates through time.

I was floating with the whole 
human family. We were all colors—those 
who are living now, those who have died, 
those who are not yet born. For a few

moments I floated, completely calm, 
and I no longer hated having to exist.

Like a crow who smells hot blood 
you came flying to pull me out 
of the glowing stream.
"I'll hold you up. I never let my dear 
ones drown!" After that, I wept for days.



6  IN AND OUT

The dog searches until he finds me 
upstairs, lies down with a clatter 
of elbows, puts his head on my foot.

Sometimes the sound of his breathing 
saves my life—in and out, in 
and out; a pause, a long sigh. . . . 



7  PARDON

A piece of burned meat 
wears my clothes, speaks 
in my voice, dispatches obligations 
haltingly, or not at all.
It is tired of trying 
to be stouthearted, tired 
beyond measure.

We move on to the monoamine 
oxidase inhibitors. Day and night 
I feel as if I had drunk six cups 
of coffee, but the pain stops
abruptly. With the wonder 
and bitterness of someone pardoned 
for a crime she did not commit 
I come back to marriage and friends, 
to pink fringed hollyhocks; come back 
to my desk, books, and chair.



8  CREDO

Pharmaceutical wonders are at work 
but I believe only in this moment 
of well-being. Unholy ghost, 
you are certain to come again.

Coarse, mean, you'll put your feet 
on the coffee table, lean back, 
and turn me into someone who can't 
take the trouble to speak; someone 
who can't sleep, or who does nothing 
but sleep; can't read, or call 
for an appointment for help.

There is nothing I can do 
against your coming. 
When I awake, I am still with thee.



9  WOOD THRUSH

High on Nardil and June light 
I wake at four, 
waiting greedily for the first
note of the wood thrush. Easeful air 
presses through the screen 
with the wild, complex song 
of the bird, and I am overcome

by ordinary contentment. 
What hurt me so terribly 
all my life until this moment? 
How I love the small, swiftly 
beating heart of the bird 
singing in the great maples; 
its bright, unequivocal eye.

From Constance by Jane Kenyon, published by Graywolf Press. © 1993 by Jane Kenyon. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

I

He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
And snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

Far from his illness
The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests,
The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays;
By mourning tongues
The death of the poet was kept from his poems.

But for him it was his last afternoon as himself,
An afternoon of nurses and rumours;
The provinces of his body revolted,
The squares of his mind were empty,
Silence invaded the suburbs,
The current of his feeling failed; he became his admirers.

Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,
To find his happiness in another kind of wood
And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.
The words of a dead man
Are modified in the guts of the living.

But in the importance and noise of to-morrow
When the brokers are roaring like beasts on the floor of the bourse,
And the poor have the sufferings to which they are fairly accustomed
And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his freedom
A few thousand will think of this day
As one thinks of a day when one did something slightly unusual.

What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

 

II

You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
The parish of rich women, physical decay,
Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.

 

III

Earth, receive an honoured guest:
William Yeats is laid to rest.
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.

In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate;

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.

Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice;

With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress;

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

From Another Time by W. H. Auden, published by Random House. Copyright © 1940 W. H. Auden, renewed by the Estate of W. H. Auden. Used by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.

From Another Time by W. H. Auden, published by Random House. Copyright © 1940 W. H. Auden, renewed by The Estate of W. H. Auden. Used by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

There's a movie on, so I watch it.

The usual white people
in love, distress. The usual tears.
Good camera work, though:
sunshine waxing the freckled curves
of a pear, a clenched jaw—
more tragedy, then.

I get up for some scotch and Stilton.
I don’t turn on the lights.
I like moving through the dark
while the world sleeps on,
serene as a stealth bomber
nosing through clouds…

call it a preemptive strike,
“a precautionary measure
so sadly necessary in these perilous times”.
I don’t call it anything
but greediness: the weird glee
of finding my way without incident.

I know tomorrow I will regret
having the Stilton. I will regret
not being able to find
a book to get lost in,
and all those years I could get lost
in anything. Until then

it’s just me and you,
Brother Night—moonless,
plunked down behind enemy lines
with no maps, no matches.
The woods deep.
Cheers.

Copyright © 2007 by Rita Dove. Originally published in Slate. Used with the permission of the poet.