People going through 
hard times don’t listen 
to songs about people

going through hard times,
says my son. Debt, addiction, 
chronic bad luck, unemployment—

I’m with you, I say. The only 
exception is heartbreak;
when you’re deep in it 

you just want a late-night
DJ to spin your pain. The car 
radio is playing Jason Isbell 

through Wyoming, part of it
in Yellowstone National Park,
home to 500 of the world’s

900 geysers. Mesmerizing
eruptions! Geothermal wonders!
Hot holes and fumaroles! 

Last week a Bison
gored a Phoenix woman,
but who knows how close

she got before it charged.
Bison run three times faster
than humans and injure

more people than any animal 
in the park—even grizzlies. 
In thermal areas the ground 

is just a thin crust above 
acidic pools, some resembling 
milky marbles, others the insides 

of celestine geodes reflecting 
the sky. Boardwalk signs 
all over Yellowstone shout 

Dangerous Ground! Potentially 
fatal! and despite that—
despite the print of a boy 

off-balance, falling through 
the surface into a boiling 
hot spring, his mouth an O 

of fear—despite the warnings
in writing that more than
a dozen people have been

scalded to death here and
hundreds badly burned 
or scarred, there are still

the tourons taunting bears,
dipping their fingers
off the side of the Boardwalk

into a gurgling mudpot.
Got a loan out on the truck 
but I’m runnin’ out of luck, 

sings Isbell, and the parking lots 
are packed with license plates 
from every state—so many 

borrowed RVs taking the curves 
too hard, so much rented 
bear spray dangling from 

carabiners clipped to cargo 
short waistbands, and ample
Christianity too: the Jesus

& Therapy t-shirt, the Enjoy 
Jesus baseball hat, the all I need
today is a little bit of coffee

and a whole lot of Jesus tote,
Mennonite families with 
women in bonnets

hauling toddlers. I want 
to tell my son it’s not
shameful to need

something or someone
to help us out of the darkness
when it gets very dark.

Jeff Buckley. Joy Division.
Jesus. Dolly Parton. Even
Delilah and her long 

distance dedications 
cracking the silence of 
every solo backroad

I’ve been driving since
before he was born.
He is sixteen. Does he know 

the black hole of loving 
and not being loved in return,
the night and its volume?

And the moon—nearly full,
rising over Old Faithful
which erupts on cue

to an appreciative crowd
every ninety-ish minutes.
And the moon, keeping me 

insomniac with its light 
shining like an interrogation 
trick into this cabin

through the crack
between the window 
and the blind.

Copyright © 2024 by Erika Meitner. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 27, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets. 

Last night I get all the way to Ocean Street Extension, squinting through the windshield, wipers smearing the rain, lights of the oncoming cars half-blinding me. The baby’s in her seat in the back singing the first three words of You’re the Top. Not softly and sweetly the way she did when she woke in her crib, but belting it out like Ethel Merman. I don’t drive much at night anymore. And then the rain and the bad wipers. But I tell myself it’s too soon to give it up. Though the dark seems darker than I ever remember. And as I make the turn and head uphill, I can’t find the lines on the road. I start to panic. No! Yes—the lights! I flick them on and the world resolves. My god, I could have killed her. And I’ll think about that more later. But right now new galaxies are being birthed in my chest. There are no gods, but not everyone is cursed every moment. There are minutes, hours, sometimes even whole days when the earth is spinning 1.6 million miles around the sun and nothing tragic happens to you. I do not have to enter the land of everlasting sorrow. Every mistake I’ve made, every terrible decision—how I married the wrong man, hurt my child, didn’t go to Florence when she was dying—I take it all because the baby is commanding, “Sing, Nana.” And I sing, You’re the top. You’re the Coliseum, and the baby comes in right on cue.

Copyright © 2024 by Ellen Bass. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 11, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets.