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.

Every time I see you I ask if Bruce Willis is dead
and every time you answer me first yes, then no. 
An asteroid was going to hit earth last week 

in the only dream my eight-year-old has ever shared—
a last-ditch stab, perhaps, at not falling asleep
the next night, while he lay with my hand on his hip

which, since kindergarten, has been the only form
of touch he will permit. Was everyone scared,
I asked, and the question was not rhetorical.

He had been standing with the other
fourth graders on the astro-turfed playground
of their school rooftop, and because an asteroid

was coming, his friend Ethan jumped over the edge
but broke only his arm. That’s it, that’s all he broke,
his arm, which seems, in my son’s telling,

the dream’s central event—and not that his father
who is my husband gave my son who is his son
a magic potion to seal their eyes shut

as they drove to Sky Zone Trampoline Park
while the asteroid kept falling to earth. So much,
he said, when I asked if they had fun. I don’t know

when I started failing. If there’s a when, if it’s I,
as the sly syntax of catastrophe seems to collapse
all identifying pronouns into a mirror-flecked heap

in which you move from the narrating self
to dear friend down the street through an infinity
of strangers between—such as the teen clerk at Rite Aid

who yells DEAD? when I share the news
of Bruce Willis’s sudden or expected demise
that a magazine cover by the register does imply.

So I’m not in the dream, I asked my son, pretending
to laugh, and my son nodded, and the children
fishing for gold stars on a quilt my mother

embroidered when I was younger than my son
nodded on a lake of jean pockets.
Oh Bruce Willis himself is not dead,

you say, in my backyard: he just has aphasia,
which is when I remember we had this same
conversation last week in your backyard

before the asteroid did or didn’t hit earth
in a dream where my husband and son
had so much fun at Sky Zone with their eyes closed. 

Wait, my son said, his hip light in my palm. 
Actually. You were on the asteroid. 
I was on the asteroid? You were on the asteroid.

I bet the magic potion has glitter in it. 
I bet the magic potion disappears the instant you
pour it in your palm. I bet it tastes like orange juice

in the form of air and blammo, before you touch it
to your tongue, your eyes never open again, a miracle.
Can you believe it, just his arm. Although the school’s

only two stories high above a parking lot
where afternoon pick-up has been scheduled
in fifteen-minute slots but please keep your mask on 

and we’ll bring your child to your car from the locked
back door. You meaning I, and we meaning safety
is the trampolined floor of a windowless room

in a strip mall. Maybe you’re Bruce Willis
in Armageddon, you say, and you’re on the asteroid
to dismantle it, but I don’t know Armageddon 

is a film, so when I ask if Bruce Willis died, and you
say yes, but he died saving earth, I say what???
while thinking it’s impossible to know what, exactly,

is alarming. Yes. Everyone’s scared. An asteroid has no
atmosphere. It is made of rock and metal.
It is very valuable. It is one hundred percent certain

that we will be hit by a devastating asteroid but it is not
one hundred percent certain when. Aphasia like heat
splitting pavement in winter, Aphasia the forced

open blooms in our yards in this language of mirrors
at the end of the world in this life I love with you
on an astro-turfed rooftop, so high up and survivable.

Copyright © 2024 by Taije Silverman. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 22, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets. 

We'll say unbelievable things 
to each other in the early morning— 
our blue coming up from our roots, 
our water rising in our extraordinary limbs. 
All night I dreamt of bonfires and burn piles 
and ghosts of men, and spirits 
behind those birds of flame. 
I cannot tell anymore when a door opens or closes, 
I can only hear the frame saying, Walk through. 
It is a short walkway— 
into another bedroom. 
Consider the handle. Consider the key. 
I say to a friend, how scared I am of sharks. 
How I thought I saw them in the creek 
across from my street. 
I once watched for them, holding a bundle 
of rattlesnake grass in my hand, 
shaking like a weak-leaf girl. 
She sends me an article from a recent National Geographic that says, 
Sharks bite fewer people each year than 
New Yorkers do, according to Health Department records. 
Then she sends me on my way. Into the City of Sharks. 
Through another doorway, I walk to the East River saying, 
Sharks are people too. 
Sharks are people too. 
Sharks are people too. 
I write all the things I need on the bottom 
of my tennis shoes. I say, Let's walk together. 
The sun behind me is like a fire. 
Tiny flames in the river's ripples. 
I say something to God, but he's not a living thing, 
so I say it to the river, I say, 
I want to walk through this doorway 
But without all those ghosts on the edge, 
I want them to stay here. 
I want them to go on without me. 
I want them to burn in the water.

From Sharks in the Rivers by Ada Limón. Copyright © 2010 by Ada Limón. Used by permission of Milkweed Editions. All rights reserved.

Her eyes?   Dark pools of deepest shade,
    Like sylvan lakes that lie
In some sequestered forest glade
    Beneath a starry sky.

Her cheeks?   The ripened chestnut’s hue,—
    Rich autumn’s sun-kissed brown!
Caressed by sunbeams dancing through
    Red leaves that flutter down.

Her form?   A slender pine that sways
    Before the murmuring breeze
In summer, when the south wind plays
    Soft music through the trees.

Herself?   A laughing, joyous sprite
    Who smiles from dawn till dark,
As lovely as a summer night
    And carefree as a lark.

From Caroling Dusk (Harper & Brothers, 1927), edited by Countee Cullen. This poem is in the public domain.

Please tell me that I was a good child
And that I did everything right
And that the atmosphere was exactly certain
I want you to love me
In ways that you never have
So that I become a forgotten world
With rainbow sunrises over dark green trees
And the cooling of the day
Becomes normal again
We will sit and watch the body of water
That we once called a sort of death
You know even in my dreams
You say I’ll never get it right
This is not a dream
We are burning here with no escape
But no matter how many times
They talk about the moon
It does not take a poet
To know that the moon
Is still only an illusion
Only an illusion
The moon calls out to all of us
Come back, it says
But we don’t hear it
Already on our way
To somewhere

Copyright © 2023 by Dorothea Lasky. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 31, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.