Remember that memory.
In this dimness when the sounds I make
are foreign, my home is not my own.
when I think of another winter
and the distant whiteness of its walls—
when even the sun seems set
outside the world. In this dimness
the edge of things removed
to thought the numb call touch,
remember that memory—
the young black self
the whole black body painted hot
by the fresh orange scene in the basement
of our old house when I was nine.
When it was my turn
to keep the fire going while my family slept —
my father off divorced somewhere, my older brother resting
after work, and what shadows hovered at the fringe of light
spilt from the furnace’s mouth—
I stuck my shovel in the flame,
had its intensity
its heat travel through a vein in the handle
to a part of my head.
The coals gotten smaller, brighter.
Out of that fire, my frightened shovelling in the night
now a framed power, that young effort
made a little orange scene
kept the whole world excited—
gathered near its center.
In this dimness where I can’t tell
if my longing is my own, it is gotten winter.
Above me I watch a jet
that be’s perfectly still, yet gets so distant,
goes so pointless. I could take a plane,
fly from here to somewhere small
till I’m ashes of myself—
but everything burns repeatedly
or keeps burning. Remember that memory.
I am dark with effort, back at my mother’s house
someone’s thinking of me, and old and smothered flame
gets waked, and it warms the gap
between image and real light.
From Across the Mutual Landscape (Graywolf Press, 1984). Copyright © 1984 by Christopher Gilbert. Used with permission of The Permissions Company inc. on behalf of Graywolf Press.
the poem begins not where the knife enters
but where the blade twists.
Some wounds cannot be hushed
no matter the way one writes of blood
& what reflection arrives in its pooling.
The poem begins with pain as a mirror
inside of which I adjust a tie the way my father taught me
before my first funeral & so the poem begins
with old grief again at my neck. On the radio,
a singer born in a place where children watch the sky
for bombs is trying to sell me on love
as something akin to war.
I have no lie to offer as treacherous as this one.
I was most like the bullet when I viewed the body as a door.
I’m past that now. No one will bury their kin
when desire becomes a fugitive
between us. There will be no folded flag
at the doorstep. A person only gets to be called a widow once,
and then they are simply lonely. The bluest period.
Gratitude, not for love itself, but for the way it can end
without a house on fire.
This is how I plan to leave next.
Unceremonious as birth in a country overrun
by the ungrateful living. The poem begins with a chain
of well-meaning liars walking one by one
off the earth’s edge. That’s who died
and made me king. Who died and made you.
Copyright © 2019 by Hanif Abdurraqib. From A Fortune For Your Disaster (Tin House Books, 2019). Used with permission of the author and Tin House Books.
I am taken with the hot animal
of my skin, grateful to swing my limbs
and have them move as I intend, though
my knee, though my shoulder, though something
is torn or tearing. Today, a dozen squid, dead
on the harbor beach: one mostly buried,
one with skin empty as a shell and hollow
feeling, and, though the tentacles look soft,
I do not touch them. I imagine they
were startled to find themselves in the sun.
I imagine the tide simply went out
without them. I imagine they cannot
feel the black flies charting the raised hills
of their eyes. I write my name in the sand:
Donika Kelly. I watch eighteen seagulls
skim the sandbar and lift low in the sky.
I pick up a pebble that looks like a green egg.
To the ditch lily I say I am in love.
To the Jeep parked haphazardly on the narrow
street I am in love. To the roses, white
petals rimmed brown, to the yellow lined
pavement, to the house trimmed in gold I am
in love. I shout with the rough calculus
of walking. Just let me find my way back,
let me move like a tide come in.
Copyright © 2017 by Donika Kelly. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 20, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.