I had no idea that the gate I would step through
to finally enter this world
would be the space my brother's body made. He was
a little taller than me: a young man
but grown, himself by then,
done at twenty-eight, having folded every sheet,
rinsed every glass he would ever rinse under the cold
and running water.
This is what you have been waiting for, he used to say to me.
And I'd say, What?
And he'd say, This—holding up my cheese and mustard sandwich.
And I'd say, What?
And he'd say, This, sort of looking around.
From What the Living Do (W. W. Norton, 1997). Copyright © 1997 by Marie Howe. Used with the permission of the author.
(after Stephen Hawking)
Do you sometimes want to wake up to the singularity
we once were?
so compact nobody
needed a bed, or food or money—
nobody hiding in the school bathroom
or home alone
pulling open the drawer
where the pills are kept.
For every atom belonging to me as good
Belongs to you. Remember?
There was no Nature. No
them. No tests
to determine if the elephant
grieves her calf or if
the coral reef feels pain. Trashed
oceans don’t speak English or Farsi or French;
would that we could wake up to what we were
—when we were ocean and before that
to when sky was earth, and animal was energy, and rock was
liquid and stars were space and space was not
before we came to believe humans were so important
before this awful loneliness.
Can molecules recall it?
what once was? before anything happened?
No I, no We, no one. No was
No verb no noun
only a tiny tiny dot brimming with
is is is is is
All everything home
Copyright © 2019 by Marie Howe. Used with the permission of the poet.
At first, the scissors seemed perfectly harmless.
They lay on the kitchen table in the blue light.
Then I began to notice them all over the house,
at night in the pantry, or filling up bowls in the cellar
where there should have been apples. They appeared under rugs,
lumpy places where one would usually settle before the fire,
or suddenly shining in the sink at the bottom of soupy water.
Once, I found a pair in the garden, stuck in turned dirt
among the new bulbs, and one night, under my pillow,
I felt something like a cool long tooth and pulled them out
to lie next to me in the dark. Soon after that I began
to collect them, filling boxes, old shopping bags,
every suitcase I owned. I grew slightly uncomfortable
when company came. What if someone noticed them
when looking for forks or replacing dried dishes? I longed
to throw them out, but how could I get rid of something
that felt oddly like grace? It occurred to me finally
that I was meant to use them, and I resisted a growing compulsion
to cut my hair, although in moments of great distraction,
I thought it was my eyes they wanted, or my soft belly
—exhausted, in winter, I laid them out on the lawn.
The snow fell quite as usual, without any apparent hesitation
or discomfort. In spring, as expected, they were gone.
In their place, a slight metallic smell, and the dear muddy earth.
From The Good Thief. Copyright © 1988 by Marie Howe. Reprinted by permission of Persea Books, Inc., New York.
I drew the eraser
first because I knew
it better than I knew
myself and because
it had been around
the block before me
and because it would,
after having its way
with me, rub up against
everything I’d ever loved.
Copyright © 2018 Andrea Cohen. This poem originally appeared in Kenyon Review, November/December 2018. Used with permission of the author.
for Philip Levine
Donald Justice has died twice:
once in Miami, in the sun, on a Sunday,
and once in Iowa City, on a Friday
in August, which was not without
its own sun—if not bright spot.
The first time he died, he was thinking
of Vallejo, who died in Paris, maybe
on a Thursday, surely in rain.
Vallejo died again in Paris,
in April, of an unknown illness
which may have been malaria,
as fictionalized in Bolaño’s
Monsieur Pain. “There is, brothers,
very much to do,” Vallejo said
between his deaths, and Phil,
you must have died once
in Seville, in the land of Machado,
before going again last Saturday
in Fresno, so you no longer write
to us or bring in trash bins filled
with light. Phil, I will die, maybe
on a Sunday in Wellfleet, because
today it is Sunday, and ice
is jamming the eaves, and there
is nowhere to put the snow
that keeps recalling all
those other snows—
or the stones on more stones.
Copyright © 2015 by Andrea Cohen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 28, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.