Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up
waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through
the open living-room windows because the heat’s on too high in here and I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,
I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,
I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.
What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss—we want more and more and then more of it.
But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I'm gripped by a cherishing so deep
for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you.
From What the Living Do, copyright © 1998 by Marie Howe. Used by permission of W. W. Norton. All rights reserved.
You can’t remember what they did to you. Your loneliness isn’t welcome here, you know, but still you walk the dream-lit village, looking for someone gentle enough. There must be an animal trapped under your shirt, you think, because little claws scratch against your chest and you throb there, but you're afraid to look because looking means remembering. You ask a man passing on the road to lift your shirt and check and he retches at what he sees, says the flesh there overflows, as if grinding its own meat, that strips of skin curl away from the wound like rot mushrooms growing on a tree, and he can't help you, you make him sick, he says, he has to go now, so you wander some more until you reach the gate, which is the end of who you could have been, the end of the dream of your body made full with starmilk, propelled by a heart of sea anemone. You’ll be hungry forever if you stay here, trying to hide your secret mouth from all this light. Before you can cross the gate into that dark valley, you must look at yourself. You can think of other words for red: crimson, cherry, scarlet. But there's no other name for blood, no name for a shame like this, its hiss of pain when you press your finger to it, the sweet stain it leaves on your fingertip. You just have to taste it.
Copyright © 2021 by Sara Eliza Johnson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 6, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
exists to keep audiences
their mundane homelives, yet here
I am pacing my bedroom
and having serious
thoughts about trapeze
hands—and can you even
apply to be in a traveling act,
or do you need to be
discovered? I don’t want to be
famous, just remembered.
In high school I was
voted most likely to
ignore the demands
of men and gravity,
but it’s a difficult feat
when the two work together.
Like here, or
like in the flying trapeze:
man secures his hold,
gravity improves the swing.
Copyright © 2021 by Paige Lewis. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 19, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.