Was he looking for St. Lucia’s light to touch his face those first days in the official November snow & sleet falling on the granite pose of Lincoln? If he were searching for property lines drawn in the blood, or for a hint of resolve crisscrossing a border, maybe he’d find clues in the taste of breadfruit. I could see him stopped there squinting in crooked light, the haze of Wall Street touching clouds of double consciousness, an eye etched into a sign borrowed from Egypt. If he’s looking for tips on basketball, how to rise up & guard the hoop, he may glean a few theories about war but they aren’t in The Star-Apple Kingdom. If he wants to finally master himself, searching for clues to govern seagulls in salty air, he’ll find henchmen busy with locks & chains in a ghost schooner's nocturnal calm. He’s reading someone who won’t speak of milk & honey, but of looking ahead beyond pillars of salt raised in a dream where fat bulbs split open the earth. The spine of the manifest was broken, leaking deeds, songs & testaments. Justice stood in the shoes of mercy, & doubt was bandaged up & put to bed. Now, he looks as if he wants to eat words, their sweet, intoxicating flavor. Banana leaf & animal, being & nonbeing. In fact, craving wisdom, he bites into memory. The President of the United States of America thumbs the pages slowly, moving from reverie to reverie, learning why one envies the octopus for its ink, how a man’s skin becomes the final page.
Copyright © 2011 by Yusef Komunyakaa. Used with permission of the author.
Slender as my ring finger, the female hummingbird crashed
into plate glass separating her and me
before we could ask each other’s name. Green flame,
she launched from a dead eucalyptus limb.
Almost on impact, she was gone, her needle beak
opening twice to speak the abrupt language of her going,
taking in the day’s rising heat as I took
one more scalding breath, horrified by death’s velocity.
Too weak from chemo not to cry
for the passage of her emerald shine,
I lifted her weightlessness into my palm.
Mourning doves moaned, who, who,
oh who while her wings closed against the tiny body
sky would quick forget as soon as it would forget mine
Copyright © 2020 by Pamela Uschuk. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 15, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
On a picnic table, in Pine, Arizona,
a Bear, Makwa, sits and meditates.
Occasionally, with menu in hand,
he scans the reddish-brown landscape
partially draped with snow, a climatic
rarity. But it’s heavenly here, he resolves,
that's why I'm feeling good. After
New York steak, jumbo prawns
and woodland mushrooms, a bottle
of cabernet is placed on a cedar deer
rack. While dipping the sopapilla
honey, he reads the wine called
Zah was highly coveted by Bonnie,
the 1930s gangster. The ruse evokes
a smile. Then, on a cart that’s
in beside him, a miniature cast-iron
stove with its legs embedded
in ice crackles as two potatoes
revolve and bake. From a silver
with a wobbly antennae,
a saxophone is heard faintly,
with Mayall singing “Going
Back to California.” Nostalgia,
the D. J. Epic, graphic
Soon, sparks fly from the microwave’s
slender chimney, reminding him of the time
he gave Black Eagle Childs a tune called
Askotewi-Ttimani, Fire Boat. Akin
lovers separated by a wide river,
whispers Nemese, Fish, the butter’s
fragrance is corn tassel sweet
and the sour cream senses earth
akameeki, overseas. Combustible
emotions, you could say, through
supernatural alchemy. And per
etiquette, the handles of your
are designed with turquoise
and corral inlay. “Say, I seem to
have forgotten,” he asks, “but what
do they mean?”
From a nearby table, a Mawewa, Wolf
politely intercedes: If I may answer
for Mayrin—once the shell-shock subsides,
you'll recall the East is a star and the South
a galaxy falling as snow into a dish that
breathes, especially at noon; and the West
is a door of purple seashells, with the North
being a lodge made with pillars of swirling
quills. Natawinoni, Medicine. These gifts
will keep apoplectic reactions at bay.
“Wekone? What?” More so, if by birth
your heart is exposed. “Jesus Christ!
you know?” Nanotti-meko-Makwa-webi-
Bear begins reflecting on where he’d
been. In Tanzania and Mozambique,
of white string that guided land
mine-detecting rats over dry, ochre-
colored fields resembled gardens
being prepped for spring
back home. Beautiful,
speckled atamina, corn.
Remarkably, rats can also detect TB,
said the Wakotte, Fox. “They can?”
Moreover, in the desert where you
visited, a waterfall came back to life
a single raindrop, the one that travelled
with you on a Spider’s web, floating
in the wind over distant mountains,
oceans and clouds. Manetwi-kiyaki-
There’s still much we have to do.
Because the Earth beneath our feet,
Kokomesenana, our Grandmother,
struggles to heal herself. Thus,
the moment before the Northern
Lights glow fiery red, arcing over
us en route to Antarctica, you’ll ask
in a solemn, musical voice that
be granted in perpetuum to the culture,
language, religion and history of your
children and their grandchildren.
He was contemplating all of this
an old, toothless gentleman in
a large suitcoat approached
and asked, are you Randolph Scott?
After saying “Yes,” an armor-clad
became audibly restless at the four
dragon-headed dogs staring at three
galley sails billowing on the hinterland
Copyright © 2020 by Ray Young Bear. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 20, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
2. 2047 Grace Street But the world is more often refuge than evidence, comfort and covert for the flinching will, rather than the sharp particulate instants through which God's being burns into ours. I say God and mean more than the bright abyss that opens in that word. I say world and mean less than the abstract oblivion of atoms out of which every intact thing emerges, into which every intact thing finally goes. I do not know how to come closer to God except by standing where a world is ending for one man. It is still dark, and for an hour I have listened to the breathing of the woman I love beyond my ability to love. Praise to the pain scalding us toward each other, the grief beyond which, please God, she will live and thrive. And praise to the light that is not yet, the dawn in which one bird believes, crying not as if there had been no night but as if there were no night in which it had not been.
Excerpted from Every Riven Thing by Christian Wiman. Published in November 2010 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2010 by Christian Wiman. All rights reserved.
For I can snore like a bullhorn
or play loud music
or sit up talking with any reasonably sober Irishman
and Fergus will only sink deeper
into his dreamless sleep, which goes by all in one flash,
but let there be that heavy breathing
or a stifled come-cry anywhere in the house
and he will wrench himself awake
and make for it on the run—as now, we lie together,
after making love, quiet, touching along the length of our bodies,
familiar touch of the long-married,
and he appears—in his baseball pajamas, it happens,
the neck opening so small he has to screw them on—
and flops down between us and hugs us and snuggles himself to sleep,
his face gleaming with satisfaction at being this very child.
In the half darkness we look at each other
and touch arms across this little, startlingly muscled body—
this one whom habit of memory propels to the ground of his making,
sleeper only the mortal sounds can sing awake,
this blessing love gives again into our arms.
From A New Selected Poems by Galway Kinnell, published by Houghton Mifflin. © 2000 by Galway Kinnell. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions
back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you
with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is
From Migration: New & Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2005). Copyright © 1988 by W. S. Merwin. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
The screech of the recycling truck jolted me awake.
It was just after dawn and the huge trucks were already tearing
through the neighborhood, shrieking brakes keeping rhythm
with shattering glass and clinking cans amidst barking dogs.
I panicked then remembered the bins were out.
The little dogs shot out of the room, their tiny bodies
quivering with excitement and pent-up barking.
Before this moment I dreamt of Shimá, my mother:
she slept under a calico quilt, made with squares of tiny purple and yellow flowers.
She made our clothes from such fabric when we were children,
In my dream, I covered her carefully and patted her sleeping shoulder;
her breathing was soft and labored.
I smoothed her hair and caressed her forehead.
I sat at the foot of the bed and listened to her slumber;
her breathing evened out as the dream filament settled around us.
Perhaps as she slept, she relived the old Fort Wingate Boarding School days,
or maybe she and my father conversed as in all those decades past.
Maybe she relived everyday events—cooking meals, soothing children,
or visiting with relatives at the kitchen table.
In the final weeks of her life, I could not fathom her dreams
or waking thoughts, but in this morning dream, Shimá and I
were joined by our quiet breathing and lingering gestures.
In this dream, my mother and I were alone and silent.
We were alone and silent.
Soon the flurry of the recycling truck faded
and the usual morning calm returned, the sleek little dogs
came back to bed panting from a job well done; they licked my arm in unison.
I said, “Biighaah, Nizhoon,” praise for a job well done.
They fell asleep instantly, sinking into deep borderline snoring.
Outside the bedroom window, the morning was bright and still,
save for the cool breezes and calling of birds;
their innate songs encircled the quiet houses and scattered cacti.
Down the street garage doors slid shut as neighbors
maneuvered out of curved driveways to begin the workday.
Just then I longed to return to this first dream of Shimá.
I longed for the serene space she created,
now I knew she could do so, even in dreams.
How I yearned to make coffee for her one more time,
to cook breakfast—boiled eggs, black coffee and hash browns.
In her final weeks, my sisters and I fed her spoon by spoonful.
She would smile as we recounted childhood memories;
listening then talking, murmuring and remembering.
Now the morning sunlight sweeps through the house.
I put on coffee, go outside to stretch and pray.
The Holy People had already passed through
yet fulfilled my yearning to be with my mother.
They reassured me that she and other loved ones
are with them, and they exist in an arc of quiet solace.
The Holy Ones graced me with a glimpse of our future together;
the dream, a reprieve from the lonely, seemingly bereft present.
Copyright © 2020 by Luci Tapahonso. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 29, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Admittedly I may be blowing my <6 mm mole somewhat
out of proportion in the general scheme of things. At my
last follow-up, Dr. Song gently reminded me that we
entered the “catabasis” phase of my journey through
dermatological oncology some time ago.
Cata-, from the ancient Greek κατά, or downward, prefixed
to the intransitive form of the verbal stem baínō, to go. It
means a trip to the coast, a military retreat, an endless
windstorm over the Antarctic plateau, or the sadness
experienced by some men at a certain point in their lives.
In a clinical context, the term may also refer to the decline
or remission of a disease. So why do I still feel a ghostly
pinprick along the crease of my arm where the needle went
in before I went under? I suspect that I am not quite out of
the woods yet. Then again, maybe the woods have yet to
Copyright © 2020 by Srikanth Reddy. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 6, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
You rode your bike from your house on the corner to the dead end of the street, and turned it around at the factory, back to the corner again. This was the loop your mother let you ride, not along the avenue with its cavalcade of trucks, or up the block where Drac the Dropout waited to plunge his pointy incisors into virginal necks. You can't remember exactly your age, but you probably had a bike with a banana seat, and wore cutoff jeans and sweat socks to the knees. You are trying to be precise but everything is a carbon-like surface that scrolls by with pinpricks emitting memory’s wavy threads. One is blindingly bright and lasts only seconds: You are riding your bike and the shadowy blots behind the factory windows’ steel grates emit sounds that reach and wrap around you like a type of gravity that pulls down the face. You can’t see them but what they say is what men say all day long, to women who are trying to get somewhere. It’s not something you hadn’t heard before. But until then, you only had your ass grabbed by boys your own age—boys you knew, who you could name—in a daily playground game in which teachers looked away. In another pin prick, you loop back to your house, where your mother is standing on the corner talking to neighbors. You tell her what the men said, and ask, does this mean I’m beautiful? What did she say? Try remembering: You are standing on the corner with your mother. You are standing on the corner. This pinprick emits no light; it is dark, it is her silence. Someday you will have a daughter and the dead end will become a cul de sac and all the factories will be shut down or at the edges of town, and the men behind screens will be monitored, blocked. And when things seem safe, and everything is green and historic and homey, you will let her walk from school to park, where you’ll wait for her, thanks to a flexible schedule, on the corner. And when she walks daydreaming along the way and takes too long to reach you, the words they said will hang from the tree you wait under.
Copyright © 2020 by Rosa Alcalá. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 7, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
(This poem’s about looking for the sage and not finding her)
Some say she moved in with her ex-girlfriend in Taiwan
Some say she went to Florida to wrestle alligators
Some say she went to Peach Blossom Spring
To drink tea with Tao Qian
Miho says she’s living in Calexico with three cats
And a gerbil named Max
Some say she’s just a shadow of the Great Society
Of what might-have-been
Rhea saw her stark raving mad
Between 23rd and the Avenue of the Americas
Wrapped in a flag!
I swear I saw her floating in a motel pool
Topless, on a plastic manatee, palms up
What in hell was she thinking?
What is poetry? What are stars?
Whence comes the end of suffering?
Copyright © 2020 by Marilyn Chin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 13, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God, duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For is this done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For tenthly he goes in quest of food.
For having considered God and himself he will consider his neighbor.
For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.
For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
For when his day's work is done his business more properly begins.
For he keeps the Lord's watch in the night against the adversary.
For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.
For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.
For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he suppresses.
For he will not do destruction if he is well-fed, neither will he spit without provocation.
For he purrs in thankfulness when God tells him he's a good Cat.
For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.
For every house is incomplete without him, and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.
For the Lord commanded Moses concerning the cats at the departure of the Children of Israel from Egypt.
For every family had one cat at least in the bag.
For the English Cats are the best in Europe.
For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped.
For the dexterity of his defense is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly.
For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.
For he is tenacious of his point.
For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.
For he knows that God is his Saviour.
For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.
For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion.
For he is of the Lord's poor, and so indeed is he called by benevolence perpetually--Poor Jeoffry! poor Jeoffry! the rat has bit thy throat.
For I bless the name of the Lord Jesus that Jeoffry is better.
For the divine spirit comes about his body to sustain it in complete cat.
For his tongue is exceeding pure so that it has in purity what it wants in music.
For he is docile and can learn certain things.
For he can sit up with gravity, which is patience upon approbation.
For he can fetch and carry, which is patience in employment.
For he can jump over a stick, which is patience upon proof positive.
For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.
For he can jump from an eminence into his master's bosom.
For he can catch the cork and toss it again.
For he is hated by the hypocrite and miser.
For the former is afraid of detection.
For the latter refuses the charge.
For he camels his back to bear the first notion of business.
For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly.
For he made a great figure in Egypt for his signal services.
For he killed the Icneumon rat, very pernicious by land.
For his ears are so acute that they sting again.
For from this proceeds the passing quickness of his attention.
For by stroking of him I have found out electricity.
For I perceived God's light about him both wax and fire.
For the electrical fire is the spiritual substance which God sends from heaven to sustain the bodies both of man and beast.
For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.
For, though he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.
For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadruped.
For he can tread to all the measures upon the music.
For he can swim for life.
For he can creep.
Lines 695-768 from Fragment B of Jubilate Agno by Christopher Smart.
What is a wound but a flower dying on its descent to the earth, bag of scent filled with war, forest, torches, some trouble that befell now over and done. A wound is a fire sinking into itself. The tinder serves only so long, the log holds on and still it gives up, collapses into its bed of ashes and sand. I burned my hand cooking over a low flame, that flame now alive under my skin, the smell not unpleasant, the wound beautiful as a full-blown peony. Say goodbye to disaster. Shake hands with the unknown, what becomes of us once we’ve been torn apart and returned to our future, naked and small, sewn back together scar by scar.
Copyright © 2018 by Dorianne Laux. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 17, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
The honey bees’ exile is almost complete. You can carry them from hive to hive, the child thought & that is what he tried, walking with them thronging between his pressed palms. Let him be right. Let the gods look away as always. Let this boy who carries the entire actual, whirring world in his calm unwashed hands, barely walking, bear us all there buzzing, unstung.
Copyright © 2017 by Kevin Young. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 29, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
As designated translator, I taste saffron, gold coins,
a slight burning. Since I’ve returned, there has been less
of me in English. Though return always meant measuring
the earth’s door, tongue ozoned and still learning
to stretch between here and home. Sah, my native
speech is like a window sash pulled up wa down.
Sah, I shift phrases without thought. Classmates tilt
at my returned self like I grew horns, can shoot bombs
out my ass. Like they want to dump me in ma’a,
watch me float like a witch. When I Arabic my way
towards them, they pat my back in case I hack mucus
wa dem. What do you call a word the mouth has forgotten
to push out, stuck by the tonsil’s entrance, squirming
to be sound? Speech becomes a slagged pot I bang crude
beats on. I long to play a song that doesn’t terrorize,
a song that’s understood. The mushkila is I am a surging
current of feared language. Words have stopped arriving
easily. Was it Rumi who said silence is the language
of God and all else is poor translation? I am not
mathaluhum. I can’t properly translate myself,
part I hush tongue my floats lake settled a so
need I steam senseless of shrouds spout and lips my
don’t I proof need I with accent my sink to dictionary a
sense make still can I that, cooing blurred a like sound
I lie about my D in Algebra. Turn, She daydreams
during lessons into, Qaluu I pay attention to detail.
Turn, She’s suspended for fighting into, I’m such a good
student, they gave me a day off. Each rephrasing
Pinocchio’s my nose. I am out of breath from so much
code-switching, crunching the sand it leaves my teeth.
When threatened with a call home, I shrug, Taib.
Go ahead. They’ll say, yes yes, but won’t yafhumun,
will ask me about it later so I can twist it. At dinner,
Baba tells a story of his childhood in Yemen.
About catching a wild fox with his cousin–—Arabic
the medium through which his body can return home.
I drown him out. Ana asif, I don’t mean to. It’s only that
my languages get mukhtalit, and when he talks it sounds
mathal poetry. So when I hear a line about a lost,
sly animal, I am struck mute. Think he means me.
Copyright © Threa Almontaser 2020. Originally published in Diode. Reprinted with the permission of the poet.
A second ago my heart thump went and I thought, "This would be a bad time to have a heart attack and die, in the middle of a poem," then took comfort in the idea that no one I have ever heard of has ever died in the middle of writing a poem, just as birds never die in mid-flight. I think.
From You Never Know by Ron Padgett. Copyright © 2001 by Ron Padgett. Published by Coffee House Press. Used by permission of the publisher.
I opened up my shirt to show this man
the flaming heart he lit in me, and I was scooped up
like a lamb and carried to the dim warm.
I who should have been kneeling
was knelt to by one whose face
should be emblazoned on every coin and diadem:
no bare-chested boy, but Ulysses
with arms thick from the hard-hauled ropes.
He'd sailed past the clay gods
and the singing girls who might have made of him
a swine. That the world could arrive at me
with him in it, after so much longing—
impossible. He enters me and joy
sprouts from us as from a split seed.
Copyright © 2006 Mary Karr.
how much history is enough history before we can agree
to flee our daycares to wash everything away and start over
leaving laptops to be lost in the wet along with housecats and Christ’s
own mother even a lobster climbs away from its shell a few
times a life but every time I open my eyes I find
I am still inside myself each epiphany dull and familiar
oh now I am barefoot oh now I am lighting the wrong end
of a cigarette I just want to be shaken new like a flag whipping
away its dust want to pull out each of my teeth
and replace them with jewels I’m told what seems like joy
is often joy that the soul lives in the throat plinking
like a copper bell I’ve been so young for so many years
it’s all starting to jumble together joy jeweling copper
its plink a throat sometimes I feel beautiful and near dying
like a feather on an arrow shot through a neck other times
I feel tasked only with my own soreness like a scab on the roof
of a mouth my father believed in gardens delighting
at burying each thing in its potential for growth some years
the soil was so hard the water seeped down slower than the green
seeped up still he’d say if you’re not happy in your own yard
you won’t be happy anywhere I’ve never had a yard but I’ve had apartments
where water pipes burst above my head where I’ve scrubbed
a lover’s blood from the kitchen tile such cleaning
takes so much time you expect there to be confetti at the end
what we’ll need in the next life toothpaste party hats
and animal bones every day people charge out of this world
squealing good-bye human behavior! so long acres
of germless chrome! it seems gaudy for them to be so cavalier
with their bliss while I’m still here lurching into my labor
hanging by my hair from the roof of a chapel churchlight thickening
around me or wandering into the woods to pull apart eggshells emptying
them in the dirt then sewing them back together to dry in the sun
Copyright © 2017 by Kaveh Akbar. From Calling a Wolf a Wolf (Alice James Books, 2017). Used with permission of the author.
my father is tying concertina wire
around his garden which is
now all but ruined by
squirrels deer and worst
of all rabbits with cucumber
seeds stuck to their
tails I am an apex predator my father is
an apex predator god makes
us in pairs my mother searches the lawn
for four-leaf clovers pinning them
to a scrapbook pinning
moments to time she gives each clover
a name Buck Comes Onto Porch and
Hospital Note From Kaveh while
she makes tea inside I search
the house for a lighter and can’t
even find matches what I miss most
about winter is the brightness of
winter summer’s all foggy and
wet my mother hovers in
the kitchen like a strange tune she is out
of saffron and has no money
for more she weeps over her
bleach-white rice until my
father comes in cracks an egg
over the plate bursts
the yolk says see says yellow my mother
smiles so big and sad she wrinkles into
the future where my eyes
are yellow again maybe from the yolk
maybe something else my fur is coming in
so thick my mother would squeal
with pride if she could see it when she
was pregnant I kicked so hard so
often she could barely
sleep staying up all
night she thought she must
be full of bunnies
Copyright © 2019 by Kaveh Akbar. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 2, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
As I’m walking on West Cliff Drive, a man runs
toward me pushing one of those jogging strollers
with shock absorbers so the baby can keep sleeping,
which this baby is. I can just get a glimpse
of its almost translucent eyelids. The father is young,
a jungle of indigo and carnelian tattooed
from knuckle to jaw, leafy vines and blossoms,
saints and symbols. Thick wooden plugs pierce
his lobes and his sunglasses testify
to the radiance haloed around him. I’m so jealous.
As I often am. It’s a kind of obsession.
I want him to have been my child’s father.
I want to have married a man who wanted
to be in a body, who wanted to live in it so much
that he marked it up like a book, underlining,
highlighting, writing in the margins, I was here.
Not like my dead ex-husband, who was always
fighting against the flesh, who sat for hours
on his zafu chanting om and then went out
and broke his hand punching the car.
I imagine when this galloping man gets home
he’s going to want to have sex with his wife,
who slept in late, and then he’ll eat
barbecued ribs and let the baby teethe on a bone
while he drinks a cold dark beer. I can’t stop
wishing my daughter had had a father like that.
I can’t stop wishing I’d had that life. Oh, I know
it’s a miracle to have a life. Any life at all.
It took eight years for my parents to conceive me.
First there was the war and then just waiting.
And my mother’s bones so narrow, she had to be slit
and I airlifted. That anyone is born,
each precarious success from sperm and egg
to zygote, embryo, infant, is a wonder.
And here I am, alive.
Almost seventy years and nothing has killed me.
Not the car I totalled running a stop sign
or the spirochete that screwed into my blood.
Not the tree that fell in the forest exactly
where I was standing—my best friend shoving me
backward so I fell on my ass as it crashed.
And I gave birth to a child.
So she didn’t get a father who’d sling her
onto his shoulder. And so much else she didn’t get.
I’ve cried most of my life over that.
And now there’s everything that we can’t talk about.
We love—but cannot take
too much of each other.
Yet she is the one who, when I asked her to kill me
if I no longer had my mind—
we were on our way into Ross,
shopping for dresses. That’s something
she likes and they all look adorable on her—
she’s the only one
who didn’t hesitate or refuse
or waver or flinch.
As we strode across the parking lot
she said, O.K., but when’s the cutoff?
That’s what I need to know.
Originally published in The New Yorker. Copyright © 2017 by Ellen Bass. Used with the permission of the poet.