you wanted the end
with a serpentine
greed. How to negotiate
mist, the fibrous
To cease to exist
and to die
are two different things entirely.
But you knew this,
Some days you knelt on coins
in those yellow hours.
You lit a flame
to your shadow
scorpions with your naked fingers.
So touched by the sadness of hair
in a dirty sink.
The malevolent smell
When instead of swallowing a fistful
of white pills,
you decided to shower,
the palm trees
nodded in agreement,
of crickets singing
behind your swollen eyes.
The masked bird
turned to you
with a shred of paper hanging
from its beak.
hair wet and fragrant,
you cupped a goat's face
his trembling horns.
It fell prostrate,
passed through you
like a swift
and generous storm.
"Six Months After Contemplating Suicide" first appeared in the December 2015 issue of Poetry. Copyright © 2015 Erika L. Sánchez.
“One must always present something
Among the dying” —W.S. Merwin
When writing poems about extinction
it’s important that you make the poems
deep but uplifting.
Nobody wants to read a bummer poem
about endangered orcas and their dead babies.
Keep it light. Keep it motivational. Encouraging.
It’s important to accommodate your gentle reader.
Don’t say anything about how if you won’t swim in it,
why should they live in it.
Don’t say that. Honesty is offensive
in this day and age. It’s always been offensive.
How else do you suppose we got here?
Maybe, instead of saying something like,
“The orca and salmon are going extinct
because of ordinary greed and apathy,”
say something like, “The noble creature
with his power and grace shall journey away
forever through the portals of time.”
Good taste omits mention of
(baby orcas, abducted to be theme-park clowns—
decades in chlorinated cages, taking their eyes—
how during the capture, so many died.)
Don’t forget to forget what you know
about human cruelty—
how the baby orcas that didn’t survive
had their bellies slit and filled with stones,
then were sewn closed
and dumped into the sea,
to sink into a silence so dark and so deep
public outrage couldn’t reach—
a depth unfathomable as a mother’s grief
too heavy to carry for one day, much less 17*.
Among the dying, shall we pretend
that in the end, we too shall not be listed
among the dead? Yes. Let's pretend,
when writing poems about extinction.
* This detail is referring to the seventeen days that an endangered Southern Resident orca carried the body of her dead calf on her rostrum for more than 1,000 miles in what the media called a “tour of grief.”
Copyright © 2019 by Rena Marie Priest. From For Love of Orcas: An Anthology (Wandering Aengus Press, 2019). Used with the permission of the poet.
My friend and I snickered the first time
we heard the meditation teacher, a grown man,
call himself honey, with a hand placed
over his heart to illustrate how we too
might become more gentle with ourselves
and our runaway minds. It’s been years
since we sat with legs twisted on cushions,
holding back our laughter, but today
I found myself crouched on the floor again,
not meditating exactly, just agreeing
to be still, saying honey to myself each time
I thought about my husband splayed
on the couch with aching joints and fever
from a tick bite—what if he never gets better?—
or considered the threat of more wildfires,
the possible collapse of the Gulf Stream,
then remembered that in a few more minutes,
I’d have to climb down to the cellar and empty
the bucket I placed beneath a leaky pipe
that can’t be fixed until next week. How long
do any of us really have before the body
begins to break down and empty its mysteries
into the air? Oh honey, I said—for once
without a trace of irony or blush of shame—
the touch of my own hand on my chest
like that of a stranger, oddly comforting
in spite of the facts.
Copyright © 2021 by James Crews. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 17, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.