The dead are for morticians & butchers to touch. Only a gloved hand. Even my son will leave a grounded wren or bat alone like a hot stove. When he spots a monarch in the driveway he stares. It’s dead, I say, you can touch it. The opposite rule: butterflies are too fragile to hold alive, just the brush of skin could rip a wing. He skims the orange & black whorls with only two fingers, the way he learned to feel the backs of starfish & horseshoe crabs at the zoo, the way he thinks we touch all strangers. I was sad to be born, he tells me, because it means I will die. I once loved someone I never touched. We played records & drank coffee from chipped bowls, but didn’t speak of the days pierced by radiation. A friend said: Let her pretend. She needs one person who doesn’t know. If I held her, I would have left bruises, if I undressed her, I would have seen scars, so we never touched & she never had to say she was dying. We should hold each other more while we are still alive, even if it hurts. People really die of loneliness, skin hunger the doctors call it. In a study on love, baby monkeys were given a choice between a wire mother with milk & a wool mother with none. Like them, I would choose to starve & hold the soft body.
Copyright © 2019 by Robin Beth Schaer. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 9, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.
“Remember.” Copyright © 1983 by Joy Harjo from She Had Some Horses by Joy Harjo. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.