Pause here at the flower stand—mums
and gladiolas, purple carnations

dark as my heart. We are engaged
in a war, and I want to drag home

any distraction I can carry. Tonight
children will wake to bouquets of fire

that will take their breath away. Still,
I think of my life. The way you hold me,

sometimes, you could choke me.
There is no way to protect myself,

except by some brilliant defense. I want
the black iris with their sabered blooms.

I want the flame throwers: the peonies,
the sunflowers. I will cut down the beautiful ones

and let their nectared sweetness bleed
into the careless air. This is not the world

I'd hoped it could be. It is horrible,
the way we carry on. Last night, you catalogued

our arsenal. You taught me devastation
is a goal we announce in a celebration

of shrapnel. Our bombs shower
in anticipation of their marks. You said this

is to assure damage will be widely distributed.
What gruesome genius invents our brutal hearts?

When you touch me I am a stalk of green panic
and desire. Wait here while I decide which

of these sprigs of blossoming heartbreak I can afford
to bring into my home. Tonight dreams will erupt

in chaotic buds of flame. This is the world we have
arranged. It is horrible, this way we carry on.

Copyright © 2014 by Camille Dungy. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.

if the body is just a parable
about the body if breath
is a leash to hold the mind
then staying alive should be
easier than it is most sick
things become dead things
at twenty-four my liver was
already covered in fatty
rot my mother filled a tiny
coffin with picture frames
I spent the year drinking
from test tubes weeping
wherever I went somehow
it happened wellness crept
into me like a roach nibbling
through an eardrum for
a time the half minutes
of fire in my brainstem
made me want to pull out
my spine but even those
have become bearable so
how shall I live now
in the unexpected present
I spent so long in a lover’s
quarrel with my flesh
the peace seems over-
cautious too-polite I say
stop being cold or make
that blue bluer and it does
we speak to each other
in this code where every word
means obey I sit under
a poplar tree with a thermos
of chamomile feeling
useless as an oath against
dying I put a sugar cube
on my tongue and
swallow it like a pill

Copyright © 2017 by Kaveh Akbar. From Calling a Wolf a Wolf (Alice James Books, 2017). Used with permission of the author. 

I don't mean to make you cry.
I mean nothing, but this has not kept you
From peeling away my body, layer by layer,

The tears clouding your eyes as the table fills
With husks, cut flesh, all the debris of pursuit.
Poor deluded human: you seek my heart.

Hunt all you want. Beneath each skin of mine
Lies another skin: I am pure onion--pure union
Of outside and in, surface and secret core.

Look at you, chopping and weeping. Idiot.
Is this the way you go through life, your mind
A stopless knife, driven by your fantasy of truth,

Of lasting union--slashing away skin after skin
From things, ruin and tears your only signs
Of progress? Enough is enough.

You must not grieve that the world is glimpsed
Through veils. How else can it be seen?
How will you rip away the veil of the eye, the veil

That you are, you who want to grasp the heart
Of things, hungry to know where meaning
Lies. Taste what you hold in your hands: onion-juice,

Yellow peels, my stinging shreds. You are the one
In pieces. Whatever you meant to love, in meaning to
You changed yourself: you are not who you are,

Your soul cut moment to moment by a blade
Of fresh desire, the ground sown with abandoned skins.
And at your inmost circle, what? A core that is

Not one. Poor fool, you are divided at the heart,
Lost in its maze of chambers, blood, and love,
A heart that will one day beat you to death.

From Notes from the Divided Country by Suji Kwock Kim. Copyright © 2003 by Suji Kwock Kim. Reproduced with permission of Louisiana State University Press. All rights reserved.