​​I Go Back to Myself, April 2014

And every time, I say this is the last time, now

that we know what travel can grift from the body.

She is naked as I am now, but drunk. In bed.

The place dark, the bamboo blinds like split brooms.

A few weeks before, he’d slipped in using his key,

skittered the dog waiting at the top of the stairs,

watered the mums he’d left on the counter,

put away the wine. He doesn’t mention

coming to the room and she can’t remember.

But this night, every courtesy is whittled

to her littlest part, its radical pink, for once,

indistinguishable from everything: darkness;

his shirt; singed mothwings splayed

on the lampshade like pencil shavings;

wet receipts stuck to the bottom of the vase.

Persephone emerged each spring with the inventory

of her kingdom still clinging to her ankles,

and there were whispers that she grew to love

what we never wanted: swollen Easter fruit, 

its uninvited flesh blue as the vein

bisecting the corridor of my inner thigh.

Each time I go back, I want to sit

with the body. I want to say, “One day you’ll fold

into nights devoid of liquor and lose the taste.

Your joints will ache; your body will try to leave

in ways only your ancestors understand.”

I never think to tell him, “Stop”; tell her “Wake up.”

She’s still afraid of other women, endings, and the dead.

And so I leave, but with the door ajar

as if to say, “Beloved, what has happened

to me shouldn’t happen to you. But until

it does, there is nothing I can tell you.”


Copyright © 2022 by Destiny O. Birdsong. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 5, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

Every so often, a poem I’ve read years before drifts to the surface of my brain, and I’m obsessed with it all over again. This happened last fall with ‘I Go Back to May 1937’ by Sharon Olds. For several months, I’d also been drafting this poem—picking at it, then putting it away—but the next time I returned to it, I did so with Olds’s narrative structure in my head. I asked myself: What happened? What could have been different? And why would you refuse to change the past? And, suddenly, all my jumbled thoughts shifted into place.”
Destiny O. Birdsong