Instructions for Stopping

Say Stop.

Keep your lips pressed together
after you say the p:

(soon they’ll try
and pry

your breath out—)

Whisper it
three times in a row:

Stop Stop Stop

In a hospital bed
like a curled up fish, someone’s

gulping at air—

How should you apply
your breath?

List all of the people
you would like
to stop.

Who offers love,
who terror—

Write Stop.
Put a period at the end.

Decide if it’s a kiss
or a bullet.


Copyright © 2017 by Dana Levin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 6, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“‘Instructions for Stopping’ is part of a timely anthology coming out from Beacon Press in late 2017 titled Bullets into Bells: Poets and Citizens Respond to Gun Violence in the U.S. Each poem appears with a response by a gun violence survivor or someone involved in gun violence prevention. To write this poem, I sat in a room, saying ‘stop’ over and over in order to hear how it sounded, to feel how it felt in my mouth. Then I wrote it down. Then I added a period, which posed the deciding question.”
—Dana Levin