Published on Academy of American Poets (


after Adrianne Lenker

I was supposed to be writing you back

I was supposed to be describing my desires

The moment I plugged my ears, not the clouds on the ceiling

How the heat doesn’t burst

Where you sheered the gap with your thighs, a black skirt

A glossy rainbow beetle eating a lanternfly

A wasp displaced from the splintered wood door

How rain flattened the sky

Blank lightning scorching the undone bed

My chest flat with bones which don’t die

Bones, which persist like hair, inanimate, as stones persist

Mostly green indifferent appetites

When the animal god dies it’s spoiled with worms

When anger reaches its iron tongue inside it burns

I used to get off on a small, concentrated sensation

It took years to undo the glue of experience

It’s a big gap for mood

It’s a dark stripe in the darkness

It’s how I remember nothing in particular

Tracks of metal gridding the street

How a body could produce an iron nail if iron in blood assembled

I didn’t think I came but I must have

How angry it made me, the indignity of not touching

The gauzy light on a woman’s face, her idle desires

Compared to the way we fit two hands inside, hungry

How indifferent to particular folds of skin

There was a bottomlessness to the negations

Whatever it was burning gold inside a ring of nots

I, untied, dispensing promise

A commitment of green circling green only

Not what you might think, a hawk in the dead tree

A velvet rope cordoning

Nothing eventful happened so I forgot it

That’s how life moving through space works

Comparing the size of palms, smoothness of thighs

Caught in a loop I knew from history

Not capital, not significant, of a personal nature

A solemn quality of knowledge, what others might call god

Hair collected in an archive versus

Hair drawn in a long strand from one’s crevices

My horoscope says to do the smallest thing possible

The trees say indifferent rattle in the wind

This was life, normal, tidal, I considered it

The dead papering the street with their notices


Copyright © 2022 by Stephanie Cawley. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 9, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“A beloved had sent me a beautiful nude. It was thick summer, in another year of isolation. I was sick of depictions of queer yearning instead of queer touch. I couldn’t stop listening to a song called ‘Not.’ I couldn’t get enough.”
Stephanie Cawley


Stephanie Cawley

Stephanie Cawley is the author of My Heart But Not My Heart (Slope Editions, 2020), winner of the 2019 Slope Book Prize. An adjunct professor and union representative, Cawley lives in Philadelphia.

Date Published: 2022-08-09

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