Published on Academy of American Poets (

Why Seek the Dead among the Living?

As hollow as a gutted fish, a hole in the sand,
a cistern cracked along the seam—

There is no filling such emptiness. And yet—

Stitch it shut. Pour and pour, if you wish. Wish and wish, but it’s wasted—
Water carried to the garden in your cupped palms.

Might as well seal an ember in a wax jar. Kindle fire on the crest of a wave.

Unbloom a poppy, reshut its mouth, unred its lips—
As if it hadn’t already sung,

As if its voice hadn’t already set all summer singing.

And the gall at its throat, the boil it’s prized for,
Hadn’t been cut and bled of its white sleep.

As if a child could be folded, resewn in its sac, and returned to its womb.


Copyright © 2018 Jennifer Atkinson. This poem originally appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Summer 2018. Used with permission of the author.


Jennifer Atkinson

Jennifer Atkinson is the author of five poetry collections: The Thinking Eye (Parlor Press, 2015); Canticle of the Night Path (Parlor Press, 2012), winner of the New Measure Poetry Prize; Drift Ice (Etruscan Press, 2008); The Drowned City (Northeastern University Press, 2000), selected by Carl Phillips as the winner of the 1999 Samuel French Morse Poetry Prize; and Dogwood Tree (University of Alabama Press, 1990). She teaches in the MFA and BFA programs at George Mason University.

Date Published: 2018-11-12

Source URL: