Published on Academy of American Poets (

shakuhachi repertoire, handwritten from liner notes

you’re embarrassed by your own om
you say—planning your funeral
considering deep drones
only a limited number of patterns
exist for such a song
played in one breath
a prayer for a pregnant woman’s easy delivery
a tender preamble for a new instrument
a piece played for expressing gratitude
a state of mind resembling moonlight
a lighter one for festive occasions
a piece for overcoming difficulties that could have been handled better
a piece representing manifestations of self-discipline
an offering at a service for the dead
a piece expressing longing for home
if there are indeed
“still songs to sing beyond mankind”
we’ll need those


Copyright © 2018 by Jen Bervin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 26, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“A friend with metastatic cancer and I visited The World Is Sound at the Rubin Museum in New York City, where this poem opens mid-conversation. The second stanza continues on, as thoughts and emotions do, back at home, in the act of listening to a record, as I am transcribing the liner notes. The quote is from the poet Paul Celan. In the context of this poem, his line speaks to both the urgency of living in the presence of death and dying, and to the dire political moment we are in.”
—Jen Bervin


Jen Bervin

Date Published: 2018-02-26

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