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Dear readers,

Thank you kindly for joining me on this month’s journey in verse. It’s always a delight to share the words that have moved me over the past year–and to seek out new poets to introduce to you all. I hope you’ve encountered something along the way that resonated with you, and I very much hope you will keep reading poetry throughout the year.

April’s final poem comes from the incredible Nazim Hikmet (1902-1963), who is considered the first modern Turkish poet. As I mentioned in this month’s introductory post, it is through reading poetry that I often rediscover what is worth celebrating and fighting for in this life, even on the darkest days. These stirring words from Hikmet speak not only to what is at stake in each of the poems I posted this month, but to what is at stake in every day of our lives. Here’s to learning to love this world, seriously and deeply and with every fiber of our beings.

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“On Living”

I

Living is no laughing matter:
    you must live with great seriousness
        like a squirrel, for example—
  I mean without looking for something beyond and above living,
        I mean living must be your whole occupation.
Living is no laughing matter:
    you must take it seriously,
    so much so and to such a degree
  that, for example, your hands tied behind your back,
                                your back to the wall,
or else in a laboratory
    in your white coat and safety glasses,
    you can die for people—
even for people whose faces you’ve never seen,
even though you know living
    is the most real, the most beautiful thing.
I mean, you must take living so seriously
  that even at seventy, for example, you’ll plant olive trees—
  and not for your children, either,
  but because although you fear death you don’t believe it,
  because living, I mean, weighs heavier.

II

Let’s say we’re seriously ill, need surgery—
which is to say we might not get up
                      from the white table.
Even though it’s impossible not to feel sad
                      about going a little too soon,
we’ll still laugh at the jokes being told,
we’ll look out the window to see if it’s raining,
or still wait anxiously
                      for the latest newscast. . .
Let’s say we’re at the front—
                  for something worth fighting for, say.
There, in the first offensive, on that very day,
                  we might fall on our face, dead.
We’ll know this with a curious anger,
            but we’ll still worry ourselves to death
            about the outcome of the war, which could last years.
Let’s say we’re in prison
and close to fifty,
and we have eighteen more years, say,
                      before the iron doors will open.
We’ll still live with the outside,
with its people and animals, struggle and wind—
                          I mean with the outside beyond the walls.
I mean, however and wherever we are,
            we must live as if we will never die.

III

This earth will grow cold,
a star among stars
              and one of the smallest,
a gilded mote on blue velvet—
              I mean this, our great earth.
This earth will grow cold one day,
not like a block of ice
or a dead cloud even
but like an empty walnut it will roll along
              in pitch-black space . . .
You must grieve for this right now
—you have to feel this sorrow now—
for the world must be loved this much
                              if you’re going to say “I lived”. .

translated by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk

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I can’t remember the path that led to me checking out Fast Animal by Tim Seibles (1955-) from the library a few weeks ago, but I’m so glad to now know his work, and this poem.

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“Blade, Unplugged”

It’s true: I almost never
smile, but that doesn’t mean

I’m not    in love: my heart
is that black violin
played slowly. You know that

moment late in the solo
when the voice
is so pure      you feel
the blood in it: the wound

between rage
and complete surrender. That’s
where I’m smiling. You just
can’t see it – the sound

bleeding perfectly
inside me. The first time
I killed a vampire     I was

sad: I mean
we were almost family.

But that’s
so many lives ago. I believe

in the cry that cuts
into the melody, the strings
calling back the forgotten world.

When I think of the madness
that has made me       and the midnight
I walk inside–all day long

When I think of that
one note that breaks
what’s left of what’s
human in me, man

I love       everything.

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Today I carry with me, in my pocket and in my heart, these necessary words by the great Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai (1924-2000).

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“The Place Where We Are Right”

From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.

The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.

But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.

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To all my lovely readers, friends, and random stumblers-upon,

Have you mostly been sitting behind a screen this month, scrolling through poems in isolation and then moving on with your day? Do your friends not know you actually like poetry? Has one line of verse been haunting, confusing, or delighting you for weeks?

How about you invite others to share in that experience with you for a day? Please join me tomorrow, Thursday April 27, in celebrating one of my favorite not-actual-but-should-be-official holidays, Poem in Your Pocket Day.

The “rules” of celebrating this day are pretty simple. Put a poem in your pocket. You got that part already. Now you can’t just let it fester there all day. Read it to a friend over lunch, startle your coworkers at a meeting, recite one to your partner before bed. Or if you’d rather share quietly, slip some verse into the pocket of a loved one, leave one at a cafe table, or print out dozens of poems, as I did many years ago, and plaster them all over your dorm walls. Just get the beautiful words out there, somehow and somewhere.

And, if you are so inclined, please comment with the poems you decide to share. My pockets are ready to be filled.*

(* This is the same text I’ve used the past few years. Apologies for taking this blogging shortcut, but I figured there was no point reinventing the wheel on this!)

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To put it simply: I love this love poem by T.C. Tolbert from his/her collection, Gephryomania.

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“What Space Faith Can Occupy”

I believe that witness is a magnitude of vulnerability.
That when I say love what I mean is not a feeling
nor a promise of a feeling. I believe in attention.
My love for you is a monolith of try.

The woman I love pays an inordinate amount
of attention to large and small objects. She is not
described by anything. Because I could not mean anything else,
she knows exactly what I mean.

Once upon a time a line saw itself
clear to its end. I have seen the shape
of happiness. (y=mx+b)
I am holding it. It is your hand.

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There’s so much going on in this breathless, breathtaking prose poem from Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib‘s collection The Crown Ain’t Worth MuchGive yourself time to read it slowly, and then once more.

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“DUDES, WE DID NOT GO THROUGH
THE HASSLE OF GETTING THESE
FAKE IDS FOR THIS JUKEBOX TO
NOT HAVE ANY SPRINGSTEEN”

& and it is the end of another summer where I have slept on my couch
for days only allowing another body to interrupt long enough for
our limbs to tangle like weeds up the side of a brick house,
reaching for something impossible. I promise there have always
been dishes spilling out of the sink, love. It’s how I discovered this
kind of hunger. Last week, Rick lit a cigarette & yelled across the
bar that the only difference between smoking & kissing someone
who smokes is the way mouths collide before death sits in your
lungs like an abandoned city & everyone laughed while I tried to
wipe another’s lip gloss from my cheek. Most people I know
cannot sleep until they crawl though someone else’s hollow.
There are nights when I wish we were all still children, but then
again, I suppose we may be or at least there is no other way to
explain how we make every doorway our own. The way we stain
ourselves & anything else that moves. The way we scream into
the dark like a siren & the weeping, yet another thing we never
mention in the morning. I think I am starting to vanish slowly
from head to toe. There are ten different ways to say sunset. The
bartender says my face is wearing all of them.

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My copy of Louder than Heartsthe new and potent collection from Lebanese poet Zeina Hashem Beck, arrived in the mail just last week–and it’s been traveling close by me from room to room ever since.

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“I Dreamt We Threw Bread Crumbs”

I dreamt we threw bread crumbs
in the sea, waited to catch
a glimpse of our hunger, our hope,
rising out of this dark.

You fished out a tin can;
before we ate it
you told me to listen to the prayer
inside it—our prayer.

You mapped my body in chalk
on the sidewalk. My longing
was ruby-colored. I wore it
around my neck, and everything
was drunkenness and dance, every day
a kind of drowning—

the shawarma on the skewers,
the plastic roses in the children’s hands,
the antennas scribbled across the sky.
Only the clotheslines knew
of our leaving and returning,
and they wept.

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