It astounds me the ways
I scale the sky. Every day I have to
relearn my body.
Who will tell us to the world?
Our children whose heads we breathe into
like seashells casting those spells
our mothers once wooed us with?
A playground where we became the mist
hanging over everything?
We knew it was our insides
tugged inside out at last.
Once when I was a boy on the dodge
hopping fences, I let my leg hang over the lip
to that other world. I stopped
on top of that wobbly fence,
and hit the pause button on the world.
I held it all: the shadows from the plum tree
whose fruit we used to peg cars with;
the dust from my father’s broom;
even the boys chasing after me.
I knew the time was passing
and took even the shadows of the branches
into those pockets God had sewn
into my body for the traveling.
I kissed the moment flush
on the mouth then let it go,
surrendered again to the earth
with silencers on my tennis shoes.
Maybe time itself came brushing
the trail behind me until it vanished
clean off the grass, and I took up residence
with all the other balloons
floating along the landscape.
Nicole Sealey’s beautifully unflinching exploration of life, death, and the marrow between keeps moving to the top of my stack this April. You can find this poem in her chapbook, The Animal After Whom Other Animals Are Named—her collection Ordinary Beast will be out this fall.
We wake as if surprised the other is still there,
each petting the sheet to be sure.
How have we managed our way
to this bed—beholden to heat like dawn
indebted to light. Though we’re not so self-
important as to think everything
has led to this, everything has led to this.
There’s a name for the animal
love makes of us—named, I think,
like rain, for the sound it makes.
You are the animal after whom other animals
are named. Until there’s none left to laugh,
days will start with the same startle
and end with caterpillars gorged on milkweed.
O, how we entertain the angels
with our brief animation. O,
how I’ll miss you when we’re dead.
This gorgeous poem from the incredible writer, editor, translator, and former tenant lawyer Martín Espada (1957-) moved me in ways I cannot even begin to articulate this morning.
for my father
I am the archaeologist. I sift the shards of you: cufflinks, passport photos,
a button from the March on Washington with a black hand shaking
a white hand, letters in Spanish, your birth certificate from a town high
in the mountains. I cup your silence, and the silence melts like ice in a cup.
I search for you in two yellow Kodak boxes marked Puerto Rico,
Noche Buena, Diciembre 1968. In the 8-millimeter silence the Espadas
gather, elders born before the Spanish American War, my grandfather
on crutches after fracturing his fossil hip, his blind brother on a cane.
You greet the elders and they call you Tato, the name they call you there.
Uncles and cousins sing in a chorus of tongues without sound, vibration
of guitar strings stilled by an unseen hand, maracas shaking empty
of seeds. The camera wobbles from the singers to the television
and the astronauts sending pictures of the moon back to earth.
Down by the river, women still pound laundry on the rocks.
I am eleven again, a boy from the faraway city of ice that felled
my grandfather, startled after the blind man with the cane stroked
my face with his hand dry as straw, crying out Bendito. At the table,
I hear only the silence that rises like the river in my big ears.
You sit next to me, clowning for the camera, tugging the lapels
on your jacket, slicking back your black hair, brown skin darker
from days in the sun. You slide your arm around my shoulder,
your good right arm, your pitching arm, and my moon face radiates,
and the mountain song of my uncles and cousins plays in my head.
Watching you now, my face stings as it stung when my blind great-uncle
brushed my cheekbones, searching for his own face. When you died,
Tato, I took a razor to the movie looping in my head, cutting the scenes
where you curled an arm around my shoulder, all the times you would
squeeze the silence out of me so I could hear the cries and songs again.
When you died, I heard only the silences between us, the shouts belling
the air before the phone went dead, all the words melting like ice in a cup.
That way I could set my jaw and take my mother’s hand at the mortuary,
greet the elders in my suit and tie at the memorial, say all the right words.
Yet my face stings at last. I rewind and watch your arm drape across
my shoulder, over and over. A year ago, you pressed a Kodak slide
of my grandfather into my hand and said: Next time, stay longer.
Now, in the silence that is never silent, I push the chair away
from the table and say to you: Sit down. Tell me everything. Haunt me.
Grief is made luminous in this intensely beautiful Larry Levis (1946-1996) poem I have been reading and re-reading for the past year.
“In the City of Light”
The last thing my father did for me
Was map a way: he died, & so
Made death possible. If he could do it, I
Will also, someday, be so honored. Once,
At night, I walked through the lit streets
Of New York, from the Gramercy Park Hotel
Up Lexington & at that hour, alone,
I stopped hearing traffic, voices, the racket
Of spring wind lifting a newspaper high
Above the lights. The streets wet,
And shining. No sounds. Once,
When I saw my son be born, I thought
How loud this world must be to him, how final.
That night, out of respect for someone missing,
I stopped listening to it.
Out of respect for someone missing,
I have to say
This isn’t the whole story.
The fact is, I was still in love.
My father died, & I was still in love. I know
It’s in bad taste to say it quite this way. Tell me,
How would you say it?
The story goes: wanting to be alone & wanting
The easy loneliness of travelers,
I said good-bye in an airport & flew west.
It happened otherwise.
And where I’d held her close to me,
My skin felt raw, & flayed.
Descending, I looked down at light lacquering fields
Of pale vines, & small towns, each
With a water tower; then the shadows of wings;
My only advice is not to go away.
Or, go away. Most
Of my decisions have been wrong.
When I wake, I lift cold water
To my face. I close my eyes.
A body wishes to be held, & held, & what
Can you do about that?
Because there are faces I might never see again,
There are two things I want to remember
About light, & what it does to us.
Her bright, green eyes at an airport—how they widened
As if in disbelief;
And my father opening the gate: a lit, & silent
“Poem for my Father’s Ghost”
Now is my father
A traveler, like all the bold men
He talked of, endlessly
And with boundless admiration,
Over the supper table,
Or gazing up from his white pillow —
Book on his lap always, until
Even that grew too heavy to hold.
Now is my father free of all binding fevers
Now is my father
Travelling where there is no road
Finally, he could not lift a hand
To cover his eyes.
Now he climbs to the eye of the river,
He strides through the Dakotas,
He disappears into the mountains, And though he looks
Cold and hungry as any man
At the end of a questing season,
He is one of them now:
He cannot be stopped.
Now is my father
Walking the wind,
Sniffing the deep Pacific
That begins at the end of the world.
Vanished from us utterly,
Now is my father circling the deepest forest —
Then turning in to the last red campfire burning
In the final hills,
Where chieftains, warriors and heroes
Rise and make him welcome,
Recognizing, under the shambles of his body,
A brother who has walked his thousand miles.