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.
“The Noisiness of Sleep”
Careful of what I carry
in my head and in my hollow,
I’ve been a long time worried
about grasping infinity
and coaxing some calm
out of the softest part
of the pins and needles
of me. I’d like to take a nap.
But not a nap that’s eternal,
a nap where you wake up
having dreamt of falling, but
you’ve only fallen into
an ease so unknown to you
it looks like a new country.
Let me slip into a life less messy.
Let me slip into your sleeve.
Be very brave about my
trespass, the plan is simple—
the plan is the clock tower
and the lost crow. It’ll be rich.
We’ll live forever. Every moon
will be a moon of surrender
and lemon seeds. You there,
standing up in the crowd,
I’m not proud. The stove
can’t boast of the meal.
All this to say—consider this,
with your combination of firefly
and train whistle, consider this,
with your maze and steel,
I want to be the rough clothes
you can’t sleep in.
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.
In the spirit of celebrating tenderness, here is the last poem from Jason Shinder’s (1955-2008) Stupid Hope, which was assembled and published after he died from leukemia and lymphoma. I loved this raw collection when I first encountered it years ago and am grateful it recently found its way back to my bedside.
If there is no cure, I still want to correct a few things
and think mostly of people, and have them all alive.
I want a door opening in me that I can enter
and feel the clarity of evening and the stars beginning.
One after another, I want my mistakes returning
and to approach them on a beach like a man
for whom there is no division between one way or another.
My most faithful body, you are not in the best of shape,
far from the glitter of the river in which you once swam.
But I want good tears when I stand on the street
and, from the sky, drifts down the finest mist on my face.
Not everything is given and it should not permit sadness.
Let me keep on describing things to be sure they happened.
Let’s begin to wind down National Poetry Month with the beloved Mary Oliver (1935-) and her lyrical wisdom.
“A Pretty Song”
I think there is no end or return.
No answer, no coming out of it.
Which is the only way to love, isn’t it?
This isn’t a playground, this is
earth, our heaven, for a while.
Therefore I have given precedence
to all my sudden, sullen, dark moods
that hold you in the center of my world.
And I say to my body: grow thinner still.
And I say to my fingers, type me a pretty song,
And I say to my heart: rave on.
Devastating want is lit aflame in the lyrical verse of Roger Reeves (1980-).
“Romanticism (the Blue Keats)”
I want a terrace of bamboo. A stuttering harp.
A garden fitted with a grotto and gimp hermit.
I want to lose my last name in the crickets
Coupling beneath my feet. I want the body’s burden,
Four more angels to drag through the streets
Of a city that finds the monkey sacred, the fool careful,
The monk dumb. I want a painting of persimmons
And a persimmon. I want the violence of my love
To leave my sleep and my lover alone. I am dedicated
To the same baffled heart I have always carried.
The diamonds and mud of my mouth. The midsummer
Lurching toward the late-summer heat that will kill
The sage and tomato plants tanning on the veranda.
I want the water and the leg my uncle lost coming from the well.
If one body will hide another and call this hiding love,
I want to always torture myself with another’s wet borders.
An ankle clicking against an ankle. The wrists fettered.
There was something I knew before this. Before my hands
Tore at the ropes, snapped cedar poles and ripped the silk
Of any tent I lay in. I want to know how the savage
Wind loves the house it destroys. I want to know before
I am both house and savage wind, before all of the tents
In the city become tattered rags snagged in the hair
Of our children and the redheaded trees. I am careful
To want nothing that I cannot lose and be sad in the losing.
A terrace made of rotting bamboo. A harp lost in its singing.
My last name and the tomatoes falling from the vine. Woman,
I want this plum heart. And the dying that makes us possible.
from King Me
“After Minor Surgery”
this is the dress rehearsal
when the body
like a constant lover
flirts for the first time
when the body
like a passenger on a long journey
hears the conductor call out
of the first stop
when the body
in all its fear and cunning
makes promises to me
it cannot keep
—Linda Pastan (1932-)