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.
I hope that after reading this poem you will understand why I’ve recently been captivated by the work of Sudanese poet Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi (1969-), who was forced into exile in 2012 and now lives in London. He is often described as one of today’s leading African poets writing in Arabic; if you’d like to read more of these beautiful translations, check out the collection where this poem lives, A Monkey at the Window.
The body of a bird in your mouth
Raw light spills from your eyes,
You must breach the horizon, once,
in order to wake up.
You must open window after window.
You must support the walls.
I let alphabets cling to me
as I climb the thread of language
between myself and the world.
I muster crowds in my mouth:
suspended between language and the world,
between the world and the alphabets.
I let my head
listen to the myth,
to all sides praising each other.
And I shout at the winds from the top of a mountain.
Why does my tongue tell me to climb this far?
What is the distance between my voice and my longing?
What is there?
A body transcending my body.
A body exiled by desire.
A body sheltered by the wind.
Translated by Sarah Maguire and Atef Alshaer
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.