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’ve only just been introduced to the work of Rachel Wetzsteon (1967-2009) but am already drawn into its deft humor, its palpably beating heart.
“On Leaving the Bachelorette Brunch”
Because I gazed out the window at birds
doing backflips when the subject turned
to diamonds, because my eyes glazed over
with the slightly sleepy sheen your cake will wear,
never let it be said that I’d rather be
firing arrows at heart-shaped dartboards
or in a cave composing polyglot puns.
I crave, I long for transforming love
as surely as leaves need water and mouths seek bread.
But I also fear the colder changes
that lie in wait and threaten to turn
moons of honey to pools of molasses,
broad front porches to narrow back gardens,
and tight rings of friendship to flimsy things
that break when a gold band brightly implies
Leave early, go home, become one with the one
the world has told you to tend and treasure
above all others. You love, and that’s good;
you are loved, that’s superb; you will vanish
and reap some happy rewards. But look at the birds.