reading poetry

236 posts

Hemingway on Good Poetry: “There Won’t Be a Hell of a Lot”

Sure, Ernest Hemingway was no poet, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t read poets or lack opinions on poetry in general. While reading the third volume of The Letters of Ernest Hemingway (Cambridge University Press), I came across this amusing aside written in a letter to Ernest Walsh on 15 January 1926:

“And finally I don’t think that good writing or good poetry has anything to do with our age at all — makes no bloody difference…

“To me it’s not a question of Keats and Shelley having been great and we having changed since then and needing another kind of greatness. I could never read Swinburne, Keats or Shelley. I tried it when I was a kid and simply felt embarrassed by their elaborate falseness. But of real poetry, true poetry, there has always been, rymed (sic) and unrymed (sic), a very little in all ages and all countries —. That’s another large statement. I don’t know about all countries etc. All I can say is that I believe there has always been good poetry and with a little luck there will always be a little. But there won’t be a hell of a lot.”

What, exactly, are examples of good poetry to the 26-year-old Hemingway? In the same letter, he cites “Andy” (as he calls him) Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” and a couple of poems by the much-revered poet, Anonymous: “O Western Wind, When Wilt Thou Blow” and “I Heard Twa Corbies” (“twa” being anonymous for “two”).

And what can you, gentle reader, take from Hemingway’s frank talk on a trade he didn’t traffic in? That it’s cool to not like revered big shots like Keats and Shelley if their writing does nothing for you. But it’s not cool to make generalizations about poetry as a whole. For every reader from every age, there’s something out there that appeals. You just have to beat the bushes to see what comes out.

Who knows? Maybe a corbie or twa.

The Most Precious Gift: Declamation

roth

These days, gift-giving is too much about cursors and clicks to cart. Material goods bought with plastic shipped to porches by UPS.

You don’t need to be a poet, however, to give a better gift to someone you love: declamation. This came to mind while reading the May 2020 issue of The Atlantic. In a piece called “Being Friends with Philip Roth” by Benjamin Taylor, the latter mentions Roth’s 74th birthday party.

Apparently Roth turned to the assembled guests and, casual as all get-out, asked if anyone cared to recite a poem from memory. As if that was still done. As if each guest had brought a poem gift-wrapped in their brain pan.

To kick things off, Roth recited a Mark Strand poem: “Keeping Things Whole.” According to Taylor, Roth “then looks at me as if to say, ‘Your serve.'” Luckily, Taylor was able to return volley. He recited Robert Frost’s lesser known poem “I Could Give All to Time.”

Roth was so impressed that he brought it up on the phone the next morning: “Those rhymes!” he said to Taylor. “It’s as if nature made them.”

And, at the time, I thought, how cool. Shouldn’t this happen more often? Not just between writers of poetry, but between readers of poetry, too?

Anyway, it was enough to set me to the task of memorizing both, starting with the easier—the Strand piece. So here’s to Philip and Benjamin.

Oh. And Mark and Robert, too!

 

Keeping Things Whole
Mark Strand

In a field
I am the absence
of field.
This is
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.

When I walk
I part the air
and always
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body’s been.

We all have reasons
for moving.
I move
to keep things whole.

 

I Could Give All to Time
Robert Frost

To Time it never seems that he is brave
To set himself against the peaks of snow
To lay them level with the running wave,
Nor is he overjoyed when they lie low,
But only grave, contemplative and grave.

What now is inland shall be ocean isle,
Then eddies playing round a sunken reef
Like the curl at the corner of a smile;
And I could share Time’s lack of joy or grief
At such a planetary change of style.

I could give all to Time except – except
What I myself have held. But why declare
The things forbidden that while the Customs slept
I have crossed to Safety with? For I am There,
And what I would not part with I have kept.

Allusions R Us

bukowski

I’ve noticed, reading published poetry, that it doesn’t hurt to use allusions, whether subtle or direct. If you have a keen literary interest in a famous writer, artist, philosopher, or historical figure, etc., allude away! Use quotes. Use interesting facts. Just use them Yoda-like, blending them into your poem’s purpose and its art until you have an allusion smoothie.

Here’s an example from a poet who is not known for his subtlety, Charles Bukowski. But then, I’ve always suspected Bukowski’s rebel act was just that and only partly true. He did, in fact, take his writing quite seriously. You can’t have that much of an output while constantly drinking and lazing around, after all!

Here Bukowski is alluding to the greatest American poet of all time, Walt Whitman. OK. Maybe not the greatest poet in everyone’s minds, but certainly the bearded poster boy for American poetry.

 

a song with no end
Charles Bukowski

when Whitman wrote, “I sing the body electric”

I know what he
meant
I know what he
wanted:

to be completely alive every moment
in spite of the inevitable.

we can’t cheat death but we can make it
work so hard
that when it does take
us

it will have known a victory just as
perfect as
ours.

 

A twofer! Allusion and the universal preoccupation of poets everywhere, death! You might even make it a threefer if you deem it aphoristic, as in a wise man’s teaching, to boot.

Really. Charles Bukowski as prophet and sage. And all because of a stiff drink of Whitman-infused allusion.

The Wake of Li Po’s Little Boat

li-po

From across the ages and continents, Chinese poet Li Po is still inspiring. What a delightful surprise to find him on p. 26 of W.S. Merwin’s penultimate collection, Garden Time.

When reading poetry collections, you live for these moments. No collection is filled to the gunwales with wonders, but good ones hit you with a few along the way — about all you can ask from a full book of poetry.

Merwin’s homage to Li Po is one of those good poems. At least its smallness spoke to me in a big way. Sure, I’m a sucker for poems about time, the enduring and the fleeting, and this one touches all those buttons, but still… in only nine lines! Whew!

Take a look-see yourself. Whether a fan of Li Po’s or Merwin’s, you’ll enjoy, I’m sure:

 

“River” by W.S. Merwin

Li Po the little boat is gone
that carried you ten thousand li
downstream past the gibbons calling
all the way from both banks and they
too are gone and the forests they
were calling from and you are gone
and every sound you heard is gone
now there is only the river
that was always on its own way

 

Sometimes personification, the little stepchild of figurative language, can work in unexpected and subtle ways. This would be one of those times. Catch my drift?

Bird Is the Word

grackle

From The Best American Poetry 2017 comes one of those poems that has a line jumping off the page. OK, in honor of its topic, maybe flying off the page works better.

The poem, “Grackle” by Meg Kearney, originally appeared in The Massachusetts Review. Read it and see if you notice the same line I did.

Grackle
by Meg Kearney

What a grackle is doing perched on the rail
of her baby’s crib, noiselessly twitching its
tail, she doesn’t wonder. The way this baby
gleams he’s bound to catch a grackle’s
eye. Besides, birds have flit in and out
of these baby dreams forever. Sapsucker,
blue jay. Sparrow, kingfisher, titmouse.
She just likes to say grackle, a crack-your-
knuckles, hard-candy word. In the dream,
her baby’s black as a grackle, meaning
when she holds him to the light he shines
purple and blue, a glittery bronze. Silent
and nameless. Sometimes he is a she but
always the dream-baby is hers. That is
the miracle. Her nights of nursery rhymes
and sorrow. Of yellow quilts and song
birds. Enough to break a bow. Enough
to fell a cradle.

 

I call them “Price-of-Admission” lines. You know. The ones that are so good they alone make a good poem worth the price of admission. In this case, the line I am loving is “She just likes to say grackle, a crack-your- / knuckles, hard-candy word.”

Well, shoot. Now I like to say it, too. Not “grackle,” but “a crack-your-knuckles, hard-candy word.”

Poetry. It never ceases to amaze….

The Seven Best Poetry Books of 2021… Maybe

T’is the season for “Best of” lists, and yes, even poetry gets in on the game, at least if the playing field is as large as The New York Times, where the Book Review’s poetry columnist Elisa Gabbert selected seven favorites from 2021 only to be pounced on by readers.

One named “to each their own taste” commented “The NY Times carries great authority, yet this list is so arbitrary and slants so steeply toward poets who are not widely known. How can any round up being called the year’s ‘best poetry books’ not include even Kaveh Akbar’s “Pilgrim Bell,” let alone the Louise Glück book seemingly ignored exactly because it’s by a Nobel poet. Does being better-known disqualify?”

I couldn’t disagree more. I mean, I get it. Having read both Nobel winner Louise Glück’s wonderful Winter Recipes from the Collective and Kaveh Akbar’s Pilgrim Bell: Poems, I can understand why they might merit consideration for a “Best of” list. But really, do Nobel winners and familiar names like theirs even need the attention? And isn’t that a little too easy for an expert like Elisa Gabbert?

Unlike “to each their own taste,” I favor slants “toward poets who are not widely known.” In fact, I think The Times’ Gabbert could slant even more. Two of her seven selections were choices of a Brooklyn bookstore’s poetry subscription series – one I myself receive. And while I’m in the confession box, I’ll state here that one of those two choices struck me as ordinary while the other I abandoned (though now I may give it a second go, to see if it’s me or Gabbert). In any event, keep slanting, Elisa! Make the widely unknown a little bit more known and trust that the famous can fend for themselves!

****

SHORT TAKES

I’ve been reading Michael Ignatieff’s short essays, On Consolation: Finding Solace in Dark Times, and so far have most enjoyed the pieces on Marcus Aurelius and Michel De Montaigne. Poor Marcus Aurelius. Like Bartleby the Emperor, he would “prefer not to” do anything Roman emperors had to do – rule, lead battalions against barbarians, entertain fools. Yet he slogged on, writing his Meditations to reprove himself (for lack of Stoic discipline) as much as others.

Montaigne, though he lived in the 16th century, struggled with the party (read: religious) line on consolation. He was too busy writing essays about himself as a human mind and a human body. How 21st century of him!

“I renounce any favorable testimonials that anyone may want to give me not because I shall deserve them but because I shall be dead,” he said, neglecting that little business of an after-life. As he lived in a time of Catholic vs. Protestant bloodshed in France, one can see why he loathed religious zealots.

***

Care to sample a few poems from my book online? In the Miracle Monocle out of the University of Louisville, you’ll find “A Boy, A City” (originally written as an ekphrastic poem to go with a photograph) and “Loyalty,” one of my favorite short poems in the book.

You can also find one of the “lost brother” thematic poems, “My Brother’s Bedroom,” in Jacar Press’s poetry publication, one, Issue 21.

***

Speaking of Reincarnation & Other Stimulants, my thanks go out to Steve Penkevich from Reader’s World Bookstore in Michigan, who published this awesome-isn’t-the-word-for-it review of my book on Goodreads.

***


Am I the only one who thinks the scariest bit in the news these days is the slow taking down of our Republic? In this sense, the good news of Donald Trump’s defeat may turn out to be the bad news. If not for his legitimate defeat in the 2020 presidential election, none of this perfidy would have been turned loose.

Ever child-like and narcissistic, Trump denied losing and insisted it could only happen if he was “robbed.” His slavish minions in countless key states with Republican majorities in their houses and senates have taken this lie as an excuse to blatantly gerrymander voting districts so the GOP can’t possibly lose future elections.

Couple that with voter-suppression laws designed to favor voters registered with the GOP and the purging of any election official (Republicans as well) who had the integrity to stand up to Trump’s lies, and you get a recipe for one-party rule, much like you see in, say, Putin’s Russia and Xi Jinping’s China today. Elections may occur in those countries, but they are little more than bad jokes with outcomes a preordained given. Is that what we want for the formerly United States? To see Trump succeed where Jefferson Davis failed?

I’m not sure why Republicans and Democrats alike in states like Arizona, Texas, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Florida, and North Carolina are not up in arms over this breach of citizens’ rights. Why are they OK with some American voters counting more than others? Is it patriotic to acquiesce to electoral systems used in Fascist and Communist (small difference, as both are built around cults of personality in a single leader… sound familiar?) countries today? I’m looking for ways to fight back, but it’s difficult when you don’t live in one of the states that are betraying basic precepts of the Constitution, all while cloaked in a false flag of patriotism.

 

When Wrong Place & Wrong Time Means Forever

coffee

Gun violence. Poetry. Yes, please, to some sanity. Read Joseph J. Ellis’s book, American Dialogue, where, among other interesting things, he traces the history of the Second Amendment, which was, according to the Founders, all about militias vs. individuals, not that this stops some people in modern-day from rewriting history.

Ellis goes in-depth on how the late Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia did just that, painting himself, as many others presently do, as a Constitutional “originalist” when he was anything but (that is, if you care, like Ellis, to look at the actual facts from the time of Madison, Jefferson, and Adams).

Once upon a time, even the NRA was a noble organization dedicated to hunting and gun safety. Given the Rambo-style, political leadership that has hijacked it and runs the show today, the NRA of old seems like a quaint fairy tale now, as we read yet another story in the news about senseless shootings in public places.

Why is it that we endure gun violence in society like no other modern nation on earth? Why is it that we endure pain and death and fear? Why is it that we re-elect politicians who offer thoughts and prayers instead of solutions?

The poet Lia Purpura gives these questions some thought in ways that most of us would rather not. We read her poem “Proximities” and realize that we all have lines we could retrace in our every day lives — from last year, last month, or even yesterday at a coffee shop, in a movies theater, at a night club, or in a school.

This is true whether you are a law-abiding gun owner (and I know many) or not. It’s being at the wrong place at the wrong time, a quirk of fate that no citizen, no matter what his political stripes, should be subject to. As Purpura puts it, quite simply, “It’s never a joke / to walk in or out of a shop / unharmed.”

Here’s praying for practical solutions, then, ones that will address the issues while still respecting the rights of hunters and other gun owners who are all about gun safety, not blocking common sense legislation to protect Americans from routine gun violence. It would require profiles in courage from unexpected places (Congress), but I’m convinced it can be done. It has to, or else matters will only gets worse…

 

“Proximities”
by Lia Purpura

A man walks into a coffee shop.
But it’s not a joke.
I bought coffee there
last summer.
Small, with milk.
It’s never a joke
to walk in or out of a shop
unharmed. It’s easy
to forget
you aren’t a person
being shot at.
I’m not.
I wasn’t, though
I was there,
last summer.
Not-shot-at
and I never knew it.
Did not once
think it.
Thinking it now
the moment thins,
it sheers,
and I move back to
other coffee shops
where I never fell, or bled,
and then
I sit for a while
with my regular cup
and feel things collapse
or go on, I can’t tell.

The Ordinary–It Should Scare You to Death

cellar-stairs

Fringe. Niche. Eccentric.

These are words you might hear when people describe poets or poetry in general, at least in the States. Thing is, the joke’s on them (or at least in their mirrors). Why? Because everyone’s a poet, or at least was at one time.

As proof, my favorite 2 minute and 37 second video to share with students is Naomi Shihab Nye’s “One Boy Told Me.” Before reading a found poem wholly consisting of things her son said when he was 2- and 3-years-old, she shares what William Stafford once said when someone asked, “When did you become a poet?” He responded: “That’s not really the right question. The question is, when did you STOP being a poet? We’re all poets when we’re little. Some of us just try to keep up the habit.”

A little logic tells us, then, that the kid in all of us is the poet in all of us. It’s kind of like Halloween. You never quite get it out of your system. Now #2 behind Christmas in retail sales, October 31st has practically been taken over by adults who want to play dress up and “trick or treat” (without the door-to-door nonsense), too.

Whether you’re a student, a writer, or a party animal, then, you should take note: It’s the ordinary that should scare you to death.

What if I asked you to write something scary, for instance? Too often, when writers set out to scare readers, they fall victim to stock props of the genre as found on TV, in the movies, and yes, in literature. But there’s more to scaring people than vampires by night, zombies by day, and Fox News talking heads by any measure of time.

If you really want to write about fear, get in touch with your inner child (whether you’re age 50 or 12). As adults drugged on maturity, we often forget the powerful knack little kids have for seeing malevolence in the ordinary, and there’s no better Museum of the Extraordinarily Ordinary than a house’s basement.

Don’t believe me? Close your eyes a moment and conjure the basement of the house you grew up in. In my case, there was a rec room of no account on one side and then the unfinished side: concrete floor, washer/dryer, sump pump, oil tank, furnace, and that all important basement prop, “thing that goes bump in the night.” I can recall many a nightmare where various horrors came through the door separating these two sections.

But let’s move on to a good example of how basements tap can into our inner child mentality (and therefore our poetic imagination). It appears in the late poet Thomas Lux’s poem,  “Cellar Stairs,” a piece in which ice skates, ice picks, roofing nails, a fuse-box switch, and yes, even a freezer, do yeoman duty as witches, monsters, and boogeymen. As it’s only three 9-line stanzas, let’s take a look:

      Cellar Stairs
      by Thomas Lux

      It’s rickety down to the dark.
      Old skates, long-bladed, hang by leather laces
      on your left and want to slash your throat,
      but they can’t, they can’t, being only skates.
      On a shelf above, tools: shears,
      three-pronged weed hacker, ice pick,
      poison-rats and bugs-and on the landing,
      halfway down, a keg of roofing nails
      you don’t want to fall face first into,

      no, you don’t. To your right,
      a fuse box with its side-switch-a slot machine,
      on a good day, or the one the warden pulls,
      on a bad. Against the wall,
      on nearly every stair, one boot, no two
      together, no pair, as if the dead
      went off, short-legged or long, to where they go,
      which is down these steps,
      at the bottom of which is a swollen,

      humming, huge white freezer
      big enough for many bodies—
      of children, at least. And this
      is where you’re sent each night
      for the frozen bag of beans
      or peas or broccoli
      that lies beside the slab
      of meat you’ll eat for dinner,
      each countless childhood meal your last.

      “Cellar Stairs,” from New and Selected Poems (Houghton Mifflin).

The minute you go for laughs or frights in the usual, well-trod places is the minute you should stop and reconsider the tack you’re on. Heck with masked, chainsaw-wielding psychopaths, people are killed every day by ladders, bathtubs, and stairs.

My advice, if it’s scares you’re after? Put down your remote and channel your childhood home and how much it resembles your present-day home. There are places in the former that scared you and places in the latter that should, and even though those places are populated with objects both hum and drum, your job — as a writer, as a poet, and as an aficionado of Halloween — is to make them thrum. Basements, attics, crawlspaces, closets, the one room people tend to avoid.

After that, scare yourself even more. Try reading some poetry. Or scare ME by writing a short poem about your cellar and sending it my way. I promise it will not be shared here or any other place, like behind the furnace.

See you later. I’m going to the cellar for a ball-peen hammer and some ideas I’ve been toying with.

 

When It Comes to Books, You’re Probably Too Fast and Too Far-Flung

Chances are you eat too fast. And buy food from very far away (which is next to Fiji, I believe). And financially feed the profits of some incredibly huge corporations, be they retail (Amazon, 24 billion in 2020, as an example), Big Food (Cargill, 115 billion, for another), or Big Pharma (Pfizer, 42 billion, and I could go on) .

Is it any wonder things like the Buy Local and the Slow Food movements came on the scene like Davids without their slingshots? In the case of slow food, the basic tenet is a throwback: People (especially families) should sit at the table together every day, break bread, eat their food slowly, and talk to each other. 

No televisions. No electronics on or within reach. Just speaking, listening, and slowly savoring (vs. inhaling) a home-cooked meal — a talent most of us lost somewhere along the line.

Then there’s the Buy Local Movement, which gave rise to farmers’ markets, which in turn gave hope to The Little Farmers That Could (and DID, but it took a village).

Turning these admirable trends to literature, you might ask yourself this as a reader: Why don’t more readers (or people who want to read more) subscribe to the Slow Reading Movement. Or how about the Read Local (as in someone you know, either well or virtually) trend?

Poetry offers unique answers to both questions because poetry is a unique animal. As Randall Jarrell once wrote: “Since most people know about the modern poet only that he is obscure — i.e. that he is difficult, i.e. that he is neglected — they naturally make a causal connection between the two meanings of the word, and decide that he is unread because he is difficult. Some of the time this is true; some of the time the reverse is true: the poet seems difficult because he is not read, because the reader is not accustomed to reading his or any other poetry.”

Think about it. Reading novels — which the majority of readers do — is often a race. You “inhale” your entertainment and turn pages in the name of that golden calf, Plot. Speed means page-turner means reader pleasure.

Chances are pretty good, too, that you financially feed the bottom line of the equivalent of large literary corporations (“Big Lit,” if you will — or even if you won’t): Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, James Patterson, John Grisham, Danielle Steele, et al.

If only more readers would diversify by mixing a little poetry into their reading regime. Poetry requires different reading skills than novels do. With different rewards, too. You need to slow down, first of all. Savor words and white space. Reread in the name of “How did the poet do that?”

Unlike a novel, which you might reread five or ten years from now if you truly loved it, you can no sooner finish a 100-page poetry collection then set to rereading it again, start to finish. You won’t just notice one or two new things on the second voyage, I assure you. It’s like being a driver the first time and a passenger the second — you see a lot more scenery coming back. 

Some things you may notice include sound devices that are music to your ears, metaphors that you first skimmed over, or multiple word meanings which, at first glance, you never considered. Or how about a rhythm equivalent to a favorite song’s. Or imagery that brings good old Kodak to mind. Or even unlikely word pairings — words you’ve never seen together that, after some thought, belong together.

Nice? Nice!

And what of “reading local”? For decades we paid no mind to the farmer in town beyond maybe mooing at his cows (irresistible!) as we drove by those big, doleful-eyed cuties along the fence. Now, despite realizing we can’t get EVERYthing we need from this farmer, we sure can savor the limited (and still growing) specialties his farm has to offer.

Read Local means taking a flyer on the writers you know or have heard of but Archie in Oshkosh has not. The up-and-comers who are where the large literary “corporations” stood themselves once upon a time. (Yes, Virginia, there once was an unknown writer named Stephen “Who?” King.)

Without the spirit of a Slow Reader Movement and a Read Local Movement, literary grassroots turn brown and die from lack of attention. Farming is work, and without support from the locals, small farmers go under and are forced to stop production.

Writing is work, too. Few realize it, but months and often years of writing and revision go into any finished product — the book you can hold in your hand. Like farming, writing is a business we don’t consider a business. And like farming, to reach the next level, it needs leaps of faith on the part of the locals. 

A poem that falls in the wilderness, after all, is heard by no one. Even if no one has an imagination like Emily Dickinson (“I’m Nobody! Who are you? / Are you — Nobody — too?)

The silver lining to this advice? Diversifying your reading, like mixing up your buying and exercising habits, will make you a better person. An eclectic person! (That’s Greek for “fascinating.”)

As Robert Frost would say: 

Whose readers these are I think I know.
Their house is in my village though;
They may not see me writing here
For the sake of their reading, you know.

OK, so I left out the snow. And I’m only pretty sure Frost would write that. On a slow day. In a good mood. While thinking about “books less traveled by.”

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Look Back

eurydice

Stories like this are our lot in life. Don’t look back, whether it be religion or mythology. The Buddhists would approve, I suppose, though I’m not sure looking forward would be any better in their eyes.

Still, there’s something about the story of Eurydice and Orpheus that gets to the heart of the matter. Death. Second chances. The type deal even Lazarus could love. But can you trust yourself to trust others? Even the God of the Underworld?

As Karl Marx didn’t say, music is the opiate of the masses, and certainly Orpheus put some religion in people, from Hades to his seasonal bride Persephone to a host of lesser gods and nymphs. As the Bard would have it (at least, on the Twelfth Night of things): “If music be the food of love, play on!”

Anyway, to be a poet with chops, you compose your version of a subject many before have trodden. Penned your ars poetica already? How about a Greek myth? How about one that wraps death in love like bacon ’round baby hot dogs? Eurydice will do, as well as any.

Looking at Ocean Vuong’s entry, “Eurydice,” you might make a game of the allusions he offers. Sound is there (check) as is a “hole / in the garden” (check). But we have “the rib’s / hollowed hum,” too, bringing matters Adamic to mind.

There’s also the matter of “where you stand” here. In the myth, to heighten drama, Orpheus is right at the portal of hell and earth, his love just approaching the threshold, when he gives in to his oh-so-human weakness for curiosity and doubt. Cue the Greek Chorus singing “You. Idiot.”

What’s most unusual about the OV version, though, is the ending. Orpheus calls for the girl, but she is still “beside him. Frosted grass / snapping beneath her hooves.”

Really? Are we horsing around here? Or is it cloven hooves, as in Jack Scratch the Devil? The allusions begin to swirl like cotton candy around a paper cone, sometimes pink and sometimes blue but always remarkably like insulation.

I don’t know. Sometimes giving up or remaining on the outside of meaning looking in is the peace we forge. Between writer and reader, a house divided will never stand, they say, but how long can you go through life trusting “they”?

Give a listen:

 

Eurydice
by Ocean Vuong

It’s more like the sound
a doe makes
when the arrowhead
replaces the day
with an answer to the rib’s
hollowed hum. We saw it coming
but kept walking through the hole
in the garden. Because the leaves
were bright green & the fire
only a pink brushstroke
in the distance. It’s not
about the light—but how dark
it makes you depending
on where you stand.
Depending on where you stand
his name can appear like moonlight
shredded in a dead dog’s fur.
His name changed when touched
by gravity. Gravity breaking
our kneecaps just to show us
the sky. We kept saying Yes—
even with all those birds.
Who would believe us
now? My voice cracking
like bones inside the radio.
Silly me. I thought love was real
& the body imaginary.
But here we are—standing
in the cold field, him calling
for the girl. The girl
beside him. Frosted grass
snapping beneath her hooves.