first and last poems in a collection

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First Poem, Last Poem, Lasting Poems

The bookends of a poetry collection: the first poem and the last. Hook the reader, the Dalai Lama once said. Finish with a bang, the Muses once sang.

So as I finally say goodbye to Tracy K. Smith’s Life on Mars, move on tomorrow to my Summer To-Be-Read Pile (post coming soon to a site near you!), let’s remember Tracy by reading her first poem and her last in this collection… the lasting poems. First the first:


“Weather in Space” by Tracy K. Smith

Is God being or pure force? The wind

Or what commands it? When our lives slow

And we can hold all that we love, it sprawls

In our laps like a gangly doll. When the storm

Kicks up and nothing is ours, we go chasing

After all we’re certain to lose, so alive–

Faces radiant with panic.


And then the last:


“US & CO.” by Tracy K. Smith

We are here for what amounts to a few hours,

a day at most.

We feel around making sense of the terrain,

our own new limbs,

Bumping up against a herd of bodies

until one becomes home.

Moments sweep past. The grass bends

then learns again to stand.



First and last better be lasting, though the filling carries the day, of course. Still, if you’re going to finish a poetry book, a lasting poem with a lasting line helps in the resonance department.

“The grass bends / then learns to stand again” lasts in so many ways. What is life but bending? And if you think learning again to stand is easy, you’re living a different life than the rest of us. One on the red planet, maybe.

(End of Life on Mars entries, star date 25 June, Year of Our Lord 2018, 2:55 p.m.)