Every day in April, you put a poem in our lunch boxes to celebrate poetry month. Now, the internet is your lunchbox and every month is April.
JOHNNY SAID ONCE
Johnny said once, Eating with someone is really intimate
and it’s stuck with me. So I decline dates at restaurants
because he’s right and it’s too soon and, anyway,
maybe I’ll hate how these long-necked boys
who don’t know how to hold a fork eat. I’ve written
a lot of things for him, Johnny, more than he knows about.
I am 22 now so naturally I miss everyone.
I am 22 so I roll my eyes when someone says love.
Dad has the air conditioner all the way up but I’m still
waking up sweating. My brother has taken to degrading
women in that casual way that boys do—flick of the shoulder,
dark-eyed, he is my father in miniature, but I love him,
as sisters do, even if I don’t agree with his mouth.
I wanted this poem to go somewhere important
but I keep looking over my shoulder. I hate mornings.
I keep spilling my guts out to strangers on the internet,
and this is not the first time I waxed my legs for a boy.
We’re all fighting over who we’re going to take home
and I’m still pretending I can play the clarinet.
Everyone keeps complimenting my nail beds.
Remember mood rings? Mine stays black.
THE DAY YOU TOLD ME YOU WERE TIRED OF THINGS THAT BREAK
Ask me what material I’d use to make
a human being and I’d answer:
glass. Ask me what shape
I’d mould it into and I’d reply
a cup – the ones that have felt the light
press of lips on their collarbones, or
the gentle caress of fingers easing
the soapbuds off their backs after
every meal. The ones that brim
with liquid light in a room gone
quiet after the candles are lit.
Ask me if I’m scared of the
thought of them breaking,
and I’d ask you to imagine
how easy it would be to
neglect the one thing
you thought was
MARY JEAN CHAN
I USED TO LOVE THE RUN-UP TO A STORM
I used to love the run-up to a storm, watching from the porch as the grown-ups hurried to bring things in, my mother rummaging through drawers for a flashlight, cursing: nothing was where it was supposed to be in our house. It can’t be so, but the only people I ever remember huddled in the basement were my mother and me, suspended in that eerie half-light like bats. We’ve just spent a week like this, my mother perched in a chair above the water keeping watch for the next bad thing. We were happy so sometimes she’d let the vigil rest, the sentry of her shoulders easing to a more receptive pose, a quarter moon, until something called her back to the watch, mother first no longer but this white, foremost light. You can read by it. You can see.
WHEN HE SAYS YOU LOVE TOO DEEPLY
Remind him he was warned.
When no one else is awake,
don’t call him.
When the poems don’t come,
don’t open the vodka.
When the poems don’t come,
go to sleep.
When you wake up from
go back to sleep.
When he shows up in your nightmares,
don’t offer your forgiveness.
When he offers you his lips,
go for the throat.
CLEMENTINE VON RADICS
It is possible that things will not get better
than they are now, or have been known to be.
It is possible that we are past the middle now.
It is possible that we have crossed the great water
without knowing it, and stand now on the other side.
Yes: I think that we have crossed it. Now
we are being given tickets, and they are not
tickets to the show we had been thinking of,
but to a different show, clearly inferior.
Check again: it is our own name on the envelope.
The tickets are to that other show.
It is possible that we will walk out of the darkened hall
without waiting for the last act: people do.
Some people do. But it is probable
that we will stay seated in our narrow seats
all through the tedious denouement
to the unsurprising end— riveted, as it were;
spellbound by our own imperfect lives
because they are lives,
and because they are ours.
YOU WANT A PHYSICIST TO SPEAK AT YOUR FUNERAL
You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.
And at one point you’d hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her eyes, that those photons created within her constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.
And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.
And you’ll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they’ll be comforted to know your energy’s still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you’re just less orderly. Amen.
A pair of street fair hands.
Ones that are always ripping
tickets or waving goodbye,
or something equally as hopeless.
Check Main Street, maybe. Maybe my kitchen.
Oh, what the hell. I’ll do it.
Just call if you see them
wandering somewhere without a ferris wheel.
Whatever you do, don’t hold them. Just don’t, okay?
You’ll never bring them back to me once you do,
and I just couldn’t stand that.
A pair of pinwheel eyes, too. They belong to the
hands mentioned above.
There’s a theme here, you see?
The theme being that they’re both
a noise I like to walk into,
an empty parking lot that isn’t empty anymore.
If the eyes are spinning too fast for you to pick
what color they are, wait for the wind to stop.
If the hands are clapping, or waving, let them finish.
Let them still and then show them this.
Tell them I’m sorry.
Tell them I’ve been looking for them.
Always have been.”
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.
NAOMI SHIHAB NYE
SUSIE KNUCKLES IN LOVE
i think i met all the
wrong men before
you and i think they
ruined me but i
think you’re really
handsome the way
a map is handsome,
with skin wide open
soaked in the whole
world’s ink. i
think i’m done pulling
paint off the walls i
think i want to read
you the names of
every city that ever
burned down, i think
we’d like it there.