Courage in the Chasm

6 Excerpted Poems for an Intentional New Year

In 2015 the world witnessed many ruptures: the attacks on Paris, countless murders of POC and Trans folks, the hopelessness biting at our heels in the dark with each mistrial, acquittal and lack of arrest. For many, hope wanes and people fight daily against living in a constant state of fear and despondency. These occurrences though, too, remind us of our hunger for something better. But when we say humanity, perhaps we’re also demanding what seem like simple aspects: vulnerability, kindness, tenderness, small and large acts of peace. The following excerpted poems are subtle suppositions. We turn to poetry to see, to ask, to make sense of the world and our place, our voice in it. This year, let’s make room for the brave act of vulnerability, for demanding of ourselves to see one another as whole, complicated, flawed, worthy. “Kindness, kindness, kindness. I want to make a New Year’s prayer, not a resolution. I’m praying for courage,” says Susan Sontag. Poems teach us that we can demand kindness of and for ourselves. We can be brave and demand that for each other. We can thrash quietly, ask clearly not only to be seen, but how to see.

Photo by A.H. Jerriod Avant

From “What It Looks Like To Us and the Words We Use” by Ada Limón:

All these great barns out here in the outskirts,
black creosote boards knee-deep in the bluegrass.
They look so beautifully abandoned, even in use.
You say they look like arks after the sea’s
dried up, I say they look like pirate ships,
and I think of that walk in the valley where
J said, You don’t believe in God? And I said,
No. I believe in this connection we all have
to nature, to each other, to the universe.
And she said, Yeah, God. And how we stood there,
low beasts among the white oaks, Spanish moss,
and spider webs, obsidian shards stuck in our pockets,
woodpecker flurry, and I refused to call it so.
So instead, we looked up at the unruly sky,
its clouds in simple animal shapes we could name
though we knew they were really just clouds —
disorderly, and marvelous, and ours.

Featured at The Poetry Foundation.

Photo by Rachel Eliza Griffiths

From “Mother Church No. 3” by Robin Coste Lewis:

Here, one calendar takes eighteen years.
I am three. One day is an eyelash.

Your body is a segment of prehistoric road,
A buried stairwell with only the top stair obvious.

We are alluvial, obsidian.
Sometimes the ground swells

With disappointment; sometimes we know our mountains
Will be renamed after foreign saints.

Featured at The Poetry Foundation.

Photo by Robert Martinez

From “Truerism” by Hajara Quinn:

I am flawed
with sleeplessness and pacing
I ask you to tell me one true thing
It’s not the true thing I wanted to hear
Day I had wanted
more from than an unripe avocado
hard as its own hard pit
What if I forget
how to experience joy?
When I get like this
I want to burn the orchard down
I want to burn the peaches from their trees
But I am trying to let the beautiful
be beautiful
I don’t feel sorry for your hot
burning wick.
If I burn it is that I burn with
blaming myself
for bringing what is not ripe yet
to the fruit

Featured in ILK Journal.

Photo by Robert Martinez

From “Letter to the New Year” by Matthew Olzmann:

Look at tonight’s sky and its vault of fireworks.
These explosions have their own history: gunpowder,
invented during the Song Dynasty, a side effect
of Man’s search for immortality, is where this all began.
We never found eternal life. I’ve said goodbye to many people.
But we found something explosive and strange
and set the cloud cover on fire. We’re still celebrating you.
And now, a full hour after midnight,
these explosions still drift and fade up there
like jellyfish in black seawater. Look how they yearn,
how their arms stretch, as if to reach
for one another, before disappearing.

Featured in The Compass Magazine.

Photo by Rachel Eliza Griffiths

From “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” by Ocean Vuong:

Say surrender. Say alabaster. Switchblade.
Honeysuckle. Goldenrod. Say autumn.
Say autumn despite the green
in your eyes. Beauty despite
daylight. Say you’d kill for it. Unbreakable dawn
mounting in your throat.
My thrashing beneath you
like a sparrow stunned
with falling.

Featured at The Poetry Foundation.

Photo by Andre D. Wagner

From “I Have Forgotten you, My Self” by Malachi Black:

                                                                                Maybe it’s less
that I have failed
                                                                                to recollect, more that
you’ve risen undetected
                                                                                to the vents: a scent
some facet of me left
                                                                                unused yet intact, removed
but resident: like a clef
                                                                                on empty sheet music
inside a closed piano bench.

Featured in Narrative Magazine.

Paper As Body

A Conversation Between Two Artists

The Long Shadow of Chernobyl

“Ludwig documents man-made disasters, and places the lyrical 'I' in the crux of our own making. We are not exempt from our progress.”