to leave your loneliness panting behind you

The Rider
Naomi Shihab Nye, 1952

A boy told me
if he roller-skated fast enough
his loneliness couldn’t catch up to him,
the best reason I ever heard
for trying to be a champion.
What I wonder tonight
pedaling hard down King William Street
is if it translates to bicycles.
A victory! To leave your loneliness
panting behind you on some street corner
while you float free into a cloud of sudden azaleas,
pink petals that have never felt loneliness,
no matter how slowly they fell.

and gradually the many men inside me found their names

Ordinary Time
Jay Parini, 1948

Days come and go:
this bird by minute, hour by leaf,
a calendar of loss.

I shift through woods, sifting
the air for August cadences
and walk beyond the boundaries I’ve kept

for months, past loose stone walls,
the fences breaking into sticks,
the poems always spilling into prose.

A low sweet meadow full of stars
beyond the margin
fills with big-boned, steaming mares.

The skies above are bruised like fruit,
their juices running,
black-veined marble of regret.

The road gusts sideways:
sassafras and rue.
A warbler warbles.

Did I wake the night through?
Walk through sleeping?
Shuffle for another way to mourn?

Dawn pinks up.
In sparking grass I find beginnings.
I was cradled here.
I gabbled and I spun.
And gradually the many men inside me
found their names,

acquired definition, points of view.
There was much to say,
not all of it untrue.

As the faithful seasons fell away,
I followed till my thoughts
inhabited a tree of thorns

that grew in muck of my own making.
Yet I was lifted and laid bare.
I hung there weakly: crossed, crossed-out.

At first I didn’t know
a voice inside me speaking low.
I stumbled in my way.

But now these hours that can’t be counted
find me fresh, this ordinary time
like kingdom come.

In clarity of dawn,
I fill my lungs, a summer-full of breaths.
The great field holds the wind, and sways.

There they are, the moon’s young, trying their wings

Beginning
James Wright

The moon drops one or two feathers into the field.
The dark wheat listens.
Be still.
Now.
There they are, the moon’s young, trying
Their wings.
Between trees, a slender woman lifts up the lovely shadow
Of her face, and now she steps into the air, now she is gone
Wholly, into the air.
I stand alone by an elder tree, I do not dare breathe
Or move.
I listen.
The wheat leans back toward its own darkness,
And I lean toward mine.

our tender overlapping has been taking place only inside me

The Breather
Billy Collins

Just as in the horror movies
when someone discovers that the phone calls
are coming from inside the house

so too, I realized
that our tender overlapping
has been taking place only inside me.

All that sweetness, the love and desire—
it’s just been me dialing myself
then following the ringing to another room

to find no one on the line,
well, sometimes a little breathing
but more often than not, nothing.

To think that all this time—
which would include the boat rides,
the airport embraces, and all the drinks—

it’s been only me and the two telephones,
the one on the wall in the kitchen
and the extension in the darkened guest room upstairs.

your face in the evening schools of longing through mornings of wish and ripen

Movement Song
Audre Lorde

I have studied the tight curls on the back of your neck
moving away from me
beyond anger or failure
your face in the evening schools of longing
through mornings of wish and ripen
we were always saying goodbye
in the blood in the bone over coffee
before dashing for elevators going
in opposite directions
without goodbyes.

Do not remember me as a bridge nor a roof
as the maker of legends
nor as a trap
door to that world
where black and white clericals
hang on the edge of beauty in five oclock elevators
twitching their shoulders to avoid other flesh
and now
there is someone to speak for them
moving away from me into tomorrows
morning of wish and ripen
your goodbye is a promise of lightning
in the last angels hand
unwelcome and warning
the sands have run out against us
we were rewarded by journeys
away from each other
into desire
into mornings alone
where excuse and endurance mingle
conceiving decision.
Do not remember me
as disaster
nor as the keeper of secrets
I am a fellow rider in the cattle cars
watching
you move slowly out of my bed
saying we cannot waste time
only ourselves.

and a terrible new ache rolled over in my chest

Wade in the Water
Tracy K. Smith

One of the women greeted me.
I love you, she said. She didn’t
Know me, but I believed her,
And a terrible new ache
Rolled over in my chest,
Like in a room where the drapes
Have been swept back. I love you,
I love you, as she continued
Down the hall past other strangers,
Each feeling pierced suddenly
By pillars of heavy light.
I love you, throughout
The performance, in every
Handclap, every stomp.
I love you in the rusted iron
Chains someone was made
To drag until love let them be
Unclasped and left empty
In the center of the ring.
I love you in the water
Where they pretended to wade,
Singing that old blood-deep song
That dragged us to those banks
And cast us in. I love you,
The angles of it scraping at
Each throat, shouldering past
The swirling dust motes
In those beams of light
That whatever we now knew
We could let ourselves feel, knew
To climb. O Woods—O Dogs—
O Tree—O Gun—O Girl, run—
O Miraculous Many Gone—
O Lord—O Lord—O Lord—
Is this love the trouble you promised?

I can make us loved, just say the word.

Backwards
Warsan Shire

for Saaid Shire

The poem can start with him walking backwards into a room.
He takes off his jacket and sits down for the rest of his life;
that’s how we bring Dad back.
I can make the blood run back up my nose, ants rushing into a hole.
We grow into smaller bodies, my breasts disappear,
your cheeks soften, teeth sink back into gums.
I can make us loved, just say the word.
Give them stumps for hands if even once they touched us without consent,
I can write the poem and make it disappear.
Step-Dad spits liquor back into glass,
Mum’s body rolls back up the stairs, the bone pops back into place,
maybe she keeps the baby.
Maybe we’re okay kid?
I’ll rewrite this whole life and this time there’ll be so much love,
you won’t be able to see beyond it.

You won’t be able to see beyond it,
I’ll rewrite this whole life and this time there’ll be so much love.
Maybe we’re okay kid,
maybe she keeps the baby.
Mum’s body rolls back up the stairs, the bone pops back into place,
Step-Dad spits liquor back into glass.
I can write the poem and make it disappear,
give them stumps for hands if even once they touched us without consent,
I can make us loved, just say the word.
Your cheeks soften, teeth sink back into gums
we grow into smaller bodies, my breasts disappear.
I can make the blood run back up my nose, ants rushing into a hole,
that’s how we bring Dad back.
He takes off his jacket and sits down for the rest of his life.
The poem can start with him walking backwards into a room.