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Authors: Amanda Gorman

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BOOK: Call Us What We Carry
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LIGHTHOUSE

Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto.

—Terence

We have never met

& yet we have still lost sight of each other,

Two lighthouses quavering in fog.

We could not hold ourselves.

This year was no year.

When next generations ask, we will say

It went something like this:

The empty, creaking playgrounds,

Bodies laid straight as celery stalks,

The imprint of warmth, holidays,

Gatherings & people, gone to rust

In our acrid skull.

The moments wavered unscheduled,

Planless, not plotless. Time col lap sed

Into no  m ore than  a shape

That we felt for numbly

(& tell us: what is the hour

But a rotation by which we mark our grief).

Whole months swept by, fast but dragging,

Like a damp void trapped in the rearview.

Our souls, solitary & solemn.

By then, our fear was old & exact,

Worn-in & stiff as a hand-me-down.

When has horror not been our heirloom.

* * *

The heart, chambered by grief.

The mind, assimilated to suffering.

Nevertheless, we walked from that pale plane,

Though we were free to remain.

Hope is no silent harbor, no haven still.

It is the roaring thing that tugs us away

From the very shores we clutch.

Though we have never met,

We have sensed the other all along,

Quiet & wandering, wide-lit

With the urge to move forward.

No human is a stranger to us.

COMPASS

This year the size of a sea

Sick to its stomach.

Like a page, we are only legible

When opened to one another.

For what is a book

If not foremost a body,

Waiting & wanting—

Yearning to be whole,

Full of itself. This book is full

Of ourselves. The past is one

Passionate déjà vu,

One scene already seen.

In history’s form, we find our own faces,

Recognizable but unremembered,

Familiar yet forgotten.

Please.

Do not ask us who we are.

The hardest part of grief

Is giving it a name.

The pain pulls us apart,

Like lips about to speak.

Without language nothing can live

At all, let alone

Beyond itself.

Lost as we feel, there is no better

Compass than compassion.

We find ourselves not by being

The most seen, but the most seeing.

We watch a toddler

Freewheel through warm grass,

Not fleeing, just running, the way rivers do,

For it is in their unfettered nature.

We smile, our whole face cleared

By that single dazzling thing.

How could we not be altered.

HEPHAESTUS

Pay attention.

Having fallen

In this era of error,

We’re re-raised among wreckage.

What happened to us
,

We asked. A true inquiry.

As if we’re simply the affected,

The recipient, to which

Such rambling trauma was sent.

As if we did not give the very cry

To which our bows were bent.

We labor equally

When we fall as when we rise.

Always remember that

What happened to us

Happened through us.

We wonder how close

Can we come to light

Before we shut our eyes.

How long can we stand the dark

Before we become more than our shadows.

Pay attention.

Concern is the debt

We always owed each other.

* * *

This is not an allegory.

Descend into ourselves,

Like a fruit caught by its own branch.

That clear plunge is the beginning

Of what we ought to become.

* * *

Say our feet miss a step on a stair—

Shock zagging hard up our veins—

—Even as our foot forgives the ground.

The blood jaggedly striking in our veins

Reminding ourselves we are perishable

But prevailing, living & livid.

Sometimes

The fall

Just makes

Us

More

Ourselves.

EVERY DAY WE ARE LEARNING

Every day we are learning

How to live with essence, not ease.

How to move with haste, never hate.

How to leave this pain that is beyond us

Behind us.

Just like a skill or any art,

We cannot possess hope without practicing it.

It is the most fundamental craft we demand of ourselves.

CORDAGE, or ATONEMENT

[Hensleigh Wedgwood,
A Dictionary of English Etymology
, 1859]

Call us fish-meal.

We are no prophet.

We are no profit.

Our whole year swallowed,

As if by a massive maw.

What else could stomach

Our hearts, huge with hurt,

Everyone & everything hell

-shocked, as a sea bait-

ing its breath, its time.

As if to hold its whole self.

Lasting meant being separate

Together, proximate in our distance.

To be a part of the living,

We had to be apart from it,

Alive but alone.

It was death by survival.

* * *

The word
atone
comes

From the Middle English meshing

Of
at
&
on(e)
, literally “at one,” “in harmony.”

By the second half of the seventeenth century,
atone
meant:

“to reconcile, and thence to suffer the pains of whatever sacrifice is necessary to bring about a reconciliation.”

There swims our one hope,

Unintelligible in its massiveness,

Like a finback dragging itself under.

& harrowed as we are,

We’re still standing

Gold as a beach,

Despite all augury, proof

That the meek shall repaireth the earth.

* * *

Call us Odd’Sis,

Wily as these miles of bloodshed.

Our gods owe men omens.

Answers, we mean.

We hide a battalion in the body

Of this poem, wild as a wolf in the woods.

Strength is separate from survival.

What endures isn’t always what escapes

& what is withered can still withstand.

We watch men mend their amens,

Words flapping against their hands.

Poetry is its own prayer,

The closest words come to will.

Come the tenth year in this battle,

We will no longer allow shadows

A free tenantry within us.

We would leap out of this night

Down-rushing on our head.

Often we cannot change

Without someone in us dying.

* * *

Call us an exodus,

Plagued ten times over,

For all we see is red.

Intentional language, like a poem,

Is to separate our waters like a gash,

To find the sea also grieving & giving

Enough to be walked through.

* * *

No.

We are the whale,

With a heart so huge

It can’t help but wail.

We can’t help but help.

If given the choice, we would not be

Among the Chosen,

But amidst the Changed.

Unity is its own devout work,

The word we work in,

That leaves us devastated to be delivered.

The future isn’t attained.

It is atoned, until

It is at one with history,

Until home is more than memory,

Until we can hold near

Who we hold dear.

What a marvelous wreck are we.

We press out of our cold

& separate crouching.

Like a vine sprung overnight,

We were reaching & wretched

Upon this mortal soil

& even so we are undiminished.

If just for this newborn day,

Let us take back our
lives.

EARTH EYES

so knowing,

what is known?

that we carry our baggage

in our cupped hands

when we burst through

the waters of our mother.

—Lucille Clifton, “far memory”

LUCENT

What would we seem, stripped down

Like a wintered tree.

Glossy scabs, tight-raised skin,

These can look silver in certain moonlights.

In other words,

Our scars are the brightest

Parts of us.

* * *

The crescent moon,

The night’s lucent lesion.

We are felled oaks beneath it,

Branches full of empty.

Look closer.

What we share is more

Than what we’ve shed.

* * *

& what we share is the bark, the bones.

Paleontologists, from one fossilized femur,

Can dream up a species,

Make believe a body

Where there was none.

Our remnants are revelation,

Our requiem as raptus.

When we bend into dirt

We’re truth preserved

Without our skin.

* * *

Lumen
means both the cavity

Of an organ, literally an opening,

& a unit of luminous flux,

Literally, a measurement of how lit

The source is. Illuminate us.

That is, we, too,

Are this bodied unit of flare,

The gap for lux to breach.

* * *

Sorry, must’ve been the light

Playing tricks on us
, we say,

Knuckling our eyelids.

But perhaps it is we who make

Falsities of luminescence—

Our shadows playing tricks on stars.

Every time their gazes tug down,

They think us monsters, then men,

Predators, then persons again,

Beasts, then beings,

Horrors & then humans.

Of all the stars the most beautiful

Is nothing more than a monster,

Just as starved & stranded as we are.

LIFE

Life is not what is promised,

But what is sought.

These bones, not what is found,

But what we’ve fought.

Our truth, not what we said,

But what we thought.

Our lesson, all we have taken

& all we have brought.

ALARUM

We’re writing as the daughter of a / dying world / as its new-faced alert. / In math, the slash / also called the solidus / means division, divided by. / We were divided / from each other, person / person. / Some griefs, like rivers, are uncross / able. They are not to be waded across / but walked beside. Our loss / colossal & blossomed / is never lost on us. Love the earth / like we’ve failed it. To put it plain / we have shipwrecked the earth / soiled the soil / & run the ground aground. / Listen. We are the loud toll / on this planet. / Our future needs us / alarmed. Man is a myth / in the making. / What is now dust will not return, / not the beloveds / nor their breath, / nor the sugar-crumbling glaciers, / nor the crows chewing / on their own soured song, / nor all the species / slashed / down / in one smogged swoop. / Extinction is a chorus / of quiet punching / that same note. What can never be brought back / can still be brought forth / in memory / in mouth / in mind. To say it plain is to tell / only half / of the story.

EARTH EYES

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ARBORESCENT II

Like trees,

We’re always

Scoping out

Heat,

Not with

Our eyes

But the blur

Of our bodies,

The celestial

Stitched inside us.

Slant upward,

For there

Are ways

To sit &

Let joy find

This injury,

Even

As we

Let loss

Wash around

Our head

Like

A low

Sound.

We grasp

At the very best

Of each

Other

 & begin.

CAPTIVE

The animals flooded our streets

Demanding answers or food,

Here to take back

What was theirs.

We were swept up by an unsung

Need for nature,

For the sky slack with blue,

The studded stirring of stars.

That June we kicked off our shoes,

Feet sticky with summer & sat

On somebody else’s lawn,

If just to let grass steam up

Our toes. We’re still in that green,

Shuttering the discs of our eyes,

The bark of us swaying

Not by any breeze imaginable.

[Animals in captivity will demonstrate what is termed stereotypic behavior: repetitive & unvarying actions
that have neither goal nor function. Some examples of stereotypic behavior include incessant pacing, over-grooming, rocking, kicking, excessive sleeping & self-mutilation.]

Our (re)collection

Is gray & stormed.

Isolation is its own climate.

Six months & we still could not grasp

What we were losing every minute.

We stalked ourselves for days in our own house,

Absolutely abulic, incessantly incensed.

We chewed our nails to the knuckles,

Ground our teeth to stardust,

Flipped unpolluted memories

Over in our mind like a penny

Rubbed faceless for good luck.

We walk daily with the dying

Of the earth. The hopes hoarded

Behind our throat, an extinction.

What, exactly, is meant by “normal”?

What, exactly, is meant?

[Stereotypies are demonstrated in many animals, including elephants, horses, polar bears, macaques & humans. Because stereotypic behavior is not seen in the wild, it is considered a strong indicator of poor psychological health in the caged organism. Thus, stereotypies are termed abnormal (or, rather, the captive environment is the true abnormality). Smaller cages can exacerbate stereotypies. To be captive, then, is to be rendered a trope of oneself.]

The same sapiens, we flooded our streets

Demanding answers & change.

To love is to be liable

To ourselves & each other.

Our need for nature

Is our need for origins,

The green tangled place

Where we are of least consequence

& yet still matter as much as anything.

We count each organ-ordered

Throb that makes us this upright mammal.

Among ants, at times even the queen

Must carry & bury her dead.

We cannot tally all we would give

Just to be this unbeaten heart.

[Locked down, the animal may perform the behavior in the same way over & over, at the same time over & over, in the same place, over & over, with the same results. What we’re describing is insanity. Or 2020.]

Perhaps there’s a day with no tattered terrain

Of terror, only an ether strung into

Blue. The beauty of the planet,

When we remember to look,

Stuns us blank as babes.

To care is how we vow

That we are here,

That we are.

It is how we break

Free.

BOOK: Call Us What We Carry
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