Authors: Amanda Gorman
Swung blunt as an axe-blow:
All students were to leave
Campus as soon as possible.
We think we cried,
Our brains bleached blank.
We were already trying to forget
What we would live.
What we would give.
Beware the ides of March.
We recognized that something ran
Rampant as a rumor
Among our ranks.
Cases bleeding closer,
Like spillage in a napkin.
There is nothing more worrisome
Than a titan who believes itself
Separate from the world.
We don't need a gown.
We don't need a stage.
We are walking beside our ancestors,
Their drums roar for us,
Their feet stomp at our life.
There is power in being robbed
& still choosing to dance.
We were sick of home,
That mask around our ear
Hung itself into the year.
Once we stepped into our home,
We found ourselves gasping, tear-
ing it off like a bandage,
Like something that gauzed
The great gape of our mouth.
Even faceless, a smile can still
Scale up our cheeks,
Bone by bone,
Our eyes crinkling
Delicately as rice paper
At some equally fragile beautyâ
The warbling blues of a dog,
A squirrel venturing close,
The lilt of a beloved's joke.
Our mask is no veil, but a view.
What are we, if not what we see in another.
☐ We strove to be new-muscled & green,
☐ To exercise,
☐ To express,
☐ To stay home,
☐ To stay sane,
☐ To render our ovens beating with breads,
☐ Our phones shining with excuses for parties.
We grasped our loved ones
By the slash of a screen,
Felt ourselves Zoombies,
Faces trapped in a prison of a prism.
The petty zoo[m] as it were.
& what could we have done differently?
We only have one way to not die.
It will be a blessing if our children
Never fully grasp what
It took to come to this.
☐ Grant them this poem
If they do forget it.
☐ If they do, forget it.
These words need not be red for our blood to run through them.
When tragedy threatens to end us, we are flooded by what is felt;
Our faces fluctuating, warped like an acre passing
Seasons. Perhaps the years are plotted & planned
Just like seeds in a fresh-plowed field.
When we dream, we act only with instinct.
We might not be fully sure of all that we are.
& yet we have endured all that we were.
Even now we’re shuddering:
The revelation aching.
It didn’t have to be this way.
In fact, it did not have to be.
The gone were/are no threshold,
No stepstone beneath our feet.
Even as they did not die
For us, we shall move for them.
We shall only learn when we let this loss,
Like us, sing on & on.
Light-starved we were,
Like an inverted flame,
Eating any warmth down to its studs.
The deepest despair is ravenous,
It takes & takes & takes,
A stomach never satisfied.
This is not hyperbole.
All that is gorgeous & good & decent
Is no luxury, not when its void
Brings us to the wide wharf of war.
Even as we stand stone-still,
It’s with the entirety of what we’ve lost
Sweeping through us like a ghost.
What we have lived
& yet we remain.
& still, we write.
& so, we write.
Watch us move above the fog
Like a promontory at dusk.
Shall this leave us bitter?
It is easy to harp,
Harder to hope.
This truth, like the white-blown sky,
Can only be felt in its entirety or not at all.
The glorious was not made to be piecemeal.
Despite being drenched with dread,
This dark girl still dreams.
We smile like a sun that is never shunted.
Grief, when it goes, does so softly,
Like the exit of that breath
We just realized we clutched.
Since the world is round,
There is no way to walk away
From each other, for even then
We are coming back together.
Some distances, if allowed to grow,
Are merely the greatest proximities.
There is no simple way to hurt.
The real damage is dammed, disrupted.
We must change
This ending in every way.
Disease is physiological death,
Loneliness is a social one,
Where the old We collapses like a lung.
Some days, we just need a place
Where we can bleed in peace.
Our only word for this is
There is no right way to say
How we have missed one another.
Some traumas flood past the body,
An ache unbordered by bone.
When we shift toward a kindred soul,
It is with the cut of all our lives.
Perhaps pain is like a name,
Made to sing just for you.
We issue an apology
From our warbling palms:
We are still hurt,
But for now, we no longer hurt
There is no meek way to mend.
You must ruin us carefully.
The origin of the word
Is not just “wound,” but “piercing” or “turning,”
As blades do when finding home.
Grief commands its own grammar,
Structured by intimacy & imagination.
We often say:
We are beside ourselves with grief.
We can’t even imagine.
This means anguish can call us to envision
More than what we believed was carriable
Or even survivable.
This is to say, there does exist
A good grief.
The hurt is how we know
We are alive & awake;
It clears us for all the exquisite,
Excruciating enormities to come.
We are pierced new by the turning
All that is grave need
Not be a burden, an anguish.
Call it, instead, an anchor,
Grief grounding us in its sea.
Despair exits us the same way it enters—
Turning through the mouth.
Even now conviction works
Strange magic on our tongues.
We are built up again
By what we
What we carry means we survive,
It is what survives us.
We have survived us.
Where once we were alone,
Now we are beside ourselves.
Where once we were barbed & brutal as blades,
Now we can only
History is a ship forever setting sail.
On either shore: mountains of men,
Oceans of bone, an engine whose teeth
shred all that is not our name.
—Tracy K. Smith, “Ghazal”
was an American whaling ship that was attacked by a sperm whale in 1820. Of the twenty crewmen, only eight survived, only eight were rescued after being stranded at sea for three months. The tragedy inspired Herman Melville’s
At the time, whales were killed for blubber, which was utilized in oil lamps as well as other commodities.
I’m not telling you a story so much as a shipwreck—the pieces floating, finally legible.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous
To view as reflowable text, see
Grant us this day
Bruising the make of us.
At times over half of our bodies
Are not our own,
Our persons made vessel
For non-human cells.
To them we are
A boat of a being,
Microbiome is all the writhing forms on
& inside this body
Drafted under our life.
We are not me—
We are we.
What we carry.
All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was.
The English noun suffix
is unrelated to the vessel.
Rather it means “quality, condition, skill, office.”
The suffix’s origin is from the Old English
, signifying “to shape, create, form, destine.”
to the end of a word & it transforms its meaning.
to the end of a world & it transforms our meaning.
This book, like a ship, is meant to be lived in.
Are we not the animals, two by two,
Heavy hearted & hoofed, horned,
Marching into the ark of our lives.
We, the mammals marked to flood
This day throbbing into tomorrow.
To ship, in colloquial terms, means to imagine or place as a pair, to push two persons or things together, whereby we ship them. It is a shortened, verbed version of
, to dream of love where there was blankness.
Sometimes the extract is not an erasure,
But an expansion.
It is not a cut, but a culmination.
Not a gash, but a growth.
Life has taken the suffix
, made it a verb,
Taken a sound
& given it momentum.
That’s what only words can do—
Prod us toward something new
& in doing so, move us closer → together.
Perhaps our relationships are the very make of us,
For fellowship is both our nature & our necessity.
We are formed primarily by what we imagine.
There truly is a unity
That requires no “they”
For us to be threatened by.
This is the very definition of love.
We’ve never had to hate a human
To hug another, never had to be fearful
To be fond of the hearts beating out to us.
This whole sea-less wreck,
We have sought
Not yellow land
But our fellow man,
The shores mapped
Only by one another.
Willed across wine-dark woes,
We arrive at ourselves.
Hope is the soft bird
We send across the sea
To see if this earth is still home.
We ask you honestly:
We, like the water, forget nothing,
Words, also like the water,
Are a type of washing.
Through them we cleanse ourselves
Of what we are not.
That is to say, words
Are how we are moored & unmarred.
Let us rouse & roar
Like the ancient beasts we are.
We swam through the news
Like a ship bucking at sea.
For a year our television
Was a lighthouse, blinking
Only in warning & never in warmth.
We felt ourselves things bred in the night,
Hibernating from our own humanity.
Grief made ropes of our arms.
This whole time, what we craved most
Was only all that we have ever loved.
The hours roved listless as a bike
Drunk without its handles.
Back to normal
We repeat, an incantation
To summon the Before.
We mourn the past
More than we miss it.
We revere the regular more
Than we remember it honestly.
Don’t we recognize
All the ways
Yes, nostalgia has its purposes—
Transport from the spectered,
The jobs never coming back,
The mothers’ primal screams,
Our children’s minds shuttered from school,
The funerals without families,
Weddings in waiting,
The births in isolation.
Let no one again
Have to begin, love, or end, alone.
The earth is a magic act;
Each second something beautiful
On its stage vanishes,
As if merely going home.
We have no word
For becoming a ghost or a memory.
To be a member of this place
Is to remember its place,
Its longitude of longing.
This elegy, naturally, is insufficient.
Say it plain.
Call us who we left behind.
It’s not what was done that will haunt us,
But what was withheld,
What was kept out & kept away.
The hand clenched tightly
With every black blow.
We cannot fathom all these phantoms.
But do not fear our ghosts.
Learn from them.
Slowly as the sea,
We found the stubborn devotion to say:
Where we can we shall hope
We found it in a million delicacies
An infant’s full-chested chortle,
July glassing our skin,
Music blurring a summered street.
How when we’re among friends
Our laughter can stomp
Up from nothing.
Through this hole punched in the roof
We can see a stitch of sky.
Our wounds, too, are our windows.
Through them we watch the world.
We prayed for a miracle.
What we got was a mirror.
Watch as, without movement,
We gather together.
What have we understood?
What are we doing?
It took us losing ourselves
To see we require no kingdom
But this kinship.
It is the nightmare, never
The dream, that shocks us awake.