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The On Being Project

Politics of an Elegy: A Poem

in conversation with Danez Smith & sam sax

If things happen
the way they are supposed to
my mother will die before me.
My mother, who, by then, will love me
will die.

My mother, who, by then
will, hopefully, be happy, will walk
without pain from this life into the next

& I, her only son, her writer son
will stay to translate
her life into English.

Any adjective can be true
if you cry hard enough.

I can lie & say I haven’t written the poem
haven’t buried her over & over at my desk
haven’t described the ash of her body.

I throw a fist full of sand in the air
& pretend to weep.

I write the poem.
I fill my lungs with English.
I numb her skin with English.
I English the light she walks into.

I kill her
just to raise her from the dead.

I anticipate this grief by exhausting it
with music. I pry open the casket.
I make her twirl in the center.


From the forthcoming “Not Here” (Coffee House Press, 2018). This poem is reprinted with permission from The Quarry, produced by Split This Rock. Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness is a three-day poetry festival in Washington, DC, which takes place this year from April 19-21. The program includes readings by some of the most significant and artistically vibrant poets writing and performing today, including Elizabeth Acevedo, Sherwin Bitsui, Camille Dungy, Sharon Olds, Sonia Sanchez, and Paul Tran. Readings by featured poets are free and open to the public. You can learn more about and register for the festival here

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