You wander, in agony, in torment, with woe as a companion for days and days. You wonder if it will always be like this. Some nights it feels like the answer will always be yes.

And then you wake up some days and things are better, surprisingly. The way you put on a well-worn sweater and find that it still fits, how nice. Or when you open the fridge and find a bar of chocolate still there, just in case of emergencies. Small mercies.

Because I only ever have words to enfold you instead of my arms, please know I am saying this from the deep recesses of myself: you are loved, ever so loved, and not alone.

Slow Dance by the Ocean
Linda Gregg

The days are hot and moist now. The doves say
true, true, true and fly lovely all the time
from and to the tree outside my window,
not quieted by the weather as the cats are.
The dogs bark only when there is a stranger.
The world moves, my Lord, and I stay still,
yielding as it passes through. I go down
the path to a bay that holds the ocean quiet,
a grassy place with oleander and broom.
When evening comes, things are clear delicately
until all is dark except the water, which is silver.
The sea takes me at night while I sleep.
During the day, memory is the pull of its huge
center. I have my dress to wash and lamps to clean
in the coming and going of time. I dance as slowly
as possible in the fields of barley and weeds.

This is from The Sacraments of Desire by Linda Gregg, published by Graywolf Press, 1995.

How did you know, R. asked me. He said, I didn’t know how to love the first time. I said I was in the middle of a conversation one day, and then suddenly the realisation hit me and my face went askew, my heart started beating so fast I thought I was having a panic attack.

How did you survive, J. asked me. She said, I don’t think I could have made it out alive, all those years of abuse. Inner strength, I joked, while in my mind I thought: because something inside me refused to die.

How can you live in this country, D. asked me. I opened my mouth to answer then closed it again. He will never understand what it means to be brown.

Maybe it was a panic attack.

I loved and it hurt everywhere.

what they did yesterday afternoon
Warsan Shire

they set my aunts house on fire
i cried the way women on tv do
folding at the middle
like a five pound note.
i called the boy who used to love me
tried to ‘okay’ my voice
i said hello
he said warsan, what’s wrong, what’s happened?

i’ve been praying,
and these are what my prayers look like;
dear god
i come from two countries
one is thirsty
the other is on fire
both need water.

later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered

Listen to what I’m trying to tell you, you say softly. Your mouth is on my inner thigh and I know you mean it. Your teeth are on my neck and I know you mean it. Your hands cradle my face and I know you mean it. Your arms enfold me when I feel unsafe and I know mean it. You will slay everyone who has ever hurt me and I know you mean it.

We both wanted to be honest and now we are both in pain. Was it mercy or was it foolishness, I don’t know. Is it better to carry the weight of everything we’ve never given voice to but continues to make a home at the back of our minds. Let’s work this out—a promise and a threat, both.

A languaged being can live and thrive between spaces but I still need words sometimes. I am here, you say, and what more do you need, and I’m not going to anywhere. Then you say: But—

At that moment I know there’s a universe that has exploded behind a single word: but do my actions make you feel unloved but it’s nothing to overthink but it’s not going to mean anything if you don’t see what I see in you but you’ll just keep second-guessing whether you’re someone worth loving—

I’m only saying that sometimes it makes me wonder if I’m that unloveable if you can’t say it, after all this time.

On the Motion of Animals
Camille Rankine

I am trying to tell you
something but my mouth
won’t move

I want to hold you
but it comes all wrong
I am marooned

in this body
with no gift
for puppetry

I want to
know you I think
I could

love you like you
probably should
be loved but my love

is a fish
in the wrong
kind of water

where I want
to hold you but
there’s someone else

in the room
the radiator’s screaming
and my arms won’t move

This is from Incorrect Merciful Impulses by Camille Rankine, published by Copper Canyon Press, 2016.

I used to tell him I’m broken. It comes out of my mouth every once in awhile, like water bubbling upwards in the sink when the drain is clogged. He tells me it hurts, cuts him deeply, hearing me say it. I’ve worked hard on trying to unlearn it, the idea that I am beyond repair. The past two weeks though I feel like I’m back there again.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told: think happy thoughts. As if it will solve everything. As if thinking happy translates to being happy. I’ve thought of dogs licking my face, of cheesecake and singing at the top of my lungs with the window open, of laughing so hard I fall off my chair, of being told I am loved, of being held. But the days remain dark. Do you know what I mean?

I get these really bad headaches and I’m hungry all the time. Sometimes I sleep all day. Sometimes I don’t sleep at all. How long before it ends, I asked the moon one night. She never answers.

Not broken not broken not broken, I chant to myself for hours on end before forcing myself to roll out of bed. I try to hold myself together the way I try to grab a fistful of water.

What’s Broken
Dorianne Laux

The slate black sky. The middle step
of the back porch. And long ago

my mother’s necklace, the beads
rolling north and south. Broken

the rose stem, water into drops, glass
knobs on the bedroom door. Last summer’s

pot of parsley and mint, white roots
shooting like streamers through the cracks.

Years ago the cat’s tail, the bird bath,
the car hood’s rusted latch. Broken

little finger on my right hand at birth—
I was pulled out too fast. What hasn’t

been rent, divided, split? Broken
the days into nights, the night sky

into stars, the stars into patterns
I make up as I trace them

with a broken-off blade
of grass. Possible, unthinkable,

the cricket’s tiny back as I lie
on the lawn in the dark, my heart

a blue cup fallen from someone’s hands.

This is from Facts About The Moon by Dorianne Laux, published by W.W. Norton and Company, 2007.

How are you? Are you writing? are two questions I am often asked by people who know how to check up on me when I’ve been too silent. What they’re really asking is: how is your heart, and are you still alive. What they really want to say is: you mustn’t give up, and find your way back to the words, and you are here, and you are not fading away.

Life has been strange for me in the past year. I had thought it would be an opportunity to have better days than the past, but it is not to be. But what am I saying—we’ve all had to endure. Here: I am eating an old pancake at six in the evening with my favourite bottle of beer, listening to Olafur Arnalds and thinking, this year looks like it isn’t any better, but I will survive. Yes.

Tell me how you did it. Tell me how you summoned a wave of inner strength and said, no, I am not dead yet. Tell me how you got up in the mornings and made the bed—or not, but got up anyway. Tell me you and I are here, right now with the seas between us, knees shaking and trembling with the desire to still be.

Here, I rattled around my memories a bit more. Allow me to tell you some glimpses of brief joy: when I found myself picking up my ukulele to learn a new song, when I saw a grasshopper while sitting out at my balcony all the way up here at the twelfth floor, when my aunt sent me chocolate cappuccino and it surprisingly didn’t taste like shit, when I decided to write all day with no pants and thought, hey this is really nice.

If you told me what it cost to survive was looking at a slice of the moon some evenings and someone asking me every so often, how are you, I would probably have said, yes please and more.

What it costs
Marge Piercy

Now it costs to say
I will survive, now when
my words coat my clenched
teeth with blood, now
when I have been yanked
off love like a diver
whose hose is cut.
I push against
the dizzying onslaught
of heavy dark water.
Up or down? While
the heart kicks
like a strangled rabbit
and the lungs buckle
like poor balloons:
I will survive.

I will lift the leaden
coffin lid of the surface
and thrust my face
into the air.
I will feel the sun’s
rough tongue on my face.
Then I’ll start swimming
toward the coast
that must somewhere
blur the horizon
with wheeling birds.

This is from The Moon is Always Female by Marge Piercy, published by Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.

Sunday morning barefoot with the sun barely grazing the window. Listening to Billie Holiday croon, I’m a fool to want you…

It almost feels real, this living. It almost makes me believe I am living the life I wanted—a good life—or at least I am trying my darnedest. But I know an hour from now I am back to the punishing nature of the grind, disintegrating the hours working and working and working instead of being wrapped up in a book, on the couch under a yellow blanket, with Lady Day in the background.

But isn’t that what life is too, though. The grind. Because it means I am not giving up, it means I am trying to live, still.

I used to ask, what have I lost to be here. I am thinking, maybe the question really is: what have I killed to be here.

I Remember the Carrots
Ada Limón

I haven’t given up on trying to live a good life,
a really good one even, sitting in the kitchen
in Kentucky, imagining how agreeable I’ll be –
the advance of fulfillment, and of desire –
all these needs met, then unmet again.
When I was a kid, I was excited about carrots,
their spidery neon tops in the garden’s plot.
And so I ripped them all out. I broke the new roots
and carried them, like a prize, to my father
who scolded me, rightly, for killing his whole crop.
I loved them: my own bright dead things.
I’m thirty-five and remember all that I’ve done wrong.
Yesterday I was nice, but in truth I resented
the contentment of the field. Why must we practice
this surrender? What I mean is: there are days
I still want to kill the carrots because I can.

This is from Bright Dead Things: Poems by Ada Limón, published by Milkweed Editions, 2015.