There will be an end, I once wrote to myself, on a postcard one afternoon with the sun on my nape, my feet up on a chair. But not just yet, I eventually added. I was in another country and the city has been incredibly kind to me, and I was teaching myself about my limits and my fears.

Not just yet—perhaps my mantra for the past year as I pass through the days. You are here, I say. Pay attention, I say. How does one not become the very selfsame ghost that haunts one’s life?

I am here. Not yet shattered. Not yet dead. Beginning again. I am not entirely ready but my heart is open. Perhaps today that is enough.

The Leash
Ada Limón

After the birthing of bombs of forks and fear,
the frantic automatic weapons unleashed,
the spray of bullets into a crowd holding hands,
that brute sky opening in a slate metal maw
that swallows only the unsayable in each of us, what’s
left? Even the hidden nowhere river is poisoned
orange and acidic by a coal mine. How can
you not fear humanity, want to lick the creek
bottom dry to suck the deadly water up into
your own lungs, like venom? Reader, I want to
say, Don’t die. Even when silvery fish after fish
comes back belly up, and the country plummets
into a crepitating crater of hatred, isn’t there still
something singing? The truth is: I don’t know.
But sometimes, I swear I hear it, the wound closing
like a rusted-over garage door, and I can still move
my living limbs into the world without too much
pain, can still marvel at how the dog runs straight
toward the pickup trucks break-necking down
the road, because she thinks she loves them,
because she’s sure, without a doubt, that the loud
roaring things will love her back, her soft small self
alive with desire to share her goddamn enthusiasm,
until I yank the leash back to save her because
I want her to survive forever. Don’t die, I say,
and we decide to walk for a bit longer, starlings
high and fevered above us, winter coming to lay
her cold corpse down upon this little plot of earth.
Perhaps, we are always hurtling our body towards
the thing that will obliterate us, begging for love
from the speeding passage of time, and so maybe
like the dog obedient at my heels, we can walk together
peacefully, at least until the next truck comes.

This is from The Carrying by Ada Limón, published by Milkweed Editions, 2018.

Just checking in, writes J., one evening. To see if I’m okay. To see if I’m still alive. Maybe.

Too many people to grieve these days. One of them is myself although I don’t know exactly why I’m on the list. I just am.

I am alive—I guess—. Emily Dickinson in my head, but without the affirmation in the end.

Clear Night
Charles Wright

Clear night, thumb-top of a moon, a back-lit sky.
Moon-fingers lay down their same routine
On the side deck and the threshold, the white keys and the black keys.
Bird hush and bird song. A cassia flower falls.

I want to be bruised by God.
I want to be strung up in a strong light and singled out.
I want to be stretched, like music wrung from a dropped seed.
I want to be entered and picked clean.

And the wind says “What?” to me.
And the castor beans, with their little earrings of death, say “What?” to me.
And the stars start out on their cold slide through the dark.
And the gears notch and the engines wheel.

This is from Poetry Foundation.

Here is one thing I know: when my dog jumps on me and ruins my dress I am at once horrified at the paw prints but also secretly happy at this sudden display of love.

Here is another thing I know: when I put socks on my father before he goes to sleep I am telling him everything I can’t say because we are two people inept at tenderness even if we have never shied away from each other’s embrace.

What I don’t know I am practising to be grateful for.

Mysteries, Yes
Mary Oliver

Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous
   to be understood.

How grass can be nourishing in the
   mouths of the lambs.
How rivers and stones are forever
   in allegiance with gravity
      while we ourselves dream of rising.
How two hands touch and the bonds will
   never be broken.
How people come, from delight or the
   scars of damage,
to the comfort of a poem.

Let me keep my distance, always, from those
   who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say
   “Look!” and laugh in astonishment,
   and bow their heads.

This is from Evidence: Poems by Mary Oliver, published by Beacon Press, 2009.

“How many of you, when faced with something good, begins to think of what could go wrong?” she asks. I sit here with my hands on my lap, knowing I should raise them, raise them as far as my arms can reach, towards that space where dread and anxiety live, an imaginary dark cloud above my head.

I can’t remember how many times I did this—hold joy close to my chest and suffocate it with my doubt, each time a declaration of I don’t deserve this, each time a question of how long will this last?

A month ago I was in another country, another city, in the middle of a highway. I was trying to cross to the other side, a sea of motorcycles before me. I walked quickly, aware of my space in the world, when I turned to my left and saw wheels fast approaching. I tried to step back, and then froze, certain of an accident, of pain, of possibly my heart stopping so far away from home. It didn’t happen—instead, I came face to face with someone who stepped on the breaks just in time. His face hidden behind a helmet, my face baring my strangeness in that place. My hand on my throat. Alive. Safe. Here.

It seems too enormous, the universe’s plan for me. If there is a plan. Last night I found myself embracing the new year yet again. What now, T.? What now. If I’m still meant to be here, what now?

I am telling my body, this moment of vulnerability will always be here. I am telling my body, we got this. We’re here.

Another thing I am saying: to practice gratitude instead of dress-rehearsing for tragedy. I’ve picked it up somewhere, and now’s the time to maybe, finally, listen.

Go and do, the sign reads above my desk. And you know what, maybe I will.

The Highway
W.S. Merwin

It seems too enormous just for a man to be
Walking on. As if it and the empty day
Were all there is. And a little dog
Trotting in time with the heat waves, off
Near the horizon, seeming never to get
Any farther. The sun and everything
Are stuck in the same places, and the ditch
Is the same all the time, full of every kind
Of bone, while the empty air keeps humming
That sound it has memorized of things going
Past. And the signs with huge heads and starved
Bodies, doing dances in the heat,
And the others big as houses, all promise
But with nothing inside and only one wall,
Tell of other places where you can eat,
Drink, get a bath, lie on a bed
Listening to music, and be safe. If you
Look around you see it is just the same
The other way, going back; and farther
Now to where you came from, probably,
Than to places you can reach by going on.

This is from The First Four Books of Poems by W.S. Merwin, published by Copper Canyon Press, 2000.

Maybe fragments are what make my life. I gather them all together in my arms, carry what I can, from place to place: Here is where things have become disastrous; here is where I learned to live through the pain; here is where I’ve come to stand, knees trembling, after being bent double in grief.

In a postcard which I wrote to my future self, I said, “The universe, in general, is kind. And isn’t that fantastic? You’ve got to trust the process, love.”

I don’t ask for much these days, other than to occupy the spaces surrounding the word here.

Maybe a fragment is what I am, all these years: Here is the self that threatens to crumble; here is the self who died a thousand times; here is the self who lived anyway.

I am thirty-two today. The unknown before me.

The mantra falls from my lips like a promise: Here. Here. Here.

Notebook Fragments
Ocean Vuong

A scar’s width of warmth on a worn man’s neck.
                  That’s all I wanted to be.

Sometimes I ask for too much just to feel my mouth overflow.

Discovery: my longest pubic hair is 1.2 inches.

Good or bad?

7:18 a.m. Kevin overdosed last night. His sister left a message. Couldn’t listen
                  to all of it. That makes three this year.

I promise to stop soon.

Spilled orange juice all over the table this morning. Sudden sunlight
                  I couldn’t wipe away.

My hands were daylight all through the night.

Woke up at 1 a.m and, for no reason, ran through Duffy’s cornfield. Boxers only.

Corn was dry. I sounded like a fire,
                  for no reason.

Grandma said In the war they would grab a baby, a soldier at each ankle, and pull…
                  Just like that.

It’s finally spring! Daffodils everywhere.
                  Just like that.

There are over 13,000 unidentified body parts from the World Trade Center
                  being stored in an underground repository in New York City.

Good or bad?

Shouldn’t heaven be superheavy by now?

Maybe rain is “sweet” because it falls
                  through so much of the world.

Even sweetness can scratch the throat, so stir the sugar well.—Grandma

4:37 a.m. How come depression makes me feel more alive?

Life is funny.

Note to self: If a guy tells you his favorite poet is Jack Kerouac,
                  there’s a very good chance he’s a douchebag.

Note to self: If Orpheus were a woman, I wouldn’t be stuck down here.

Why do all my books leave me empty-handed?

In Vietnamese, the word for grenade is “bom,” from the French “pomme,”
                  meaning “apple.”

Or was it American for “bomb”?

Woke up screaming with no sound. The room filling with a bluish water
                  called dawn. Went to kiss grandma on the forehead

just in case.

An American soldier fucked a Vietnamese farmgirl. Thus my mother exists.
                  Thus I exist. Thus no bombs = no family = no me.


9:47 a.m. Jerked off four times already. My arm kills.

Eggplant = cà pháo = “grenade tomato.” Thus nourishment defined
                  by extinction.

I met a man tonight. A high school English teacher
                  from the next town. A small town. Maybe

I shouldn’t have, but he had the hands
                  of someone I used to know. Someone I was used to.

The way they formed brief churches
                  over the table as he searched for the right words.

I met a man, not you. In his room the Bibles shook on the shelf
                  from candlelight. His scrotum a bruised fruit. I kissed it

lightly, the way one might kiss a grenade
                  before hurling it into the night’s mouth.

Maybe the tongue is also a key.


I could eat you he said, brushing my cheek with his knuckles.

I think I love my mom very much.

Some grenades explode with a vision of white flowers.

Baby’s breath blooming in a darkened sky, across
                  my chest.

Maybe the tongue is also a pin.

I’m going to lose it when Whitney Houston dies.

I met a man. I promise to stop.

A pillaged village is a fine example of a perfect rhyme. He said that.

He was white. Or maybe, I was just beside myself, next to him.

Either way, I forgot his name by heart.

I wonder what it feels like to move at the speed of thirst—if it’s as fast
                  as lying on the kitchen floor with the lights off.


6:24 a.m. Greyhound station. One-way ticket to New York City: $36.75.

6:57 a.m. I love you, mom.

When the prison guards burned his manuscripts, Nguyễn Chí Thiện couldn’t stop
                  laughing—the 283 poems already inside him.

I dreamed I walked barefoot all the way to your house in the snow. Everything
                  was the blue of smudged ink

and you were still alive. There was even a light the shade of sunrise inside
                  your window.

God must be a season, grandma said, looking out at the blizzard drowning
                  her garden.

My footsteps on the sidewalk were the smallest flights.

Dear god, if you are a season, let it be the one I passed through
                  to get here.

Here. That’s all I wanted to be.

I promise.

This is from Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong, published by Copper Canyon Press, 2016.

R. came by today and poured his heart out. There he was, gasping at the pain of it, clasping at something unnameable on his chest, keening, why does it hurt so much? I held his hand.

I wish I could tell you there was an answer, I began. I held his hand.

He asked me about the people in my life, and I felt my heart constrict a little. At what has gone by. At what has passed. He asked me if I have loved. If I have lost. Our faces are both wet and maybe there is no need for words. I held his hand.

What can we ever really do when we are broken? Because I’ve been here, I tell him, you are loved, and are worthy of being loved. I held his hand.

from East Coker
T.S. Eliot

So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years–
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l’entre deux guerres
Trying to learn to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it, and so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate–but there is no competition–
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.

Arrived at the here and now, again.

The new year breeds a new batch of questions. All longing to be answered, though not all meant to have one that will be easy to accept nor understand. Yet they are there, nevertheless, waiting to be asked.

Beginning, again.

The Broken Sandal
Denise Levertov

Dreamed the thong of my sandal broke.
Nothing to hold it to my foot.
How shall I walk?
The sharp stones, the dirt. I would
Where was I going?
Where was I going I can’t
go to now, unless hurting?
Where am I standing, if I’m
to stand still now?

This is from Poems 1968-1972 by Denise Levertov, published by New Directions, 1987.