Prypiat – Still Life – Oksana Zabuzhko (tr. Lisa Sapinkopf)

The room is empty. / No witnesses. / But someone was here.

It’s both alien and fascinating to try and think about what people will think of us when we are gone—even the idea of someone existing in one of my vacated past apartments strikes me as odd.

That this is about Pripyat, the site of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, also brings in the thought of the far-flung future; while Pripyat is now a ghost town despite being relatively benign now, the places where we leave our nuclear waste need to leave signs for whatever society will look like ten thousand years in the future to let them know of the danger. But here—the signs left over are personal. A half-finished sweater, a full ashtray, tears shed.

Something like: this place is a message, and part of a system of messages—pay attention to it, but not about what we were afraid of, but for once about how we lived, and what we loved, and who we were. How do we pass on those things? Zabuzhko’s former occupants of the house feel like they only just left: On the floor by the armchair an apple, / Bitten but not brown.

How do we preserve these things? These days it’s so easy to publish everything perfectly synced into the cloud, but at the same time others are discussing what fears they have about the double-edged sword of unchecked technology, of what happens in the event of a disaster. What happens when the servers are gone? Absent that: where are the monuments to our lives? I’m not sure I have an answer yet.

When I Say I Forgive You, Know This – Brenna Twohy

Sometimes the best revenge is using what you learned to live well and to build that new house. And also, you have an axe?

I guess one could say that I tend to quietly hold grudges; I’m not going to use the metaphorical hatchet, but there’s a comfort in having it there, and remembering what you realized you’d be willing to fight for, and how you need to take care of yourself. Moving on sometimes looks less like making nice and more like quietly building yourself something new, one plank at a time.

Moonlight – Darshana Suresh

This is a short poem, but captures a moment that is both quiet and playful. I was talking with my fiancée at one point about how something interesting about the Hayley Kiyoko song “Cliff’s Edge” we both enjoyed was that the way the narrator talks about both herself and her lover, it’s hard to interpret or reframe as heterosexual; I feel the same thing here. The legs swinging, the moonlight on the small of the lover’s back—it feels very authentic to me and my experience of love, of finding that joy with another woman.

what resembles the grave but isn’t – Anne Boyer

I begin with this poem because it’s been on my mind recently. It feels like the world and everything around me has been in a state of constant crisis for approximately forever, now. Social media at times feels like a stream of fundraisers for pressing personal needs and friends and acquaintances reaching out for help, people talking about how afraid they are.

It starts to feel like the world is coming to an end.

Which is when I think of this poem: this is not your grave, get out of this hole. The holes which resemble the grave are an obvious metaphor; when you wake up what feels like every morning to some new incident of racist or sexist or homophobic or antisemitic or transphobic violence that puts you in fear for yourself, your family or your friends, it’s hard not to see the grave everywhere. Boyer acknowledges that sometimes even being in the hole may feel more tolerable and more okay than pulling oneself out—that it takes days or weeks or months or years, sometimes.

But in a world that keeps digging these godawful holes, we have each other: sometimes falling into holes with other people, with other people, saying “this is not our mass grave, get out of this hole,” all together getting out of the hole together, hands and legs and arms and human ladders of each other to get out of the hole that is not the mass grave but that will only be gotten out of together. Sometimes it’s going to be garbage getting out of that hole and sometimes it’s going to be more comfortable to think of this as the end rather than imagining a future. But if it’s not the grave—even if you can’t get out of it alone—it doesn’t have to be final.

And, maybe, eventually:

sometimes dutifully falling and getting out, with perfect fortitude, saying “look at the skill and spirit with which I rise from that which resembles the grave but isn’t!”

An Introduction

I’m a big reader, but up until a couple of years ago I would have told you that I didn’t really like poetry, maybe with the exception of Emily Dickinson. I’m not sure if it was like some foods—balsamic vinaigrette, tomatoes—where it took some time for me to decide poetry was to my taste, or the wider variety of poetry available to me with the internet and zines, or if it was just because I like things a lot better when I come to them naturally and don’t have to pick them apart for a grade.

But the point is: here are some poems and other poetry-adjacent writing that I like, and that I found interesting or evocative or meaningful or all three. Maybe you’ll like some of them, too.