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Authors: Amanda Gorman

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BOOK: Call Us What We Carry
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The announcement

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.

* * *

Graduation day.

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,

Home sick.

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 beauty—

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.


Touch-deficient &

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

Remains indecipherable.

& 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?

Or better?


Then choose.

& SO

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

One another.

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.

—Ocean Vuong,
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

To view as reflowable text, see
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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,


A country,

A continent,

A planet.

A human

Microbiome is all the writhing forms on

& inside this body

Drafted under our life.

We are not me—

We are we.

Call us

What we carry.


All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was.

—Toni Morrison

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.

→ ship

→ ship

→ ship

→ ship

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.

→ ship

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:

Is it?

* * *

We, like the water, forget nothing,

Forgo everything.

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

Normal can

S p
e r



* * *

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

Of enormity—

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?
Nothing. Everything.

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.

BOOK: Call Us What We Carry
3.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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