Authors: Amanda Gorman
Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto.
We have never met
& yet we have still lost sight of each other,
Two lighthouses quavering in fog.
We could not hold ourselves.
This year was no year.
When next generations ask, we will say
It went something like this:
The empty, creaking playgrounds,
Bodies laid straight as celery stalks,
The imprint of warmth, holidays,
Gatherings & people, gone to rust
In our acrid skull.
The moments wavered unscheduled,
Planless, not plotless. Time col lap sed
Into no m ore than a shape
That we felt for numbly
(& tell us: what is the hour
But a rotation by which we mark our grief).
Whole months swept by, fast but dragging,
Like a damp void trapped in the rearview.
Our souls, solitary & solemn.
By then, our fear was old & exact,
Worn-in & stiff as a hand-me-down.
When has horror not been our heirloom.
The heart, chambered by grief.
The mind, assimilated to suffering.
Nevertheless, we walked from that pale plane,
Though we were free to remain.
Hope is no silent harbor, no haven still.
It is the roaring thing that tugs us away
From the very shores we clutch.
Though we have never met,
We have sensed the other all along,
Quiet & wandering, wide-lit
With the urge to move forward.
No human is a stranger to us.
This year the size of a sea
Sick to its stomach.
Like a page, we are only legible
When opened to one another.
For what is a book
If not foremost a body,
Waiting & wanting—
Yearning to be whole,
Full of itself. This book is full
Of ourselves. The past is one
Passionate déjà vu,
One scene already seen.
In history’s form, we find our own faces,
Recognizable but unremembered,
Familiar yet forgotten.
Do not ask us who we are.
The hardest part of grief
Is giving it a name.
The pain pulls us apart,
Like lips about to speak.
Without language nothing can live
At all, let alone
Lost as we feel, there is no better
Compass than compassion.
We find ourselves not by being
The most seen, but the most seeing.
We watch a toddler
Freewheel through warm grass,
Not fleeing, just running, the way rivers do,
For it is in their unfettered nature.
We smile, our whole face cleared
By that single dazzling thing.
How could we not be altered.
In this era of error,
We’re re-raised among wreckage.
What happened to us
We asked. A true inquiry.
As if we’re simply the affected,
The recipient, to which
Such rambling trauma was sent.
As if we did not give the very cry
To which our bows were bent.
We labor equally
When we fall as when we rise.
Always remember that
What happened to us
Happened through us.
We wonder how close
Can we come to light
Before we shut our eyes.
How long can we stand the dark
Before we become more than our shadows.
Concern is the debt
We always owed each other.
This is not an allegory.
Descend into ourselves,
Like a fruit caught by its own branch.
That clear plunge is the beginning
Of what we ought to become.
Say our feet miss a step on a stair—
Shock zagging hard up our veins—
—Even as our foot forgives the ground.
The blood jaggedly striking in our veins
Reminding ourselves we are perishable
But prevailing, living & livid.
Every day we are learning
How to live with essence, not ease.
How to move with haste, never hate.
How to leave this pain that is beyond us
Just like a skill or any art,
We cannot possess hope without practicing it.
It is the most fundamental craft we demand of ourselves.
A Dictionary of English Etymology
Call us fish-meal.
We are no prophet.
We are no profit.
Our whole year swallowed,
As if by a massive maw.
What else could stomach
Our hearts, huge with hurt,
Everyone & everything hell
-shocked, as a sea bait-
ing its breath, its time.
As if to hold its whole self.
Lasting meant being separate
Together, proximate in our distance.
To be a part of the living,
We had to be apart from it,
Alive but alone.
It was death by survival.
From the Middle English meshing
, literally “at one,” “in harmony.”
By the second half of the seventeenth century,
“to reconcile, and thence to suffer the pains of whatever sacrifice is necessary to bring about a reconciliation.”
There swims our one hope,
Unintelligible in its massiveness,
Like a finback dragging itself under.
& harrowed as we are,
We’re still standing
Gold as a beach,
Despite all augury, proof
That the meek shall repaireth the earth.
Call us Odd’Sis,
Wily as these miles of bloodshed.
Our gods owe men omens.
Answers, we mean.
We hide a battalion in the body
Of this poem, wild as a wolf in the woods.
Strength is separate from survival.
What endures isn’t always what escapes
& what is withered can still withstand.
We watch men mend their amens,
Words flapping against their hands.
Poetry is its own prayer,
The closest words come to will.
Come the tenth year in this battle,
We will no longer allow shadows
A free tenantry within us.
We would leap out of this night
Down-rushing on our head.
Often we cannot change
Without someone in us dying.
Call us an exodus,
Plagued ten times over,
For all we see is red.
Intentional language, like a poem,
Is to separate our waters like a gash,
To find the sea also grieving & giving
Enough to be walked through.
We are the whale,
With a heart so huge
It can’t help but wail.
We can’t help but help.
If given the choice, we would not be
Among the Chosen,
But amidst the Changed.
Unity is its own devout work,
The word we work in,
That leaves us devastated to be delivered.
The future isn’t attained.
It is atoned, until
It is at one with history,
Until home is more than memory,
Until we can hold near
Who we hold dear.
What a marvelous wreck are we.
We press out of our cold
& separate crouching.
Like a vine sprung overnight,
We were reaching & wretched
Upon this mortal soil
& even so we are undiminished.
If just for this newborn day,
Let us take back our
what is known?
that we carry our baggage
in our cupped hands
when we burst through
the waters of our mother.
—Lucille Clifton, “far memory”
What would we seem, stripped down
Like a wintered tree.
Glossy scabs, tight-raised skin,
These can look silver in certain moonlights.
In other words,
Our scars are the brightest
Parts of us.
The crescent moon,
The night’s lucent lesion.
We are felled oaks beneath it,
Branches full of empty.
What we share is more
Than what we’ve shed.
& what we share is the bark, the bones.
Paleontologists, from one fossilized femur,
Can dream up a species,
Make believe a body
Where there was none.
Our remnants are revelation,
Our requiem as raptus.
When we bend into dirt
We’re truth preserved
Without our skin.
means both the cavity
Of an organ, literally an opening,
& a unit of luminous flux,
Literally, a measurement of how lit
The source is. Illuminate us.
That is, we, too,
Are this bodied unit of flare,
The gap for lux to breach.
Sorry, must’ve been the light
Playing tricks on us
, we say,
Knuckling our eyelids.
But perhaps it is we who make
Falsities of luminescence—
Our shadows playing tricks on stars.
Every time their gazes tug down,
They think us monsters, then men,
Predators, then persons again,
Beasts, then beings,
Horrors & then humans.
Of all the stars the most beautiful
Is nothing more than a monster,
Just as starved & stranded as we are.
Life is not what is promised,
But what is sought.
These bones, not what is found,
But what we’ve fought.
Our truth, not what we said,
But what we thought.
Our lesson, all we have taken
& all we have brought.
We’re writing as the daughter of a / dying world / as its new-faced alert. / In math, the slash / also called the solidus / means division, divided by. / We were divided / from each other, person / person. / Some griefs, like rivers, are uncross / able. They are not to be waded across / but walked beside. Our loss / colossal & blossomed / is never lost on us. Love the earth / like we’ve failed it. To put it plain / we have shipwrecked the earth / soiled the soil / & run the ground aground. / Listen. We are the loud toll / on this planet. / Our future needs us / alarmed. Man is a myth / in the making. / What is now dust will not return, / not the beloveds / nor their breath, / nor the sugar-crumbling glaciers, / nor the crows chewing / on their own soured song, / nor all the species / slashed / down / in one smogged swoop. / Extinction is a chorus / of quiet punching / that same note. What can never be brought back / can still be brought forth / in memory / in mouth / in mind. To say it plain is to tell / only half / of the story.
To view as reflowable text, see
But the blur
Of our bodies,
Stitched inside us.
To sit &
Let joy find
At the very best
The animals flooded our streets
Demanding answers or food,
Here to take back
What was theirs.
We were swept up by an unsung
Need for nature,
For the sky slack with blue,
The studded stirring of stars.
That June we kicked off our shoes,
Feet sticky with summer & sat
On somebody else’s lawn,
If just to let grass steam up
Our toes. We’re still in that green,
Shuttering the discs of our eyes,
The bark of us swaying
Not by any breeze imaginable.
[Animals in captivity will demonstrate what is termed stereotypic behavior: repetitive & unvarying actions
that have neither goal nor function. Some examples of stereotypic behavior include incessant pacing, over-grooming, rocking, kicking, excessive sleeping & self-mutilation.]
Is gray & stormed.
Isolation is its own climate.
Six months & we still could not grasp
What we were losing every minute.
We stalked ourselves for days in our own house,
Absolutely abulic, incessantly incensed.
We chewed our nails to the knuckles,
Ground our teeth to stardust,
Flipped unpolluted memories
Over in our mind like a penny
Rubbed faceless for good luck.
We walk daily with the dying
Of the earth. The hopes hoarded
Behind our throat, an extinction.
What, exactly, is meant by “normal”?
What, exactly, is meant?
[Stereotypies are demonstrated in many animals, including elephants, horses, polar bears, macaques & humans. Because stereotypic behavior is not seen in the wild, it is considered a strong indicator of poor psychological health in the caged organism. Thus, stereotypies are termed abnormal (or, rather, the captive environment is the true abnormality). Smaller cages can exacerbate stereotypies. To be captive, then, is to be rendered a trope of oneself.]
The same sapiens, we flooded our streets
Demanding answers & change.
To love is to be liable
To ourselves & each other.
Our need for nature
Is our need for origins,
The green tangled place
Where we are of least consequence
& yet still matter as much as anything.
We count each organ-ordered
Throb that makes us this upright mammal.
Among ants, at times even the queen
Must carry & bury her dead.
We cannot tally all we would give
Just to be this unbeaten heart.
[Locked down, the animal may perform the behavior in the same way over & over, at the same time over & over, in the same place, over & over, with the same results. What we’re describing is insanity. Or 2020.]
Perhaps there’s a day with no tattered terrain
Of terror, only an ether strung into
Blue. The beauty of the planet,
When we remember to look,
Stuns us blank as babes.
To care is how we vow
That we are here,
That we are.
It is how we break