The Nails

by W.S. Merwin


I gave you sorrow to hang on your wall
Like a calendar in one color.
I wear a torn place on my sleeve.
It isn’t as simple as that.

Between no place of mine and no place of yours
You’d have thought I’d know the way by now
Just from thinking it over.
Oh I know
I’ve no excuse to be stuck here turning
Like a mirror on a string,
Except it’s hardly credible how
It all keeps changing.
Loss has a wider choice of directions
Than the other thing.

As if I had a system
I shuffle among the lies
Turning them over, if only
I could be sure what I’d lost.
I uncover my footprints, I
Poke them till the eyes open.
They don’t recall what it looked like.
When was I using it last?
Was it like a ring or a light
Or the autumn pond
Which chokes and glitters but
Grows colder?
It could be all in the mind. Anyway
Nothing seems to bring it back to me.

And I’ve been to see
Your hands as trees borne away on a flood,
The same film over and over,
And an old one at that, shattering its account
To the last of the digits, and nothing
And the blank end.

The lightning has shown me the scars of the future.

I’ve had a long look at someone
Alone like a key in a lock
Without what it takes to turn.

It isn’t as simple as that.

Winter will think back to your lit harvest
For which there is no help, and the seed
Of eloquence will open its wings
When you are gone.
But at this moment
When the nails are kissing the fingers good-bye
And my only
Chance is bleeding from me,
When my one chance is bleeding,
For speaking either truth or comfort
I have no more tongue than a wound.


W.S. Merwin (1927- ) is a Pulitzer prize winning American poet, translator, playwright, and peace activist currently living in Hawaii.


  1. Wow, wow, wow, that poem gets AMAZING at the end. This is just brilliant: “I’ve had a long look at someone / Alone like a key in a lock / Without what it takes to turn. / It isn’t as simple as that.” As is the last line: “I have no more tongue than a wound.”

    SUCH a nice choice Lezlie. For all the times we’ve sat over coffee and discussed poetry I never learned where you learned to READ poetry or how you come to choose the pieces for the Friday Poetry Series. You have a natural’s eye for it.


  2. My interest in poetry started with a class I took with a poet named Don Revell, whose work I posted on here a few months ago. My friend Cliff put up some Merwin on facebook this week, a little three-line poem called “Separation,” so I started reading more of him. I was planning on posting “Far Company,” which is also amazing, but then stumbled onto this one and was so impressed with it. By the way, I read your stuff on Stranger Ocean yesterday and loved it. I think AIOTB is ready for a little SBR.


  3. That’s awesome. I wish more of my friends posted poetry on their facebook! Though Kevin Killian was kind enough to post a Jack Spicer birthday poem for me on my birthday. As for the latter matter, thank you for your kind words, but I’ll post mine when you post yours! ; )


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