Portrait of poet Max Ritvo. Photo Credit: Ashley Woo, Ari Ritvo

By Max Ritvo:

Holding a Freshwater Fish in a Pail Above the Sea

He strips health out
of the water,
reminding me
of my mother.

I walk in sea
and hold my sweet
fish above me,
no small feat

given the rice-
hard salt scraping
my eyeballs twice
each blink of lid.

I put the pail
in the ocean
and then unveil
the decorous

frail white-eyed koi.
But the salt, I
think, will destroy
his rocking breath.

Where he wants space
he will get salt.
Where key traces
of the silence

should hang inside
his cathedral
of musical

Instead, delicious
crystal drills
will crack it all
open; the church,

its ebbs and flows.
I scoop the fish
up by its nose,
a forked affair.

I show you him.
Looks fine to me
you say (Ha!), dim
and lovely you.

This happens more
times, stopping and
starting, me showing
you my full hand,

my fish. Where have
you gone? I was
hoping to wake
from this dream

with you drawing
the curtains, a gold
glow on the sheet
wrapping me up.

You aren’t here
but I’m aware
that somewhere
you have moved.

Today’s poem is from Four Reincarnations (Milkweed Editions, 2016), copyright © 2016 by Max Ritvo, and appears here today with permission from Milkweed Editions.

Max Ritvo (1990 – 2016) was an American poet. Milkweed Editions posthumously published a full-length collection of his poems, Four Reincarnations, to positive critical reviews. Milkweed has announced two more books, Letters from Max (co-written with Sarah Ruhl); and a second collection of Ritvo’s poems, The Final Voicemails, forthcoming in 2018. Ritvo earned his BA in English from Yale University, where he studied with the poet Louise Glück, and his MFA in Poetry from Columbia University. In 2014, he was awarded a Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellowship for his chapbook AEONS. He edited poetry at Parnassus: Poetry in Review and was a teaching fellow at Columbia. Ritvo died from Ewing’s sarcoma on August 23, 2016, and is survived by his wife Victoria; his father Edward Ritvo, his mother Riva Ariella Ritvo-Slifka, and his three siblings, Victoria Black, Skye Oryx, and David Slifka. Ritvo’s work has appeared in Poetry, The New Yorker, Boston Review, and as a Poem-a-day on (Annotated bio courtesy of Wikipedia, with edits.)

Guest Editor’s Note: Knowing about the life and death of the poet can provide a lens through which to read each poem in Max Ritvo’s Four Reincarnations. This poem from the collection, “Holding a Freshwater Fish in a Pail Above the Sea,” offers a number of thematic opportunities, but is most powerful through the biographical filter. The poet controls the language—each word, line, and stanza confounds expectations and inspires repeated visits to the poem and its evocative images.

At the outset, there is fear and love for the fish bound in memory and fear. The gentle rhyming quatrains are almost imperceptible behind the fierceness of feeling, but they provide the rhythm and sway of the water controlling the speaker’s emotions even in a dream state. Shifting awareness supplies a type of psychoanalytic wish fulfillment accompanied by an acceptance of the inevitable.

Each turn in the poem feels natural and effortless within a controlled formal structure, and this makes the emotional charge more concentrated and pungent. The lines “Where he wants space/ he will get salt” are especially potent and seem to anchor the speaker in reality revealed by the metaphors and symbols that emerge from the subconscious. Ritvo’s poem exposes the terror in living a life that ends in death and does so in language that is accessible and miraculous.

Want to read more by and about Max Ritvo?
The Poetry Foundation

Guest Editor Anne Graue is the author of Fig Tree in Winter (Dancing Girl Press, 2017), and has published poems in literary journals and anthologies, including The Book of Donuts (Terrapin Books), the Plath Poetry Project, One Sentence Poems, and Rivet Journal.


After nearly ten years as Contributing Editor of this series, the time has come for change. I am thrilled to expand my role to Managing Editor and provide the opportunity for fresh voices to contribute to this ongoing dialogue. Today and in the coming weeks, please help me welcome a series of guest editors to the newest incarnation of the Saturday Poetry Series.

Viva la poesia!
Sivan, Managing Editor
Saturday Poetry Series, AIOTB


By Sarah Marcus:


You said you were afraid of bears—

we weren’t safe until there was ice
along the shoreline. I said we all need trauma,

and my heart breaks every Autumn, so we broke
ourselves against those rocks until the cave mouth opened:

a womb for blind crayfish,
a passageway harboring beetles.

I want you to reach into the depths of your backwoods
and remember our Winters. We need the bears, ourselves

ursine sleeping in dens—the caverns drip-stoned and stunning.
I was and still am in search of a great bear

because people have always known bears—
we will always be shelter for each other.

When we first met, I told you that a long time ago,
grizzlies came down from the Rockies—

they were poisoned on the range, trapped,
hounded, shot out—we found cranial fragments.

We still listen to those legends of bounties paid
to mountain men, harboring that ancient fear of

the bears that made meat of us, boar and sow,
mauled and gnawed away. Our bones resting in caves,

because you were born to hunt, and I was
born of hunting: a witness of great fires.


First snow of the season—
your eyes say
there’s not much oxygen
                  in the mountain air

I have never wanted someone
                  as much as I want you.

I devalued the damage:
you won’t belong—stay gone longer—

                  let it melt.

I’ve been thinking about you
                  because we cannot be separate.
The gravitational pull defies
                  the thousands of miles between us.

Even in the deepest woods,
                  we kneel beside the rill,
the river’s riffle,
the spruce’s mantle of rime,

                  until the point of rock
                                  swells tightly around us.

There’s a chant building in the forest: I won’t be your secret.

Everyone knows how to leave,
but I don’t know how to be
in this city
without you.


These things are real:
you are a desert moon rising a hundred mornings away.
My horses paw a cracked Earth.
The air threatening Winter.
The solitude of sand.
We can smell the danger

of you and her
in that house.
In every house.

When you are so strongly connected
to another person, what did you call it? Rare?
It’s like the sunset.
No one can hold that kind of beauty
for more than a moment.

Our small ribs are thick
enough to take on a prairie panic.
The fear of too much open space.
So many acres;
we can never catch up.

You say I’m always on your side
and this will always mean more
to a woman.

I try to explain that love is a violence,
even when it’s beautiful.
When you enter someone,
you must also leave them.

And there’s always that moment of relief
when I realize that I’ve always known—
I am a hundred deserts.

I will wait for you or some version of you
to become sky.

Today’s poems are from They Were Bears (Sundress Publications, 2017), copyright © 2017 by Sarah Marcus, and appear here today with permission from the poet.

They Were Bears gives us a world that is intimate, complicated, and lush in its raw, brutal meditation upon the complexities of Nature, both within and beyond our grasp as both human beings and animals. These poems by Sarah Marcus channel what the world demands of us, and our bodies as we are guided through a startling cartography of desire, trauma, and memory that is both refuge and wilderness. Marcus writes, ‘I want to say that there are places I have to go, and you have to follow me…through all this orange light, every version of the color red, we betray ourselves for miles.’ With stunning craft and intuition, Marcus places her lyric power against the beautiful, terrifying bones in us where words often feel broken and impossible. Her poems expand through their stark and luminous discoveries to reveal a natural and psychic world too complex to ignore. Marcus gives us sacred breath in which to claim that world when she writes, ‘We inscribe the rocks/with our names, wanting a sign,/want the sky to say:/This is mainland. Solid ground./The place you’ve been looking for.’” -Rachel Eliza Griffiths, author of Lighting the Shadow

Sarah Marcus is the author of They Were Bears (2017, Sundress Publications), Nothing Good Ever Happens After Midnight (2016, GTK Press), and the chapbooks BACKCOUNTRY (2013) and Every Bird, To You (2013). Her other work can be found at NPR’s Prosody, The Huffington Post, McSweeney’s, Cimarron Review, Spork, The Establishment,, and Marie SA, among others. She is an editor at Gazing Grain Press and the Series Editor for As It Ought To Be’s High School Poetry Series: Gender, Identity, & Race. She holds an MFA in poetry from George Mason University and currently teaches and writes in Cleveland, OH.

Editor’s Note: In the Jewish calendar, the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are a surreal and reflective time of reckoning. During these days we are introspective, coming to terms with our true selves before turning outward and asking forgiveness from those who we have wronged. It is in these Days of Awe that I come back to a collection I have been meaning to review for quite some time. It is in this magical time of brutal honesty that I dive deeply into a carefully-wrought world that is far beyond my comfort zone, with eyes and heart wide open to its savage and beautiful truths.

They Were Bears is one of the most thoughtful–if not the most thought-provoking–poetry collections to be released in recent memory. Rife with hunger and blood and animal instinct, this work pulsates at the intersection of nature and violence, family, sex, and love. They Were Bears drags us mercilessly back to our animal nature, honoring vulnerability and calling out sexual violence. This book pulls no punches, spares us little. What is reflected in its waters is our truest selves, as beautiful and terrifying as they are wont to be.

The tender, ravenous, brutal honesty of the book’s thematic spectrum is brought to life by the true craftsmanship of the poet. This is an absolutely stunning collection on every level–its words and images thrash and breathe, fly and tether. The poems are lush in their soundscape, and on the page they mark their territory distinctly. And the moments. The breathtaking moments. How true their revelation, declarations, and admissions: “because you were born to hunt, and I was / born of hunting: a witness of great fires;” “I try to explain that love is a violence, / even when it’s beautiful. / When you enter someone, / you must also leave them.”

Mazal tov to Sarah Marcus on this incredible work, and may we all start anew together in these Days of Awe.

Want more from Sarah Marcus?
Sarah Marcus’ Official Website


In the Afternoon, She Smelled Like the Earth
By Marianne Peel

Her shoulders were always burned.
We had smeared ourselves with baby oil infused with iodine
painting our skin a burnt orange deeper than the marigolds
planted in a circle to protect
the lettuce from the woodchucks.

She taught me how to thread
a frenetic worm onto a crooked hook.
Digging around in that coffee can tin
wet with dirt and the roots of the soil
there was always humid mud under her nails.

Sometimes trails streaked her cheeks
after she pushed her hair off her face.
In the afternoon she smelled
like the earth after the sun
went way, way down.

She taught me to cast my line
flinging her whole arm back past her shoulder
all in one calculated, measured motion.
She said the splash on the water should be quiet soft
so we don’t scare the fish away.

And then we waited.
Just the creak of the dock bouncing
in time with the water
moving all afternoon
bobbing us up and down.

Sometimes our toes would touch
splayed off the dock
and I would recite this little piggy went to market
– but just in my head because
we had to be silent soft, waiting for the fish.

She taught me to reel in, quickly,
but with no panic, no surprise,
knowing there would be only sunfish suspended from the hook
little orange sunshines in our hands
on the dock every summer afternoon.

And she taught me to unhinge the mouth
to pull the mouth slowly from its worm feast
to toss it gently back into the water and watch it,
still hungry,
swim away.

“In the Afternoon, She Smelled Like the Earth” previously appeared via Silver Birch Press and appears here today with permission from the poet.

Marianne Peel is a poet who is raising four daughters. She shares her life with her partner Scott. She received Fulbright-Hays Awards to Nepal and Turkey. She taught English at middle and high school for 32 years. She is now retired, doing Field Instructor work at Michigan State University. She recently won 1st prize for poetry in the Spring 2016 Edition of the Gadfly Literary Magazine. In addition, Marianne has been published in Muddy River Review; Silver Birch Press; Persephone’s Daughters; Encodings: A Feminist Literary Journal; Write to Heal; Writing for Our Lives: Our Bodies—Hurts, Hungers, Healing; Mother Voices; Ophelia’s Mom; Jellyfish Whispers; Remembered Arts Journal, and Gravel, among others.

Editor’s Note: Today’s poem is vivid, vibrant, and rich with imagery. You can almost smell the earth, feel it crumble through your fingers, watch the worm wriggle. So alive are the moments of memory that we are swept up into them, unaware that we don’t know who the poem’s “she” is. We are willing to suspend our curiosity, because, “In the afternoon she smelled / like the earth after the sun / went way, way down.” Because the poem leaves us with a feeling, with an echo in the shape of knowledge, because “she taught me to unhinge the mouth / to pull the mouth slowly from its worm feast / to toss it gently back into the water and watch it, / still hungry, / swim away.”

Want to read more by and about Marianne Peel?
Persephone’s Daughters
Muddy River Poetry Review
Jellyfish Whispers


Wonder Beans
By Janet Kirchheimer

My father went each morning to his garden.
He taught me to smell the soil to see if it was good,
to feel the dirt slide across my hands, to never
wear gloves, to stay in the middle of the row when planting seeds.
We’d look for work to do in the garden,
and sometimes there was nothing more to do
than watch the garden grow, wait for the harvest.
He thought that haricot vert were the dumbest thing he’d ever seen–
he liked his Kentucky Wonder beans, big and bursting with seeds, leaving
them to grow in the summer sun as long as possible.
Last winter he told me we couldn’t save
the parsley from the snow and ice, even though
we put blankets over it.
He got pneumonia in February.
In April, he asked me if I thought he’d get to his garden, and I told him yes.
By the end of May I brought him
cherry tomato plants to keep on the deck.
He no longer had the strength to pick
the first tomatoes that ripened in June.
August: I bring dirt from the garden
to his grave and scatter grass seed.

“Wonder Beans” previously appeared on String Poet and appears here today with permission from the poet.

Janet R. Kirchheimer is the author of How to Spot One of Us, (Clal, 2007). A Pushcart Prize nominee, her work has appeared in several journals including Young Ravens Literary Review, Atlanta Review, String Poet, Connecticut Review, Kalliope, Common Ground Review, and several anthologies and online journals. Currently, she is producing a poetry performance documentary, After, exploring poetry written about the Holocaust.

Editor’s Note: Today’s poem is a celebration of life and a poignant reminder that one day we may be remembered by what we love. Through a daughter’s eyes we see a father, watch him plant and grow, watch him love and tend the earth. Through the poet we know what it is for this daughter to love her father, and what it is to lose him. How touching her remembrance, how bittersweet the sting at poem’s end when father is returned to earth.

Want to read more by and about Janet Kirchheimer?
After – A Poetry Film
Young Ravens Literary Review
Collegeville Institute
Podium Literary Journal
Forward’s Schmooze


By John Guzlowski:


How do we listen to death?

We listen to the sound of death
The way we listen to the sound of the sea
To the message the waves pound against the shore
Their soft rush of foam upon the sand

We hear the things we forgot to tell the dead
The questions we forgot to ask them
The enigmatic dreams they will never explain
The useless arguments we will neither win nor lose
The mutual misunderstandings
That will never be clarified
The lies for which we forgot to ask forgiveness
The problems death defers
The unresolved quarrels with the dead

And what can we do in the face of death?

We can leave this house
And keep going
Never to return

We will not even take
The things that have meant
The most to us, our books
The plants we have nursed
The children we have raised
Punished and praised
The clothes (the dark
Blue ties, the tweed jackets
The rakish wool caps)
That make us look
More the man
More the woman
More the hero
More the young lover
Searching for love

We can leave this house
And keep going
Never to return

And what is death?

It is the hand of God
The meal prepared with love
Flowers from the pierced breast
Of the Blessed Virgin
The shore that smells of widows
Studying the foam

And should we fear death?

No, we shouldn’t fear death
We should fear the loud man’s coming

The pain of cancer
That does this or that
To the body

That pain that is longer than sorrow
Stronger than love

The tumor that grows like
A child who then learns
To hate you

A child who will not take
The love and joy you give her

What is as difficult as death?




POET’S NOTE: I met Okla on Facebook.

One day maybe 7 years ago, I got a friend request from him. I didn’t know a thing about him. He was just another fellow asking to be my friend. I said sure.

I’ve never been sorry I did.

Reading Okla’s posts, his status updates, his responses to other people has always been inspiring. What he wrote was smart and funny and engaging. Sometimes he sounded like Jean Paul Sartre, and sometimes he sounded like a kid in love with literature and life and friendship and thinking and dreaming. Both Oklas were wonderful.

And even more wonderful was the Okla I discovered when I started reading his poems and his essays and his fiction.

Okla was the real thing.

He was all the writers I ever admired, and he was right there with me on Facebook.

When I heard he was dead, I couldn’t believe it. He was too filled with life, too good, too dreaming, to be dead.

But he was dead.

But I will not let go of him.

Here [above] is a poem for Okla.

As It Ought To Be Mourns the Loss of Our Founder
“Some testimonies to Okla Elliott, 1 May 1977 – 19 March 2017” – Days and Memory
“Requiescat in pace: poet, novelist, translator Okla Elliott, 1977-2017” – Book Haven
“Go Read Okla Elliott’s Stuff, Please. (A Remembrance)” – Great Writers Steal
“Remembering Okla Elliott” – Mildred Barya’s House of Life

As It Ought To Be welcomes art and writing in Okla’s memory. Please email sivan.sf [at] gmail [dot] com with your submissions.


Photo Credit: Brandon Pierce

By Paul Crenshaw:


All that late-night talk of light, and life,
all those words, which became like worlds.
Which we both know were.
If you even need words anymore,
wherever you are, what world
you find yourself in.

Let me just say I hope there’s light.
Let me say I want to send this to you
so you know all the poetry was enough.
That the porch light is still on
in my mind. That the windows are open,
and the songs from inside the house still play.
You are still sitting in the overstuffed chair.
You are still smiling. Let me say
the lighting of a cigarette or
clink of ice in a glass is as much poetry
as anything we ever said.
Let me remind myself I remember all the words,
even if I’ve forgotten how to say them.

As It Ought To Be Mourns the Loss of Our Founder
“Some testimonies to Okla Elliott, 1 May 1977 – 19 March 2017” – Days and Memory
“Requiescat in pace: poet, novelist, translator Okla Elliott, 1977-2017” – Book Haven
“Go Read Okla Elliott’s Stuff, Please. (A Remembrance)” – Great Writers Steal
“Remembering Okla Elliott” – Mildred Barya’s House of Life

As It Ought To Be welcomes art and writing in Okla’s memory. Please email sivan.sf [at] gmail [dot] com with your submissions.



By Dara Barnat:


I hear you’re gone and I fall with you.

In that place part of me stays,

like a hand in clay,

even as I make rice for dinner, boil water,

measure the grains,

pour wine, set out flowers with all their petals.

The imprint holds the loss of everything.

It holds what we thought was joy.


              Dark is just dark–

rooms and all we’ve built are nothing.

Chairs with their backs, tables with their legs, beds with their heads.

Outside, trees with their leaves.

I can’t write that wood into a vessel

that will carry us to a place

where life is a river never not flowing.

I close my hand around a filament of sun as it filters

through the window, try to catch
              its meaning,

              but light is just light.


There’s no one here, but me
alone. I close

my eyes and try
to remember your face,

its light, your
fingers, their light

touch, your laugh,
the lightness. I say a prayer

that is my own:
May we live

a thousand years together,
in another life.

Today’s poems are from In the Absence (Turning Point Books, 2016), copyright © 2016 by Dara Barnat, and appear here today with permission from the poet.

In the Absence: Dara Barnat’s In the Absence evokes a yearning of the spirit so strong that it becomes presence, its light unstopped.

Dara Barnat is the author of the poetry collection In the Absence (Turning Point, 2016), as well as Headwind Migration, a chapbook (Pudding House, 2009). She also writes critical essays on poetry and translates poetry from Hebrew. Her research explores Walt Whitman’s influence on Jewish American poetry. Dara holds a Ph.D. from The School of Cultural Studies at Tel Aviv University. She currently teaches at Tel Aviv University and Queens College, CUNY.

Editor’s Note: Dara Barnat’s first full-length collection begins by declaring that “Dark is just dark.” But the assertion casts a shadow question: Is dark just dark? For it is light that is at the heart of this work: “I close my hand around a filament of sun as it filters / through the window, try to catch / its meaning, / but light is just light.”

But “light is just light” is no more the truth of these poems — and the poet’s journey that unfolds across them — than “dark is just dark.” This work is neither a book of questions nor of answers. Instead, In the Absence is an honest experience of grief that explores the inevitable, never-ending pilgrimage inherent within loss: “I hear you’re gone and I fall with you. / In that place part of me stays, / like a hand in clay.”

Not since Li-Young Lee’s Rose have I been so slain by a book of mourning. Like Rose, In the Absence mourns the loss of a father while acknowledging that such a loss is anything but simple, that the complications of life remain a reckoning for the living. “The imprint holds the loss of everything. / It holds what we thought was joy.”

Held close within this incredibly moving and painstakingly wrought collection is a poem titled “Walt Whitman.” I had the honor of featuring this poem here on the Saturday Poetry Series in 2013 as I marked my father’s first yahrzeit (Jewish death anniversary). Tomorrow will be five years since my father’s death. What at one year could be commemorated with a single poem, five years later needs an entire book. Such is the nature of grief — it does not diminish; it grows. And in its growing it becomes more painful and more beautiful all at once.

In the Absence transforms the poet’s personal grief into communion. I will re-read this book tomorrow as I remember my father on his five-year yahrzeit, and I will grieve. But, more than that, I will say a prayer that is the poet’s and is my own: “May we live / a thousand years together, / in another life.”

Want more from Dara Barnat?
Buy In the Absence from IndieBound
Buy In the Absence on Amazon
Poems in YEW
Poems in diode
Interview in Poet Lore
Dara Barnat’s Official Website


A version of this post was previously featured on the Saturday Poetry Series.

Sufganiyot homemade by your favorite Saturday Poetry Series editor
Homemade sufganiyot from the kitchen of your favorite Saturday Poetry Series editor

By Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

In oil, pale circles roll and flip,
doughy moons inflating.

The fun part: poking a finger
inside, giving a wiggle and twist,
pushing a dollop of jam
knuckle-deep, then two, ’til
the cavity gleams raspberry.

Latkes are pedestrian.
These puff like a breath held.

There, and here,
a million women finger
these cupped curves,
probe the soft center,
push the sticky treat inside.

We glance at each other, faces hot.
We lick the sweet from our hands.

(Today’s poem originally appeared in Zeek and was reprinted on the Saturday Poetry Series with permission from the poet.)

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, named in 2016 by the Forward as one of America’s Most Inspiring Rabbis, was ordained by ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal as a rabbi in 2011 and as a mashpi’ah ruchanit (spiritual director) in 2012, and now serves as co-chair, with Rabbi David Evan Markus, of ALEPH. She holds a BA in religion from Williams College and an MFA in Writing and Literature from the Bennington Writing Seminars. She is author of four book-length collections of poetry: 70 faces: Torah poems (Phoenicia Publishing, 2011), Waiting to Unfold (Phoenicia, 2013),Toward Sinai: Omer poems (Velveteen Rabbi, 2016) and Open My Lips (Ben Yehuda Press, 2016), as well as several poetry chapbooks.

Editor’s Note: Each year for Hanukkah I make sufganiyot. Measuring out the ingredients from my mother’s recipe, I will myself to have the patience necessary to wait for yeast to rise. I knead the dough with equal parts pressure and love then apply more patience, more waiting, before rolling and cutting “pale circles,” transforming them in oil into “doughy moons inflating.” Each year I make sufganiyot, and each year when I do, I think of this poem. It has been four years since I first featured this poem on the Saturday Poetry Series, and it has been with me each year since, an indelible part of my Hanukkah tradition.

As sensual as this poem is — as hot — it is very much a poem about tradition, about ritual, and about the coming together of women. For it is women who have traditionally ruled the domain of the Jewish kitchen, and women who, year in and year out since time immemorial, have applied their pressure and patience, their love and their care, to wright the delicious sustenance that is Jewish holiday food. And what, really, brings us together in our rituals and traditions more than food?

Each year as my best friend and I make our sufganiyot together, my mother makes the same recipe 2,500 miles away. Meanwhile, women all over the world are doing the same: “There, and here, / a million women finger / these cupped curves.” Each year, today’s poem reminds me of that disparate togetherness of women. This year I reprint this poem in honor of the women all over the world who do the work necessary to make the holiday season what it is.

May this season of light be a beacon in the darkness, and may the new year be better than the last.

Want to read more by and about Rabbi Rachel Barenblat?
The Velveteen Rabbi – Rabbi Rachel Barenblat’s Official Website


Photo Credit: Michelle Felix
Photo Credit: Michelle Felix

by Brendan Constantine

On the days when we wept—
and they were many—we did it
over the sound of a television
or radio, or the many engines
of the sky. It was rarely so quiet
we could hear just our sadness,
the smallness of it
that is merely the sound of wind
and water between the many pages
of the lungs. Many afternoons
we left the house still crying
and drove to a café or the movies,
or back to the hospital where we sat
dumb under the many eyes
of Paul Klee. There were many
umbrellas, days when it refused
to rain, cups of tea ignored. We
washed them all in the sink,
dry eyed. It’s been a while,
we’re cried out. We collect pauses
and have taken to reading actual
books again. We go through them
like yellow lights, like tunnels
or reunions, we forget which;
the older you are the more similes,
the more pangs per hour. Indeed,
this is how we break one hour into
many, how healing wounds time
in return. And though we know
there will always be crying to do,
just as there’s always that song,
always a leaf somewhere in the car,
this may be the only sweetness left,
to have a few griefs we cherish
against the others, which are many.

Today’s poem first appeared via The Academy of American Poets’ ‘Poem A Day’ series, was then published in the collection Dementia, My Darling (2016 Red Hen Press), and appears here today with permission from the poet.

Brendan Constantine‘s work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, FIELD, Ploughshares, Virginia Quarterly, and Hotel Amerika, among other journals. His most recent collection is Dementia, My Darling (2016 Red Hen Press). He has received grants and commissions from the Getty Museum, James Irvine Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. He currently teaches poetry at the Windward School and regularly offers classes to hospitals, foster homes, veterans, and the elderly.

Editor’s Note: I’m just going to come out and say it: You need this poem. Right now. At this moment. In the wake of tragedies too hard to hold and too heavy to bear. You have watched the sky fall. You have been broken by the debris of what you thought to be true, of what has and has not been shattered. All that you know in your heart about what is right and what is wrong, about human kindness and decency, about the kind of country you want to live and raise your children and grow old in, the kind of world you want this to be. It’s all fallen apart. And that sadness you feel? That resistance to getting out of bed in the morning? Those spontaneous tears you find yourself bursting into? You are not alone. You. Are. Not. Alone.

But this poem. This poem! This poem knows our suffering. This poem knows our shared grief. This poem knows that “On the days when we wept— / and they were many—we did it / over the sound of a television.” This poem knows that “Many afternoons / we left the house still crying.” And this poem knows, too, that there is a time beyond this time — for better or worse — that the day will come when we are cried out, when we will read books again and reach milestones, and yet. And yet this poem knows that some griefs we will carry with us. Held fast by markers like where you were when Kennedy was shot or when 9/11 happened. This poem knows that there are “a few griefs we cherish / against the others, which are many.” And we know that this moment in American history is one of those griefs we will cherish against the others, which will be many.

Want to see more from Brendan Constantine?
The LA Review of Books on Dementia, My Darling
Muzzle Magazine
The BlueShift Journal
Betty Sargent for Publisher’s Weekly
Video by Sarah Jensen, winner of Write Bloody’s Best Poetry Video award, 2013



Millions of girls continue to vanish pre-birth in India simply because they are girls. The following poems imagine these vanished girls.


In my mind I cradled you in my arms
            I didn’t cage you
you latched onto my breasts
             I didn’t siphon life into you
you mumbled bilabial sounds, m…p
yet my ears did not hear you speak
I know you exist
              waiting to be reborn as my son
then, I will cradle you in my arms
              let you latch onto my breasts
              siphon life into you
              hear you mumble Ma, Pa
              welcome you as the heir
              who will carry your father’s name


You were like circles of incense
It wasn’t that we couldn’t feed another mouth
It was the kind of feeding we would do
For every roti soaked in ghee for your brother
You would get only one not soaked
Every glass of milk that went down his throat
You would drink chai with a hint of milk
Every pair of new clothes he would get each month
You would only get one pair a year
He would utter complex phrases in English
You would say soft words in Hindi and the local tongue
He would earn fancy degrees to do something great
You would master fine skills to please others
He would walk with his head held high
You would walk with your head bent
For you are leased property
Returned to its rightful owner in two decades

Today’s poems appear here today with permission from the poet.

Manisha Sharma: Born and raised in India, Manisha Sharma earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Virginia Tech. A graduate of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, she was a Spring 2016 poetry mentee in AWP’s mentorship program, where Shikha Malaviya mentored her. Her recent poetry and writing has appeared in or is forthcoming from TAB, a journal of poetry and poetics, New Asian Writing, The Bombay Review and The Huffington Post. More of her work can be seen at

Editor’s Note: Between 2000 and 2011 seven-to-ten million girls in India were prevented from being born simply because they were girls. With her important poetry and collaborations, Manisha Sharma tells research-based stories of these girls-who-never-were. Her work goes a step beyond giving voice to the voiceless. Sharma literally gives life — through her art — to those who never came into being because of their sex.

In today’s poems Sharma imagines these “vanished girls” from the perspective of the mothers who carried, but never birthed them. “I know you exist,” one such mother reflects, “waiting to be reborn as my son.” Another considers the gender inequity she wanted to spare her would-be-daughter: “It wasn’t that we couldn’t feed another mouth / It was the kind of feeding we would do/ For every roti soaked in ghee for your brother / You would get only one not soaked / Every glass of milk that went down his throat / You would drink chai with a hint of milk.”

It is heartbreaking to think of the lost souls whose sex alone prevented them from having a chance at life. But it is perhaps more challenging to consider the mothers who conceived, who carried the seeds of life inside them, and who made the choice — if they were given a choice at all — to terminate their pregnancies when they discovered they were carrying girls. One mother harbors no illusions as to the kind of life a girl child in India would have had to lead, while the other acknowledges that, despite the choice made, she suffered a great loss: “In my mind I cradled you in my arms.”

Want to see more from Manisha Sharma?
Gendered Arrangements
“Indian Girl Crumbling” in New Asian Writing
“#17”, “#18”, “#22”, “#23”, and “#25” in The Bombay Review