Four Poems

April 12, 2019






Dark is a bathroom

      I go home to.

I spend lots of time

      in bathrooms


chasing thoughts with

      my tongue: it bends,
makes a ring. In life,

      there are many things.


When I eat birds,

      I spit them out; bees,

I swallow. These
      are the rules. The sun,


zero. The moon, a smaller

      zero—facts I remember

the sound of. Like a song
      with no words. During recess,


I hum. I stay
      on the bench: first the right end,
then the left. The other kids
      have faces

like fish. What I mean

      is I can see them.
In the cafeteria, I eat
      oranges and their juice spurts


like boys. That is what hands
      are for: wiping mouths.

I want to sing. I want to break

      something but I think

that is a wrong thing to want.

      These are the rules. They look funny

from behind. I am terrible
      at staying where I am put.


In class, we learn facts

      about zero and the ocean

and gravity: the string

      that holds them together—


a long string the air moves, like my hair

      when I play. I wish I had
a big pair of scissors. I have
      so many thoughts, but none


of them like words. I have
      this body—residue—

I just don’t know what
      left it.





Poem with a Slightly-Altered Line by Tracy K. Smith


After the end
it’s hard to decide
what to make for dinner
or what album to listen to
while making it


Outside, the land smokes
the sun goes to zero
the last few birds shuffle back

and forth across something

too wide to call a sky

Inside, you preheat the oven
and turn on the tap


If the world is ten thousand things and
if the ten thousand things get broken
down into endless soil

and you put some seeds in the soil
and the soil changes the seeds
and sends them out into the air so small
and new and tenuously rooted


it’s hard to decide
what to call them, like
are they seeds or
are they soil or
are they something
else, the way

the children of gods are not always gods

After the end
you’re beginning to make dinner
and the phone rings
and the voice on the other end
sounds more like yours
than someone else’s






First Love





The air bled

all winter. Don’t you remember? Of course you do.

Your coffee was black. My tea was white. My hips curved

in a way they had not curved before.

We walked a city of neon lights, walls

of white ice, and buildings older than the building codes

that say if you’re standing in the street, you have to be able
to see the sky. Maybe we should’ve looked.

By the end, the stakes were low: I wanted to leave
because you had to go. I didn’t realize I’d left

my scarf on the train
until afterward. The buildings
sutured behind you.





From here the city could be a field

of silver wheat, or one hundred outstretched fingers.

We don’t talk about the sunset but here it is, obscene as a cut grapefruit.

This is when I don’t tell you

I don’t love you anymore. Instead I say It looks

like a field, and you say It does.

All summer I’ve sprawled in swaths of new grass,

watched insects swarm the creases of my elbows. I want to tell you about this

but I also want it to rain. You say You’d never say so from the inside, though,

would you. It isn’t a question. It still isn’t a question.







Self/Portrait as Echo


Kneeling at the edge
of the green pond, ground beneath me

unfastened by days of rain: this
is the part where I stare at you.


Of course you are as beautiful
as a steel jaw trap.


Of course you’re not in love
with yourself—just furious the water

won’t stay still, surface pockmarked
with tiny corpses: bronze leaves,

brilliant insects. Sometimes I forget water
is not a living thing.


Sometimes I walk so slowly, I can’t tell
whether or not I’m moving.


I carve your face into the dirt
with a twig and my index finger, and then

I do it again: eventually I will know
the lines of your face the way you know

a city map, or a story you’ve heard

over and over. I will reflect you


and you will look at me, say something
useful, something I can live inside of.


I once survived all winter on seeds
gleaned from bird shit. I drank green water


and memorized the forest, wandered barefoot,

silent. No one knows this.


You say your own name like a question

and I repeat it like an answer and the gods


will call that echo, call that a story
someone will tell someone else.






Lucy Wainger grew up in New York City. Her poems appear in Best American Poetry 2017, the Collagist, Nashville Review, Poetry, Vinyl, and elsewhere. She studies creative writing at Emory University, where she won the 2017 Academy of American Poets Prize. More at



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