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Christopher Kondrich
Christopher Kondrich

Common Things

Recorded for Poem-a-Day April 19, 2019.
About this Poem 

“With ‘Common Things,’ I was trying to understand how something so unbelievably devastating as gun violence could ever become normalized. I was trying to grapple with the implications of normalization. I also wanted to confront my own complicity in the normalization of gun violence and attempt to push back against the notion that becoming inured to it, simply because it happens daily in this country, is an inevitability.”
—Christopher Kondrich

Common Things

The most common thing in the world 
is a statue with its arms broken off. 
The brokenness a flatness exposing the texture of the marble or clay. 
The second most common thing are the arms. 
The right to bear them. 
Which is something even those who do not want the right have. 
Having something or someone to pray for 
doesn’t mean you have to pray. 
Who gave you something or someone to pray for, think of that. 
In the third most common thing, grass still wet 
from rain overnight, which you did not participate in by watching. 
You were asleep in the fourth most common thing. 
You wake now and walk on the fifth most common thing. 
The smooth surface of it. 
Without meaning to be reductive. 
You say the name of a country to refer to its ongoing conflict. 
The word conflict a rag that wipes the blade clean. 
A clean blade above a fireplace is the sixth most common thing. 
Which means you have a neighbor, either 
to the east or west, who is currently displaying a weapon. 
Even if you do not own a weapon, you could. 
And because of this you are complicit. 
But you cannot do anything about most things. 
You cannot put the arms back onto a statue 
is another way of saying you can’t put a bullet back into a gun. 
The body subsumes bullets as though it is in love. 
It inculcates bullets in the ways of the flesh.
Which is torn by the time the bullet is convinced. 
You aren’t convinced of anything you don’t already believe in. 
In this way you are always standing your ground. 
The ground under someone standing it 
is the seventh most common thing. 
The eighth is the air in which you openly carry. 
You like the feel, the weight, the heft of it in your hand.
But mostly you like the ability to take another’s life should you need to. 
It was your grandfather’s ability, your father’s. 
Before you know it, it will be your child’s. 
Whose body in the fetal position resembles a finger curling over a trigger. 
Whose whole life is still in the magazine. 
Until it isn’t and the sound is like that of a sternal saw 
cutting through the breastbone of the world. 
Finally buckling under the tink, tink, tink of the hammer against the saw. 
And you thought you had hid the key to the drawer where you keep the gun.
But a key whose location is known is the ninth most common thing. 
The tenth most common thing is a thoracic cavity 
opened with a few cranks of the rib-spreader. 
And the esophagus and lungs are fished around by the hands of a surgeon 
who begins to massage the heart. 
To clamp the aorta. 
So that more blood is directed into the brain. 
Instead of into the bowels, which have emptied by now. 
While what is being filled are the gun racks of those. 
Whose child is not on the table. 
Is not statuesque in the beauty sense of the word. 
But in the way rigor mortis sets in. 

Copyright © 2019 by Christopher Kondrich. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 19, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2019 by Christopher Kondrich. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 19, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Poetry & the Creative Mind

Classic Books of American Poetry

This collection of books showcases the masterpieces of American poetry that have influenced—or promise to influence—generations of poets. Take a look.

Welcome to Emerge

Poetry as Insurgent Art [I am signaling you through the flames]

I am signaling you through the flames.

The North Pole is not where it used to be.

Manifest Destiny is no longer manifest.

Civilization self-destructs.

Nemesis is knocking at the door.

What are poets for, in such an age?
What is the use of poetry?

The state of the world calls out for poetry to save it.

If you would be a poet, create works capable of answering the challenge of apocalyptic times, even if this meaning sounds apocalyptic.

You are Whitman, you are Poe, you are Mark Twain, you are Emily Dickinson and Edna St. Vincent Millay, you are Neruda and Mayakovsky and Pasolini, you are an American or a non-American, you can conquer the conquerors with words....

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The Republic of Poetry

For Chile

In the republic of poetry,
a train full of poets
rolls south in the rain
as plum trees rock
and horses kick the air,
and village bands
parade down the aisle
with trumpets, with bowler hats,
followed by the president
of the republic,
shaking every hand.

In the republic of poetry,
monks print verses about the night
on boxes of monastery chocolate,
kitchens in restaurants
use odes for recipes
from eel to artichoke,
and poets eat for free.

In the republic of poetry,
poets read to the baboons
at the zoo, and all the primates,
poets and baboons alike, scream for joy.

In the republic of poetry,
poets rent a helicopter
to bombard the national palace
with poems on bookmarks,
and everyone in the courtyard
rushes to grab a poem
fluttering from the sky,
blinded by weeping.

In the republic of poetry,
the guard at the airport
will not allow you to leave the country
until you declaim a poem for her
and she says Ah! Beautiful.

Martín Espada

won't you celebrate with me

won't you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.
Lucille Clifton

Mother Country

To love a country as if you’ve lost one: 1968,
my mother leaves Cuba for America, a scene
I imagine as if standing in her place—one foot
inside a plane destined for a country she knew
only as a name, a color on a map, or glossy photos
from drugstore magazines, her other foot anchored
to the platform of her patria, her hand clutched
around one suitcase, taking only what she needs
most: hand-colored photographs of her family,
her wedding veil, the doorknob of her house,
a jar of dirt from her backyard, goodbye letters
she won’t open for years. The sorrowful drone
of engines, one last, deep breath of familiar air
she’ll take with her, one last glimpse at all
she’d ever known: the palm trees wave goodbye
as she steps onto the plane, the mountains shrink
from her eyes as she lifts off into another life.

To love a country as if you’ve lost one: I hear her
—once upon a time—reading picture books
over my shoulder at bedtime, both of us learning
English, sounding out words as strange as the talking
animals and fair-haired princesses in their pages.
I taste her first attempts at macaroni-n-cheese
(but with chorizo and peppers), and her shame
over Thanksgiving turkeys always dry, but countered
by her perfect pork pernil and garlic yuca. I smell
the rain of those mornings huddled as one under
one umbrella waiting for the bus to her ten-hour days
at the cash register. At night, the zzz-zzz of her sewing
her own blouses, quinceañera dresses for her nieces
still in Cuba, guessing at their sizes, and the gowns
she’d sell to neighbors to save for a rusty white sedan—
no hubcaps, no air-conditioning, sweating all the way
through our first vacation to Florida theme parks.

To love a country as if you’ve lost one: as if
it were you on a plane departing from America
forever, clouds closing like curtains on your country,
the last scene in which you’re a madman scribbling
the names of your favorite flowers, trees, and birds
you’d never see again, your address and phone number
you’d never use again, the color of your father’s eyes,
your mother’s hair, terrified you could forget these.
To love a country as if I was my mother last spring
hobbling, insisting I help her climb all the way up
to the U.S. Capitol, as if she were here before you today
instead of me, explaining her tears, cheeks pink
as the cherry blossoms coloring the air that day when
she stopped, turned to me, and said: You know, mijo,
it isn’t where you’re born that matters, it’s where
you choose to die—that’s your country.
Richard Blanco
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Lesson Plans for Introducing Poetry

Bring poems into the classroom with these lesson plans, which are especially suited to introducing students to poetry and helping them become engaged and thoughtful readers.