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Amy Gerstler
Amy Gerstler

Poof

Recorded for Poem-a-Day March 21, 2019.
About this Poem 

“An elegy that blends predominantly real and a few fictionalized details, this poem was written in honor of a friend who I met way back in fifth grade, who died last year. The loss of this bright, adventurous, beautiful woman who’d been my friend since before either of us wore a bra, since I had braces and hair down to my hips and she was a tall leggy pre-hippie with a cool nickname, who’d coached me through so many ‘firsts,’ (first drunkenness, first crushes, first sex, first drugs, etc., etc.) who had been such a beacon, is hard to process. Poems being one of the ways we can attempt to speak to and of the dead, this poem is for C., who was always 10 steps ahead of me.”
—Amy Gerstler

Poof

Here on my lap, in a small plastic bag,
my share of your ashes. Let me not squander 
them. Your family blindsided me with this gift. 
We want to honor your bond they said at the end 
of your service, which took place, as you'd 
arranged, in a restaurant at the harbor, 
an old two-story boathouse made of dark 
wood. Some of us sat on the balcony, on black 
leather bar stools, staring at rows of docked boats. 
Both your husbands showed up and got along. 
And of course your impossibly handsome son. 
After lunch, a slideshow and testimonials, 
your family left to toss their share of you 
onto the ocean, along with some flowers. 

You were the girlfriend I practiced kissing 
with in sixth grade during zero-sleep 
sleepovers. You were the pretty one. 
In middle school I lived on diet Coke and 
your sexual reconnaissance reports. In this 
telling of our story your father never hits 
you or calls you a whore. Always gentle 
with me, he taught me to ride a bike after 
everyone said I was too klutzy to learn. 
In this version we're not afraid of our bodies. 
In this fiction, birth control is easy to obtain, 
and never fails. You still dive under a stall 
divider in a restroom at the beach to free me 
after I get too drunk to unlock the door. You still 
reveal the esoteric mysteries of tampons. You 
still learn Farsi and French from boyfriends 
as your life ignites. In high school I still guide you 
safely out of the stadium when you start yelling 
that the football looks amazing as it shatters
into a million shimmering pieces, as you 
loudly admit that you just dropped acid. 

We lived to be sixty. Then poof, you vanished. 
I can't snort you, or dump you out over my head, 
coating myself in your dust like some hapless cartoon 
character who's just blown herself up, yet remains 
unscathed, as is the way in cartoons. In this version, 
I remain in place for a while. Did you have a good 
journey? I'm still lagging behind, barking up all 
the wrong trees, whipping out my scimitar far 
in advance of what the occasion demands. As I 
drive home from your memorial, you fizz in 
my head like a distant radio station. What 
can I do to bridge this chasm between us? 
In this fiction, I roll down the window, drive 
uncharacteristically fast. I tear your baggie 
open with my teeth and release you at 85 
miles an hour, music cranked up full blast.

Copyright © 2019 by Amy Gerstler. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 21, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2019 by Amy Gerstler. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 21, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

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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.

poem

Diving into the Wreck

First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers
the grave and awkward mask.
I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
assiduous team
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.

There is a ladder.
The ladder is always there
hanging innocently
close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for,
we who have used it.
Otherwise
it is a piece of maritime floss
some sundry equipment.

I go down.
Rung after rung and still
the oxygen immerses me
the blue light
the clear atoms
of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
will begin.

First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.

And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
lived here
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
and besides
you breathe differently down here.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.

This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body.
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he

whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
whose breasts still bear the stress
whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
obscurely inside barrels
half-wedged and left to rot
we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass

We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.
Adrienne Rich
1973
poem

Thanks

Listen 
with the night falling we are saying thank you 
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings 
we are running out of the glass rooms 
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky 
and say thank you 
we are standing by the water thanking it 
standing by the windows looking out 
in our directions 

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging 
after funerals we are saying thank you 
after the news of the dead 
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you 
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators 
remembering wars and the police at the door 
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you 
in the banks we are saying thank you 
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us 
our lost feelings we are saying thank you 
with the forests falling faster than the minutes 
of our lives we are saying thank you 
with the words going out like cells of a brain 
with the cities growing over us 
we are saying thank you faster and faster 
with nobody listening we are saying thank you 
we are saying thank you and waving 
dark though it is
W. S. Merwin
1988
National Poetry Month Poster 2019
poem

How to Triumph Like a Girl

I like the lady horses best,
how they make it all look easy,
like running 40 miles per hour
is as fun as taking a nap, or grass.
I like their lady horse swagger,
after winning. Ears up, girls, ears up!
But mainly, let's be honest, I like
that they're ladies. As if this big
dangerous animal is also a part of me,
that somewhere inside the delicate
skin of my body, there pumps
an 8-pound female horse heart,
giant with power, heavy with blood.
Don't you want to believe it?
Don't you want to lift my shirt and see
the huge beating genius machine
that thinks, no, it knows,
it's going to come in first.

Ada Limón
2018
poem

Peony

Why must I tell you this story, O little one
You’re just a bud-of-a-girl, who knows nothing

Now you are full-faced, bright as sun
Now you open your skirts pink, layered, brazen

Suffering is alchemy, change is God
Now you droop your head, heavy with rust

Sit, contemplate, what did Buddha say?
Old age, sickness, death, no one owns eternity            

Detach, detach, look away from the sun
Let your petals fall aimlessly                 

Don’t despair, little one, we are done
 

Marilyn Chin
2016
collection

A Poet's Glossary

Read about poetic terms and forms from Edward Hirsch's A Poet's Glossary (Harcourt, 2014), a book ten years in the making that defines the art form of poetry.  

Fall-Winter 2018 issue of American Poets