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Poem-a-Day

Poem-a-Day is the original and only daily digital poetry series featuring over 250 new, previously unpublished poems by today's talented poets each year. On weekdays, poems are accompanied by exclusive commentary and audio by the poets. The series highlights classic poems on weekends. Launched in 2006, Poem-a-Day is distributed via email, web, and social media to 500,000+ readers free of charge. The series is curated by twelve poets from across the country who have wide-ranging expertise and editorial perspectives. Learn more about the 2019 guest editors and revisit the 2018 guest editors and the poems they curated. Read more about Tracy K. Smith's approach to curating April

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.