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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, May 2, 2017.
About this Poem 

“As so many of us are, I’ve been thinking about the current predicament in which we find ourselves. How to respond? I thought of Anna Akhmatova’s poem ‘Requiem,’ and the story of the woman who whispered to her, as she waited in the prison-visitors line, in Leningrad, ‘Can you describe this?’ The poem is an homage.”
—Cynthia Zarin

After Anna Akhmatova

As the future ripens in the past...
a terrible festival of dead leaves

—Anna Akhmatova

The trees talk quietly among themselves
the thrush sings its brown song brushed with blue
the roses from the bodega open in the vase

and under the streetlight the long shadows
tarnishing the day as we know it—if
I ask for a stone you give me a stone, 

if I ask for water I do not get water,
everything I love weighted and found
wanting, as if the world knew how to give

answers to questions. In the long generous
shadow of history, I wake and wonder
how long it can go on, my lips touching

your ear, asking, what are you thinking—
while in the capital the lion stalks his cage
and on the veld the scorched banyans bend

under their fruit, the camps charred, no one
to pick it. A long time ago, after months
when death came so quickly to us it was

as if we had written an invitation, crows
settled in the ghost trees. There is my
mother, you said, and my father. It goes on.

Copyright © 2017 by Cynthia Zarin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 2, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2017 by Cynthia Zarin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 2, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Cynthia Zarin

Cynthia Zarin

Cynthia Zarin is the author of Orbit (Knopf, 2017) and The Ada Poems (Knopf, 2010). She teaches at Yale University and lives in New York City.

by this poet

poem

To Mary Jo Salter

Beyond the ice-bound stones and bucking trees, 
past bewildered Mary, the Meer in snow, 
two skating rinks and two black crooked paths

are a battered pair of reading glasses 
scratched by the skater's multiplying math. 
Beset, I play this game of tic-tac-toe.

Divide, subtract. Who can
poem
Bone-spur, stirrup of veins—white colt
a tree, sapling bone again, worn to a splinter,
a steeple, the birch aground

in its ravine of leaves. Abide with me, arrive
at its skinned branches, its arms pulled
from the sapling, your wrist taut,

each ganglion a gash in the tree's rent
trunk, a child's hackwork, love
poem

Because you like to sleep with curtains drawn,
        at dawn I rose and pulled the velvet tight.

You stirred, then set your hand back on my hip,
       the bed a ship in sleep’s doubled plunging 

wave on wave, until as though a lighthouse
      beam had crossed the room: the vase

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