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Recorded as part of the Poem-a-Day series, October 5, 2015
About this Poem 

“My partner and I have been together for seventeen years and in retrospect, before gay marriage was legal, our commitment was sealed when we decided to move across the country—to the desert. The poem attempts to address how external shifts in landscape can transform and reflect what’s going on internally.”
Sjohnna McCray

I Do

Driving the highway from Atlanta to Phoenix
means swapping one type of heat for another.
A bead of sweat rolls over my chest,
around my belly and evaporates
so quickly I forget I’m sweating. 
Body chemistry changes like the color
of my skin: from yellow to sienna.
My sister says, it’s a dry heat. 

        At dusk, lightning storms over the mesas. 
        Violets and grays lie down together.
        Mountains are the color of father’s hands,
        layers of dark—then light. 
        People move west to die, retire in a life
        of dust, trade the pollen of the south
        for a thin coat of grit, the Arizona desert—
        promesas, promesas

We stop on the outskirts of town
and think about being reborn.
When he places his mouth near my mouth
because he’s so obviously thirsty,
when he moves to the well
where my tongue spouts out
because we’re mostly made of water
two-thirds of me is certain:
este infierno vale la pena.
         This hell is worth the risk.

Copyright © 2015 by Sjohnna McCray. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 5, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2015 by Sjohnna McCray. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 5, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

Sjohnna McCray. Photo credit: Aaron Mervin

Sjohnna McCray

Sjohnna McCray was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on March 7, 1972. He studied at Ohio University and earned an MFA from the University of Virginia where he was a Hoyns Fellow. McCray also received an MA in English Education from Teachers College, Columbia University.

His poetry collection, Rapture, was selected by Tracy K. Smith as the winner of the 2015 Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets and will be published by Graywolf Press in 2016.

by this poet


I believe the spine was stolen
            right out of my father’s back.            

Slumped at the kitchen table,
            he doesn’t move.  Beyond the window,

light pierces the clouds,
            inspires all matter to burst.

Father had a way with explosions.


Cinéma Vérité

            —Inspired by Rocco Morabito’s photo from the book Moments: The Pulitzer Prize Photographs

I.  The Arthouse

It has nothing to do with desire
although the act of pushing air
from one set of lungs to another
suggests an intimacy


—Cincinnati, Ohio, 1987

Rage is the language of men,
     layers of particulates fused.

     Rage is the wine
          father pours to the ground

          for men whose time has passed. Rage
          is gripped in the hands

     like the