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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, April 12, 2016.
About this Poem 

“This poem is about failure. How we fail to live (if to live means to live fully, with awareness, connected to all things, in moments not striving to capture them or make them add up to something), how we fail to die (what is buried nourishes root vegetables, trees, air; our words spark in others, or they could, if we could only do it right), and how we let desire triumph. We want and we endlessly wish for. We suffer for that, but it’s a failure I can live with, and hope never to lose.”
—Brenda Shaughnessy

Last Sleep Best Sleep

Life, this charade of not-death.
Amnesiac of our nights together,

overheard talking in some other voice.
The great fruits of my failure:

silk milk pills with little bitter pits.
Who talks like that?  Says we are

ever-locked, leaving everything
petalled and veined the way nature

pretended.  Synthesized within
an inch of its life. O the many faces

of facelessness, breathing in the dark—
as if we could shape softness itself,

mold it around us like yams mashed
against a trough by a snuffling snout.

Our own. There’s no way out. Born
to such extra, we are born to lose.

No hairy fingers tapering to threads,
grasping for some lost last use.

Once we were hungry on earth,
soon buried like root vegetables—

to starve the soil as beets do,
growing in our graves.

But now we must remember
our way back to face-to-face,

to eye to eye and hand in hand,
and lock and step and key in hole.

Remembering how not to fall asleep,
we become so desperately drowsy,

and all cells strain to slow to a stop.
All desire to choose otherwise quiets.

No, no one can say we didn’t suffer,
that we weren’t swallowed whole.
 

Copyright © 2016 by Brenda Shaughnessy. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 12, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2016 by Brenda Shaughnessy. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 12, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Brenda Shaughnessy

Brenda Shaughnessy

Brenda Shaughnessy was born in Okinawa, Japan, in 1970 and grew up in Southern California. She is the author of So Much Synth (Copper Canyon Press, 2016) and The Octopus Museum, forthcoming from Alfred A. Knopf in April 2019.

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I liked Jane’s team. I’d bet money on them but it wasn’t that kind of thing. Too disorganized, plus it was just lunchtime pickup winterball with deflated goal bulbs and not enough of the good knee-gel to go around. The kids were tough. The kids goofed. Jane shone.

She worried that winter ball like a craft,

2
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Let's ask a poet with no way of knowing.
Someone who can give us an answer,
another duplicity to help double the world.

What kind of poetry is all question, anyway?
Each question leads to an iceburn,
a snownova, a single bed spinning in space.

Poet, Decide! I am lonely with questions.
What is snow? What isn't
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Oh, to be ready for it, unfucked, ever-fucked.
To have only one critical eye that never
divides a flaw from its lesson.

To play without shame. To be a woman
who feels only the pleasure of being used
and who reanimates the user's

anguished release in a land
for the future to relish, to buy
new tights for, to