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About this Poem 

“My three-year-old daughter likes saying ‘never ever!’ and for the first time I really thought about this funny construction: so there’s an ‘ever’ after the finality of ‘never?’ There’s more time to be found? I like words that contain their own opposites, like ‘ever’ and ‘cleave.’ Certain concepts, like ‘change,’ can also challenge themselves, or at least add a pinch of doubt.  ‘Change’ can mean substitution rather than transformation (same person into another outfit or same amount, just quarters now instead of bills) or ‘the more things change the more they stay the same.’ But over time, right before my eyes, there are irreversible changes that have never occurred before—where it seems possible to grow, not just rearrange, to break patterns, not just replace. My kid outgrows a mispronunciation (she used to call them ‘opposips’) or we enter a new year; it may not be news but it is a new chance. We can’t go back to the old. But will we make this new year worthy of its promise of true change or will we just go around in circles?” 
Brenda Shaughnessy

Never Ever

Alarmed, today is a new dawn,
and that affair recurs daily like clockwork,

undone at dusk, when a new restaurant
emerges in the malnourished night.

We said it would be this way, once this became
the way it was. So in a way we were

waiting for it. I still haven’t eaten, says the cook
in the kitchen. A compliant complaint.

I never eat, says the slender diner. It’s slander,
and she’s scared, like a bully pushing

lettuce around. The cook can’t look, blind with hunger
and anger. I told a waiter to wait

for me and I haven’t seen him since. O it has been forty
minutes it has been forty years.

Late is a synonym for dead which is a euphemism
for ever. Ever is a double-edged word,

at once itself and its own opposite: always
and always some other time.

In the category of cleave, then. To cut and to cling to,
somewhat mournfully.

That C won’t let leave alone. Even so, forever’s
now’s never, and remember is just

the future occluded or dreaming. The day has come:
a dusty gust of disgusting August,

functioning as a people-mover. Maybe we’re going
nowhere, but wherever I go

I see us everywhere. On occasions of fancyness,
or out to eat. As if people, stark, now-ish

people themselves were the forever of nothing,
the everything of nobody,

the very same self of us all, after all, at long
last the first.

Copyright © 2015 by Brenda Shaughnessy. Used with permission of the author.

Copyright © 2015 by Brenda Shaughnessy. Used with permission of the author.

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.

by this poet


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,


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

        —after Richard Brautigan's "A Candlelion Poem"

What began as wildfire ends up
on a candle wick. In reverse,
it is contained,

a lion head in a hunter's den.
Big Game.

Bigger than one I played
with matches and twigs and glass
in the shade.

When I was young, there was no sun
and I was afraid.

Now, in