Making a Fist

For the first time, on the road north of Tampico,
I felt the life sliding out of me,
a drum in the desert, harder and harder to hear.
I was seven, I lay in the car
watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern past the glass.
My stomach was a melon split wide inside my skin.

“How do you know if you are going to die?”
I begged my mother.
We had been traveling for days.
With strange confidence she answered,
“When you can no longer make a fist.”

Years later I smile to think of that journey,
the borders we must cross separately,
stamped with our unanswerable woes.
I who did not die, who am still living,
still lying in the backseat behind all my questions,
clenching and opening one small hand.
naomi shihab nye

Before the 1914 war passports didn’t exist. You had to have one for Russia or Turkey, otherwise you went where you liked provided you had the money. He told me he was in London on a diplomatic passport. His stay was limited. He was going to Holland to lecture, or so I understood. He told me he was half French, half Dutch, and lived in Paris. ‘All this passport business is only because it’s wartime,’ I said. ‘They’ll stop it as soon as the war’s over.’ He smiled a little and said, ‘Perhaps, perhaps.’

jean rhys

“A Bracelet of Bright Hair about the Bone”

The Romans put skulls into their love poems.
Skeletons and dry bones along with love.
As if violet was only beautiful against
something black. We also talked of death,
I perhaps more than you. It made me happy,
to think of the newly dead body being lowered
into the coffin of the other. You found
this idea impressive but terrible.
I longed for your agreement and approval.
Wanted you to understand the hugeness of love.
You whispered that our bones would be mixed
together, but probably it was your way
to get me to stop crying and go to sleep.
Which I did, contentedly. I wanted something
to be done, some enactment to prove this secret,
this illicit love. Something too large.
I wanted it made of actual things. Dirt
and corpses even. As real as the table you
said your love was that I could sit down to
and eat from if I wanted something permanent.
I wanted absoluteness to be made of my heart.
linda gregg