All posts by Alissa Williams

Ross Gay’s “Sorrow Is Not My Name”

Sorrow Is Not My Name
by Ross Gay

—after Gwendolyn Brooks

No matter the pull toward brink. No

matter the florid, deep sleep awaits.

There is a time for everything. Look,

just this morning a vulture

nodded his red, grizzled head at me,

and I looked at him, admiring

the sickle of his beak.

Then the wind kicked up, and,

after arranging that good suit of feathers

he up and took off.

Just like that. And to boot,

there are, on this planet alone, something like two

million naturally occurring sweet things,

some with names so generous as to kick

the steel from my knees: agave, persimmon,

stick ball, the purple okra I bought for two bucks

at the market. Think of that. The long night,

the skeleton in the mirror, the man behind me

on the bus taking notes, yeah, yeah.

But look; my niece is running through a field

calling my name. My neighbor sings like an angel

and at the end of my block is a basketball court.

I remember. My color’s green. I’m spring.

for Walter Aikens


Ross Gay, “Sorrow Is Not My Name,” from Bringing the Shovel Down. 2011.

Traci Brimhall’s “Shelter in Place”

Recommended: Listen to Traci Brimhall read “Shelter in Place”

Shelter in Place
by Traci Brimhall

I didn’t know I loved Kansas, with its wind skirling
through the arms of windmills, its fields gravid
with lavender, its subscriptions for sunflowers.

I thought I was pollen complaint and water hunger.
I didn’t know I loved the hopeful ugliness of cygnets,

or that a group of vultures is called a wake, or that
a skull oxbows with a signature unique as a fingerprint.
I thought I loved to verb through the days, but spring

annulled that marriage, giving me to stillness. I didn’t
know I would also love the discourse of chickadees

in the redbud and insects at rest on my books, their legs
testing the strength of n’s and o’s before flitting off.
I didn’t know I would also love the sundial’s secretarial

shadow. I’d forgotten I loved the blue of afternoon—
bold, bare, the white of ecstasy at its edges, the lyric

bending me over its knees. I’d forgotten how to recite
the rosary long distance, but I knew I loved Latin
in the shower. I didn’t know I loved using my breath

to make a page of the mirror and draw vines of vanishing
roses with my ring finger, its vena amoris plumbing

commitment from hand to heart. I didn’t know I loved
wasps when I set the nest on fire. I only meant to protect
my son from his rushed in and out through the door,

but I watched them pull pearled eggs from muddy tunnels,
and I knew. I didn’t know I loved raccoons raiding day-old

cheeseburgers dressed with coleslaw and hot sauce from
plastic trash cans. What ingenious survival, what midnight.
I knew couplets loved dangling from trees. I knew rosemary

loved garnishing gin. I once loved brass bands and free
boat rides, but now I love hammers for hanging pictures

and telescopes for imagining a future with mix tapes of denim
and rhinestone rodeos, my face unmasked, my arm brushing
a stranger’s. Even now I love the stout pulses of magicians

and the salads my son makes from the wild in our yard—
the bitter dandelion greens, chickweed, henbit. I’d forgotten

I’m good at survival, too, that I’ve taught my son the uses
of the earth. Each day we walk one block further, our own
sympathetic magic, a ritual to ask the world to let us return.

I know I will love tomorrow’s moon as it coats its smell
on mint. I’ll love the driptorch bathing last year’s grasses in fire.

I know hope is a discipline but so is the dark heat falling
toward me, a citation of grief, a joy ready to welcome a late
continue, to fly open the door for my son, already running.

Traci Brimhall, “Shelter in Place.” May 15, 2020. Posted as part a new poetry series on Terrain.Org’s called Letter to America. Suggested to the Humanities Institute by Lisa Olstein.

Two Poems by Emily Dickinson

Hope is a strange invention (1877)
by Emily Dickinson

Hope is a strange invention —
A Patent of the Heart —
In unremitting action
Yet never wearing out —

Of this electric Adjunct
Not anything is known
But its unique momentum
Embellish all we own —

A replica of Emily Dickinson’s small writing table from her second-floor bedroom in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Alone, I cannot be (1861)
by Emily Dickinson

Alone, I cannot be —
For Hosts — do visit me —
Recordless Company —
Who baffle Key —

They have no Robes, nor Names —
No Almanacs — nor Climes —
But general Homes
Like Gnomes —

Their Coming, may be known
By Couriers within —
Their going — is not —
For they’ve never gone —

Emily Dickinson, “Hope is a strange invention” and “Alone, I cannot be.”

Theodore Roethke’s “The Waking”

The Waking (1953)
by Theodore Roethke

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.

I learn by going where I have to go.


We think by feeling. What is there to know?

I hear my being dance from ear to ear.

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.


Of those so close beside me, which are you?

God bless the Ground!   I shall walk softly there,

And learn by going where I have to go.


Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?

The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.


Great Nature has another thing to do

To you and me; so take the lively air,

And, lovely, learn by going where to go.


This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.

What falls away is always. And is near.

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

I learn by going where I have to go.


Theodore Roethke, “The Waking.” From The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke. Suggested to the Humanities Institute by Evan Carton.