Sample Poems by Lee Herrick
When you lost me, or when your heart caved,
or when your heart flew through the city like wild herons
on the ledge of my broken window sill in another country,
you named infinity as the home of your intoxication,
ferment as placeholder for love, the ocean sized grace
of our common language, the ocean sized chance in this
moment. Grace. That’s what I meant to tell you about.
I saw it a few times in my life. I saw my daughter cradle
the broken body of a tiny bird. I saw a young poet
repair the broken charm of a younger poet. I saw that
poet forgive another poet by a stream in the City of God,
by a monument for mothers like you who write poems
about men like me, who write by the ocean with their dogs waking in the
morning cool, the wild seabirds searching
the waves for a small fish to devour.
What I Hear After the Massacre and What I Mistake For My
Invisible birds shocked out of the trees
and you mistake them for children
on the playground, or you mistake the leaves cracked underfoot for the
or broken glass. It’s a maelstrom.
At the Winter Program, the first graders
sing “Let It Snow” and the parents clasp
their hands, half exhale, half prayer.
The children sing in your town and you
think of the children in the shattered town.
All that comes to you is their hearts, heaven,
hell, and the next kind word you will say to a boy.
What I Hear When I Hear You in My Head
is the little whisper, the aggregate sorrow, the father’s
heavy weeping as the son’s heavy weeping. What I hear
is your artistic response after the massacre, the family
of clasped hands, Black hands, Brown hands, a small child whose brother
never had a chance, who holds her father’s tearful face and says, “Your
eyes are like the moon,” is
what I hear when I hear you in my head this evening,
your laughter like tiny harps. I hear your fatigue as
another way to say: deprivation. I hear recount, re-tally,
a retaliation is what I hear when I hear you in my head
is the grace, the charm, the dead, the boy, the dead boy,
the boy who died because of the fear, the forest
in the other man’s heart, the gun, the heartbreak
is the sound I hear when I hear you in my head
is how we each sigh with distinction, where
fatigue meets fire, where we wake and wonder:
if we all go out to a field tonight, sit by a fire,
say the most honest thing you have ever said in your life,
would any dead boy or girl reappear, not like a mirage
but reappear, not like a voice in my head but a body
in this room, with flesh and bones, with his big smile, orange blossoms in
his billowing hair?
What I Hear When I Begin to Lose My Vision
A boy whose first sight may have been
an ajumma, pastor, or cop, or a street kid
praying for better weather. I grew up as if aging
was my right, as if when you read a poem in front
of a crowd and your vision fails you, they care
like they care for the words in the poem they have
not yet heard. I have read so many letters, from
a woman who wrote sarang hae, sarang hae,
in fine point cursive. This was after my big failures. Before my vision
became a tired song and I read about sound because I wanted to know what
part of the city I would know: when we die, we go
out into a field of lights or a lit cloud or a final apology
or a deep hum in your mother’s private language.
If you ever come back from the dead, I hear that
all the senses go: no sight, no smell, no feel, no taste.
But you can hear. The doctor peels off her surgical
gloves and exhales. A nurse states the time of death:
7:25. Down the hall and outside the room, you
hear a woman, perhaps a mother or aunt, say
she had a boy. It’s a miracle. She had a boy.
I Got a Letter from the Government the Other Day
I watched my hands turn into flags,
waving at the top of a government building before the bombs,
I watched books about fat content burn on the crosswalk
where a dead pigeon splayed out like a Banksy
where the drunk poets walked to the café
to haggle over Whitman’s place in the canon
this is so far from any large scale weaponry
most kids could care less about revolution or poetry
but revolution has everything to do with the fire
lit in the girl whose father read to her
so that when she is fully grown and the bombs detonate on her city’s
bridges she will know
the perfect epigraph to rally the women
who know where the wood and the matches await.