Poem for the Day: September 29th, 2021

Suppose the Function Is Praise by Cate Lycurgus

When doctors have given their final shot
or volleys rocket insomniac dark, without thought, lift
your hands. In strobing raids, at pepper spray, with cheek
to asphalt, at fault or not, go on, lift your hands. And stand
though gravel erodes to sea, don’t grovel or stop
as the chopper kicks sand, or knife unleashes shock
and flow—unaided, blood rises—so lift your hands,
given this heart’s un-assisted pump, no matter the lack
of water to quench a jigsaw of dirt, the belly distended—lift
your hands at the child unplanned who you cannot nurse,
then at the curse of also-ran and lift your hands, when
the only man you’ll ever love has a son with someone else.
Or a husband no longer knows the name of the one
you raised together: now, raise a glass instead.
This is occasion for champagne, for all the aspirin
a body can take, for the glint of a chemical sunset’s blaze,
and licking high-fructose glaze off those same fingers, just—
lift them now in don’t shoot please, in fluid go, to save my feet,
at mile sixty when gas burns clean and you’ve made it
past your dead-end streets, with a single album
of soul on repeat—lift your hands, at the great unknown,
the bank account’s mawing O—however infinitesimal
the means become or waist will cinch—infinite—
the ways to lift our hands, to coax them overhead—
limitless, our approach.

© 2017 Cate Lycurgus. All rights reserved.

I love how cinematic and visceral Lycurgus’s language is in this poem. You can feel the still-warm asphalt pressed against a cheek. Your eyes instinctively blink against the harsh fluorescence of the strobe lights. You can taste the bittersweet sting of the well-deserved glass of champagne.

After I first discovered her work, I was sad to see that Cate Lycurgus has not yet released a full collection of her poetry, at least as far as my research can ascertain. For me, that means she’s got a willing buyer for whenever that day comes.

Cate Lycurgus’s poetry has appeared in or is forthcoming in The Best American Poetry 2020, American Poetry Review, Tin House, Boston Review, and The Rumpus, among other publications. She lives south of San Francisco, California where she teaches professional writing.

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