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Published: Tue Jul 1 2008
Art: Paul TheriaultEver New (detail), 2022, acrylic and found paper on scavenged wood
from Fairy Tale: Cottage

You must learn to live on air, my darlings.
Here is a stripe of ash for your tongues,
and a sour drop of sorrel wine.
Taste my hand:
That’s the sweetness of splintered wood.

The termite is buried in the jay, and the jay
in Puss’s needled jaw, and Puss in the wolf.
Hunger is the law.

You must learn to peel off your filth
and let it drift on forest chill.
Pick at the sores on your lips and your hands
and turn them into earth.
Here, give me your pain.
I can take it
as I take your cloaks.

Hope is a fire that consumes the brain.
Emptiness on water is called a boat.
Love is what keeps you from everything you want.
Your hunger is an affront.

Slide between branches, my darlings.
Clothe yourselves in rain.
Walk upon grass till it no longer bends.
Come back to me in springtime
on the path that never ends.

Tears are what blind us. Memory is death.
Your father has gone before you.
He waits
in a golden meadow with his axe.

Stephen O’Connor is the author of two works of fiction, Here Comes Another Lesson and Rescue, and two works of nonfiction, Will My Name Be Shouted Out? and Orphan Trains: The Story of Charles Loring Brace and the Children He Saved and Failed. His short stories have appeared in The New YorkerConjunctionsTriQuarterlyThe Threepenny Review, and New England Review, among many other places. His poetry has been published in PoetryAGNIThe Missouri Review, Green Mountains Review, and elsewhere. His essays and journalism have appeared in The New York Times, DoubleTake, The NationAGNIThe Chicago Tribune, and The Boston Globe. He teaches in the MFA programs of Columbia University and Sarah Lawrence University. For more information, visit www.stephenoconnor.net. (updated 10/2010)

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