Sunday, December 11, 2022



The donkey my daughter loves
cannot reach the flowers that grow
in the film of soil the ocean breeze
has lifted to the roof of the barn.

We don’t know what they’re called
and speak too little of the language
to ask the farmhand their name,
though we can tell they’re delicious

by the way the donkey cocks its head
to two o’clock toward the roof
and strains its prehensile lips
to almost reach them, an effort

that looks like remembering
a word you can almost remember
how it nearly touches the voice—
“It’s on the tip of my tongue,” we say.

And I don’t know what to say
to myself, or the man I become,
inside those days and nights of hurt
I cannot argue my way out of.

I know it won’t be enough to say,
“Remember the orchard over there,
its plums and cherries, and apples
just forming from the blooms.”

Not enough to remember the tides
we hear beyond the meadow, how
they leave the beach cracked
like ancient porcelain. Not enough

to repeat the Auden lines I muttered
to myself last night at the restaurant
when I felt the depression coming on,
eerie as a suspicion of being watched.

“The lights must never go out,”
I said, “the music must always play.”
And it almost worked: the intoxication
of asking for and receiving the tray

of oysters gleaming like an ornate clock,
then the bouquet of mussels,
and the baked sea bream symmetrical
as a well-wrapped Christmas gift.

But I’ve learned that you can love
pleasure and still want to die
while absolutely not wanting to die,
a situation that requires, if nothing else,

some patience, the precise gentleness
the donkey grants my daughter’s hand
as she offers the wanted flowers
to the mouth that destroys and loves them.


James Davis May is a 2021 National Endowment Arts Fellow in creative writing and the author of two poetry collections, both published by Louisiana State University Press: Unquiet Things, which was released in 2016, and Unusually Grand Ideas, forthcoming in 2023. His poetry has appeared in Guernica, The New Republic, Plume, The Southern Review, and other journals. He lives in Macon, GA with his wife, the poet Chelsea Rathburn.


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