Ending the Poem

By Theresa Burns

Featured art: Northern Lights over Iceland, by Harald Moltke

Never on light or love.
Never, I’m told, on one of those
Poetry words like keening or wept.
Tears of any kind, in fact,
Are out, and even a rueful
Smile reads smug in the last line.
No small animals, or small
Hands, or anything especially
Beneficent. Don’t even think about
Children or old people. Or teenagers,
Lest they drive the poem
Into a ditch two blocks from home.
Nothing delicious or bitter.
Forget kisses and comeuppance,
As easily as you forget umbrellas
At parties; it’s not worth going back.
Don’t get moral. Nothing’s black
Or white in the end. Never
On silence. Or birdsong. Ever.
And the silence that utterly shadows
The yard at the end of birdsong?
I doubt it. Don’t be certain
About anything. Ask a question,
Leave a crumb, chase the tail
Of something down a black hole.
Just don’t make it black.
Make it that color at the throats
Of poppies, a kind of blue-gray black
Like crushed velvet. And feel it
Going down.


Theresa Burns’ poetry, reviews, and nonfiction have appeared in The New York Times, Prairie Schooner, New Ohio Review, JAMA, The Cortland Review, The Night Heron Barks, SWWIM, and elsewhere. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and author of the chapbook Two Train Town. In 2020, she won runner up in The Poets Prize from The Journal of New Jersey Poets. The founder and curator of Watershed Literary Events, she teaches writing in and around New York.

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