When They Say All is Lost

By Abby E. Murray

Featured Art: Holiday Blues by Olivia Juenger

Remind them, a word
is the hardest thing to lose
and practical as a kettle:
there is nothing you cannot
make with a word,
nothing it will not hold.
Start with despair. Add
boiling water: tea for your throat,
soup for your bones.
Now add a crust of bread,
some fat, mercy, this is
the science of naming,
a descendant of breathing,
carried deep behind the eyes
or within the eardrum
or beneath the skin,
and it cannot be stolen
or surrendered at the threshold
of any cell, refuses to be
turned away, demands to be
used even when you have
no will for warmth or food.
You cannot help it.
So long as you have thought
to think you’ve lost it all,
you must call language
what it is: more to live for.


Abby E. Murray is the editor of Collateral, a literary journal concerned with the impact of violent conflict and military service beyond the combat zone. Her book, Hail and Farewell, won the Perugia Press Poetry Prize and was a finalist for the 2020 Washington State Book Award. She teaches rhetoric in military strategy to Army War College fellows at the University of Washington. After serving as 2019-2021 poet laureate for the city of Tacoma, Washington, she recently relocated to Washington DC, where her spouse works in the Pentagon.

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