To My Poetry Students

Hugo and I will say
we’re teaching you
to write like us:
he’ll tell you to lock up
your chorus girls in a silo.
He’ll say don’t listen
if you don’t want to.

I’ll tell you this:

Maybe hell isn’t so hot.

Maybe Sappho meant for us to find her
fragments—all that desire too much for her
to keep to herself.

Imagine there is no greater love
than hearing
someone write
a cancerous body
back to life.

Put yourself in Andrea Gibson’s passenger seat
on the road to Indiana, calling ahead
to make sure she is allowed to belong there.

And Claudia Emerson—the way she watched
her ex-husband collect rocks, somewhere
between admiration and loneliness,
all those surfaces stroked by ghosts—
a history you and I will never know
as intimately as those stones do.

I’ll find myself in you
as I make lists
in the quiet afternoon space—
our too-small classroom—
of all the things I already wish
I hadn’t said.

But here’s something else: I know
there are some new poets who mark
how much of their arm they would chop off
to have written a poem
that’s already been written—
as if a sacrifice of body
would turn back time,
as if beauty should make you violently break
the 10th commandment over and over—
turn language into jealousy, unsated.

The one thing I’ll ask you to listen to:
don’t give up
your body—
write. Here,
keep your arms
as long as you can

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