Praise / If nothing else, / Half Shells

by Kelli Russell Agodon


Find me wild about stir-fry, about red velvet
sofas and the people who sleep inside books
and dream about commas. We are flooded
with forgetfulness, with fallen plum blossoms
misspelling our names on the driveway. Praise
our too many expectations, how we overestimate
the weather, each other, overestimate how deer
will appear if we arrive with food. Because reality
can be a knife, we sometimes ache to tear open
the tea bag, the ketchup packet, because wine
arrives ready to be poured, we are foolish
and happy—though our clothes do not fit,
we return to being alive and living
between roadblocks and detours, driving
our fingers into the edge of each other’s
pockets. Praise the bare trees that tried
to spell our names for their belief
they could—spells and misspellings,
fail and fail better, how lucky we are
just to be here, both of us touching each other
through these words, with all this exasperating joy.

If nothing else,

hope. If a babe arrives
and you didn’t mean for life to appear
in your studio apartment: hope.
If lunar eclipse or melting polar ice caps: hope.
If war planes fly above your home, nuclear
subs in the canal of your backyard: hope.
If hope is a body, let us always know
its curves. If hope is a taste, let us not
keep it under our tongue.
This is what I speak of.
Of quivering and graceful, classrooms
of children, sand taken from the shore.
If hope is a stargazer lily, let it
take root. If hope a lamb, give it a field
to hide and roam. Hope spills
from the pockets of teachers, aches
to be more like the mountains—
so vast, so above it all.
Hope was raised on breast milk,
a rainbow flag. If hitchhiking
and long roads without a map, hope.
If questioning, What do we have?
When the fabric is ragged, hope lights
a candle in the shadowlands,
stitches up what has been torn.

Half Shells

On the ferry I overhear a man
tell his cellphone that he wants to stay
married, that they can make this right—
there’s a sunset the color of plums,
a few kernels of popcorn on the floor.
The man wants his cellphone to know
he’s sorry, he understands he fucked up,
can do better. As he talks, I think
about how this morning
instead of writing poems I sat
on the beach watching two otters run
across the shore and dive into the waves
together, it was almost synchronized.
I imagine them texting each other
love notes on clam shells. The man
holds his phone like a friend he’s trying
not to lose and I wish he’d just toss it
over the boat when our ferry docks
and walk out into the wet sand
to find a shell to give to the person
he fears he’ll never get a chance to love.

Kelli Russell Agodon is the cofounder of Two Sylvias Press where she works as an editor and book cover designer. Her most recent book, Hourglass Museum, was a finalist for the Washington State Book Awards and shortlisted for the Julie Suk Poetry Prize. Her second book, Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room was the winner of the Foreword Indies Book of the Year for poetry and was also a finalist for the Washington State Book Awards. She also coauthored The Daily Poet: Day-By-Day Prompts for Your Writing Practice, with poet Martha Silano. She lives in a sleepy seaside town in Washington State where she is an avid paddleboarder. /