Poem of the Week | August 10, 2015

This week we’re delighted to feature a new poem by Allison Adair. Adair’s poems appear or are forthcoming in Boston Review, Mid-American Review, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Tahoma Literary Review, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, The Boston Globe, and the anthology Hacks; hypertext projects appear on The Rumpus and Electric Literature. Winner of the 2014 Fineline Competition, Adair is on the English faculty at Boston College and teaches poetry workshops at Grub Street.
Author’s Note:

This poem began in the Boston winter, when forecasters bookended each storm with grave commentaries about danger upon danger upon danger. Snow was all anyone could talk about. But with everything else going on in the world, much less in our own inner lives, the excessive attention on local weather seemed comical to me – like a seasonal diversionary tactic. There are plenty of dangers that don’t depend on a season, that are already here, dependable as they come. So I wrote the title of this poem first, as a joke, then began composing a list of things we probably have little reason to fear. It quickly became clear, though, how easily natural images accept our own emotional narratives, and how much we do to maintain the distance of that relationship. As I kept writing, I realized I needed to address the promise of the title – so what should we fear? To me, it’s the truly unpredictable stuff – or worse yet, the stuff we insist is unpredictable, the way we try to fake ourselves out, when we know what’s coming all along.


What We Should Really Be Afraid Of


Not snow.
Not a single flake
and not all of them at once.
Not their nest, their melting
puzzle, their instinct to insulate
against heat.


Not the storm, even hard, not when wind
discovers rain let its cool mouth linger
on the spine of a high mountain.
Not the mountain.
Not the smooth mud that reassures its slope:
it’s not your fault.


Not the thin white trees, leaning into weather
(they know what’s coming):
portents, gray steam created
and dissolved like
an apology dripping down
a bathroom mirror.
Not the writer’s hand
wiped on a leg.


Not spring, not another, not its vining
pleated limbs swollen with the ink of
a decomposing violet. Not the wasp
who shutters the hive of its compound eyes just
to live there, again, in that bloomy velvet—
reckless, forgiving, drunk with altitude.


Not the wasp’s slender waist.


The water in the stream below buzzes
with struggle – a woman’s hair
tangled in an anchor.
The thousand grasping hands of its rust
remind us: Pray that it holds.


There are things to fear.
You know it.
The water knows, too, the mountain,
the snow, even before it falls.
Boats, floating for a time,
wait for the sound of their narrow ribs
to crack. A fat speckled spider sharpens
in the shoe of someone you
need. Bacon grease naps in secret


A woman’s thumbs fumble a button.
Her organs shimmy at the wrong
time, she tells herself it’s
music. Someone else pulls a brush
through her daughter’s hair.
She decides she won’t hear
the steps in the hall, the key
turning in the lock.


He does it because he loves us.
You do it because you have to.
You do it because he told you.
We do it because we’re told to.


In an attic, a man steps on something soft
and tells himself the whole floor was covered
with dead birds, so how could he not?
But there was only one bird, lying just
where the man stepped. He knows.
Through his shoe,
he felt the long bones of the wing