Poem-a-Day - "Karma" by Elena Karina Byrne

September 5, 2022 


Elena Karina Byrne
my heart keeps breaking does not stop breaking
Agha Shahid Ali

            What are the chances, Shahid, you will 
yardstick your way out of the wintering ground’s 
pinafore of snow with the identical song 
memory now recites for me, 
like the time our car stuttered to a stop
in the middle of the street, or when those orchids 
bordering the far side of the walk had to be 
wing bones once, the prehistoric gull’s flight before 
consciousness was pegged by man,
before rain shuddered like a crowd’s deafening voice, 
that same pitch loneliness factors from silence, 
or when one’s hands and knees are on the earth 
and sorrow becomes a hundred silver fish heads 
thrown in a market in China. How 
burnt grass in California carried a warning wind 
that still hurts someone’s lungs in upper Canada. . . 
            What, what are the chances a piece of my flesh 
glow-wormed its way into your heart as a single word 
would in the future of someone’s open mouth, or that 
the ones we loved were once the ones we hated, how 
my undoing passion for Moon Jellyfish means the next 
life will be empty freedom and all sex, or opposite:
a taproot set in the garden where 
the impress darkness smells like saffron and blood 
as it retrieves the desert’s mirage water
over and over again, all the while we’re here, 
knowing this loss phrases some god’s gain or damn,
that obsidian wasn’t merely volcanic glass 
but the last jewel set deep in your brain?

Copyright © 2022 by Elena Karina Byrne. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 5, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

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“An elegy for my dear friend, poet Agha Shahid Ali, this poem investigates how personal and collective loss and love reinvent time. Here, grief embodies both precipice and vertigo. Palpable absence becomes a presence in which everything feels interconnected. As a kind of unforeseen karma, physical/metaphysical reincarnation, and conjugating morphology, it ultimately translates and transforms our bodies and the world around us.”
Elena Karina Byrne

Elena Karina Byrne is the author of If This Makes You Nervous (Omnidawn, 2021), among other titles. The recipient of a Pushcart Prize, her work has been included in Best American Poetry.

If This Makes You Nervous
(Omnidawn, 2021)

“Elegy Composed in the New York Botanical Garden” by Eugenia Leigh
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“Etta’s Elegy” by Maureen Seaton
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Thanks to Cynthia Hogue, author of In June the Labyrinth (Red Hen Press, 2017), who curated Poem-a-Day for this month’s weekdays. Read or listen to a Q&A about Hogue’s curatorial approach and find out more about our guest editors for the year
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