We Learn to Live: Featured Poetry by Andrés Cerpa

January 15, 2019 | 1 book mentioned 2 min read

We’re thrilled to begin a new series of poetry excerpts at The Millions. These poems come from selected new books that appear in our monthly must-read poetry column. Our first poem is from Andrés Cerpa’s heartbreaking debut collection, Bicycle in a Ransacked City: An Elegy. Like many other poems in this debut book, “The Lesson” churns with frustration—the desperation of a son whose father is living with Parkinson’s Disease. Cerpa’s poems are distilled charges of pure will: the simultaneous anger and sadness of losing a parent in so many ways, and how we long for some miracle or magic to “conjure a former self.” A necessarily bleak book illuminated by authentic and audacious feeling.

“The Lesson”

I say goodnight, smile, walk out the door then sit on the hill
              above, & facing my father’s house, smoke another
spliff & watch his, then my mother’s, windows go dim.

I believe that maybe in the streetlight which flickers & reflects
              off the stop sign, at the plateaued road between us,
a flutter, a baseball card in a wheel, will conjure a former self

to slip from my old window, to walk here & sit with me awhile,
              with his shoulder to my shoulder
as he takes a few drags, sighs then says, I’m going back home.

I wouldn’t say things get better. I’d say, We learn to live,
              that, human beings can get used to anything.
But he already knows this somewhere, though he’ll have to

throw bottles off rooftops, piss himself & sleep in the snow,
              wake to his corruptible body & shame,
withdraw, close one hand around his father’s throat

like a nail you’d hang a mirror on, as the right hand hammers
              the Sheetrock & his mother tries to calm him,
crying, blaming herself & holding her palms to her son’s cheeks

as he steps back, wipes his eyes until the Sheetrock damps           
              against his veins. He’ll have to walk
alone for years to thaw the ash & numb.

“The Lesson” excerpted from Bicycle in a Ransacked City: An Elegy by Andrés Cerpa. Copyright © 2019 by Andrés Cerpa. Published and reprinted by permission of Alice James Books. All rights reserved.

is a staff writer for The Millions. He has written for Rolling Stone, The Paris Review, The Atlantic, Esquire, and The Kenyon Review. His newest book is Ember Days, a collection of stories. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and twin daughters. Follow him @nickripatrazone and find more of his writing at www.nickripatrazone.com.

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