My Poem Will Not Save You: Featured Poetry by Dunya Mikhail

July 30, 2019 | 1 book mentioned 2 min read

Our series of poetry excerpts continues with a poem from In Her Feminine Sign, the new book by Dunya Mikhail. Full of gently-delivered lines that rumble with resonance, Mikhail’s poems are worth pondering—and they will often leave readers with much to carry forward. “My Poem Will Not Save You” begins with an arresting viral image, gracefully delivered—an elegy for this child whose body and soul has taken on another, digital life. Mikhail’s poem reminds us of difficult truths: her poem “will not turn him onto his back / and lift him up / to his feet.” Her poem will not defuse a bomb or block a shell from falling. Poetry might not save us—at least in the way we desire. The poem’s refrain—”I am sorry”—feels so authentic, so necessary.

“My Poem Will Not Save You”

Remember the toddler lying face down
on the sand, and the waves gently receding
from his body as if a forgotten dream?

My poem will not turn him onto his back
and lift him up
to his feet
so he can run
into a familiar lap
like before.
I am sorry
my poem will not
block the shells
when they fall
onto a sleeping town,
will not stop the buildings
from collapsing
around their residents,
will not pick up the broken-leg flower
from under the shrapnel,
will not raise the dead.
My poem will not defuse
the bomb
in the public square.
It will soon explode
where the girl insists
that her father buy her gum.
My poem will not rush them
to leave the place
and ride the car
that will just miss the explosion.
Many mistakes in life
will not be corrected by my poem.
Questions will not be answered.
I am sorry
my poem will not save you.
My poem cannot return
all of your losses,
not even some of them,
and those who went far away
my poem won’t know how to bring them back
to their lovers.
I am sorry.
I don’t know why the birds
sing
during their crossings
over our ruins.
Their songs will not save us,
although, in the chilliest times,
they keep us warm,
and when we need to touch the soul
to know it’s not dead
their songs
give us that touch.

By Dunya Mikhail, from In Her Feminine Sign, copyright © 2019 by Dunya Mikhail. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.

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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