I Was Told the Sunlight Was a Cure by Hanif Abdurraqib
I Was Told the Sunlight Was a Cure
for the cloak of despair thrown over our bright & precious
corners but tell that to the lone bird who did not get the memo
dizzy & shouting into the newly unfamiliar absence of morning
light from atop a sagging branch outside my window—a branch
which, too, was closer to the sky before falling into the chorus
line of winter’s relentless percussion all of us, victims to this flimsy math
of hours I was told there was a cure for this. I was told the darkness
would surrender its weapons & retreat I know of no devils who evict themselves
to the point of permanence. and still, on the days I want
to be alive the sunlight leaves me stunned like a kiss
from someone who has already twirled away by the time my eyes open
on the days I want to be alive I tell myself I deserve a marching band
or at least a string section to announce my arrival above
ground for another cluster of hours. if not a string section, at least one
drummer & a loud-voiced singer well versed in what might move me
to dance. what might push my hand through a crowded sidewalk
towards a woman who looks like a woman from my dreams
which means nothing if you dream as I do, everyone a hazy quilt
of features only familiar enough to lead me through a cavern of longing
upon my waking & so I declare on the days I want to be alive I might drag
my drummer & my singer to your doorstep & ask you to dance
yes, you, who also survived the groaning machinery of darkness
you who, despite this, do not want to be perceived in an empire
awash with light in the sinning hours & we will dance
until our joyful heaving flows into breathless crying, the two often pouring
out of the chest’s orchestra at the same tempo, siblings in their arrival & listen,
there will be no horns to in the marching band of my survival.
the preacher says there will be horns at the gates of the apocalypse & I believed even myself
the angel of death as a boy, when I held my lips to a metal mouthpiece & blew out a tune
about autumn & I am pressing your ear to my window & asking if you can hear the deep
moans of the anguished bird & how the wind bends them into what sounds like a child
clumsily pushing air into a trumpet for the first time & there’s the joke:
only a fool believes that the sound at the end of the world would be sweet.
I remember laughing at this—of someone saying how they are like a rooster upon waking up in the morning. That is: they open their eyes and scream at the top of their lungs. Oh, the jadedness, I think. The horror of realising you are still alive. I found it so absurdly funny and true. For who would want this world, I think sometimes. Who would want all this ache.
On days I yearn to be alive, I pull myself out of bed and put on my skin and bones. Tuck the sheets around my ghost and leave it there for awhile. Tell myself to eat. Drink water. Talk to friends. Wash the dishes. Have a shower. On days I yearn to be alive I think of the ache as a conversation with my body—because I feel, I must still be here, and isn’t that something.
When the days are yellow I am grateful. The sun is a visitor in my living room, and all my plants are bending towards it. I try to mimic them, leaning forward, seeking warmth. All of us asking for a kiss. All us asking to be forgiven for needing.
I am thinking about the transient nature of hope and the resilience required to hold onto it. If everything is fleeting, am I strong enough to stay?
On days I yearn to be alive, I do not long for the cacophony of horns, nor a grand gesture to celebrate being here: I just want to be witnessed, to be told that the wanting is enough, is allowed.
This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day, published by the Academy of American Poets, 2022. Shared here with profound gratitude.
Read more works by Hanif Abdurraqib • Find books by this poet • Or view my library
Explore poems in pursuit of: wounds • living • light • Or browse the index
This little corner of the world is my passion project since 2005. My commitment is that it will always remain free to all. If this place holds meaning for you, would you consider supporting it? This can be in the form of a cup of coffee (+ other ways).
Note that Read A Little Poetry may receive a small commission if you make a purchase through any links on this site. It is at no additional cost to you and helps in the upkeep of this space.
Thank you for being here all these years—and into the future—as I hold poets to the light.
On this day
Read A Little Poetry is a passion project of poet T. De Los Reyes. It has been around since 2005. A thriving collection of great poems, this place holds poets to the light alongside experiences of being human.
Thank you for being here—for thinking about words, what they mean, and the weight they hold. This little corner of the world has always been a safe space for all to lean towards vulnerability, to hold on to poems as if anchors, as if wings.
Supported by readers
Join 3,000+ poetry lovers across 20+ countries
Never miss an update by getting poems delivered right to your inbox.
- No, not drifting, I am poling my way into my life. — Jean Valentine https://t.co/U7THjMBhdI
Find a poem
“What if / every time a flower forms in the mind, something gives it away to time?”
Browse older posts
La Chalupa, the Boat by Jean Valentine
"No, not drifting, I am poling / my way into my life."
[Goldenrod, I could say, you know, everybody wants something] by Diane Seuss
"Goldenrod, is your dying hard? I know, / I know dying's hard. Are you reaching toward, you know, or just reaching?"
Transformation by Adam Zagajewski
"I’ve lived humbly, reading the paper, / pondering the riddle of power / and the reasons for obedience."
Starlings in Winter by Mary Oliver
"I want / to think again of dangerous and noble things
Sunflowers by Jenny George
"Having died / all the way back to the root, I grow again / into a version of the thing I love"
In Winter by Michael Ryan
"are you smiling / at an idea met in a book / the way you smiled with your whole body / the first night we talked?"
"Beautiful – what a gloriously generous gift is this space of your feelings, words and the most precious of findings, soul-poems. Thank you, a thousand times." — R.
"What a goddess-send, this blog. Thank you for your candor and wonderful writing, and for sharing poems I might have taken years and decades to get around to discovering, if I discovered them at all…" — S.
“With poems I am not alone. Thank you for posting some of the best.” — J.
“Thank you for this absolute treasure trove of delicious words.” — B.
"I stumbled upon this page a long time ago on the search for a poem. I discovered multitudes. I bookmarked this page because I knew there was going to be a time when I would need it. Now is that time. I find myself in you and all those words. Thank you." — E.
“It’s like you have created a soundtrack for all our lives, only with poetry.” — A.
From my notebook
Hello + some updates.
If you find value in the work I do and the poems I share, please consider supporting Read A Little Poetry.
Found Language #007
“What intelligence a reader has must be exercised in the poetic game of hare-and-hounds, where ellipses mislead those who pursue sweet reasonableness.”
Found Language #006
“[I]f every language is inherently capable of expressing every human experience, then the attempts to save an endangered language seems ridiculous.”