I Was Told the Sunlight Was a Cure by Hanif Abdurraqib

I Was Told the Sunlight Was a Cure
Hanif Abdurraqib

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.


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