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What it costs by Marge Piercy


How are you? Are you writing? are two questions I am often asked by people who know how to check up on me when I’ve been too silent. What they’re really asking is: how is your heart, and are you still alive. What they really want to say is: you mustn’t give up, and find your way back to the words, and you are here, and you are not fading away.

Life has been strange for me in the past year. I had thought it would be an opportunity to have better days than the past, but it is not to be. But what am I saying—we’ve all had to endure. Here: I am eating an old pancake at six in the evening with my favourite bottle of beer, listening to Olafur Arnalds and thinking, this year looks like it isn’t any better, but I will survive. Yes.

Tell me how you did it. Tell me how you summoned a wave of inner strength and said, no, I am not dead yet. Tell me how you got up in the mornings and made the bed—or not, but got up anyway. Tell me you and I are here, right now with the seas between us, knees shaking and trembling with the desire to still be.

Here, I rattled around my memories a bit more. Allow me to tell you some glimpses of brief joy: when I found myself picking up my ukulele to learn a new song, when I saw a grasshopper while sitting out at my balcony all the way up here at the twelfth floor, when my aunt sent me chocolate cappuccino and it surprisingly didn’t taste like shit, when I decided to write all day with no pants and thought, hey this is really nice.

If you told me what it cost to survive was looking at a slice of the moon some evenings and someone asking me every so often, how are you, I would probably have said, yes please and more.

What it costs
Marge Piercy

Now it costs to say
I will survive, now when
my words coat my clenched
teeth with blood, now
when I have been yanked
off love like a diver
whose hose is cut.
I push against
the dizzying onslaught
of heavy dark water.
Up or down? While
the heart kicks
like a strangled rabbit
and the lungs buckle
like poor balloons:
I will survive.

I will lift the leaden
coffin lid of the surface
and thrust my face
into the air.
I will feel the sun’s
rough tongue on my face.
Then I’ll start swimming
toward the coast
that must somewhere
blur the horizon
with wheeling birds.

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This poem appeared in The Moon is Always Female by Marge Piercy, published by Alfred A. Knopf, 1994. Shared here with profound gratitude.

Read more works by Marge PiercyFind books by this poet • Or view my library 

Explore poems in pursuit of: persistencesurvivingtransformation • Or browse the index


[expand title=”Dear Reader” tag=”h6″]

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Comments (2)

  • Thank you for sharing your beautiful words (I really love the specifics of section 4.) and this amazing poem. Hang in there and keep on writing:-) Greetings from a fellow writer in Amsterdam!

  • Hope

    Thanks for reaching out to me with your amazing poetry


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