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Strawberry by Paisley Rekdal


The way I said there’d be something new by July, by August, because I’m finally putting my life back together. The way this place remains the same. The ghost of my old self remains, wafting from word to word, from line to line, showing me what I planned to do. The way I’m here to say I haven’t been able to.

The way I carefully plotted my calendar, anticipating growth. The way I ended up pushing myself to get out of bed just to keep going. Today and another day more. And another day more. The way I’m struggling.

The way I told the universe the future will involve good things. The way I tried to manifest food on the table. Hot showers. A body that doesn’t ache. A mind that doesn’t break. The way I am hungry. Again and again. It fucking makes me angry, you know. How I am hungry.

The way I promised to get lab tests finally. Treatment plans to fix what can be fixed. The way I promised to fix my home, make it a space that would encourage me to work and live and breathe and be a person. The way I’m not doing any of that at all.

Be gentle with yourself, I am told. Every day I fail. Spectacularly.

I’m going to fail again. That’s for certain. But the wild thing inside me believes it’s still worth a try. That is to say: damn it all. That is to say: I’ve got this. That is to say: another day more. And another day more.

Paisley Rekdal

I am going to fail.
I’m going to fail cartilage and plastic, camera and arrow.
I’m going to fail binoculars and conjugations,
all the accompanying musics: I am failing,
I must fail, I can fail, I have failed
the way some women throw themselves
into lover’s arms or out trains,
fingers crossed and skirts billowing
behind them. I’m going to fail
the way strawberry plants fail,
have dug down hard to fail, shooting
brown runners out into silt, into dry gray beds,
into tissue and rock. I’m going to fail
the way their several hundred hearts below surface
have failed, thick, soft stumps desiccating
to tumors; the way roots wizen in the cold
and cloud black, knotty as spark plugs, cystic
synapses. I’m going to fail light and stars and tears.
I’m going to fail the way cowards only wish they could fail,
the way the brave refuse to fail or the vain fear to,
believing that to stray even once from perfection
is to be permanently cast out, Wandering Jew
of failure, Adam of failure, Sita of failure; that’s the way
I’m going to fail, bud and creosote and cloud.
I’m failing pet and parent. I’m failing the food
in strangers’ stomachs, the slender inchoate rings
of distant planets. I’m going to fail these words
and the next and the next. I’m going to fail them,
I’m going to fail her– trust me, I’ve already failed him–
and the possibility of a we is going to sink me
like a bad boat. I’m going to fail the way
this strawberry plant has failed, alive without bud,
without fruit, without tenderness, hugging itself
to privation and ridiculous want.
I’m going to fail simply by standing in front of you,
waving my arms in your face as if hailing a taxi:
I’m here, I’m here, please don’t forget me,
though you already have, I smell it, even cloaked
with soil, sending out my slender fingers for you,
sending out all my hair and tongue and brain.
I’m going to fail you
just as you’re going to fail me,
urging yourself further down to sediment
and the tiny, trickling filaments of damp;
thirsty, thirsty, desperate to drown
if even for a little while, if even for once:
to succumb, to be destroyed,
to die completely, to fail the way I’ve failed
in every particular sense of myself,
in every new and beautiful light.

[expand title=”Endnotes” tag=”h6″ expanded=”true”]

This poem appeared in The Invention of the Kaleidoscope by Paisley Rekdal, published by University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007. Shared here with profound gratitude.

Read more works by Paisley RekdalFind books by this poet • Or view my library 

Explore poems in pursuit of: being humanthe selffailure • Or browse the index


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Comments (5)

  • Linda McCarter

    No words… 😱

  • B

    T. I’m so glad to hear your voice. Yesterday I thought of you and how I miss your words.

    I made so many promises to myself – all that I would accomplish on the page, to my home and for my body during lockdown, over the summer.

    Overwhelmed to paralysis. Exhausted. I can’t think straight. My memory is sh*t. I keep a thesaurus nearby. The just-right word floats behind fog.

    “I’ve failed in every particular sense of myself, in every new and beautiful light.”

    Thank you for your truth & vulnerability. Thank you for the poem. Are we all failing? If so, I want to surround us in light and say to be gentle. Berating ourselves will not help. ​But maybe it is not the gentle, but the untamed wild thing that knows what to do next. Maybe Arrival of the Birds will help unleash the wild inside.

    I reach for your hand and turn toward another day more.

  • Hi T!!!

    I don’t know if you saw it, but I emailed you a day ago, saying I missed you so. I’m so glad to see you again. I give you my best wishes, always. Beautiful piece.

  • Geez, that made me cry.

  • Parts of this made me want to burst into tears and other parts made me want to stand, triumphantly, hands on hips, whilst shouting a big, “F*ck yes!” Thank you for sharing this piece, and your own thoughts.


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