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If Life Is As Short As Our Ancestors Insist It Is, Why Isn’t Everything I Want Already At My Feet by Hanif Abdurraqib


Here are some small pleasures: seeing a new leaf sprout from a plant I thought was already dying. The first bite when your teeth sinks onto the flesh of a sugary doughnut. When your love calls you little even if you feel your ass is as big as the city that’s trying to wear you down. Getting into bed without your pajama bottoms hiking up your calves.

What I want: to not have to worry about rent and groceries and spend all the time of day reading and writing poems. For people I love not to die. To learn how to make bread from scratch. Deep tissue massage. To receive a sign from the universe that the mistakes I’m making are necessary.

What is living: dancing barefoot to Sambolero by Luiz Bonfá while washing the dishes I’ve neglected for a week in the sink. Waking up not knowing if I want to try again today. Watching funny videos in the dark and laughing by yourself, until you are crying and wondering if it will always hurt like this. 

A list of promises: to use up all the ingredients before their expiration date. To always take my meds even if I don’t feel like taking them. Especially on those days. To pursue my own happiness, even if I feel like an impostor most times. To feel deeply and without remorse.

What is worth living for: poems.

What would kill me: everything I’ve let touch my heart—cholesterol, lack of sleep, sugar and salt. Bacon. Alcohol. You, humming to yourself while you heat some leftovers in the microwave, not knowing I’m there silently negotiating with the universe to let me keep you forever.

If Life Is As Short As Our Ancestors Insist It Is, Why Isn’t Everything I Want Already At My Feet
Hanif Abdurraqib

if I make it to heaven, I will ask for all of the small pleasures
I could have had on earth. And I’m sure this will upset

the divine order. I am a simple man. I want, mostly,
a year that will not kill me when it is over.

A hot stove and a wooden porch, bent under
the weight of my people. I was born, and it only got worse

from there. In the dead chill of a doctor’s office,
I am told what to cut back on and what to add more of.

None of this sounds like living. I sit in a running
car under a bath of orange light and eat the fried chicken

that I promised my love I would stray from
for the sake of my heart and its blood

labor. Still, there is something about the way a grease
stain begins small and then tiptoes its way along

the fabric of my pants. Here, finally, a country
worth living in. One that falls thick from whatever

it is we love so much that we can’t stop letting it kill
us. If we must die, let it be inside here. If we must.

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This poem appeared in Narrative Northeast. A later version of the poem is in A Fortune for Your Disaster by Hanif Abdurraqib, published by Tin House Books, 2019. Shared here with profound gratitude.

Read more works by Hanif AbdurraqibFind books by this poet • Or view my library 

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If Life is As Short by Hanif Abdurraqib


Comments (2)

  • Sonja Halvorson

    Love the new site design, and as always am delighted by your choices of poems. I’ve followed you for years! My only critique of the new site is that on the mobile version, everything is a very narrow column and it changes the natural line breaks of all the poems. Maybe this is a stylistic choice on your part? Anyway, happy to have you back.


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