Two Poems by Éireann Lorsung

From The Century

Occupations for air

A funeral shroud for
each forgotten child, strand
of frost-flowers across

a face, curtain blooming
full of the nothing
wind is. Air through

papers will be gentler
than an immigration controller
who at the border

spreads your passport open
on the desk to
better see your face.

Air encircles towns, permits
stars to appear where
cloud had covered, gives

the space that renders
you and I of
world-collapsing, insufficient we.

Air occupies the lung
and the wing, giving
us ideas of lift

and all we know
of breath. Morning air
means you did not

die overnight. No living
thing is not held
in air, not drawing

in the breath another
living thing has just
let out. A medevac

helicopter rises into it.
A missile trained for
human temperature spirals through.

Air fills rafts floating
on the sea between
worlds. Air fills bells

ringing along coastal fields
where white chalk cliffs
speak to gray water.

A choir’s voices fill
with sound. Invisible it
enters and departs all

rooms. At edges
of continents held upright
by air, girls struggle

down a road. Air
of France, air of
Italy, air of Hungary:

as though air meant
razor wire, private police.
Air carries no documents.

Air of United States.
Air of Mexico. Air
of Honduras. Air as

light as itself trespassing
lightly every human line.
The girls raise empty

hands. The guards raise
guns. A ballot slips
on skidding air. Ditch

weeds, ditch flowers, air
resting there in fall’s
first coolness. Turning away.


A tendency to survive after disaster

April 26, 1986; March 11, 2011

Cherry trees are growing up through the house.
This morning we found another slug climbing the kitchen wall.

I’m going to tell you once:
the day you leave you’d better
do it all. No coming back.
No carloads.
Get your suitcase
and get out.

Within thirty miles of the disaster site animals’ bodies are useless.
At first embryos just dissolved. Being in reverse.

We went back to cells, back to what it was safe to eat.

The cherry tree
the front window is a sign
that things go on.

Counting roentgens
we made
our way through sumac,
elk droppings.

If you’ve left laundry on the line, don’t go back; it’s raining now.


I’m lying on the bed and preserving the shape of your body
even though your body isn’t there.

I’m stroking the indent with one most gentle finger.
Rationing this too.
The blankets are glowing. The sheets in the closet are alive.

Saplings grow through things that soften.
I can feel the small trees starting in my abdomen.
Beloved you have forgotten one shoe here in the room.


You started
down the road
before me—

I can still see the shape
of your back—our house
and our cherry

trees crying out
for the living,


decaying, my


papers floating


out the door


beyond you


the ashes


of another city—


The veil of dust is attached to almost everything
and someone is beginning the new song,
the one we sang that day, in the dark, when even the notes were visible,
the one that begins in fire and ends with orchards growing
in our house—


Éireann Lorsung, the century

From The Century by Éireann Lorsung. Reprinted with the permission of Milkweed Editions. Copyright © 2020 by Éireann Lorsung.

Éireann Lorsung
Éireann Lorsung
Éireann Lorsung is the author of two previous collections of poems: Her book and Music for Landing Planes By, which was named a New and Noteworthy collection by Poets & Writers. She received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 2016. Since completing an MFA at the University of Minnesota, Lorsung has studied printmaking and drawing at Scuola Internazionale di Grafica in Venice and taught high school in rural France. While living in Belgium, she ran a micropress called MIEL Books and a residency space called Dickinson House for writers and artists. From 2017-2020 she was Visiting Assistant Professor of Creative Writing-Nonfiction at the University of Maine, Farmington.

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