• Two Poems by Éireann Lorsung

    From The Century

    Occupations for air

    Article continues below

    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.

    Article continues below

    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

    Article continues below

    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

    Article continues below

    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

    Article continues below

    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.

    More Story
    What We've Gotten Wrong About the Oceans Time to Eat the Dogs is a podcast about science, history, and exploration. Each week, Michael Robinson interviews scientists,...
  • Become a Lit Hub Supporting Member: Because Books Matter

    For the past decade, Literary Hub has brought you the best of the book world for free—no paywall. But our future relies on you. In return for a donation, you’ll get an ad-free reading experience, exclusive editors’ picks, book giveaways, and our coveted Joan Didion Lit Hub tote bag. Most importantly, you’ll keep independent book coverage alive and thriving on the internet.