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Poetry: “The Places We Are Not”

are you ok is the hook / are you ok is code for / we are not ok / but please remind me you are breathing.”

Posted on June 27, 2018, at 4:36 p.m. ET

David Ramos / Getty Images

a man plows his truck
through the crowd
celebrating on the Nice boardwalk
where my once-love once insisted
we could make it all the way through
a triple-layer chocolate mousse
until we were both so full
we could not even bear to lick our spoons
I text a friend
where are you
which is code for
please tell me these new deaths
are not yours this time

if I scroll up I will see the same text she sent me in January
when I was in lockdown in Jakarta
as the man in the starbucks across town
pulled the pin from his grenade
not yours
this time

is a song that plays so often
I cannot help but know the words
are you ok is the hook
are you ok is code for
we are not ok
but please remind me you are breathing

back home
the Black men and women I love
look into mirrors and wonder
if they are loose teeth
in the mouth of an impatient god
are you ok
I text
impotent
please remind me you are breathing
I am scared

is not a good enough reason to not get out of bed
The world is falling apart
is not a good enough one either
I ask my mother if growing older means
one wound piled upon another
until we are just a collection of hurt
and she insists no
sometimes somebody gets married
or has a baby


someone teach me a new song please
bring me a spoon
and a mouth to lean across the table for
this time
this time

I am a jaw of loose teeth
I am a collection of string
I am a snow-globe of worry
I am a rolodex of fear
they are putting bodybags over children on the sidewalk
where I once pushed a bowl away
laughing
I cannot possibly have anymore
I am already full


Courtesy of the author

Sarah Kay is a poet, performer, and educator from New York City. She is best known for her talk at the 2011 TED conference, which garnered two standing ovations and has been seen over eleven million times online. She has also been a featured performer at the United Nations, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, The Royal Danish Theater, and hundreds of other venues around the world. Her poetry can be found on Netflix tv shows, Uniqlo t-shirts, and bookstore shelves. She is the author of four best-selling books of poetry including “B,” “The Type,” “No Matter the Wreckage,” and “All Our Wild Wonder.” Sarah holds a Masters Degree in The Art of Teaching from Brown University and an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Grinnell College. She shares a weekly column at the Paris Review Online with poets Kaveh Akbar and Claire Schwartz, called "Poetry Rx." Sarah is the founder and co-director of Project VOICE, an organization that uses poetry to entertain, educate, and inspire students and teachers worldwide.

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