This is a perpetual mourning
poem. If you were told to live
fast, you’ll be aghast at life’s stretch,
a thing too long for haiku, since
elegies have length, and heft, or maybe
fool that you are you don’t know
you can’t write your own, and they’ll
kill you if you can’t live fast. They’ll
kill you if you want much, too, if
you want more than gravel to chew,
and they’ll kill you if you want to, but just
can’t. This law of nature, man’s, too,
rewards malignant neglect until
we can forget your forms, your faces
pleading your humanity with sallow eyes.

She’s red in tooth and claw, they’ll say,
as if you’d know between the two laws
which one they meant. We make places like this
for the ones with brains passing too slow
into our fast lane, or veering across lanes
we’ve drawn for polite traffic at a pace
without speed bumps, crosswalks, not for we
who go fearlessly and live fast. If you knew
all this, you know the pressuring presence
of unmarked tombs on the premises. Peace is
easily borne for the slow-footed, slow-witted.

Yet you know nothing, slumbering, clambering
like any child from the womb. But know this:
your mother stored you there like all these
discontented relics and specimen jars you can’t
understand—never could—her dearest suffering, you
child of hers, child of God (Nature’s, too),
prisoner of all social-traffic laws, no one’s parlor
talk. They’ll kill you slow and say you’re
malingering. They’ll kill you, they’ll kill you.
They’ll kill you if you can’t at the least,
for once, at last! Just for once, live fast.


Pamela Sumners

Pamela Sumners is a civil rights and constitutional lawyer from Alabama whose work has been published or has been recognized by 30 journals or publishing houses. She was selected for inclusion in 2018's 64 Best Poets and has been nominated for 2019's 50 Best New Poets and was nominated for a Pushcart prize in 2018. She now lives in St. Louis with her wife, their son, and three rescue dogs.