Elizabeth Alexander
Autumn Passage
Courtesy of Elizabeth Alexander

When I’m in the midst of writing poems, really deep in it, that’s when I lose track of time. I’m a mother of two sons so I don’t have that option much, but I would say there is that moment when I say “oh my gosh, look how much time has passed” and that is when I’m writing a poem. I have time to do that when I’m home at night and they’re asleep.

The content is developed instinctually. I labor over the actual composition, going word-by-word and line-by-line, draft upon draft. If I ever get nervous before getting up to read, even at events like President Obama’s inauguration, I look at the poem and say, “You’re done. All I have to do is let you out.”

On suffering, which is real.
On the mouth that never closes,
the air that dries the mouth.

On the miraculous dying body,
its greens and purples.
On the beauty of hair itself.

On the dazzling toddler:
"Like eggplant," he says,
when you say "Vegetable,"

"Chrysanthemum" to "Flower."
On his grandmother's suffering, larger
than vanished skyscrapers,

September zucchini,
other things too big. For her glory
that goes along with it,

glory of grown children's vigil,
communal fealty, glory
of the body that operates

even as it falls apart, the body
that can no longer even make fever
but nonetheless burns

florid and bright and magnificent
as it dims, as it shrinks,
as it turns to something else.