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Poem: ‘love & the memory of it’

I always remember these lines in Jay Hopler’s debut book of poems, “Green Squall”: “Being born is a shame–/But it’s not so bad, as journeys go. … ” Sixteen years later comes Hopler’s third book of poems, one that documents his journey on the other end of a life, as he grapples with a terminal illness. Illness streaks across these new poems, toppling them with sonic devastation. The ending of this poem speaks for itself, but its sadness intermingles with the speaker’s love for the “atomic girl” and the way her laughter “echoed off the rocks.” Hopler died on June 15, 2022 at the age of 51. Selected by Victoria Chang

by Jay Hopler

spook not at the shook world w/ all its viruses & murder hornets
instead that summer evening call to mind when you drove alone
over iowa
the light in the fields how long it was how in love you were w/ it
& the air & the world & that girl that atomic girl you would one
day marry
or summon up a summer evening half a life from then & the park
by the river the way her laughter
echoed off the rocks
in sparks that sighed
into the water

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it was she that lit the world just then
& not that ember of a sun
her light like a struck string fretting its zing against the pic-
nic tables

may that be the music you hear
when they unplug the ventilator

Victoria Chang is a poet whose new book of poems is “The Trees Witness Everything” (Copper Canyon Press, 2022). Her fifth book of poems, “Obit” (2020), was named a New York Times Notable Book and a Time Must-Read. She lives in Los Angeles and teaches in Antioch University’s M.F.A. program. Jay Hopler is a poet whose latest book is “Still Life” (McSweeney’s, 2022). His honors include a 2022 Guggenheim Fellowship, and he is a professor of English at the University of South Florida.

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