Under a Lifetime of Constraint

I shouldn’t have offered my present as if it was my presence.

I shouldn’t have insulted the right words by always saying the wrong.

Please don’t be hurt, joy, that I still choose you to squander.

May memory forget my often defiant and ill-timed lapses of self.

I’m sorry to kind words for replacing you with angry.

I’m sorry to promises for always forgetting your power.

Forgive me, sweet innocence, for bringing my world to bear.

Forgive me, history, for delivering you into the present.

My apologies for cell’s inhabited by inherited illness.

My apologies for the journey whose long legs are eternally tired.

Pardon me, good health, for consuming the worst even in the best times.

Pardon me, threat, for the flash of empty words I keep locked and loaded.

And you, with a smile pinned to the wall, your message remains lost in the lesson.

As the required words deemed so important cover your truth in silent ignorance

Forgive me for ignoring your declaration, your truth, your much-needed message of joy.

I was wrong, perfection, for my small attempts to claim you.

It was wrong to imagine one concept more important than another.

Impatience do not call me your friend anymore.

Future, forgive me, pay us no recompense.

Ignore the amoral, O God, whose kindness knows no bounds.

War’s threat lay no claim to my life or the future.

My apologies to peace that I cannot quiet the angry

My apologies to biology that I cannot eradicate ignorance and corruption

There is nothing to excuse any single of my wasted breaths

Still, withhold punishment for this world of sin, so I may to my dying breath struggle to seed the world with light.

Background: I wrote this poem as an exercise to help my students write their poems in a mirrored style to Under a Certain Little Star by Wislawa Szymborska. The idea behind the exercise is to take a poem we are studying and analyzing and to write an original poem mirroring the style and technique of the original author’s poem. I encourage students to write about what they love, to dare to be bad at writing, and to attempt Szymborska’s emotional resonance.


J. L. Burrows


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