Poem of the Week | April 22, 2019

This week we present “Something Like Grace,” a new poem by Matthew Gellman.

Matthew Gellman’s poems are featured or forthcoming in Poetry Northwest, Narrative, The Common, Passages North, Ninth Letter, The Cortland Review, Poet Lore and elsewhere. He is the recipient of awards and honors from the Academy of American Poets, the New York State State Summer Writers Institute and the Vermont Studio Center. In 2018, Matthew was awarded a Brooklyn Poets fellowship and was included in Narrative’s 30 below 30 list. He holds an MFA from Columbia University and lives in New York, where he teaches at Hunter College.

Gellman was recently a finalist for Missouri Review‘s 2018 Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize for Poetry.

Something Like Grace

We spent a good while hunting the right
strip of beach to sink our belongings,
somewhere a little less crowded, with a tide
we could trust and a dock we could let
all our legs dangle over. But because Nora
was tired and I was thirsty, because the bus
we had taken had grumbled in late, we settled
on a patch rough with cigarette butts and a woman
with a bearded dragon perched on her shoulder.
We talked about what it might be like to live
in a place with a kinder summer, more
petrichor, maybe, where smoke wouldn’t flap
against our faces and we wouldn’t have to work
so much. But then when I opened my mouth
to say how I love it here, why I’ve stayed
this long, I forgot what I was going to tell her
when I saw those few seagulls a few feet away:
ambitious, staking their claim to the shore,
streaked with the white of what will never
be bowed, taking the scraps of the last afternoon
of the season before they shoot up again,
and watching them dive through the thick quilt
of August, nothing but wind around them,
floating more together than apart from each other
I knew what I’d been trying to tell my friend:
I do not just want to be like those birds,
their tails fanning out into something like grace,
a slick gang careening ceaselessly into the salt haze
we’ve all come a long way for; I want to be
the wind gushing over their faces, too,
coursing over every unruffled feather,
not apologizing for any part of its voice.


Author’s Note

I wrote this poem after a day I spent at Riis Beach last summer. I went with my friend Nora and it took use forever to get there (as I mention in the poem). I don’t typically write poems that deal directly with place, let alone New York, but that day on the beach is a moment, for me, that serves as a reminder reflection of what makes life in this city feel special. Even when I’m fed up with how far I have to travel and how cold it is most of the time, there is something about the way New York is always re-creating itself, always showing me different sides of its face. I think that’s what makes New York so addicting for so many people. Whatever you’re experiencing here, you get to drink more and more of it.