Rebecca Foust

Sit with Me

Sit again with me by the fire

to debate the placement of commas and italics 
and the meanings of words

as if the world were at stake

in this warm, bright room

secured by a heavy door with a good lock

on a street in a block no ICE agent 
would dare wield his baton

and that for a moment, what matters is nothing

more than words on this page.

Here in this room, we believe in choosing

the right words, in the right order,

and that it makes a difference

whether craven means “crass” 
or something more odious 

like “openly indifferent to suffering”
—even if both happen to apply, 									
only one is precisely correct, 
and we believe that matters. 

After the election, a woman on the bus
cried out while checking her phone. 
“Thank God,” she said, the bees 
are no longer going extinct—they’ve 
been taken off the Endangered List!”

It was not long after that 

the EPA was shut down, and the word 
criminal amended to mean children 
who escape into this country from
earthquakes, machetes and guns.
So many children crossing those rivers
and last night, workers taken right out
of the kitchen at Cavallo Point, but here 
in my neighborhood the magnolias
are unfolding large creamy blooms
with an abandon that brings to mind 

the words wanton and craven. Sit with me 
again and remind me words matter 
as much as the world. Remind me 
craven means not crass, but cowardly, 
even if both happen to apply 

to our president, and evil and immoral
are almost always over-the-top 
in a poem. Tell me what each term means 
and does not mean and what 
this particular four-year term means 

to the father who worked here for 20 years
and now must leave his family behind, 
and tell me how to parse a sentence 
that balances weeping with silence, 
children with criminal and abandon, 

and president with craven and crass
and openly indifferent to suffering, 
immoral, and evil—give me 
any meaning that makes any sense 
and will not allow the reader to choose, 
or to turn away.

First published in Nimrod, 2020. First Prize, The Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry.