Sarah Blake follows up her previous book of poetry, Mr. West, with a stunning second collection about anxieties and injury. Blake uses self-consciousness as a tool for transformation, looking so closely at herself that she moves right through the looking glass and into the larger world. Fear becomes palpable through the classification of monsters and through violences made real. When the poems find themselves in the domestic realm, something is always under threat. The body is never safe, nor are the ghosts of the dead. But these poems are not about cowering. By detailing the dangers we face as humans, as Americans, and especially as women, these poems suggest we might find a way through them. The final section of the book is a feminist, science fiction epic poem, "The Starship," which explores the interplay of perception and experience as it follows the story of a woman who must constantly ask herself what she wants as her world shifts around her. Please note the hardcover is unjacketed.
About the Author
SARAH BLAKE is the author of the poetry collection Mr. West, founder of the online writing tool Submittrs, and a recipient of an NEA Literature Fellowship. Her poetry has appeared in Kenyon Review, American Poetry Review, and The Rumpus. She lives outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Sarah Blake is the author of poetry collections In Springtime, and epic poem of survival with a gender-neutral protagonist; Let's Not Live On Earth, featuring the long form science fiction poem The Starship and Mr. West an unauthorized lyric biography of Kanye West. Blake's debut novel, Naamah, a provocative imagining of the story of Noah, won a National Jewish Book Award for debut fiction. Her second novel, Clean Air, was published in 2023. Blake has taught at the College of New Jersey, the University of Texas and Penn State, where she was co-coordinator of the MFA Reading Series. She holds a MA in English from the University of Texas and a MFA from Penn State.
Date of Birth:December 10, 1960
Place of Birth:New York, NY
Education:BA Yale College, 1983; MA San Francisco State University, 1991; PhD. New York University, 1996
Read an Excerpt
New signs at all the local train stations —
Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
I'm glad my son can't read yet.
Yesterday morning he made up a friend, Lofty,
who was captured by bad guys.
My husband asked, Loffy?
He said, No, with a T.
If it was a v, it would be Lof-vee.
He's starting to get it.
If it was a circle, it would be Lof-circle.
He's almost starting to get it.
Today he tells me he's dead. He's a ghost.
He misses his ghost family.
Something's wrong because they're inside the wall but he can't get through.
Then he walks into the wall to show me.
Then a ghost ladybug shows up who can get through the wall, and he saves everyone.
My son bends down to hug a family of very small ghosts.
I don't know how to talk to him about death.
When I told him about his great grandfather,
who he's named after, and that conversation led right where you think — He's dead —
he told me, Only bad guys die, and I could only argue that so many times.
Before I tell my son about suicide, I want to tell him about murder, I want to tell him about dying of an illness, about dying in sleep.
It feels awful to hold that plan inside me,
to know this ranking of death.
Do I tell him about genocide last? Or how you keep hearing for a few minutes after you die? How I'd like him to play me a nice song and repeat that he loves me.
How he better tell me first if he wants to take his life because I would understand that.
I've understood that for a long time.
What if you owed sadness and so became it?
Are you not indebted to everyone?
I'm asking what if the debt were sadness?
What if when we walked,
we didn't say,
this is Gaia's breast,
but, this is her sadness,
and the mountains made sense,
all the moving plates,
earthquakes and volcanoes?
She pays it forward
and you'll pay it back.
You will lose your body to
sadness at a point like a temperature
and then you will wake and wake and wake and wake and wake to it.
THE E-RAY IS A GUN
My son is asking where his gun is and talking about needing to build his bomb, but it's not what you think.
This episode of Batman has a gorilla villain who uses a gun and a bomb to turn humans into super-evolved gorillas like him.
So now my son carries around a plastic Fisher-Price golf bag and calls it his e-ray, for evolution ray, and points it at us, KSHH.
My husband, Batman, gets his hand on the e-ray, changes the setting, and uses it to turn my son into a human. And he cries.
He's acting, but it's good, in that it's sad. So my husband changes him back and my son dances around the kitchen.
Later I'm crying in bed watching Cake Boss because Buddy recreated the top tier of his wedding cake for his wife on their anniversary and handmade all the sugar flowers, and she cared about that.
Not that I'm judging her. I'd like to be a woman delighted by cake. I'd like to be a woman who's eaten a sugar flower.
Gum paste flower. Modeling chocolate flower. Buttercream flower. My mouth full of them. My husband's mouth full of them. My son's mouth full of them.
No — I'm hoping there's a woman that's at ease somewhere. So at ease in her life.
ONE DOCTOR LEADS TO THE NEXT
Today a nurse told me my uterus felt large.
Can you imagine sticking your fingers in and determining of that slickness anything? It's so fast usually — the fingers in,
the pushes on the belly,
uterus, ovary, ovary,
done. Pronounced fine or great or all good here, one machine of my many-machined body.
Sometimes a finger in my anus too, another angle, and I don't know,
I'm a small woman with a big ass arranged on a table, so ok, just ok. Find everything small and positioned.
Find everything in what I could not. Fingers up there plenty and it feels like when I dissected a squid in middle school,
only, if it hadn't been dead,
if it were strong. She paused today. At the top of my uterus she pressed again and again.
Now I have to call for an ultrasound for fibroids that may have made my uterus large. Broken bell ringing in the body I could've sworn was made of gears.
Once I heard a mother on the subway say to her toddler, If you walk away one more time, I'm going to punch you in the leg. The kid kept smiling.
Today my son is sitting on my lap at school in the morning, and a boy gets close to us, points to my son's belly and names him over and over.
My son slaps him softly across his face.
No hitting! That's not ok! He was being nice. We don't hit. Are you ok? The boy looks the same as ever. Dopey, gentle, fine.
I know people are judging me as a mother all the time.
I THOUGHT IT WAS A GOOD IDEA TO WALK TO CVS WITH MY SON ON A NINETY- DEGREE DAY
First we go to the Rita's next door. The plastic spoon slices that flesh inside my lips — because you wouldn't call that skin, right? The rest of the day I run my tongue over the slices, which remind me of the shape of the spoon, as if it's in my mouth again.
We waited so long at CVS, I bought my son a coloring book that was on sale. You color in a page, then you use an app on your phone to transform it. They call it 4D as if everyone's an idiot.
For the walk home, we take nine smaller roads. I catch sight of a ground-down stump to the right of the sidewalk. Only then do I see branches piled high to the left. Just like that we're walking through a body like it's nothing.
I complain to my husband on the phone about how I can't get the stroller over the broken cement of someone's driveway. Only then do I see someone sitting in the yard within earshot. I want to apologize. I want to say, It's like mine.
But it's too late. I'm a bitch at the end of a three-mile walk after my insurance almost denied coverage for my anxiety medication. I think my anxiety isn't mine at all. I think it's communal.
I know they've found that we inherit trauma, but what about when there's no time to pass it between generations. What then? At home, we drink water. We're covered in sweat. We color in a dragon.
With the app, he flies above the page, the color my son gave his skin, his head turning as if he heard my son's voice, until he does it over and over, predictable little dragon head. Whole predictable body.
We'll all be sleeping tonight, at some point. At some point, we'll all be sleeping tonight. Unless we die in these last hours of the day. But if we make it through, my head will look like yours, asleep. Just like it. Just like that.
Look, ok, the story —
first, a fox is on fire, but not dying, no, in a god-
like way, and flying a bit, you know,
in the yard above the grass in a figure eight loosely,
and grinning so maybe you look at the fox and think,
He's a fool!
except that you're distracted by all the fire,
how you feel heat from him from inside the house where you've been all along,
But to continue —
second, a rabbit,
small enough to hide beneath a weed,
one leaf of a weed,
which is sad,
yes, pity the body before it's grown fully, or the body that can't complete itself how it might,
not that everything small is paltry, just worry about the rabbit for me who's in the yard right now under that fiery fox that came out of nowhere.
Shit, you left the house with a treat in your hand as if you understand foxes,
fox-gods, any wild animal in forms magical,
Throw it away from the rabbit, go to the rabbit —
is that the plan,
the rescue that paints you hero, savior?
Well, the fox comes right up and bites your hand off.
How's that, you wonder, you handless fiend?
The rabbit's gone.
And the fox,
sated or feeling bad about what he's done,
is off, down the hill,
flame going out,
feet touching ground again,
slipping into the gallop of every four-legged animal that comes to about the knee,
his soft ears turning at the sound of your voice screaming but starting to cry.
Every animal nearby, you imagine,
is turning to listen to you now.
I remember them as impossible trees — roots perfectly under the ground. I have a maple tree now and you can't grow anything at its base, such a wreck with its knotty roots, and I see the way the animals burrow there, in that patch of dirt. But my childhood backyard is a flat field of zoysia in my mind, hardly touched by the two trees, as if they poked through a plane of existence, connecting one plane to another, the plane of sky maybe, or something before that, just there, just so. If I could plan a dream, I would walk myself up one of those oak trees and touch that next plane. I would pierce it as perfectly as the tree had pierced the plane of grass. I would get all my nutrients from below it but excel above. One unfairness to pile on the others.
It's difficult to tell rats are in the basement.
They're so quiet.
We go to bed so early.
After midnight, they crawl out of a tunnel and go to the neighbor's birdfeeder and pond.
I imagine their bodies in the moonlight,
the reflection of their small faces in the pond over the ledge of flagstones.
After the poison is placed in our rafters,
we tell the neighbors the rats might feel sick and go for water and die in their pond.
I can see that too.
I looked up pictures of rats so I can see them in any compromised position,
like the naked woman we can all call up for any crime in the news. Just as I can see them,
the rats now, in positions of success,
quiet and warm in a nest between my floorboards.
Their faces the same in victory and death.
Small as the red globe grapes that leave my mouth so sweet this summer.
Ok, so you know someone who died horrifically Ok, so you know an animal who died horrifically In a fire let's say or a building's collapse Or, ok, so you know someone who's dying right now Except maybe not horrifically Except your idea of horrifically is changing The way a gun death seemed less horrific than the gas chambers Until the country kept ignoring gun deaths Now they seem horrific And then I really try to consider the word horrific
And horror and I think about how I only watch horror movies In black neighborhoods where they make jokes The whole time about the dumb white girl that's going back into the house Until I'm pealing with laughter in my seat And I think so much of my country, they are dumb white girls going back Into the house, except they're men, too, and I'm offended by The attribution of feminine qualities or I'm offended By the qualities deemed feminine because I'm one tough bitch Who never has to be one because I don't leave the house I don't know if I'm mourning you before you die I don't know if language can write me away or into anything
I'm a butterfly. I'm a pig. I was never in a body to begin with.
I remember as a child trying to think of what animal I wanted to come back as and not being able to think of one Because everything is prey to something and my luck As a human seemed too great, irreplicable, next time I'd for sure Be a child kidnapped or molested or abused A mother on her way out of the Y last night told another mother How she pinches her son because she doesn't know what else to do And then makes a joke about how she's going to kill him And it's not a fucking joke, it's not one And I wonder if that would be a horrific death just because It's his mother committing the act That seems like enough even if the death itself isn't torturous Or inhumane, and I don't know what to do with that word anymore Because almost every action I've seen lately lacks compassion And every life I've seen lately has misery in it Last night a man in my area tried to run a woman's child over Then got out of his car and said, "You dirty Jew, I should kill all of you.
I should come back with a gun and kill all of you."
There are a lot of reasons for people to point a gun at me I guess I might die before you I guess Because that's our country right now and either way We'll die without each other a little And if I come back as a cricket, I'll seek out the bird If I come back as a mouse, I'll seek out the fox I could do this cycle a hundred times and still enjoy it
I answered the door to a young man.
He looked relieved. And then lustful.
He stepped aside as if to make a place for me to stand beside him.
I realized quickly that I was the lady.
And if that were true, then nearby
there was a door quite like mine,
and behind it, frantic, livid, the tiger.
MOUTHS AT THE PARTY
For a second, the light made that glass in her mouth look like a knife.
I'm embarrassed I thought it.
The woman's injury in my mind before she'd even undone her lips.
But my shame is not my violent tendency,
though I hide them the same,
near my heart. Which is to say,
in my breasts, large like hers. Who would notice
the blood in our mouths?
THE SAFETY OF WOMEN
Women are not often killed in the street.
They are most often killed in the home.
At every doctor's appointment, I'm asked,
Do you feel safe at home? The woman
who should answer, No, most likely ends up dead — shot, if we're going to be specific.
And I want to be specific, when every vague word seems to hurt me, when it's thought
the surface speaks to everything needed to be said because the woman works
on her surface alone. Look at my dancing on my own skin. Even the shell of me
resembles nothing you could touch me to with words. Reach out elsewhere, your hand.
YOU ARE CONNECTED TO EVERYTHING
When I Googled, "graveyard hill burning japan earthquake,"
I found a man's stomach, a man's excessive scar, three-
armed, touching in the center like a child's first drawing
of a star, captioned by his brother as, "the scars of 3
liver transplants over a period of 17 years," and it's not the first time a wound reminded me of the night sky, or
made me think of the word terrible as when describing the plague that killed livestock, and I did think of this man as an animal, in asking if the skin heals, as my own scar,
that gave way to another body, sits neatly purple, nearly beneath me (if it were not so central), and the body such a fine creation to be called the body, because it's been
written, too, the body of a death or the body of heaven —
this seems to be both — this man, not quite, not yet, broken.
This is another story of a monster.
You know how it goes.
There's a young lady. She dies.
There's a child. He dies.
There's a black man. He dies.
The quiet town is disturbed.
Boom boom boom. Monster feet.
Chomp chomp chomp. Monster teeth.
Get undressed for bed.
He's watching but it's ok because a monster's not a man. Not a stranger.
You can name him, can't you?
Take the fox Give him a surprising amount of teeth He's a monster fox
Take the fish Give him a surprising amount of teeth You get the idea
"I'm scared," you say.
The monster replies, "Nice to meet you, Scared. I'm a monster."
Because the monster is father to another monster.
The younger monster would have acknowledged your fear.
The younger monster would have been quicker with you.
Fee Fi Fo Fum A giant's not a monster
Even I can be monstrous And trees (and rivers and planes and flowers and medicine and ants and rain and keys and)
A monster is not threats Not resentful
My nose is swelling with my human smell
Sea monsters are easy to draw.
First the water's surface.
Then the snake-like body rising above it in little mounds
until the edge of the paper so you can't draw the head,
which isn't glistening anyway because it's been in the sun too long, leading the body,
which is good because then you can't mistake it for a pretty thing.
Sometimes monsters are a danger to Your dead self Your spirit floating around Trying to get somewhere Maybe your child's dream Because who do you love more And then,
Today, when I drove to work, I craned my neck.
Then I wondered if I actually checked my blind spot or just observed how the sun caught in my glasses.
This is how monsters feel when they scare people,
when they rape women, when they eat children.
What was intent? What was the radiant splendor of the day?
The princesses thought they were dancing with princes when they were dancing with monsters,
but that doesn't mean the nights weren't good.
I never understood the danger if nothing bad ever happened.
I never understood why nothing bad ever happened if they were monsters.
A chimera is terrifying. No extra parts, just disparate.
Giant head of a bat, let's say, and body of a walrus.
Or giant head of a piranha and body of a gorilla.
Or the head of any animal and the body of a man.
Or is it the headless body of a woman that's scarier?
The dissonance between her breasts and her new mouth of sharper teeth.
I know a zombie is a monster —
frightening, imaginary —
but a zombie is too close to human. Ill-preserved body,
but body all the same. Simple.
Like you. Two arms, two legs.
You look like a zombie.
God damn it.
God damn it.
God damn it.
Here I am loving your face and you look like one.
If monsters were real,
they'd get sick.
They'd have toothaches and stomachaches and they'd cough.
Their monster mothers would watch their fevers,
stay up and sing to them.
If they died,
one long tongue would roll out of their monster mouth.
Excerpted from "Let's Not Live On Earth"
Copyright © 2018 Sarah Blake.
Excerpted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
The E-Ray Is a Gun
One Doctor Leads to the Next
I Thought It Was a Good Idea to Walk to CVS with My Son on a Ninety-Degree Day
Mouths at the Party
The Safety of Women
You Are Connected to Everything
Watching TV, Seeing the Shot Woman
A Poem for My Son
Easier to Write the Poem Where I'm the Queen
In February 2015
My Obsession with Just Is My Obsession with the Temporal
How We Might Survive
What People are Saying About This
"Sarah Blake breaks her heart open for us in Let's Not Live on Earth by writing what being inside and outside the body is as simultaneity. I am jarred out of my own angle and what I've always known about bodies becomes uncanny."—Carmen Giménez Smith, author of Milk and Filth
"Error"—Carmen Giménez Smith, author of Milk and Filth
"When Sarah Blake says Let's Not Live on Earth, it's not whimsy, it's vision. Her poems of suburban domesticity pushed to the breaking point give way to a genuinely fearsome feminist epic with the prescience of science fiction and the savagery of poetry."—Kathleen Ossip, author of The Do-Over and The Cold War