Which Way Is Up
by Nina Lindsay

On Some Sundays | Things with Seeds

Emergency | Body of Work

On Some Sundays In Some Cities Over Recent Months

Cut-up from a copy of The New York Times Sunday Review

Let’s acknowledge that people
eventually find out they have been misled.
The results are striking,

leaving a wake of fluttering pages and bits of binding.
Just like the language we use every day, but better:
worthwhile, and challenging, and not very likely to get easier.

The natural question is how long this situation can last.
To begin with, where do you keep 407 books?

The ones nobody has heard of

might have changed your mind.
What is necessary work, and what is puttering?
And what about that far more important but vaguer business of caring?

Through night-vision binoculars I watched
a collected hush of relief and wonder—
a perfectly tolerant world.

It still is not, nor could it ever be.
At least one thing is becoming clear.
I want to win.

Things with Seeds

The maple wing
a slice of lemon

the floor unswept
for months, under the side table

the dog shit someone left on my front walk
the slowly shredding

green compost bins lined up
in the thousands at the curb on Tuesdays


The three-story pit
a city-block wide

beneath the gallows-like
construction crane

where a three-year old throws
the pink cosmos

he yanked from a neighbor’s yard.
“Let’s go for a walk,”

his mother had said
after reading the eviction notice.

Now she works her anxiety
into morsels of spit, as if

worrying grape seeds
out of fruit and skin.

Her, of course,
and someday him

though not really: they’re imagined.
But the maple wing

and the lemon slice are real,
as are your thoughts, germinating,
and my fear.


This is what I do,
I go to the bus stop and wait.

My briefcase buzzes
with casually-tended distresses

and before me I see only warm bodies
making strangely beautiful movements

and a flickering around them.
If this all were to ignite,

what would I grab first?
The bus arrived and kneeling,

the woman who sometimes takes the 12
curling her eyelashes,

the man covered entirely
in empty knotted plastic bags?

This street, its cars and neighbors
and their heedless traffic patterns at the corners—

or any of my dreams? The pastry anxiety
or the flying, or the library never closing

or the one last night about the two postal clerks
who were married, and when they were both laid off

they didn’t know what to do, nor did the villagers
where they’d worked, the village where you could call

the post office at night
and one of them would answer,

and they’d come over, if you asked,
to comfort your children and their nightmares.

Body of Work

I’m in my arms, I’m holding myself in my arms,
without much tenderness, but faithfully, faithfully.

          — Samuel Beckett, Texts for Nothing 1

The sky bellowed and swayed.
The trick: staying rooted.

I was here. There were others,
pulling time up around them—

it wasn’t pretty.
I tried to let the mess in, to upend it,

but I only made a mess.
Tried doodling to harbor thought,

but couldn’t think.
Turned out:

I was the mustard on the table, and the salt.
Couldn’t go anywhere, without myself.


So I sat before the stage
and shut my mind.

A man put on ideas like coats and hats.
Each one filled, then drifted off

like a plastic bag on air. Another.
I stepped into the thought—

hard work, skimming hope
from a hardpan of regret.

The sky now tethered,
now unloosed.


And I found it was there:
joy when I asked.

The boy pressing the button for the traffic signal
over and over, just to hear it chirp.

Towhee hopping along the bench,
withdrawing its complaints—got the whole thing to itself.

The rain coming through, one more time,
a last encore, because it heard our praise.

And then two girls wobble past
on skateboards, not caring how they look,

wanting us to look,
holding hands, and I remember

the feeling of a friend’s hands in my hair
combing and smoothing and dividing it for braids.

Why does loneliness sit on top?
I was never alone.


The sky bellows and sways.
What luck: knowing which way is up.

I am here: there are others
gathering their things to exit the theater of day—

a body of work.
Sometimes, our day’s accomplishments only reveal

the audacious wreck of the real and imagined world.
Hard to take, but there are places where it sort of shelters,

or where gestures brave no structure at all.
Turns out:

if we hold the house up, we can set our own table.
But you knew that, didn’t you.

Nina Lindsay’s poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Kenyon Review, Plougshares, Third Coast, Colorado Review and many other journals, including Mudlark, Poster No. 77 (2008) and Flash No. 69 (2012). She is the author of two collections of poetry, Because and Today’s Special Dish, from Sixteen Rivers Press.

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