You do not have to be good
is everything you deserve for taking
relationship advice from a flock of migratory birds.
Even in poetry I forgive you nothing
not even your new empire of grief.
You take off your dress and stand in the river
your body a ghost on loan
from someone else’s past.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile in a hospital gown
Meanwhile in a long-dead language
Meanwhile every morning, the stars in tatters on the snow
Meanwhile the library of Alexandria burning in alphabetical order
Meanwhile an asterisk blowing across the screen like tumbleweed
Meanwhile in the lining of the uterine wall
Meanwhile in hyperbole
Meanwhile every day for the rest of our lives
I return here to ask you how to forgive someone
who was never mine to forgive.

You do not have to be good
Being good isn’t even the point anymore.
I just don’t think it’s real
to think of geese and feel so beautiful about yourself
and so far away.
Yesterday my girlfriend and I borrowed a car
and drove down through the valley
where my mother almost starved herself to death thirty years ago
a huge silver wind blowing in from the sea.
What do I care if there is no justice in this world?
Life is hard
and pain is hard
and it’s hard for me to write plainly
about the night my girlfriend told me she still loved you
and call it art.
It did not feel like art.
It did not feel like a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
It did not feel like a broken wheel backwards into the sea
But it hurt me
It still hurts me
Even now
The shadow of new leaves trembling the carpet.
Oh Mary
How will we survive ourselves
And will this life ever answer?
I don’t know
Panic and awe are the same to me.
I love life
and I hate death
so when you try to describe to me
what it feels like to want to die
I can only look at you
Like you are a slow-burning planet
And I am pouring water through a telescope.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to be anything.
This is not an anthem for the world.
This life is a hard life and
It crushes people
But it’s also weird and full of heat
Crocodiles asleep in their red tent of hunger.
Puzzle pieces blown up the street
On the road outside the house
We sold all our things and moved south for.
It was winter and we were so in love
Sitting on the floor of her grandmother’s flat
watching the news roll in
about the woman who had been chained
for seven years in someone’s basement
And just got free.
The next morning we packed all our things
and headed south.
As if it were that easy.
As if there were anywhere to arrive
We could ever return from.

Lindsay Bird, Hera. Hera Lindsay Bird. New Zealand, Victoria University Press, 2016.

Why I Chose this Poem

Because once I couldn't feel nice things
Because I love artists responding to art with art
Because once I would have needed this
But now I need less
Because migratory birds seem like just the kind of relationship I want
To belong and stay and watch my belonging fly away
And watch that longing fade
And sit in sweet crisp darkness sprinkled with stars
Feeling my place in the family of things