December 28, 2016

Hayden Saunier


One good hour, then long days adrift—no rudder,
paddle, outboard, sail—the narrow beds

docked, each in its own tidy berth.
There’s nothing to do but be here.

Sometimes, he finds his long length stretched out
in a canoe on the Chickahominy river,

bright sky above the gunwales, saw grass
brushing the hull, sometimes in the skiff

his father rowed out to the big ships as a boy.
Always he’s tethered.

As are we, alongside, watching
his hands worry the sheets.

We don’t know which knots he needs to untie—
bowline, clove hitch, sheet bend, square—

if his hands hold the bitter end
or the working end of the line,

or if another force holds him—wind, current, tide.
All we know is

his hands were the hands that held us.

from Rattle #53, Fall 2016

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Hayden Saunier: “I am lucky to have spent many hours sitting beside people I love as they were dying. Simply being there is a wildly complicated act of love, memory, regret, confusion, wishfulness. On this particular day, I was struck by a sense of beautiful drift woven with stories of my father’s and his father’s boyhoods, of passed-down knowledge, and of the complete helplessness of us all at the end. And, of course, by how hard it is to let go.” (link)

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September 25, 2016

Hayden Saunier


To stay alive do not resist
that’s what you’re told

as if it were a simple act to make yourself
be only meat

and bone
pressed down into an asphalt street

and not a form of suicide
erase yourself be dead enough

that he or she or they’ll decide
there is no need to kill you

though do not resist
can make no guarantee of this

but if you stay alive
do not resist will mean you have to stand

your dead self up
walk out into the world alive

which is another kind of death
and harder every single time

you have to kill yourself enough
(do not resist) to stay alive.

Poets Respond
September 25, 2016

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Hayden Saunier: “Two more police shootings … ‘Do not resist’ saved my life years ago when I was raped at knifepoint. Black men and women have historically, repeatedly, and continue to this day to be asked to submit their bodies and selves to the total control of another person under threat of immediate death. It isn’t easy, doesn’t always work, and even when it does, the toll is devastating.” (website)

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August 12, 2012

Hayden Saunier


The child hums as he carries, too late,
his grandmother’s sugar-dusted lemon-glazed cake

down the street to the neighbor who needs to be cheered,
too late for the neighbor

who’s stepped into the air
of her silent front hall from a ladder-backed chair

her church dress just pressed, her head in a loop she tied
into the clothesline, too late

he unlatches the gate,
walks up the brick walk on his tiptoes, avoiding the cracks

toward the door she unlocked, left ajar, who knows why
or for whom, if on purpose

or not, but because he’s too late
she’s gone still when he reaches the door and because

he’s too late, as he calls out and looks, brilliant sun
burns through haze

pours through sidelights and bevels
through chandelier prisms, strikes white sparks and purples

on ceiling and walls, on the overturned chair, on her stockings
her brown and white

spectator shoes on the floor
and because he’s too late he remembers both terror and beauty

but not which came first. But enough of the one
that he ran

and enough of the other

to carefully lay down the cake at her feet.

from Rattle #36, Winter 2011
Rattle Poetry Prize Winner

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Hayden Saunier: “I love the way objects and people and ideas find their way together in a poem. An old friend sent me an outrageous pound cake at Christmas and when I described it as sugar-dusted, lemon-glazed, the story of the boy in this poem, told to me years ago, came straight to my mind and stayed there. It was all in the cake: that sunny yellow circle with its center missing, dense, empty, bitter, sweet, the gestures we make too late, the child’s ability to take in everything at the same moment, at once and complete: It was all in the cake.” (website)

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