678: You're the One I Wanna Watch the Last Ships Go Down With

678: You're the One I Wanna Watch the Last Ships Go Down With

678: You're the One I Wanna Watch the Last Ships Go Down With


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

At a reading recently in Chicago, I was asked if I had a muse. The question struck me as hard for some reason, because I think, like Lauryn Hill once titled a song, “Everything is Everything.” The Chicago reading took place only a few days after a friend had passed away. So when it came to answering about my muse, it was hard not to blurt out, life, or death, or mortality, or love! It was also a little hard not to cry.

On stage, I wanted to give an honest answer. And I think I did: that life is strange. That everything is strange and that questions and curiosity are my muse. But what was vibrating underneath all of that was, why do we lose people, and what do we do with that loss? At a time when so many of us have lost people, and so many people are hurting, it’s hard not to sit in any auditorium and instead of being composed and professional, just weep about the weight of it all.

After the reading, I went out for martinis with a dear friend. We told funny stories about our friend who passed away and ate sweet potato fries and laughed as much as we grieved. Remembering is a way of resurrecting and it’s also a way of connecting again, not just with the ones we’ve lost, but with those of us that remain.

Today’s poem does that work of remembering, but more than that — it does the work of reconnecting with both the gone and the living.

You’re the One I Wanna Watch the Last Ships Go Down With
by Brian Tierney

	                                for Jess

Dr. Redacted will tell me not to tell you
this, like this,
in a poem: how it’s all right, love, that we don’t love
living. Even actors don’t
exactly love the spotlight they move through,
as your sister, the actor,
has told us; they just need to be lit
for narrative motion
to have meaning. As such it is,
with artifice, and embarrassment,
that I move through fear
to you, tonight, where I had dreams,
a short nap ago, about lines
of poetry I struck through
with everyday blues, month after
month, in the dream,
after dream; an attempt
I guess to forget, if I could: defeat
sometimes is defeat
without purpose. The news at least tells me that
much. I know now,
in fact, we don’t have to be brave,
not to survive a night
like any we’ve looked on
together, seeing blue-tinted snow
once in a K-mart
parking lot’s giant, two-headed lamp—
and my father hooked up,
up the street, with no chance
of waking—as many years ago now
as how much longer I’ve lived
with you than without. 
Forgive me, again, that I write you an elegy
where a love poem should be.

"You're the One I Wanna Watch the Last Ships Go Down With" by Brian Tierney, from RISE AND FLOAT copyright © 2022 Brian Tierney. Used by permission of Milkweed Editions.