773: The Dead Are Beautiful Tonight

773: The Dead Are Beautiful Tonight

773: The Dead Are Beautiful Tonight


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

I remember once being pulled through an entire year simply by the desire to be desired. I was in New York City and life was rougher than it had been in some time. I couldn’t see past my own grief over a friend’s death and a recent heartbreak which seemed to be more of an indicator of my life’s downward trajectory than a singular event. I was good at one thing that year: my own self-fulfilling isolation. All I would do was work, try to save money, and count calories.

It seemed that when I couldn’t control anything, I wanted to control the way my body looked, the way it felt. I thought only about what I was eating and how much I was eating and what I would feel like once I weighed less. Like many people, I’ve had a strange relationship with my body for years. It’s only been recently that I’ve learned to love it, to treat it with all the respect and care it deserves. But back then, I thought loving myself meant becoming smaller, something more digestible for others, or perhaps something more invisible. That year, as I got smaller, I did not get happier. My friend was still dead and my heart was not mended.

Still, I learned something about what it is to do what you can to get through a year. I wasn’t making the healthy choices or the wise decisions, or taking care of myself the way I should have, but sometimes it’s about simply getting through, from one month to the next.

Today’s poem is about what we do sometimes to make it through for ourselves, and for each other.

The Dead Are Beautiful Tonight
by Luther Hughes

Even the hemlocks moan.
Black rind, black faces,
winter’s stern grip of their necks.

They say it’s the worst one yet,
but they’ve all been the same.
The dead die every year

and I think I’m too good
for such repetition. I’ve gained
so little this season; the things

I’ve lost stain the day a rough stillness.
I don’t tell him this, but I want my life
to end. He wants another hallelujah

in bed with me and I don’t blame him.
Our lives are so ridiculed with pining.
I used to want the romance of hemlocks,

the subtle conversation between
the sky and crows. I can’t help but study
things that bare my resemblance

and that makes me a narcissist.
But the crow, headless in the bush,
has been there all week, and if I can’t

bring it back to life, what else am I
supposed to do? So much is my want
for everything black around me to live.

Where does want get me?
I have my limits, my childish dreams
barreling into the mind’s murk.

I want, but I must be careful.
A shower here or a shower there,
the hemlocks will still be a spider’s web

of what was. It’s true what they say
about the day disrobing into a sudden stroke
of sorrow. I unthread and he arranges me

on the bed how he sees fit, ready to love me
the blackest way he knows how—salt
in my mouth, light in the corners of my eyes.

"The Dead Are Beautiful Tonight" by Luther Hughes from A SHIVER IN THE LEAVES copyright © 2022 Luther Hughes. Used by permission of BOA Editions.