the 5 stages of grief


The states fall away.
One by one
A red veil falls across
The middle of the country.

I pray to New England.
I beg at the feet of Florida.
I build a shrine to California
To Oregon
To Washington.

I lay myself across Pennsylvania
My home
I gather the farms in my hands
I place the skyscrapers of Philadelphia
And Pittsburgh
On top of my head.
I hold out my hands
I balance across a tightrope.
It isn’t enough.
The red veil lays itself down.
Was it you?


I place my hands against the countertop
And lift my face to the mirror.
I look myself in the eye.
Rage screams in my gaze.

Tears fall into the sink.
I wash my hands.
They slide down the drain
With the grime of the day,
The guilt of Pennsylvania,
The anger of Florida,
The disgust of Texas.

My country is pried from my hands.
My heart breaks in two.
My brain spins on its head,
A top on the counter,
And I stare —
How will it fall?


I took a road trip
Under the July sun
And in the August heat.

I looked at the Grand Canyon
I drove through the Rockies
I hiked in Yosemite
Skipped rocks in the Pacific
Drank beer in the Outer Banks
Waded under the Florida sun.

This isn’t the country I met.
This is a false picture,
Paint splattered across
A land of beauty and color.
A land of rocks
And mountains
And water.

Of amber waves of grain,
Of purple mountain’s majesty.


I wear a mask.
I smile and say, “I’m good, you?”

I go to class.
I eat.

I run a mile on the treadmill,
Then another.

I watch TV.
I read.

I write.
I write.
I write.
I do not write enough.

I try to understand.
I fail.

I shake.
I cry.
I cry again.
And I do not cry enough.


We must never get here.
We must never accept this.
We must not allow our bodies
To near the threshold

We must not stop.
We must scream ourselves hoarse.
We must donate our time
Our money.

We must hand our microphones
To the voiceless.
We must listen to what they need.

We must lay ourselves down
Like a mountain of truth
A river of love
A sea of broken hearts
And ugly promises.

We must never get here.
We must never accept this.

-Helen Armstrong, November 2016


sunset sky

don’t be with someone who turns you yellow
be with someone who lightens you up
and reveals your sunset sky

the setting of the sun
taught me a lesson today;

as I stood there and thought Gee I wanna be like you

you are
the clouds seemed to spell out
the gold trim on their underbellies shining
even as the sun dipped beneath the blue mountains

-Helen Armstrong


like a ball
rolling down a hill;

in summer;

it bounces across dirt
collecting grass
kicked up by the mower
that your dad hauls out
every week;

dons his orange headphones
to block the noise;

rubs his face whiter with
sunblock to keep away the rays
of hot summer;

rolling easy
sunsets and rises

-Helen Armstrong


you have to make the world shine,
you have to take the small sunny spaces
hidden within yourself,
the bright spots that refuse to darken
even when the clouds knit themselves into the sky
and the boy you liked
(bowed your curls at his feet)
says your glasses make your face look pinched.

you gotta take those brights stars in you,
the suns that burn on when the sky falls down on you,
tucked away where you forget,
that they exist.

you need to reach into you;
I’m serious, reach right in
and feel around your soul —

your fingers might brush
some nasty stuff,
and dirt could fall from the walls like coffee grounds
into the sink, morning after you didn’t know what you were doing

but keep going because
this is your most important task in this world

reach into that beautiful creature,
that fully formed animal of you,
and allow your palm to fill with warmth.
close your fingers around it
and do not worry —
a star this bright will never burn out.

so grip that light tight in your fist

it’s the most beautiful thing about you;
wear it like a shirt
and it’s a beating thing on your chest
and when you turn your back and walk away
it will warm their cheeks
and I promise
when you glance back –
because you will –
their hands will be reaching out
to grip the last bits of warmth you’ve left floating
amongst the dustmites in the air

-Helen Armstrong