The Lake Will Wait

The Lake Will Wait | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

Painting by Robert S. Duncanson, 1864. Courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Charles Mandell.

I know it scares you when I say I’m not afraid to die.

Still, you go on listening,
as birds plummet into the grass—fortune
teller, pharmacist, archangel, swan—

who taught me suffering—
how to talk to the sky,
how to ask what’s the worst thing that could happen?

Earlier, I tried to guess

when birds would stop making meteors of their bodies—

when will you stop believing me when I say I’m getting better
about taking my meds,
when I say I don’t think like that anymore.

I disappoint you. When I talk about the comforting gloom
of a birdless sky, that lake
of quiet, I hear my own shadow

call it want. Call it impossible—
to heal, to understand,

to shake a ghost bird back to life in its cage, impossible to build
suicide cages under every bridge I’ll ever cross—you can’t

make someone want to be alive no matter how hard you shake them.


The title “The Lake Will Wait” is made in reference to Gwendolyn Brooks’s poem “To the Young Who Want to Die.”

If you are in danger of acting on suicidal thoughts, call 911. For support and resources, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text 741-741 for the Crisis Text Line.