Poem: My Sister, Who Died Young, Takes Up the Task

I first read this poem on Twitter, and even though it’s a simple poem about grief, it stayed with me. I’m fascinated by the way that it discloses so much in its title, showing how a title can get important information out of the way so that the poem can breathe on its own. Yet the reader doesn’t know what the “task” is until the third stanza. This poem is an example of how abundant emotions can be conveyed by stripping language down to the bone. Selected by Victoria Chang

Credit…Illustration by R. O. Blechman

My Sister, Who Died Young, Takes Up the Task

By Jon Pineda

A basket of apples brown in our kitchen,
their warm scent is the scent of ripening,

and my sister, entering the room quietly,
takes a seat at the table, takes up the task

of peeling slowly away the blemished skins,
even half-rotten ones are salvaged carefully.

She makes sure to carve out the mealy flesh.
For this, I am grateful. I explain, this elegy

would love to save everything. She smiles at me,
and before long, the empty bowl she uses fills,

domed with thin slices she brushes into
the mouth of a steaming pot on the stove.

What can I do? I ask finally. Nothing,
she says, let me finish this one thing alone.

Victoria Chang is a former Guggenheim fellow whose fifth book of poems, “Obit” (Copper Canyon Press, 2020), was named a New York Times Notable Book and a Time Must-Read. It received the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Poetry. Her book of nonfiction, “Dear Memory: Letters on Writing, Silence and Grief,” was published by Milkweed Editions in 2021. She teaches in Antioch University’s M.F.A. program. Jon Pineda is an American poet and prose writer whose work includes the poetry collection “The Translator’s Diary” (New Issues Press, 2008), from which this poem is taken.

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