America

Poem: Suddenly, Last Summer

Lisa Jarnot’s “Suddenly, Last Summer” develops, through ecstatic repetition, a theology of lostness. The sea-turtle hatchlings, with their instinctual desire to move toward light, risk this desire’s fatal consequence when knowing no better, they mistake the neon lights of the beach for the guiding light of the moon and stars over the water. So, too, the human voice of the poem begins lost — ready to worship but bereft of a God. In the “blue blue night” of despair, human and animal alike retain a creaturely innocence. Even the title — a pop-culture hand-me-down — underlines the innocence and ordinariness of a shared and painful predicament, the guiltless way any of us might find ourselves heading in the wrong direction. The small and unsatisfying light of the library and the deceptive brightness of the neon instigate the poem’s revelation: By these small lights, and with our fellow creatures, we learn there is a greater light to which we may return. Selected by Anne Boyer

Credit…Illustration by R. O. Blechman

Suddenly, Last Summer

By Lisa Jarnot

FOR ROD SMITH

Sun worshipper I, in the absence of the sun, in the
things I don’t remember, the unfriendliness of night,
the neon night and blue blue night, the creatures
on the beach,

Suddenly, to remember the sun and all the creatures
on the beach, suddenly to remember the sun and
little sunstroked turtles, suddenly the neon night
surrounding little turtles all surrounded by the night
upon the turtles on the beach,

Sea creatures and mergansers, the blue blue night,
the turtles on the beach all worshipping Apollo, suddenly
I am thrown into your library, never to be what I was
before, surrounded by a tiny light inside the dark and
clutching little turtles,

Go back upon the beach and remember the sun,
suddenly, surrounded by neon, go back, go back to the
beach and worship it, go back to what I was before,
a worshipper upon the beach, Apollo’s, in the lavender,
beside mergansers at the sea’s night shore.


Anne Boyer is a poet and an essayist. Her memoir about cancer and care, “The Undying,” won a 2020 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction. Lisa Jarnot’s most recent books are “A Princess Magic Presto Spell” (Flood Editions, 2019) and “Four Lectures” (forthcoming from Wave Books, Spring 2024). She is a minister at Safe Haven United Church of Christ in Ridgewood, Queens, and is a Ph.D. student at Drew Theological School. She lives in Jackson Heights, Queens, with her teenage daughter and three cats.

Related Articles

Back to top button