The Consolations

Matthew Sumpter


Snails crawl like living fruit on wet sidewalks.
Moonflowers bloom in apartment windows above

a statue of an owl that takes flight when you sleep.
Most garbage cans remain unpillaged,

most raccoons survive the night, and most wind
still eddies through the back alley

to your window, bringing the smell of oil and corn
from the Mexican place down the street.

It all wants to remind you of something—
you who are susceptible to trash and loneliness,

who sweats in any type of sunlight, who hears
ice caps groaning inside your darker poles.

Someone drops an ice tray in the apartment above you.
The mail carrier leaves magazines with torqued

flowers on the cover that you later realize
are people. Then suddenly the mail carrier

calls you by name, mentions her daughter
was once the same four months as your own,

saying to herself, That’s a good good age.
Then a friend you almost forgot texts you one day,

Remember the fish? And there is no question.
You remember the fish, the same fish, the same

color, the same angle your friend imagines.
Language cannot take this from either of you.

And you feel your life rising out of its dark pond
to meet you, its pale face beautiful, its clouded eyes

as blue-green-blue as you’d always imagined,
its gills opening to breathe in the dark.


Matthew Sumpter is the author of Public Land (University of Tampa Press, 2018), which won the Anita Claire Scharf Award. His poems have previously appeared in magazines such as The New Yorker, The New Republic, and Best New Poets 2014, and his fiction has appeared in Glimmer Train. Winner of the Crab Orchard Review Special Issues Feature Award and the Zocalo Public Square Poetry Prize, he currently teaches academic and creative writing at Rutgers University, where he is an Assistant Director of the Writing Program and Director of the Livingston Writing Center.