Lee Upton

At the End of the Alphabet
September 6, 2013 Upton Lee

At the End of the Alphabet
for Thom Cooney Crawford


Books bloated and fanned

open in the flames.

One book was saved.

We opened the book to a gust of smoke

dim as memory.

We were at the end of the alphabet

among the five invisible letters.

Each letter stood for a particular silence.

The crossbar of the last letter was beginning to emerge.

Sappho with one hand over her eyes.


All along my skin

fires were set.

From a distance the smoke

looked like fog

rising off the ocean in the cool morning.

I wasn’t an ocean.

I was a horizon.

Even fire couldn’t tame me.


 At the corridor’s end: brilliance.

I was hardly able to feel the ground under my feet.

Although I followed you

you were shrinking,

and then the light was larger,

and my eyes hurt.

You were headed toward—

not a door

or fire or sky.

It was horrible.

I would wither in captivity.

You turned back.

For my sake.

You were my sacrifice.


I have a secret fear.

If I told my fear

my fear would deepen,

buried the more it’s held to the light.

I strayed so far

I stayed in the same place.

With every wonder of the world.

Then, accidentally,

a hand in the dark

brushed against my hair.

And for that I was

lost for years.


The wind that spreads fires

was the first of what we called the gods.

My eyes sting

from staring into the wind.


He was there to help me,

walking among the others.

I’d fallen and he reached down to draw me to my feet.

He wasn’t human.

I can’t shed my own skin he said

because I am your skin now.

He was with me even

when I was a girl

unable to see the

chalkboard from the front row.

An old chalkboard in an abandoned school room,

white shadows for lessons.


Lee Upton’s most recent book of poetry is The Day Every Day Is (Saturnalia, 2023). Her comic novel, Tabitha, Get Up, is forthcoming in May 2024.