Poem: Birthday

The fatal clichés in life are not those of the soul, or love, or nature — they are, instead, the tired accusations made against these things by the awe-starved know-it-alls of the world. What cynics call clichés are, in fact, poetry’s ancient obsessions, and Ana Božičević’s “Birthday” is a cunning defense of poetry’s work. This poem meets cynicism with determined simplicity, the form making its own argument via a spare and elegant use of repetition and surprise. Wonder needs no ornaments, only an invitation, and to have been born at all, “Birthday” reminds us, is a good enough reason for a party. Selected by Anne Boyer

Credit…A line drawing of a merry figure holding a birthday cake.


By Ana Božičević

If the sky is such a cliché
Why is it falling?

If the tree is such a cliché,
Why is it dying

If soul is such a cliché
Where is it hiding

If love is such a cliché
Why isn’t there enough to go around.

For my part
I can’t get enough of the sky.

For my part, I can’t wait
For those leaves to come back.

For my party
I am inviting the clown Love

For my birthday I want a cake
Revealing the color of my soul.

Anne Boyer is a poet and an essayist. Her memoir about cancer and care, “The Undying,” won a 2020 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction. Ana Božičević grew up in Zadar, Croatia, before coming to the United States. Her latest book, “New Life,” from which this poem is taken, will be published by Wave Books in April.

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