My Personal Canon of Poetry

Good Bones

Tal Benisty
7 min readAug 29, 2023

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

— Maggie Smith

Someone can be madly in love with you and still not be ready. They can love you in a way you have never been loved and still not join you on the bridge. And whatever their reasons you must leave. Because you never ever have to inspire anyone to meet you on the bridge. You never ever have to convince someone to do the work to be ready. There is more extraordinary love, more love that you have never seen, out here in this wide and wild universe. And there is the love that will be ready.

— Nayyirah Waheed

Come to the orchard in Spring.
There is light and wine, and sweethearts
in the pomegranate flowers.

If you do not come, these do not matter.
If you do come, these do not matter.

— Rumi

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.

— Rumi

Manic Pixie Dream Girl

Note: it’s 10x better when she reads it

Have you heard this record? Manic Pixie Dream Girl says,
Let me save you with this record.
Let me put the headphones on for you, and smile, while you listen;
cut to your point of view

watch me smile while you listen. Hear that?
That’s the sound of you becoming a better person.

I’m gonna paint a picture of a bird on your beige wall
without your permission and you’re gonna love it.

And you thought you hated birds.
See me, encouraging you to take risks?

Manic Pixie Dream Girl wants you to do something you’ve never done before.
Like go swing-dancing, or smile.

You wanna know my name?
You never call me by it anyway.

If I had to guess, it would probably be a season
or after a dead actress who you loved as a child.

But this isn’t about me, this is about you
and your cubicle job, your white bedroom

your white Honda, your white mother.
Manic Pixie Dream Girl says, I’m going to save you

says, Don’t worry, you are still the lead role.
This is your love story, about the way I teach you to live.

Everything they know about me
they will learn when it is projected onto you.

Watch the way you pick up my bad habits
and make them look good.

Manic Pixie Dream Girl talks too much
says bad words out loud and cries at the commercials.

That makes me a funny woman, right?
The kind people like to laugh at?

It’s easy to root for you when I act like this–
so disagreeable, such a manic dream.

Dream Girl, your almost broken accessory.
Manic Pixie Dream Girl says

Let’s play make believe with my body.

I’ll be a vintage dress with an empty prescription
bottle, good girl, just bad enough

a burp
and a curtsy,

let me be not too pretty
hair fried from all that pink dye

sex when you need it puppet when you’re bored,
let me build myself smaller than you,

let me apologize when I get caught acting bigger than you.
Let me always wait for this, let me work for this.

The convenient thing about being a magical woman
is that I can be gone as quickly as I came

and when you are a whole person
for the first time, the movie is over

Manic Pixie Dream Girl doesn’t go on,
there’s no need for her anymore

Manic Pixie Dream Girl is too dream girl
and you just woke up.

Once, I told you I was afraid
of my father and for a moment, I looked so human

the audience lost interest
you saw the crow’s feet at the sides of my eyes

and a small chip on my front tooth.
I looked just like everyone else.

— Olivia Gatwood

We Lived Happily During the War

And when they bombed other people’s houses, we

protested
but not enough, we opposed them but not

enough. I was
in my bed, around my bed America

was falling: invisible house by invisible house by invisible house.

I took a chair outside and watched the sun.

In the sixth month of a disastrous reign in the house of money

in the street of money in the city of money in the country of money,
our great country of money, we (forgive us)

lived happily during the war.

The Committee Weighs In

I tell my mother
I’ve won the Nobel Prize.

Again? she says. Which
discipline this time?

It’s a little game
we play: I pretend

I’m somebody, she
pretends she isn’t dead.

— Andrea Cohen

Failing and Flying

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.

It’s the same when love comes to an end,

or the marriage fails and people say

they knew it was a mistake, that everybody

said it would never work. That she was

old enough to know better. But anything

worth doing is worth doing badly.

Like being there by that summer ocean

on the other side of the island while

love was fading out of her, the stars

burning so extravagantly those nights that

anyone could tell you they would never last.

Every morning she was asleep in my bed

like a visitation, the gentleness in her

like antelope standing in the dawn mist.

Each afternoon I watched her coming back

through the hot stony field after swimming,

the sea light behind her and the huge sky

on the other side of that. Listened to her

while we ate lunch. How can they say

the marriage failed? Like the people who

came back from Provence (when it was Provence)

and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.

I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,

but just coming to the end of his triumph.

– Jack Gilbert

Let me

Let me come with news
That I found a partner
Let me be lucky you found a similar one
A sporty and pretty European academic
Like you
Let me be with a similar person
We’ll want the same things
We’ll see the same movies
We’ll think it’s terrible what’s happening
And comfort each other that we are doing what we can
Let me be us
Let us be invited
Let us be inviting
Let us be the wise Goldbergs and Eisenheimers
Let me be plural
Aging in plural
We will move forward in the plural
We will buy and leave
We’ll decide we’re ready
The children will arrive one after the other
They’ll stand in front of us and will not be able to break through the fortified wall that we will be
Tall and wide
Double is not a crime
They can cry until tomorrow
No crack on any side — a pair

Let me publish a book and be invited to present it at Columbia University
Let us be leftists
We’ll learn Arabic and have Arab friends
And be invited
So welcome that we won’t have any time
Left so see
What we have become
Let me mix
Assimilate and blur
Not remembering who I am
Then get divorced

Let me be divorced
Let me be one who has been there and done that
And got away with it
Shook off the dust
Wiped away the tears
And so on
Let me be the one who already went through that story
Created a relationship
And ended a relationship
And had children
Let me travel the world
Not looking to build because I already built
And deconstructed
I did I did I did
And now — everything is possible
And all men are allowed
There are no threshold conditions

Let me fall in love with a Sudanese man
Let him be tall and thin
Soft looking and beautiful like a Greek god
Let me infiltrate his life and propose to him
Let me infiltrate his life
and harass all its areas
Employment, entertainment and leisure, sports
Internal and external education
Let me understand him
Let me save him
Let me make love to him like he never imagined possible

Let me bring him to the parents
Let me bring him to the kids
Let me follow him to Africa
We will build a guesthouse in Kampala
With the first meditation center in Uganda
Everyone will reach us through the Lonely Planet
Let us succeed
Let the BBC tell the story of our love in a documentary
Let us continue to love
Laugh to tears
And stay together until the end

One of us will die first
Let me be the one to die first
At my bedside, he will hold my hand
He will say
Don’t go
I loved you
And I will say
Let me go

— Naomi Gerstein (translation by me)

Genius is a nazi word
Just remember that
when they give you all that money

— Brendan Joyce

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Tal Benisty

Head of Design at Circles. Formerly at Nexar, Cruise, Collective Health, Cooper, Designit, and IDEO.