Recorded for Poem-a-Day, March 6, 2017.
About this Poem 

“‘Instructions for Stopping’ is part of a timely anthology coming out from Beacon Press in late 2017 titled Bullets into Bells: Poets and Citizens Respond to Gun Violence in the U.S. Each poem appears with a response by a gun violence survivor or someone involved in gun violence prevention. To write this poem, I sat in a room, saying ‘stop’ over and over in order to hear how it sounded, to feel how it felt in my mouth. Then I wrote it down. Then I added a period, which posed the deciding question.”
—Dana Levin

Instructions for Stopping

Say Stop.

Keep your lips pressed together
after you say the p:


(soon they’ll try
and pry

your breath out—)

Whisper it
three times in a row:

Stop Stop Stop

In a hospital bed
like a curled up fish, someone’s

gulping at air—

How should you apply
your breath?

List all of the people
you would like
to stop.

Who offers love,
who terror—

Write Stop.
Put a period at the end.

Decide if it’s a kiss
or a bullet.

Copyright © 2017 by Dana Levin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 6, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2017 by Dana Levin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 6, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Dana Levin

Dana Levin

Dana Levin is the author of Banana Palace (Copper Canyon Press, 2016) and Sky Burial (Copper Canyon Press, 2011), among other books. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri.

by this poet

poem
Six monarch butterfly cocoons
      clinging to the back of your throat—

      you could feel their gold wings trembling.

You were alarmed. You felt infested.
In the downstairs bathroom of the family home,
      gagging to spit them out—
            and a voice saying Don’t, don’t—
2
poem
It’s a thrill to say No.
 
The way it smothers
everything that beckons―
 
Any baby in a crib
will meet No’s palm
on its mouth.
 
And nothing sweet
can ever happen
 
 
             
2
poem

The mind sports god-extensions.

It's the mountain from which
        the tributaries spring: self, self, self, self—

        rivering up
                on curling plumes
        from his elaborate
                head-piece

                of smoke.