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
You don't have to break it. Just give it a little 
tap.

tap tap. See,

there's the crack. And if you pry it a little
         with the flat end of that spoon,

you'll be able to slip yourself through.


                               —


To the woods where you're walking. Crushed ice above you
2
poem
Buddhist temple, Tokyo


         One cry from a lone bird over a misted river
is the expression of grief,
         in Japanese. Let women
do what they need.
         And afterwards knit a red cap, pray—

In long rows, stone children in bibs and hats, the smell of pine and cooled
         earth—

It was a
2
poem
You put a bag around your head and walked into the river.
You

walked into the river with a bag around your head and you were
never dead 

game on the banks of your
mental styx

for the double
audience

of smoke—


               —


You pressed a coin into his palm and stepped across the water.
You

stepped