Louis Slotin You Will Not Turn Forty (after Ted Hughes)

A new poem by Michael Lista

At your fortieth birthday, on a moonlit beach,

One of your guests is late.

You save a plate. A place is clean and set

Amid the after–dinner mess.

Why are you upset? Everyone is here

And laughing wildly, the whole extended gang —

Old friends and family, your little niece,

Your coterie of Nobel laureates, some heads of state,

And Harry’s here, and Alvin Graves, their wives,

Their eyes run over with ecstatic tears — even

The palm trees rock with laughter, tossing their hair.

Your forty candles come tickled

To the table, trembling with joy. And your daughter

Laughs from your lap. Japan laughs deep through its ash.

Johanna puts her arms around you and the sky

Turns like a Ferris wheel, the stars

Smiling from their spokes.

But your bomb —

What about your bomb?

It’s the only one missing!

We wait all through the night for it to come.

Michael Lista (@michaellista) has written non-fiction for Slate and The Atlantic. He co-edits Partisan magazine and recently released a collection of essays, Strike Anywhere.