Skip to Content

Past Tense

By Sam Taylor

In the Great Depression of 2047,
a time of sorrow rivaled only
by the Global Unification Wars
of Spring 2029 to 2033,
in the Merlona Plague of 2104,
in the year of the forest die-off,
after the atmospheric hue reduction,
in the year of the last rebellion,
after the rise of the freeze gun,
after the Earth Liberation Army
went into hiding, after sorrow
was renamed, after the Ethiopians
became immune to cancer—
someone was born, and someone loved
in their names like grass
where the river sleeps
and the sky’s tears were
a private thing
touched only in solitude.

And four out of five full bellies believed. 
And nine out of ten hungry mouths agreed.
And the ancient books that had never made sense
made no sense again and at last
ceased to be printed.  And all the words
fell out of the bibles in the night.
The pages were filled with a rain of leaves.
And the words that were left could not be read,
and so they acquired an air of sanctity
which they had never, in truth, possessed
in the daylight in the presence of men.

And someone in a field found an old car
from the year black with beetles, eaten like lace,
and the sky fell into it, a private thing.
And everyone had a kitchen or a fold-out bed
and a chair beside an open window,
and no one knew the hour, and no one knew the day,
but behind locked doors and curtains, they danced
to the music pumped through the walls
that no one could escape, and to that other music
that rose off the blood, that could not be silenced—
and so on and so forth—
and the seed of hope still had not vanished
from the face of the childless earth.

Added: Wednesday, October 22, 2014  /  From "Nude Descending an Empire" (Pitt Poetry Series, 2014). Used with permission.
Sam Taylor

Sam Taylor is the author of two books of poems, Body of the World (Ausable/Copper Canyon Press) and Nude Descending an Empire (Pitt Poetry Series, 2014), and the recipient of the 2014-2015 Amy Lowell Poetry Travelling Scholarship, as well as other honors.  His work most frequently explores themes of mysticism, sexuality, ecology, politics, suffering, and the mystery of the world.  His recently released Nude Descending an Empire develops the lyrical voice of a citizen-poet engaged with politics, history, and the urgency of our contemporary moment.  Taylor is currently an Assistant Professor in the MFA program at Wichita State University.  See more at

Other poems by this author