Take two curses and thank me in the morning

No sensible person is ever going to clamor to be cursed, but curses aren’t always to be avoided. For one thing, when done well, they’re fun. Like their snarling cousin the insult, curses are great vehicles for verbal gymnastics and flights of fancy. I could even make a case for curses to be a great. . . wait for it. . . precursor to Thanksgiving. Curses remind us how much we don’t want to lose what we hold dear. If you didn’t especially enjoy being human, you wouldn’t care if a witch cursed you to be an ogre at night. That’s a silly example, of course, but read on and you’ll see what I mean.


I left two curse poems at a “sewer overflow drainage project” which also had pretty nature trails. Nasty and nice together, a fitting home for curses and the blessings they imply.


poem is on the rock




May the wind put out everything for you

except the candle on your grave.


May you not run away from the ax,

or the cannon.


May you not have fish in Fishville,

a bull in Bullsville,

not a single sheep in Sheepsville.


May you be afraid to meet your brother

without a knife.


May you move from your house to the cemetery.


May you find neither a root nor a leaf.


May you stir with a right hand

the soup made with the left hand.




May you buy a hat

and have nothing to put it on.


May your wife knead dust,

rain’s bread dough.


May your hair give you the slip,

your flesh too.


May you raise in vain your chin

above the flood.


May you breathe only as much

as your suffering requires.




May a man in armor await you

wherever you go.


May he ride into your wheat,

into your bed,

into your church.


May your kin rise against you.


All hounds on your trail!

All evils on what you hold dear!


May evil not touch you

until you raise your knife.



If in a stranger’s eye

you didn’t put the sun out.


If in the hour of the wolf

you didn’t call out like a wolf.


May sun shine for you out of the wind,

out of your brother,

and a fish in the brook,

the oak tree, the unexpected guest.


With wheat up to your wait

and clear sky spreading,



If you actually read this poem to the last comma, you’re wondering if the poem ends like this, suddenly and without resolution, or if I’ve been careless. Unfortunately, it’s the latter. I do not know what happens at the end of this poem. I don’t even know who wrote it (although I suspect Charles Simic). Somehow I neglected to photocopy the third page, and now after I’ve had the poem on file for two years at least, I can’t even remember what anthology it’s from. The library, from where the anthology came, is closed because of COVID.


Sorry to leave you hanging. But there’s enough here to enjoy, and you can see where it’s going. Curses are piled upon curses, all with a medieval flavor—armored men, kin rising up, the ax, cannon, the wolf, all hounds, all evils—and many with an element of humor, which is why I think it may be a Simic poem. My favorite curse—


May you buy a hat

and have nothing to put it on.


Then in part four, or what we have of part four, the speaker undoes the wished-for misfortune. Presumably if all the conditions are met—if the person addressed behaves decently to strangers and tames his animal aggression—he’ll be blessed with good weather, enough food to eat, and good times in general.


But for all I know, the actual ending could turn again. Please, people, help me track down this poem!




Poet Nick Flynn’s curse is more a story of a curse rather than a curse proclaimed by the speaker.


poem is on stone wall next to the door



by Nick Flynn


Let the willows drop their branches, heavy with ice,

let the sound be a whipcrack across the fields.


Let each tree be felled, let them dynamite the stumps.


From now on you will have to keep moving, from now on

you will carry everything you own.


You will sleep beneath a payphone, dream of a room, a field.


Let the field burn clean, let your children beat the flames

with brooms.


You will feign sleep as the conductor passes.


The names of your children will break up in your mind.


Let the stones jam the plough, let the barn fall.


Let the paint leech into the well.



There’s no humor here, just a deep well of bitterness and anger. Someone’s life is being utterly and systematically destroyed. First his home, then his family, then his mind. Forced to wander, he bears the mark of Cain—


From now on you will have to keep moving, from now on

            you will carry everything you own.


You wonder what this man or woman has done to deserve such a fate. Maybe nothing. Maybe “Curse” is a description of dementia, which is indeed one of the worst of curses. This line—


The names of your children will break up in your mind


—sounds like a common woe of families with a demented parent.


The poem’s field blasted of its tree stumps could be the destruction of memories. No one’s able to stop the destruction (the children uselessly beat flames with brooms), and the cursed person is left to live solely from moment to moment. The past is gone forever, and the future looks pretty bad.


If the dementia-conceit holds, here’s the kicker, a description of the horror of a disintegrating brain:


Let the stones jam the plough, let the barn fall.


Let the paint leech into the well.


And suddenly I am thanking God for a working brain.




Here’s a bio of Nick Flynn from a previous post:


Nick Flynn was born in Massachusetts in 1960. He was raised by a single mother who committed suicide when he was a young adult. His father was an alcoholic who fancied himself a writer and went to prison for writing forged checks. While in prison, his father wrote him letters full of advice, but Flynn never wrote back out of respect for his mother. After high school, Flynn became an electrician.


Two years after his mother died, he started working at a homeless shelter in Boston. Flynn met his father at that same homeless shelter when his troubled father came to spend the night. Their reunion was the subject of a memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, which was turned into a movie, Being Flynn. The move starred Paul Dano as a young Flynn and Robert DeNiro as his father.


In addition to his poetry, Flynn is a widely published essayist and memoirist. He’s married to actress Lili Taylor with whom he has a daughter. Flynn lives in Brooklyn and teaches creative writing at University of Houston.



    1. poemelf

      Yes, agreed. I wasn’t taking his life story into account when looking at the poem. That’s always a question (how much biography to use in examining a poem) that I go back and forth on.

      It would indeed be unnerving to come across these poems, which is probably why I held on to them for a while. Couldn’t think of where to put them that wouldn’t be taken personally by the person who found them. So here they are, whether anyone ever sees them beyond this post is something I’ll never know.

      Thanks for reading!

  1. Thomas Lee Tavis

    Did you discover the author of the poem ” Curses” that you posted on Nov. 18th? I did not a bit of looking with no success. And would love to know the author. Peace, Thomas Lee Tavis

    1. poemelf

      No, I didn’t. Hoping for some help with my well-read readers! When I can get back to the library I’ll check out some Charles Simic anthologies….that’s my best bet thus far.

      1. poemelf

        Wow, how did you find this?! You’re a bonafide literary detective! Thank you! I’ll re-post the poem in its entirety after Thanksgiving….and I’d like to include you and your search….why this particular mystery intrigued you and how you tracked down the poet. You can reply here or privately at

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