Psalm 161

Praise For The People At The End Of The World[1]



¹ ’bout some months ago,

we lost track of the months.

² ’twas Zeena who told me

the people—

³ ’scuse me, it’s hard to say—

the people will be gone.

⁴ ’tis the real true end

of everything. my god, it take

⁵ ’em all to tell the story,

the people I praise.

⁶ ’ear, if you have ears,

what happened. it’s quiet.

⁷ ’round here was—

we kept our word, it’s quiet

⁸ ’cuz we all that’s left,

& the trees, I want to say—




⁹ voices! I miss the sound

of fucking people. I’m on the

¹⁰ verge of—I don’t know—

I crunched the leaves to mimic steps.

¹¹ vain as I was, I can’t see

why god kept me here but for

¹² vengeance. I am alone

& don’t love myself in a

¹³ vacuum. I miss my love, we

kept our word though. it’s all

¹⁴ vacant now. you want to know?

I’ll tell you this—all this shit

¹⁵ vanished slowly, but not

by fire or

¹⁶ vices or whatever they told you.

it was us, remember that.




¹⁷ going back to the beginning,

my mom & me

¹⁸ got the call from talon—

we want to

¹⁹ go out with a bang.

how he knew, I didn’t ask.

²⁰ god, I assume, forgives

when you have a

²¹ good reason. we robbed

the rich. it’s funny,

²² guess what my mom bought first?

a bidet.

²³ giggled the whole way home,

talking ‘bout when they

²⁴ gaze at my body, cold, they should see

my ass in all its glory.




²⁵ damn, I thought they would

kill us when we started

²⁶ doling out the money. wait,

I want my last words to be

²⁷ different. I’m starting over.

I’ll tell you about

²⁸ dewan, my brother.

even in prison he

²⁹ did what any brother would—

helped me with homework. though I

³⁰ didn’t get the answers

till weeks after in the mail. when he’d

³¹ done his time, he told me

these words:

³² death ain’t shit but freedom, no need

to involve a god.




³³ here, they’ll ban guns

soon as the person

³⁴ holding one looks like us. hm,

what would you do if you

³⁵ had the money you needed?

I ate. ate till

³⁶ hunger forgot me. I’d been

so long away from full it

³⁷ hurt. we wanted to be

satisfied, that’s what people

³⁸ hunt for, not blood. something

that feels right.

³⁹ have mercy, one of the women

said to me. I’m no god.

⁴⁰ have mercy. while she clutched

her necklace & my stomach growled.




⁴¹ we kept our word.


⁴² wondered what they would do—

come for us? we

⁴³ waited for god & them,

no one came. maybe they

⁴⁴ wanted us to steal from them,

give them some

⁴⁵ way to feel persecuted

or pity. we

⁴⁶ worked so hard

for so little. this is not about

⁴⁷ what they had, we

were told wait wait wait

⁴⁸ when? god,

till when?




⁴⁹ zealously we lived on

until the money meant

⁵⁰ zilch. there was something

in the air & we watched—

⁵¹ zany theory by theory—people go.

those of us left know soon

⁵² zero of us will remain.

we are undead, not

⁵³ zombified but in the between part

when life is still here but all

⁵⁴ zest for it leaves. we stopped

digging, I don’t move from this

⁵⁵ zone of bodilessness. maybe it means

something to god that our

⁵⁶ zenith came to this—

a spectacular nadir.




⁵⁷ change don’t happen overnight

‘til it does. we think we got

⁵⁸ choices, right? ma used to say to me

you end up where you

⁵⁹ choose to be. who chose for me

to exist? not me, never got the

⁶⁰ chance to choose to not work, to travel,

to spend my

⁶¹ childhood a child.

I can’t control all that’s

⁶² changed on me, just my response

to it & now look. you think all

⁶³ change is by god? or do we

say that cuz we don’t have a

⁶⁴ choice?





⁶⁵ to everyone who asks I say

maybe god

⁶⁶ told me. I was the first

to know what was coming,

⁶⁷ tasked with spreading the word.

gabi will

⁶⁸ tell you about the bang.

I only wanted the

⁶⁹ tables turned. I lost

so many I stopped

⁷⁰ tallying the bodies, stopped

checking the cribs, tracking

⁷¹ time.

please, if this was a test, god,

⁷² take me soon.

I don’t know what’s true.




⁷³ yes, for a moment

the people deserved praise.

⁷⁴ you should have seen it,

before the numbers dwindled

⁷⁵ young people made peace

with god, themselves

⁷⁶ yelled into the night

at their parties

⁷⁷ yanked each other into corners,

forgave their parents. my

⁷⁸ youngest called—

first time in seven

⁷⁹ years—to say I love you.

I’ve made so many mistakes,

⁸⁰ yearned for understanding

& grace came, came knocking.




⁸¹ candlelight. after the end

is a return to the beginning.

⁸² chronologically, it goes—

in terms of loss—electricity,

⁸³ cars, decorum. we saw the end

of law, a glimpse of

⁸⁴ care for others, everyone

fed & without luxury,

⁸⁵ comforted, for a moment,

by sameness. if birds are here, they’re

⁸⁶ keeping quiet, watching us

perish. we

⁸⁷ kept our word, lit candles,

pulled our

⁸⁸ kin





⁸⁹ look, here’s the truth.

everyone acts so resigned. if you

⁹⁰ listen, you can hear

the heartache. even those who

⁹¹ long for the world to end

don’t want it so. they want

⁹² liberation. they want people

to touch them & their

⁹³ lives to mean something.

no one gains peace from

⁹⁴ loveless silence. god?

god is

⁹⁵ laughing at us. I am angry

& unafraid to admit I’ve

⁹⁶ lost so much & no,

it never gets easier to lose.




⁹⁷ my sister

has lost her

⁹⁸ mind. but before,

she was lively,

⁹⁹ model-type with cat eyes

that could slice you open.

¹⁰⁰ made every day an event. the parties?

sickening. god, she

¹⁰¹ mentioned wanting to be someone

repeatedly, I

¹⁰² mistakenly never told her

she was. so

¹⁰³ many times I could’ve—

I can’t say. I hum her

¹⁰⁴ music I can remember,

sing her songs she knows.




¹⁰⁵ need you? no,

I am a god. I’m

¹⁰⁶ not

letting go. I

¹⁰⁷ never

let a broke bitch—

¹⁰⁸ never

would have made it! my

¹⁰⁹ nigga


¹¹⁰ night is

still young, you

¹¹¹ nasty, you nasty, what my sister

say? I miss the

¹¹² noise

of everything.




¹¹³ some of us wanted more

from our last days, I’ll

¹¹⁴ say that. there’s so much

I won’t get to

¹¹⁵ see now. I bought

a boat, a small one, to

¹¹⁶ sail to somewhere

unfamiliar, not stress over

¹¹⁷ spending money or time,

let god’s

¹¹⁸ sun brown me further. but alone

as I am I never did

¹¹⁹ surrender a desire for roots

so I’m here, I

¹²⁰ stayed, & anyway

I know nothing about the sea.




¹²¹ psalm for the people:

when I say we, I mean those who

¹²² knew the true cost

of living. we are, all of us,

¹²³ wretched for reasons

we can’t control, though our

¹²⁴ psyches say we must try to pilot

our lives. I grieve even the least

¹²⁵ honest of us, who, though not absolved,

were products of the expectations

¹²⁶ gnawing at their necks. by god, we rioted,

we slept, we succumbed to

¹²⁷ wrought divisions, we

were ambitious, foolishly tracking

¹²⁸ hours as if we

could ever know the time.




¹²⁹ people will mention the loss.

I want to

¹³⁰ point out this moment—

my son, hip-tall, missing teeth,

¹³¹ planted a peony seed

in our garden. I’d explained our

¹³² predicament before, how soon

we will drop, peacefully, like

¹³³ paw paw & maw maw

& that’s alright. I

¹³⁴ prepared to remind him, he then said

it doesn’t need me here to grow. so we

¹³⁵ populated our small land with the rest

of our life. when he went, I

¹³⁶ placed him with god

among the seeds.




¹³⁷ tsk,

I’ve no sob story, no bes-

¹³⁸ tseller to list out for you.

the world is no accident, just craf-

¹³⁹ tsmanship. so is this

& everything else. we’d be collectivis-

¹⁴⁰ ts if evolution equaled

survival, but no, we are too shor-

¹⁴¹ tsighted for anything to last,

including ourselves. I say, we ou-

¹⁴² tsourced too many emotions—happiness,

love, belonging—our descendan-

¹⁴³ ts predestined for demise.

god, if listening, ou-

¹⁴⁴ tstretch

your hands.




¹⁴⁵ quiet now, but I hear

so many final re-

¹⁴⁶ quests—I need to get right

with god. bury me

¹⁴⁷ quickly. wait. I was & wasn’t

ready for the

¹⁴⁸ queasiness in my throat.

were we correct? a

¹⁴⁹ question for god. though divine input

never comes

¹⁵⁰ quite like you’d think. it was

& wasn’t how I imagined. still, I

¹⁵¹ quell their voices

with baseless hope.

¹⁵² quote me on this:

we kept our word.




¹⁵³ rally the people

hear their cries

¹⁵⁴ ragtag misfits

organize. they

¹⁵⁵ ran us down

with fear & lies

¹⁵⁶ right now we all

reclaim our lives

¹⁵⁷ rise, rise

raise our fists & voices high

¹⁵⁸ refrain from

taking compromise

¹⁵⁹ renounce our choices,

true reprise

¹⁶⁰ rebuild rebuild

till god replies




¹⁶¹ shit yeah, I bought

that bidet when we were

¹⁶² sure it would come to

what it came to. always thought I

¹⁶³ should go out in style—

fur, face beat, silk

¹⁶⁴ shirt for comfort, slightly unbuttoned

to convince the

¹⁶⁵ shepherd I was

a good girl. no

¹⁶⁶ shame in wanting to die

fabulous when life

¹⁶⁷ short-changed me.

& why wouldn’t I

¹⁶⁸ show out to greet god? that’s

a once-in-a-lifetime event.




¹⁶⁹ today it’s quiet

but for the trees, which

¹⁷⁰ taunt their unaffiliation.

life did not begin with

¹⁷¹ two people, but none,

so without us will continue.

¹⁷² tomorrow, no one to remember

my friends, the moments that

¹⁷³ taught us, forgive me,

to come

¹⁷⁴ together, like birthdays & lectures.

imagine! someone devoting a life to

¹⁷⁵ teach what we will all forget. we kept

our word, didn’t attempt to

¹⁷⁶ tamper with anything more, buried

this here capsule of us for you.



[1] This poem takes its form from the biblical Psalm 119, which is an acrostic of the Hebrew alphabet.

Jae Nichelle is a storyteller on the page and the stage. She is the author of the poetry chapbook The Porch (As Sanctuary), and her work has appeared in ANMLY, Best New Poets, Muzzle Magazine, The Washington Square Review, The Offing Magazine, and elsewhere. Her spoken word has been featured by Write About Now, Button Poetry, and the Speak Up Poetry Series. Find out more on her website,