National Poetry Month 2022, Week One: Dana Levin’s “Instructions for Shopping”

April 12, 2022

I’m behind in posting this year’s National Poetry Month poems, and I was reminded of that fact by several readers who reached out wondering whether they’d fallen off the list. My apologies!!

We finally made it back to the Azores after two years away and I’ve been busy preparing for a lecture I am giving at the University of the Azores this evening (as I write this) and a book launch event at the bookstore of my Azorean publisher, Letras Lavadas, in Ponta Delgada on Thursday.

Still, no excuse.

Then, this morning, I saw Dana Levin’s poem below, posted by several friends on social media from its appearance in the New York Times Magazine this week, and—given recent events in Ukraine and Sacramento—I decided it was the poem to start with this year.

Dana Levin is a national treasure. Her poetry is both erudite and approachable, a rich combination of everyday observations, science, and deep human feeling. 

Dana grew up in California’s Mojave Desert, earned a BA from Pitzer College and an MA from New York University. Her collections of poetry include Banana Palace (2016), Sky Burial (2011), Wedding Day (2005), and In the Surgical Theatre (1999). She teaches at Maryville University in St. Louis, where she is distinguished writer-in-residence.

Here is Dana Levin’s poem, “Instructions for Stopping,” from her new book, Now Do You Know Where You Are, out now from Copper Canyon Press.

By Dana Levin

Say Stop.

Keep your lips pressed together
after you say the p:

(soon they’ll try
to 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.

Here’s how it appeared in the New York Times Magazine on Sunday: Insructions for Stopping.

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