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Poem: What if We Call This Tenderness

Sampson Starkweather’s “What if We Call This Tenderness” is a poem that overlays love onto a previously loveless surface of the world. The ardent and persistent calls of a collection agency are notoriously unlikely to be resolved by poetry, but through this poem’s comparisons, their meaning is transformed. The poem becomes a charmed terrain where the “tender” that is money bows to a greater concept, tenderness. Selected by Anne Boyer

Credit…Illustration by R. O. Blechman

What if We Call This Tenderness

By Sampson Starkweather

some corporation or collection agency
calls me 3 or 4 times a day
maybe they are kind
of another mother
or ex-lover
genderless & savagely patient
either way they are after me
I’m convinced they want my poetry
I take it wizard-level
at dodging incoming calls
go invisible at the grocery store
pretend to live
in a world without money
my answering machine
is me crying
(in French, oui)
call me
914-573-9721
please leave me
something tender


Anne Boyer is a poet and an essayist. Her memoir about cancer and care, “The Undying,” won a 2020 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction. Sampson Starkweather is the author of “Song of Attention Deficit Disorder” (Third Man Books, London), “A Week in Late Capitalism / Ancient Capitalist Proverbs” (b l u s h), “PAIN: The Board Game” (Third Man Books), “The First 4 Books of Sampson Starkweather” (Birds, LLC) and many other limited-edition handmade chapbooks from dangerous and/or defunct small presses. He is a founding editor of the small, independent editor-run poetry press Birds, LLC. He was born in Pittsboro, N.C., and lives in Brooklyn.

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