Get Lit Minute: Krysten Hill | “Nothing”

July 8, 2021

In this week's episode of the Get Lit Minute, your weekly poetry podcast, we spotlight the life and work of poet Krysten Hill. She received her MFA in poetry from the University of Massachusetts Boston, where she currently teaches and is the recipient of the 2016 St. Botolph Club Foundation Emerging Artist Award and 2020 Mass Cultural Council Poetry Fellowship.


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"Nothing"
I ask a student how I can help her. Nothing is on her paper.

It’s been that way for thirty-five minutes. She has a headache.

She asks to leave early. Maybe I asked the wrong question.

I’ve always been dumb with questions. When I hurt,

I too have a hard time accepting advice or gentleness.

I owe for an education that hurt, and collectors call my mama’s house.

I do nothing about my unpaid bills as if that will help.

I do nothing about the mold on my ceiling, and it spreads.

I do nothing about the cat’s litter box, and she pisses on my new bath mat.

Nothing isn’t an absence. Silence isn’t nothing. I told a woman I loved her,

and she never talked to me again. I told my mama a man hurt me,

and her hard silence told me to keep my story to myself.

Nothing is full of something, a mass that grows where you cut at it.

I’ve lost three aunts when white doctors told them the thing they felt

was nothing. My aunt said nothing when it clawed at her breathing.

I sat in a room while it killed her. I am afraid when nothing keeps me

in bed for days. I imagine what my beautiful aunts are becoming

underground, and I cry for them in my sleep where no one can see.

Nothing is in my bedroom, but I smell my aunt’s perfume

and wake to my name called from nowhere. I never looked

into a sky and said it was empty. Maybe that’s why I imagine a god

up there to fill what seems unimaginable. Some days, I want to live

inside the words more than my own black body.

When the white man shoves me so that he can get on the bus first,

when he says I am nothing but fits it inside a word, and no one stops him,

I wear a bruise in the morning where he touched me before I was born.

My mama’s shame spreads inside me. I’ve heard her say

there was nothing in a grocery store she could afford. I’ve heard her tell

the landlord she had nothing to her name. There was nothing I could do

for the young black woman that disappeared on her way to campus.

They found her purse and her phone, but nothing led them to her.

Nobody was there to hold Renisha McBride’s hand

when she was scared of dying. I worry poems are nothing against it.

My mama said that if I became a poet or a teacher, I’d make nothing, but

I’ve thrown words like rocks and hit something in a room when I aimed

for a window. One student says when he writes, it feels

like nothing can stop him, and his laugher unlocks a door. He invites me

into his living.

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