The world will keep trudging through time without us
When we lift from the story contest to fly home
We will be as falling stars to those watching from the edge
Of grief and heartbreak
Maybe then we will see the design of the two-minded creature
And know why half the world fights righteously for greedy masters
And the other half is nailing it all back together
Through the smoke of cooking fires, lovers’ trysts, and endless
Maybe then, beloved rascal
We will find each other again in the timeless weave of breathing
We will sit under the trees in the shadow of earth sorrows
Watch hyenas drink rain, and laugh.
This poem originally appeared in The New Yorker (October 4, 2021). Copyright © 2021 by Joy Harjo. Used with the permission of the poet.
Dancing from the south
cloudy cool and gray
pregnant with rainchild
At dawn she gives birth to a gentle mist
flowers bow with wet sustenance
luminescence all around
Shá’di’ááhdę́ę’go dah naaldogo’ alzhish
níltsą́ bi’áád bitázhool bijooltsą́
áádóó níłtsą́ bi’áád biyázhí bídii’na’
níłtsą́ bi’áád biyázhí hazlį́į́’
ch’íl látah hózhóón dahtoo’bee ’ałch’į’ háazhah
From Songs from This Earth on Turtle’s Back: Contemporary American Indian Poetry (Greenfield Review Press, 1983). Copyright © 1983 by Laura Tohe. Used with permission of the author.
I chewed into the wreck of the world,
into the neckbone of the past that pursued me.
All the while, I moved toward extinction,
bearing the burden of damage, language of the protector.
A great apocalyptic wheeze adorned me with sand.
I foraged, first to find light dappling the leaves,
then breathed into an infinite power, feminine rust,
a coppery taste of salvage, leading me into a canopy
of the future. My mother was a mother of mothers,
modern before she was ancestral.
She was a woman who morphed into feline, back
to her human self before I woke each morning.
I lived not to sate my appetite but to crush it.
On my haunches, I craved what could not be seen.
I am desire. I am survival.
I sit under the tree waiting for hunger.
Copyright © 2022 by Tina Chang. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 30, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.
translated by Ana Valverde Osan
There is always adolescence and nothing else at dusk.
When the soft bend in the evening
insinuates its desolate curve,
something within us also bends over.
We have very few things then,
no possession accompanies us,
no possession offends us either.
There is a slow disaster in these hours
that seem the only ones in the day,
those which leave us in the old limits,
those that cannot give us anything,
those of which we do not ask anything.
There is a tender and decomposing disaster
in the final hours of this day
that has gone by like the others,
and, just like them, it has reached
the burning beauty
of that which gazes upon nothingness.
Leaning over my windowsill
I see how a section of time slides by;
evening has softly embalmed
the street’s noisy happenings,
the sky is shrinking little by little
and a burst of patience
wraps the world in soft, ashy hugs.
While the night opens up on the corners,
the moon sets in strange flowers.
Siempre hay adolescencia y nada en el atardecer.
Cuando el suave recodo de la tarde
insinúa su curva desolada,
algo también en nosotros se inclina.
Muy pocas cosas tenemos entonces,
ninguna posesión nos acompaña,
ninguna posesión nos ultraja tampoco.
Hay un lento desastre en estas horas
que parecen las únicas del día,
las que nos dejan en el viejo límite,
las que no pueden entregarnos nada,
a las que no pedimos nada.
Hay un desastre tierno y descompuesto
en las últimas horas de este día
que ha pasado lo mismo que los otros,
e igual que ellos ha alcanzado
esa hermosura ardiente
de todo cuanto se asoma hacia la nada.
Inclinada sobre el hueco de mi ventana
veo cómo resbala todo un tiempo;
la tarde ha embalsamado suavemente
el bullicioso suceder de la calle,
se va agotando el cielo poco a poco
y un estallido de paciencia
envuelve al mundo en suaves abrazos de ceniza.
Mientras la noche se abre en las esquinas,
cuaja la luna unas flores extrañas.
Francisca Aguirre, "Penelope Unravels / Penélope desteje" from Ithaca. Copyright © 1972 by Francisca Aguirre. Translation copyright © 2004 by Ana Valverde Osan. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.
out of the way. It knows that I tend to cling
to potential in the dark, that I am myself only
as I am beguiled by the moon’s lunatic luster,
when the streets are so bare they grow voices.
The sun has lost patience with my craving
for the night’s mass-produced romance, that
dog-eared story where every angle is exquisite,
and ghostly suitors, their sleek smells exploding,
queue up to ravish my waning. Bursting with
bluster, the sun backslaps the moon to reveal
me, splintered, kissing the boulevard face first,
clutching change for a jukebox that long ago
lost its hunger for quarters. It wounds the sun
to know how utterly I have slipped its gilded
clutch to become its most mapless lost cause.
Her eye bulging, she besieges me with bright.
So I remind her that everything dies. All the
brilliant bitch can do for me then is spit light
on the path while I search for a place to sleep.
Copyright © 2022 by Patricia Smith. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 25, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.
everything that made you
the first sound
of your whole life
ebbs and dips
in a green line burned
across your last hope;
a stream of black bile
sighs at the quick of her mouth.
the anchor of your faith
has come undone
from the ankles bare
under the sheet,
your body’s mirror
a window onto backlight.
all the laying on of hands
becomes a gnashing of teeth,
your uncle’s hand
a flag to the alarms
a do not resuscitate,
the halt of padding feet.
how startled the last breath.
how surprising the relief.
afterthought of your arms
awake keeping your brother
from falling into dust;
here; hold him, hold him up;
as she held him—hold him;
though it's not enough,
hold him, in the chasm
of the last room
on the longest night,
her brother weeps
into the wall.
From Soul Sister Revue: A Poetry Compilation (Jamii Publishing, 2020). Copyright © 2020 R. Erica Doyle. Used by permission of the author.
We felt nostalgic for libraries, even though we were sitting in a library. We looked around the library lined with books and thought of other libraries we had sat in lined with books and then of all the libraries we would never sit in lined with books, some of which contained scenes set in libraries. * We felt nostalgic for post offices, even though we were standing in a post office. We studied the rows of stamps under glass and thought about how their tiny castles, poets, cars, and flowers would soon be sent off to all cardinal points. We rarely got paper letters anymore, so our visits to the post office were formal, pro forma. * We felt nostalgic for city parks, even though we were walking through a city park, in a city full of city parks in a country full of cities full of city parks, with their green benches, bedraggled bushes, and shabby pansies, cut into the city. (Were the city parks bits of nature showing through cutouts in the concrete, or was the concrete showing through cutouts in nature?) * We sat in a café drinking too much coffee and checking our feeds, wondering why we were more anxious about the future than anxiously awaiting it. Was the future showing through cutouts in the present, or were bits of the present showing through cutouts in a future we already found ourselves in, arrived in our café chairs like fizzled jetpacks? The café was in a former apothecary lined with dark wood shelves and glowing white porcelain jars labeled in gilded Latin, which for many years had sat empty. Had a person with an illness coming to fetch her weekly dose of meds from one of the jars once said to the city surrounding the shop, which was no longer this city, Stay, thou art so fair? Weren’t these the words that had sealed the bargainer’s doom? Sitting in our presumptive futures, must we let everything run through our hands—which were engineered to grab—into the past? In the library, in the post office, in the city park, in the café, in the apothecary... o give us the medicine, even if it is a pharmakon—which, as the pharmacist knows, either poisons or heals—just like nostalgia. Just like the ruins of nostalgia.
Copyright © 2020 by Donna Stonecipher. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 8, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
A body must remind itself
to keep living, continually,
throughout the day.
Even at night while sleeping,
proteins, either messenger, builder,
or destroyer, keeps busy
transforming itself or other substances.
Scientists call these reactions
—to change their innate structure,
dictated by DNA—cellular frustration,
a cotton-cloud nomenclature for crusade,
combat, warfare, aid, unification,
scaffold, or sustain.
Even while the body sleeps, a jaw slackened
into an open dream, inside is the drama
of the body’s own substances meeting
one another, stealing elements,
being changed elementally,
altered by a new story
called chemical reaction.
A building and demolishment,
creating or undoing,
the body can find movement,
functioning organs, resists illness—
or doesn’t. Look inside every living being
and find this narrative of resistance,
the live feed of being resisted.
The infant clasping her fist
or the 98-year-old releasing
hers. This is how it should be,
we think, a long story carried out
to a soft conclusion. In reality,
little deaths hover and nibble,
little births opening mouths
and bodies the site of stories
and the tales given to us, and retold, retold,
never altered, and the ones forgotten,
until this place is made of only
ourselves. Our own small dictators,
peacemakers, architects, artists.
A derelict cottage,
a monumental church
struck in gold, an artist’s studio
layered with paints and cut paper,
knives and large canvas—
the site the only place
containing our best holy song:
I will live. I will live. I will keep living.
Copyright © 2020 by Leslie Contreras Schwartz. This poem originally appeared in Pleiades: Literature in Context, October 2020. Used with permission of the author.
is saying, someday this day will be over.
A moon will presumably still be above:
a bone quiet, an inflatable in the scene
—the cool blue swimming pool
it finds itself in. And I will want to be.
My mother, the Queen, will want only
my father, the King. All will be want
& get. And I will be me. And O, O,
Ophelia—will be the essence of love.
The love of a sister. Or, the love of the
brother. Compassion. Forgiveness.
All will be want & get. We will all be
together, on stage & in dress, reciting
our lines: “What a fine day. What a
wonderful way. To be.” No sirens. Fifty
stars, a cloud. A drawing of an all-night
sky. We’ll be there. You as you. And I.
Copyright © 2020 by Mary Jo Bang. Originally published with the Shelter in Poems initiative on poets.org.
Deep inside the quiet deep parting of private seas
to leagues of muscular chants, there is a love
to be lost and broken rearranged like blocks—
whose name we spell is not the issue—it is us not willing
to pay attention to architecture, its integrity, whether
it will last the shake we go story after story
thinking the roof will know nothing of the ground.
from A Penny Saved (Willow Books, 2012) by Arisa White. Copyright © 2012 by Arisa White. Used with permission of the author.
If you believe in snow, you have to believe
in water as it’s meant to be, loosed
from clouds arranged like asphodel. Because that’s
what it’s like to come back: a slow
surfacing, memory spiraling away. You can sleep
so long, whole seasons are forgotten
like hospital-room plaster, spidered
with cracks in Portugal shapes. You can love
sleep like water, love your heavy limbs
pushing river and ocean aside.
After Maggie woke the doctors had her stringing
bracelets of semiprecious beads, and she
couldn’t stop counting the kinds of blue.
Here, summer, in the high shade of a gingko,
she pulls up a handful of stones on silk
and we drink grapefruit seltzer, listening
to the tinny chime of bubbles
rising to the air. She can’t remember
autumn, so we tell her someday this tree will drop
its fan-shaped leaves all at once,
golden in the October crush
of every plant’s frantic strip show. Later
we’ll see mountains through the scrim of empty
branches, and if we want we can look straight up
into the atmosphere, see the same plain old sky
revolving. When we ask Maggie what color it is
she always says iolite, picturing beads
like raindrops, shining azure on the table.
She forgets that sometimes things don’t stay
where you leave them, that the sky fades
to white even before snow begins to
fall. It’s hard, but we have to tell her
even sapphires don’t glow blue
without some kind of help.
“Maggie Says There’s No Such Thing as Winter” from Some Girls by Janet McNally © 2015. Used with permission of White Pine Press.