Still they ask in podcast
and electronic ink: How are you doing?

And they keep you in their hearts, pump you
to their minds, circulate you unimagined.

Take all the space you need, they say, 
empathy loves the damaged.

You offer no solutions. Only clarity
they don’t believe, only they
get to tell the future
what to be.

Then they pump you
into their viscera, and feel you
bilious, ineffable, cast iron, butterfly.

Their questions like a shovel
that doesn’t know what earth is,
but digging anyway.

They hope you would say:
“I am multigenerational
and can fracture natural
bonds in my DNA,”

for this they can sell
to a tycoon press, a Carnegie
of thought dissemination.

And your answer comes:
“Things are a seasickness
and no land in sight.

Your peeping is no witness.”

Copyright © 2024 by Fady Joudah. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 2, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets.

at the Sipsey River

make small steps.
in this wild place
there are signs of life
everywhere.
sharp spaces, too:
the slip of a rain-glazed rock
against my searching feet.
small steps, like prayers—
each one a hope exhaled
into the trees. please,
let me enter. please, let me
leave whole.
there are, too, the tiny sounds
of faraway birds. the safety
in their promise of song.
the puddle forming, finally,
after summer rain.
the golden butterfly
against the cave-dark.
maybe there are angels here, too— 
what else can i call the crown of light 
atop the leaves?
what else can i call
my footsteps forward,
small, small, sure?

From You Are Here: Poetry in the Natural World (Milkweed Editions, 2024), edited by Ada Limón. Copyright © 2024 Milkweed Editions and the Library of Congress. Used with the permission of the author. Published in Poem-a-Day on April 27, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets.

One does such work as one will not,
    And well each knows the right;
Though the white storm howls, or the sun is hot,
    The black must serve the white.
And it’s, oh, for the white man’s softening flesh,
    While the black man’s muscles grow!
Well I know which grows the mightier,
    I know; full well I know.

The white man seeks the soft, fat place,
    And he moves and he works by rule.
Ingenious grows the humbler race
    In Oppression’s prodding school.
And it’s, oh, for a white man gone to seed,
    While the Negro struggles so!
And I know which race develops most,
    I know; yes, well I know.

The white man rides in a palace car,
    And the Negro rides “Jim Crow”
To damn the other with bolt and bar,
    One creepeth so low; so low!
And it’s, oh, for a master’s nose in the mire,
    While the humbled hearts o’erflow!
Well I know whose soul grows big at this,
    And whose grows small; I know!

The white man leases out his land,
    And the Negro tills the same.
One works; one loafs and takes command;
    But I know who wins the game!
And it’s, oh, for the white man’s shrinking soil.
    As the black’s rich acres grow!
Well I know how the signs point out at last,
    I know; ah, well I know!

The white man votes for his color’s sake.
    While the black, for his is barred;
(Though “ignorance” is the charge they make),
    But the black man studies hard.
And it’s, oh, for the white man’s sad neglect,
    For the power of his light let go!
So, I know which man must win at last,
    I know! Ah, Friend, I know!

From The Book of American Negro Poetry (Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1922), edited by James Weldon Johnson. This poem is in the public domain.

I’m in my room writing
speaking in myself
& I hear you
move down the hallway
to water your plants

I write truth on the page
I strike the word over & over
yet I worry you’ll pour too much water on the plants
& the water will overflow onto the books
ruining them

If I can’t speak out of myself
how can I tell you I don’t care about the plants?
how can I tell you I don’t care if the books get wet?

We’ve been together seven years
& only now do I begin
clearing my throat to speak to you.

“A Poem for My Wife” from DAVID'S COPY: THE SELECTED POEMS OF DAVID MELTZER by David Meltzer, Introduction by Jerome Rothenberg, Edited with a Foreword by Michael Rothenberg, copyright © 2005 by David Meltzer. Used by permission of Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

Lo! Death has reared himself a throne
In a strange city lying alone
Far down within the dim West,
Where the good and the bad and the worst and the best
Have gone to their eternal rest.
There shrines and palaces and towers
(Time-eaten towers and tremble not!)
Resemble nothing that is ours.
Around, by lifting winds forgot,
Resignedly beneath the sky
The melancholy waters lie.

No rays from the holy Heaven come down
On the long night-time of that town;
But light from out the lurid sea
Streams up the turrets silently—
Gleams up the pinnacles far and free—
Up domes—up spires—up kingly halls—
Up fanes—up Babylon-like walls—
Up shadowy long-forgotten bowers
Of sculptured ivy and stone flowers—
Up many and many a marvellous shrine
Whose wreathed friezes intertwine
The viol, the violet, and the vine.
Resignedly beneath the sky
The melancholy waters lie.
So blend the turrets and shadows there
That all seem pendulous in air,
While from a proud tower in the town
Death looks gigantically down.

There open fanes and gaping graves
Yawn level with the luminous waves;
But not the riches there that lie
In each idol’s diamond eye—
Not the gaily-jewelled dead
Tempt the waters from their bed;
For no ripples curl, alas!
Along that wilderness of glass—
No swellings tell that winds may be
Upon some far-off happier sea—
No heavings hint that winds have been
On seas less hideously serene.

But lo, a stir is in the air!
The wave—there is a movement there!
As if the towers had thrust aside,
In slightly sinking, the dull tide—
As if their tops had feebly given
A void within the filmy Heaven.
The waves have now a redder glow—
The hours are breathing faint and low—
And when, amid no earthly moans,
Down, down that town shall settle hence,
Hell, rising from a thousand thrones,
Shall do it reverence.

This poem is in the public domain.