Sorrow, O sorrow, moves like a loose flock
of blackbirds sweeping over the metal roofs, over the birches,
and the miles.
One wave after another, then another, then the sudden
where the feathered swirl, illumined by dusk, parts to reveal
heart of all things.
Copyright © 2024 by Vievee Francis. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 12, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets.
The long night reminds me that so much of what it means
to be a person shines through obscurity, like odd condiments
bought on impulse, tested once, then pushed to the back
of the refrigerator in their smartly labeled bottles and jars.
It’s like a birth of stars, or nights an actor plays their part
so flawlessly, the audience gives no thought to gastroenteritis
or its various causes (viruses, bacteria, bacterial toxins,
parasites and so forth) till hours after the last act is dust.
But setting aside all that small stuff, there’s still the entirety
of the past, invisible or visible only in traces, as among the blur
that sets in during speeches, or when speeding to the launch
past signage that tries to communicate but by habit we ignore.
I still can’t say what life is for, but it can’t be to pretend
that every part of it is knowable, or that what appears to be
to the naked eye or in the middle ground or documented on paper
approximates a person any better than a daisy does our sun.
When at a loss for what I am, I know I must be feeling it
deep in the layers, where a turbulence gives rise to clouds
so massive they collapse in a bliss of gravity, condensing into this
music I can daisy into morning as it daisies me into morning.
Copyright © 2023 by Timothy Donnelly. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 25, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.
A winged bit of Indian sky
Strayed hither from its home on high.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on November 12, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.
The Earthlings arrived unannounced, entered
without knocking, removed their shoes
and began clipping their toenails.
They let the clippings fall wherever.
They sighed loudly as if inconvenienced.
We were patient. We knew our guests
were in an unfamiliar environment; they needed
time to adjust. For dinner, we prepared
turkey meatloaf with a side of cauliflower.
This is too dry, they said.
This is not like what our mothers made.
We wanted to offer a tour of our world,
demonstrate how we freed ourselves
from the prisons of linear time.
But the Earthlings were already spelunking
our closets, prying tools
from their containers and holding them
to the light. What’s this? they demanded.
What’s this? What’s this? And what’s this?
That’s a Quantum Annihilator; put that down.
That’s a Particle Grinder; please put that down.
We could show you how to heal the sick, we said.
We could help you feed every nation, commune
with the all-seeing sentient energy that palpitates
through all known forms of matter.
Nah! they said. Teach us to vaporize a mountain!
Teach us to turn the moon into revenue!
Then the Earthlings
left a faucet running and flooded our basement.
Copyright © 2023 by Matthew Olzmann. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 17, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.
Copyright © 2023 by Alexis Aceves Garcia. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 31, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.
for Kelly Caldwell (1988–2020)
Yet your voice was here—
just there-here in our house, shining eyes
who dazzled twice, already timed,
a pulsing wind below the glass in spring,
and coaxed, intelligent, stoic, touching everything, you stirred
me to life, in spite of illness and damage
to the country, field laid waste, election blaze, illness
wasting a brain, a mind. Mars, and ocean, canceled.
Cream and streamers, canceled,
“I am,” you said,
though your skin flickered
to hackberry bark, or as bullet
pierced pineal gland, blinking out
your day-night clock. Your syllables
endure frail days, which blow
through equinox, dissipate, time out—
you imagined the planet
with you already gone:
a sad expression, no real loss, the earth still a wild salon,
yet the name you chose
is etched into air, a violent wind
parts my chest, tenderviolet, electric
nights in our sheets, no longer
countable, unrecounted. You, here, again,
my is-are-were, have-been-is, in my
arms, bed is-was our house-eyes, in my
only thought only root only gone,
my big only gone still here voice
blazing, I mourn you-her,
her-you, who were born-dreamed into the world’s thicket
yet reinvented through an inner radiance,
the radiance of a name,
the name that is yours,
the radiance that is-was yours
that is-was you—
Copyright © 2023 by Cass Donish. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 10, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.
an oratorio for vanishing voices, collapsing universes, and a falling tree.
—Lena Herzog, Last Whispers
in the days before urban sprawl this town
remained no more than cow pastures
logs skidding down to the harbor
gulls riding them like surfboards
a green belt embraced the one road north
a hundred years they say until the lease expired
in those days trees lining each side threw shade over
hippies and geese bound to the same direction
this was the rainforest and we took
for granted the trees that sheltered the sun
in shimmering light the music of wind
and leaves that left air breathable
we thought the developers would never come
that Eden would last forever
if I remember well the first to go
was the old growth Ponderosa near the school
what a racket all that sawing and sawing
no sapling that one stubborn tough
from thick outer ring to the core
on overhead wires larks crows and common wrens
lined up like jurors surveying a crime scene
chortling and cackling a chorus of what’s
this what’s this come see come see
every so often one broke rank
and swooped toward the cantilevered trunk
as if they could bring back to life those limbs
where each night they had fought to gain purchase
circling as if remembering the canopy
before the thieving ravens evicted them
swirling in all directions birds
leaves one and the same into a vortex until
the tree shivered one last time and fell
still I listen for the rustle of leaves
sweeping clean the air
among the shadows of WWII bombers crashed
on test flights old growth forests thrive
in the deep waters of Lake Washington
know that the ghosts of forests reside in every city
now and again a crack in the pavement
yields to a sprig with one leaf unfurling
to what might have been the lush undergrowth
of rainforest or village green
stumps of roots fingering toward the sky
remnants knuckled in a path
stubborn as the gnarled toes of an old man
struggling across the road
bark tough as leather peeled and frayed
the banyan the elm the oak and spruce
the cypress the pine the redwood and willow
a sigh a whisper a breath of fresh air
one morning on the sun-drenched asphalt
a blue feather lay as if fallen by magic
from some child’s dream of angels
was there ever a bird so blue so
cobalt perfect from downy barbs to vanes
to fall undamaged by progress
among the squalor of high-rises and noise
of backhoes awakening each morning
was this an omen an augury a straw in the wind
to land here where few trees thrive
you look up at the birdless sky think:
this is a city this a mountain
this a remnant of the rainforest
Copyright © 2024 by Colleen J. McElroy. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 22, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets.
i’m confident that the absolute dregs of possibility for this society,
the sugary coffee mound at the bottom of this cup,
our last best hope that when our little bit of assigned plasma implodes
it won’t go down as a green mark in the cosmic ledger,
lies in the moment when you say hello to a bus driver
and they say it back—
when someone holds the door open for you
and you do a little jog to meet them where they are—
walking my dog, i used to see this older man
and whenever I said good morning,
he replied ‘GREAT morning’—
in fact, all the creative ways our people greet each other
may be the icing on this flaming trash cake hurtling through the ether.
when the clerk says how are you
and i say ‘i’m blessed and highly favored’
i mean my toes have met sand, and wiggled in it, a lot.
i mean i have laughed until i choked and a friend slapped my back.
i mean my niece wrote me a note: ‘you are so smart + intellajet’
i mean when we do go careening into the sun,
i’ll miss crossing guards ushering the grown folks too, like ducklings
and the lifeguards at the community pool and
men who yelled out the window that they’d fix the dent in my car,
right now! it’d just take a second—
and actually everyone who tried to keep me alive, keep me afloat,
and if not unblemished, suitably repaired.
but I won’t feel too sad about it,
becoming a star
Copyright © 2024 by Eve L. Ewing. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 6, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets.
The Crisis Magazine, June 1967
On the cover, Negro men playing checkers
in the park. Some wear hats, while others wear
waves in their hair. Either way, they’re all clean
and their strategy brims as sharp as their
suits. Within these pages, they’re playing chess,
protecting future children, as they wear
ties, dress shirts, shined shoes—looking clean
and ready for business or for battle. And their
plan? No longer will textbooks be used as chess
pieces to keep Negro children in check.
Sound familiar? Schools will be pushed to clean
bookshelves of the white-washed lessons of their
past. The NAACP opens minds like games of chess,
and all excuses for hiding a country’s checkered
past will be dismissed. Despite segregation’s wear
and tear from school boards, and the fear of their
white parents, henchmen, bullies—all just chess
pieces, really, but jumping laws like checkers
when life is more complex—books remain where
the mind cannot hide. Either you come clean
and admit your ignorance, or be a pawn on the chess
board of intellect, banning books. They think check-
mate! But when I see Crisis in a library archive where
we still argue to be seen, I lose patience. Kleenex,
please, for Karens clutching their pearls! I pray their
white kids are reading Langston Hughes in a public library: √.
But one state over, bookshelves have no Black authors, cleaned
out. Our books remain under attack, Kings in a game of chess.
Copyright © 2024 by A. Van Jordan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 5, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets.
for Molly Peacock
My mother thinks she cannot grow
orchids: the initial blooms shrivel,
turn to dust on the window ledge.
The stalk, once green, becomes
a dry stick, soon appraised
for the same value she gives
every crinkled brown leaf:
She cut it off.
She did not know to wait
to examine turgid base leaves,
jungle vibrant, roots brimming
the pot’s rim, testing the drainage holes,
seeking sun, trickling water.
It must work harder now
to bloom once the stem
has been removed.
At middle age, I appreciate
the orchid’s beauty: its shy blooms
burst from a dead stick:
nodes of growth emerge
as tender youth did once.
I got my first orchid at fifty. I was
unable to accept the end of my body’s
usefulness. The aura of attraction
shriveled, I secretly
cheered for the orchid
whose tender nodes explode
against our assumption that
beauty only bursts from
the sweet young green.
Copyright © 2024 by Cherise Pollard. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 9, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets.