Aster. Nasturtium. Delphinium. We thought
Fingers in dirt meant it was our dirt, learning
Names in heat, in elements classical
Philosophers said could change us. Star Gazer.
Foxglove. Summer seemed to bloom against the will
Of the sun, which news reports claimed flamed hotter
On this planet than when our dead fathers
Wiped sweat from their necks. Cosmos. Baby’s Breath.
Men like me and my brothers filmed what we
Planted for proof we existed before
Too late, sped the video to see blossoms
Brought in seconds, colors you expect in poems
Where the world ends, everything cut down.
John Crawford. Eric Garner. Mike Brown.
Copyright © 2015 by Jericho Brown. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 7, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
Dark hills at evening in the west,
Where sunset hovers like a sound
Of golden horns that sang to rest
Old bones of warriors under ground,
Far now from all the bannered ways
Where flash the legions of the sun,
You fade—as if the last of days
Were fading, and all wars were done.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on August 9, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
The sounds of summer leave
your lungs mid-autumn.
Gulls rebuild the sky.
It’s more or less a spectacle.
With a gauze of dark circles
under your eyes, you watch
the whole world take a rain check.
The clouds overlap until nightfall
and you twiddle your thumbs
at everyone’s mid-life crisis.
The moon blinks inside
out and no one notices.
You do all the talking.
The city lights acting as your voice.
Copyright © 2015 by Noah Falck. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 28, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
I twist myself into a knot
the day pulls taut.
I am what I am
told. Good red meat
gone necrotic. A spot of black
spread out to ruin
a perfect evening. It’s the way
the weather wears me.
A cold, blank day. My blood-
burned fingers. A white noise
swelling in me. It’s nothing
but night now. That’s how
all the days end. An hour
glistens in its glass case, turns
rancid in my memory.
Another day, another
dress the day lays out
before me. I grow older
if I’m lucky.
And I’m lucky.
My sad heart in its excess.
Such petty injury. I am worn
against the weather. Limp and prone
What came before this.
I can’t remember.
I dress for all the lives I want
behind me. I have come here
to make seen the day
I see. I fall from focus.
The day goes sour. It asks me
nothing. It asks nothing of me.
Copyright © 2015 by Camille Rankine. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 1, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
You are standing in the minefield again.
Someone who is dead now
told you it is where you will learn
to dance. Snow on your lips like a salted
cut, you leap between your deaths, black as god’s
periods. Your arms cleaving little wounds
in the wind. You are something made. Then made
to survive, which means you are somebody’s
son. Which means if you open your eyes, you’ll be back
in that house, beneath a blanket printed with yellow sailboats.
Your mother’s boyfriend, his bald head ringed with red
hair, like a planet on fire, kneeling
by your bed again. Air of whiskey & crushed
Oreos. Snow falling through the window: ash returned
from a failed fable. His spilled-ink hand
on your chest. & you keep dancing inside the minefield—
motionless. The curtains fluttering. Honeyed light
beneath the door. His breath. His wet blue face: earth
spinning in no one’s orbit. & you want someone to say Hey…Hey
I think your dancing is gorgeous. A little waltz to die for,
darling. You want someone to say all this
is long ago. That one night, very soon, you’ll pack a bag
with your favorite paperback & your mother’s .45,
that the surest shelter was always the thoughts
above your head. That it’s fair—it has to be—
how our hands hurt us, then give us
the world. How you can love the world
until there’s nothing left to love
but yourself. Then you can stop.
Then you can walk away—back into the fog
-walled minefield, where the vein in your neck adores you
to zero. You can walk away. You can be nothing
& still breathing. Believe me.
Copyright © 2015 by Ocean Vuong. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 2, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets
bigger than my
body, the body
that gave it
life, that is
its life—as if I’m
a frame for
it, as if it
my end, although no
one, not here,
can see where
it goes, how
far, & now
its way into
the past, which believes
in my scar like
a prophecy, & like a god’s
work, I have no
memory of it breathing
into me &
to myth from which to
remake the world
into the rising
action of fiction—my body
as denouement. Sometimes I feel
it without waiting
for its hum on
the nerves, its shivering
arc from eye
to jawbone. How often
I want to
give it a voice so
it can tell
me what I want
it to say—that it knows
me like tomorrow
does. That a need lives
in lack’s because.
Copyright © 2015 by Emilia Phillips. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 10, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
It’s not that we’re not dying.
Everything is dying.
We hear these rumors of the planet’s end
none of us will be around to watch.
It’s not that we’re not ugly.
Look at your feet, now that your shoes are off.
You could be a duck,
no, duck-billed platypus,
your feet distraction from your ugly nose.
It’s not that we’re not traveling,
But it’s not the broadback Mediterranean
carrying us against the world’s current.
It’s the imagined sea, imagined street,
the winged breakers, the waters we confuse with sky
willingly, so someone out there asks
are you flying or swimming?
That someone envies mortal happiness
like everyone on the other side, the dead
who stand in watch, who would give up their bliss,
their low tide eternity rippleless
for one day back here, alive again with us.
They know the sea and sky I’m walking on
or swimming, flying, they know it’s none of these,
this dancing-standing-still, this turning, turning,
these constant transformations of the wind
I can bring down by singing to myself,
the newborn mornings, these continuals—
Copyright © 2015 by Peter Cooley. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 11, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
wretched thou art
wherever thou art
I sit and work on a line and lean into the pain my mind
trying to think and all I come up with is a texture without
and to whatever
thou turnest —
the body I have is the body I once had but they could not
the teacher Agnes says abstract form holds meaning
I turn the pages
of the old book
the way certain feelings come to us with no discernible
the teacher Buddha says the practitioner agitated by
I have not held
makes stronger their bondage to suffering and the sting
during the time illness makes me feel most tied to the
its binding broken
its brittle paper
I sit in meditation and sunlight from the window calms
since the emergency I feel such sharp tenderness toward
its dog-eared corners
torn at the folds —
sort of attached to the white wall white door white dust
on the wood floor
mostly pain is an endless present tense without depth or
miserable are all
who have not
an image or memory lends it a passing contour or a sort of
the white door open against the white wall snuffs
headache’s first flare
a sense of present
I remember a man patiently crying as doctors drained his
lying on the gurney in my hospital gown we suffered
from having been being
but much more
miserable are those
adjacent and precarious the way a practitioner sits alone
on a cushion
resting alone unwearied alone taming himself yet I was
no longer alone
in love with it —
Copyright © 2015 by Brian Teare. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 16, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
I shall forget you presently, my dear,
So make the most of this, your little day,
Your little month, your little half a year
Ere I forget, or die, or move away,
And we are done forever; by and by
I shall forget you, as I said, but now,
If you entreat me with your loveliest lie
I will protest you with my favorite vow.
I would indeed that love were longer-lived,
And vows were not so brittle as they are,
But so it is, and nature has contrived
To struggle on without a break thus far,—
Whether or not we find what we are seeking
Is idle, biologically speaking.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on September 26, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
In Lijiang, the sign outside your hostel
glares: Ride alone, ride alone, ride
alone – it taunts you for the mileage
of your solitude, must be past
thousands, for you rode this plane
alone, this train alone, you’ll ride
this bus alone well into the summer night,
well into the next hamlet, town,
city, the next century, as the trees twitch
and the clouds wane and the tides
quiver and the galaxies tilt and the sun
spins us another lonely cycle, you’ll
wonder if this compass will ever change.
The sun doesn’t need more heat,
so why should you? The trees don’t need
to be close, so why should you?
Copyright © 2015 by Sally Wen Mao. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 6, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
There is a holiness to exhaustion
is what I keep telling myself,
filling out the form so my TA gets paid
then making copies of it on the hot
and heaving machine, writing
Strong start! on a pretty bad poem.
And then the children: the baby’s
mouth opening, going for the breast,
the girl’s hair to wash tonight
and then comb so painstakingly
in the tub while conditioner drips
in slick globs onto her shoulders,
while her discipline chart flaps in the air
conditioner at school, taped
to a filing cabinet, longing for stickers.
My heart is so giant this evening,
like one of those moons so full
and beautiful and terrifying
if you see it when you’re getting out
of the car you have to go inside the house
and make someone else come out
and see it for themselves. I want every-
thing, I admit. I want yes of course
and I want it all the time. I want
a clean heart. I want the children
to sleep and the drought
to end. I want the rain to come
down—It’s supposed to monsoon
is what Naomi said, driving away
this morning, and she was right,
as usual. It’s monsooning. Still,
I want more. Even as the streets
are washed clean and then begin
to flood. Even though the man
came again today to check the rat traps
and said he bet we’d catch the rat
within 24 hours. We still haven’t caught
the rat, so I’m working at the table
with my legs folded up beneath me.
I want to know what is holy—
I do. But first I want the rat to die.
I am thirsty for that death
and will drink deeply of that victory,
the thwack of the trap’s hard plastic jaw,
I will rush to see the evidence no matter
how gruesome, leaning my body over
the washing machine to see the thing
crushed there, much smaller
than I’d imagined it’d be,
the strawberry large in its mouth.
Copyright © 2015 by Carrie Fountain. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 30, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
Taytay, Rizal Province, Philippines
(based on the photo by Noel Celis)
Hardly anything holds the children up, each poised
mid-air, barely the ball of one small foot
kissing the chair’s wood, so
they don’t just step across, but pause
above the water. I look at that cotton mangle
of a sky, post-typhoon, and presume
it’s holding something back. In this country,
it’s the season of greedy gods
and the several hundred cathedrals
worth of water they spill onto little tropic villages
like this one, where a girl is likely to know
the name of the man who built
every chair in her school by hand,
six of which are now arranged
into a makeshift bridge so that she and her mates
can cross their flooded schoolyard.
Boys in royal blue shorts and red rain boots,
the girls brown and bare-toed
in starch white shirts and pleated skirts.
They hover like bells that can choose
to withhold their one clear, true
bronze note, until all this nonsense
of wind and drizzle dies down.
One boy even reaches forward
into the dark sudden pool below
toward someone we can’t see, and
at the same time, without looking, seems
to offer the tips of his fingers back to the smaller girl
behind him. I want the children
ferried quickly across so they can get back
to slapping one another on the neck
and cheating each other at checkers.
I’ve said time and time again I don’t believe
in mystery, and then I’m reminded what it’s like
to be in America, to kneel beside
a six-year-old, to slide my left hand
beneath his back and my right under his knees,
and then carry him up a long flight of stairs
to his bed. I can feel the fine bones,
the little ridges of the spine
with my palm, the tiny smooth stone
of the elbow. I remember I’ve lifted
a sleeping body so slight I thought
the whole catastrophic world could fall away.
I forget how disaster works, how it can turn
a child back into glistening butterfish
or finches. And then they’ll just do
what they do, which is teach the rest of us
how to move with such natural gravity.
Look at these two girls, center frame,
who hold out their arms
as if they’re finally remembering
they were made for other altitudes.
I love them for the peculiar joy
of returning to earth. Not an ounce
of impatience. This simple thrill
of touching ground.
Copyright © 2015 by Patrick Rosal. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 2, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
Did you see the sky through me
tonight, carbon blues and clouds like ropes
of wool behind a fringe of branches,
great combs of black stilling in their sap,
stiffening with winter. I like to imagine
love can pull your essence like red thread
through the cold needle of my life now
without you. I was just driving home
from the grocery store and looking up
over the roofs, I remembered once when
I was overthrowing my thoughts
for doubts you said, I know how to love you
because I hitchhiked, and it was never the same sky twice.
Now, I hear you say, this music is like wind
moving through itself to wind, intricate
as the chimes of light splintering into
everything while glowing more whole.
It is nothing like those dusty chords
on your radio, each an ego
of forced air, heavy with the smells
of onions, mushrooms, sage and rain.
Drink it in, you say, those corded clouds
and throaty vocals. You will miss all this
when you become the changing.
Copyright © 2015 by Rachel Jamison Webster. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 6, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
Who hasn’t been tempted by the sharp edge of a knife?
An ordinary knife cutting ordinary tomatoes on
an ordinary slab of wood on an ordinary Wednesday.
The knife nicks, like a bite to the soul. A reminder
that what is contemplated is as real as the blood
sprouting from a finger. As real as a bruised eye.
Instead turn back to the meat stewing on the stove.
Scrape pulpy red flesh into the heat and turn.
Say: even this is a prayer. Even this.
Copyright © 2015 by Chris Abani. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 24, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
I am a little world made cunningly
Of elements, and an angelic spright,
But black sin hath betrayed to endless night
My worlds both parts, and oh! both parts must die.
You, which beyond that heaven which was most high
Have found new spheres and of new lands can write,
Pour new seas in mine eyes, that so I might
Drown my world with my weeping earnestly,
Or wash it, if it must be drowned no more:
But oh! it must be burnt; alas the fire
Of lust and envy burnt it heretofore,
And made it fouler; Let their flames retire,
And burn me, O Lord, with a fiery zeal
Of thee and thy house, which doth in eating heal.
This poem is in the public domain.
Excuse me, lover. I’m busy foretelling
and protesting your end. Whether I hunt,
gather, barter, or sell, what I worry over
is the order: live oaks, shorelines,
wide-eyed and flammable
creature I adore. By day, I admit
no shadow as backup: crow, please keep
your clever forensics. What would I do
with a cardboard guitar, a map of the planets,
and a box of building blocks,
alone? Another bereavement
I haven’t unlearned: to bury one hope
inside another, and I, having made a home
of limbo (I keep a black hole more spotless
than cozy), once traveled through time
at will, invisible. Now, not so free. My beloved
grows heavier, hardier, heavenward.
Certain grief pre-scorches me.
Copyright © 2015 by Stephanie Ford. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 14, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
In your extended absence, you permit me use of earth, anticipating some return on investment. I must report failure in my assignment, principally regarding the tomato plants. I think I should not be encouraged to grow tomatoes. Or, if I am, you should withhold the heavy rains, the cold nights that come so often here, while other regions get twelve weeks of summer. All this belongs to you: on the other hand, I planted the seeds, I watched the first shoots like wings tearing the soil, and it was my heart broken by the blight, the black spot so quickly multiplying in the rows. I doubt you have a heart, in our understanding of that term. You who do not discriminate between the dead and the living, who are, in consequence, immune to foreshadowing, you may not know how much terror we bear, the spotted leaf, the red leaves of the maple falling even in August, in early darkness: I am responsible for these vines.
From The Wild Iris, published by The Ecco Press, 1992. Copyright © 1992 by Louise Glück. All Rights reserved. Used with permission.