I’m a witch who lost all her powers, then
in place of my powers, I got the coiled beauty
of seashells and sleeping infants. The coiled
beauty of eardrums, and the sound wave
of bells. The bells! This is the country of clouds.
The molten body, the Floridian pinks,
and centuries of sand dollars examining
the arcing waves. New territory
of interiority and I’m in the middle of this.
White like a negative belt.
I am an airless thing. When I get high, I get low.
But I’m real and airless and love you.
Copyright © 2016 by Sandra Simonds. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 6, 2016 by the Academy of American Poets.
I would have liked then for someone to touch me
So I could know the purpose of this hardship.
Black-eyed and impassive as a canyon,
From the hive of my mind, I looked at their faces
As I moved between rows of espaliered pears.
I only intended for someone to show
Me, once, an affection like the sun
Shows even the simplest bulb, entering what’s hidden.
Let me show them instead the picture
In a knife’s reflection, take down my hair
Where the gravedigger kneels among new potatoes.
Behind my teeth are headstones, and behind those
Skeletons of cavemen, of dinosaurs,
And under my skin: alphabets, alphabets
In black ink, a legacy of histories tiny and alive
As an ant army marching toward forever.
Understand, please—I, too, have a splendid use,
This world could not get rid of me if it wanted to.
Copyright © 2016 by Monica Ferrell. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 7, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
How, Alan Turing thought, does the soft-walled,
jellied, symmetrical cell
become the asymmetrical horse? It was just before dusk,
the sun’s last shafts doubling the fence posts,
all the dark mares on their dark shadows. It was just
after Schrodinger’s What is Life,
not long before Watson, Franklin, Crick, not long before
supper. How does a chemical soup,
he asked, give rise to a biological pattern? And how
does a pattern shift, an outer ear
gradually slough its fur, or a shorebird’s stubby beak
sharpen toward the trout?
He was halfway between the War’s last enigmas
and the cyanide apple—two bites—
that would kill him. Halfway along the taut wires
that hummed between crime
and pardon, indecency and privacy. How do solutions,
chemical, personal, stable, unstable,
harden into shapes? And how do shapes break?
What slips a micro-fissure
across a lightless cell, until time and matter
double their easy bickering? God?
Chance? A chemical shudder? He was happy and not,
tired and not, humming a bit
with the fence wires. How does a germ split to a self?
And what is a—We are not our acts
and remembrances, Schrodinger wrote. Should something—
God, chance, a chemical shudder?—
sever us from all we have been, still it would not kill us.
It was just before dusk, his segment
of earth slowly ticking toward night. Like time, he thought,
we are almost erased by rotation,
as the dark, symmetrical planet lifts its asymmetrical cargo
up to the sunset: horses, ryegrass—
In no case, then, is there a loss of personal existence to
marten, whitethroat, blackbird,
lark—nor will there ever be.
Copyright © 2016 Linda Bierds. Used with permission of the author.
It’s love you left, we’ll say
when you never come back
for bells for the dead, for the grave
stone heads: the only ones
that don’t keep count. Don’t
we know it’s love that keeps you
away, that marks every mile
devotion? You would’ve went
to the end with each one,
made Orpheus turn back.
Would’ve fell / would’ve leapt /
would’ve left. The living is easy
/ the leaving is easy / living
with ghosts, it was easy
to give up your home
to your father, struck
with the same grief
of living, demanding
what are you gonna do
with my mama’s house?
Shorn grass & damp dirt:
they’ll put me in the middle.
I kick the ground like tires,
feeling dumb without flowers /
tokens / grief / anything
in my hands. You’ll bring me
back home, won’t you? Stamp
it down, as if the flat earth
could answer sometimes this,
too, is love. You left.
Copyright © 2016 Gary Jackson. Used with permission of the author.
In the recesses of the woman’s mind
there is a warehouse. The warehouse
is covered with wisteria. The wisteria wonders
what it is doing in the mind of the woman.
The woman wonders too.
The river is raw tonight. The river is a calling
aching with want. The woman walks towards it
her arms unimpaired and coated
with moonlight. The wisteria wants the river.
It also wants the warehouse in the mind
of the woman, wants to remain in the ruins
though water is another kind of original ruin
determined in its structure and unpredictable.
The woman unlaces the light across her body.
She wades through the river while the twining
bleeds from her mouth, her eyes, her wrist-veins,
her heart valve, her heart. The garden again
overgrows the body—called by the water
and carried by the woman to the wanting river.
When she bleeds the wisteria, the warehouse
in her mind is free and empty and the source
of all emptiness. It is free to house the night sky.
It is free like the woman to hold nothing
but the boundless, empty, unimaginable dark.
Copyright © 2016 Brynn Saito. Used with permission of the author.
More than a hundred dollars of them.
It was pure folly. I had to find more glass things to stuff them
Now a white and purple cloud is breathing in each corner
of the room I love. Now a mass of flowers spills down my
each fresh-faced, extending its delicately veined leaves
into the crush. Didn’t I watch
children shuffle strictly in line, cradle
candles that dribbled hot white on their fingers,
chanting Latin—just to fashion Sevilla’s Easter? Wasn’t I sad?
Didn’t I use to
go mucking through streambeds with the skunk cabbage raising
bursting violet spears? —Look, the afternoon dies
as night begins in the heart of the lilies and smokes up
their fluted throats until it fills the room
and my lights have to be not switched on.
And in close darkness the aroma grows so sweet,
so strong, that it could slice me open. It does.
I know I’m not the only one whose life is a conditional clause
hanging from something to do with spring and one tall room
and the tremble of my phone.
I’m not the only one that love makes feel like a dozen
flapping bedsheets being ripped to prayer flags by the wind.
When I stand in full sun I feel I have been falling headfirst for
God, I am so transparent.
Copyright © 2016 Noah Warren. Used with permission of the author.
After it ended badly it got so much better
which took a while of course but still
he grew so tender & I so grateful
which maybe tells you something about how it was
I’m trying to tell you I know you
have staggered wept spiraled through a long room
banging your head against it holding crushed
bird skulls in your hands your many hearts unstrung
unable to play a note their wood still beautiful
& carved so elaborately maybe a collector would want them
stupid collectors always preserving & never breaking open
the jars so everyone starves while admiring the view
you don’t own anyone everything will be taken from you
go ahead & eat this poem please it will help
Copyright © 2016 by Kim Addonizio. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 11, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
Dusk fell every night. Things
fall. Why should I
have been surprised.
Before it was possible
to imagine my life
without it, the winds
arrived, shattering air
and pulling the tree
so far back its roots,
ninety years, ripped
and sprung. I think
as it fell it became
unknowable. Every day
of my life now I cannot
understand. The force
of dual winds lifting
ninety years of stillness
as if it were nothing,
as if it hadn’t held every
crow and fog, emptying
night from its branches.
The needles fell. The pinecones
dropped every hour
on my porch, a constant
irritation. It is enough
that we crave objects,
that we are always
looking for a way
out of pain. What is beyond
task and future sits right
before us, endlessly
worthy. I have planted
a linden, with its delicate
clean angles, on a plot
one tenth the size. Some change
is too great.
Somewhere there is a field,
white and quiet, where a tree
like this one stands,
made entirely of
hovering. Nothing will
hold me up like that again.
Copyright © 2016 by Joanna Klink. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 14, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
To me, fair friend, you never can be old,
For as you were when first your eye I ey’d,
Such seems your beauty still. Three winters cold,
Have from the forests shook three summers’ pride,
Three beauteous springs to yellow autumn turn’d,
In process of the seasons have I seen,
Three April perfumes in three hot Junes burn’d,
Since first I saw you fresh, which yet are green.
Ah! yet doth beauty like a dial-hand,
Steal from his figure, and no pace perceiv’d;
So your sweet hue, which methinks still doth stand,
Hath motion, and mine eye may be deceiv’d:
For fear of which, hear this thou age unbred:
Ere you were born was beauty’s summer dead.
This poem is in the public domain.
A little bit of hammering
goes a long way toward making
the kind of noise I want my heart
to look up to—or have you ever
gone into a woods and applauded the light
that fights its way to the ground,
and the shadows, and the explosions
of feathers where blue jays
have been ripped into the bright
and hungry future of hawks—
and there’s this—writing an etude
by pushing pianos off a cliff
until one of them howls or whispers
just so—like a vagrant
slipping into a clean bed
or a man lifting a dying child
toward the sun and begging help,
rescue—if my eyes could speak,
they’d be mouths—the tongues
of my fingers ask to be words
against your skin—and when I
was a librarian, I lost my job
for exhorting patrons to sing
“Bye Bye Miss American Pie”—
it's not what we do here, I was told—
yet I know this is a world
made by volcanoes, and don’t want
to keep this awareness of kaboom
to myself—so have picked up
my zither and begun walking
and strumming like an idiot
who thinks music is all
a body needs to feed itself—
and though I haven’t eaten
in years, I have been fed.
Copyright © 2016 by Bob Hicok. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 28, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”
This poem is in the public domain.
Mice drink the rainwater before dying by
the poison we set in the cupboard for them.
They come for the birdseed, and winter
is so grey here the sight of a single cardinal
can keep us warm for days. We’ll justify
anything—and by we, I mean I, and by
I, I mean we, with our man-is-the-only-
animal-who and our manifest destiny, killers
each of us by greater or lesser degrees.
Instead of a gun or knife in my pocket
there are two notes. Unwhich the//
dandelion, reads one. I don’t know what
it means but cannot throw it away;
it is soft as cashmere. The other says:
coffee, chocolate, birdseed. I should be
extinct by now, except I can’t make it
on to that list either. Like toothpicks
made of plain wood, some things are
increasingly hard to find. Even when he was
a young drunk going deaf from target practice,
my father preferred picking his teeth
to brushing them. My mother preferred
crying. They bought or rented places
on streets named Castle, Ring, Greystone—
as if we were heroes in a Celtic epic.
Our romanticism was earned, and leaned
toward the gothic, but lichen aimed
for names on gravestones far
lovelier than our own. It seemed to last
a long time, that long time ago, finches
pixelating the hurricane fences,
cars idling exhaust, dandelions bolting
from flower to weed to delicacy,
like me. Egyptians prepared their dead
for a difficult journey; living is more
—I was going to say, more difficult,
but more alone will do, imprudent—
unlike art—always falling below or rising
above the Aristotelian mean. In France,
a common rural road sign reads:
Animal Prudence. Purely cautionary,
it has nothing to do with Aristotle,
but offers sound advice nonetheless.
These days, I caution my father more
than he ever cautioned me. He hears
his aural hallucinations better and shows
greater interest: sportscasters at ballgames,
revelers at the parties he insists on.
He’s got all his own teeth, so toothpicks
must do the job. His pockets fill with them.
There are always half a dozen rattling
like desert bones in my dryer. I think
of the mason who chiseled his face
in the cathedral wall; he couldn’t write
his name. The yellow bouquets I’d offer
my mother by the fistful also got their name
in France: dent de lion, meaning teeth of the lion.
Copyright © 2016 by Kathy Fagan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 23, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
seems like a good way to say
I spent all last week feeling helpless
and talking about it in terms of not being
Why can’t compassion change our lives
even half so completely as a suicide bomber,
or half so immediately as a natural disaster
Big ideas get me nowhere, so
the fact that breaking spring feels better
than cracking up is at least a start
toward a walk through Washington Park,
its trees in pink blossom, its white-yellow-purple
Tomorrow I will talk about Frankenstein
in bed and then I will talk about it with people
who are sleeping I will say that it’s a book
about artistic responsibility I will
say it’s alive It’s alive And some number
of eyes will stare back at me without believing
any of it matters, or without believing
it matters for them And what can I say
to convince them I have only my love
to recommend it beyond what it already is
My suspect credibility upon the rockets
of birds, the soft parts of people, the oceans’
inevitable, cyclical weeping Who has time
for poetry has more time than they deserve
Copyright © 2016 by Matt Hart. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 24, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
Somewhere between what it feels like, to be at
one with the sea, and to understand the sea as
mere context for the boat whose engine refuses
finally to turn over: yeah, I know the place—
stumbled into it myself, once; twice, almost. All
around and in between the two trees that
grow there, tree of compassion and—much taller—
tree of pity, its bark more bronze, the snow
settled as if an openness of any kind meant, as well,
a woundedness that, by filling it, the snow
might heal…You know what I think? I think if we’re
lost, you should know exactly where, by now; I’ve
watched you stare long and hard enough at the map
already…I’m beginning to think I may never
not be undecided, about all sorts of things: whether
snow really does resemble the broken laughter
of the long-abandoned when what left comes back
big-time; whether gratitude’s just a haunted
space like any other. This place sounds daily
more like a theater of war, each time I listen to it—
loss, surprise, victory, being only three of the countless
fates, if you want to call them that, that we don’t
so much live with, it seems, as live for now among. If as
close as we’re ever likely to get, you and I, is this—this close—
Copyright © 2016 by Carl Phillips. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 19, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
The light here on earth keeps us plenty busy: a fire
in central Pennsylvania still burns bright since 1962.
Whole squads of tiny squid blaze up the coast of Japan
before sunrise. Of course you didn’t show when we went
searching for you, but we found other lights: firefly,
strawberry moon, a tiny catch of it in each other’s teeth.
Someone who saw you said they laid down
in the middle of the road and took you all in,
and I’m guessing you’re used to that—people falling
over themselves to catch a glimpse of you
and your weird mint-glow shushing itself over the lake.
Aurora, I’d rather stay indoors with him—even if it meant
a rickety hotel and its wood paneling, golf carpeting
in the bathrooms, and grainy soapcakes. Instead
of waiting until just the right hour of the shortest
blue-night of the year when you finally felt moved
enough to collide your gas particles with sun particles—
I’d rather share sunrise with him and loon call
over the lake with him, the slap of shoreline threaded
through screen windows with him. My heart
slams in my chest, against my shirt—it’s a kind
of kindling you’d never be able to light on your own.
Copyright © 2016 by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 1, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
The eye chews the apple,
sends the brain
an image of the un-apple. Which is similar
to the way I throw my voice
like a Frisbee, like salt
over a shoulder, a birthday party
where someone’s brother
is grilling hot dogs, a little speed
in his blood,
some red balloons. The eye
is the most deceptive
organ in the body.
Followed closely by the hand,
which refuses to accept
that touch comes down
to the repulsion of electrons,
so that when I hold
the hand of the person I love,
mostly I am pushing
him away. Which has something to do
with the striking resemblance
between a bag
of individually wrapped candies
and the human heart.
The sticky glass
of their shattering. How love
can crack like a tooth
kissing a sidewalk,
the way right now someone’s car leapfrogs
a sidewalk, her body
making love to the windshield
the windshield. And still the fireflies glow
with their particular sorrow.
The police tape
separating the mind from everything
that is not the mind
proves imaginary. My eyes
find the face
of the person I love
and pull out their fork and knife.
Copyright © 2016 by Ruth Madievsky. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 23, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.