Lord, let my ears go secret agent, each
a microphone so hot it picks up things
silent, reverbing even the hum of stone
close to its eager, silver grill. Let my ears forget
years trained to human chatter
wired into every room, even those empty
except of me, each broadcast and jingle
tricking me into being less
lonely than I am. Let my ears forget
the clack and rumble, our tambourining and fireworking
distractions, our roar of applause. Let my hands quit
their clapping and rest in a new kind of prayer, one
that doesn’t ask but listens, palms up in my lap.
Like an owl, let me triangulate icy shuffling under snow as
vole, let me not just name the name
when I spot a soundtrack of birdsong
but understand the notes through each syrinx
as a singular missive—begging, flirting, fussing, each
companion call and alarm as sharp with desire and fear
as my own. Prick my ears, Lord. Make them hungry
satellites, have your way with their tiny bones,
teach the drum within that dark to drum
again. Because within the hammering of woodpecker
is a long tongue unwinding like a tape measure from inside
his pileated head, darting dinner from the pine’s soft bark.
And somewhere I know is a spider who births
a filament of silk and flies it to the next branch; somewhere,
a fiddlehead unstrings its violin into the miracle of
fern. And somewhere, a mink not made into a coat
cracks open a mussel’s shell, and with her mouth full
of that gray meat, yawns. Those are your sounds, are they not?
Do not deny it, Lord, do not deny
me. I do not know those songs. Nor do I know the hush
a dandelion’s face makes when it closes, surrenders, then goes
to seed. No, I only know the sound my own breath makes
as I wish and blow that perfect globe away;
I only know the small, satisfactory
popping of roots when I call it weed and yank it
from the yard. There is a language of all
you’ve created. Hear me, please. I just want to be
still enough to hear. Right here, Lord:
I want to be. 

Copyright © 2019 by Nickole Brown. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 24, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

More than anything, I need this boy
so close to my ears, his questions

electric as honeybees in an acreage
of goldenrod and aster. And time where

we are, slow sugar in the veins
of white pine, rubbery mushrooms

cloistered at their feet. His tawny
listening at the water’s edge, shy

antlers in pooling green light, while
we consider fox prints etched in clay.

I need little black boys to be able to be
little black boys, whole salt water galaxies

in cotton and loudness—not fixed
in stunned suspension, episodes on hot

asphalt, waiting in the dazzling absence
of apology. I need this kid to stay mighty

and coltish, thundering alongside
other black kids, their wrestle and whoop,

the brightness of it—I need for the world
to bear it. And until it will, may the trees

kneel closer, while we sit in mineral hush,
together. May the boy whose dark eyes

are an echo of my father’s dark eyes,
and his father’s dark eyes, reach

with cupped hands into the braided
current. The boy, restless and lanky, the boy

for whom each moment endlessly opens,
for the attention he invests in the beetle’s

lacquered armor, each furrowed seed
or heartbeat, the boy who once told me

the world gives you second chances, the boy
tugging my arm, saying look, saying now.

Copyright © 2019 by Nicole Terez Dutton. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 25, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Spring in Hell and everything’s blooming.

I dreamt the worst was over but it wasn’t.

Suppose my punishment was fields of lilies sharper than razors, cutting up fields of lies.

Suppose my punishment was purity, mined and blanched.

They shunned me only because I knew I was stunning.

Then the white plague came, and their pleas were like a river.

Summer was orgiastic healing, snails snaking around wrists.

In heat, garbage festooned the sidewalks.

Old men leered at bodies they couldn’t touch

until they did. I shouldn’t have laughed but I laughed

at their flesh dozing into their spines, their bones crunching like snow.

Once I was swollen and snowblind with grief, left for dead

at the castle door. Then I robbed the castle and kissed my captor,

my sadness, learned she was not a villain. To wake up in this verdant field,

to watch the lilies flay the lambs. To enter paradise,

a woman drinks a vial of amnesia. Found in only the palest

flowers, the ones that smell like rotten meat. To summon the stinky

flower and access its truest aroma, you have to let its stigma show.

You have to let the pollen sting your eyes until you close them.

 

Copyright © 2019 by Sally Wen Mao. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 31, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

We did not say much to each other but
we grinned,
            because this love was so good you sucked the
rib bones

and I licked my fingers like a cat.
Now I’m
            omniscient. I’m going to skip past
the hard

parts that go on for a very long time. Here’s the
future:
            I laugh, because the pleasure was earned
yet vouchsafed,

and I made room for what was dead past and what
yet didn’t
            exist. I was not always kind, but I
was clear.

Copyright © 2019 by Sandra Lim. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 12, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

I cannot consider scent without you, I cannot
think that color so gay, so Japanese, so vernal 
without you; not assassination or any death in any spring. I think of you
and I am man-and-woman, flawed as a Lincoln,
welcoming as a window-box, and so tenderly alliterative as to draw one near—
at times, perhaps, to withdraw from all—yes,
without you I am without pulse in that dooryard, that blooming unfurling

so tell me finally, is last as in the last time or to make something last
—to hold, to hold you, to memorize fast—

Copyright © 2019 by Kimiko Hahn. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 12, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

When my daughter whines I tell her to say what you want in a nice voice.

My nice voice is reserved for meetings with a view, my palm outstretched saying here. Are our problems. Legacies rolling out like multicolored marbles. Don’t focus so much on the ‘doom and gloom’ they keep saying. We don’t want to depress. Everyone. This is only our survival. We rely heavily on foreign aid I am instructed to say. I am instructed to point out the need for funds to build islands, move families from weto after weto, my mouth a shovel to spade the concrete with but I am just pointing out neediness. So needy. These small. Underdeveloped countries. I feel myself shrinking in the back of the taxi when a diplomat compliments me. How brave for admitting it so openly. The allure of global negotiations dulls. Like the back of a worn spoon.

I lose myself easily in a kemem. Kemem defined as feast. As celebration. A baby’s breath endures their first year so we pack hundreds of close bodies under tents, lined up for plates I pass to my cousin, assembly line style. Our gloved hands pluck out barbeque chicken, fried fish, scoop potato salad, dew-like droplets of bōb and mā. Someone yells for another container of jajimi. The speaker warbles a keyboarded song. A child inevitably cries. Mine dances in the middle of the party. A pair elbow each other to rip hanging beach balls from their strings. The MC shouts Boke ajiri ne nejim jen maan. The children are obstructing our view. Someone wheels a grandma onto the dance floor. The dances begin here

is a nice
celebration
of survival.

Copyright © 2020 by Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 14, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

When my daughter whines I tell her to say what you want in a nice voice.

My nice voice is reserved for meetings with a view, my palm outstretched saying here. Are our problems. Legacies rolling out like multicolored marbles. Don’t focus so much on the ‘doom and gloom’ they keep saying. We don’t want to depress. Everyone. This is only our survival. We rely heavily on foreign aid I am instructed to say. I am instructed to point out the need for funds to build islands, move families from weto after weto, my mouth a shovel to spade the concrete with but I am just pointing out neediness. So needy. These small. Underdeveloped countries. I feel myself shrinking in the back of the taxi when a diplomat compliments me. How brave for admitting it so openly. The allure of global negotiations dulls. Like the back of a worn spoon.

I lose myself easily in a kemem. Kemem defined as feast. As celebration. A baby’s breath endures their first year so we pack hundreds of close bodies under tents, lined up for plates I pass to my cousin, assembly line style. Our gloved hands pluck out barbeque chicken, fried fish, scoop potato salad, dew-like droplets of bōb and mā. Someone yells for another container of jajimi. The speaker warbles a keyboarded song. A child inevitably cries. Mine dances in the middle of the party. A pair elbow each other to rip hanging beach balls from their strings. The MC shouts Boke ajiri ne nejim jen maan. The children are obstructing our view. Someone wheels a grandma onto the dance floor. The dances begin here

is a nice
celebration
of survival.

Copyright © 2020 by Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 14, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Childless, I am in a house on the ocean-edge
of a national park. Nights, I consider broadcast horrors. This is not
my house. I am a stranger, a newcomer. So often, too,

is the horror. Passes time. Passes time. Past time lights
up my liturgical tendencies, illumines past time, my lovelies.
Here, in this room, in this house, the light is sometimey as always.

Clouds. Wind and all. Pronounced through windows onto woods, onto lawns.
Say “Light casts its tender hieroglyphs on the mundane
and cataclysmic equally,” and fancify a nothing, go straight

for an inaccuracy that distracts and passes time.

And light comes before the hieroglyph, and (as marker)
these hieroglyphs give meager insight into the “nature” of light beyond
some minor perceptions. And what? Shall I ride the alliterative waves

of articulation and silence that fog my mouth and mind? Or just let
the words like particles roll? See where and what this accrual of syllables gets us?
It’s midday, and you are both years before the you to whom this poem

whispers, before the women with whom these syllables conspire. Lullaby, loves,
this ain’t. I have become a woman who screams softly. Maybe an over-abundance
of caution? Of caustic care? Well, I’ve seen the clips and memes, heard the murmurs

and corporate decisions meant to mark-up and mock the nature of you that’s well beyond
easy perception. In past times,

I’ve been medicated out of my self, locked under
an atmospheric feeling, the condition of which would not relent, which could will “will not”

to relent. Wheels of wheeling won’t re-
lent. Absolve your self sunken between
Breath breath breathe                and the toxic dirt.

Copyright © 2019 by Tonya M. Foster. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 3, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

A prison is the only place that’s a prison.
Maybe your brain is a beehive—or, better:
an ants nest? A spin class?
The sand stuck in an hourglass? Your brain is like
stop it. So you practice driving with your knees,
you get all the way out to the complex of Little League fields,
you get chicken fingers with four kinds of mustard—
spicy, whole grain, Dijon, yellow—
you walk from field to field, you watch yourself
play every position, you circle each identical game,
each predictable outcome. On one field you catch.
On one field you pitch. You are center field. You are left.
Sometimes you have steady hands and French braids.
Sometimes you slide too hard into second on purpose.
It feels as good to get the bloody knee as it does to kick yourself in the shin.
You wait for the bottom of the ninth to lay your blanket out in the sun.
Admit it, Sasha, the sun helps. Today,
the red team hits the home run. Red floods every field.
A wasp lands on your thigh. You know this feeling.

Copyright © 2020 by Sasha Debevec-McKenney. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 26, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

Is that Eric Garner worked
for some time for the Parks and Rec.
Horticultural Department, which means,
perhaps, that with his very large hands,
perhaps, in all likelihood,
he put gently into the earth
some plants which, most likely,
some of them, in all likelihood,
continue to grow, continue
to do what such plants do, like house
and feed small and necessary creatures,
like being pleasant to touch and smell,
like converting sunlight
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe.

Copyright © 2015 by Ross Gay. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.

for Dominique

I know this

 

from looking

                          into store fronts

 

                          taste buds voguing

alight from the way

 

treasure glows

                          when I imagine
 

                          pressing its opulence

into your hand

 

I want to buy you

                          a cobalt velvet couch

 

                          all your haters’ teeth

strung up like pearls

 

a cannabis vineyard

                          and plane tickets

 

                          to every island

on earth

 

but my pockets

                          are filled with

 

                          lint and love alone

touch these inanimate gods

 

to my eyelids

                          when you kiss me

 

                          linen leather

gator skin silk

 

satin lace onyx

                          marble gold ferns

 

                          leopard crystal

sandalwood mink

 

pearl stiletto

                          matte nails and plush

 

                          lips glossed

in my 90s baby saliva

 

pour the glitter

                          over my bare skin

 

                          I want a lavish life

us in the crook

 

of a hammock

                          incensed by romance

 

                          the bowerbird will

forgo rest and meals

 

so he may prim

                          and anticipate amenity

 

                          for his singing lover

call me a gaunt bird

 

a keeper of altars

                          shrines to the tactile

 

                          how they shine for you

fold your wings

 

around my shoulders

                          promise me that

 

                          should I drown

in want-made waste

 

the dress I sink in

                          will be exquisite

From Hull (Nightboat Books, 2019). Copyright © 2019 Xan Phillips. Used with permission of Nightboat Books, nightboat.org.

I beg for invisible fire.

Every night I pray to love,
please invent yourself.

I imagine a place after this place
and I laugh quietly to no one
as the hair on my chin
weeds through old makeup.

When I go to sleep
I am vinegar inside clouded glass.
The world comes to an end
when I wake up and wonder
who will be next to me.

Police sirens and coyote howls
blend together in morning’s net.
Once, I walked out past the cars
and stood on a natural rock formation
that seemed placed there to be stood on.
I felt something like kinship.
It was the first time.

Once, I believed god
was a blanket of energy
stretched out around
our most vulnerable
places,

when really,

she’s the sound
of a promise
breaking

Copyright © 2020 by Joshua Jennifer Espinoza. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 14, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.