I made this self all by myself
I drove this nail into the wall myself
I stained the wood’s grain I planed the wood myself
I wrote the book on the shelf I made myself
The very fact is the face of the made thing
A fact is that it’s hard to see the face from within the thing
I want to say the face is a thinking thing
But the fact is that a face only thinks it is a thinking thing
A spine on a book and legs on a chair
And legs on a table and arms on a chair
A vase’s neck a cup’s lip a water-ring on a chair’s
Arm made by a body all disappeared whose weight pressed itself down into a—
Who can know and also not know what he knows?—
A feeling called music but music only a word he used to know
And empty rings and bracelets and scattered beads all forms of knowing
Absence as the finger fills the shape by which it’s known
What I am inside of I cannot see that I cannot see
I cannot see inside myself to see
Memory and song or even a bone is a faith that says “Do not see”
Or a tree that holds its blossoms’ husks all winter long is what I cannot see
Not one object exists in this song
Not even the singer as he sings this song
It’s bad advice to tell those without a face to sing and never stop singing
The voice inside the mask but it’s the mask that sings
An anger song a war song a love song all must be pursued to become real
In ardor must be pursued to become real
There was a bird in the deep wood’s all gloom that sang as if real
But only when the poet shouted away did the bird become real
It sounds like a joke, but I told my face to go away
A child might know to close his eyes so that his face goes away
But the inside of the face is this darkness from which one can’t run away
Nor does running help that much when you want to run away
It helps to be less than beautiful it helps to have on the lips a livid scar
Demonstrating heaven is a form of accuracy legible only in a scar
And angels differ from monsters only in the capacity of monsters to bear scars
But an angel can cut through your body with its body and leave no scar
I bring up angels only to distract myself from the starless dome
The bankrupt planetarium’s silent projector beneath the blank dome
But I sit in the folding chair anyway looking up at the dome
On which the fake stars never appear and the heroes vacate their theater’s ancient dome
This poem is just another song not meant for hearing
The first cause spins the furthermost globe with its thumb all calloused from eternity’s hearing
And I drum my thumb against the wood too quiet for anyone’s hearing
Even my own I simply feel a pressure that replaces hearing
I want a teacher
There’s an emptiness around which I must gather objects but no one will teach
Me what objects those should be no one will teach
Me what is the made thing but a fact no else’s face can teach
What work must be done I want to say some words about a face any face
Mine which seems to be an action a face
Should do words should come out of a face
But these words all come out by hand and this face is the hand’s accident
This face in which the lion starves because the swallow starves, an accidental
Sympathy or rhythm that prolongs the moment of contemplation into an accident
The mind cannot avoid its own dispersal into accident
And that accident is my face, see: on a doorstep, a crumb;
See: the crease of the dog-eared page; see: a broken string;
See: snake’s skin, bookmark, and this broken cocoon;
See: this shaken pollen’s blush still mars this blank page;
See: the curve of the deer’s tender haunch, and the plastic hoop
Through which the child blows her incandescent bubble;
See: the ruined stairs, the spokeless banister, the railing
Screwed into the empty wall; See: sea foam and those curtains
Of pine dust blown yellow into the sea; See: this slender stalk
And the chaff fallen from the winnowed germ, and the seed all blown away,
That placed above my body holds my body down
Copyright © 2015 by Dan Beachy-Quick. “Portrait (After Arcimboldo)” originally appeared in gentlessness (Tupelo Press, 2015). Reprinted with permission from the author.
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.
We like the houses here.
We circle the lake turning
into dark cleavages, dense-packed gleamings.
We could live here, we say.
We’re smiling, but thinking
of the houses at the last resort:
The real estate agent looked surprised
when she saw Bruce’s face; then flipped
quickly through the glossy pictures—
I’m sure you won’t like this one;
I can tell it’s not your kind.
Our house in Essex Fells
took a year to sell and sold
to a black family. A friend explained,
once a house is owned
by black people, they’re the only ones
they’ll show it to. Do we want to live
some place with a view
overlooking the politics?
When we pass
an exit named “Negro Mountain,”
Bruce smiles and jerks the wheel
as if we almost missed our turn.
Why must everything we want
come by stealth? Why is every road
in this bright country furnished
with its history of hatred? Yet
we keep smiling, driven
by a desire beyond the logic
of if we can afford it,
and whether we would love
or hate it if we did buy.
Copyright © 2017 by Toi Derricotte. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 4, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Am I allowed to disrespect the form. Am I allowed to instead proclaim that he’s raped me. That it just happened. And that I was small and formidable, a fruit or something else taking in from the sun and expanding. Am I allowed to say that I didn’t write it for you. Am I allowed to say that I’ve fucked four women and three men and owed nothing in the aftermath. Am I allowed to say that I didn’t do it for him or because of him, or to heal, or to mitigate the universe’s monopoly on wellness – but to be an organ in post survival, a dim sound existing retroactively, a full circle sold.
“In what way is the instinctive connected with the compulsion to repetition?”*
Breasts, is that all you got?
Blck, is that all you got?
I am happening in public & cannot bear the trope of it
I am taking it off.
to make blck
Copyright © 2015 by Camonghne Felix. Used with permission of the author.
Such is the story made of stubbornness and a little air—
a story signed by those who danced wordless before God.
Who whirled and leapt. Giving voice to consonants that rise
with no protection but each other’s ears.
We are on our bellies in this quiet, Lord.
Let us wash our faces in the wind and forget the strict shapes of affection.
Let the pregnant woman hold something of clay in her hand.
She believes in God, yes, but also in the mothers
of her country who take off their shoes
and walk. Their footsteps erase our syntax.
Let her man kneel on the roof, clearing his throat
(for the secret of patience is his wife’s patience).
He who loves roofs, tonight and tonight, making love to her and to her forgetting,
let them borrow the light from the blind.
There will be evidence, there will be evidence.
While helicopters bomb the streets, whatever they will open, will open.
What is silence? Something of the sky in us.
From Deaf Republic. Copyright © 2019 by Ilya Kaminsky. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Graywolf Press.
Like a little lady rattling her bell
Calling for tea
Quivering in the old style
There’s a red light in Boston
At the close of day
Like the red light of idiocy
All along the bricks
Of Harvard Yard & a blue
Sky so hard & irradiated
In the way of old cinema
Reflect the pops & black
As though it were something
As if to say please
No extra charge
Visualize now the idea of your blind spot
I will even do it for you
As the physical reel unspools
& unspools & you blink
In a dark
Room narrow with shadows
Narrow shadows like avant-gardes
It was a dream that woke up
It really is something
A sick feeling
Like stopping lying
A dangerous feeling
Like giving up trying to live as though you were otherwise
As though my mouth could water along the split
Waistlines of all the apricot colored squashes
As though the real pumpkins, horns
Of plenty at my hearth
& in my wealth, my death
Were visibly grinning
Thru the rosebud lip of womanhood
Behind which all the women
I really am (they claim)
Hide behind my face & do their flips
Behind my teeth
In the red darkness there
In my potions
In my chemicals
In the mouth I never use
In my poisonous mouth
Copyright © 2015 by Ariana Reines. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 30, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
to talk to violets.
Tears fall into my soup
and I drink them.
Sooner or later
everyone donates something.
I carry wood, stone, and
hay in my head.
The eyes of the violets
grow very wide.
At the end of the day
I reglue the broken foot
of the china shepherd
who has put up with me.
Next door, in the house
of the clock-repairer,
a hundred clocks tick
at once. He and his wife
go about their business
sleeping peacefully at night.
Copyright © 2018 by Mary Ruefle. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 31, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
they work their fingers
to the soul their bones
to their marrow
they toil in blankness
inside the dead yellow
rectangle of warehouse
windows work fingers
to knots of fires
the young the ancients
the boneless the broken
the warehouse does too
to the bone of the good
bones of the building
every splinter spoken for
she works to the centrifuge
of time the calendar a thorn
into the sole dollar of working
without pause work their mortal
coils into frayed threads until
just tatter they worked their bones
to the soul until there was no
soul left to send worked until
they were dead gone
to heaven or back home
for the dream to have USA
without USA to export
USA to the parts under
the leather sole of the boss
they work in dreams of working
under less than ideal conditions
instead of just not ideal
conditions work for the
shrinking pension and never
dental for the illusion
of the doctor medicating them
for work-related disease
until they die leaving no empire
only more dreams that their babies
should work less who instead
work more for less
so they continue to work
for them and their kin
they workballoon payment
in the form of a heart attack
if only that’ll be me someday
the hopeless worker said on
the thirteenth of never
hollering into the canyon
of perpetual time
four bankruptcies later
three-fifths into a life
that she had planned
on expecting happiness
in any form it took
excluding the knock-off
cubed life she lived in debt
working to the millionth
of the cent her body cost
the machine’s owner
Yolanda Berta Zoila
Chavela Lucia Esperanza
Naya Carmela Celia Rocio
once worked here
their work disappearing
into dream-emptied pockets
into the landfill of work
the work to make their bodies
into love for our own
Copyright © 2019 by Carmen Giménez Smith. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 1, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
A black-chinned hummingbird lands
on a metal wire and rests for five seconds;
for five seconds, a pianist lowers his head
and rests his hands on the keys;
a man bathes where irrigation water
forms a pool before it drains into the river;
a mechanic untwists a plug, and engine oil
drains into a bucket; for five seconds,
I smell peppermint through an open window,
recall where a wild leaf grazed your skin;
here touch comes before sight; holding you,
I recall, across a canal, the sounds of men
laying cuttlefish on ice at first light;
before first light, physical contact,
our hearts beating, patter of female rain
on the roof; as the hummingbird
whirrs out of sight, the gears of a clock
mesh at varying speeds; we hear
a series of ostinato notes and are not tied
to our bodies’ weight on earth.
Copyright © 2019 by Arthur Sze. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 16, 2019, 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.