Bring me your pain, love. Spread 
it out like fine rugs, silk sashes, 
warm eggs, cinnamon
and cloves in burlap sacks. Show me

the detail, the intricate embroidery 
on the collar, tiny shell buttons, 
the hem stitched the way you were taught,
pricking just a thread, almost invisible.

Unclasp it like jewels, the gold 
still hot from your body. Empty 
your basket of figs. Spill your wine.

That hard nugget of pain, I would suck it, 
cradling it on my tongue like the slick 
seed of pomegranate. I would lift it

tenderly, as a great animal might 
carry a small one in the private 
cave of the mouth.

Reprinted from Mules of Love by Ellen Bass, with the permission of BOA Editions, Ltd. Copyright © 2002 by Ellen Bass. All rights reserved.

I had the passion 
but not the stamina
nor the discipline, 
no one knew how
to discipline me so 
they just let me be,

Let me play along,
let me think I was
somebody, I could
be somebody, even
without the no-how.

Never cared one bit 
when my bow didn’t
match the rest of the 
orchestra, I could get 
their notes right but 
always a little beyond,

sawing my bow across
the strings, cuttin it up
even if I wasn’t valuable
even if I lacked respect
for rules of European
thought and composure.

A crescendo of trying
to be somebody,
a decrescendo of trying 
to belong, I played along
o yes, I play along. 

 

Copyright © 2020 by Nikki Wallschlaeger. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 28, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Oh enemy, oh friend, you are
closer than my ear. I dream 
night after night of your face,
larger in the shadows than my own
as we circle one another, two planets
caught in a pas de deux.
For years we have studied one another,
imagining how to strike,
yet in truth, we have not 
come closer than a thought,
flaring our fins like fighting fish,
beautiful in our fury. What if
we break these glass walls? Will we
at last come face to face with ourselves,
hands hanging weaponless at our sides,
armed only with our voices, our human voices?

Honorable mention in Wick Poetry Center's 2020 Peace Poem contest. © Robbi Nester. Published by the Academy of American Poets on January 28, 2020.  

Like when, seventeen, I’d slide into your Beetle and you’d head
out of town, summer daylight, and parked among the furrows
of some field, you’d reach for the wool blanket. I knew you’d
maneuver then into the cramped quarters between passenger seat
and glove box, blanket over your head and my lap, where you’d
sweat and sweat until I cried out. Or further back, first winter
of our courtship, nearing curfew, when we’d “watched” Predator again
from the Braden’s lovers’ row, you’d slow to a halt at the last stop sign
before my house. I knew we’d linger under the streetlamp’s acid glow,
and you’d ask if I had to go home. Yes, I’d say, I better, soon—but I
knew you wouldn’t hit the gas, not for the longest time, three minutes,
five, and snow falling and the silent streets carless, I’d lift my top,
you’d unzip my jeans and treat the expanse of soft skin between shirt hem
and underwear like sex itself, your worshipful mouth, my whole body lit
from within and without. Or even further back, how I knew by the first
electric touch of our fingers in that dark theater, like a secret handshake—
I know you, I need you, like an exchange of life force between two
aliens from planets never before joined across the cold, airless terror
of space, that it was on, that it was on and on and on, forever.

Copyright © 2020 by Melissa Crowe. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 21, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Yesterday, at Shepherd and Gray, the parking lot was
filled with birds, black birds, actually grackles. It was a grackle
lot; instead of a bumper on a car, there were ten grackles, instead
of a sunroof, fifty grackles sat high, their bodies shimmers
under cheap strip mall lights as shoppers delayed their spending
to pull out phones and take shots, such spectators we were,
like that summer in July, when I was left again
to wonder who was the child and who the adult,
that Sunday evening that hung in the air like bug spray
when my father, the one who fed me and gave me his last name,
stood two stories on our family porch, every neighbor,
in all manner of dress, drawn from their homes, in the street watching.
Let me tell you how he spread his arms wide, like the man
he was before Vietnam, or before the schizophrenia.
Let me tell you how a child learns the alphabet by counting,
how she learns only 2 letters separate the words hero and heroin,
how he stood high on the ledge of a porch the child never much
liked because there was a crack in its wooden center as if the world
was waiting to open its jaws to swallow her body whole.
Let me tell you how that July evening didn’t hold death,
but instead was the preface to death. The point being he jumped.
Some will say there are worse songs to sing, others might believe it
a tragedy, but who are we to question the Gods when a man
unconcerned with the inconvenience of his presence shows up
in a parking lot winged as an army of himself? Eventually, lights
went dark in the shops and each watcher retraced their steps back home
to find their families, to rejoice over food, to laugh and settle the night;
and the birds, steadfast they stood, not quite ready for flight—

Copyright © 2020 by Niki Herd. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 20, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

How many times the blood rush of truck, bus & subway
     has passed below my window.
How often this body, meant to bend & breed—squat like
     my mother’s, her mother’s & hers—has
paced instead, inside its head, gazing skyward for a noun or phrase to
     shatter the glass of our locked cars & save us,
original cloud
     that might break over all:

raccoon washing its hands like a surgeon in the birdbath,
girl at the drive-through deciding only 42 percent of humanity
     sucks, the rest of them hungry or high,
their wheels aglow like daisies, their wounds debrided, unbridled . . .

Jesus, Mary & Joseph, I have blamed you for everything—
     the decades broken like your rosaries, our few family belongings
missing, glued or taped . . .

     Back home, the air
is scented with Japanese lilac & catalpa’s orchid blooms—
     all of us colonized, colonizing:
your body made to carry mine
     dismantled, finally,
     in flame, to this,
of which I am but remnant, a speck
fished from a tear duct with your tongue.

Whose easy laugh is that I’m hearing now?
Whose loneliness, unbroken, goes rolling in the blood?

Copyright © 2018 Kathy Fagan. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Winter 2018. Used with permission of the authors.

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.

I thought I could stop
time by taking apart
the clock. Minute hand. Hour hand.

Nothing can keep. Nothing
is kept. Only kept track of. I felt

passing seconds
accumulate like dead calves
in a thunderstorm

of the mind no longer a mind
but a page torn
from the dictionary with the definition of self

effaced. I couldn’t face it: the world moving

on as if nothing happened.
Everyone I knew got up. Got dressed.
Went to work. Went home.

There were parties. Ecstasy.
Hennessy. Dancing
around each other. Bluntness. Blunts

rolled to keep
thought after thought
from roiling

like wind across water—
coercing shapelessness into shape.

I put on my best face.
I was glamour. I was grammar.

Yet my best couldn’t best my beast.

I, too, had been taken apart.
I didn’t want to be
fixed. I wanted everything dismantled and useless

like me. Case. Wheel. Hands. Dial. Face.

Copyright © 2020 by Paul Tran. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 9, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

The universe breathed through my mouth
when I read the first chapter of patience.
I held the book away from my body
when the illustrations became life-like:

the kite flew over the grass, a child tumbled
down a hill and landed at the mouth of neon waters.
The fox curled into itself under the tree
and an eagle parted the sky like the last curtains.

I found myself wandering the forest, revising
the stories as I worked the heavens.
I lived inside the candied house
and hung the doors with sweetness.

I devoured the windows and I was greedy.
With all this sugar, I still felt trapped.
I sought to change the moral
so I filled my baskets daily with strawberry,

thorn, and vine, piled my home
with pastries and the charge of regret.
I placed those regrets inside the oven
and watched the pie rise. I wanted

everything in the pie and yearned
all the discarded ingredients.
I kept myself in the kitchen for years.
Everything up in smoke and yet my apron

was pristine, my hair done just right.
You can say it was perfection, a vision
from the past, waving a whisk through a bowl
as if it were a pitchfork. When I left the house

made of confection, that’s when I began to live,
for everything I gave up was in that house.
I remember you there. Your fingerprints vaguely
visible in the layer of flour on the table.

Copyright © 2020 Tina Chang. This poem was co-commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and the New York Philharmonic as part of the Project 19 initiative.

Perhaps I hold people to impossible ideals, 
I tell them, something is wrong with your 
personality, (you're a drinker, you're 
too dependent, or I think you have 
a mother/son fixation). This is usually 
followed by passionate lovemaking,
one good long and very well meaning 
embrace, and then I'm out the door.  

In daylight, I'll tip my sunglasses forward, 
buy a cup of tea and think of the good 
I've done for the world, how satisfying 
it feels to give a man something to contemplate. 
The heart is a whittled twig. No, that is not 
the right image, so I drop the heart in a pile 
of wood and light that massive text on fire.    

I walk the streets of Brooklyn looking 
at this storefront and that, buy a pair of shoes 
I can't afford, pumps from London, pointed 
at the tip and heartbreakingly high, hear 
my new heels clicking, crushing the legs 
of my shadow. The woman who wears 
these shoes will be a warrior, will not think 
about how wrong she is, how her calculations 
look like the face of a clock with hands 
ticking with each terrorizing minute. 

She will for an instant feel so much 
for the man, she left him lying in his bed 
softly weeping. He whispers something 
to himself  like bitch, witch, cold hearted 
______,  but he'll think back to the day 
at the promenade when there was no one there 
but the two of them, the entire city falling away 
into a thin film of yellow and then black, 

and how she squeezed his hand, kissed him 
on his wrist which bore a beautifully healed 
scar, he will love her between instances 
of cursing her name. She will have long 
fallen asleep in her own bed, a thin nude 
with shoes like stilts, shoes squeezing 
the blood out of her feet, and in her sleep 
she rises above a disappearing city, her head 
touching a remote heaven, though below her, 
closer to the ground, she feels an ache at the bottom.

Copyright © 2007 by Tina Chang. Appears courtesy of the author.

Evening, and all my ghosts come back to me
like red banty hens to catalpa limbs
and chicken-wired hutches, clucking, clucking,
and falling, at last, into their head-under-wing sleep.

I think about the field of grass I lay in once,
between Omaha and Lincoln. It was summer, I think.
The air smelled green, and wands of windy green, a-sway,
a-sway, swayed over me. I lay on green sod
like a prairie snake letting the sun warm me.

What does a girl think about alone
in a field of grass, beneath a sky as bright
as an Easter dress, beneath a green wind?

Maybe I have not shaken the grass.
All is vanity.

Maybe I never rose from that green field.
All is vanity.

Maybe I did no more than swallow deep, deep breaths
and spill them out into story: all is vanity.

Maybe I listened to the wind sighing and shivered,
spinning, awhirl amidst the bluestem
and green lashes: O my beloved! O my beloved!

I lay in a field of grass once, and then went on.
Even the hollow my body made is gone.

From Even the Hollow My Body Made Is Gone by Janice N Harrington. Copyright © 2007 by Janice N. Harrington. Used by permission of BOA Editions, Ltd.

He sat cross-legged, weeping on the steps
when Mom unlocked and opened the front door.
     O God, he said, O God.
           He wants to kill me, Mom.

When Mom unlocked and opened the front door
at 3 a.m., she was in her nightgown, Dad was asleep.
     He wants to kill me, he told her,
           looking over his shoulder.

3 a.m. and in her nightgown, Dad asleep,
What's going on? she asked, Who wants to kill you?
     He looked over his shoulder.
           The devil does. Look at him, over there.

She asked, What are you on? Who wants to kill you?
The sky wasn't black or blue but the green of a dying night.
     The devil, look at him, over there.
           He pointed to the corner house.

The sky wasn't black or blue but the dying green of night.
Stars had closed their eyes or sheathed their knives.
     My brother pointed to the corner house.
           His lips flickered with sores.

Stars had closed their eyes or sheathed their knives.
O God, I can see the tail, he said, O God, look.
     Mom winced at the sores on his lips.
           It's sticking out from behind the house.

O God, see the tail, he said, Look at the goddamned tail.
He sat cross-legged, weeping on the front steps.
     Mom finally saw it, a hellish vision, my brother.
           O God, O God, she said.

From When My Brother Was An Aztec by Natalie Diaz. Copyright © 2012 by Natalie Diaz. Reprinted with permission of Copper Canyon Press. All rights reserved.

For his birthday, I gave Stanley a hyacinth bean,
an annual, so he wouldn't have to wait for the flowers.

He said, Mark, I have just the place for it!
as if he'd spent ninety-eight years

anticipating the arrival of this particular vine.

I thought poetry a brace against time,
the hours held up for study in a voice's cool saline,

but his allegiance is not to permanent forms.
His garden's all furious change,

budding and rot and then the coming up again;

why prefer any single part of the round?
I don't know that he'd change a word of it;

I think he could be forever pleased
to participate in motion. Something opens.

He writes it down. Heaven steadies
and concentrates near the lavender. He's already there.

Copyright © 2005 Mark Doty.

Late August morning I go out to cut
spent and faded hydrangeas—washed
greens, russets, troubled little auras

of sky as if these were the very silks
of Versailles, mottled by rain and ruin
then half-restored, after all this time…

When I come back with my handful
I realize I’ve accidentally locked the door,
and can’t get back into the house.

The dining room window’s easiest;
crawl through beauty bush and spirea,
push aside some errant maples, take down

the wood-framed screen, hoist myself up.
But how, exactly, to clamber across the sill
and the radiator down to the tile?

I try bending one leg in, but I don’t fold
readily; I push myself up so that my waist
rests against the sill, and lean forward,

place my hands on the floor and begin to slide
down into the room, which makes me think
this was what it was like to be born:

awkward, too big for the passageway…
Negotiate, submit?
                           When I give myself
to gravity there I am, inside, no harm,

the dazzling splotchy flowerheads
scattered around me on the floor.
Will leaving the world be the same

—uncertainty as to how to proceed,
some discomfort, and suddenly you’re
—where? I am so involved with this idea

I forget to unlock the door,
so when I go to fetch the mail, I’m locked out
again. Am I at home in this house,

would I prefer to be out here,
where I could be almost anyone?
This time it’s simpler: the window-frame,

the radiator, my descent. Born twice
in one day!
                In their silvered jug,
these bruise-blessed flowers:

how hard I had to work to bring them
into this room. When I say spent,
I don’t mean they have no further coin.

If there are lives to come, I think
they might be a littler easier than this one.

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Doty. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on April 23, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

A month at least before the bloom
and already five bare-limbed cherries
by the highway ringed in a haze
of incipient fire
                      —middle of the afternoon,
a faint pink-bronze glow. Some things
wear their becoming:
                                the night we walked,
nearly strangers, from a fevered party
to the corner where you’d left your motorcycle,
afraid some rough wind might knock it to the curb,
you stood on the other side
of the upright machine, other side
of what would be us, and tilted your head
toward me over the wet leather seat
while you strapped your helmet on,
engineer boots firm on the black pavement.

Did we guess we’d taken the party’s fire with us,
somewhere behind us that dim apartment
cooling around its core like a stone?
Can you know, when you’re not even a bud
but a possibility poised at some brink?

Of course we couldn’t see ourselves,
though love’s the template and rehearsal
of all being, something coming to happen
where nothing was…
                                    But just now
I thought of a troubled corona of new color,
visible echo, and wondered if anyone
driving in the departing gust and spatter
on Seventh Avenue might have seen
the cloud breathed out around us
as if we were a pair
of—could it be?—soon-to-flower trees.

Copyright @ 2014 by Mark Doty. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on June 2, 2014.

When I come home they rush to me, the flies, & would take me, they would take me in their small arms if I were smaller, so fly this way, that way in joy, they welcome me. They kiss my face one two, they say, Come in, come in. Sit at this table. Sit. They hold one hand inside the other & say, Eat. They share the food, sit close to me, sit. As I chew they touch my hair, they touch their hands to my crumbs, joining me. The rim of my cup on which they perch. The milky lake above which. They ask for a story: How does it begin? Before, I was a child, & so on. My story goes on too long. I only want to look into their faces. The old one sits still, I sit with it, but the others busy themselves now with work & after the hour which maybe to them is a week, a month, I sleep in the room between the open window & the kitchen, dreaming though I were the Sierra, though I were their long lost sister, they understand that when I wake I will have to go. One helps me with my coat, another rides my shoulder to the train. Come with me, come, I say. No, no, it says, & waits with me there the rest whistling, touching my hair, though maybe these are its last seconds on earth in the light in the air is this love, though it is little, my errand, & for so little I left my house again.

Copyright © 2020 by Aracelis Girmay. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 2, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

I saw then the white-eyed man
leaning in to see if I was ready

yet to go where he has been waiting
to take me. I saw then the gnawing

sounds my faith has been making
and I saw too that the shape it sings

in is the color of cast-iron mountains
I drove so long to find I forgot I had

been looking for them, for the you
I once knew and the you that was born

waiting for me to find you. I have been
twisting and turning across these lifetimes

where forgetting me is what you do
so you don’t have to look at yourself. I saw

that I would drown in a creek carved out
of a field our incarnations forged the first path

through to those mountains. I invited you to stroll
with me there again for the first time, to pause

and sprawl in the grass while I read to you
the poem you hadn’t known you’d been waiting

to hear. I read until you finally slept
and all your jagged syntaxes softened into rest.

You’re always driving so far from me towards
the me I worry, without you, is eternity. I lay there,

awake, keeping watch while you snored.
I waited, as I always seem to, for you

to wake up and come back to me.

Copyright © 2016 by Tarfia Faizullah. Originally appeared in Poetry (September 2016). Used with permission of the author. 

I have this, and this isn’t a mouth
           full of the names of odd flowers

I’ve grown in secret.
           I know none of these by name

but have this garden now,
           and pastel somethings bloom

near the others and others.
           I have this trowel, these overalls,

this ridiculous hat now.
           This isn’t a lung full of air.

Not a fist full of weeds that rise
           yellow then white then windswept.

This is little more than a way
           to kneel and fill gloves with sweat,

so that the trowel in my hand
           will have something to push against,

rather, something to push
           against that it knows will bend

and give and return as sprout
           and petal and sepal and bloom.

Copyright © 2016 Jamaal May. Used with permission of the author. 

      John 20: 11–18

In this marrow season,
trunks tarnished, paused,

I am garden. Am before.
Asleep. Then the changes:

placental, myrrhed. Wet hem
when you appeared.

What did your body ever have
to do with me? In my astonished mouth,

enskulled jawbone guessed,
though as yet I didn’t know you.

You sprung. You now intransitive,
tense with heaven.

Gardener, which of us said do not touch.
Which one of us was undressed?

From Orexia. Copyright © 2017 by Lisa Russ Spaar. Reprinted with the permission of Persea Books, Inc. (New York), www.perseabooks.com.

When the boys are carnivals
we gather round them in the dark room
& they make their noise while drums
ricochet against their bodies & thin air
below the white ceiling hung up like a moon
& it is California, the desert. I am driving in a car,
clapping my hands for the beautiful windmills,
one of whom is my brother, spinning,
on a hillside in the garage
with other boys he'll grow old with, throw back.
How they throw back their bodies
on the cardboard floor, then spring-to, flying
like the heads of hammers hitting strings
inside of a piano.
                                  Again, again.
This is how they fall & get back up. One
who was thrown out by his father. One
who carries death with him like a balloon
tied to his wrist. One whose heart will break.
One whose grandmother will forget his name.
One whose eye will close. One who stood
beside his mother's body in a green hospital. One.
Kick up against the air to touch the earth.
See him fall, then get back up.
Then get back up.

Copyright © 2015 by Aracelis Girmay. From The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop (Haymarket Books, 2015). Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.

The beauty of one sister
who loved them so
she smuggled the woodlice
into her pockets & then into
the house, after a day’s work
of digging in the yard,
& after the older ones of us
had fed her & washed,
she carried them into
the bed with her, to mother
them, so that they would have
two blankets & be warm, for
this is what she knew of love,
& the beloveds emerged one
by one from their defenses, unfolding
themselves across the bed’s white sheet
like they did over 400 years ago, carried
from that other moonlight,
accidentally, or by children, into
the ship’s dark hold, slowly
adapting to the new rooms
of cloths, then fields, & we,
the elders to that sister,
we, having seen strangers
in our house before, we, being
older, being more ugly & afraid,
we began, then, to teach her the lessons
of dirt & fear.

Copyright © 2015 by Aracelis Girmay. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 28, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

Stopped biting my nails when we started sheltering  
and the next week they scratched my daughter  
when I held her. Seldom had I ever seen nails intact  
on my troubled fingers, but now I persevered to grow  
abundant enough to touch any other person.  
We ate and uttered grace, my own thanks diminished  
by sincerity. Thank you for not being dead! 
Seven o’clock. The sunset breathes pink as a gill. 
We plead applause out open windows desperate  
to once more belong to we. Pandemic, pan demos, means all people,  
but our clapping sounds dumb cause it’s not.  
I wonder if the virus is only envoi, a final sickness following  
the first: that burst of capital scouring the earth for returns. 
How gluttonous money flies as half alive as any virus!  
Superstructural germ, does the wage like you borrow the body’s life 
until investment finally sunders people extra, mere clippings? 
The corona seems only the sun’s thin halo,  
a white keratin rim, and now they say crisis comes  
when people consume too little, so when my nails grow back 
I chew them hope hungry, cannibal of my hands,  
fearing each hangnail a door for the contaminant.  
Does such solipsism tell you I’ve suffered  
only paper cuts? It seems that being New Yorkers means  
we share only one thing. We each hear the red wound wailing  
in the air, soaking the siren red. The siren burns,  
the siren spins, but now a different return from that of ambulances  
and profits. Now spring strikes. Now the workers walk out  
of warehouses. A judge orders ten migrants unthawed  
from ice. Is something turning for the people  
called surplus? Dread of anticipation before no future.  
Stop biting your nails, says my mother  
on Skype. She tells me to save the bearded roots  
of leeks. If you plant them, new shoots  
regenerate from the trimmings.  

Copyright © 2020 by Ken Chen. Originally published with the Shelter in Poems initiative on poets.org. 

tonight I'm cleaning baby portobellos
for you, my young activist

wiping the dirty tops with a damp cloth
as carefully as I used to rinse raspberries

for you to adorn your fingertips
before eating each blood-red prize

these days you rarely look me in the eye
& your long shagged hair hides your smile

I don’t expect you to remember or
understand the many ways I’ve kept you

alive or the life my love for you
has made me live

Copyright © 2017 by Rachel Zucker. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 23, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

I am not lyric any more
I will not play the harp
for your pleasure

I will not make a joyful
noise to you, neither
will I lament

for I know you drink 
lamentation, too,
like wine

so I dully repeat
you hurt me
I hate you

I pull my eyes away from the hills
I will not kill for you
I will never love you again

unless you ask me 

Copyright © 2001 by Alicia Suskin Ostriker. Reprinted by permission of University of Pittsburgh Press. All rights reserved.

I watched you walking up out of that hole

All day it had been raining
in that field in Southern Italy

rain beating down making puddles in the mud
hissing down on rocks from a sky enraged

I waited and was patient
finally you emerged and were immediately soaked

you stared at me without love in your large eyes
that were filled with black sex and white powder

but this is what I expected when I embraced you
Your firm little breasts against my amplitude

Get in the car I said
and then it was spring

From The Book of Seventy. Copyright © 2009 by Alicia Ostriker. Used with permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

At the columbarium dug
by hand, a man points to where rock
doves would be brought to nest, their eggs

tended by priests, and the cave locked
at sundown, guarded by hired
knives. The flock meant meat for the dry

times; saltpeter; yolks needed to bind
portraits to walls, to raise a sky
gilded with violets and myrrh.

Tonight, my mother paints her nails
black—a shade she names, “Dark Matter.”
She numbers what’s left of her cells,

tells us of this burning inside
her knees, laughs a promise to fight.

Copyright © 2016 R. A. Villanueva. Used with permission of the author.

Not vinegar. Not acid. Not
sugarcane pressed to mortar by
fist, but salt: salt, the home taste; salt,
the tide; salt, the blood. Not Holy

Ghost, but a saint of coral come
to life in the night crossing a
field of brambles and thorns, the camps
of pirates beat back to the bay

with hornets. Not Santo Niño.
And not a belt of storms, but this:
girls singing, an avocado
in each open palm, courting doves;

a moth drawn to the light of our
room you take to be your father.
 

Copyright © 2014 by R. A. Villanueva. Used with permission of the author.

           For X.


From the shallows our son watches me play 
dead. He sits on river rocks chucking sand, 
burying strawberries while I float down-
stream, breath wound bright in the gut, a body

both here and of other waters. The day
he was born, midwives touched your face, your hands, 
tested nerve and pulse, dripped saline along
your thigh, numbered blades—their ceremony

for the first cuts, before swaddling blankets,
fever syrups, bath time and mud. These are 
places the boy is ticklish: lunette

of the earlobe        kneecaps       madrigal fat 
of his belly       collarbone       toes. These words
he knows, but will not say: yes       horse       sleep       white.


* 

Again the boy cries himself hoarse
as we sing through these hours right 

before dawn. First the alphabet,
then “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” 

then “The Great Pretender.” Our words
like foxes, like milk teeth. We can’t

hold him quiet. His body must,
they say, learn now about hunger,

about being alone. So we
hum and shhh into the yellow

bruise of Sunday, melodies the 
shape of bluets and yearlings, blood 

pudding and this worry, this awe 
we have no name for— 

*

When he asks, make no mention of those names 
we saved for the children we lost—his ghost 
siblings, their phantom initials. Of tests 

and lemongrass, nettle leaf and sharps, forms 
in triplicate, clinics painted with lambs, 
comets, maps to nerve meridians, hearts: 

say nothing. Never speak of that quiet
after the kicking stopped. Believe in time
he’ll learn our cells betray each miracle
and wild conundrum they’re coded to bear.

           If he needs an answer, give him morning 
mass off  W. 16th: how aisle and chancel 
roared with lilies and cornets; how we dared 
a new unknown to find us, there, in song.

Copyright © 2018 by R. A. Villanueva. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 30, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

When the pickup truck, with its side mirror,
almost took out my arm, the driver’s grin

reflected back; it was just a horror

show that was never going to happen,
don’t protest, don’t bother with the police

for my benefit, he gave me a smile—

he too was startled, redness in his face—
when I thought I was going, a short while,

to get myself killed: it wasn’t anger

when he bared his teeth, as if to caution
calm down, all good, no one died, ni[ght, neighbor]—

no sense getting all pissed, the commotion

of the past is the past; I was so dim,
he never saw me—of course, I saw him.

Copyright © 2020 by Tommye Blount. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 19, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets. 

I know it will be quiet when you come:
No wind; the water breathing steadily;
A light like ghost of silver on the sea;
And the surf dreamily fingering his drum.
Twilight will drift in large and leave me numb
With nearness to the last tranquility;
And then the slow and languorous tyranny
Of orange moon, pale night, and cricket hum.

And suddenly there will be twist of tide,
A rustling as of thin silk on the sand,
The tremor of a presence at my side,
The tremble of a hand upon my hand:
And pulses sharp with pain, and fires fanned,
And words that stumble into stars and hide.

This poem is in the public domain.

I am hovering over this rug
with a hair dryer on high in my hand
I have finally, inevitably, spilled
red wine on this impractically white
housewarming hand-me-down from my cousin, who
clearly, and incorrectly, thought this was a good idea

With the help of a little panic,
sparkling water and a washcloth,
I am stunned by how quickly the wine washes out,
how I was sure this mistake would find me
every day with its gaping mouth, reminding me
of my own propensity for failure
and yet, here I am
with this clean slate

The rug is made of fur,
which means it died
to be here

It reminds me of my own survival
and everyone who has taught me
to shake loose the shadow of death

I think of inheritance, how this rug
was passed on to me through blood,
how this animal gave its blood
so that I may receive the gift of its death
and be grateful for it

I think of our inability
to control stories of origin
how history does not wash away
with water and a good scrub 

I think of evolution,
what it means to make it through
this world with your skin intact,
how flesh is fragile
but makes a needle and thread
of itself when necessary

I think of all that I have inherited,
all the bodies buried for me to be here
and stay here, how I was born with grief
and gratitude in my bones

And I think of legacy,
how I come from a long line of sorcerers
who make good work of building
joy from absolutely nothing

And what can I do with that
but pour another glass,
thank the stars
for this sorceress blood
and keep pressing forward

Copyright © 2020 by L. Ash Williams. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 30, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Here, poem meets prayer.
We are exceedingly comfortable
with posturing and self-defense
that masquerade as apology.
But what’s needed in this moment
is unmixed confession
of our nation’s sin,
deep and indefensible.
“Now I lay me down to sleep”
must make way for
something more muscular:
sack cloth and ashes,
prayer and fasting,
naked prostration.
Daniel understood
radical repentance begins
with this unvarnished profession:
You are righteous,
and we are not.
Please heal our nation.
Cleanse our stubborn hearts.
Show each of us what part to play.
Broken as Judah and Jerusalem,
we cry and come bending our will
toward the good
you dream for us still,
no matter our sin,
no matter what skin
we’re in.

Copyright © 2020 by Nikki Grimes. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 7, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Rusty chains coiled in the cardboard box
           I carry to the dumpster & all I am

Thinking is my face is falling off & is yours
           Under it & or is someone’s I don’t

Even know—further down, a stranger,
           A deadman, a saint, or just a sprawl

Of gravel & then I’m thinking this other thing—
           There’s a snake in this box, blacktailed

& then more: there’s a bottomless immensity
           Beneath my feet & what a sacrifice

It is each day just to get by, this alchemy,
           This fevered life: illness & love,

Lockjaw & slow motion kidnappings—it is what
           It always is—chronic dying, shivering with

Unbelievable joy & not knowing a damn thing
           About anything as lightning

Jigsaws the horizon. At the garbage pile, I pause—
           Take a deep breath & sit on the curb.

Like they’re being sucked into the sky,
           The trees’ limbs lift. No cars on

The street—so quiet. So hushed I can
           Hardly breathe. Thousands of lives

Are piled into all this dirt we walk
           On & I’m waiting, saving it all for you.

Copyright © 2014 Alex Lemon. “I Knew You Before You Were” originally appeared in The Wish Book (Milkweed Editions, 2014). Reprinted with permission of the author.

 

I scare away rabbits stripping the strawberries
in the garden, ripened ovaries reddening 
their mouths. You take down the hanging basket 
and show it to our son—a nest, secret as a heart, 
throbbing between flowers. Look, but don’t touch, 
you instruct our son who has already begun 
to reach for the black globes of a new bird’s eyes, 
wanting to touch the world. To know it. 
Disappointed, you say: Common house finch, 
as if even banal miracles aren’t still pink 
and blind and heaving with life. When the cat 
your ex-wife gave you died, I was grateful. 
I’d never seen a man grieve like that 
for an animal. I held you like a victory, 
embarrassed and relieved that this was how 
you loved. To the bone of you. To the meat. 
And we want the stricken pleasure of intimacy,
so we risk it. We do. Every day we take down 
the basket and prove it to our son. Just look
at its rawness, its tenderness, it’s almost flying.
 

Copyright © 2017 by Traci Brimhall. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 26, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

How many sat underwater,
entangled by myth’s past tense,
before Neptune first raised his
beard in the direction of Ethiopia,
and after, Odysseus—
always living—
was saved by Homer’s tablet?
Centuries after that story was written,
in the land of Not Make Believe,
a crew of slave-ship sailors
threw one hundred and thirty-two
Africans into the Atlantic Ocean.
Heave-ho to souls.
And people. And laws. And kin.
But Odysseus lives. He always will,
Our Great White Hope—
before whiteness was invented—
this hero who longs for the wood’s sway.
Despite his tendency to chase tail—
sirens and sundry other
poppycock-drinking girls—
I want to be happy that Homer imagined
a sea housing pretty, forgiving Nymphs—
while somewhere else, a wheel dances
and someone else drowns.
Sharks should pass Odysseus by,
never imagining his taste.
The gods shouldn’t pull at his fate—
now angry, now benevolent.
I try hard not to blame that man:
We all deserve our Maker’s love.

Copyright © 2020 Honorée Fanonne Jeffers. From The Age of Phillis (Wesleyan University Press, 2020). Used with permission of the author.

I thought it was the neighbor’s cat back
to clean the clock of the fledgling robins low
in their nest stuck in the dense hedge by the house
but what came was much stranger, a liquidity
moving all muscle and bristle. A groundhog
slippery and waddle thieving my tomatoes still
green in the morning’s shade. I watched her
munch and stand on her haunches taking such
pleasure in the watery bites. Why am I not allowed
delight? A stranger writes to request my thoughts
on suffering. Barbed wire pulled out of the mouth,
as if demanding that I kneel to the trap of coiled
spikes used in warfare and fencing. Instead,
I watch the groundhog closer and a sound escapes
me, a small spasm of joy I did not imagine
when I woke. She is a funny creature and earnest,
and she is doing what she can to survive.

Copyright © 2020 by Ada Limón. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 16, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

I had a body and it was good

until you gave it meaning.

Meaning ruined pleasure

and created it

so ruin creates

and pleasure’s meaning

I didn’t ask for just lived through

a gate that shrieked each time

it opened and on the street

we passed one another

flicking our eyes at then away from

the bodies made boring

by the small clamors that drown out

the one large clamor.

Something in the tree is arguing with the tree?

No that’s just the tree.

“Tautology” Copyright © 2018 by Ari Banias. Originally published in BathHouse Journal. Used with the permission of the poet.

Quietly now a mouse in the garden
that has come to mourn with me
or bite at every insect twisting
in this heat as you lie close & uncaring
in the army of the common housefly.
Let it be known that in death
you harrowed in love & in so doing
traded your ears for blackened ones,
your crown the shade of a new moon.
Let this spell be known as the fortune
of a missing tortoise, brutal limbs
& wounds of multiples. Then, to soften
alongside the watermelon rinds
on this blighted day, your body
presently absent including the mouse
I have startled into darkness. Who will
help me love the castor bean tree now?
Which of these plants will speak for you?

Ignore me while I weave between rows,
swatting at the light I have chased into
the corner of your makeshift shed still full
of your fortune, the abundant secret
of mouse droppings. Meanwhile, stay
dressed—help me be decent. Come away
from dreams, far from streets—quick,
arise in one piece! There is shade.
Even the sun could not spoil you.
 

Copyright © 2017 by Khaty Xiong. Used with permission of the author.

Let us, instead, consider the pockets 
Martin Rodriguez sewed onto the insides 
of his jacket and pants. 
                                      This was 5th grade.
This isn’t about the fact that he got caught 
jacking a bunch of shit from Market Spot. 
All of us wished we’d thought of it first. 
                                                                 We need 
to stay focused on those extra pockets. How 
big those caverns must have been—that fortune 
of whispered temptation. 
                                           Boy-genius, we said. 
Pockets for bags of apple-rings, beef jerky. A Pepsi 
2-liter. Crunch bars. Cans of Cactus Cooler, 
maybe. The lonely monster of desire bent us 
away from boyhood, made it something small 
that we wanted to toss rocks at. 
                                                    Rolls of Oreos 
in those pockets. Enough Doublemint gum 
to anchor friends on a green recess field. A few
sheets of temporary tattoos to offer in class 
while Mrs. Hawkins continued her lesson 
on the Gold Rush. 
                               I can see those pockets 
pomegranate when pulled apart: a bloom 
of endings across the Market Spot parking lot 
as he tried to run. Bomb Pop ice cream bars, 
or the cartoon kind with gumballs for eyes, 
oozing out. 
                   Look, I am talking about collapse. 
As always. The rest of the poem wants to go 
like this: I don’t know what happened 
to Martin Rodriguez. He never came back
to school. But the truth is he returned to class 
the next day. 
                     We stood in a circle, laughing 
about what he took until the day Manny 
got caught smoking weed. Then we talked 
about that until someone’s cousin got shot 
after school by the computer lab. We played 
Oregon Trail on Thursdays. None of us 
could ever cross the river. I kept dying 
of snake bite. 
                       We got older and painted walls 
for different crews. We became enemies, me 
and Martin, drawing exes over each other. We 
turned into no one, and then, 
                                                finally, we became 
fathers. I saw him, years later, with his son. 
We crossed each other on the street. Both of us 
nodded and kept on moving toward the sidewalk. 
So many years collapsing into each other, 
I thought. 
                  Someone has changed the sign 
in front of the store. But if I say Market Spot
today, the homie points to where we watched 
the cashier jump the counter and snatch Martin 
into the air, splicing it with sugar. The sharp kick 
of a boy’s legs. A body jolted into enough quiet 
that police were called. Officers with notepads, 
                the cashier waving flies away from his face.

Copyright © 2020 by Michael Torres. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 16, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Man looking into the sea,
taking the view from those who have as much right to it as you have to yourself,
it is human nature to stand in the middle of a thing,
but you cannot stand in the middle of this;
the sea has nothing to give but a well excavated grave.
The firs stand in a procession, each with an emerald turkey-foot at the top,
reserved as their contours, saying nothing;
repression, however, is not the most obvious characteristic of the sea;
the sea is a collector, quick to return a rapacious look.
There are others besides you who have worn that look—
whose expression is no longer a protest; the fish no longer investigate them
for their bones have not lasted:
men lower nets, unconscious of the fact that they are desecrating a grave,
and row quickly away—the blades of the oars
moving together like the feet of water-spiders as if there were no such thing as death.
The wrinkles progress among themselves in a phalanx—beautiful under networks of foam,
and fade breathlessly while the sea rustles in and out of the seaweed;
the birds swim through the air at top speed, emitting cat-calls as heretofore—
the tortoise-shell scourges about the feet of the cliffs, in motion beneath them;
and the ocean, under the pulsation of lighthouses and noise of bellbuoys,
advances as usual, looking as if it were not that ocean in which dropped things are bound to sink—
in which if they turn and twist, it is neither with volition nor consciousness.

From The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore. Copyright © 1981 by Marianne Craig Moore. Reprinted with permission of Marianne Craig Moore. All rights reserved.