translated from the Spanish by Urayoán Noel
Walking is a process in ruins,
a dead history.
You inhabit the ruin and you find
a coin here and there rolling on the ground.
Men without eyes are threshing away time
in Santurce’s surviving businesses.
It makes you want to cry
or sneak into the yards and pluck the fruits
of so many inhabitable houses
with boarded-up windows and doors.
The city is full of homeless people.
The city is full of poor immigrants dreaming of the United States.
Perhaps leaving and coming back makes you a foreigner.
There’s so much you don’t know about Puerto Rico now.
You begin discovering it by walking.
De Barrio Obrero a La Quince
Caminar es un proceso en ruinas,
Habitas la ruina y encuentras
una que otra moneda rodando por el piso.
Hombres sin ojos desgranan tiempo
en los negocios que sobreviven en Santurce.
Da ganas de llorar
o de meterse al patio y arrancarle frutas
a tanta casa habitable
con las puertas y ventanas clausuradas.
La ciudad llena de personas sin hogar.
La ciudad llena de inmigrantes pobres que sueñan con Estados Unidos.
Irse y volver acaso te vuelve un extranjero.
Desconoces ahora tanto a Puerto Rico.
Caminando se empieza a descubrirlo.
Copyright © 2020 by Nicole Cecilia Delgado and Urayoán Noel. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 17, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
for Paul Otremba
Six in all, to be exact. I know it was a Tuesday
or Wednesday because the museum closes early
on those days. I almost wrote something
about the light being late—; the “late light”
is what I almost said, and you know how we
poets go on and on about the light and
the wind and the dark, but that day the dark was still
far away swimming in the Pacific, and we had
45 minutes to find Goya’s “Still Life with Bream”
before the doors closed. I’ve now forgotten
three times the word Golden in the title of that painting
—and I wish I could ask what you think
that means. I see that color most often
these days when the cold, wet light of morning
soaks my son’s curls and his already light
brown hair takes on the flash of fish fins
in moonlight. I read somewhere
that Goya never titled this painting,
or the other eleven still lifes, so it’s just
as well because I like the Spanish title better.
“Doradas” is simple, doesn’t point
out the obvious. Lately, I’ve been saying
dorado so often in the song I sing
to my son, “O sol, sol, dorado sol
no te escondes...” I felt lost
that day in the museum, but you knew
where we were going having been there
so many times. The canvas was so small
at 17 x 24 inches. I stood before it
lost in its beach of green sand and
that silver surf cut with pink.
I stared while you circled the room
like a curious cat. I took a step back,
and then with your hands in your pockets
you said, No matter where we stand,
there’s always one fish staring at us.
As a new father, I am now that pyramid
of fish; my body is all eyes and eyes.
Some of them watch for you in the west
where the lion sun yawns and shakes off
its sleep before it purrs, and hungry,
dives deep in the deep of the deep.
Copyright © 2020 by Tomás Q. Morín. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 18, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
Mayagüez, Puerto Rico 1856
I. The First Horse
Cholera swarmed unseen through the water, lurking in wells and fountains,
squirming in garbage and excrement, infinitesimal worms drilling the intestines,
till all the water and salt would pour from the body, till the body became a worm,
shriveling and writhing, a slug in salt, till the skin burned blue as flame, the skin
of the peasant and the skin of the slave gone blue, the skin in the slave barracks blue,
the skin of ten thousand slaves blue. The Blue Death, face hidden in a bandanna,
dug graves with the gravediggers, who fell into holes they shoveled for the dead.
The doctors died too, seeing the signs in the mirror, the hand with the razor shaking.
II. The Second Horse
Doctor Betances stepped off the boat, back from Paris, the humidity of the plague
glistening in his beard. He saw the stepmother who fed him sink into a mound
of dirt, her body empty as the husk of a locust in drought.He toweled off his hands.
In the quarantine tents there was laudanum by the bitter spoonful, the lemonade
and broth; in the dim of the kerosene lamps there was the compress cool against
the forehead, the elixir of the bark from the cinchona tree. For peasants and slaves
moaning to their gods, the doctor prescribed chilled champagne to soothe the belly.
For the commander of the Spanish garrison, there was silence bitter as the spoon.
III. The Third Horse
At every hacienda, at every plantation, as the bodies of slaves rolled one by one
into ditches all hipbones and ribs, drained of water and salt, stripped of names,
Doctor Betances commanded the torch for the barracks where the bodies would
tangle together, stacked up as if they never left the ship that sailed from Africa,
kept awake by the ravenous worms of the plague feasting upon them. Watching
the blue flames blacken the wood, the doctor and the slaves saw another plague
burning away, the plague of manacles scraping the skin from hands that cut
the cane, the plague of the collar with four spikes for the runaways brought back.
IV. The Fourth Horse
The pestilence of the masters, stirred by spoons into the coffee of the world,
spread first at the marketplace, at auction, the coins passing from hand to hand.
So Doctor Betances began, at church, with twenty-five pesos in pieces of eight,
pirate coins dropped into the hands of slaves to drop into the hands of masters,
buying their own infants at the baptismal font. The secret society of abolitionists
shoved rowboats full of runaways off the docks in the bluest hour of the blue night,
off to islands without masters. Even the doctor would strangle in the executioner’s
garrote, spittle in his beard, if the soldiers on watch woke up from the opiate of empire.
V. The Fifth Horse
The governor circled his name in the name of empire, so Doctor Betances
sailed away to exile, the island drowning in his sight, but a vision stung
his eyes like salt in the wind: in the world after the plague, no more
plague of manacles; after the pestilence, no more pestilence of masters;
after the cemeteries of cholera, no more collar of spikes or executioners.
In his eye burned the blue of the rebel flag and the rising of his island.
The legend calls him the doctor who exhausted five horses, sleepless
as he chased invisible armies into the night. Listen for the horses.
*To read this poem in its intended format, please click here from your laptop or desktop.
Copyright © 2020 by Martín Espada. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 23, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
translated by Ursula K. Le Guin
When I’m walking, everything
on earth gets up
and stops me and whispers to me,
and what they tell me is their story.
And the people walking
on the road leave me their stories,
I pick them up where they fell
in cocoons of silken thread.
Stories run through my body
or sit purring in my lap.
So many they take my breath away,
buzzing, boiling, humming.
Uncalled they come to me,
and told, they still won’t leave me.
The ones that come down through the trees
weave and unweave themselves,
and knit me up and wind me round
until the sea drives them away.
But the sea that’s always telling stories,
the wearier I am the more it tells me...
The people who cut trees,
the people who break stones,
want stories before they go to sleep.
Women looking for children
who got lost and don’t come home,
women who think they’re alive
and don’t know they’re dead,
every night they ask for stories,
and I return tale for tale.
In the middle of the road, I stand
between rivers that won’t let me go,
and the circle keeps closing
and I’m caught in the wheel.
The riverside people tell me
of the drowned woman sunk in grasses
and her gaze tells her story,
and I graft the tales into my open hands.
To the thumb come stories of animals,
to the index fingers, stories of my dead.
There are so many tales of children
they swarm on my palms like ants.
When my arms held
the one I had, the stories
all ran as a blood-gift
in my arms, all through the night.
Now, turned to the East,
I’m giving them away because I forget them.
Old folks want them to be lies.
Children want them to be true.
All of them want to hear my own story,
which, on my living tongue, is dead.
I’m seeking someone who remembers it
leaf by leaf, thread by thread.
I lend her my breath, I give her my legs,
so that hearing it may waken it for me.
Cuando camino se levantan
todas las cosas de la tierra
y me paran y cuchichean
y es su historia lo que cuentan.
Y las gentes que caminan
en la ruta me la dejan
y la recojo caída
en capullos que son de huella.
Historias corren mi cuerpo
o en mi regazo ronronean.
Tantas son que no dan respiro,
zumban, hierven y abejean.
Sin llamada se me vienen
y contadas tampoco dejan…
Las que bajan por los árboles
se trenzan y se destrenzan,
y me tejen y me envuelvan
hasta que el mar los ahuyenta.
Pero el mar que cuenta siempre
más rendida, más me deja...
Los que están mascando bosque
y los que rompen la piedra,
al dormirse quieren historias.
Mujeres que buscan hijos
perdidos que no regresan,
y las que se creen vivas
y no saben que están muertas,
cada noche piden historias,
y yo me rindo cuenta que cuenta.
A medio camino quedo
entre ríos que no me sueltan,
el corro se va cerrando
y me atrapa en la rueda.
Los ribereños me cuentan
la ahogada sumida en hierbas,
y su mirada cuenta su historia,
y yo las tronco en mis palmas abiertas.
Al pulgar llegan las de animales,
al índice las de mis muertos.
Las de niños, de ser tantas
en las palmas me hormiguean.
Cuando tomaba así mis brazos
el que yo tuve, todas ellas
en regalo de sangre corrieron
mis brazos una noche entera.
Ahora yo, vuelta al Oriente,
se las voy dando porque no recuerdo.
Los viejos las quieren mentidas,
los niños las quieren ciertas.
Todos quieren oír la historia mía
que en mi lengua viva está muerta.
Busco alguna que la recuerde
hoja por hoja, herbra por hebra.
Le presto mi aliento, le doy mi marcha
por si el oírla me la despierta.
From Selected Poems of Gabriela Mistral: Translated by Ursula K. Le Guin. Copyright © 2003 Ursula K. Le Guin. Courtesy of University of New Mexico Press. Published in Poem-a-Day on September 27, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
I tap-tap-tap the window, while my mother smiles and mouths,
Tranquila. I tap-tap the glass, my mother a fish I’m trying to summon.
I tap until a border agent says: Stop. Until a border agent
shows me the gun on her belt. My childhood was caught
on video border agents deleted every three months.
I thought myself a movie star blowing kisses at the children
selling chiclets on the bridge. My cruelty from the backseat window
caught on video—proof I am an American. The drug sniffing
dogs snap their teeth at my mother detained for her thick accent,
a warp in her green card. My mother who mouths, Tranquila.
My mother’s fingers dark towers on a screen for the Bioten scan.
Isn’t it fun? says the border agent. The state takes a picture
of my mother’s left ear. Isn’t it fun? I tap-tap-tap the glass
and imagine it shatters into shiny marbles. A marble like the one
I have in my pocket, the one I squeeze so hard I hope to reach
its blue swirls. Blue swirls I wish were water I could bring to my mother
in a glass to be near her. Friends, Americans, countrymen lend me your ears!
But only the border agent replies, Do you know the pledge of allegiance?
She points to a flag pinned on a wall. I do, so I stand and pledge to the country
that says it loves me so much, it loves me so much it wants to take
my mother far away from me. Far away, to the place they keep
all the other mothers to sleep on rubber mats and drink from rubber hoses.
Don’t worry, says the border agent, we will take good care of your mommy.
My mother mouths, Tranquila. Her teeth, two rows of gold I could pawn
for something shiny, something shiny like the border agent’s gun.
Friends, Americans, countrymen lend me your ears, so I can hear
my mother through bulletproof glass, so I can hear her over the roar
of American cars crossing this dead river by the wave of an agent’s pale hand.
Copyright © 2020 by Natalie Scenters-Zapico. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 1, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
I used to dream of living here. I hike
a trail I know that at the end opens
to glorious views of the city I did
live in once, when men my age kept dying
while I learned how to diagnose AIDS.
Some dreams don’t come true, and some dreams become
nightmares. Across a field that smells of sage,
a few horses loiter. I want to think
that they forgive me, since they’re noble creatures.
They stamp and snort, reminding me they know
nothing of forgiveness. I used to dream
that someday I’d escape to San Francisco,
when I was still in high school and I knew.
Tall and muscled, the horses are like the jocks
on the football team who beat me once, as if pain
teaches truth and they knew I had to learn.
I used to dream I was as white as them,
that I could slam my locker closed and not
think of jail. Some nightmares come true,
like when my uncle got arrested for
cocaine. My family never talked about it,
which made me realize they could also feel shame.
That’s when I started dreaming I could be
a doctor someday, that I could get away,
prescribe myself a new life. Right now, as
the city comes into view, I think of those
animals and hope they got what they deserved.
The city stretches out its arms, its two bridges
to Oakland, to Stockton, to San Rafael,
to Vallejo; places I could have been from
but wasn’t. It looks just as it did
all those years ago. Yet I know it’s changed
because so many of us died, like Rico,
who took me up here for the first time.
We kicked a soccer ball around and smoked
a joint. I think we talked about our dreams,
but who can remember dreams. I look out
and the sun like your hand on my face
is warm, and for a moment I think this is
glorious, this is what forgiveness feels like.
Copyright © 2020 by Rafael Campo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 5, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
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
she’s the sound
of a promise
Copyright © 2020 by Joshua Jennifer Espinoza. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 14, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
once, while on a coke binge,
and away from my mother,
my father drove his car
across the sand
and into the pacific ocean.
before he had done that,
he had given away
all of his possessions,
a steak dinner.
he was able
to torture us
with his aristocratic ascetic drama
for years to come.
you can take a pisces
and all it will do
is challenge them
to cry more than the sky;
i say this with admiration.
how would it serve me
to make this up.
like my father,
i sometimes threaten
to succumb to wounds
and don the trappings
disguised as needs.
you may know them:
the sensible shoe;
the classical beauty;
the manicured hand
offered in neoliberal compromise.
i once told konrad
about how i successfully destroy
my attraction to strangers.
i imagine them standing above me,
as i lay prone
before them in their bed,
watching as they try
to get themselves
hard and or wet.
then i imagine
the hovering echo
of their mother,
the amount of humidity
in their bedroom,
if they put music on,
how their underwear
tucks in and around
around this time,
i’ve lost all
interest in them—
“that is so virgo of you,”
konrad said, admiringly.
“that is 1,000 percent virgo.”
virgo could be
my gender, or
it could be
virgo in narrative lust;
virgo in high fantasy;
virgo in unhappy ending.
i don’t know
what i like more:
the desire, or
the agonizing pleasure
i like girls, but
don’t seem to like me;
In That Way, at least.
i love women
i love men,
just as i love
all of g-d’s creatures;
but that doesn’t mean
that i want them,
or to be wanted by them.
hotly spayed virgin
in heat that i am,
i don’t think that
i have a gender,
but i can now
certainly have an orgasm.
on my way
to the slaughterhouse;
i wouldn’t say
that the struggle
masculine and feminine.
that i’m attached to,
i assure you.
i pluck the sinew,
and hold the cup
marked by my lipstick
up to the cloud’s mouth.
i acquire the fear
that i don’t hear
because i don't have
i would say
that the struggle
indecision and not caring.
like all good
poor people and aristocrats,
i know how to have a good time.
why i refuse to
is my own problem.
like all good
leftists of a certain region,
i have never read marx
or the bible.
i know the gossip
to kneel and resist.
i was content enough
to be a corpse eater
among the lotus eaters,
and then a lotus eater
among the petroleuses.
i’m a petroleuse
among the corpse eaters.
Copyright © 2020 by Tatiana Luboviski-Acosta. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 15, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
By the end of the year, I was used to
things I hadn’t seen before,
like a series of street brawls between fa and antifa
that often absurdly tumbled
into the Berkeley all organic full-of-strollers farmer’s market.
Used to hearing about friends’ emails caught up in various FOIAs.
Used to the social media posts about how someone somewhere
was getting a gun and planned to show up where we worked.
I should add that the DMs and the @s were rarely realized.
The gun never arrived.
And if the threat was made good on it was just that moment when
someone called up my boss and she hung up on them, confused.
If there was anything new about this moment
it was that there was no making sense of what was left and
right in the way I had previously understood it,
which was as a convention.
The DMs came in from all different directions.
One day an anonymous white nationalist,
the next a well-known comrade angry in love
and wanting to take it out on someone proximate,
and then perhaps a blog post from someone
who had been perfectly nice when last seen at a poetry reading
but now was very upset about something I had implied.
It was hard to decipher who was hating what on what day.
By the time the state was burning from both ends
and one end was called Paradise,
we didn’t bother with the metaphor.
Instead we just looked out the window, noticed the smoke,
shut the window, stayed indoors, and kept on typing.
Later we joked,
now we know what we will be doing when the world burns.
We will be shutting the windows and catching up on email
I’m concerned about these other things.
Or that is what I thought when they said
they were worried I was losing my relationship to poetry.
It was still summer.
There was a nice breeze.
We had half a day of this beauty before us and we knew it.
We drank a beer that was fresh on the tongue
in a new way. Light. Almost carbonated.
They said they were concerned
about me and my relationship to poetry.
In the afternoon sun, as the breeze blew softly,
I first protested to them not about poetry,
but about poets. Their nationalism, their acquiescence
but also their facebook and twitter accounts.
Their brags and their minor attacks, their politics.
Their prizes and their publications.
Their democratic party affiliations.
So I said to them I’m not concerned
about my relationship to poetry
which regularly felt to me like that moment
when you open your app and there are a bunch
of mentions and you haven’t posted anything a while
and all you can do is say today is so FML and start to work through them.
This is not the same as the oh no way of the Berkeley farmer’s market brawl,
not the state burning and burning again,
but still, how to write an epiphanic possibility in this sociality?
I had written for so long about being together,
about how we were together like it or not.
I had used a metaphor of breath and of space.
I had embraced the epiphanic
not just at the end of the poem, as was the lyric convention,
but sometimes I even made the whole poem epiphanic.
And that I couldn’t do anymore.
Lately there wasn’t any singing that I could hear.
Just attempts. Dark times.
Nothing about this terrible moment was new though.
It has always been a terrible moment.
And there have always been poets too.
And always poets writing the terrible nation into existence.
This is one reason I will never get a tramp stamp that says
poetry is my boyfriend.
I thought for a while there were two sorts of poets.
Poets who write the terrible nation into existence
and poets screwing around doing something else.
For years I was on team poets screwing around doing something else.
For years I had used poetry to slip away,
elude the hold of the family, the coupleform, the policing of tradition,
to pry open time into an endless stretch of possibility.
In that room where we try to pry open possibility.
When I first heard the avant garde
I heard it as an opening. A door. A window,
Maybe a garage door.
A hole in the wall I could shimmy through.
I heard it as an opening. All sorts of openings.
I could make the hole.
Or my pink crowbar could.
I would be writing and I would fall into the singing,
That whoosh. The singing whoosh.
And because at first I saw myself as someone who wanted
an opening in the tradition,
I split this whoosh up all the time.
I fragmented it into words or took away its deictics.
Another friend, a poet, who no longer talks to me
once gave me the image of the pink crowbar
as a way of thinking about writing.
Losing her was a loss all around.
But to compensate for that loss
I think often about pulling something open.
Although I’m fairly convinced she would grab
the pink crowbar out of my hand if she saw me wielding it.
For years, there was that perfect moment after the reading
where we had to leave the bar because
the couples were coming to buy their cocktails
and we couldn’t figure out where to go.
Maybe it was Friday or Saturday night and all the bars
were full of people who were not talking about poetry
so we kept walking, looking in each bar and each one wrong.
Eventually the streets opened up and we were at the bridge
and there was a river and we walked across the open space to it
and climbed down its sides and sat there.
We had bought some beers and a small glass flask of whiskey from a bodega.
We carried the cans and the flask in brown bags as a convention.
But we did not need this convention.
If there was law, the law drove by, didn’t stop.
Other things were. Night. Maybe moon. Water. Rats.
Sometimes drugs were involved.
We walked through Wall Street at 3 am and
we rattled the locked doors of all the buildings, laughing
at their absurdity because we knew where it was at
and at was rattling the doors.
During these days,
I would wake up and my head would hurt
and then I would realize that in my dream
I had said to myself that I should write some poetry.
But my dreams never explained to me why.
How to sing in these dark times?
It is true that I have been with poetry for a long time.
Since I was a teenager.
Those loves of many years and our bodies changing together.
And yet also the deepening of this love. Despite.
That day with the breeze in the bar
And we said together, there needs to be some pleasure in the world.
And next, poetry is the what is left of life.
And we pledged, more singing.
And we referenced by saying,
In the dark times. Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing. About the dark times.
At night I thought if I just read all of Brecht,
I would maybe find the singing.
So I began to read Brecht that night,
in bed with my son while he too read before he went to sleep.
There was a new edition.
It was hard to hold because it was so big.
I rested it on a pillow and I rested my head on a pillow
and I turned the pages looking for the singing.
I couldn’t find the singing.
After I started reading Brecht,
I began sorting through my books. I had too many.
As I pulled them off the shelves, blew off the dust,
I asked myself would I need it if there was a revolution.
It turned out that I thought I would for sure need
five translations of the Odyssey
and all the books of Susan Howe.
I kept all the plant books too.
The comfort of the Jespen Manual of Vascular Plants of California.
It’s an open question if the revolution will still need poetry,
its tradition and its resistance to that tradition.
But it will for sure need the Vascular Plants of California.
It’s always been a terrible moment.
But now I understand it as even more terrible.
The nation is for sure not my boyfriend.
But the land it claims,
though I don’t claim it,
I hold my love for this land on my underside,
in a small pocket that eventually bursts to release my love spores.
I mean it is not a casual love.
It is though a difficult one. Threatened. Invaded.
A friend is dying
as the scotch broom is putting out its nitrogen fixing roots
but our friendship died years before
the seed pods open explosively
another friend has cancer
and last for eighty years
and yet another friend now in the world in some new way
but they are hard and survive rough transport through water
and mainly it was all the information
fleshy and full of proteins in a way that interests ants
we suddenly knew about everything
as the ants carry the seeds back to their nests creating dense infestations.
A mixture of hell. A metaphor of resilience.
The scotch broom has so many tricks.
Grows in patches and as scattered individuals
with a total cover of about 15 percent and 35 percent, respectively.
As does the Tree of Heaven.
There is no space too polluted for it.
It absorbs sulfur dioxide in its leaves.
It can withstand cement dust and fumes from coal tar operations,
as well as resist ozone exposure relatively well.
It grows fast, and even faster in California.
And once it starts, it shows up everywhere,
impossible to destroy.
Loves the fires.
Everything. Never ending.
Everything. Yet to come.
And yet the world and the leaves continue to exist.
Yellow veins. Flowers.
Large, compound leaves.
Arranged. Alternately on the stem.
11-33 leaflets. Occasionally up to 41.
One to three teeth on each side. Close to the base.
Yellow-green to reddish. Flowers.
Everything. Panicles up to 30 cm long.
Copyright © 2020 by Juliana Spahr. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 17, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
The corpses weigh nothing, nearly nothing, even your breath
is breeze enough to scatter them
We steamed them in tupperware with a damp sponge
then we tweezed the stiff wings open
The wing colors would brush off if you touched them
3,000 butterflies raised and gassed
and shipped to Evolution, the store in New York
rented by an artist hired to design a restaurant
He wanted to paper the walls with butterflies
Each came folded in its own translucent envelope
We tweezed them open, pinned them into rows
on styrofoam flats we stacked in towers in the narrow
hallway leading to the bathroom
Evolution called itself a natural history store
It sold preserved birds, lizards, scorpions in lucite, bobcat
with the eyes dug out and glass ones fitted, head turned
Also more affordable bits like teeth
and peacock feathers, by the register
a dish of raccoon penis bones
This was on Spring
The sidewalks swarmed with bare-armed people
there to see the city
You could buy your own name in calligraphy
or written on a grain of rice
by someone at a folding table
Souvenir portraits of taxis and the Brooklyn Bridge
lined up on blankets laid over the pavement
The artist we were pinning for had gotten famous
being first to put a dead shark in a gallery
For several million dollars each he sold what he described
as happy pictures which were rainbow dots assistants painted
on white canvases
I remember actually thinking his art confronted death,
that’s how young I was
We were paid per butterfly
The way we sat, I saw the backs
of the other pinners’ heads more than their faces
One’s braids the color of wine, one’s puffy headphones, feather cut
and slim neck rising from a scissored collar, that one
bought a raccoon penis bone on lunch break
Mostly we didn’t speak
Another life glimpsed in a detail mentioned, leaving or arriving
She lived with a carpenter who fixed her lunches
Come fall I’d be in college
I smelled the corpses on my fingers when I took my smoke break
leaning against a warm brick wall facing the smooth white headless
mannequins in thousand-dollar shift dresses
The deli next door advertised organic toast and raisins on the vine
Mornings, I tried to learn from eyeliner
and shimmer on faces near mine on the train
Warm fogged imprint on a metal pole
where someone’s grip evaporated
Everyone looking down when someone walked through
asking for help
At Evolution, talk radio played all day
A cool voice giving hourly updates
on the bombing of another city which it called
The pinner in headphones sometimes hummed
or started a breathy lyric
I watched my tweezers guide the poisonous exquisite
blue of morpho wings
Their legs like jointed eyelashes
False eyes on the grayling wingtips
to protect the true face
The monarch’s wings like fire
pouring through a lattice
Copyright © 2020 by Margaret Ross. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 22, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
Ask me about the time
my brother ran towards the sun
arms outstretched. His shadow chased him
from corner store to church
where he offered himself in pieces.
Ask me about the time
my brother disappeared. At 16,
tossed his heartstrings over telephone wire,
dangling for all the rez dogs to feed on.
Bit by bit. The world took chunks of
my brother’s flesh.
Ask me about the first time
we drowned in history. 8 years old
during communion we ate the body of Christ
with palms wide open, not expecting wine to be
poured into our mouths. The bitterness
buried itself in my tongue and my brother
never quite lost his thirst for blood or vanishing
for more days than a shadow could hold.
Ask me if I’ve ever had to use
bottle caps as breadcrumbs to help
my brother find his way back home.
He never could tell the taste between
a scar and its wounding, an angel or demon.
Ask me if I can still hear his
exhaled prayers: I am still waiting to be found.
To be found, tell me why there is nothing
more holy than becoming a ghost.
Copyright © 2020 by Tanaya Winder. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 17, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
The night air is filled
with the scent of apples,
and the moon is nearly full.
In the next room, Jim
is reading; a small cat sleeps
in the crook of his arm.
The night singers are loud,
every evening until they run
out of nights and die in
the cold, or burrow down into
the mud to dream away the winter.
My office is awash in books
and photographs, and the sepia/pink
sunset stains all its light touches.
I’ve never been a good traveler,
but there are days, like this one,
when I’d pay anything to be in
another country, or standing on
the cold, grey moon, staring back
at the disaster we call our world.
We crave change, but
turn away from it.
We drown in contradictions.
Tonight, I’ll sleep
blanketed in moonlight.
In my dreams, I’ll have
nothing to say about anything
important. I’ll simply live my life,
and let the night singers live theirs,
until all of us are gone.
I won’t say a word, and let
silence speak in my stead.
Copyright © 2020 by William Reichard. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 19, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
O’ King build me more templar
more handsome and muscular.
Build me a chest made of barley fire.
Set it ablaze each morning for sunlight.
Build me legs quick as a chariot,
light as a doe’s, strong as a current runs through a river. It
must all mean something if I am the third son of my father. It
must all mean something if my body is a ravaged temple.
What does it mean if his body is a ravaged temple? Wretched chariots
we carry burdened with copper and birch bark inside muscled
and fatty hearts. Siken wrote about bodies being possessed by light,
I should have known those antlers were never copper but always fire.
Your tongue always tasted of fire.
The ash of it.
The lie of it. But one hundred legs of running men leaves me light
around the temples.
I have a weakness for muscular.
I have a brain full of char rioting
in an underwater circus. I hold my breath as his chariot
is unplugged from the wall. The immediate silence. No more fire
here. I wanted you to be muscular
and fit, healthy as an ox. The attraction I feel for it.
We can only build the most modest of temples
when all we have is moonlight.
Moonlit / chariot / racing toward a temple
fire / The idea of it / muscular
I’ve always loved Absalom, not because he’s handsome and muscular
but because he had the King’s heart. Let there be light.
Let it / arrive in a horse-drawn carriage.
Let it arrive as fire.
O’ King build my body a temple,
make my heart more corpuscular than muscular. Make me a chariot
light of ire.
It's so lonely and cold inside this scalpel-ruined templum.
Copyright © 2020 by b: william bearhart. Reprinted with the permission of Carrie Bearhart. Published in Poem-a-Day on November 30, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
My mother married a man who divorced her for money. Phyllis, he would say, If you don’t stop buying jewelry, I will have to divorce you to keep us out of the poorhouse. When he said this, she would stub out a cigarette, mutter something under her breath. Eventually, he was forced to divorce her. Then, he died. Then she did. The man was not my father. My father was buried down the road, in a box his other son selected, the ashes of his third wife in a brass urn that he will hold in the crook of his arm forever. At the reception, after his funeral, I got mean on four cups of Lime Sherbet Punch. When the man who was not my father divorced my mother, I stopped being related to him. These things are complicated, says the Talmud. When he died, I couldn’t prove it. I couldn’t get a death certificate. These things are complicated, says the Health Department. Their names remain on the deed to the house. It isn’t haunted, it’s owned by ghosts. When I die, I will come in fast and low. I will stick the landing. There will be no confusion. The dead will make room for me.
Copyright © 2020 by Richard Siken. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 4, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
I knew for years the archaic term for refrain—
the part of the song you carry—
is burden. It carries you. Refrain, also, as in
hold back. The burden holds me back.
If I didn’t have you, my father said, passing
the fire, I’d get out to help. It made me
imagine people inside. I lived instead.
Burden, I learned, after the bees began
producing rust-honey in their rust-wax
hives, is also what you feed
into the blast furnace. A burden of rust-honey,
into the furnace shaft. The slag
is gummy. It sounds impossible. It’s also
dull. The house kept burning and we ran
for help. It means we’d stopped to watch.
It sounds impossible. It’s also dull.
Tenderly, though, his running desperate,
yet matching his steps to the child’s.
A sweet smell in the tetanus.
Copyright © 2020 by Zach Savich. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 9, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
how it would be here with you,
where the wind
that has shaken off its dust in low valleys
touches one cleanly,
as with a new-washed hand,
is as the remote hunger of droning things,
but a little silence
sinking into the great silence.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on December 12, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
I have a friend who measures desire
by stillness, who is most turned on
by the person in the room who meditates
without flinching. The librarian, too,
in the Manuscripts Division, handling
the patron who can’t seem to stay seated
warns: I will serve you the smallest items first
as a knit sweater slides off a chair’s back
into a loose knot. All day we could have
watched clusters of blue bottle gentians
flexing their umbrellas open and shut
as bumblebees submerged head-first
into one bloom after another,
dizzy subspaces, partially open
paper dressing rooms, trying on things
till they’d wrapped themselves
in a good dusting of pollen. Everywhere
intimate containers seem to be in motion.
The raised bed full of squash flowers.
The black latex glove masking
the bare hand ladling bowls
of wedding soup for the lunch crowd.
My quick pedal revved by the world.
Copyright © 2020 by Jenny Johnson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 17, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
A silence slipping around like death,
Yet chased by a whisper, a sigh, a breath;
One group of trees, lean, naked and cold,
Inking their cress ’gainst a sky green-gold;
One path that knows where the corn flowers were;
Lonely, apart, unyielding, one fir;
And over it softly leaning down,
One star that I loved ere the fields went brown.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on December 20, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
I give up touch. My hand holds stems
of air, while I remember
the long hair I wore
as a not-girl child.
I give up touch to feel
safe in a body. How could I be
the girl they saw the man
I am? Somewhere beyond language
we are touching
only the long hair
of the cool stream
meeting the lake
and I remember
sky when I look down
into its surface, my face
only veil, and below, rocks fish
my shadow. My pulse. Sun and moon
set and rise. Everywhere branches
tangle. Mist from the lake
catches in my beard. Once a butterfly
rested there. The moment I said I’m not
a flower, she lifted away
and I was all bloom.
What is our essence and who
drinks its nectar? A small god
surely lives in my throat
a kind of temple. I have fed him flesh
from the forest floor
and he cradles my eyes
and he grows me up
into the green
of trees. I know
he’s gold though he’s only ever been
visible in dreams. He appears
as my mother, childhood
pets, a first love, a ghost
story whispered over flashlight
in a backyard tent, neighbors
whose names I’ve lost.
Here is where I try to hear him.
Here is where I study how to love him
bring him elderberry, oxeye
daisy, row of purple
slug, mock orange, morning
glory, mountain lettuce.
It rains here often. I learn to be water
in a garden. A handsome solitude is not the same
as loneliness. It’s here I call my little gold god
Copyright © 2020 by Ely Shipley. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 22, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.