The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.
We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.
It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.
At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.
Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.
This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.
Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.
We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.
At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.
Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.
From The Woman Who Fell From the Sky (W. W. Norton, 1994) by Joy Harjo. Copyright © 1994 by Joy Harjo. Used with permission of the author.
Body of sight. Body of
breaths. Body of trying.
day you eat,
today you bathe, today
Today you walk,
today you read,
today you paint, my love,
Today you study stars,
today you write,
today you climb the stairs,
Today you run,
today you see,
today you talk,
You cut the basil
You sweep the floor
& as you chore, touch
the ankles & hairs of your befores
who look up from their work
in the field or at the chisel
to tell you in their ways: You Live!
Copyright © 2015 by Aracelis Girmay. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.
Thank you for these tiny
particles of ocean salt,
for the infinite,
For algae spores
and fungus spores,
bonded by vital
mutual genetic cooperation,
from equator to pole.
My hand, my arm,
make sweeping circles.
Dust climbs the ladder of light.
For this infernal, endless chore,
for these eternal seeds of rain:
Thank you. For dust.
From Magnificat, published by Louisiana State University Press. Copyright © 1994 by Marilyn Nelson. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
I’m standing on 10th Street. I’m not the only one. Buildings rise like foliage and human touch. And so shall dig this cigarette as my last, and rattle trains, and rot the fences of the gardens of my body— or without the harmony of speaking here the many sounds and rhythms that sound a lot like anger when anger’s silent, like a painting, though in the stillness of the paint itself the painter nods or waves or asks for help. I’m not the only one. The pharmacy’s untitled. The stars are there at night. In this Humidity the forlorn singing of the insects clings to anything nailed down. A whole bag of things I’m working through, some set things that I know, like words I know that mean "from one place to another," the word that means "to carry." I’m standing still on 10th Street. I’m not the only one. The dark tastes of salt and oranges. Its eyes wander round and round. I am its thousand windows. I think about the future and the sea. And stay.
From Exceptions and Melancholies: Poems 1986-2006 by Ralph Angel, published by Sarabande Books, Inc. © 2006 by Ralph Angel. Reprinted by permission of Sarabande Books and the author.
I cannot forget the sugar on the table.
The hand that spilled it was not that of
my usual father, three layers of clothes
for a wind he felt from hallway to kitchen,
the brightest room though the lightbulbs
The sugar like bleached anthills of ground teeth.
It seemed to issue from open wounds in his palms.
Each day, more of Father granulated, the injury spread
like dye through cotton, staining all the wash,
condemning the house.
The gas jets on the stove shoot a blue spear
that passes my cheek like air. I stir
and the sugar dissolves, the coffee giving no evidence
that it has been sweetened and I will not taste it
to find out, my father raised to my lips, the toast burnt,
the breakfast ruined.
Neither he nor I will move from the shrine
of Mother’s photo. We begin to understand
the limits of love’s power. And as we do,
we have to redefine God; he is not love at all.
He is longing.
He is what he became those three days
that one third of himself was dead.
Thylias Moss, "Spilled Sugar" from At Redbones. Copyright © 1990 by Thylias Moss. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of the Cleveland State University Poetry Center, www.csupoetrycenter.com.
“These people, both men and women, seem amphibious, and to be able to live on water as well as on the land, so well do they swim and dive. Five pieces of iron were thrown into the sea to them for the pleasure of seeing them exercise themselves. One of them was skillful enough to get all five of them, and in so short a time, that one can regard it as marvelous.”
—observations of indigenous Filipinos by the Dutch in 1600, from Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas, by Antonio de Morga
To be amphibious
is to breathe underwater
gills and fins
illuminated in a flash of sun
to be sirenos1
es amar el mar
es tener cuerpos de agua2
desfrutar how the sea dances
along our spines
how it fills our hair
makes us weightless
Our bangka5 are extensions
of our katawan ng tubig6.
Do you know which hands carved this wood?
Mula saang mga puno?7
Whose spirits guide us to the other side?
Hindi namin kailangan ng mga mapa8
Hindi namin kailangan ng mga kumpas
Feel the immense dagat move beneath us
Can you feel it, through the thick hulls
of your conquering vessels?
We do not disrupt the harmony of things.
Can you plunge your hand into the sea
and bring up a fish?
Can you split one into two thousand pieces
so that every mouth is filled?
Can you perform such the miracles
you describe in your holy book?
Bawat plankton, bawat maliit na hipon,
bawat nabubuhay na bagay11
upang maging kasuwato sa dagat12
is to breathe underwater.
1Both in Filipino and Spanish, this refers to mermen, but in Filipino folklore, while also including a version of a tantalizing creature (usually female) that leads fishermen to their deaths, sirenas/sirenos are are also engkantos or spirit-guardians of the sea. The colonial and indigenous influences in this mythology are both evident.
2“is to love the sea/is to have bodies of water”
3“naked/observed in a sacred act”
4These two lines show how Tagalog incorporated Spanish as one sees the shared words; it goes from Spanish, “not for conquest” to Tagalog “but for union”
5Bangka are Filipino outrigger boats with ancient origins that are carved from wood; it was believed that the spirit of the tree or an anito (guardian spirit) was imbued in the boat, especially through ritual consecration.
6“Bodies of water”
7“From which trees?”
8“We do not need maps / We do not need compasses”
9anito are ancestors, nature spirits, or deities in precolonial, indigenous Filipino systems, which were animistic. The word also can refer to statues and figures representing the spirits.
10“All living beings / protect us”
11“Each plankton, each tiny shrimp / each living thing”
12“To be in harmony with the sea”
Copyright © 2020 by Aimee Suzara. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 13, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
In this city
each door I cross
in search of your room
than the sky, this silver
dome of morning spread
across the urban smog.
Country dark washes the city
light off the outskirts
where you sleep in hiding,
where your face
wrapped in gauze
shines like sequin
in the lingering moon-drizzle.
I reach for you
at the corners of the clubs,
inside motel rooms,
where rent boys tumble
perspired bed sheets,
doubling you, your maleness
your hipbones sticking
to my thighs, hard
stubble of your legs
scratching. The night I followed
a strange road, looking
to forget all this, starlight
spooled the gravel ribbon
leading back to the city
behind me, back
to the hospital room
where I last saw you—
Tonight, I’ll rest
on this road, I’ll look back
to the city of change
where one year
two skyscrapers lifted, a park
for new thoroughfares,
& an old cinema
erupted to rebuild itself
in its place. I’ll stay
on the pavement,
suspended in time
like the broken sign announcing
You are entering, (a name
changed two years ago),
& I’ll wonder
if the hot breeze
blowing the nape
of my neck
is your unchanged
breath rising like candle
smoke from the city.
Copyright © 2021 by Aldo Amparán. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 4, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
Sometimes you don’t die
when you’re supposed to
& now I have a choice
repair a world or build
a new one inside my body
a white door opens
into a place queerly brimming
gold light so velvet-gold
it is like the world
when I call out
all my friends are there
everyone we love
is still alive gathered
at the lakeside
my honeyed kin
beneath the sky
a garden blue stalks
white buds the moon’s
marble glow the fire
distant & flickering
the body whole bright-
with the hours
of the day beautiful
nameless planet. Oh
friends, my friends—
bloom how you must, wild
until we are free.
Copyright © 2018 by Cameron Awkward-Rich. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 30, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Lift every voice and sing,
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the list'ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.
Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chast'ning rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered.
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.
God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who hast by Thy might,
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand,
True to our God,
True to our native land.
From Saint Peter Relates an Incident by James Weldon Johnson. Copyright © 1917, 1921, 1935 James Weldon Johnson, renewed 1963 by Grace Nail Johnson. Used by permission of Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Books USA Inc.
I am the blossom pressed in a book,
found again after two hundred years....
I am the maker, the lover, and the keeper....
When the young girl who starves
sits down to a table
she will sit beside me....
I am food on the prisoner's plate....
I am water rushing to the wellhead,
filling the pitcher until it spills....
I am the patient gardener
of the dry and weedy garden....
I am the stone step,
the latch, and the working hinge....
I am the heart contracted by joy...
the longest hair, white
before the rest....
I am there in the basket of fruit
presented to the widow....
I am the musk rose opening
unattended, the fern on the boggy summit....
I am the one whose love
overcomes you, already with you
when you think to call my name....
From The Boat of Quiet Hours by Jane Kenyon, published by Graywolf Press. © 1986 by Jane Kenyon. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
It is 12:20 in New York a Friday three days after Bastille day, yes it is 1959 and I go get a shoeshine because I will get off the 4:19 in Easthampton at 7:15 and then go straight to dinner and I don't know the people who will feed me I walk up the muggy street beginning to sun and have a hamburger and a malted and buy an ugly NEW WORLD WRITING to see what the poets in Ghana are doing these days I go on to the bank and Miss Stillwagon (first name Linda I once heard) doesn't even look up my balance for once in her life and in the GOLDEN GRIFFIN I get a little Verlaine for Patsy with drawings by Bonnard although I do think of Hesiod, trans. Richmond Lattimore or Brendan Behan's new play or Le Balcon or Les Nègres of Genet, but I don't, I stick with Verlaine after practically going to sleep with quandariness and for Mike I just stroll into the PARK LANE Liquor Store and ask for a bottle of Strega and then I go back where I came from to 6th Avenue and the tobacconist in the Ziegfeld Theatre and casually ask for a carton of Gauloises and a carton of Picayunes, and a NEW YORK POST with her face on it and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT while she whispered a song along the keyboard to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing
From Lunch Poems by Frank O'Hara. Copyright © 1964 by Frank O'Hara. Reprinted by permission of City Lights Books. All rights reserved.
Make me laugh over coffee, make it a double, make it frothy so it seethes in our delight. Make my cup overflow with your small happiness. I want to hoot and snort and cackle and chuckle. Let your laughter fill me like a bell. Let me listen to your ringing and singing as Billie Holiday croons above our heads. Sorry, the blues are nowhere to be found. Not tonight. Not here. No makeup. No tears. Only contours. Only curves. Each sip takes back a pound, each dry-roasted swirl takes our soul. Can I have a refill, just one more? Let the bitterness sink to the bottom of our lives. Let us take this joy to go.
From Misery Islands (CavanKerry Press, 2014). Copyright © 2014 by January Gill O’Neil. Used with the permission of the author.
Taped to the wall of my cell are 47 pictures: 47 black
faces: my father, mother, grandmothers (1 dead), grand-
fathers (both dead), brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts,
cousins (1st and 2nd), nieces, and nephews. They stare
across the space at me sprawling on my bunk. I know
their dark eyes, they know mine. I know their style,
they know mine. I am all of them, they are all of me;
they are farmers, I am a thief, I am me, they are thee.
I have at one time or another been in love with my mother,
1 grandmother, 2 sisters, 2 aunts (1 went to the asylum),
and 5 cousins. I am now in love with a 7-yr-old niece
(she sends me letters in large block print, and
her picture is the only one that smiles at me).
I have the same name as 1 grandfather, 3 cousins, 3 nephews,
and 1 uncle. The uncle disappeared when he was 15, just took
off and caught a freight (they say). He's discussed each year
when the family has a reunion, he causes uneasiness in
the clan, he is an empty space. My father's mother, who is 93
and who keeps the Family Bible with everbody's birth dates
(and death dates) in it, always mentions him. There is no
place in her Bible for "whereabouts unknown."
Each fall the graves of my grandfathers call me, the brown
hills and red gullies of mississippi send out their electric
messages, galvanizing my genes. Last yr/like a salmon quitting
the cold ocean-leaping and bucking up his birth stream/I
hitchhiked my way from LA with 16 caps in my pocket and a
monkey on my back. And I almost kicked it with the kinfolks.
I walked barefooted in my grandmother's backyard/I smelled the old
land and the woods/I sipped cornwhiskey from fruit jars with the men/
I flirted with the women/I had a ball till the caps ran out
and my habit came down. That night I looked at my grandmother
and split/my guts were screaming for junk/but I was almost
contented/I had almost caught up with me.
(The next day in Memphis I cracked a croaker's crib for a fix.)
This yr there is a gray stone wall damming my stream, and when
the falling leaves stir my genes, I pace my cell or flop on my bunk
and stare at 47 black faces across the space. I am all of them,
they are all of me, I am me, they are thee, and I have no children
to float in the space between.
From The Essential Etheridge Knight by Etheridge Knight © 1986. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15261. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.
Thanks for the tree
between me & a sniper's bullet.
I don't know what made the grass
sway seconds before the Viet Cong
raised his soundless rifle.
Some voice always followed,
telling me which foot
to put down first.
Thanks for deflecting the ricochet
against that anarchy of dusk.
I was back in San Francisco
wrapped up in a woman's wild colors,
causing some dark bird's love call
to be shattered by daylight
when my hands reached up
& pulled a branch away
from my face. Thanks
for the vague white flower
that pointed to the gleaming metal
reflecting how it is to be broken
like mist over the grass,
as we played some deadly
game for blind gods.
What made me spot the monarch
writhing on a single thread
tied to a farmer's gate,
holding the day together
like an unfingered guitar string,
is beyond me. Maybe the hills
grew weary & leaned a little in the heat.
Again, thanks for the dud
hand grenade tossed at my feet
outside Chu Lai. I'm still
falling through its silence.
I don't know why the intrepid
sun touched the bayonet,
but I know that something
stood among those lost trees
& moved only when I moved.
Copyright © 1988 by Yusef Komunyakaa. From Dien Cai Dau (Wesleyan University Press, 1988). Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.
after Mary Oliver
Here is the meat
and fat and bone
of the day. The smoke
too for the god of recognition.
A love offering,
where love is also
grief and mourning,
the business of waking
and moving in a body far
away from you,
and moving mean
crying or not crying,
but always breathing.
Mark how the light
bends through the dry
air, like breath,
at the end of the day.
Mark the chirbling of the bird
outside my window.
Mark the day we will see
one another again,
and what light there will be,
Originally published in West Branch (Issue 97, 2021). Copyright © 2021 by Donika Kelly. Used with the permission of the poet.
The blue-black mountains are etched
with ice. I drive south in fading light.
The lights of my car set out before
me, and disappear before my very eyes.
And as I approach thirty, the distances
are shorter than I guess? The mind
travels at the speed of light. But for
how many people are the passions
ironwood, ironwood that hardens and hardens?
Take the ex-musician, insurance salesman,
who sells himself a policy on his own life;
or the magician who has himself locked
in a chest and thrown into the sea,
only to discover he is caught in his own chains.
I want a passion that grows and grows.
To feel, think, act, and be defined
by your actions, thoughts, feelings.
As in the bones of a hand in an X-ray,
I want the clear white light to work
against the fuzzy blurred edges of the darkness:
even if the darkness precedes and follows
us, we have a chance, briefly, to shine.
From The Redshifting Web: New & Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 1998) by Arthur Sze. Copyright @1998 by Arthur Sze. Used with permission of the author.