You had me at that martini. I saw
you thread the olive’s red pimento throat
with your plastic swizzle stick, a deft act
at once delicate and greedy. A man
paid to taste the blade knows his match.
The pleasure. The brine. I wish we had time,
I said—you stopped me—There’s always time.
That’s when they called me to the stage. I saw
your mouth’s angle change as you made a match
of my name and Noted Gullet! Steel Throat!
Ramo Swami, the Sword-Swallowing Man.
I want to assure you it’s just an act,
but since age seven it’s the only act
I know. My mother recalls that first time
she caught my butter-knife trick: a real man
might not cry, but the real boy wept. She saw
my resolve to build a tunnel from throat
to feet. A dark that deep could go unmatched,
she warned. Your smile is the strike of a match,
the hope of an inner spelunking act.
Facing the crowd, the sight of your pale throat
tightens mine at the worst possible time—
that fickle tic of desire. Yeah, I saw
his last show, you’ll say. Lost focus, poor man.
Funny how women make and break their men,
how martinis both break and make a match.
The best magician will hang up his saw,
release his doves, if the right woman acts
to un-straitjacket his body in time.
If lips meet, the hint of gin in your throat
will mingle with camellia in my throat,
same oil used by any samurai man.
I trained against touch once upon a time,
not knowing a rigid pharynx would match
a rigid heart. I’m ready to react,
to bleed. As any alchemist can see,
to fill a throat with raw steel is no match
for love. Don’t clap for these inhuman acts.
Cut me in two. Time, time: the oldest saw.

Copyright © 2015 Sandra Beasley. This poem originally appeared in Count the Waves (W. W. Norton, 2015). Used with permission of the author.

 

I don't mean to make you cry.
I mean nothing, but this has not kept you
From peeling away my body, layer by layer,

The tears clouding your eyes as the table fills
With husks, cut flesh, all the debris of pursuit.
Poor deluded human: you seek my heart.

Hunt all you want. Beneath each skin of mine
Lies another skin: I am pure onion—pure union
Of outside and in, surface and secret core.

Look at you, chopping and weeping. Idiot.
Is this the way you go through life, your mind
A stopless knife, driven by your fantasy of truth,

Of lasting union—slashing away skin after skin
From things, ruin and tears your only signs
Of progress? Enough is enough.

You must not grieve that the world is glimpsed
Through veils. How else can it be seen?
How will you rip away the veil of the eye, the veil

That you are, you who want to grasp the heart
Of things, hungry to know where meaning
Lies. Taste what you hold in your hands: onion-juice,

Yellow peels, my stinging shreds. You are the one
In pieces. Whatever you meant to love, in meaning to
You changed yourself: you are not who you are,

Your soul cut moment to moment by a blade
Of fresh desire, the ground sown with abandoned skins.
And at your inmost circle, what? A core that is

Not one. Poor fool, you are divided at the heart,
Lost in its maze of chambers, blood, and love,
A heart that will one day beat you to death.

From Notes from the Divided Country by Suji Kwock Kim. Copyright © 2003 by Suji Kwock Kim. Reproduced with permission of Louisiana State University Press. All rights reserved.

jaunse tu bhagela ii toke nighalayihe
je andar rahe tohar jahaaj ke nast karihe

The remnant of hind limbs puppets an origin
play that strings baleen to terrestrial

ancestors. Occasionally whales sport hind legs —
as in Vancouver in 1949,

a harpooned humpback bore eighteen inches
of femur breaching its body wall. Disconnected

from the spine, what is their function but to rend
the book of Genesis into two? Why regard

scripture and exegesis as legs and fluke,
sure to fall away, and not eat beef or pork? Why

do I need Hindi in Hawaii as a skeletal
structure, a myth to hook my leviathan jaw?

                                                    What you run from will swallow you,
                                                       what’s inside will splinter your boat

Copyright © 2019 Rajiv Mohabir. This poem originally appeared in Kenyon Review, January/February 2019. Used with permission of the author.

What does it mean to be so still?
to glide along the ocean floor

like some black-tongued electric eel,
to burn through marbled gold and green

of oceanic things like some
compact mass deforming space, time,

a void within voids, and then?
It is easier to imagine amphibian,

to know that blood, too, can change
its temperament as quickly as

salamanders change skin, as quickly as
eyes of newt and tongues of dog become

incantations, enchantments of art
and life just as an animal submerged

under water becomes unknown,
just as respirations become primitive

and breaths and motions cease
as a lone fish in a dark pond

arrives as an object of thought
and becomes stone.

Copyright © 2017 by Rita Banerjee. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 30, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Home is so sad. It stays as it was left,
Shaped to the comfort of the last to go
As if to win them back. Instead, bereft
Of anyone to please, it withers so,
Having no heart to put aside the theft

And turn again to what it started as,
A joyous shot at how things ought to be,
Long fallen wide. You can see how it was:
Look at the pictures and the cutlery.
The music in the piano stool. That vase.

From Collected Poems by Philip Larkin. Copyright © 1988, 2003 by the Estate of Philip Larkin. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. All rights reserved.

there is a 
moon sole 
in the blue 
night 

             amorous of waters 
tremulous, 
blinded with silence the 
undulous heaven yearns where 

in tense starlessness 
anoint with ardor 
the yellow lover 

stands in the dumb dark 
svelte 
and 
urgent 

           (again 
love i slowly 
gather 
of thy languorous mouth the 

thrilling 
flower)

This poem is in the public domain.

                       the pearl starts over
                       a new grain of sand
                       we are going to find
                       in the planet of blue
                    a freshly written eviction note 
                    a sash hanging off the horse
                told the story without you
the kind of children we deserve who rob us in our sleep
                       we never need to believe in anything again
          they take our car and money and head for the beach
 

From While Standing in Line for Death (Wave Books, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by CAConrad. Used with permission of the author and Wave Books.

i.           

I’ve pulled from my throat birdsong like tin-
sheeted lullaby [its vicious cold        its hoax of wings]
the rest of us forest folk       dark angels chafing rabbits-
foot for luck     thrum-necked     wear the face of
nothing       we’ve changed       the Zodiac & I
have refused a little planet little sum for struggle & sailed
ourselves summerlong & arbitrary as a moon grave
across a vastness        [we’ve left the child-
ren]      Named the place penni-
less motherhood      Named the place country
of mothers      Named the place anywhere but death by self-

ii.           

infliction is a god of many faces      many nothings     
I’m afraid I’ll never be whole     I’m afraid
the rope from the hardware store [screws for nails]
will teach itself to knot      I’ve looked up noose I’ve
learned to twine but these babies now
halfway pruned through the clean bathwater of childhood
I promised a god I would take to the ledge
& show the pinstripes the pinkening strobe-
lights maybe angels chiseled at creation
into the rock [around my neck] the rock in the river
I would never let them see        I would never let them

iii.

break & spend a whole life backing away from that slip—
Let us fly & believe [in the wreck] their perfect hope-
sealed bodies the only parachutes we need

Copyright © 2019 by Jenn Givhan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 15, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

A breath leaves the body, and wishes it could return maybe,
the news to the left and right rich with failure, terror, dither,
the bloated moon in constant charge of us like vapor—
 
and this did frame our constituency, even in our cozy homes
even in a painless state on the downriver, oh oblivion—
sipping champagne as another night brings forth its big dancing plan its damage.
 
I had a thought but it turned autumn, turned cold.
I had a body, unwearied, vital, despite the funeral in everything—
ample with bodies, covered in graves and gardens, potholes and water,
 
an ardent river we walked together, a wine and rising breeze.
Much trouble at hand, yet the lilies still.
That summer we sat with our backs to the street, letting time  pass—
 
lying all afternoon in the grass as if green and insect were the world.
I am, I am, and you are, you are, we wrote, until the paper seemed a tree again
and we walked beneath it greener and unsullied afresh.
 
Massive powers that be, what will be?
We smoke our pipes to forget you
& mildly now we bide our time
 
the violence and real cities under siege,
but also filled this morning
with coffee drinkers, office workers, taxi drivers, boys on bikes.
 
Golden we were in the moment of conception,
and alive, as if we always would be.
 

Copyright © 2017 by Deborah Landau. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 25, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

                                        I want the body 
                                blue in its skin
 
to forget 
to tread water in open sea—
 
                                don’t want the drown 
                                       
                                        so much as sink
                                        so much as stop 
fighting. 
 
Boundaries can be needs—can be keep the waters in check—
           can be I don’t want 
                                            to go there yet.
 
           I’m not talking only oxygen. 
 
                      I’m saying I want to pry 
                      the body open at its base,
 
     like a bivalve hinged
                                       and waiting.
 
                                 How soft is that raw muscle on the tongue?
                                 What is 
                                              reconciliation?
 
           When the sea beast swam 
                                           hard to the surface to feed
 
                                 the kayaker raised his paddle
                                 to push off the great tongue.
 
When he told me this the sun was still 
low on the horizon, but I was already forming
 
                      crystals on my scalp.
 
                                 I thought of Jonah tossed into the sea.
                                 I thought of all the other people like him
 
           swallowed by beasts,
 
                                 sent by some god or ghost it is
           almost all the same.
 
 
                      But after he told me
                      I did not dive into the water to wash 
 
                                                     the salt from my skin
or high hail it to shore sore afraid.
 
                                           Would you believe 
                                                                 I wanted all the more
                                           to see that beast?
 
Someone once said 
                                           we tell ourselves 
                                           stories in order to live—
 
                                 I tell myself 
                                                    to believe.
 
                                 I want the body whole to know 
 
                      the drift and drowse of immersion,
                      and also the prick of effort 
 
                                           collecting on the skin—
 
                                                                                 the salt
                                           that does not know distinction
                                           that forms
 
     on the body’s surface—
 
                those hard, precise prisms.
 

           

Copyright © 2017 by Amanda Hawkins. “Mythologies of the Deep” originally appeared in The Missouri Review. Reprinted with permission of the author.

 to Tony Earley

Strange how I remember standing on a limb
that curved out over open space that fell
away down slopes I’d never climb back out of
had I fallen. And once, when I was six,
I almost left my mother’s car—outside a bar—
because I knew the nearby bottomlands
would reach the river, and I could disappear
from her and find another family—just
show up at some stranger’s door, be taken
in, and live a different life. That’s how
I thought back then—a determined little cuss,
I’m told, who hid my fossils in the snaky
roots of trees and sometimes climbed up
high inside a thick magnolia, where I
refused to answer when my name was
called. I think about the times I might have
died, my infant brother sliding from the seat
to slam against the floorboard, the car
stuck sideways down a ditch embankment,
the icy nights near swollen creeks and rivers,
the woods a child could lose his life in
trying to escape. I guess that’s why I
listen toward the farthest trees as if a prayer
were stirring only I can hear. Perhaps its
single word is mend, a word that all my
other words have felt a kinship with.
Evenings when I sit out back, I think my
thoughts have always been inclining toward
a self whose soul has found a place to be
alone, away from others I don’t trust,
content to watch the falling leaves. Dull
image—perhaps cliché—but I’ll take it
nonetheless. The truth is: here we are
inside these lives we sometimes do not
recognize, these lives we don’t deserve.
So many selves we almost came to be
never came to be. So many words too true
to whisper to ourselves we go on listening
toward. So many bridges never crossed,
others stepped back from. So much I’ll
never understand about the reasons
I survived when others didn’t. Years
ago I found a book, like a gift, fallen
between two shelves. Inside, someone
had penciled, Language isn’t sad but
meaning is. I’ve held those words as
close as any I have known, having felt
a pull toward nothingness, toward lack
of anyone or anything that might repair
my ruined thoughts, and just as often
I have stood in shallow creeks, waiting
on my world to end, assured I have no
place, no name, no face, no words to say
the source of what I’m always reaching
toward. I have followed driftwood,
imagined my own dead self assigned
to stir above the silt. I’ve watched
the motions course along through shadows,
soon to reach a bend and carry on unseen.
Still, I have a faith that what is next is what
the story most requires so that the shape
of time allotted, ordained to be, can then
reveal itself. Bend, mend—the echo isn’t
lost on me—and giving in to where I’m
being taken has been the way I’ve come
to know my life, to speak its mysteries.
My guess is such an explanation overlooks
as much as it imagines. I’m sure I’ve
simplified the coarser parts, smoothed
them over as a stream refines a stone
through centuries. I’ve left out what is
obvious to anyone who knows or cares
to know the fullness of my life. Even so,
once I hid beneath a car, half an hour,
refusing to be left somewhere I didn’t
want to be—knowing days would pass,
my mother drunk. I was caged and fierce
despite the gravel shards that scraped
my arms and face when finally she caught
my leg and jerked my body out. So many
times another story line became the thing
that almost did me in. My papaw
snatched me from a pigpen where I
tumbled in one morning while he milked
the cows. So many times I’ve wondered
what the reasons are for why my life
was spared. Curses were all around me—
guns, dynamite, darkening fields, coyotes,
waterfalls, snake dens, hard-driven men.
I stood on snowy hillsides and almost
turned to follow logging roads wherever
they might lead. I guess I’m saying that
I came to where I am by way of almost
going somewhere else. I hope you’ll see
how I have tried to find a word to hold
between our broken souls, a word no voice
has ever found that sounds like wind that
bends and mends the sage grass in its wake,
perhaps the Holy Spirit’s whispering
revealing countless mercies granted all
the times I didn’t see its presence leading
me to where I am, to who I am, this self
I never thought I’d be, who found a language
meaning can rejoice in—a kingdom I’m still
wandering,
                  the only home I call my own.

Copyright © 2017 Jeff Hardin. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Spring 2017.

Silence isn’t stillness, agitation has me in its grip

remember reading       Greeks were like us

restless            underneath and again underneath

water wearing away               crevices          the itch

of canyons             skin I didn’t outgrow as

the doctor promised     burns hot and stinging

allergic to what I bring to it            allergic to

what I’m thinking     how much older 

the underpass is     filled to overflowing

blue-tented absence                corners with the leftover

plastic and cardboard     happens so fast        it isn’t

even my heart that’s              broken, 

time stealing               & leaking the blue cold

what it would have been to be        Greek

no cortisone     a body       historians

also thought women leaky        restless        for  what

out of one’s own        skin      a future they never

knew  who’d have thought        a daily  underpass 

so many leftovers     pizza  fries           near the  parking

what skin did we come wrapped in

Copyright © 2018 by Martha Ronk. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 26, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.


 

       3. (Jeong Seon’s Album of Mount Geumgang)

Jeong Seon began his career
        in the low-ranking position
                of adjunct professor
                                            of administrative      iconography.
                              Breaking with convention,
        he diligently studied the birth of a brushstroke
                                                                                  by gazing at
               the surviving itinerary      of an unrealistic river, at the
     rippling rapport of vegetation and rain.
He preferred to observe and preserve
                   the essential concerns of a superfluous calligraphy
and thus did not succeed
in his civil exams.
                                     When he was thirty-six years old,
       at the
                   northern border of poetry and astronomy,
    Jeong Seon
              repeatedly painted         a series of eccentric circles
                        and so gained access
to the crystal bridge
                                between ink and atmosphere.
His artist name became
                   Magistrate of Waterfalls, and
Jeong was said to have annotated
                                the nine-bend stream of time.


Analysis of Jeong’s preeminent painting,
   The Four Horsemen at Big Dipper Pavilion
reveals
                wished for figures    in revolutionary mansions—
a remembrance external to its style.
       Particularly noteworthy
                              is a spiked      and turquoise perspective
                  and a diagonal
dismemberment of silk.
                The painting was able to route
Jeong’s identity around
              a dominant focal point,     along wavy and uncertain patterns,
                               and finally
              through environmental conditions of blue.
                                              One can grasp
his aesthetics of juxtaposition
                        as long as one is covered in mist, or enriched
by hemp-fiber clouds, but
      not lost
         horizontally       in the heart of the sea.


In Transmitting the Vertical Immensity of Coniferous Light, characteristic
       of his more mature style,
Jeong’s command of     a
                   rhythmically surging semicircle
evokes the overwhelming
                                    articulation of
          how a higher philosophical plane could be
so astounded    by the mundane.


            Here, the twelve thousand pillars of basalt
do not overwhelm the composition;
      rather, they commemorate
              that sunrise is a landscape’s subsidiary entryway    into the     
           verdant flow of the visible.


           A yangban painter once
    wrote:
               “According to where he sits, Jeong Seon
           resembles a rugged jar-shaped diamond,
an arrangement    of Mi dots,
                           or a panoramic dichotomy in detail.
        Now at age seventy-two he is
         much more than an amplification         of the massiveness   of soil.”

  
    One especially
beautiful example of Jeong’s expansive style
            is today known as
                   A Documentary Record of Aristocratic Time Travel,
which illustrates
                                        the reinterpreted bodies
of     a great-great-grandfather
                  and his great-great-grandchild
         listening to the collision        of dark energy.
Jeong’s strong lines here
           impart a wide-angle awe
       that connects the flow of        inner color
                    to outer air,    a sense that even hawks could survive
in our world
                         of dissimilar forms.
Literati writing under a predated    nom de plume
       compiled ninety-six poems about the painting
             and published them in the Album of
Liquid Astonishment.

                   By the time the colophon was    written,
the appended poems
          had been vicariously     exaggerating
      their own images
                                 —as if they were looking
             through the zoom lens of a camera
                                at a human eye.

 

Copyright © 2018 by Michael Leong. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 7, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

in the divorce i separate to two piles                 books: english      love songs: arabic
my angers   my schooling    my long repeating name       english    english     arabic

i am someone’s daughter but i am american born        it shows in my short memory
my ahistoric glamour     my clumsy tongue when i forget the word for [   ] in arabic

i sleep         unbroken dark hours on airplanes home           & dream i’ve missed my
connecting flight      i dream a new & fluent mouth full of gauzy swathes of arabic

i dream my alternate selves               each with a face borrowed from photographs of
the girl who became my grandmother   brows & body rounded & cursive like arabic

but wake to the usual borderlands     i crowd shining slivers of english to my mouth
iris    crocus   inlet   heron         how dare i love a word without knowing it in arabic

& what even is translation       is immigration        without irony         safia
means pure           all my life it’s been true           even in my clouded arabic

 

Copyright © 2017 by Safia Elhillo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 13, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

My mother used to say the heart makes music, but I've never found the keys. Maybe it's the way I was brought into the world: dragged across a river in the night's quiet breathing, trampling through trash and tired runaways as if tearing a window's curtains. We were barred from entry but repeatedly returned, each time becoming a darker part of a tunnel or a truck bed. The sky was so still the stars flickered like carbide lamps. We told time through the landmarks of the dead like cataphiles—the warren of a little girl’s murder, the wolf’s irrigation pipe. When you see enough unwinding, beating is replaced by the safety of wings. This isn't goodness. The voiceless are never neutral. Bones sway to elegy. Ebony burrows into the earth as a refugee. I grew up, eventually, but the sun was like a cliff with a false bottom: you'd drop and come out the top again. Enough carcasses draped over the dry brush. Enough water towers empty as busted rattles. When you're a child, the heart has a stiff neck and demands to be played. Later, it limps. Before my knees could begin to ache, I crawled to the levee looking for a broken string. Some wayward zil. I stretched my heart over a manhole and drummed it with broken pliers. It wouldn’t even quaver. It snapped back into a seed, dry and shriveled and blank.

Copyright © 2018 by Rodney Gomez. This poem originally appeared in Citizens of the Mausoleum (Sundress Publications, 2018). Used with permission of the author.

 

To have a thought, there must be an object—
the field is empty, sloshed with gold, a hayfield thick
with sunshine. There must be an object so land
a man there, solid on his feet, on solid ground, in
a field fully flooded, enough light to see him clearly,

the light on his skin and bouncing off his skin.
He’s easy to desire since there’s not much to him,
vague and smeary in his ochers, in his umbers,
burning in the open field. Forget about his insides,
his plumbing and his furnaces, put a thing in his hand

and be done with it. No one wants to know what’s
in his head. It should be enough. To make something
beautiful should be enough. It isn’t. It should be.
The smear of his head—I paint it out, I paint it in
again. I ask it what it wants. I want to be a cornerstone,

says the head. Let’s kill something. Land a man in a
landscape and he’ll try to conquer it. Make him
handsome and you’re a fascist, make him ugly and
you’re saying nothing new. The conqueror suits up
and takes the field, his horse already painted in

beneath him. What do you do with a man like that?
While you are deciding, more men ride in. The hand
sings weapon. The mind says tool. The body swerves
in the service of the mind, which is evidence of
the mind but not actual proof. More conquerors.

They swarm the field and their painted flags unfurl.
Crown yourself with leaves and stake your claim
before something smears up the paint. I turned away
from darkness to see daylight, to see what would
happen. What happened? What does a man want?

Power. The men spread, the thought extends. I paint
them out, I paint them in again. A blur of forces.
Why take more than we need? Because we can.
Deep footprint, it leaves a hole. You’d break your
heart to make it bigger, so why not crack your skull

when the mind swells. A thought bigger than your
own head. Try it. Seriously. Cover more ground.
I thought of myself as a city and I licked my lips.
I thought of myself as a nation and I wrung my hands,
I put a thing in your hand. Will you defend yourself?

From me, I mean. Let’s kill something. The mind
moves forward, the paint layers up: glop glop and
shellac. I shovel the color into our faces, I shovel our
faces into our faces. They look like me. I move them
around. I prefer to blame others, it’s easier. King me.

Copyright @ 2014 by Richard Siken. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on August 28, 2014.

At the earliest ending of winter,
In March, a scrawny cry from outside
Seemed like a sound in his mind.

He knew that he heard it,
A bird's cry at daylight or before,
In the early March wind.

The sun was rising at six,
No longer a battered panache above snow . . .
It would have been outside.

It was not from the vast ventriloquism
Of sleep's faded papier mâché . . .
The sun was coming from outside.

That scrawny cry—it was
A chorister whose c preceded the choir.
It was part of the colossal sun,

Surrounded by its choral rings,
Still far away. It was like
A new knowledge of reality.

From The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens by Wallace Stevens. Copyright © 1954 by Wallace Stevens and renewed in 1982 by Holly Stevens. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

How is it you bring me back to the cliffs   the bright heads of eagles   the vessels of grief in the soil?   I dig for you with a gentle bit of lighter fluid and three miniature rakes   burning only a single speck of dirt to touch a twig as tiny as a neuron   or even smaller   one magic synapse inside the terminus limbs of your breath

The fighter jets fly over the house every hour   no sound but inside our hands   I hear a far chime and I am cold    a north wind and the grit of night   first the murmur then the corpse   first the paddling then the banquet   first the muzzle then the hanging   the plea   first the break then the tap the tap   I hear your skin   the reach of your arms   the slick along your thighs   more floorboard than step   first the flannel then the gag   first the bells   then the exhale

I hear a dog who is always in my death   the breath of a mother who holds a gun   a pillow in the shape of a heart   first the planes then the criminal ponds   first the ghost boats then the trains   first the gates then the bargain   a child formed from my fingertip and the eye of my grandmother’s mother   a child born at 90   the rise and rush of air   a child who walks from the gas

Copyright © 2019 by Samuel Ace. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 10, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

For Sylvia Marlowe

Out of her left hand fled
the stream, from her right the rain
puckered the surface, drop by drop, the current

splayed in a downward daze until it hit
the waterfall, churned twigs
and leaves, smashed foam over stone:

from her fingers slid
eddies, bubbles rose, the fugue
heaved up against itself, against its own

falling: digressed in curlicues
under shadowed banks, around root tangles and
beaver-gnawed sticks. She had the face

of a pike, the thrusting lower jaw and silvered
eye, pure drive. The form
fulfilled itself

through widowhood, her skin
mottled with shingles, hands crooked, a pain
I fled. Now

that tempered tumult moves
my time into her timing. Far
beyond her dying, my

tinnitus, I am still
through the thrum of voices
trying to hear.

Copyright © 2018 by Rosanna Warren. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 11, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Do you still remember: falling stars,
how they leapt slantwise through the sky
like horses over suddenly held-out hurdles
of our wishes—did we have so many?—
for stars, innumerable, leapt everywhere;
almost every gaze upward became
wedded to the swift hazard of their play,
and our heart felt like a single thing
beneath that vast disintegration of their brilliance—
and was whole, as if it would survive them!

“Do you still remember: falling stars,” from Uncollected Poems by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Edward Snow. Translation copyright © 1996 by Edward Snow.

To Certain Poets About to Die

Take your fill of intimate remorse, perfumed sorrow,
Over the dead child of a millionaire,
And the pity of Death refusing any check on the bank
Which the millionaire might order his secretary to scratch off
And get cashed.

  Very well,
You for your grief and I for mine.
Let me have a sorrow my own if I want to.

I shall cry over the dead child of a stockyards hunky.
His job is sweeping blood off the floor.
He gets a dollar seventy cents a day when he works
And it’s many tubs of blood he shoves out with a broom day by day.

Now his three year old daughter
Is in a white coffin that cost him a week’s wages.
Every Saturday night he will pay the undertaker fifty cents till the debt is wiped out.

The hunky and his wife and the kids
Cry over the pinched face almost at peace in the white box.

They remember it was scrawny and ran up high doctor bills.
They are glad it is gone for the rest of the family now will have more to eat and wear.

Yet before the majesty of Death they cry around the coffin
And wipe their eyes with red bandanas and sob when the priest says, “God have mercy on us all.”

I have a right to feel my throat choke about this.
You take your grief and I mine—see?
To-morrow there is no funeral and the hunky goes back to his job sweeping blood off the floor at a dollar seventy cents a day.
All he does all day long is keep on shoving hog blood ahead of him with a broom.

This poem is in the public domain.

un-shaken, moving un-restricted through the blank season, counting the dead, counting the days, counting heart beats, back to worms, back to dustvback to this un-necessary burden, sometimes in terror, sometimes a reversal crushed beneath another categorical persistence, another dream creature who does not speak.

this is what death is, everything that has ever been seen, everything that has ever been done, will have been done and still nowhere is anywhere for nothing moving towards un-becoming, greased for passage down a pipe, trickling down the throat, against the will preserved, well built lonely insistence on column willing, to be a real body in a real existence, around other bodies gathered up for dead.

Copyright © 2016 by kari edwards. Used with permission of Frances Blau.

It is. And needles don’t fall;
cones don’t fall. The soil keeps

holding the grass seed and the dune
sand beneath is still torn by thirsty,

wooden hands. By bedrock
is where will be my tenoned pine.

And the grass seeds don’t split,
their shoots don’t spill. The clouds

remain, widely. That locked closet
inside will never have its tumblers

turned. Honestly, all I had
was the only lie—that I could be

the one who evades. Sparrows
don’t fall, no owl falls. Left behind

are her thin hands, a box full
of ribbons, a bolt, a knife.

Photographs with anybody’s faces.
Hungry letters, angry letters about

a time and people and love that is
not. No image holds its meaning

within itself. Not one dandelion fell.
Please. Something did happen here.

Copyright © 2015 by CJ Evans. Used with permission of the author.

Everything in the beginning is the same.
Clouds let us look at the sun.

Words let us watch a man about to be killed.
The eye-hollows of his skull see home.

When they stone him,
he knows what a stone is—each word, a stone:

The hole of his nose
as dark as the door I pass through.

I wander the halls numerously.
He’s no longer my grandfather in weight.

Among old bodies piled high, they aim.
Living can tranquilize you.

Copyright © 2018 by E. J. Koh. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 16, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

I have an hour to read marcabru and fall in love
to study the medicines and put a rock in each corner of the house
and pray over it with pollen as my elder advised
to test my extraordinary knowledgeses
to briefly wonder whether I was actually under a spell
to write my poem about being a mongrel
I must love even the fox that impedes my path
n jettison my former ire n any gesture toward abstraction
n go to the dump finally w/ the disused bicycle tires and the broken antlers and the cracked stained glass of a ship that formerly I wdve harbored because I did not love myself
but the broken shelf
I want namore of it
the jangle-mongrel and the rose and the ndn cowboy that layall closeted
along w/ my availability to my own mind and the killings of our familyes queer and black and brown and ndn
slaughter at orlando symbol of our hermitude
massacre at aravaipa gashdla’á cho o’aa   big sycamore standing there
bear river  sand creek  tulsa  rosewood
n when I finally sussed them out
n laid the tequila in its proper trash
n attempted to corral the pony of my mind
they say the ohlone were here as if
there were no more ohlone
erected a fake shellmound called it shellmound avenue
my friends dont like that
my friends dont like that excrement
it’s not like youd give away the algorithm, my bf pointed out,
to the one yr tryin to put a spell on
marcabru uses the word ‘mestissa’ to describe the shepherdess his dickish narrator is poorly courting
which paden translates ‘half-breed’ and pound ‘low-born’ and snodgrass ‘lassie’ but I want to say mongrel, mestiza, mixedbreed
melissima most honeyed most songful
what catullus called his boyfriend’s eyes
honey the color my dead dog’s eyes the stomach of the bee
I’m going to gather pollen from the cattails in a week or two
to pray to the plant tell it I’m only taking what I need
use a coathanger to hook the ones far from shore
filter it thru chiffon four times
what is love
but a constellation of significances
lyke-like magic
los cavecs nos aüra  as the owl augurs
one gapes at a painting
the other waits for mahana

 

From Of Mongrelitude. Copyright © 2017 by Julian Talamentez Brolaski. Used with permission of the author and Wave Books.

have retired now that the circus
has closed, to their watercolors
& bowling leagues, their tusk-dug
rose gardens, their record collections,
their calligraphy—
                             say one has
begun a letter to you, peacock feather
gripped in the beautiful gray coils
of its trunk, & she dips it in the inkwell
& begins
              darling, I have my dead &
I have let them go
,

as the elephants walk thirty kilometers
to find the house of their keeper
who died last night, to keep a vigil,
an honor guard of fifteen-thousand-pound
bodies, they wait all night,

as she continues, the past is always
vanishing if we are good or careful
,

as the elephants nurse their young,
wrap their trunks when they greet each other,
trumpet when they hear Miles’s Kind of Blue,

what is eternity but the shadows
of everyone who has ever fallen
,

the languages of the dead are never more
than a breath away, darling
,

as the elephants are drawn & painted
by da Vinci, by Max Ernst,
are reincarnated as Buddha,

our mouths are incapable,
white violets cover the earth
,

remember the gates of Rome, linger
near pianos, near the bones & tusks of their own,

the greatest of the shadows are passing
from the earth, there was never a city brighter
than a burn pile of tusks
.

Copyright © 2018 Mark Wagenaar. This poem originally appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Summer 2018. Used with permission of the author.

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.

“They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.”
            —Mexican Proverb

I was born among the bodies. I was hurried
forward, and sealed a thin life for myself.

I have shortened my name, and walk with
a limp. I place pebbles in milk and offer

them to my children when there is nothing
else. We can not live on cold blood alone.

In a dream, I am ungendered, and the moon
is just the moon having a thought of itself.

I am a wolf masked in the scent of its prey
and I am driven—hawk like—to the dark

center of things. I have grasped my eager
heart in my own talons. I am made of fire,

and all fire passes through me. I am made
of smoke and all smoke passes through me.

Now the bodies are just calcified gravity,
built up and broken down over the years.

Somewhere there are phantoms having their
own funerals over and over again. The same

scene for centuries. The same moon rolling
down the gutter of the same sky. Somewhere

they place a door at the beginning of a field
and call it property. Somewhere, a tired man

won’t let go of his dead wife’s hand. God
is a performing artist working only with

light and stone. Death is just a child come to
take us by the hand, and lead us gently away.

Fear is the paralyzing agent, the viper that
swallows us living and whole. And the devil,

wears a crooked badge, multiplies everything
by three. You—my dark friend. And me.

Copyright © 2015 by Cecilia Llompart. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 30, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

Translated by Brian Holton

rot    holds the long rows of this great ship of stone
rot    holds your footstep    my footstep

walking the toppled waste where the Admiral gazes down upon the water
marble window frames    door lintels elaborately carved
the oil paint of the sky    soaks the ebb and flow of tides under the bridge’s parapet
young girls’ eyes sparkle on the decks
never afraid to wave good-bye    poems of setting sail    poems of dreaming

we pass through time    like swallows startled by the bells

walk the inverted rotted underwater forest
a thousand years of tamping
a stinking deep black growth ring holds the palette of the waves
smearing your portrait    my portrait
a rotted portrait is invisible    yet like roots
it grows day after day    poking at the sea’s black-and-blue wound
from deposits of sludge rise pearls and dead bones
in the sound of colored glass violins
a row of dead sailors locked into the struggle to keep paddling

in ship’s holds flooded with brilliant sunshine
                 gold    always pornographic enough
                            to make humans dizzier than yesterday

walk narrow alleys where water can’t turn back
hear seabirds cackle like ghosts
                            howl like infants

rotting branches gently sway in the green waves
rotting fish embedded in the silver-bright seashells under walls
the water level    climbs timber stakes    climbs stone steps
like a curse locks a rusty wooden door
like a collapse    another balcony dragged into black moonlight
bleached skeletons    pull another balcony’s snow-white bones closer
in the pitch black moonlight sway shadows of people   sway reflections in water
illusion is no metaphor
periscoping centuries pursue their own termination

you this instant    I this instant
the little backyard jetty moored where flows a filthy river
tastes unloaded from our flesh    spread out on the breeze
winged lions vacantly stare at the future

Copyright © 2018 Brian Holton. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Kenyon Review, September/October 2018.

 

She’s in the desert
releasing the ashes of her father,
the ashes of her child,
or the ashes of the world. She is not

what she observes. The rare spinystar.
It does not belong to her. Bright needle threading
a cloud through the sky. There’s sun enough,
there’s afterlife. Her own body, a pillar of ash.
I fall to pieces, she says. Faithless

nimbus, faithless thought. In my life,
I have lost two men. One by death,
inevitable. One

by error: a waste. He wept
from a northern state,
hunger too cold
for human knowledge.

Once I was a woman with nothing to say. 

Never did I say ash to ash.
Never has the desert woken me up.
I said
who releases whom?

Inevitably, all have known
what the desert knows. No one
will count the lupine when I’m gone.

No one looks to the sun
for meaning. For meat
I’ve done so much less.

Cattle in the far basin, sagebrush, sage. 

I live in the city where I loved that man.
The ash of him, the self’s argument.

Now and then, I think of his weeping,
how my body betrays me:
I am not done with releasing.

Copyright © 2015 by Jennifer Chang. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 11, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

First, the sting
in your nose.

Then in your eyes,
a furnace flared

To hollow
your face.

Flies above
your empty sockets.

Maggots made
your split skin.

Another cow dies
from breathing

as you swallowed
from the same air.

How many days before
it wintered you gray

in this wilderness turned
makeshift-graveyard.

How many hours
before the lesions,

before your vomit
hardens the earthen

floor. Somewhere
a house ages cold,

no longer warmed
by the hearth

you once tended.
No one lights

any spirit money.
No one chants the way.

This poem originally appeared in American Poets, Spring-Summer 2016. Copyright © 2016 Mai Der Vang. Used with permission of the author.

Not hers but mine. Not hers ever again. Ever

hers, my body pulled through, two

long windows open in the dark of birth,

the gold cord raised too in its wake. Awake,

the first morning. The first morning & all,

all the windows were closed inside. A blindness

scalding broken sight. The silence pulled through

my nostrils & veins, the ether of air failing

flesh. I get up from the shape I once was

& open the white blinds in my brother's house.

The light is specific. It is the 29th morning

of July. Last night they dragged me howling from her

body in the room. The room had a name,

number 3315, in the cardiac wing. In the room

I saw her winged shape leave, rise, forgive the

vessel that fled her. Now mine or ours, I

stare in the mirror while everyone sleeps

the aggrieved sleep of the living. Behind my eyes

a dead woman looks back at me with no trace

of recognition. I say 'Mother' & my own

feral mouth opens. Closes without any light.

Copyright © 2016 Rachel Eliza Griffiths. Used with permission of the author.

Dominic Adam Dixon
(January 30, 1990–August 28, 2011)

Locks like still rows of wheat.
Skin, rich, even, like mud pies
kids pat out with stubby,
uncoordinated fingers & palms.
His nose, unsunk & prominent
like a lynching tree
whose limbs decline to
fail under a body’s worth
of weight. Those lips, darkened,
full as the smoke which rose
slow from them, wrapped
itself into the sky. The suit—
I hated the suit; it was far too still
for a resting person. No one
sleeps in suits. Or boxes.

Copyright © 2015 by Melanie Henderson. Used with permission of the author.

Pretty girl. The weather has knocked her down again
and given her to the lake to wear as a skin.

Why am I always being the weather?
There were days in the winter
when her smile was so lovely I felt
the breathing of my own goodness, 

though it remained fetal and separate.
I was a scavenger who survives

with a sling and stones, but whose god
nonetheless invents the first small bright bird.
And it was like flight to bring food to her lips

with a skeletal hand. But now she will always
be naked and sad. She will be what happens

to lake water that is loved and is also
shallow enough. The thickening, the slowing,
the black blood of it, the chest opened
to reveal the inevitable heart attack.

God, the silence of the chamber
we watch from. What happens to water
that isn't loved? It undergoes processes.

It freezes beside traffic.
But the reaching out to all sides at once,
the wet closing of what was open?
That is a beautiful woman.

So of course I stand and stare, never able
to pinpoint the exact moment I killed her.

From The Stranger Manual. Copyright © 2010 by Catie Rosemurgy. Used with permission of Graywolf Press.

The body is the Victory of dreams
when shameless as water
it rises from slumber
its pock marks, its scars
such signs still asleep
its dark olive groves
in love,
cool to the hand.

The body is the Defeat of dreams
spread out long and empty
(if you shout, you hear the echo)
with its anemic tiny hairs
unloved by time
wounded, sobbing
hating its own motion
its original black color
fades steadily
when it wakes it clasps its bag
hanging on to pain for hours
in the dust.

The body is the Victory of dreams
when it puts one foot in front of the other
and gains a certain ground.
A place.
With a heavy thump.
Death.
When the body gains a place
in a town square
after death
like a wolf with a burning snout
it howls, "I want it"
"I can't stand it"
"I threaten—I revolt"
"My baby is hungry."

The body gives birth to justice
and its defense.
The body creates the flower
spits out the death-pit
tumbles over, takes flight
spins motionless around the cesspool
(the world's motion)
in dreams the body triumphs
of finds itself naked in the streets
in pain;
it loses its teeth
shivers from love
breaks its earth open
like a watermelon
and is done.

From The Scattered Papers of Penelope by Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke, translated by Karen Van Dyck. Copyright © 2009. Used by permission of Graywolf Press. All rights reserved.

my father's dying makes stairs of every line of text seeming neither to go up or down
   stop   
that I make the nodding motion to help myself feel I understand stop
in common with his bafflement I find comprehension alone will not suffice stop

that I begin to find other books in other rooms were always the same book stop
affiliation which comes from the Latin ad- plus filius meaning son stop
a correct word would steady more than itself like a banister please

first will I need to write any one of the letters that neither of us wrote to the other stop
one cannot predict but only open the hands that are inherited stop
and watch what they do please advise

From the true keeps calm biding its story by Rusty Morrison. Copyright © 2008 by Rusty Morrioson. Used by permission of Ahsahta Press.

47. I want to make a dark mirror out of writing: one child facing the other, like Dora and little Hans. I want to write, for example, about the violence done to my father’s body as a child. In this re-telling, India is blue, green, black and yellow like the actual, reflective surface of a mercury globe. I pour the mercury into a shallow box to see it: my father’s right leg, linear and hard as the bone it contains, and silver. There are scooped out places where the flesh is missing, shiny, as they would be regardless of race. A scar is memory. Memory is wrong. The wrong face appears in the wrong memory. A face, for example, condenses on the surface of the mirror in the bathroom when I stop writing to wash my face. Hands on the basin, I look up, and see it: the distinct image of an owlgirl. Her eyes protrude, her tongue is sticking out, and she has horns, wings and feet. Talons. I look into her eyes and see his. Writing makes a mirror between the two children who perceive each other. In a physical world, the mirror is a slice of dark space. How do you break a space? No. Tell me a story set in a different time, in a different place. Because I’m scared. I’m scared of the child I’m making.

48. They dragged her from a dark room and put her in a sheet. They broke her legs then re-set them. Both children, the wolfgirls, were given a fine yellow powder to clean their kidneys but their bodies, having adapted to animal ways of excreting meat, could not cope with this technology. Red worms came out of their bodies and the younger girl died. Kamala mourned the death of her sister with, as Joseph wrote, “an affection.” There, in a dark room deep in the Home. Many rooms are dark in India to kill the sun. In Midnapure, I stood in that room, and blinked. When my vision adjusted, I saw a picture of Jesus above a bed, positioned yet dusty on a faded turquoise wall. Many walls in India are turquoise, which is a color the human soul soaks up in an architecture not even knowing it was thirsty. I was thirsty and a girl of about eight, Joseph’s great-granddaughter, brought me tea. I sat on the edge of the bed and tried to focus upon the memory available to me in the room, but there was no experience. When I opened my eyes, I observed Jesus once again, the blood pouring from his open chest, the heart, and onto, it seemed, the floor, in drips.

From Humanimal by Bhanu Kapil. Copyright © 2008 by Bhanu Kapil. Used by permission of Kelsey Street Press. All rights reserved.

53.

Red Canna, I see you. Edge of. What I saw: a flower blossoming, in slow motion. 
Not specific enough. Okay. No. Cannot. Red Canna, I veer into you. I am not in 
one straight line. Red Canna, I see you. 1904. The University of Arizona Museum 
of Art. Opening in slow motion: are you okay? Are you okay? Can you hear me? 
(I can't)

That's how it begins: impenetrable.

The book of two words I happen to see, out of the corner of my eye, on a wall. Such 
slowness.

These words took years to arrive.

From A Vertical Interrogation of Strangers by Bhanu Kapil Rider, published by Kelsey St. Press. Copyright © 2001 by Bhanu Kapil Rider. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

My mother and I and the dog were floating
Weightless in the kitchen. Silverware
Hovered above the table. Napkins drifted
Just below the ceiling. The dead who had been crushed
By gravity were free to move about the room,
To take their place at supper, lift a fork, knife, spoon—
A spoon, knife, fork that, outside this moment’s weightlessness,
Would have been immovable as mountains.

My mother and I and the dog were orbiting
In the void that follows after happiness
Of an intimate gesture: her hand stroking the dog’s head
And the dog looking up, expectant, into her eyes:
The beast gaze so direct and alienly concerned
To have its stare returned; the human gaze
That forgets, for a moment, that it sees
What it’s seeing and simply, fervently, sees…

But only for a moment. Only for a moment were my mother
And the dog looking at each other not mother
Or dog but that look—I couldn’t help but think,
If only I were a dog, or Mother was,
Then that intimate gesture, this happiness passing
Could last forever…such a hopeful, hopeless wish
I was wishing; I knew it and didn’t know it
Just as my mother knew she was my mother

And didn’t…and as for the dog, her large black pupils,
Fixed on my mother’s faintly smiling face,
Seemed to contain a drop of the void
We were all suspended in; though only a dog
Who chews a ragged rawhide chew toy shaped
Into a bone, femur or cannonbone
Of the heavy body that we no longer labored
To lift against the miles-deep air pressing

Us to our chairs. The dog pricked her ears,
Sensing a dead one approaching. Crossing the kitchen,
My father was moving with the clumsy gestures
Of a man in a spacesuit—the strangeness of death
Moving among the living—though he world
Was floating with a lightness that made us
Feel we were phantoms: I don’t know 
If my mother saw him—he didn’t look at her

When he too put his hand on the dog’s head
And the dog turned its eyes from her stare to his…
And then the moment on its axis reversed,
The kitchen spun us the other way round
And pressed heavy hands down on our shoulders
So that my father sank into the carpet,
My mother rested her chin on her hand
And let her other hand slide off the dog’s head,

Her knuckles bent in a kind of torment
Of moonscape erosion, ridging up into 
Peaks giving way to seamed plains
With names like The Sea of Tranquility
—Though nothing but a metaphor for how
I saw her hand, her empty, still strong hand
Dangling all alone in the infinite space
Between the carpet and the neon-lit ceiling. 

Originally published in Space Walk (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007). Copyright © 2007 by Thomas Sleigh. Used with the permission of the poet.

turns out
there are more planets than stars
more places to land
than to be burned

I have always been in love with
last chances especially 
now that they really do 
seem like last chances

the trill of it all upending
what’s left of my head
after we explode

are you ready to ascend
in the morning I will take you
on the wing

Copyright © 2019 by D. A. Powell. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 28, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Ojhas are [medicine men, “the ones next to God,” religious ministers or priests who deal with the daily struggles of the village people]; this dynamic allows the village ojha to control the circulation of rumors, and he is the village member who has the power to trap daayans (witches). In some trials, the ojha reads grains of rice, burn marks on branches, and disturbances in the sand around his residence, for signs of a daayan.

certain beliefs precede his name & yet
he goes by many : dewar, bhagat,

priest. passive ear, the kind

of listener you’d give
your own face.

+

first, the village must [agree
that spirits exist]—some benevolent,
some deserving of fear. everyone

wants their universe
to have reason. so it must be
a woman who stole your portion

of rice, woman who smeared
your doorstep’s rangoli, woman
who looked sideways at your child.

+

give him your gossip & the ojha conjures
herbs to [appease the evil] : her raving,
innocent mouth. & by that token
what is truth. the other rumors,

too, could corroborate—that bullets
pass through, his body barely
there but for the holy
in his hands.

+

he chants her name with fingers
pushed into his ears. just the sound
of her bangles
undoes : a single woman

on a plot of land, unbecoming.
he reads her guilt [in grains
of rice, in the light of a lamp,
using a cup which moves

and identifies]. makes a circle
around himself. white sand
between him &
the world. it’s the dead hour.

now, he shouts, arms covered
in ants, sing.

Copyright © 2019 by Raena Shirali. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 11, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

        adj. or n. (1891) : that has or have been left over : not used up or disposed of : surviving from an earlier time

 

xiao mei, xiao mei, they call you
mini-America, little beauty
stranger woman-girl

your body has more definition
than when you left at twelve
& nobody knows what to do with it

the men talk to you about choices
as in the ones they made for their wives
the women talk to you about children
but not the ones they buried in shame

they insist on being helpful
as in they don’t want you to be
one of those, as in wan le, as in

game over, which you used to confuse
with its homophone, as in
frolicked, as in finished joy

they gave you a name & once again
you had no say in the matter, as in
abandon, as in you leave home
to find it had left you

Copyright © 2018 Yuxi Lin. Reprinted with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Autumn 2018.

that we might’ve been together 
at the union hall, with the beer

bottles and the night that didn’t fall
away? I might’ve saved you from

that car ride to the end of this calm

world. Would we have been happy?
The morning you died, I slept.

I got the kids up for school in the dark. 
There were hours that I thought

you were alive. I keep thinking
about the cost of living. Your body,

unwrung and above me. Clothes
scattered like the hours you were

missing. What is happiness?
What I count on is the dark. The light.

Wanting to live anyway. The river
in my teeth and the reasonable grass

under my feet like someone I loved
once, impossibly alive.

Copyright © 2018 Chelsea Dingman. Reprinted with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Autumn 2018.

One day I repented my resentment because I realised I’d forgotten
to repeat it. For a while—no, for a long while—it was like a prayer,
rising to the skies, morning after morning, like a siren that wouldn’t quiet.

And then I remembered other things: the way I walk lighter these days;
the way you never knew my story of divorce; the way I am tired of being
forced among the new; and the way I miss having someone to speak to about
things I don’t need to explain; the way we shared a name.

So I decided.

I took a flight and hung around the areas where we used to meet.
I loitered with intent. I was hungry with hope but couldn’t eat alone.
I missed the home your body was, even though we’re grown now,
I missed your smell, your wrestle, your snoring breath.

And when I saw you, I saw you’d changed too.
So much behind us we didn’t need to name.

“Jacob and Esau” Originally published in Seminary Ridge Review. Copyright © 2017 by Pádraig Ó Tuama. Reprinted with the permission of the poet.

What I won’t tell you is how I became a flute
and brushed against lips but there was no music.
When the blows came furious as juniper.

There were days when I was a parachute
and the wind was free but kind. I won’t lie
and say there were no such days. There were days

when I curled into hailstone and pretended
it was only breezing outside. Another man’s music.
Eventually the need to unfurl overcame the need

to stay anchored. Tsunami greeted me in its maw.
I have his smell all about me but it dwindles every day.
What I won’t tell you is how I escaped. One day

I met a map at a bar. It pointed to a gash on its head
and said I could get there by becoming someone else.
Most of me was still scrawled on a carpet under a belt.

What was there to lose that I hadn’t already lost?
Alone, in the middle of the night, the road smelled
like freshly sawed mesquite. I wormed my way out.

A buckle still loomed in the background.
And I told myself, there is no gleam.

Copyright © 2018 by Rodney Gomez. Used with the permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Quarterly West, Issue 94.

What had been treacherous the first time 
had become second nature, releasing 
the emergency brake, then rolling backwards 
in little bursts, braking the whole way down
the long steep drive. Back then 
we lived on the top of a hill.
 
I was leaving—the thing we both knew 
and didn’t speak of all summer. While you 
were at work, I built a brown skyline of boxes, 
sealed them with a roll of tape 
that made an incessant ripping sound.
We were cheerful at dinner and unusually kind.
At night we slept under a single sheet,
our bodies a furnace if curled together.
 
It was July. I could feel my pupils contract
when I went outside. Back then I thought only about 
how you wouldn’t come with me. 
Now I consider what it took for you to help me go. 
On that last day. When I stood
in a wrinkled dress with aching arms.
When there was only your mouth at my ear 
whispering to get in the truck, then wait 
until I was calm enough to turn the key. 
 
Only then did we know. How it felt 
to have loved to the end, and then past the very end.
 
What did you do, left up there in the empty house?
I don’t know why. I 
don’t know how we keep living 
in a world that never explains why. 
 

Copyright © 2017 by Jennifer Grotz. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 12, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

When the doctor suggested surgery
and a brace for all my youngest years,
my parents scrambled to take me
to massage therapy, deep tissue work,
osteopathy, and soon my crooked spine
unspooled a bit, I could breathe again,
and move more in a body unclouded
by pain. My mom would tell me to sing
songs to her the whole forty-five minute
drive to Middle Two Rock Road and forty-
five minutes back from physical therapy.
She’d say, even my voice sounded unfettered
by my spine afterward. So I sang and sang,
because I thought she liked it. I never
asked her what she gave up to drive me,
or how her day was before this chore. Today,
at her age, I was driving myself home from yet
another spine appointment, singing along
to some maudlin but solid song on the radio,
and I saw a mom take her raincoat off
and give it to her young daughter when
a storm took over the afternoon. My god,
I thought, my whole life I’ve been under her
raincoat thinking it was somehow a marvel
that I never got wet.

From The Carrying (Milkweed Editions, 2018) by Ada Limón. Copyright © 2018 by Ada Limón. Used with the permission of Milkweed Editions. milkweed.org.

What was unforeseen is now a bird orbiting this field.

What wasn’t a possibility is present in our arms.

It shall be and it begins with you.

Our often-misunderstood kind of love deems dangerous.
How it frightens and confounds and enrages.
How strange, unfamiliar.

Our love carries all those and the contrary.
It is most incandescent.

So, I vow to be brave.
Clear a path through jungles of shame and doubt and fear.
I’m done with silence. I proclaim.

It shall be and it sings from within.

Truly we are enraptured
With Whitmanesque urge and urgency.

I vow to love in all seasons.
When you’re summer, I’m watermelon balled up in a sky-blue bowl.
When I’m autumn, you’re foliage ablaze in New England.
When in winter, I am the tender scarf of warm mercies.
When in spring, you are the bourgeoning buds.

I vow to love you in all places.
High plains, prairies, hills and lowlands.
In our dream-laden bed,
Cradled in the nest
Of your neck.
Deep in the plum.

It shall be and it flows with you.

We’ll leap over the waters and barbaric rooftops.

You embrace my resilient metropolis.
I adore your nourishing wilderness.

I vow to love you in primal ways.
I vow to love you in infinite forms.

In our separateness and composites.
To dust and stars and the ever after.

Intrepid travelers, lovers, and family
We have arrived.

Look. The bird has come home to roost.

From Threshold (CavanKerry Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Joseph O. Legaspi. Used with the permission of the author.

 

Scent of Plumeria, and the smell of burning.
Not one or the other, but both. Destruction, and the blossom.
Sweetheart, I'm afraid. That boy with the rifle breaks
the catechism in two. And in two. Let me
see us whole, beside the sea. My body
busy, paying attention to yours. Already

we rock each other with our voices. Already
we're braiding the invisible cord. That burning
hut on T.V. isn’t ours, but could be. My body
could be hers, child at dead breast. That blossom
of blood and bone could be your face. Let me
say truth: no place, no one, is safe. The breaking 

of vows, we know, is a given. Sweetheart, you’ll break
my heart. I’ve broken yours, but look: already
you love me again. Destruction and the blossom: let me
say it another way: that soldier, burning
to become fabulous, torches the thatch (see blossomy
flame) of the enemy’s hospital: cut to my body,

clay taking shape in your hands. Body by body,
war piled on war: when will the heart break
all the way open? Thunder of mortar, blossom
in the gutter. The soldier firing the mortar already
dead. How we live: running from the burning
field, into each other's arms. Let me

lie along your side. Give me something to hold. Let me
ride those waves pouring from your fingers. The bodies
of the disappeared toll like bells. Our koan burns:
it cannot be solved. The whole and the broken,
dream and nightmare: your hand in my hair, already
familiar, could be the torturer's. Vase and its blossoms

camouflage for the bomb. You love where you can. Blossom:
a thing of promise. That's us. Now: let me
let this go. Our glass, half full—already
there's more—swells toward the rim. Ours the bodies
the death squads passed by. The refugees make a break
for the fence, running for their lives, crossing this burning,

broken, blossoming Century. They've already
paid our dues. Sweetheart, let me show you how,
hand on the body's book, now swear the burning vow.

From Warscape with Lovers (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 1997). Copyright © 1997 by Marilyn Krysl. Used with permission of the author.

There is nothing in my head today.
I think about you everyday.
My head full of blckkk glsss

My head full of bllllk sound.
I think about you every day.
I travel in my love for you.

An outline in the blckkk glsss.
Living in the blllckk glasss.
Time travels in my sound for you.

There is nothing in my head today.
Echo echo bl@@@k gl@{{.
To whom do I deliver sound.

To whom does the shudder render.
I think about you everyday.
I hang you in the B[][][][][] G[][][][][]

I hang you in my head today.
A ravel in the blccckkkkk soundd.
I think about you everyday.

My love for you is bla888888ck s####nd.
Echo echo bl&kk s(((((())))))d.
I travel in my love for you.

I ravel in my love for you.
A bl>>>>K $(0)nd in my love for you.
I think about you every day.

There is nothing in my head today.
I hang you in my bLL^^CC// S______---
][ ravel in the B&&&&& S))))))))d

I go out in the b::::::::::K G::::::::::ss
to see you in the <*++*> gIIIIIIIs.
I hang you in my head today.

I ravel through the <<>> {oun}
Are you in my $[%&]d today?
An echo in my head today.

I think about you everyday.
An echo in the black sound.
An outline in the black glass.




       

Copyright © 2012 by Ben Mirov. Used with permission of the author.


Ask me again how the story should go. How much the underbelly of my garden held to bring forth spring, how much hunger I had to devour to get the sweetness I wanted from it. Did this devouring frighten you? I frightened myself in how much I promised to tell you if you asked me again about the water the water the water. What errors I made calculating the downward trajectory of memory rattling loose in the inhale, sharp in the shoulder blades exhaling like wings or whales or swizzles of light. Ask me again what I offered as a sacrifice to the rooster crowing his betrayal of morning. Forgiveness, what a sharp blade I press my body hard against.

Copyright © 2018 by Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 5, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

                The world is a beautiful place 
                                                           to be born into 
if you don’t mind happiness 
                                             not always being 
                                                                        so very much fun 
       if you don’t mind a touch of hell
                                                       now and then
                just when everything is fine
                                                             because even in heaven
                                they don’t sing 
                                                        all the time

             The world is a beautiful place
                                                           to be born into
       if you don’t mind some people dying
                                                                  all the time
                        or maybe only starving
                                                           some of the time
                 which isn’t half so bad
                                                      if it isn’t you

      Oh the world is a beautiful place
                                                          to be born into
               if you don’t much mind
                                                   a few dead minds
                    in the higher places
                                                    or a bomb or two
                            now and then
                                                  in your upturned faces
         or such other improprieties
                                                    as our Name Brand society
                                  is prey to
                                              with its men of distinction
             and its men of extinction
                                                   and its priests
                         and other patrolmen
                                                         and its various segregations
         and congressional investigations
                                                             and other constipations
                        that our fool flesh
                                                     is heir to

Yes the world is the best place of all
                                                           for a lot of such things as
         making the fun scene
                                                and making the love scene
and making the sad scene
                                         and singing low songs of having 
                                                                                      inspirations
and walking around 
                                looking at everything
                                                                  and smelling flowers
and goosing statues
                              and even thinking 
                                                         and kissing people and
     making babies and wearing pants
                                                         and waving hats and
                                     dancing
                                                and going swimming in rivers
                              on picnics
                                       in the middle of the summer
and just generally
                            ‘living it up’

Yes
   but then right in the middle of it
                                                    comes the smiling
                                                                                 mortician

                                           

From A Coney Island of the Mind, copyright ©1955 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.

it ends my sleep to want my story about
my skin melting in the sun that day of
summer and a doctor who tells me i am dying,
that thing i hide under my nails like dirt
scratched from summer skin.

so i pick up a pencil and begin to erase myself.

erasure is sometimes editing.
immigration is always editing.

*

my father with the heart that chokes
him in his sleep, in his shorter and shorter
walks around concrete and glass sculptures,
around mother who keeps leaning one
way then the other at the precipice of fall

as he yells promises at her to keep her alive.

in this journey that began with his misstep
across waters and languages and his
hands on my face teaching me to long

how did he mean to rewrite me—

*

what will i say to the sky and the soil
neither foreign or home when they are
all gone leaving me to hold our name up
alone when i am neither tree nor

fire.

*

in the mirror i look for my head that
has begun to shake, the weight of how
much i am afraid, how it makes me look
like mother when i was a boy—seeing
it for the first time in her, demanding

she make it stop—

*

this fear of sleep has kept me up for years
did you know? because in dreams there is always
a point when your mother dies while
you are traveling through space searching
for your lost child and other such

possibilities.

*

i spent the day moving my body, guided
by a stranger’s voice and somewhere
on the floor my bones recognized pain
told me that in this too / (that is my body)

there are borders to cross
there are borders not meant to cross

*

interstitial—it’s a new word i learned
something about the space between
things, but it is obvious like my body that
wants to break, that space is the thing not
the between, the mass that cannot be occupied

a space between spaces that tell me

i am a child of none

*

i capture my hand grasping at the sky outside
the window of another plane in mid-flight.

it was orange. it wasn’t anything.

and the hand belonged to no one.

there was only the reaching.

Copyright © 2018 by Chiwan Choi. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 20, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

          how do I admit I’m almost glad of it?

          the way it’s scraped off
          those flash-storms of rage

          I grew delicately-feathered
          luna moth antennae
          to fine-tune your emotional weather:
          sometimes a barometric shift
          in the house’s atmosphere / a tight
          quickening / some hard dark shadow
          flickering glossy as obsidian
          pulled down like a nightshade
          behind your irises / but sometimes
          you struck with no warning at all
          rattlesnaked fang of lightning
          incinerating my moon-pale wings
          to crumpled cinder and ash

          now your memory resets
          itself every night / a button
          clearing the trip odometer
          back to zero / dim absinthe fizz
          of radium-green glow
          from the dashboard half-lifing
          a midnight rollover from
          omega to alpha to omega

          I remember when you told me
          (maybe I was three?)
          I was mentally damaged
          like the boy across the street /
          said you’d help me pass
          for normal so no one would know
          but only if I swore to obey
          you / and only you / forever

          now your memory fins
          around and around / like
          the shiny obsessive lassos
          of a goldfish gold-banding
          the narrow perimeters
          of its too-small bowl

          coming home from school
          (maybe I was fifteen?)
          you were waiting for me
          just inside the front door /
          accused me of stealing a can
          of corned beef hash from
          the canned goods stashed
          in the basement / then beat me
          in the face with your shoe

          how do I admit I’m almost glad of it?
          that I’ve always pined for you
          like an unrequited love / though I
          was never beautiful enough
          for you / your tinned bright laugh
          shrapneled flecks of steel to hide
          your anger when people used to say
          we looked like one another

          but now we compare
          our same dimpled hands /
          the thick feathering of eyebrows
          with the same crooked wing
          birdwinging over our left eye /
          our uneven cheekbones making
          one half of our face rounder
          than the other / one side
          a full moon / the other side
          a shyer kind of moon

          how can I admit I’m almost glad of it
          when you no longer recognize
          yourself in photographs
          the mirror becoming stranger
          until one day—will it be soon?—
          you’ll look in my face / once again
          seeing nothing of yourself
          reflected in it, and—unsure
          of all that you were and all
          that you are—ask me: who are you?

Copyright © 2019 by Lee Ann Roripaugh. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 24, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.