When someone dies, the clothes are so sad. They have outlived
their usefulness and cannot get warm and full.
You talk to the clothes and explain that he is not coming back
as when he showed up immaculately dressed in slacks and plaid jacket
and had that beautiful smile on and you’d talk.
You’d go to get something and come back and he’d be gone.
You explain death to the clothes like that dream.
You tell them how much you miss the spouse
and how much you miss the pet with its little winter sweater.
You tell the worn raincoat that if you talk about it,
you will finally let grief out. The ancients etched the words
for battle and victory onto their shields and then they went out
and fought to the last breath. Words have that kind of power
you remind the clothes that remain in the drawer, arms stubbornly
folded across the chest, or slung across the backs of chairs,
or hanging inside the dark closet. Do with us what you will,
they faintly sigh, as you close the door on them.
He is gone and no one can tell us where.
Copyright © 2015 by Emily Fragos. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 21, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
Our paper house sat
on the banks of the red river
and though mother
wasn’t like other mothers
I was like other girls
trapped and lonely
and painting pictures
in the stars. I was slick
with old birth or early longing,
already halfway between
who I wanted to be and who I was.
Our floors were made of flame
but there was no wind
so we were as safe as anyone.
When spring came,
I walked for a very long time
up I-35, and at the end of the road,
I found a boy who placed earphones
onto my head and pumped opera
into my body. I can feel it still.
Underneath that treeless sky,
I was as changed as I would ever be.
Not even mother noticed.
Copyright © 2015 by Nicole Callihan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 14, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
well, girl, goodbye, after thirty-eight years. thirty-eight years and you never arrived splendid in your red dress without trouble for me somewhere, somehow. now it is done, and i feel just like the grandmothers who, after the hussy has gone, sit holding her photograph and sighing, wasn’t she beautiful? wasn’t she beautiful?
Lucille Clifton, "to my last period" from Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton. Copyright © 1991 by Lucille Clifton. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., boaeditions.org.
if there is a river more beautiful than this bright as the blood red edge of the moon if there is a river more faithful than this returning each month to the same delta if there is a river braver than this coming and coming in a surge of passion, of pain if there is a river more ancient than this daughter of eve mother of cain and of abel if there is in the universe such a river if there is some where water more powerful than this wild water pray that it flows also through animals beautiful and faithful and ancient and female and brave
Lucille Clifton, "poem in praise of menstruation" from Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton. Copyright © 1991 by Lucille Clifton. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., boaeditions.org.
I wake, doubt, beside you,
like a curtain half-open.
I dress doubting,
like a cup
undecided if it has been dropped.
I eat doubting,
go out to a dubious cafe with skeptical friends.
I go to sleep doubting myself,
as a herd of goats
sleep in a suddenly gone-quiet truck.
I dream you, doubt,
for what is the meaning of dreaming
if not that all we are while inside it
is transient, amorphous, in question?
Left hand and right hand,
doubt, you are in me,
throwing a basketball, guiding my knife and my fork.
Left knee and right knee,
we run for a bus,
for a meeting that surely will end before we arrive.
I would like
to grow content in you, doubt,
as a double-hung window
settles obedient into its hidden pulleys and ropes.
I doubt I can do so:
your own counterweight governs my nights and my days.
As the knob of hung lead holds steady
the open mouth of a window,
you hold me,
my kneeling before you resistant, stubborn,
offering these furious praises
I can’t help but doubt you will ever be able to hear.
Copyright © 2016 by Jane Hirshfield. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 4, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
You only watch the news to find out
where the fires are burning, which way
the wind is blowing, and whether
it will rain. Forecast ahead but first:
A mother’s boy laid out
in the street for hours.
These facts don’t wash away.
Copyright © 2016 D. A. Powell. Used with permission of the author.
Bring me your pain, love. Spread it out like fine rugs, silk sashes, warm eggs, cinnamon and cloves in burlap sacks. Show me the detail, the intricate embroidery on the collar, tiny shell buttons, the hem stitched the way you were taught, pricking just a thread, almost invisible. Unclasp it like jewels, the gold still hot from your body. Empty your basket of figs. Spill your wine. That hard nugget of pain, I would suck it, cradling it on my tongue like the slick seed of pomegranate. I would lift it tenderly, as a great animal might carry a small one in the private cave of the mouth.
Reprinted from Mules of Love by Ellen Bass, with the permission of BOA Editions, Ltd. Copyright © 2002 by Ellen Bass. All rights reserved.
When she says margarita she means daiquiri.
When she says quixotic she means mercurial.
And when she says, "I'll never speak to you again,"
she means, "Put your arms around me from behind
as I stand disconsolate at the window."
He's supposed to know that.
When a man loves a woman he is in New York and she is in Virginia
or he is in Boston, writing, and she is in New York, reading,
or she is wearing a sweater and sunglasses in Balboa Park and he is raking leaves in Ithaca
or he is driving to East Hampton and she is standing disconsolate
at the window overlooking the bay
where a regatta of many-colored sails is going on
while he is stuck in traffic on the Long Island Expressway.
When a woman loves a man it is one ten in the morning
she is asleep he is watching the ball scores and eating pretzels
and two hours later he wakes up and staggers into bed
where she remains asleep and very warm.
When she says tomorrow she means in three or four weeks.
When she says, "We're talking about me now,"
he stops talking. Her best friend comes over and says,
"Did somebody die?"
When a woman loves a man, they have gone
to swim naked in the stream
on a glorious July day
with the sound of the waterfall like a chuckle
of water rushing over smooth rocks,
and there is nothing alien in the universe.
Ripe apples fall about them.
What else can they do but eat?
When he says, "Ours is a transitional era,"
"that's very original of you," she replies,
dry as the martini he is sipping.
They fight all the time
What do I owe you?
Let's start with an apology
Ok, I'm sorry, you dickhead.
A sign is held up saying "Laughter."
It's a silent picture.
"I've been fucked without a kiss," she says,
"and you can quote me on that,"
which sounds great in an English accent.
One year they broke up seven times and threatened to do it another nine times.
When a woman loves a man, she wants him to meet her at the airport in a foreign country with a jeep.
When a man loves a woman he's there. He doesn't complain that she's two hours late
and there's nothing in the refrigerator.
When a woman loves a man, she wants to stay awake.
She's like a child crying
at nightfall because she didn't want the day to end.
When a man loves a woman, he watches her sleep, thinking:
as midnight to the moon is sleep to the beloved.
A thousand fireflies wink at him.
The frogs sound like the string section
of the orchestra warming up.
The stars dangle down like earrings the shape of grapes.
From Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art. Copyright © 1996 by David Lehman. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of the author.
Any day now you will have the ability to feed the name
Of anyone into an engine & your long lost half brother
As well as whoever else possesses a version of his name
Will appear before your face in bits of pixels & data
Displaying his monikers (like Gitmo for trapping, Bang
Bang for banging, Dopamine for dope or brains),
The country he would most like to visit (Heaven),
His nine & middle finger pointing towards the arms
Of the last trill trees of Bluff Estates & the arms
Of the slim fly girls the color of trees cut down & shaped
Into something a nail penetrates. I admit, right now
Technology is insufficient, but you will find them
Flashing grins & money in the photos they took
Before they were ghosts when you click here tomorrow.
Copyright © 2017 by Terrance Hayes. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 25, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Let it be said that Tim's year was divided into two seasons: sneakers and flip-flops. Let us remember that Tim would sometimes throw a football with all the requisite grip, angle and spiral-talk. Let us recall that for the sake of what was left of appearances, my mother never once let him sleep in her bed; he snored all over our dog-chewed couch, and in the mornings when I tip-toed past him on my way to school, his jowls fat as a catcher's mitt, I never cracked an empty bottle across that space where his front teeth rotted out. Nor did I touch a struck match to that mole by his lip, whiskery dot that—he believed—made him irresistable to all lovelorn women. Still, let us remember sweetness: Tim lying face down, Mom popping the zits that dotted his broad, sun-spotted back, which, though obviously gross, gets the January photo in my personal wall calendar of what love should be, if such a calendar could still exist above my kitchen table junked up with the heretos and therefores from my last divorce. Let us not forget how my mother would slip into her red cocktail dress and Tim would say, "Your mother is beautiful," before getting up to go dance with someone else. In fairness, let me confess that I pedaled my ten-speed across the Leaf River bridge all the way to Tim's other woman's house and lay with that woman's daughter beside the moon- cold weight of the propane tank, dumb with liquor, numb to the fire ants that we spread our blanket over until I stopped for a second and looked up because I wondered if her mother could hear us, or if Tim might not have stood in the kitchen, maybe looked out the window and saw my white ass pumping in the moonlight, and whispered to himself, "That's my boy."
"Elegy for My Mother's Ex-Boyfriend" from Smote. Copyright © 2015 by James Kimbrell. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Sarabande Books, www.sarabandebooks.org.
and Vievee Francis concerning love, redemption,
and the TV show Empire
might not be the most august
of openings, but like hypocrisy in this great falling
hegemony, it’s all I got.
Besides, what’s history but
a conversation we’re born into without context,
and what is society but three friends who keep dipping
to the DM’s from a group text. Oh, America, where its
ID states, I am Erica, in glittery pink
hearts, the hologram hinting at the fact that this card holder
has a dogmatic Top Forty devotion,
only eats organic granola, and raises strays humanely.
It’s easy to be angry when the constitution starts for some,
We the People, and begins for others, Well see, you people.
Some can’t start a sentence without To be fair.
This is where, if I were a white poet, I’d be ironic,
especially if I had, in the Stevens’
vernacular, a mind of winter,
which is a generous manner of saying said poet’s
emotionally snowed in.
It’s still socially unacceptable in my community
to admit predispositions toward depression.
In part because we think sadness is bougie. I sure
as pig believed
that I was too broke to be
depressed. Machismo culture means, Matthew,
that we never needed any other emotion than
power, anything but anger was middling, that
I never had the courage to be anything but
mean, to say, hey friend, I see your achievement. Hey friend,
I see your achievement. Hyperbole shades in
what we are afraid to say. In my experience,
when someone’s really feeling you, they’ll ask,
You got some black in you,
don’t lie. Beautiful black women, ask me again what I am,
touch my hair once more, tell me it must be the Indians
in me. Tell me otra vez, while holding my ears, while
I look up at you, no tienes labios pero tus besos
son como azúcar. Beautiful black women,
we’ve built so many types of pyramids. I can love you,
like the rhetoric.
If you say you don’t smell beach-y, oceanic,
a wave breaking obsequiously, then you don’t. Skin
can’t be the night, too
filled with a lonely white consciousness.
We up in church yet, Vievee?
The dog and pony show of white tears makes some of us
pretty pet-able. And here is where if I were a white poet
I’d say black women are saving the world.
Some of the poorest poets swear
by their Kraft. A politics. Perfection, beauty were never white
aesthetics. Despite this, pimps
put white girls out during the day, black girls at night.
Rachel Dolezal went on the nightly news and
televised us with falsehoods, darkened us all, but she probably
understood Louis Simpson best, who said every
aesthetic statement is a defense of one’s own,
so when I say I love you, what I mean is I love what
I am, but especially, maybe more so,
what I’ve never been.
Copyright © 2018 by David Tomas Martinez. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 23, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Before this day I loved like an animal loves a human, with no way to articulate how my bones felt in bed or how a telephone felt so strange in my paw. O papa— I called out to no one— but no one understood. I didn’t even. I wanted to be caught. Like let me walk beside you on my favorite leash, let my hair grow long and wild so you can comb it in the off-hours, be tender to me. Also let me eat the meals you do not finish so I can acclimate, climb into the way you claim this world. Once, I followed married men: eager for shelter, my fur curled, my lust freshly showered. I called out, Grief. They heard, Beauty. I called out, Why? They said, Because I can and will. One smile could sustain me for a week. I was that hungry. Lithe and giddy, my skin carried the ether of a so-so self-esteem. I felt fine. I was fine, but I was also looking for scraps; I wanted them all to pet me. You think because I am a woman, I cannot call myself a dog? Look at my sweet canine mind, my long, black tongue. I know what I’m doing. When you’re with the wrong person, you start barking. But with you, I am looking out this car window with a heightened sense I’ve always owned. Oh every animal knows when something is wrong. Of this sweet, tender feeling, I was wrong, and I was right, and I was wrong.
Copyright © 2018 by Analicia Sotelo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 5, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.