A long night I spent
thinking that reality was the story
of the human species
the vanquished search for the vanquished
Sounds come by, ruffling my soul
I sense space’s elasticity,
go on reading the books she wrote on the
wars she’s seen
Why do seasons who regularly follow
their appointed time, deny their kind of energy
why is winter followed by a few
more days of winter?
We came to transmit the shimmering
from which we came; to name it
we deal with a permanent voyage,
the becoming of that which itself had
Copyright © 2017 by Etel Adnan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 28, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Between Hanoi and Sapa there are clean slabs of rice fields
and no two brick houses in a row.
I mean, no three—
See, counting’s hard in half-sleep, and the rain pulls a sheet
over the sugar palms and their untroubled leaves.
Hours ago, I crossed a motorbike with a hog strapped to its seat,
the size of a date pit from a distance.
Can this solitude be rootless, unhooked from the ground?
No matter. The mind resides both inside and out.
It can think itself and think itself into existence.
I sponge off the eyes, no worse for wear.
My frugal mouth spends the only foreign words it owns.
At present, on this sleeper train, there’s nowhere to arrive.
Me? I’m just here in my traveler’s clothes, trying on each passing town for size.
From Eye Level (Graywolf Press, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Jenny Xie. Used with the permission of Graywolf Press.
I worry that my friends will misunderstand my silence as a lack of love, or interest, instead of a tent city built for my own mind, I worry I can no longer pretend enough to get through another year of pretending I know that I understand time, though I can see my own hands; sometimes, I worry over how to dress in a world where a white woman wearing a scarf over her head is assumed to be cold, whereas with my head cloaked, I am an immediate symbol of a war folks have been fighting eons-deep before I was born, a meteor.
Copyright © 2018 by Tarfia Faizullah. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 10, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
From The Undressing: Poems by Li-Young Lee. Copyright © 2018 by Li-Young Lee. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
California drought withering the basins,
the hills ready to ignite. Oh, stupid ways
I’ve loved and unraveled myself.
I, a parched field, and not a spit of rain.
I announced to a room of strangers,
I’ve never loved anyone more.
Now he and I no longer speak.
Outside: Manila, 40 years
after my parents’ first arrival.
I deplane where they debarked.
At customs, I am given a sheet warning of MERS—
in ’75, my parents received fishermen’s lunches,
a bottle of fish sauce. They couldn’t enter
until they were vaccinated. My mother, 22,
newly emptied of a stillborn daughter.
In Đà Nẵng, my cousin has become unrecognizable
after my four year absence. His teeth, at 21,
have begun to rot. His face swollen over.
I want to shield him from his terrible life.
Tazed at 15 by the cops until he pissed himself.
So beaten in the mental institution, that family had to
bring him home. His mother always near tears
when I ask, How are you doing?
You want to know what survivorhood looks like?
It’s not romantic. The corn drying huskless
in the front yard. The ducks chasing each other in the back.
The thick arms of a woman who will carry bricks
for the rest of her life. The plainness with which
she speaks of hardship. The bricks aren’t a metaphor
for the weight she carries. Ánh, which means light,
is sick, and cannot work,
but instead goes wandering the neighborhood,
eating other people’s food, bloating
his mother’s unpayable debts.
What pleasure can be found here,
even if the love is palpable?
My mother stopped crying years ago.
What’s the use, she says, of all this leaking.
Enough to fill a drainage ditch, a reservoir?
No, just enough to wet a pillow.
What a waste of time, me pining after
a man who no longer feels for me.
Today, I would give it up. Trade mine
for theirs. They tell me that they are not hungry.
Happy is their toil. My uncles and their
browned skins, not a pinch of fat anywhere.
They work the fields and swallow
beer after beer, getting sentimental.
Whose birds have come to roost, whose pigs in the muck?
Their dog has just birthed four new pups.
Despite ourselves, time moves on.
I walked lover’s lane with my cousin.
The heart-lights reflected on the river’s black.
The locks clustered and dangling.
I should have left our names on that bridge.
My name, the names of my family, written there.
Copyright © 2016 by Cathy Linh Che. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 21, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
No matter where we go, there’s a history
of white men describing a landscape
so they can claim it. I look out the window
& I don’t see a sunset, I see a man’s
pink tongue razing the horizon.
I once heard a man describe the village
in Vietnam where my family comes from.
It was beautiful
a poem I would gift my mother
but somewhere in the pastoral I am reminded
a child (recently) was blown apart
after stepping on a mine, a bulb, I guess
blooming forty years later—
maybe it was how the poet said dirt
or maybe it was how he used fire
to describe the trees.
From Not Here (Coffee House Press, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Hieu Minh Nguyen. Used with the permission of Coffee House Press.
You map my cheeks in gelatinous dark, your torso
floating, a forgotten moon, and a violin
crosses the sheets while you kiss me your mouth
of castanets. I believed once my uncles lived
in trees, from the encyclopedia I’d carried
to my father, The Philippines, the Ilongot hunting
from a branch, my father’s chin in shadows. I try
to tell you about distance, though my body
unstitches, fruit of your shoulder lit by the patio
lamp, grass of you sticky with dew, and all
our unlit places folding, one
into another. By dead night: my face in the pillow,
your knuckles in my hair, my father whipping my
back. How to lift pain from desire, the word
safety from safe, me, and the wind
chatters down gutters, rumoring
rain. I graze your stubble, lose my edges mouthing your
name. To love what we can no longer
distinguish, we paddle the other’s darkness, whisper
the bed, cry the dying violet hour; you twist
your hands of hard birches, and we peel into
our shadows, the losing of our names.
From For Want of Water (Beacon Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Sasha Pimentel. Used with permission from Beacon Press.
When the bass drops on Bill Withers’ Better Off Dead, it’s like 7 a.m. and I confess I’m looking over my shoulder once or twice just to make sure no one in Brooklyn is peeking into my third-floor window to see me in pajamas I haven’t washed for three weeks before I slide from sink to stove in one long groove left foot first then back to the window side with my chin up and both fists clenched like two small sacks of stolen nickels and I can almost hear the silver hit the floor by the dozens when I let loose and sway a little back and just like that I’m a lizard grown two new good legs on a breeze -bent limb. I’m a grown-ass man with a three-day wish and two days to live. And just like that everyone knows my heart’s broke and no one is home. Just like that, I’m water. Just like that, I’m the boat. Just like that, I’m both things in the whole world rocking. Sometimes sadness is just what comes between the dancing. And bam!, my mother’s dead and, bam!, my brother’s children are laughing. Just like—ok, it’s true I can’t pop up from my knees so quick these days and no one ever said I could sing but tell me my body ain’t good enough for this. I’ll count the aches another time, one in each ankle, the sharp spike in my back, this mud-muscle throbbing in my going bones, I’m missing the six biggest screws to hold this blessed mess together. I’m wind- rattled. The wood’s splitting. The hinges are falling off. When the first bridge ends, just like that, I’m a flung open door.