The cry of the cicada
Gives us no sign
That presently it will die.
—Translation by William George Aston
This poem is in the public domain.
I ask a student how I can help her. Nothing is on her paper.
It’s been that way for thirty-five minutes. She has a headache.
She asks to leave early. Maybe I asked the wrong question.
I’ve always been dumb with questions. When I hurt,
I too have a hard time accepting advice or gentleness.
I owe for an education that hurt, and collectors call my mama’s house.
I do nothing about my unpaid bills as if that will help.
I do nothing about the mold on my ceiling, and it spreads.
I do nothing about the cat’s litter box, and she pisses on my new bath mat.
Nothing isn’t an absence. Silence isn’t nothing. I told a woman I loved her,
and she never talked to me again. I told my mama a man hurt me,
and her hard silence told me to keep my story to myself.
Nothing is full of something, a mass that grows where you cut at it.
I’ve lost three aunts when white doctors told them the thing they felt
was nothing. My aunt said nothing when it clawed at her breathing.
I sat in a room while it killed her. I am afraid when nothing keeps me
in bed for days. I imagine what my beautiful aunts are becoming
underground, and I cry for them in my sleep where no one can see.
Nothing is in my bedroom, but I smell my aunt’s perfume
and wake to my name called from nowhere. I never looked
into a sky and said it was empty. Maybe that’s why I imagine a god
up there to fill what seems unimaginable. Some days, I want to live
inside the words more than my own black body.
When the white man shoves me so that he can get on the bus first,
when he says I am nothing but fits it inside a word, and no one stops him,
I wear a bruise in the morning where he touched me before I was born.
My mama’s shame spreads inside me. I’ve heard her say
there was nothing in a grocery store she could afford. I’ve heard her tell
the landlord she had nothing to her name. There was nothing I could do
for the young black woman that disappeared on her way to campus.
They found her purse and her phone, but nothing led them to her.
Nobody was there to hold Renisha McBride’s hand
when she was scared of dying. I worry poems are nothing against it.
My mama said that if I became a poet or a teacher, I’d make nothing, but
I’ve thrown words like rocks and hit something in a room when I aimed
for a window. One student says when he writes, it feels
like nothing can stop him, and his laughter unlocks a door. He invites me
into his living.
Copyright © 2020 by Krysten Hill. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 7, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
I don’t want to say anything. What is it to be saying? Force speech, rape speech. I have no subjectivity or light subjectivity. Speaking, defunct. Land mass floats. And the forests have been felled. And the antlers, snapped. Morphed lips, already sewn. Most of us are keen to mouth the word, “beast.” Everyone is talking talking talking like dentures, clack clack, but nothing is really said. Or so much chatter static. I am not saying anything either, am waiting and breathing. My body is speaking. Expressing the thingness of the thing. It chats at me, motoring. In the taxi, a tree shaped purple fragrance floats across face.
To be a red
of the sublime, or
the sublime itself—
My mother in
her pink kitchen
and its grey
Outside, the gate
ajar, the dog
run wild-ing. A thing
called girl splay,
or wheat heart.
We could draw
a chalk line there.
This is not conceptual. This is a poem. You are a poem. I am.
More secrets: humiliation as release.
The men all say “I want to stretch you out,” feel themselves big in this small corner of the world. How chivalrous, the ache of any obvious sliding down. What would the poem be without wings to block out the light?
Copyright © 2019 by Dawn Lundy Martin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 5, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
After Robert Minervini’s “Improvised Garden II (Water Street)”
more and more of my friends
are becoming parents or partners
i have lived long and short enough
to remember the homegirls who
danced non-stop until three a.m.
the moon a parabola to our party
i’ve grown up enough
to see them sing their favorite slow songs
to herbs and succulents on their windowsills
in homes they sowed from dreams
the same sister who once dug a heel into
a man’s oblique now steals thyme with me
off of suburban bushes after brunch
in my neighborhood
when a friend locked herself out—
the same person who loses wallets &
laptop chargers & saves my broken earrings
with a hot-glue gun in her backpack—
this pinay macguyver
has me breaking into her house at night
where we be tiptoeing over her
forest of planted avocado jars
into her dark room to find warmth
the one whose living room and bedroom
once resembled a flea market
or a super fly thrift store
and sometimes ikea—
the one who let me stay
she pays full price for potters &
vases—pronounced with the short
& therefore expensive ‘a’ sound
one womxn named her garden
“grown and sexy”
bringing new meaning
to the phrase garden hoe.
another who tops burritos with
white sauce dots like queen anne’s lace
also commits the crime of eating
one half at a time, you know, meal planning
with a sweet tooth, she drinks all of her horchata
& knows how
my family loves orchids &
she brings me them for my birthday
or any other tuesday
my mentee once congratulated me with
mint & basil & lavender & rosemary—
sweet aromas gifted when i
was leaving a job that left me to rot
for another that was not an office
with no windows, no green
the women in my life reroot
over oceans & provinces & planes to cultivate
a geography of trunks & limbs
reminding me that to decompose
is the chance to live again
my mother’s rose bushes open wide this spring
in her backyard without her
my mother’s body is buried in a plot
of other bodies without mine
isn’t a cemetery a garden
of all we’ve loved?
and isn’t a garden full
of already dead things?
those who bury their beloved
put the gentlest parts
of themselves into soil
my mother is a seed
the first woman i cannot unplant
cannot pull or twist back into my hands
her orchids bloom reaching
how delicately the petals hang off
their stakes like gold, glass bangles on wrists
against disco lights against the ambiance of a food truck menu
like lip gloss how bougainvillea spill onto sidewalks
like how the sun stays lit
during an eclipse
the flowers in my garden grow lively
& loving & hungry from pods & cinderblocks
my friends are florists
they water & cry & bloom & sleep
from loss & clay & unfolded laundry
sometimes we grow tired & tough
sometimes you have to open a cactus to cut
pieces off so we don’t grow stuck
arranging the flowers
in my garden
is a lattice
a life lesson
Copyright © 2020 Janice Lobo Sapigao. Originally published for the San José 11th Annual Poetry Invitational. Used with permission of the poet.
The Bud Light crystallizing in the freezer
Hides high above a child’s reach
The Uncles table sits in the backyard of my mother’s house parties
The beer and barbecue footnote their good time
I go to greet them like daughter, like niece, like good girl,
They say. Like grown woman now, they say.
At what age did uncles stop seeing me as a little girl
Since when did they dress up my growth with their pick-up lines?
Each word sharpening a knife of bedside manner
Each nervous laugh covering up the names of women who don’t stay
Oh you’re a teacher now? They repeat with bedroom eyes
Teach me, they say. To my classroom, they say, I want to come.
The pork belly on the table I used to draw on as a kid
Curls in the cold air, sausage cackling char on the grill
Flatlining my red lips I paint for myself
My voice a fire extinguisher
Against all the family men who pretend family means
Things I can get away with
A myth of fragility trapping too many girls
Forced to call mercy
Each beer sip a squeal silenced
Each man still a swine on the spit
Copyright © 2018 by Janice Lobo Sapigao. This poem originally appeared in Drunk in a Midnight Choir, Spring 2018. Used with the permission of the author.
It's just getting dark, fog drifting in,
damp grasses fragrant with anise and mint,
and though I call his name
until my voice cracks,
there's no faint tinkling
of tag against collar, no sleek
black silhouette with tall ears rushing
toward me through the wild radish.
As it turns out, he's trotted home,
tracing the route of his trusty urine.
Now he sprawls on the deep red rug, not dead,
not stolen by a car on West Cliff Drive.
Every time I look at him, the wide head
resting on outstretched paws,
joy does another lap around the racetrack
of my heart. Even in sleep
when I turn over to ease my bad hip,
I'm suffused with contentment.
If I could lose him like this every day
I'd be the happiest woman alive.
From The Human Line (Copper Canyon Press, 2007). Copyright © 2007 by Ellen Bass. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.
Money is talking
to itself again
in this season’s
and safari look,
its closeout camouflage.
Hit the refresh button
and this is what you get,
that its hands are tied.
On a billboard by the 880,
“Shut up and play.”
“Money Talks” from Partly: New and Selected Poems, 2001-2015. © 2016 by Rae Armantrout. Published by Wesleyan University Press. Used by permission.
“and the people live till they have white hair”
―E. M. Price
The dry brown coughing beneath their feet,
(Only for a while, for the handyman is on his way)
These people walk their golden gardens.
We say ourselves fortunate to be driving by today.
That we may look at them, in their gardens where
The summer ripeness rots. But not raggedly.
Even the leaves fall down in lovelier patterns here.
And the refuse, the refuse is a neat brilliancy.
When they flow sweetly into their houses
With softness and slowness touched by that everlasting gold,
We know what they go to. To tea. But that does not mean
They will throw some little black dots into some water and add sugar and the juice of the cheapest lemons that are sold,
While downstairs that woman’s vague phonograph bleats, “Knock me a kiss.”
And the living all to be made again in the sweatingest physical manner
Tomorrow. . . . Not that anybody is saying that these people have no trouble.
Merely that it is trouble with a gold-flecked beautiful banner.
Nobody is saying that these people do not ultimately cease to be. And
Sometimes their passings are even more painful than ours.
It is just that so often they live till their hair is white.
They make excellent corpses, among the expensive flowers. . . .
Nobody is furious. Nobody hates these people.
At least, nobody driving by in this car.
It is only natural, however, that it should occur to us
How much more fortunate they are than we are.
It is only natural that we should look and look
At their wood and brick and stone
And think, while a breath of pine blows,
How different these are from our own.
We do not want them to have less.
But it is only natural that we should think we have not enough.
We drive on, we drive on.
When we speak to each other our voices are a little gruff.
Reprinted by consent of Brooks Permissions.
After hours of delay
and a particularly long layover,
the voice promising me clear blue skies
sounds like I imagined God
would when he asked me to forgive.
And the stewardess
pushing a cart toward me,
with her smart, ruby lips,
and unconventional snakeskin boots,
looks like I imagined Venus would
if she wagged a finger at me,
inviting me to something forbidden.
on the cover of the in-flight magazine,
flexes the chest I thought I’d have
if I could work shame’s nine tails
across my back
enough to diet on grapes
or bike to the gym.
The housefly, the only one
I’ve ever seen on a plane,
caroming between seatbacks
like a fire drunk on its own heat,
looks like I imagined I might
if I died in a plane crash
and was immediately shuttled back
into the living body I deserve.
If I close my eyes and let the engine noise
drown out all this useless sense,
I can hear Venus as a heron
and see God as a never-ending chest
of drawers, each
one of the infinite shades of blue,
can feel the surprising litheness
of stretched snakeskin,
and smell brush burning
on the prairie,
and my next body is the wavering sunlight
through the surface of water.
Copyright © 2013 by Ross White. Used with permission of the author. “In 27D” originally appeared in The Southern Review.