Valentine's Day, our first apart. Are you not coming back? Where do I put this paper heart? The snow, the sleet last night this morning's year whites-out out world. They said you'd reappear once I let you go got rid of history's mess (the noise, the clutter I created) said you'd return to bless a quiet life share it again with me lend me one more swift chance to perfectly tell you how long I've loved and not let pride or fear from decades past lure me to hide my need, my hope or lately, fresh desire. Strange: thopse weeks, our words, how you'd admire some silly thing I'd done outfit I'd wear fresh thought or my unruly hair. Earlier seasons, you had not, but now you'd say over and over, as that day in ancient Rome: I love you. What wild sweet flight what daring ride we ended. Was I right to let you go? How can the earth make sense? Chilled cardinals huddle here and lightfooted horses black-paied at our fence.
From Fierce Day by Rose Styron. Copyright © 2015 by Rose Styron. Reprinted by permission of the author.
No one’s awake
but us, and a bird.
The day’s too beautiful
to speak a word.
Copyright © 1995 by Rose Styron. “[No one’s awake]” was originally published in By Vineyard Light (Rizzoli International Publications, 1995). Reprinted with permission of the author.
let ruin end here
let him find honey
where there was once a slaughter
let him enter the lion’s cage
& find a field of lilacs
let this be the healing
& if not let it be
From Don’t Call Us Dead (Graywolf Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Danez Smith. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Graywolf Press, www.graywolfpress.org.
Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day's journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night, my friend.
But is there for the night a resting-place?
A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
You cannot miss that inn.
Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
Those who have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
They will not keep you standing at that door.
Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
Of labour you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
Yea, beds for all who come.
This poem is in the public domain.
Like light but
in reverse we billow.
We turn a corner
and make the hills
my parts until no
No more skin-sunk
No more blameless death.
My hair loses its atoms.
My body glows
in the dark.
Planets are smashed
stripped of their power
to name things.
Our love fills the air.
Our love eats
the deadly sounds men
make when they see
how much magic
we have away
Copyright © 2017 by Joshua Jennifer Espinoza. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.
Your scrunched eye seizes, sizes
me up: pulley-roped palliatives, craft and lies.
Washing my hands in the back, I wonder:
what's a good death?
Of course you held on and I held on to you.
We had married ourselves to a trance.
Copyright © 2017 by Joan Houlihan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 25, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
This is like a life. This is lifelike.
I climb inside a mistake
and remake myself in the shape
of a better mistake—
a nice pair of glasses
without any lenses,
shoes that don’t quite fit,
a chest that always hurts.
There is a checklist of things
you need to do to be a person.
I don’t want to be a person
but there isn’t a choice,
so I work my way down and
kiss the feet.
I work my way up and lick
I give you my skull
to do with whatever you please.
You grow flowers from my head
and trim them too short.
I paint my nails nice and pretty
and who cares. Who gives a shit.
I’m trying not to give a shit
but it doesn’t fit well on me.
I wear my clothes. I wear my body.
I walk out in the grass and turn red
at the sight of everything.
Copyright © 2015 by Joshua Jennifer Espinoza. Used with the permission of the author.
California is a desert and I am a woman inside it.
The road ahead bends sideways and I lurch within myself.
I’m full of ugly feelings, awful thoughts, bad dreams
of doom, and so much love left unspoken.
Is mercury in retrograde? someone asks.
Someone answers, No, it’s something else
like that though. Something else like that.
That should be my name.
When you ask me am I really a woman, a human being,
a coherent identity, I’ll say No, I’m something else
like that though.
A true citizen of planet earth closes their eyes
and says what they are before the mirror.
A good person gives and asks for nothing in return.
I give and I ask for only one thing—
Hear me. Hear me. Hear me. Hear me. Hear me.
Hear me. Bear the weight of my voice and don’t forget—
things haunt. Things exist long after they are killed.
Copyright © 2018 by Joshua Jennifer Espinoza. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 11, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
We were the family there on his bed the five of us touching his arms, his chest, cradling his head. For children bending to him, to ease his departure, bless his mysterious journey— then I alone uncovering the bony legs, preparing him for rest. Now I, in the limbo of our fashioned earth, cannot remember how to be alive, crossing abandoned fields, edges of cracked white sea, high priest of sky.
From Fierce Day by Rose Styron. Copyright © 2015 by Rose Styron. Reprinted by permission of the author.
Barely-morning pink curtains
drape an open window. Roaches scatter,
the letter t vibrating in cottonwoods.
His hair horsetail and snakeweed.
I siphon doubt from his throat
for the buffalograss.
Seep willow antler press against
the memory of the first man I saw naked.
His tongue a mosquito whispering
its name a hymn on mesquite,
my cheek. The things we see the other do
collapse words into yucca bone.
The Navajo word for eye
hardens into the word for war.
Copyright © 2019 by Jake Skeets. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 12, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
/1/ What forest is there to run to, other than the one within another’s heart? What appears to be deeply rooted is half dead drowning and sucking at the sun. /2/ I hate to say this but what is stable can be easily disrupted, and what is easily disrupted can cloud even the clearest of days. This is what I have come to know after being turned on, turned over, and turned round. /3/ I want to spark the heat of this body with the heart, with the heart of the heart, with the heart of the heart of this body, with the whole body of the heart, and then I want to slow it down and tinker with it. I want to slow it all the way downdowndown to a gentle timber, or fall. /4/ To pioneer is to take part in the beginnings of something. Come, Pioneer. I am tired of shepherding this heart. Help me to believe. Come. I am near willing to give it up and over. Come, before I bury it all under.
Copyright © 2019 Leah Umansky. This poem originally appeared in Poetry Northwest, Winter & Spring 2019. Used with permission of the author.
Lake Michigan dreamed me, I think,
in the winter of 1969, its long currents
combing shipwrecks and where
was my mama, then? (She was wearing
a red muumuu.) And where was my father,
then? (He was fishing for steelhead.)
No one dreamed you, stupid girl, the seagull
said — you came straight from the belly
of your granddad’s school mascot.
You wore plaid skirts and bruised your knees
and lived across the street from the motorcycle shop.
I remember dropping dimes in the jukebox;
I remember embers in the sand. Once I saw God
himself — a small boy running across the RV park
with a toy sword in his hand. I dreamed
we all lay down on the beach and the dunes
moved over our bodies. It took
ten thousand years of whispering,
but we finally slept. And before that?
the seagull asked. Before that I found comfort
in the fur of animals and the movement
of a boat on the water. I was warm
in my mother’s arms. Before that I was
a sonic boom over Wisconsin, and before that, fire.
Copyright © 2018 Karin Gottshall. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Kenyon Review, September/October 2018.
I wouldn’t even know what to do with a third chance,
another halo to shake loose galloping into the crossfire.
Should I be apologizing? Supposedly, what’s inside my
body is more or less the same as what’s inside yours—
here, the river girl clutching her toy whistle. There,
the black snake covered in scabs. Follow my neckline,
the beginning will start beginning again. I swear on my
head and eyes, there are moments in every day when
if you asked me to leave, I would. Heaven is mostly
preposition—up, above, around—and you can live
any place that’s a place. A failure of courage is still
a victory of safety. Bravery pitches its refugee tent
at the base of my brain and slowly starves, chipping into
darkness like a clay bird bouncing down a well. All night
I eat yogurt and eggplant and garlic, water my dead
orchids. In what world would any of me seem credible?
God’s word is a melody, and melody requires repetition.
God’s word is a melody I sang once then forgot.
Copyright © 2018 Kaveh Akbar. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Spring 2018.
my father is tying concertina wire
around his garden which is
now all but ruined by
squirrels deer and worst
of all rabbits with cucumber
seeds stuck to their
tails I am an apex predator my father is
an apex predator god makes
us in pairs my mother searches the lawn
for four-leaf clovers pinning them
to a scrapbook pinning
moments to time she gives each clover
a name Buck Comes Onto Porch and
Hospital Note From Kaveh while
she makes tea inside I search
the house for a lighter and can’t
even find matches what I miss most
about winter is the brightness of
winter summer’s all foggy and
wet my mother hovers in
the kitchen like a strange tune she is out
of saffron and has no money
for more she weeps over her
bleach-white rice until my
father comes in cracks an egg
over the plate bursts
the yolk says see says yellow my mother
smiles so big and sad she wrinkles into
the future where my eyes
are yellow again maybe from the yolk
maybe something else my fur is coming in
so thick my mother would squeal
with pride if she could see it when she
was pregnant I kicked so hard so
often she could barely
sleep staying up all
night she thought she must
be full of bunnies
Copyright © 2019 by Kaveh Akbar. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 2, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Going abruptly into a starry night It is ignorance we blink from, dark, unhoused; There is a gaze of animal delight Before the human vision. Then, aroused To nebulous danger, we may look for easy stars, Orion and the Dipper; but they are not ours, These learned fields. Dark and ignorant, Unable to see here what our forebears saw, We keep some fear of random firmament Vestigial in us. And we think, Ah, If I had lived then, when these stories were made up, I Could have found more likely pictures in haphazard sky. But this is not so. Indeed, we have proved fools When it comes to myths and images. A few Old bestiaries, pantheons and tools Translated to the heavens years ago— Scales and hunter, goat and horologe—are all That save us when, time and again, our systems fall. And what would we do, given a fresh sky And our dearth of image? Our fears, our few beliefs Do not have shapes. They are like that astral way We have called milky, vague stars and star-reefs That were shapeless even to the fecund eye of myth— Surely these are no forms to start a zodiac with. To keep the sky free of luxurious shapes Is an occupation for most of us, the mind Free of luxurious thoughts. If we choose to escape, What venial constellations will unwind Around a point of light, and then cannot be found Another night or by another man or from other ground. As for me, I would find faces there, Or perhaps one face I have long taken for guide; Far-fetched, maybe, like Cygnus, but as fair, And a constellation anyone could read Once it was pointed out; an enlightenment of night, The way the pronoun you will turn dark verses bright.
Reprinted from Effort at Speech: New and Selected Poems by William Meredith, published by Triquarterly Books/Northwestern University Press in 1997. Copyright (c) 1997 by William Meredith. All rights reserved; used by permission of Northwestern University Press and the author.
And whom do I call my enemy?
An enemy must be worthy of engagement.
I turn in the direction of the sun and keep walking.
It’s the heart that asks the question, not my furious mind.
The heart is the smaller cousin of the sun.
It sees and knows everything.
It hears the gnashing even as it hears the blessing.
The door to the mind should only open from the heart.
An enemy who gets in, risks the danger of becoming a friend.
Harjo, Joy, Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings: Poems; Copyright © 2015 by W. W. Norton & Company. Reprinted with permission of Anderson Literary Management LLC, 244 Fifth Avenue, Floor 11, New York, NY 10001.
She sits among the eternal hills,
Their crown, thrice glorious and dear,
Her voice is as a thousand tongues
Of silver fountains, gurgling clear;
Her breath is prayer, her life is love,
And worship of all lovely things;
Her children have a gracious port,
Her beggars show the blood of kings.
By old Tradition guarded close,
None doubt the grandeur she has seen;
Upon her venerable front
Is written: “I was born a queen!”
She rules the age by Beauty’s power,
As once she ruled by arméd might;
The Southern sun doth treasure her
Deep in his golden heart of light.
Awe strikes the traveller when he sees
The vision of her distant dome,
And a strange spasm wrings his heart
As the guide whispers, “There is Rome!”
Rome of the Romans! where the gods
Of Greek Olympus long held sway;
Rome of the Christians, Peter’s tomb,
The Zion of our later day.
Rome, the mailed Virgin of the world,
Defiance on her brows and breast;
Rome, to voluptuous pleasure won,
Debauched, and locked in drunken rest.
Rome, in her intellectual day,
Europe’s intriguing step-dame grown;
Rome, bowed to weakness and decay,
A canting, mass-frequenting crone.
Then the unlettered man plods on,
Half chiding at the spell he feels,
The artist pauses at the gate,
And on the wondrous threshold kneels.
The sick man lifts his languid head
For those soft skies and balmy airs;
The pilgrim tries a quicker pace,
And hugs remorse, and patters prayers.
For even the grass that feeds the herds
Methinks some unknown virtue yields;
The very hinds in reverence tread
The precincts of the ancient fields.
But wrapt in gloom of night and death,
I crept to thee, dear mother Rome;
And in thy hospitable heart
Found rest and comfort, health and home,
And friendships, warm and living still,
Although their dearest joys are fled;
True sympathies that bring to life
That better self, so often dead.
For all the wonder that thou wert,
For all the dear delight thou art,
Accept a homage from my lips,
That warms again a wasted heart.
And, though it seem a childish prayer,
I’ve breathed it oft, that when I die,
As thy remembrance dear in it,
That heart in thee might buried lie.
This poem is in the public domain.
Nearly everyone had left that bar in the middle of winter except the
hardcore. It was the coldest night of the year, every place shut down, but
not us. Of course we noticed when she came in. We were Indian ruins. She
was the end of beauty. No one knew her, the stranger whose tribe we
recognized, her family related to deer, if that's who she was, a people
accustomed to hearing songs in pine trees, and making them hearts.
The woman inside the woman who was to dance naked in the bar of misfits
blew deer magic. Henry jack, who could not survive a sober day, thought she
was Buffalo Calf Woman come back, passed out, his head by the toilet. All
night he dreamed a dream he could not say. The next day he borrowed
money, went home, and sent back the money I lent. Now that's a miracle.
Some people see vision in a burned tortilla, some in the face of a woman.
This is the bar of broken survivors, the club of the shotgun, knife wound, of
poison by culture. We who were taught not to stare drank our beer. The
players gossiped down their cues. Someone put a quarter in the jukebox to
relive despair. Richard's wife dove to kill her. We had to keep her
till, while Richard secretly bought the beauty a drink.
How do I say it? In this language there are no words for how the real world
collapses. I could say it in my own and the sacred mounds would come into
focus, but I couldn't take it in this dingy envelope. So I look at the stars in
this strange city, frozen to the back of the sky, the only promises that ever
My brother-in-law hung out with white people, went to law school with a
perfect record, quit. Says you can keep your laws, your words. And
practiced law on the street with his hands. He jimmied to the proverbial
dream girl, the face of the moon, while the players racked a new game.
He bragged to us, he told her magic words and that when she broke, became human.
But we all heard his voice crack:
What's a girl like you doing in a place like this?
That's what I'd like to know, what are we all doing in a place like this?
You would know she could hear only what she wanted to; don't we all? Left
the drink of betrayal Richard bought her, at the bar. What was she on? We all
wanted some. Put a quarter in the juke. We all take risks stepping into thin
air. Our ceremonies didn't predict this. or we expected more.
I had to tell you this, for the baby inside the girl sealed up with a lick of
hope and swimming into the praise of nations. This is not a rooming house, but
a dream of winter falls and the deer who portrayed the relatives of
strangers. The way back is deer breath on icy windows.
The next dance none of us predicted. She borrowed a chair for the stairway
to heaven and stood on a table of names. And danced in the room of children
You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille With four hungry children and a
crop in the field.
And then she took off her clothes. She shook loose memory, waltzed with the
empty lover we'd all become.
She was the myth slipped down through dreamtime. The promise of feast we
all knew was coming. The deer who crossed through knots of a curse to find
us. She was no slouch, and neither were we, watching.
The music ended. And so does the story. I wasn't there. But I imagined her
like this, not a stained red dress with tape on her heels but the deer who
entered our dream in white dawn, breathed mist into pine trees, her fawn a
blessing of meat, the ancestors who never left.
From In Mad Love and War by Joy Harjo. Copyright © 1990 by Joy Harjo. Used with permission of the author.