For every unexpected illness that required medical insurance,
every second-trimester miscarriage, every chaos unemployment
caused, every looming eviction, every arrest warrant gone
unanswered, the women in my family made promesas to plaster
cast statues worshipped in overcrowded apartments with rum
poured over linoleum, nine-day candles coughing black soot
until the wick surrendered, Florida water perfuming doorways
and the backs of necks.

Promesas: barters/contracts with a God they didn’t vow to
change for but always appeased/ bowls of fruit/ paper bags filled
with coconut candy and caserolas de ajiaco/ left at busy intersections,
an oak tree in High bridge park, the doorway of the 34th precinct,
and when mar pacifico and rompe saraguey refused to grow on
Washington Heights windowsills, the youngest became part of
the trade.

Unsullied and unaware: cousin Mari pissed about having to dress
in green and red for twenty-one days to keep Tío Pablo out of jail/
Luisito scratching at an anklet made of braided corn silk to help
Tía Lorna find a new job/ and my hair not to be cut until Papi’s
tumor was removed.

Gathered in tight buns or sectioned pigtails, falling long past my
waist when asymmetrical bobs were in fashion, unaware my crown
had the necessary coercion to dislodge a mass from a colon, I grabbed
my older brother’s clippers, ran thirsty blades across my right temple
to the back of my ear, massaged the softness that emerged as strands
surrendered on bathroom tiles. My desire to mimic freestyle icons,
whose albums my cousins and I scratched on old record players,
wagered against Papi’s large intestine.

My unsteady hand: a fist
in the face of God.

Copyright © 2020 by Peggy Robles–Alvarado. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 6, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Lord—
Your good daughter I have been
my whole life.

I’ve kept your house
clean as sucked bone,

starved myself of everything
your other children have told me is sin.

I’ve sharpened my teeth on the slate
of your Word for your work’s sake.

Bridled the glint of my tongue
so men will feel strong

and not be seen trembling
under the soft of it.

I’ve behaved

and for what
do I hunger, myself growing slight
on tomorrow’s meat:

words, words, your words
as valued here as Black credit
at an all-American bank.

They say, Lord, piety is speaking to you,
but madness is hearing you

speak back. And under this,
like all good jokes lies
the truth: no one

in this equation seems to be listening
anyway. To you, to our own damned selves.
Tell me

how many Black girls
does it take to change a mind,
or a home           or a block
or a scale            or a heart
or a course          or a country?

You, Lord, as you have
with your other minor prophets,
have dragged—or is it called us

up the mountain, where in the thin air
there are those who got here
long before I ever dreamed of it,

still waiting on you
to finally cash this check.

Copyright © 2020 by Natasha Oladokun. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 20, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

They ask what I believe in—
Sour milk: the curdle & butter of it
Baby’s breath ragged with phlegm
The green sheen clinging to her skin like algae
The bone & teeth of us mossy and alive with DNA

But what’s your religion, they’re after—
What gods do you pray to?
The frilly curtains of her laughter
remodeling alla my pain
Oh, how she adorns this house of mine

So god’s a woman? (hands on they hips)
How water ain’t a woman
the way she make your thirst
her temperamental breasts
& everywhere everything everyone everywhichway—water

Well, who your altars honor?
The ghosts that inhabit us
& all the evidence of them:
double vision—floaters flecking
our periphery when we look away

from the light—all the mouths
at the bottom of our stomach—
Ever wonder why we eat two plates
& still hungry?        Or how our anger
multiplies in seconds like a kitchen

of negro roaches?         Yes, even the roaches
have melanin      black/brown with the spirits
of wayward witches        I burn candles
& pour brown liquor out for my bitches
& they glorious golden auras

To what churches do you tithe?
Our Lady of Ladled Magnificence
God of Ghetto Grace Incorporated
Our Mother Who Art in Harlem
House of Regurgitated Resurrections

Have you ever been possessed?
We ain’t never not been owned
not with all that restless bone
sediment at the bottom of the Atlantic
wonder why we frantic with personalities

How we sing with three throats
bending notes weeping willow
What are trees if not spirits
weeping & dancing simultaneous?
How we dipped our nooses in gold

& hung crosses from them
& wore them like shiny portable altars
How is there not a church in our chests?
How our breasts leak gospel truth
How our teeth ache with the blood of Jesus

Who, then, is your muse?
(pointing) ain’t she a muse        amusing     
a  maze           amazing      amazon
of our dreams         prisms that fracture
into auras & auras that fragment dimensions

Isn’t mourning a religion, then?
Like how all these feelings grow
muscles & flex & jerk inside of me
Like how they can’t kill us even when
they hands scream bloody murder

Like how we show up wearing white
just to spite them—spit at the pulpit
of bullshit & Babylon        How we eat
bibles for breakfast      Leviticus & grits   
Our souls sizzling in the skillet like gizzards

What is the geography of your grief?
Everywhere they are        & ain’t
painting the block milk white & sickly
a tricky bluish tint    (think: veins under skin)    
a sticky blues     a blush       blood—bluing the block       black

Copyright © 2019 by t'ai freedom ford. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 22, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Brown love is getting the pat down but not the secondary screening
and waiting after you clear to make sure the Sikh man or
the Black woman or the hijabis behind you get through

Brown love is asking the Punjabi guy working at the starbucks knockoff
if all the tea sizes are still the same price

and he says no,
it hasn’t been like that for at least four years,
but he slips you an extra tea bag without talking about it.

Brown love is the unsmiling aunty
at the disabled immigration line

barking
anything to declare? No? No? Have a good day.
and your rice, semolina, kari karo seeds and jaggary all get through
even though they are definitely from countries
where there are insects that could eat america to the ground

Brown love is texting your cousin on whatsapp asking
if she’s ever had a hard time bringing weed tincture in her carry on 

brown love is a balm
in this airport of life

where, if we can scrape up enough money
we all end up
because we all came from somewhere
and we want to go there
or we can’t go to there but we want to go to the place we went after that
where our mom still lives even though we fight
or our chosen sis is still in her rent controlled perfect apartment
where we get the luxury of things being like how we remember
we want to go to the place we used to live
and even if gentrification snatched the bakery
with the 75 cent coffee where everyone hung out all night
we can still walk the block where it was
and remember

and the thing about brown love is, nobody smiles.
nobody is friendly. nobody winks. nobody can get away with that
they’re all silently working their terrible 9 dollar an hour
food service jobs where tip jars aren’t allowed
or TSA sucks but it’s the job you can get out of the military
and nobody can get away with being outwardly loving
but we do what we can

brown love is the woman who lets your 1 pound over the 50 pound limit bag go
the angry woman who looks like your cousin
who is so tired on the american airlines customer service line
she tags your bag for checked luggage
and doesn’t say anything about a credit card, she just yells Next!
Brown love is your tired cousin who prays you all the way home
from when you get on the subway to when you land and get on another.
This is what we have
we do what we can.

Copyright © 2020 by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 16, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

   The lover's footprint in the sand
   the ten-year-old kid's bare feet
in the mud picking chili for rich growers,
not those seeking cultural or ethnic roots,
but those whose roots
have been exposed, hacked, dug up and burned
			and in those roots
			do animals burrow for warmth;
what is broken is blessed,
	not the knowledge and empty-shelled wisdom
	paraphrased from textbooks,
		not the mimicking nor plaques of distinction
		nor the ribbons and medals
but after the privileged carriage has passed
	the breeze blows traces of wheel ruts away
	and on the dust will again be the people's broken
							footprints.
What is broken God blesses,
	not the perfectly brick-on-brick prison
	but the shattered wall
	that announces freedom to the world,
proclaims the irascible spirit of the human
rebelling against lies, against betrayal,
against taking what is not deserved;
	the human complaint is what God blesses,
	our impoverished dirt roads filled with cripples,
what is broken is baptized,
	the irreverent disbeliever,
	the addict's arm seamed with needle marks
		is a thread line of a blanket
	frayed and bare from keeping the man warm.
We are all broken ornaments,
		glinting in our worn-out work gloves,
		foreclosed homes, ruined marriages,
from which shimmer our lives in their deepest truths,
blood from the wound,
				broken ornaments—
when we lost our perfection and honored our imperfect sentiments, we were
blessed.
Broken are the ghettos, barrios, trailer parks where gangs duel to death,
yet through the wretchedness a woman of sixty comes riding her rusty bicycle,
			we embrace
			we bury in our hearts,
broken ornaments, accused, hunted, finding solace and refuge
		we work, we worry, we love
		but always with compassion
		reflecting our blessings—
			in our brokenness
			thrives life, thrives light, thrives
				the essence of our strength,
					each of us a warm fragment,
					broken off from the greater
					ornament of the unseen,
					then rejoined as dust,
					to all this is.

From Selected Poems/Poemas Selectos, by Jimmy Santiago Baca, translated by Tomas H. Lucero and Liz Fania Werner. Copyright © 2009. Used by permission of New Directions. All rights reserved.

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.

And here is all we’ll need: a card deck, quartets of sun people
Of the sort found in black college dormitories, some vintage
Music, indiscriminate spirits, fried chicken, some paper,

A writing utensil, and a bottomless Saturday. We should explore
The origins of a derogatory word like spade as well as the word
For feeling alone in polite company. And also the implications
Of calling someone who is not your brother or sister,

Brother or Sister. So little is known of our past, we can imagine
Damn near anything. When I say maybe slaves held Spades
Tournaments on the anti-cruise ships bound for the Colonies,
You say when our ancestors were cooped on those ships

They were not yet slaves. Our groundbreaking film should begin
With a low-lit den in the Deep South and the deep fried voice
Of somebody’s grandmother holding smoke in her mouth
As she says, “The two of Diamonds trumps the two of Spades

In my house.” And at some point someone should tell the story
Where Jesus and the devil are Spades partners traveling
The juke joints of the 1930s. We could interview my uncle Junior
And definitely your skinny cousin Mary and any black man

Sitting at a card table wearing shades. Who do you suppose
Would win if Booker T and MLK were matched against Du Bois
And Malcolm X in a game of Spades? You say don’t talk
Across the table. Pay attention to the suits being played.

The object of the game is to communicate invisibly
With your teammate. I should concentrate. Do you suppose
We are here because we are lonely in some acute diasporafied
Way? This should be explored in our film about Spades.

Because it is one of the ways I am still learning what it is
To be black, tonight I am ready to master Spades. Four players
Bid a number of books. Each team adds the bids
Of the two partners, and the total is the number of books

That team must try to win. Is that not right? This is a game
That tests the boundary between mathematics and magic,
If you ask me. A bid must be intuitive like the itchiness
Of the your upper lip before you sip strange whiskey.

My mother did not drink, which is how I knew something
Was wrong with her, but she held a dry spot at the table
When couples came to play. It’s a scene from my history,
But this probably should not be mentioned in our documentary

About Spades. Renege is akin to the word for the shame
You feel watching someone else’s humiliation. Slapping
A card down must be as dramatic as hitting the face of a drum
With your palm, not hitting the face of a drum with a drumstick.

You say there may be the sort of outrage induced
By liquor, trash talk, and poor strategy, but it will fade
The way a watermark left on a table by a cold glass fades.
I suspect winning this sort of game makes you feel godly.

I’m good and ready for who ever we’re playing
Against tonight. I am trying to imagine our enemy.
I know you are not my enemy. You say there are no enemies
In Spades. Spades is a game our enemies do not play.

From How to Be Drawn by Terrance Hayes, published on March 31, 2015, by Penguin Poets, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2015 by Terrance Hayes.

Once, the past was in dialogue with the future, a hybrid form. The origin of the word hybrida is Latin, from ibrida, or ‘mongrel’—a creature of mixed breeds. Open interpretation of violence, collision of selves, histories, and languages. Is language a movement of spirits or bodies making themselves known through their outward mutation? My parents came from China and migrated to Taiwan, ultimately arriving in the U.S. I was born in America, contributing to a long line of mixed culture, crossed boundaries, the collaborative and combustible nature of words. If I grew up with dual language, dual identity, how can anything feel both one and unified?
 
The fragmentation of the zuihitsu welcomes me randomness, collage, a piecing (and piercing) of memory and imagination that adds up to feeling akin to liberation. The liberation of imagination is the body’s response to dominance and containment. To build, speak, and write a way through each darkness. Zuihitsu, erasure, re-imagined ekphrastic poems, words in movement, journalism in conversation with invented narrative, fairy tales fused with the lyric imagination, language in dialogue with visual art—much of it isn’t entirely new, but now, written with a singular hand, calls to me. I think of discomfort, creating spaces where one is uneasy in order to change. 
 
Immigrant body, female body, mother body.
Is the creative body inherently vulnerable?
Damaged body. Dream body. Fluid body. Boy body.

˜ 

During a recent panel discussion about hybrid forms at Sarah Lawrence College Aracelis Girmay described the present generation, as made up of not two arms, but many appendages, like octopuses. She was careful not to say octopi. That wasn’t quite the word she envisioned as she held out her arms as if to touch something multi-limbed, iridescent. 

In the same discussion, Rachel Zucker said, “Motherhood is a hybrid form and there haven’t been enough discussions about this language.” This utterance struck me: lexicon of mother, collage of maternal self, fusion of artistic forms made manifest through the lens of protection. But this language is often ignored, buried, dismissed or dismantled. Mangled by teeth. An entire landscape of language. 

Raising a boy who is black and Asian in this country, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I never truly confronted the full spectrum of race in my past, at least not enough. Race was never a vessel but a land that bled into the tide. It surged, carried me forward, and then I arrived at my body. I try not to cast my own identity aside to understand my son’s. Sometimes, I feel that old self fading away. I attempt to hang on and let go at once. Sometimes, when the room is populated, I search the borders for my own disappearance. 

Anyone who has ever been born of mixed race feels this inheritance. Often, gestured as an in-between state, it’s unlike having one foot in one territory or another. Anyone who has been born of several races, cultures, reaches for a bottomless depth. I sit before a large scale illustration made into a postcard. It’s a detail from a children’s book by Jostein Gaarder called Questions Asked. The illustration by Akin Duzakin shows a self and what seems to be a shadow-self diving into the depths of water. It feels like this: questions with no end. If one lives within this feeling, it doesn’t provide comfort but being. The diving down does not come without breathlessness: Fathomless foundation of questions, and a wooden trunk filled with more gleaming questions. 

Perhaps there is a world down there.

˜ 

By raising a boy, do I understand what it means to live as a black boy? How do I speak of his existence without appropriating his existence? I return to the language of mothers. 

˜
 
At a reading, I spoke about giving birth and raising a black son. I was told that someone in the audience Googled, “Tina Chang and Black Son.” I don’t think anyone will find any information anywhere about this except in my poems. It’s not Google-able, Google searched or defined: My son found within a search engine. When he was born, our mutual exhaustion was a hybrid sound. 

Media can obliterate a spirited word (world). 

I am not the same person I was yesterday and form allows me to speak this fact. 

&
 
 
My longest poem focuses on a boy rising from his beginnings in the womb and living in a body made vulnerable by authorities. There are clippings, diagrams, evidence that speak toward the poems that surround them. The fragmented form like zuihitsu has a place here. How can we make sense of chaos? What is the form for that? 

Google-able fact: “Unarmed black people were killed at five times the rate of unarmed whites in 2015” (Mapping Police Violence). 

Google-able fact: “There is no federal database that tracks the number of people of any race killed by police. Some individuals and groups have compiled their own databases, such as The Root and Hiphopandpolitics.com, using information from media and law enforcement reports” (Los Angeles Times).

Non-Google-able fact: When my son wakes from his dream, he finds me in another room folding clothes. He lies down next to me on the sofa. In his dream we are separated. There is an elsewhere, he says, where children sleep and never wake. I touch his forehead which now feels hot with fever.

&

List of the times my son has registered hurt: 

- His friend kicks him in the spine. The mother of the boy does not notice.
- A neighbor asks him if he has a gun in his pocket.
- He realizes we are not the same person.
- He walks up to a group of boys in his class. Turns back to me, asks me to say goodbye one more time. 
- He mentions under his breath that I never listen to his stories.
- When I defend him too fiercely. He storms away. Locks the door.
- A white boy steals his school snacks and he is hungry. When he tells a head teacher, she doesn’t believe him. 
- My mother calls his hair crazy. She asks him to cut it each time she sees him.
- We play basketball and when he can’t get the ball in the basket, he runs away and hides.
- My friend tells me that all the girls like the blonde, blue-eyed boy in the class. When I’m silent she says, “They like your boy too, of course.”
- I asked him to get out of bed. Instead, he stood on his mattress and raised both arms up.
- Outside his window, he views police officers surround a man. He doesn’t know if he should feel for the officers or the man standing at the center, panting hard.
- He often tells me he doesn’t understand the meanness of boys. Mentions maybe it’s better to stand somewhere in the middle or somewhere alone.
- In the basement of my home, his friend straddles him, punches him in the head over a dozen times. He did not sound out or call for help. Later, he said my husband told him never to hit a girl so he laid there waiting for the punches to stop. 
- I was far from the house. 
- I was not home.

˜ 

I sometimes try not to register his pain. When I do, I often find myself immobile. 

˜ 
 
Hybrid forms leave fences open. They are wide fields with snow leopards, wolves, and honey bees. The combustion of imaginings forms a lake, water spreading, explosions on the surface of an oil slick. 

Hybrida is the change of properties. Long ago the earth plates shifted, came together in new permutations. New land. New World. It permits a space to be wounded, sutured, broken again, and untied to float to a beyond. 

This mixed presence is a ghost, converses with the living. What lingers sounds like leaves crushed beneath feet, or the light that remains on after you’ve distinctly shut it, the house in the field over there, the one that keeps living whether you view it or not. Lights in the upstairs room. Shadows move when the wind changes its mind. It seems inhabited, doesn’t it?

 ˜

I am afraid for vocabulary and its presence in the struggle. It lives at the center of a circle and it’s been bred to salivate, primed for impatience, with a hand at its back coaxing it toward its gritty death. We could say this hand is history but this isn’t true. Vocabulary is the future we’ve all been waiting for. It lunges at the throat of man’s deepest intentions. I hear the crush of cartilage, an ankle wobble for recovery, the quick intake of breath. There is a fall but the crowd is so thick now, I cannot see. I rely on my other senses to brace myself for what’s about to happen. 

˜
Look out and look backward. The story we are living now is an ancient one. It has been lived before but feels new in this present existence. Open the books. This already happened, in different guises, on the shores of other lands, evolved forms hemorrhaging before it sprouts new wings, before the beak breaks through the surface, a new oration, legs jutting from an interior rush of nomadic longing. Hybrida’s translation: Wilderness of the mind. But it’s changing.  
 

“Hybrida: A Zuihitsu” reprinted from Hybrida: Poems by Tina Chang © 2019 by Tina Chang. Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

Decades I have waited                to make sunlight 
for all of this to                             matter, a mark built to 
rest and a mark laid                     living. I am sworn 
to my worth even                         when the scales weep 
their own little swords,                slanting outside 
the song and full                          of soothing to speak each 
vowel. Everything                        happens toward its own 
making, an infinite                       becoming from all that 
is yet to be faced.                        When it seemed 
as though I had touched              the arm of love, 
little did I know,                            I had found a door 
with which to                                enter the sky. And to         
the sky, little did I                         know, the door would 
open for me. All,                          as it will be, as it should be, 
in effort of                                     The Great Balance. 
Five days ago, I stood                  under a flight of egrets, 
shifting between fenced               field of mud and factory 
yard. What could                          they have guessed of stability, 
a fairness of wings, restoring      what had always been 
theirs to have.                              Like them, I have 
steeped myself with                      others, for so long my roots 
sprouting from the cloud            of this fight, daring to follow 
where the arrow leads,                until it is my turn. 
Until now,                                     my turn. 

Copyright © 2020 Mai Der Vang. This poem was co-commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and the New York Philharmonic as part of the Project 19 initiative, and appeared in the Spring–Summer 2020 issue of American Poets

Come my cantilations,
Let us dump our hatreds into one bunch and be done with them,
Hot sun, clear water, fresh wind,
Let me be free of pavements,
Let me be free of the printers.
Let come beautiful people
Wearing raw silk of good colour,
Let come the graceful speakers,
Let come the ready of wit,
Let come the gay of manner, the insolent and the exulting.
We speak of burnished lakes,
And of dry air, as clear as metal.

This poem is in the public domain.

	arrive. The Ladies from the Ladies' Betterment
   League
Arrive in the afternoon, the late light slanting
In diluted gold bars across the boulevard brag
Of proud, seamed faces with mercy and murder hinting
Here, there, interrupting, all deep and debonair,
The pink paint on the innocence of fear;
Walk in a gingerly manner up the hall. 
Cutting with knives served by their softest care,
Served by their love, so barbarously fair.
Whose mothers taught: You'd better not be cruel!
You had better not throw stones upon the wrens!
Herein they kiss and coddle and assault
Anew and dearly in the innocence
With which they baffle nature. Who are full,
Sleek, tender-clad, fit, fiftyish, a-glow, all
Sweetly abortive, hinting at fat fruit,
Judge it high time that fiftyish fingers felt
Beneath the lovelier planes of enterprise.
To resurrect. To moisten with milky chill.
To be a random hitching post or plush.
To be, for wet eyes, random and handy hem.
	Their guild is giving money to the poor.
The worthy poor. The very very worthy
And beautiful poor. Perhaps just not too swarthy?
Perhaps just not too dirty nor too dim
Nor—passionate. In truth, what they could wish
Is—something less than derelict or dull.
Not staunch enough to stab, though, gaze for gaze!
God shield them sharply from the beggar-bold!
The noxious needy ones whose battle's bald
Nonetheless for being voiceless, hits one down.
	But it's all so bad! and entirely too much for them.
The stench; the urine, cabbage, and dead beans,
Dead porridges of assorted dusty grains,
The old smoke, heavy diapers, and, they're told,
Something called chitterlings. The darkness. Drawn
Darkness, or dirty light. The soil that stirs.
The soil that looks the soil of centuries.
And for that matter the general oldness. Old
Wood. Old marble. Old tile. Old old old.
Not homekind Oldness! Not Lake Forest, Glencoe.
Nothing is sturdy, nothing is majestic,
There is no quiet drama, no rubbed glaze, no
Unkillable infirmity of such
A tasteful turn as lately they have left,
Glencoe, Lake Forest, and to which their cars
Must presently restore them. When they're done
With dullards and distortions of this fistic
Patience of the poor and put-upon.
	They've never seen such a make-do-ness as
Newspaper rugs before! In this, this "flat,"
Their hostess is gathering up the oozed, the rich
Rugs of the morning (tattered! the bespattered . . . ),
Readies to spread clean rugs for afternoon.
Here is a scene for you. The Ladies look,
In horror, behind a substantial citizeness
Whose trains clank out across her swollen heart.
Who, arms akimbo, almost fills a door.
All tumbling children, quilts dragged to the floor
And tortured thereover, potato peelings, soft-
Eyed kitten, hunched-up, haggard, to-be-hurt.
	Their League is allotting largesse to the Lost.
But to put their clean, their pretty money, to put
Their money collected from delicate rose-fingers
Tipped with their hundred flawless rose-nails seems . . . 
	They own Spode, Lowestoft, candelabra,
Mantels, and hostess gowns, and sunburst clocks,
Turtle soup, Chippendale, red satin "hangings,"
Aubussons and Hattie Carnegie. They Winter
In Palm Beach; cross the Water in June; attend,
When suitable, the nice Art Institute;
Buy the right books in the best bindings; saunter
On Michigan, Easter mornings, in sun or wind.
Oh Squalor! This sick four-story hulk, this fibre
With fissures everywhere! Why, what are bringings
Of loathe-love largesse? What shall peril hungers
So old old, what shall flatter the desolate?
Tin can, blocked fire escape and chitterling
And swaggering seeking youth and the puzzled wreckage
Of the middle passage, and urine and stale shames
And, again, the porridges of the underslung
And children children children. Heavens! That
Was a rat, surely, off there, in the shadows? Long
And long-tailed? Gray? The Ladies from the Ladies'
Betterment League agree it will be better
To achieve the outer air that rights and steadies,
To hie to a house that does not holler, to ring
Bells elsetime, better presently to cater
To no more Possibilities, to get
Away. Perhaps the money can be posted.
Perhaps they two may choose another Slum!
Some serious sooty half-unhappy home!—
Where loathe-lover likelier may be invested.
	Keeping their scented bodies in the center
Of the hall as they walk down the hysterical hall,
They allow their lovely skirts to graze no wall,
Are off at what they manage of a canter,
And, resuming all the clues of what they were,
Try to avoid inhaling the laden air.

From Selected Poems by Gwendolyn Brooks, published by HarperCollins. © 1999 by Gwendolyn Brooks. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

I belong there. I have many memories. I was born as everyone is born.
I have a mother, a house with many windows, brothers, friends, and a prison cell
with a chilly window! I have a wave snatched by seagulls, a panorama of my own.
I have a saturated meadow. In the deep horizon of my word, I have a moon,
a bird’s sustenance, and an immortal olive tree.
I have lived on the land long before swords turned man into prey.
I belong there. When heaven mourns for her mother, I return heaven to her mother.
And I cry so that a returning cloud might carry my tears.
To break the rules, I have learned all the words needed for a trial by blood.
I have learned and dismantled all the words in order to draw from them a
single word: Home.

From Unfortunately, It Was Paradise by Mahmoud Darwish translated and edited by Munir Akash and Carolyn Forché with Sinan Antoon and Amira El-Zein. Copyright © 2003 by the Regents of the University of California. Reprinted by permission of the University of California Press. All rights reserved.

The woman wore a floral apron around her neck,
that woman from my mother’s village
with a sharp cleaver in her hand.
She said, “What shall we cook tonight?
Perhaps these six tiny squid
lined up so perfectly on the block?”

She wiped her hand on the apron,
pierced the blade into the first.
There was no resistance,
no blood, only cartilage
soft as a child’s nose. A last
iota of ink made us wince.

Suddenly, the aroma of ginger and scallion fogged our senses,
and we absolved her for that moment’s barbarism.
Then, she, an elder of the tribe,
without formal headdress, without elegance,
deigned to teach the younger
about the Asian plight.

And although we have traveled far
we would never forget that primal lesson
—on patience, courage, forbearance,
on how to love squid despite squid,
how to honor the village, the tribe,
that floral apron.

From The Phoenix Gone, the Terrace Empty by Marilyn Chin (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 1994). Copyright © 1994 by Marilyn Chin. Reprinted with permission from Milkweed Editions. Milkweed.org

One child has brown eyes, one has blue
One slanted, another rounded
One so nearsighted he squints internal 
One had her extra epicanthic folds removed
One downcast, one couldn’t be bothered
One roams the heavens for a perfect answer
One transfixed like a dead doe, a convex mirror
One shines double-edged like a poisoned dagger
Understand their vision, understand their blindness
Understand their vacuity, understand their mirth

Copyright © 2010 by Marilyn Chin. Used with permission of the author.

To pray you open your whole self
To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon
To one whole voice that is you.
And know there is more
That you can't see, can't hear,
Can't know except in moments
Steadily growing, and in languages
That aren't always sound but other
Circles of motion.
Like eagle that Sunday morning
Over Salt River. Circled in blue sky
In wind, swept our hearts clean
With sacred wings.
We see you, see ourselves and know
That we must take the utmost care
And kindness in all things.
Breathe in, knowing we are made of
All this, and breathe, knowing
We are truly blessed because we
Were born, and die soon within a
True circle of motion, 
Like eagle rounding out the morning
Inside us. 
We pray that it will be done
In beauty.
In beauty.

From In Mad Love and War © 1990 by Joy Harjo. Reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press. 

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.

Exotic, “omg so thick,” a rug, so to speak—
black cortex, I can almost be beautiful
with you. Once, mother snatched
my split ends like newly acquired money
and named them Taliban Beard.
I never wanted this much of anything,
so I scissored you at the scrunchy
and sold you all to the World Wide Web.
In plastic bags, you were shipped
next to different manes, the past
stored in your filaments like fetuses
in formaldehyde, fragrances distending
as if skin of people huddled
into the eyeless belly of a boat at night.
Cut and alone, dark keratin lies cold
in factory halls: congregation of wait,
you’re patient until you too are wanted.
But when my spools stop, and the silence holds—
let them braid you into other heads.
Let them brush you for my funeral.
Let those of you spared on hospital tiles,
picked from lovers’ teeth, and nestled deep
in the vacuum, or shampooed
between dirt and debris in drains, light up.
May you glow with the weight of love
you can only share with what pries
out of yourself. Those stuck to balloons,
left in brushes, escapees taken away to elsewhere—
what is to be said of you? I won’t be gone
until you are. Heavy root
that rots to bloom when I shrink—
stay and conquer the sargasso in my tomb.

Copyright © 2019 Aria Aber. This poem originally appeared in Kenyon Review, March/April 2019. Reprinted with permission of the author.

The planet pulls our bodies through
the year. Delivers us, headlong,

into the tears in currents. The ebbs
and flows of blood in chambers,

bombastic and flooded with unremembered
names. Neighbors bourne feet first

through their door arches.
Down the corridors, lonesome

and lost. Their voices suture
the silence behind them and

the little song pulsing its staccato 
cannot explain the day and the day

and the day, like an arm and then 
another pulled through a sleeve.

Copyright © 2018 by Oliver de la Paz. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 3, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Cinched belt tugged tight around the heart
5 or 6 aerial roots dangling      A strangler fig

Do homeless ancestors live inside the tree?
Child of noise    Hold the loosened ends    You

may miss the moon or fall in love with it         Embrace
ashes    I too am far removed    A thirst that wanders

thirsting     And I could never ask the name of the boy
who died     A baby boy who died but what could you do

and maybe words hang in sinew and care     Writer
of dead words or living words and life's hammer

Encase the host tree and erase it     I don't know
the folk songs on farms far from here    The dead buried

and gone    To dig the grave     Who dug the graves
Darling      The sea widens for you tonight      and deepens

Copyright © 2018 by Hoa Nguyen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 6, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

This sadness I feel tonight is not my sadness.
 
Maybe it’s my father’s.
For having never been prized by his father.
For having never profited by his son.
 
This loneliness is Nobody’s. Nobody’s lonely
because Nobody was never born
and will never die.
 
This gloom is Someone Else’s.
Someone Else is gloomy
because he’s always someone else.
 
For so many years, I answered to a name,
and I can’t say who answered.
 
Mister Know Nothing? Brother Inconsolable?
Sister Every Secret Thing? Anybody? Somebody?
 
Somebody thinks:
With death for a bedfellow,
how could thinking be anything but restless?
 
Somebody thinks: God, I turn my hand face down
and You are You and I am me.  
 
I turn my hand face up
and You are the I
and I am your Thee.  
 
What happens when you turn your hand?
 
Lord, remember me.
I was born in the City of Victory,
on a street called Jalan Industri where,
each morning, the man selling rice cakes went by
pushing his cart, its little steamer whistling,
while at his waist, at the end of a red string,
a little brass bell
shivered into a fine, steady seizure.
 
This sleeplessness is not my sleeplessness.
It must be the stars’ insomnia.
And I am their earthbound descendant.
 
Someone, Anyone, No One, me, and Someone Else.
Five in a bed, and none of us can sleep.
Five in one body, begotten, not made.
And the sorrow we bear together is none of ours.
Maybe it’s Yours, God.
For living so near to Your creatures.
For suffering so many incarnations unknown to Yourself.
For remaining strange to lovers and friends,
and then outliving them and all of their names for You.
For living sometimes for years without a name.
And all of Your springtimes disheveled.
And all of Your winters one winter.

From The Undressing: Poems by Li-Young Lee. Copyright © 2018 by Li-Young Lee. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

His tongue shorn, father confuses
snacks for snakes, kitchen for chicken.
It is 1992. Weekends, we paw at cheap
silverware at yard sales. I am told by mother
to keep our telephone number close,
my beaded coin purse closer. I do this.
The years are slow to pass, heavy-footed.
Because the visits are frequent, we memorize
shame’s numbing stench. I nurse nosebleeds,
run up and down stairways, chew the wind.
Such were the times. All of us nearsighted.
Grandmother prays for fortune
to keep us around and on a short leash.
The new country is ill-fitting, lined
with cheap polyester, soiled at the sleeves.

Copyright © 2017 by Jenny Xie. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 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.

A crate of peaches straight from the farm
has to be maintained, or eaten in days.
Obvious, but in my family, they went so fast,
I never saw the mess that punishes delay.

I thought everyone bought fruit by the crate,
stored it in the coolest part of the house,
then devoured it before any could rot.
I’m from the Peach State, and to those

who ask But where are you from originally,
I’d like to reply The homeland of the peach,
but I’m too nice, and they might not look it up.
In truth, the reason we bought so much

did have to do with being Chinese—at least
Chinese in that part of America, both strangers
and natives on a lonely, beautiful street
where food came in stackable containers

and fussy bags, unless you bothered to drive
to the source, where the same money landed
a bushel of fruit, a twenty-pound sack of rice.
You had to drive anyway, each house surrounded

by land enough to grow your own, if lawns
hadn’t been required. At home I loved to stare
into the extra freezer, reviewing mountains
of foil-wrapped meats, cakes, juice concentrate,

mysterious packets brought by house guests
from New York Chinatown, to be transformed
by heat, force, and my mother’s patient effort,
enough to keep us fed through flood or storm,

provided the power stayed on, or fire and ice
could be procured, which would be labor-intensive,
but so was everything else my parents did.
Their lives were labor, they kept this from the kids,

who grew up to confuse work with pleasure,
to become typical immigrants’ children,
taller than their parents and unaware of hunger
except when asked the odd, perplexing question.

Copyright © 2015 by Adrienne Su. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 23, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

1
Words can’t do
what bird bones
can: stew
to the stony
essence
of one
small soul, the spent
sacrifice boiled down
to the hard white
matter that nourishes
the mighty
predator, who flourishes
on the slaughtered
animal and water.

2
Who feeds
another is like bones
to him who eats
(I say “him” only
because it is a man
in my house
who eats and a woman
who goes about
the matter of sustenance),
food being always
a matter of life and
death and each day’s
dining
another small dying.

3
Scallops seared
in hot iron
with grated ginger,
rice wine,
and a little oil
of sesame, served
with boiled
jasmine rice, cures
the malaise
of long, fluorescent
weekdays
spent
in the city
for money.

4
I am afraid
I can’t always be
here when you need
a warm body
or words; someday
I’ll slip
into the red clay
I started with
and forget
who you are,
but
for now, here’s
my offering: baked red
fish, clear soup, bread.

From Middle Kingdom (Alice James Books, 1997). Copyright © 1997 by Adrienne Su. Used with the permission of Alice James Books.

Where are you from?
      There.

Where are you headed?
      There.

What are you doing?
      Grieving.
            —Rabia Al-Adawiyya

Little brother, we are all grieving
& galaxy & goodbye. Once, I climbed inside
the old clock tower of my hometown
& found a dead bird, bathed in broken light,
like a little christ.

Little christ of our hearts, I know
planets light-years away
are under our tongues. We’ve tasted them.
We’ve climbed the staircases saying, There, there.

Little brother, we are all praying. Every morning,
I read out loud but not loud enough
to alarm anyone. Once, my love said, Please
open the door. I can hear you talk. Open the door.

Little christ of our hearts, tell anyone
you've been talking to god & see
what happens. Every day,
I open the door. I do it by looking
at my daughter on a swing—
eyes closed & crinkled, teeth bare.
I say, Good morning good morning you
little beating thing.

Little brother, we are all humming.
More & more, as I read, I sound
like my father with his book of prayers,
turning pages in his bed—a hymn
for each day of the week, a gift
from his mother, who taught me
the ten of diamonds is a win, left me
her loose prayer clothes. Bismillah.

Little christ of our hearts, forgive me,
for I loved eating the birds with lemon,
& the sound of their tiny bones. But I couldn’t
stomach the eyes of the fried fish.

Little brother, we are always hungry.
Here, this watermelon. Here, some salt
for the tomatoes. Here, this song
for the dead birds in time boxes,
& the living. That day in the clock tower,
I saw the city too, below—

                    the merchants who call, the blue awnings,
                    the corn carts, the clotheslines, the heat,
                    the gears that turn, & the remembering.

Copyright © 2018 by Zeina Hashem Beck. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 3, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

In every kind of dream I am a black wolf
careening through a web. I am the spider
who eats the wolf and inhabits the wolf's body.
In another dream I marry the wolf and then
am very lonely. I seek my name and they name me
Lucky Dragon. I would love to tell you that all
of this has a certain ending but the most frightening
stories are the ones with no ending at all.
The path goes on and on. The road keeps forking,
splitting like an endless atom, splitting
like a lip, and the globe is on fire. As many
times as the book is read, the pages continue
to grow, multiply. They said, In the beginning,
and that was the moral of the original and most
important story. The story of man. One story.
I laid my head down and my head was heavy.
Hair sprouted through the skin, hair black
and bending toward night grass. I was becoming
the wolf again, my own teeth breaking
into my mouth for the first time, a kind of beauty
to be swallowed in interior bite and fever.
My mind a miraculous ember until I am the beast.
I run from the story that is faster than me,
the words shatter and pant to outchase me.
The story catches my heels when I turn
to love its hungry face, when I am willing
to be eaten to understand my fate.

Copyright © 2012 by Tina Chang. Used with permission of the author.

How to say milk?  How to say sand, snow, sow,

linen, cloud, cocoon, or albino?
How to say page or canvas or rice balls?

Trying to recall Japanese, I blank out:

it’s clear I know forgetting.  Mother, tell me
what to call that paper screen that slides the interior in?

From Brain Fever (W. W. Norton, 2014). Copyright © 2014 by Kimiko Hahn. Used with 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.

We suffer through blinding equatorial heat,
refusing to unfold the suspended bamboo shade 
nested by a pair of hardworking, cheerless sparrows.
We’ve watched them fly in-and-out of their double
entryways, dried grass, twigs clamped in their beaks.
They skip, nestle in their woodsy tunnel punctured
with light, we presume, not total darkness, their eggs
aglow like lunar orbs. What is a home? How easily 
it can be destroyed: the untying of traditional ropes,
pull, the scroll-unraveling. For want of a sweltering
living room to be thrown into relief by shadow.

The sunning couple perch open-winged, tube lofty
as in Aristophanes' city of birds, home made sturdy
by creature logic and faith that it will all remain afloat.

Copyright © 2016 by Joseph O. Legaspi. Originally published in Orion Magazine. Used with permission of the author.

Never step back    Never a last
Scent of plumeria

When my parents left
You knew it was for good 

     It’s a herd of horses never
           To reclaim their    steppes

You became a moth hanging
Down from the sun

Old river    Calling to my mother
Kept spilling out of her lungs

Ridgeline vista closed
Into the locket of their gaze

                     It’s the Siberian crane
           Forbidden    to fly back after winter

You marbled my father’s face
Floated him as stone over the sea

Further    Every minute
Emptying his child years to the land

You crawled back in your bomb

           It’s when the banyan must leave
     Relearn to cathedral its roots

From Afterland, published by Graywolf Press. Copyright © 2017 Mai Der Vang. Used with permission of Graywolf Press.

Mid-1700s, Southwestern China

Lightning is the creature who carries a knife.

Two months now,
The rains hold watch.

Statues bury in teak
Smeared with old egret’s blood.

I feel the pulse of this inferno,
Tested by the hour to know

That even torches must not waver.

In the garrison, I teach boulders
To trickle from the cliff.

My fallen grow parchment from their hair,

Calligraphy descends
From their lips.

Infantry attack
But my musket knows.

They scale the sides
Yet I tear the rocks.

I am not wife, but my name is Widow.

Let them arrive 
To my ready door,
The earth I’ve already dug.

Copyright © 2016 by Mai Der Vang. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 26, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

by HAUNTIE
 
Some time ago pale bodies slipped into Indochina and harvested
slave bodies to sow opium and mine silver. These slaves developed a
dependency on this unsustainable and temporary economy, becoming
heavily addicted to this intoxicating flower. Some no longer planted their
own food or raised their own livestock. A body from this time was that
of my grandmother’s. Impoverished—she was—mind, body and soul. 
Strung out on the tar of this little flower, forgetting how and when to love
her children. A body that came to life through hers was my father’s. And
so it was that this boy would walk miles to school with maybe, sometimes
hardly ever, a palm-full of rice and a single chili pepper to sustain his body
for the duration of the day.
                           Night would fall,
                           and day would rise.
Then a secret war crept up so loud white minds shut it out
and all of humanity hushed it from the West to its East
and my grandfather went to war on the side that would win
doing these things, they couldn’t believe in
and maybe it was that they won, maybe
but the shackles of this flower brought my mother to my father
and the shackles of this flower brought my body to America
 
“Here I am,” i’ll say.
Here I am and I have to stay.
 
What are you? Where are you from? What did you come from?
 
i am a potent flower
stringing out your mind on the line after line
from the womb of a history birthed from white memory
i am American
i am good at forgetting
 

From To Whitey & the Cracker Jack (Anhinga Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by May Yang. Reprinted by permission of Anhinga Press.

Say we no longer bear witness to a body-politic of trauma
after revolution
                by anesthesia or erasure. Say we cover our eyes 
to crossed olive-wood beams on a hill.  Modes of witness   
expose our inadequacy, the human.  Forgetting
is a sign—yes, a thing once existed. Say we are unworthy
of witness, internal or external—
                         our damaged wisdom, for instance,
our diminished capacity for empathy
             and heightened apathy to torture
mingled with doves     
                      of unfettered desire
                                         or an eclipsed divine.

Copyright © 2015 by Karen An-hwei Lee. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 24, 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.

In Greek, amphibian means 
“on both sides of life.”

As in: amphibians live 
on land and in water.

As in: immigrants leave 
lands and cross waters.

While amphibians lay 
shell-less eggs,

immigrants give birth 
to Americans.

In water, gilled tadpoles 
sprout limbs. On land

amphibians develop lungs.
Immigrants develop lungs.

Breathe in pine, fuel
and cold atmosphere.

Amphibians’ damp
skin oxygenates. 

Immigrants toil 
and slumber deathly.

Their colors brighten.
They camouflage.

They’ve been known to fall 
out of the sky.

Completely at home
in the rain.

Copyright © 2014 by Joseph O. Legaspi. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.

I'm not a singer, but please
let me sing of the peacemakers
on the streets and internet, your candles
in this darkest moment of night,
your bodies on the steps of government buildings,
your voices from the roots of grasses and trees,
from your pit of conscience.

I'm not a prayer, but please,
please give my voice to the children
in Baghdad, Basra, Afghanistan,
and every other bombed-out place on earth,
your crying out in pain and fear;
please give my hands to the mothers
raking through rubble for food, bodies;
my sight to the cities and fields in smoke;
my tears to the men and women who are brought
home in bags; and please give my ears
to those who refuse to hear the explosions,
who tune only to censored news, official words.

I'm not a citizen, but please
count my vote against the belief
that the American way is the only way,
count it against the blasphemy of freedom,
against a gang of thugs who donned crowns
on their own heads, who live for power
and power only, whose only route is
to deceive and loot, whose mouths move
only to crush, whose hands close
only into a grave.

I'm not a worshiper, but please
accept my faith in those
who refuse to believe in painted lies,
refuse to join this chorus of supreme hypocrisy,
refuse to sell out, to let their conscience sleep,
wither, die. Please accept my faith
in those who cross the bridge for peace,
only to be cursed and spat upon, but keep crossing
anyway, every Wednesday, in rain and snow,
and my faith in those who camp out night after night,
your blood thawing the frozen ground,
your tents flowers of hope in this bleak age.

I don't possess a bomb, don't know
how to shoot or thrust a sword.
All I have is a broken voice,
a heart immense with sorrow.
But please, please take them,
let them be part of this tsunami
of chanting, this chant of awakening.

Copyright © 2003 by Wang Ping. From The Magic Whip (Coffee House Press, 2003). Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database

 Upon their arrival in America, more than twelve million immigrants were processed through the Ellis Island Immigration Center. Those who had traveled in second or third class were immediately given a thirty-second health inspection to determine if they were fit to enter their new country. A chalk checkmark on their clothing signaled a health problem and meant a stay in the Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital, where they either recovered or, if deemed incurable, were kept until they could be sent back home. Even if just one family member was sick, that person’s entire family was turned away.

Hide the awkward jolt of jawline, the fluttering eye, that wide
brazen slash of boat-burned skin. Count each breath in order
to pacify the bloodless roiling just beneath the rib, to squelch
the mushrooming boom of tumor. Give fever another name.
I open my mouth, just to moan, but instead cluttered nouns,
so unAmerican, spew from my throat and become steam
in the room. That heat ripples through the meandering queue
of souls and someone who was once my uncle grows dizzy
with not looking at me. I am asked to temporarily unbutton
the clawing children from my heavy skirt, to pull the rough
linen blouse over my head and through my thick salted hair.
A last shelter thuds hard, pools around my feet on the floor.

I traveled with a whole chattering country’s restless mass
weakening my shoulders. But I offer it as both yesterday
and muscle. I come to you America, scrubbed almost clean,
but infected with memory and the bellow of broiling spices
in a long-ago kitchen. I come with a sickness insistent upon
root in my body, a sickness that may just be a frantic twist
from one life’s air to another. I ask for nothing but a home
with windows of circled arms, for a warm that overwhelms
the tangled sounds that say my name. I ask for the beaten
woman with her torch uplifted to find me here and loose
my new face of venom and virus. I have practiced standing
unleashed and clean. I have practiced the words I know.

So I pray this new country receive me, stark naked now,
forearms chapped raw, although I am ill in underneath ways.
I know that I am freakish, wildly fragrant, curious land. I stink
of seawater and the oversea moonwash I conjured to restart
and restart my migrant heart. All I can be is here, stretched
between solace and surrender, terrified of the dusty mark
that identifies me as poison in every one of the wrong ways.
I could perish here on the edge of everything. Or the chalk
mark could be a wing on my breastbone, unleashing me
in the direction of light. Someone will help me find my clothes
and brush the salt from my hair. I am marked perfect, and
I hear the word heal in a voice I thought I brought from home.

Copyright © 2016 by Patricia Smith. This poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.

We ask about our people and they tell us the plight of boats
yachts smashed in the marina, ferries crashed into harbors
masts snapped, propellers bent, vessels drowned in coves.

They broadcast reports of water rising in hotel rooms
sand slipping into sheets where our cousins could never sleep  
salt stains as testimony, spit-prints of the hurricane’s wrath.

Bodies are piling up in the morgues and instead
an elegy of boats
an inventory of industry, countdown
to when paradise can begin again.

So it seems when we’re no longer property
we become less than property
a nail sick with rust, jangling in high winds.

This would be a different story were it not
for ex(ile), whose sting swells when banished
in one’s own yard, barred
from the fruits of your mother’s land.

Inside ex(ile): tempests and fault lines
are developers’ wet dreams.
A mainland will sink its territory in debt
starve its subjects in the wake of storms
clearing ground for palaces on the shore.

Inside ex(ile): the body is only
as good as its technology
how it buckles in a field.

Inside ex(ile) is the ile
pushed across the Atlantic through Oya’s lips.
Place or shelter, sacred home.

We ask about our people and fill the silence with prayer
utterances rerouting to our climate’s first spirits:
Guabancex blowing furious winds, Huraca’n spiraling at the center.
Guatauba drenched in thunder and lightning.
Coatrisque of the deadly floods.

Spare our kin, we plead. Save your wrath for the profiteers.
Cast them from our archipelago, our ile ife of the seas
until home is a place we never have to leave.

Copyright © 2021 by Desiree C. Bailey. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 16, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

If you ain’t never watched your parents kiss 
             ain’t neva have them teach you 
‘bout the way lips will       to bend & curve 
against a lover’s affirmation 

If you ain’t never watched the knowing nod 
of sweethearts worn away & soft 
as a speaker box’s blown out hiss 

If you ain’t witnessed the glue 
that connected your mother & father 
—how they fused their single selves 
into the blunt fist of parents 

If you ain’t sure there was a time when 
their eyes held each other like a nexus
breaking the lock to dip dark marbles 
into certain corners of a shot glass 

If you ain’t never known a Saturday night 
slick with shiny promises & clouds 
wrapped wet in a Pendegrass croon 

If you ain’t been taught how 
a man hold you close      so close 
…it look like a crawl 

If you ain’t had the memory 
of your mother & father sliding 
hip to hip         Their feet whisper 
a slow shuffle & shift       Her hand 
on his neck grip the shoulder of 
a man that will pass his daughters 
bad tempers       & hands like bowls

If you ain’t watched a man 
lean into a woman His eyes 
a boat sliding across bronze 
             His hands 
pillared in her auburn hair       Her 
throat              holds     the urge 

to hear how her voice sounds against 
the wind of him 

If your skin can’t fathom the heat 
of something as necessary as this… 

Then you can’t know the hurricane 
of two bodies    how    the bodies
can create the prospect of a sunrise
how that sunrise got a name 
             it sound like: a blues song; 
a woman’s       heart breaking; 
From the record player skipping 
             the sky             almost 

blue 

Copyright © 2015 by Mahogany Browne. From Redbone (Willow Books, 2015). Used with permission of the author.

this one spins,
they all glitter
like a crush’s toothy smile.

beauty supply of Black power peace sign afro picks
& a crayola big box of durags to choose from.

beauty supply shelves with sleeves 
of weaves glimmering in the harsh light.

every manner of oil & grease
& spritz & spray for the coaxing 
of curl under comb

who can think of a rat tail without a tear
for the nostalgia or the tenderheaded memory?

a rubber band of any conceivable size.
a barette of two balls clacking hard with every neck roll.
all the ribbons & bows.

the eyebrow lady wielding two ends 
of a thread like the sculptor’s most precious tool.

all the tools for the trade of looking
& you, little boy, get such a precious few.

Copyright © 2021 by Nate Marshall. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 29, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

“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.

In the bronze skin of your rain-mottled angel of immigration
who looks forward 
                          with a faux diamond clasp 
               of upward mobility on her watery clavicle, 
                                       inner rain called mizzle is shining— 
a frayed chrome-polishing 
                                        rag on a bicycle while the fig tree 
loses its foliage due to a blight called rust. Dear millennium, 
                           destined to be a girl, 
an artist not engineer, 
you’ve never fallen in love. (Do you even believe?) Centuries, 
                                                 this peace offering— 
a non-fruiting olive 
                                  transplanted 
                                       after your lavender died of root-rot 
                            on a winter afternoon in the north. 
(Day after a sea storm, holy 
and granular— 
             bayside hailing clean off the rim, napthlalene 
                                         stored in mothless boxes of air, 
of agelessness, hybrid tea-roses, and rocket fuel.) 
                           Ear-shaped, honey-combed morels 
flourish by the rosemary, edible yet uneaten— 
                                       dearly so, as evidence 
of a battered dictionary you once loved, too. (Light-drenched sea, 
             all its charismatic splendor, is a room 
                                                          of meticulous self-reform, 
                                       noxious blue-eyed madness 
of the dead.) For this reason, your ancestors 
                         wished to sail on a ship around a landform 
              to its southernmost point (Dear millennium, what we loved 
                          is written tenderly in the dregs of the earth.) 
Dear millennium, see how immigrants 
                         yearn for departure not extravagance, 
freedom with a notion of rootedness 
                                       or nesting. 
In doing so, this generational reimagining, dear millennium— 
you are cured of nothing 
                                       yet everything at once.

Copyright © 2019 Karen An-hwei Lee. This poem originally appeared in Poetry Northwest, Winter & Spring 2019. Used with permission of the author.

Say we no longer bear witness to a body-politic of trauma
after revolution
                by anesthesia or erasure. Say we cover our eyes 
to crossed olive-wood beams on a hill.  Modes of witness   
expose our inadequacy, the human.  Forgetting
is a sign—yes, a thing once existed. Say we are unworthy
of witness, internal or external—
                         our damaged wisdom, for instance,
our diminished capacity for empathy
             and heightened apathy to torture
mingled with doves     
                      of unfettered desire
                                         or an eclipsed divine.

Copyright © 2015 by Karen An-hwei Lee. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 24, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets