Here I’m untethered, or else this American household is.
A shame for guest and resident alike, torn asunder,

Immovable, unmoving, horizon line before it closes
On the embankment, which is too a slowing thunder.

Whether cash & cake were meant for us the undeserving
Is a frenzy of thought, an amusement from the spoils

Of corporation able to outweigh the will unnerving
All restraint from the madness or immodesty that coils

Each milligram back into the sky blue oxy addiction
McKesson, Cardinal Health & AmerisourceBergen

Manufactured for the painless end-to-end encryption’s
Other plum for which we are to wait again our turn in

Line and still the others keep cutting ahead of us here
The complected & other-tongued asylum-seeking

Assembly of the glad in ordinary deliverance from fear:
First fuel in the plot that turns us into tyrants unspeaking

Yet another dream to make them do what in wakeful hour
Is lawless for us depraved and still deprived of power

From Why the Assembly Disbanded by Roberto Tejada. Copyright © 2022 by Fordham University Press. Used with the permission of the publisher.

Patient she is—long-suffering, our Land;
   Wise with the strength of one whose soul is calm
Weights and considers, and would understand
   Ere it gives way to anger: fearing wrong
Of her own doing more than any planned
   Against her peace by others deemed more strong.

Mother of many children alien born,
   Whom she has gathered into her kind arms—
Safe-guarding most the weakest, most forlorn,—
   The mother’s patience she has learned to know,
Which passes trifles by with smiling scorn—
   The mother’s hopefulness, to anger slow.

Yet, oh, beware! nor, over-bold, presume
   Upon a gentleness enlinked with Power!
Her torch still burns, to kindle or consume,
   And ’gainst the time when she must prove her might,
Vast energy is stored in her soul’s room—
   Undreamed of strength to battle for the Right!

This poem is in the public domain.

you’ve worked so hard
from the farm to the factory
in the county & the city

you’ve always paid on time
for peace of mind
—your body as collateral
so you may rest & retire
when the time came
—knowing you’ll be fine

but somehow
you still owe today
& you are all out of body 

Copyright © 2020 by Huascar Medina. Originally published in Green Mountains Review (The American Poet Laureate Series - Edition 1 of  5, 2022). Used with the permission of the poet.

On a visit to my Amá’s, she drives us to the DMV.
She must renew her license every few months.
The asylum case has not yet been approved.
Not enough evidence that home is unsafe.
The line is long. The DMV is inside a mall.
In America, everything is for sale. Migrants
pay for safety. We pay people to believe
that what we tell them is true, especially
when we have spared them the hardest
facts to hold. Immigration, DMV, school,
and medical forms ask for our stories.
We pay for our stories too. We pay in smiles,
pretend laughs, head nods, empty stomachs,
panic attacks reserved for elevators,
migraines that will last four days but go
unnamed :: unuttered. After thirty-eight, or
forty minutes, we advance seven or so people
and the Carter’s window is visible from where
Amá and I stand. Overalls. My heart raises.
Eyes begin to shake. Mall lighting hurts
my eyes. I see five Carter’s logos and know
there is only one. I slam my back against the
glass windows. People look (and pretend they
don’t). I try to find my inhaler. It’s not in my
pockets. I close my eyes. I think about a boy.
Kissing a boy. I think about him more. I open
my eyes and look for my mother. Avoid looking
at the Carter’s again. The DMV does not
renew the license. Something about an error
or a glitch :: a document and migration :: (maybe)
a mother and a child. At five, I wore a pair of
overalls. Crossed a border in them too.

Copyright © 2022 by Alan Pelaez Lopez. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 25, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

This poem is in the public domain.

This American world, all our histories say,
Secluded from Europe, long centuries lay,
And peopled by beings whom white-men detest,
The sons of the Tartars, that came from the west.

These Indians, ‘tis certain, were here long before ye all,
And dwelt in their wigwams from time immemorial;
In a mere state of nature, untutored, untaught,
They did as they pleased, and they spoke as they thought—

No priests they had then for the cure of their souls,
No lawyers, recorders, or keepers of rolls;
No learned physicians vile nostrums concealed—
Their druggist was Nature—her shop was the field.

In the midst of their forests how happy and blest,
In the skin of a bear or buffalo drest!
No care to perplex, and no luxury seen
But the feast, and the song, and the dance on the green.

Some bowed to the moon, and some worshipped the sun,
And the king and the captain were centered in one;
In a cabin they met, in their councils of state,
Where age and experience alone might debate.

With quibbles they never essayed to beguile,
And Nature had taught them the orator's style;
No pomp they affected, not quaintly refined
The nervous idea that glanced on the mind.

When hunting or battle invited to arms,
The women they left to take care of their farms—
The toils of the summer did winter repay,
While snug in their cabins they snored it away.

If death came among them his dues to demand,
They still had some prospects of comfort at hand—
The dead man they sent to the regions of bliss,
With his bottle and dog, and his fair maids to kiss.



Thus happy they dwelt in a rural domain,
Uninstructed in commerce, unpractised in gain,
’Till, taught by the loadstone to traverse the seas,
Columbus came over, that bold Genoese.

From records authentic, the date we can shew,
One thousand four hundred and ninety and two
Years, borne by the seasons, had vanished away,
Since the babe in the manger at Bethlehem lay.

What an æra was this, above all that had passed,
To yield such a treasure, discovered at last—
A new world, in value exceeding the old,
Such mountains of silver, such torrents of gold!

Yet the schemes of Columbus, however well planned
Were scarcely sufficient to find the main land;
On the islands alone with the natives he spoke,
Except when he entered the great Oronoque:

In this he resembled old Moses, the Jew,
Who, roving about with his wrong-headed crew,
When at length the reward was no longer denied,
From the top of Mount Pisgah he saw it, and died.

These islands and worlds in the watery expanse,
Like most mighty things, were the offspring of chance,
Since steering for Asia, Columbus they say,
Was astonished to find such a world in his way!

No wonder, indeed, he was smit with surprize—
This empire of Nature was new to their eyes—
Cut short in their course by so splendid a scene,
Such a region of wonders intruding between!

Yet great as he was, and deserving no doubt,
We have only to thank him for finding the rout;
These climes to the northward, more stormy and cold,
Were reserved for the efforts of Cabot the bold.



Where the sun in December appears to decline
Far off to the southward, and south of the line,
A merchant of Florence, more fortunate still,
Explored a new track, and discovered Brazil:

Good Fortune, Vespucius, pronounced thee her own,
Or else to mankind thou hadst scarcely been known—
By giving thy name, thou art ever renowned—
Thy name to a world that another had found!

Columbia, the name was, that merit decreed,
But Fortune and Merit have never agreed—
Yet the poets, alone, with commendable care
Are vainly attempting the wrong to repair.

The bounds I prescribe to my verse are too narrow
To tell of the conquests of Francis Pizarro;
And Cortez ’tis needless to bring into view,
One Mexico conquered, the other Peru.

Montezuma with credit in verse might be read,
But Dryden has told you the monarch is dead!
And the woes of his subjects—what torments they bore,
Las Casas, good bishop, has mentioned before:

Let others be fond of their stanzas of grief—
I hate to descant on the fall of the leaf—
Two scenes are so gloomy, I view them with pain,
The annals of death, and the triumphs of Spain.

Poor Atahualpa we cannot forget—
He gave them his utmost—yet died in their debt,
His wealth was a crime that they could not forgive,
And when they possessed it, forbade him to live.

Foredoomed to misfortunes (that come not alone)
He was the twelfth Inca that sat on the throne,
Who fleecing his brother of half his domains,
At the palace of Cusco confined him in chains.



But what am I talking—or where do I roam?
’Tis time that our story was brought nearer home—
From Florida’s cape did Cabot explore
To the fast frozen region of cold Labradore.

In the year fourteen hundred and ninety and eight
He came, as the annals of England relate,
But finding no gold in the lengthy domain,
And coasting the country, he left it again.

Next Davis—then Hudson adventured, they say,
One found out a streight, and the other a bay,
Whose desolate region, or turbulent wave
One present bestowed him—and that was a grave.



In the reign of a virgin (as authors discover)
Drake, Hawkins, and Raleigh in squadrons came over
While Barlow and Grenville succeeded to these,
Who all brought their colonies over the seas.

These, left in a wilderness teeming with woes,
The natives, suspicious, concluded them foes,
And murdered them all without notice or warning,
Ralph Lane, with his vagabonds, scarcely returning.

In the reign of king James (and the first of the name,)
George Summers, with Hacluit, to Chesapeake came,
Where far in the forests, not doomed to renown,
On the river Powhatan they built the first town.

Twelve years after this, some scores of dissenters
To the northernmost district came seeking adventures;
Outdone by the bishops, those great faggot fighters;
They left them to rule with their cassocks and mitres.

Thus banished forever, and leaving the sod,
The first land they saw was the pitch of Cape Cod,
Where famished with hunger and quaking with cold
They planned their New-Plymouth—so called from the old.

They were, without doubt, a delightful collection;—
Some came to be rid of a Stuart’s direction,
Some sailed with a view to dominion and riches,
Some to pray without book, and a few to hang witches.

Some, came on the Indians to shed a new light,
Convinced long before that their own must be right,
And that all who had died in the centuries past
On the devil’s lee shore were eternally cast.

These exiles were formed in a whimsical mould,
And were awed by their priests, like the Hebrews of old;
Disclaimed all pretences to jesting and laughter,
And sighed their lives through, to be happy hereafter.

On a crown immaterial their hearts were intent,
They looked towards Zion, wherever they went,
Did all things in hopes of a future reward,
And worried mankind—for the sake of the Lord.

With rigour excessive they strengthened their reign,
Their laws were conceived in the ill-natured strain,
With mystical meanings the saint was perplext,
And the flesh and the devil were slain by a text.

The body was scourged, for the good of the soul,
All folly discouraged by peevish controul,
A knot on the head was the sign of no grace,
And the Pope and his comrade were pictured in lace.

A stove in their churches, or pews lined with green,
Were horrid to think of, much more to be seen,
Their bodies were warmed with the linings of love,
And the fire was sufficient that flashed from above.

’Twas a crime to assert that the moon was opaque,
To say the earth moved, was to merit the stake;
And he that could tell an eclipse was to be,
In the college of Satan had took his degree.

On Sundays their faces were dark as a cloud—
The road to the meeting was only allowed,
And those they caught rambling, on business or pleasure,
Were sent to the stocks, to repent at their leisure.

This day was the mournfullest day in the week—
Except on religion, none ventured to speak—
This day was the day to examine their lives,
To clear off old scores, and to preach to their wives.

Their houses were forts, that seemed proof against light;
Their parlours, all day, were the blackness of night:
And, as if at their thresholds a cannon did roar,
The animals hardly dared open their door
'Till the sun disappeared—then, like a mole's snout
In the dusk of the evening, their noses popped out.

In the school of oppression though woefully taught,
’Twas only to be the oppressors they sought;
All, all but themselves were be-deviled and blind,
And their narrow-souled creed was to serve all mankind.

This beautiful system of nature below
They neither considered, nor wanted to know,
And called it a dog-house wherein they were pent,
Unworthy themselves, and their mighty descent.

They never perceived that in Nature's wide plan
There must be that whimsical creature called Man,
Far short of the rank he affects to attain,
Yet a link in its place, in creation's vast chain.



Whatever is foreign to us and our kind
Can never be lasting, though seemingly joined—
The hive swarmed at length, and a tribe that was teazed
Set out for Rhode-Island to think as they pleased.

Some hundreds to Britain ran murmuring home—
While others went off in the forests to roam,
When they found they had missed what they looked for at first,
The downfall of sin, and the reign of the just.

Hence, dry controversial reflections were thrown,
And the old dons were vexed in the way they had shown;
So those that are held in the work-house all night
Throw dirt the next day at the doors, out of spite.

Ah pity the wretches that lived in those days,
(Ye modern admirers of novels and plays)
When nothing was suffered but musty, dull rules,
And nonsense from Mather and stuff from the schools!

No story, like Rachel's, could tempt them to sigh,
Susanna and Judith employed the bright eye—
No fine spun adventures tormented the breast,
Like our modern Clarissa, Tom Jones, and the rest.

Those tyrants had chosen the books for your shelves,
(And, trust me, no other than writ by themselves,
For always by this may a bigot be known,
He speaks well of nothing but what is his own.)

From indwelling evil these souls to release,
The Quakers arrived with their kingdom of peace—
But some were transported and some bore the lash,
And four they hanged fairly, for preaching up trash.

The lands of New-England (of which we now treat)
Were famous, ere that, for producing of wheat;
But the soil (or tradition says strangely amiss)
Has been pestered with pumpkins from that day to this.



Thus, feuds and vexations distracted their reign,
(And perhaps a few vestiges still may remain)
But time has presented an offspring as bold,
Less free to believe, and more wise than the old.

Their phantoms, their wizzards, their witches are fled,
Matthew Paris's story with horror is read—
His daughters, and all the enchantments they bore—
And the demon, that pinched them, is heard of no more.

Their taste for the fine arts is strangely increased,
And Latin's no longer a mark of the beast:
Mathematics, at present, a farmer may know,
Without being hanged for connections below.

Proud, rough, Independent, undaunted and free,
And patient of hardships, their task is the sea,
Their country too barren their wish to attain,
They make up the loss by exploring the main.

Wherever bright Phœbus awakens the gales
I see the bold Yankees expanding their sails,
Throughout the wide ocean pursuing their schemes,
And chacing the whales on its uttermost streams.

No climate, for them, is too cold or too warm,
They reef the broad canvass, and fight with the storm;
In war with the foremost their standards display,
Or glut the loud cannon with death, for the fray.

No valour in fable their valour exceeds,
Their spirits are fitted for desperate deeds;
No rivals have they in our annals of fame,
Or if they are rivalled, ’tis York has the claim.

Inspired at the sound, while the name she repeats,
Bold Fancy conveys me to Hudson’s retreats—
Ah, sweet recollection of juvenile dreams
In the groves, and the forests that skirted his streams!

How often, with rapture, those streams were surveyed,
When, sick of the city, I flew to the shade—
How often the bard, and the peasant shall mourn
Ere those groves shall revive, or those shades shall return!

Not a hill, but some fortress disfigures it round!
And ramparts are raised where the cottage was found!
The plains and the vallies with ruin are spread,
With graves in abundance, and bones of the dead.

The first that attempted to enter the streight
(In anno one thousand six hundred and eight)
Was Hudson (the same that we mentioned before,
Who was lost in the gulph that he went to explore.)

For a sum that they paid him (we know not how much)
This captain transferred all his right to the Dutch;
For the time has been here, (to the world be it known,)
When all a man sailed by, or saw, was his own.

The Dutch on their purchase sat quietly down,
And fixed on an island to lay out a town;
They modelled their streets from the horns of a ram,
And the name that best pleased them was, New Amsterdam.

They purchased large tracts from the Indians for beads,
And sadly tormented some runaway Swedes,
Who (none knows for what) from their country had flown,
To live here in peace, undisturbed and alone.

New Belgia, the Dutch called their province, be sure,
But names never yet made possession secure,
For Charley (the second that honoured the name)
Sent over a squadron, asserting his claim:

(Had his sword and his title been equally slender,
In vain had they summoned Mynheer to surrender)
The soil they demanded, or threatened their worst,
Insisting that Cabot had looked at it first.

The want of a squadron to fall on their rear
Made the argument perfectly plain to Mynheer—
Force ended the contest—the right was a sham,
And the Dutch were sent packing to hot Surinam.

’Twas hard to be thus of their labours deprived,
But the age of Republics had not yet arrived—
Fate saw—though no wizzard could tell them as much—
That the crown, in due time, was to fare like the Dutch.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in the Freeman's Journal, December 15, 1784

In October of the year,
he counts potatoes dug from the brown field,
counting the seed, counting
the cellar's portion out,
and bags the rest on the cart's floor.

He packs wool sheared in April, honey
in combs, linen, leather
tanned from deerhide,
and vinegar in a barrel
hoped by hand at the forge's fire.

He walks by his ox's head, ten days
to Portsmouth Market, and sells potatoes,
and the bag that carried potatoes,
flaxseed, birch brooms, maple sugar, goose
feathers, yarn.

When the cart is empty he sells the cart.
When the cart is sold he sells the ox,
harness and yoke, and walks
home, his pockets heavy
with the year's coin for salt and taxes,

and at home by fire's light in November cold
stitches new harness
for next year's ox in the barn,
and carves the yoke, and saws planks
building the cart again.

From White Apples and the Taste of Stone. Copyright © 2006 by Donald Hall. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.

When I walk in my house I see pictures,
bought long ago, framed and hanging
—de Kooning, Arp, Laurencin, Henry Moore—
that I've cherished and stared at for years,
yet my eyes keep returning to the masters 
of the trivial—a white stone perfectly round, 
tiny lead models of baseball players, a cowbell, 
a broken great-grandmother's rocker,
a dead dog's toy—valueless, unforgettable 
detritus that my children will throw away
as I did my mother's souvenirs of trips 
with my dead father, Kodaks of kittens, 
and bundles of cards from her mother Kate.

"The Things" from The Back Chamber by Donald Hall. Copyright © 2011 by Donald Hall. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

I could tell they were father and son,
the air between them, slack as though
they hardly noticed one another.

The father sanded the gunwales,
the boy coiled the lines.
And I admired them there, each to his task
in the quiet of the long familiar.
The sawdust coated the father’s arms 
like dusk coats grass in a field.
The boy worked next on the oarlocks
polishing the brass until it gleamed
as though he could harness the sun.

Who cares what they were thinking,
lucky in their lives
that the spin of the genetic wheel
slowed twice to a stop
and landed each of them here.

Copyright © 2015 by Sally Bliumis-Dunn. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 31, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

my parents used the term from money         it meant a lineage
but I envisioned a woman emerging naked and fully formed

from sierras of unmarked bills            there was no derision
in the term but an understanding that she was not like us

she had not worked a day in her life          she had never worn mittens
with holes in them            her house had central heat instead of a wood stove

she knew how to shuck an oyster           always knew which fork
was appropriate            there was a lot we knew that she could not

but it was understood that these were Pandora kinds of knowledge
I asked if it was better to not have money           then have it but they said

it was more elegant to come from money            the nouveau riche
they said suffered from the one great affliction        a lack of manners

I said it doesn’t seem like the bad kind of suffering         they said
you’re too young to know what shame is            but you know I said

they argued behind the closed bedroom door once about a prostitute
I envisioned the prostitute             naked on sheets

of crisp hundred dollar bills             I understood even then that money
and sex were cousins            though the order of the transaction confused me

the art of the deal              how to get what you want
withhold whatever has value             my father kept secret

that he was starting another family              we could have
with a little detective work sleuthed it out               rule number one

follow the money              people will do terrible things to get it
my half brother was born               no—           he was practically minted

Copyright © 2017 Ross White. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Winter 2017.

He had his dream, and all through life,
Worked up to it through toil and strife.
Afloat fore'er before his eyes,
It colored for him all his skies:
    The storm-cloud dark
    Above his bark,
The calm and listless vault of blue
Took on its hopeful hue,
It tinctured every passing beam—
    He had his dream.

He labored hard and failed at last,
His sails too weak to bear the blast,
The raging tempests tore away
And sent his beating bark astray.
    But what cared he
    For wind or sea!
He said, "The tempest will be short,
My bark will come to port."
He saw through every cloud a gleam—
    He had his dream.

This poem is in the public domain.

1. Caught on a side street in heavy traffic, I said to the cabbie, I should have walked. He replied, I should have been a doctor. 2. When can I get on the 11:33 I ask the guy in the information booth at the Atlantic Avenue Station. When they open the doors, he says. I am home among my people.

From How Charlie Shavers Died and Other Poems by Harvey Shapiro, published by Wesleyan University Press. Copyright © 2001 by Harvey Shapiro. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

My father in the night shuffling from room to room
on an obscure mission through the hallway.

Help me, spirits, to penetrate his dream
and ease his restless passage.

Lay back the darkness for a salesman
who could charm everything but the shadows,

an immigrant who stands on the threshold
of a vast night

without his walker or his cane
and cannot remember what he meant to say,

though his right arm is raised, as if in prophecy,
while his left shakes uselessly in warning.

My father in the night shuffling from room to room
is no longer a father or a husband or a son,

but a boy standing on the edge of a forest
listening to the distant cry of wolves,

to wild dogs,
to primitive wingbeats shuddering in the treetops. 

From Lay Back the Darkness by Edward Hirsch Copyright © 2003 by Edward Hirsch. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”

They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Knopf and Vintage Books. Copyright © 1994 by the Estate of Langston Hughes. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated.

Long, too long America,
Traveling roads all even and peaceful you learn'd from joys and prosperity only,
But now, ah now, to learn from crises of anguish, advancing, grappling with direst fate and recoiling not,
And now to conceive and show to the world what your children en-masse really are,
(For who except myself has yet conceiv'd what your children en-masse really are?)

This poem is in the public domain.

A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other's
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what's on the other side.

I know there's something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

 Watch Elizabeth Alexander read “Praise Song for the Day” at President Obama's inauguration in 2009:

Copyright © 2009 by Elizabeth Alexander. All rights reserved. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota. A chapbook edition of Praise Song for the Day was published on February 6, 2009.

     S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
     A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
     Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
     Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
     Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
     Senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question…
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—
[They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”]
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
[They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”]
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all—
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
     So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
     And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all—
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
[But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!]
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
     And should I then presume?
     And how should I begin?

          . . . . .

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? …

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

          . . . . .

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep… tired… or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head [grown slightly bald] brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
     Should say: “That is not what I meant at all.
     That is not it, at all.”

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
     “That is not it at all,
     That is not what I meant, at all.”

          . . . . .

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old… I grow old…
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

Published in 1915. This poem is in the public domain.