October where three we-horses mark ground, turn snake our necks inside the guayla circle. My aranci, —etan, childfox out my fourth mouth, you drank then the year went dark & our own flowers & fires & what we thought we were though, still, our faces opened to the whooping of coyotes at the canyon rim, how they throw their voices out, falling, starless veils of lace over our still, black heads. Awake I sit sentried with all my Sight & the purple fennel musting after rain. This hour Become my canyon, become my bottom of the world listening for your breaths—to ward off nonbreath. Parent, my son—My son, a flicker barely born. Already withstand the blanched eye of our grief One morning with our faces crying into the arroyo it answers: Once there were no doors. No doors on earth, not a single one. —so when I listen I still hear you still kicking the ball, laughing as you say the story of endurance. & the women flutter their flickering tongues a flock of sound suddenly aflight to be, for you, both here & further they throw their voicebirds over the births so we are three & simultaneous earths inside your coil of fatherhair to which I press my ear to hear the histories, then the bell Then the whirl The whir of doctors above your beds, your noiseless struggle to be. Stay. Say. You are my Heres & Furthers Daddy, now I join the mothers Remember, when you were a little boy I used to hold you?
Copyright © 2018 by Aracelis Girmay. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 12, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
You thought I’d flipped the switch and I hadn’t
You thought I’d left the window open
And I wouldn’t
You thought I’d turn the dial up
But I didn’t
You thought I’d ring the sun the super
But I shouldn’t
You thought I’d unlock the beehive
But I wouldn’t
You thought I’d sing the dirge
But I couldn’t
You thought I’d cook the rabbit
And I hadn’t
You thought I’d come back that day
And I didn’t
You thought I’d tend the flowers
But I couldn’t
You thought I’d turn the lock
But I hadn’t
You thought I’d open the door
But I couldn’t
You thought I’d lay down
But I couldn’t
It kills me still
From Milk. Copyright © 2018 by Dorothea Lasky. Used with the permission of Wave Books and the author.
When you leave it will be empty:
dried leaves on gray-haired limbs,
clumps of gooseberry minus the berries.
Tracks across frozen water will lead
to a frigid channel,
springs seeping away from the source,
snow-covered hills reminding us
of the rolling, frozen sea.
The sun, low and yellow,
will not thaw any ice-covered bridges,
all slipping and falling,
no turtle miraculous emerging
from the snowbank to save me.
When you leave it will be all deer track
and rabbit scat, decayed leaf and prickly ash,
evidence of frantic digging.
Brush continuing a slow choke
over the disconnected sandbar,
little bluestem fighting back.
When you are gone it will be indelible
as a leaf fossil in ice, brief, no answer
in the night to the call of your name,
morning minus the light, forever
From In Our Very Bones (A Slow Tempo Press, 1997). Copyright © 1997 by Twyla Hansen. Used with the permission of the author.
Dreaded season when light’s too long too soon,
winter turns to you before its work is done.
Along with snowdrops, forsythia, anemone,
along with tulips breaking out of their bulbs,
comes the long memory of the fatal spring
when I was thirty-three and my love wasn’t there,
had gone without waiting and said she’d return,
but winter’s work done, was still gone.
Absence stronger than flowers, steaming in sun,
poisoned the season, buried morbid winter
and filled imagined summer with vapors. Light,
light spring drifts in like a feather
used for torture, its touch
too much and not enough.
Copyright © 2012 by Roger Greenwald. First published in Redwood Coast Review.
You are standing in the minefield again.
Someone who is dead now
told you it is where you will learn
to dance. Snow on your lips like a salted
cut, you leap between your deaths, black as god’s
periods. Your arms cleaving little wounds
in the wind. You are something made. Then made
to survive, which means you are somebody’s
son. Which means if you open your eyes, you’ll be back
in that house, beneath a blanket printed with yellow sailboats.
Your mother’s boyfriend, his bald head ringed with red
hair, like a planet on fire, kneeling
by your bed again. Air of whiskey & crushed
Oreos. Snow falling through the window: ash returned
from a failed fable. His spilled-ink hand
on your chest. & you keep dancing inside the minefield—
motionless. The curtains fluttering. Honeyed light
beneath the door. His breath. His wet blue face: earth
spinning in no one’s orbit. & you want someone to say Hey…Hey
I think your dancing is gorgeous. A little waltz to die for,
darling. You want someone to say all this
is long ago. That one night, very soon, you’ll pack a bag
with your favorite paperback & your mother’s .45,
that the surest shelter was always the thoughts
above your head. That it’s fair—it has to be—
how our hands hurt us, then give us
the world. How you can love the world
until there’s nothing left to love
but yourself. Then you can stop.
Then you can walk away—back into the fog
-walled minefield, where the vein in your neck adores you
to zero. You can walk away. You can be nothing
& still breathing. Believe me.
Copyright © 2015 by Ocean Vuong. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 2, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets
The lettering on the shop window in which
you catch a glimpse of yourself is in Polish.
Behind you a man quickly walks by, nearly shouting
into his cell phone. Then a woman
at a dreamier pace, carrying a just-bought bouquet
upside-down. All on a street where pickpockets abound
along with the ubiquitous smell of something baking.
It is delicious to be anonymous on a foreign city street.
Who knew this could be a life, having languages
instead of relationships, struggling even then,
finding out what it means to be a woman
by watching the faces of men passing by.
I went to distant cities, it almost didn’t matter
which, so primed was I to be reverent.
All of them have the beautiful bridge
crossing a grey, near-sighted river,
one that massages the eyes, focuses
the swooping birds that skim the water’s surface.
The usual things I didn’t pine for earlier
because I didn’t know I wouldn’t have them.
I spent so much time alone, when I actually turned lonely
it was vertigo.
Myself estranged is how I understood the world.
My ignorance had saved me, my vices fueled me,
and then I turned forty. I who love to look and look
couldn’t see what others did.
Now I think about currencies, linguistic equivalents, how
lop-sided they are, while
my reflection blurs in the shop windows.
Wanting to be as far away as possible exactly as much as still
Shamelessly entering a Starbucks (free wifi) to write this.
Copyright © 2015 by Jennifer Grotz. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 21, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets
for Auntie Jeanette
Because you haven’t spoken
in so long, the tongue stumbles and stutters,
sticks to the roof and floor as if the mouth were just
a house in which it could stagger like a body unto itself.
You once loved a man so tall
sometimes you stood on a chair to kiss him.
What to say when one says,
“You’re sooo musical,” takes your stuttering for scatting,
takes your stagger for strutting,
takes your try and tried again for willful/playful deviation?
It makes you wanna not holla
silence to miss perception’s face.
It ain’t even morning or early,
though the sun-up says “day,” and you been
staggering lange Zeit gegen a certain
breathless stillness that we can’t but call death.
Though stillness suggests a possibility
of less than dead, of move, of still be.
How that one calling your tryin’
music, calling you sayin’ entertaining, thinks
there’s no then that we, (who den dat we?), remember/
trace in our permutations of say?
What mastadonic presumptions precede and
follow each word, each be, each bitter being?
These yawns into which we enter as into a harbor—
Come. Go. Don’t. says the vocal oceans which usher
each us, so unlike any ship steered or steering into.
A habit of place and placing a body.
Which choruses of limbs and wanting, of limp
linger in each syllabic foot tapping its chronic codes?
Copyright © 2015 by Tonya M. Foster. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 20, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
My marriage ended in an airport long ago. I was not wise enough to cry while looking for my car, walking through the underground garage; jets were roaring overhead, and if I had been wise I would have looked up at those heavy-bellied cylinders and seen the wheelchairs and the frightened dogs inside; the kidneys bedded in dry ice and Styrofoam containers. I would have known that in synagogues and churches all over town couples were gathering like flocks of geese getting ready to take off, while here the jets were putting down their gear, getting ready for the jolt, the giant tires shrieking and scraping off two long streaks of rubber molecules, that might have been my wife and I, screaming in our fear. It is a matter of amusement to me now, me staggering around that underground garage, trying to remember the color of my vehicle, unable to recall that I had come by cab— eventually gathering myself and going back inside, quite matter-of-fact, to get the luggage I would be carrying for the rest of my life.