these days I speak of myself in the past tense
writing about yesterday knowing tomorrow
is no more than mist crawling toward violet mountains
I think of days when this weather meant you
were not so far away the light changing
so fast I believe I can see you turning a corner
the rain comes in smelling of pine and moss
a kind of brazen intrusion on the careful seeds of spring
I pay more attention to details these days
saving the most trivial until I sort them for trash
or recycle a luxury I’ve come to know only recently
you have never been too far from my thoughts
despite the newborn birds and their erratic songs
the way they tilt their heads as if drowsing for the sun
the way they repeat their singular songs
over and over as if wishing for a different outcome
Copyright © 2015 by Colleen J. McElroy. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 29, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
The plagues we wished upon ourselves
With aloe juice and cayenne
The planets we strained to reach
That was how being young tasted
Each of us a geode looking to be cracked open
And to crack each other open
Over and over
I am no longer young except to those who are older
In the way that youth moves along
The conveyor belt
At a consistent distance
I drink water now
I try to be gentle
The years crack you open enough
Copyright © 2015 by Alicia Jo Rabins. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 2, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
I loved the things that were ours—pink gloves,
hankies with a pastoral scene in one corner.
There was a lot we were not allowed to do,
but what we were allowed to do was ours,
dolls you carry by the leg, and dolls’
clothes you would put on or take off—
someone who was yours, who did not
have the rights of her own nakedness,
and who had a smooth body, with its
untouchable place, which you would never touch, even on her,
you had been cured of that.
And some of the dolls had hard-rubber hands, with
dimples, and though you were not supposed to, you could
bite off the ends of the fingers when you could not stand it.
And though you’d never be allowed to, say, drive a bus,
or do anything that had to be done right, there was a
teeny carton, in you, of eggs
so tiny they were invisible.
And there would be milk, in you, too—real
milk! And you could wear a skirt, you could
be a bellflower—up under its
cone the little shape like a closed
buckle, intricate groove and tongue,
where something like God’s power over you lived. And it
you shared some things with boys—
the alphabet was not just theirs—
and you could make forays over into their territory,
you could have what you could have because it was yours,
and a little of what was theirs, because
you took it. Much later, you’d have to give things
up, too, to make it fair—long
hair, skirts, even breasts, a pair
of raspberry colored pumps which a friend
wanted to put on, if they would fit his foot, and they did.
Copyright © 2015 by Sharon Olds. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 21, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
Once, I wanted to be Hemingway.
But so did Hemingway. That act is hard—
dumb facts decked out as art, and anyway,
who gets what they want? And then who cares?
What matters when the water at your feet
is running out without you? I grew my beard
and bought a little boat on credit, named
it after myself and painted all of it blue,
then put us out to sea. And when it’s calm
and when the sun is out, we disappear.
We’re gone. What else was I supposed to do?
Copyright © 2015 by Patrick Ryan Frank. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 7, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
One river gives
Its journey to the next.
We give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.
We give because giving has changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.
We have been better for it,
We have been wounded by it—
Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,
Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.
Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,
But we read this book, anyway, over and again:
Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,
Mine to yours, yours to mine.
You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.
Together we are simple green. You gave me
What you did not have, and I gave you
What I had to give—together, we made
Something greater from the difference.
Copyright © 2014 by Alberto Ríos. Used with permission of the author.
I walked the three floors
of the local antique store
and imagined white plaques
adorning each room
—but unlike museums
I could touch the displays,
and could take a seat
at a beautiful walnut table—
I could wonder about the moment
its palm-stained patina
went from simply dirty
to expensively antique—that
singular moment the thing
became slightly more
than a thing by simply
continuing to be
the very same thing—all its cracks
thick as the edge of a quarter—
all its smoothed over corners—
all its dark knots flourishing—
and I thought I could live
for awhile in this very
same body—and did, somehow,
and was loved, somehow,
into a third body, which totters
across the living room,
and whose knees I kiss
when he stumbles,
and the difference between
just now and not
is an aperture’s quick snap—
it must have been Luck
—I see it—that saddled me,
the blind horse rising
and falling as the carnival
blared from the brass pipes,
as the carousel twirled
its crown of lights,
and one by one the bulbs
went dark—and so it is,
this life—this goddamn
lucky life—the organ
sounding off the melody,
the platform winding down,
and the horses still bounding.
Copyright © 2016 by Keith Leonard. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 7, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
Lately my 84-year-old mother’s been
hearing noises: a party in the street below
her bedroom window—gruff men cursing,
a woman’s shrieking laughter, beer cans going
“dink” off the concrete. Finally she got the nerve
to peek out: nothing but a street light. Sounds
coming from inside her, she says: pops, clicks,
swooshes, gongs, alarms, heavy steps pounding
through her as if someone’s stumbling around
on the roof. Her cellphone rings. “Hello?” No
answer from its flat, gray face. A fist pounding
on the door she never used to lock—so hard she
feared the wood would split—but the peephole:
empty. A voice in the middle of the night: “Joann!”—
impatient to get her attention, clear as day, she said.
“That must be terrifying,” I said. She giggled,
“I don’t know but it was really something!
You know that poem ‘I Sing the Body Electric’?”
“Of course. Did you recognize the voice?” I asked.
“It must’ve been my mother because she called me
‘Joann!’” she imitated her mother’s scolding voice
“in just that way.” “A woman?” I asked. “Yes,
and a stranger might call me, ‘Jody.’” “Yes,”
I agreed, so at least it’s someone who knows her.
Copyright © 2016 by Jennifer L. Knox. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 12, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
To have been told “I love you” by you could well be, for me,
the highlight of my life, the best feeling, the best peak
on my feeling graph, in the way that the Chrysler building
might not be the tallest building in the NY sky but is
the best, the most exquisitely spired, or the way that
Hank Aaron’s career home-run total is not the highest
but the best, the one that signifies the purest greatness.
So improbable! To have met you at all and then
to have been told in your soft young voice so soon
after meeting you: "I love you." And I felt the mystery
of being that you, of being a you and being
loved, and what I was, instantly, was someone
who could be told "I love you" by someone like you.
I was, in that moment, new; you were 19; I was 22;
you were impulsive; I was there in front of you, with a future
that hadn't yet been burned for fuel; I had energy;
you had beauty; and your eyes were a pale blue,
and they backed what you said with all they hadn't seen,
and they were the least ambitious eyes I'd known,
the least calculating, and when you spoke and when
they shone, perhaps you saw the feeling you caused.
Perhaps you saw too that the feeling would stay.
Copyright © 2016 by Matthew Yeager. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 31, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
A golden age of love songs and we still
can't get it right. Does your kiss really taste
like butter cream? To me, the moon's bright face
was neither like a pizza pie nor full;
the Beguine began, but my eyelid twitched.
"No more I love you's," someone else assured
us, pouring out her heart, in love (of course)—
what bothers me the most is that high-pitched,
undone whine of "Why am I so alone?"
Such rueful misery is closer to
the truth, but once you turn the lamp down low,
you must admit that he is still the one,
and baby, baby he makes you so dumb
you sing in the shower at the top of your lungs.
Copyright © 2012 by Rafael Campo. Used with permission of the author.
We woke to the darkness before our eyes,
unable to take the measure of the loss.
Who are they. What are we. What have we
abandoned to arrive with such violence at this hour.
In answer we drew back, covered our ears
with our hands to the heedless victory, or vowed,
as I did, into the changed air, never to consent.
But it was already too late, too late for the unfarmed fields,
the men by the station, the park swings, the parking lots,
the ground water, the doves—too late for dusk
falling in summer, chains of glass lakes
mingled into dawn, the corals, the neighbors,
the first drizzle on an empty street, cafeterias and stockyards,
young men asking twice a day for
work. Too late for hope. Too far along
to meet a country, a people, its annihilating need.
Because the year is new and the great change
already underway, we concede a thousandfold
and feel, harder than the land itself,
a complicity for everything we did not see
or comprehend: cynicism borne of raw despair,
long-cultivated hatreds, the promises of leaders
traveling like cool silence through the dark.
My life is here, in this small room, and like you
I am waiting to know—but there is no time
to wait for what has happened.
What does the future ask of me,
those who won’t have enough to eat by evening,
those whose disease will now take hold—
and the decades that carry past me once I’ve died,
generations of children, the suffering that is never solved,
the heat over the earth, its marshes,
its crowded towers, its unbreathable night air.
I would open my hand from the wrist,
step outside, not lose nerve.
Here is the day, still to be lived.
We do not fully know what we do.
But the trains depart the stations, traffic lurches
and stalls, a highway crew has paused.
Desert sun softens the first color of the rock.
Who governs now governs by grievance and old scores,
but we compass our worth,
prepare to do the work not our own,
and feel, past the scorn in his eyes, the burden
in the torso of a stranger, draw close to the sick,
the weak, the women without jobs, the twelve-year-old
facing spite half-tangled into sleep, the panic
tightening inside everyone who has been told to go,
I will help you although I do not know you,
and strive not to look away, be unwilling to profit,
an ache inside that endless effort,
a slowed-down summons not from those
whose rage is lit by greed—we do not consent—
but the ones who wake without prospect,
those who don’t speak, cannot recover,
like the old woman at the counter, the helpless father
who, like you, gets no more than his one life.
Copyright © 2017 by Joanna Klink. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 21, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Tell us that line again, the thing about the dark times…
“When the dark times come, we will sing about the dark times.”
They’ll always be wrong about peace when they’re wrong about justice…
Were you wrong, were you right, insisting about the dark times?
The traditional fears, the habitual tropes of exclusion
Like ominous menhirs, close into their ring about the dark times.
Naysayers in sequins or tweeds, libertine or ascetic
Find a sensual frisson in what they’d call bling about the dark times.
Some of the young can project themselves into a Marshall Plan future
Where they laugh and link arms, reminiscing about the dark times.
From every spot-lit glitz tower with armed guards around it
Some huckster pronounces his fiats, self-sacralized king, about the dark times.
In a tent, in a queue, near barbed wire, in a shipping container,
Please remember ya akhy, we too know something about the dark times.
Sindbad’s roc, or Ganymede’s eagle, some bird of rapacious ill omen
From bleak skies descends, and wraps an enveloping wing about the dark times.
You come home from your meeting, your clinic, make coffee and look in the mirror
And ask yourself once more what you did to bring about the dark times.
Copyright © 2017 by Marilyn Hacker. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 3, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
and I didn’t mean to, this was not
my intent. I meant to say how I loved
the birds, how watching them lift off
the branches, hearing their song
helps me get through the gray morning.
When I wrote about how they crash
into the small dark places that only birds
can fit through, layers of night sky, pipes
through drains, how I’ve seen them splayed
across gutters, piles of feathers stuck
together by dried blood, how once my car
ran over a sparrow, though I swerved,
the road was narrow, the bird not quick
enough, dragged it under my tire as I drove
to forget, bird disappearing part by part,
beak, slender feet, fretful, hot,
I did not mean to write about death,
but rather how when something dies
we remember who we love, and we
die a little too, we who are still breathing,
we who still have the energy to survive.
Copyright © 2017 by Kim Dower. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 7, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
I like to say we left at first light
with Chairman Mao himself chasing us in a police car,
my father fighting him off with firecrackers,
even though Mao was already over a decade
dead, & my mother says all my father did
during the Cultural Revolution was teach math,
which he was not qualified to teach, & swim & sunbathe
around Piano Island, a place I never read about
in my American textbooks, a place everybody in the family
says they took me to, & that I loved.
What is it, to remember nothing, of what one loved?
To have forgotten the faces one first kissed?
They ask if I remember them, the aunts, the uncles,
& I say Yes it’s coming back, I say Of course,
when it’s No not at all, because when I last saw them
I was three, & the China of my first three years
is largely make-believe, my vast invented country,
my dream before I knew the word “dream,”
my father’s martial arts films plus a teaspoon-taste
of history. I like to say we left at first light,
we had to, my parents had been unmasked as the famous
kung fu crime-fighting couple of the Southern provinces,
& the Hong Kong mafia was after us. I like to say
we were helped by a handsome mysterious Northerner,
who turned out himself to be a kung fu master.
I don’t like to say, I don’t remember crying.
No embracing in the airport, sobbing. I don’t remember
feeling bad, leaving China.
I like to say we left at first light, we snuck off
on some secret adventure, while the others were
still sleeping, still blanketed, warm
in their memories of us.
What do I remember of crying? When my mother slapped me
for being dirty, diseased, led astray by Western devils,
a dirty, bad son, I cried, thirteen, already too old,
too male for crying. When my father said Get out,
never come back, I cried & ran, threw myself into night.
Then returned, at first light, I don’t remember exactly
why, or what exactly came next. One memory claims
my mother rushed into the pink dawn bright
to see what had happened, reaching toward me with her hands,
& I wanted to say No. Don’t touch me.
Another memory insists the front door had simply been left
unlocked, & I slipped right through, found my room,
my bed, which felt somehow smaller, & fell asleep, for hours,
before my mother (anybody) seemed to notice.
I’m not certain which is the correct version, but what stays with me
is the leaving, the cry, the country splintering.
It’s been another five years since my mother has seen her sisters,
her own mother, who recently had a stroke, who has trouble
recalling who, why. I feel awful, my mother says,
not going back at once to see her. But too much is happening here.
Here, she says, as though it’s the most difficult,
least forgivable English word.
What would my mother say, if she were the one writing?
How would her voice sound? Which is really to ask, what is
my best guess, my invented, translated (Chinese-to-English,
English-to-English) mother’s voice? She might say:
We left at first light, we had to, the flight was early,
in early spring. Go, my mother urged, what are you doing,
waving at me, crying? Get on that plane before it leaves without you.
It was spring & I could smell it, despite the sterile glass
& metal of the airport—scent of my mother’s just-washed hair,
of the just-born flowers of fields we passed on the car ride over,
how I did not know those flowers were already
memory, how I thought I could smell them, boarding the plane,
the strange tunnel full of their aroma, their names
I once knew, & my mother’s long black hair—so impossible now.
Why did I never consider how different spring could smell, feel,
elsewhere? First light, last scent, lost
country. First & deepest severance that should have
prepared me for all others.
From When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities by Chen Chen, published by BOA Editions. Copyright © 2017 by Chen Chen. Used with permission of BOA Editions.
Some maps have blue borders
like the blue of your name
or the tributary lacing of
veins running through your
father’s hands. & how the last
time I saw you, you held
me for so long I saw whole
lifetimes flooding by me
small tentacles reaching
for both our faces. I wish
maps would be without
borders & that we belonged
to no one & to everyone
at once, what a world that
would be. Or not a world
maybe we would call it
something more intrinsic
like forgiving or something
simplistic like river or dirt.
& if I were to see you
tomorrow & everyone you
came from had disappeared
I would weep with you & drown
out any black lines that this
earth allowed us to give it—
because what is a map but
a useless prison? We are all
so lost & no naming of blank
spaces can save us. & what
is a map but the delusion of
safety? The line drawn is always
in the sand & folds on itself
before we’re done making it.
& that line, there, south of
el rio, how it dares to cover
up the bodies, as though we
would forget who died there
& for what? As if we could
forget that if you spin a globe
& stop it with your finger
you’ll land it on top of someone
living, someone who was not
expecting to be crushed by thirst—
Copyright © 2017 by Yesenia Montilla. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 28, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Throughout this course,
we’ll study the American
landscape of our yard, coiled line
of the garden hose,
muddy furrows in the grass
awaiting our analysis,
what’s called close reading
of the ground. And somewhere
something will yip in pain
perhaps, a paw caught in a wire,
or else the furred and oily
yowling of desire.
And flickering beyond the fence,
we’ll see the slatted lives
of strangers. The light
above a neighbor’s porch
will be a test of how we tolerate
of uncertainty, a glow
that’s argument to shadow.
Or if not that, we’ll write an essay
on the stutter of the bulb,
the little glimmering that goes
before the absolute of night.
Copyright © 2017 by Jehanne Dubrow. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 30, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Scientists say the average human
life gets three months longer every year.
By this math, death will be optional. Like a tie
or dessert or suffering. My mother asks
whether I’d want to live forever.
“I’d get bored,” I tell her. “But,” she says,
“there’s so much to do,” meaning
she believes there’s much she hasn’t done.
Thirty years ago she was the age I am now
but, unlike me, too industrious to think about
birds disappeared by rain. If only we had more
time or enough money to be kept on ice
until such a time science could bring us back.
Of late my mother has begun to think life
short-lived. I’m too young to convince her
otherwise. The one and only occasion
I was in the same room as the Mona Lisa,
it was encased in glass behind what I imagine
were velvet ropes. There’s far less between
ourselves and oblivion—skin that often defeats
its very purpose. Or maybe its purpose
isn’t protection at all, but rather to provide
a place, similar to a doctor’s waiting room,
in which to sit until our names are called.
Hold your questions until the end.
Mother, measure my wide-open arms—
we still have this much time to kill.
Copyright © 2017 by Nicole Sealey. Originally published in The Village Voice. Used with permission of the author.
You’re used to it, the way,
in the first wide-eyed
minutes, climbing from parking lot
to fire trail, or rifling through
cupboards in a rented kitchen,
I can’t help but tell you
we should visit here again,
my reverie inserting
a variation in the season,
or giving friends the room
next door, in stubborn panic
to fix this happiness in place
by escaping from it.
“We’re here now,” you say,
holding out the book I bought
with its dog-eared maps and lists
and, on the cover, a waterfall,
white flecks frozen, very close.
Copyright © 2017 by Nate Klug. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 23, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Always, before rain, the windows grew thick with fog.
Mist descended over the evening rooftops
and rain made generalities of the neighborhood.
Rain made red leaves stick to car windows.
Rain made the houses vague. A car
slid through rain past rows of houses.
The moon swiveled on a wet gear above it.
The moon—a searchlight suspended from one of the airships—
lit the vague face peering through the windshield,
the car sliding down the rain-filled darkness
toward the highway. The men controlling the airships
were searching for him,
and he passed through the rain
as a thought passes through the collective mind
of the state. Here I am in this rain-filled poem,
looking out my kitchen window into the street,
having read the news of the day—
we are hunting them in our neighborhoods,
they have no place among us—
and now the car has turned the corner and disappeared
into the searchlights that make from the rain
glittering cylinders of power.
Copyright © 2017 by Kevin Prufer. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 7, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
dedicated to my 30/30 crew
praise daily poems in my inbox
how they make me laugh in one stanza,
then break my heart the next
praise how poets hold onto our first loves,
and scent of mama, now gone
praise how we nurture our child self,
gently wrap her around stanzas,
baby girl is resilient
praise our spunk and our sadness,
let our writing heal
at home, at work, in cafés, even in the ICU
praise how we hold our memories up to light,
gentle and cupped in palm of hands
praise our rough and sexy poems,
sometimes that’s all we need
fiyah in the sheets
praise bebop and jazz
how my foot taps when i
speak your poems out loud
praise power of music and mama
who played Nancy Wilson all night long,
crying behind a closed door.
praise how i wrote a new poem this week,
while my sick child laid on my lap,
because everyone needs to heal, especially mamas.
Copyright © 2017 by JP Howard. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 13, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
I do not know how
she felt, but I keep
thinking of her—
screaming out to an empty street.
I had been asleep
when I heard a voice
and frantic, when I opened my door.
I remember her shoulders
in the faded towel I found
before she put on my blue sweats
and white T-shirt. Call 911
please, she said.
When the officer arrived
I said, I found her there after the—
But she said,
No, that wasn’t what
What must be valued
in clarity and in error,
feelings are held.
Here—in a poem?
Copyright © 2017 by Jenny Johnson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 31, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
When I mention the ravages of now, I mean to say, then.
I mean to say the rough-hewn edges of time and space,
a continuum that folds back on itself in furtive attempts
to witness what was, what is, and what will be. But what
I actually mean is that time and space have rough-hewn edges.
Do I know this for sure? No, I’m no astrophysicist. I have yet
to witness what was, what is, and what will be. But what
I do know, I know well: bodies defying spatial constraint.
Do I know this for sure? No, I’m no scientist. I have yet
to prove that defiant bodies even exist as a theory; I offer
what I know. I know damn well my body craves the past tense,
a planet in chronic retrograde, searching for sun’s shadow.
As proof that defiant bodies exist in theory, I even offer
what key evidence I have: my life and Mercury’s swift orbits, or
two planets in chronic retrograde, searching for sun’s shadow.
Which is to say, two objects willfully disappearing from present view.
Perhaps life is nothing more than swift solar orbits, or dual
folds along a continuum that collapse the end and the beginning,
which implies people can move in reverse, will their own vanishing;
or at least relive the ravages of then—right here, right now.
Copyright © 2016 by Airea D. Matthews. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 24, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
Copyright © 2017 by Howard Altmann. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 23, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Wearing nothing but snakeskin
boots, I blazed a footpath, the first
radical road out of that old kingdom
toward a new unknown.
When I came to those great flaming gates
of burning gold,
I stood alone in terror at the threshold
between Paradise and Earth.
There I heard a mysterious echo:
my own voice
singing to me from across the forbidden
side. I shook awake—
at once alive in a blaze of green fire.
Let it be known: I did not fall from grace.
Copyright © 2015 by Ansel Elkins. Used with permission of the author.
The hoop is not metal, but a pair of outstretched arms,
God’s arms, joined at the fingers. And God is saying
throw it to me. It’s not a ball anymore. It’s an orange prayer
I’m offering with all four chambers. And the other players—
the Pollack of limbs, flashing hands and teeth—
are just temptations, obstacles between me and the Lord’s light.
Once during an interview I slipped, I didn’t pray well tonight,
and the reporter looked at me, the same one who’d called me
a baller of destiny, and said you mean play, right? Of course,
I nodded. Don’t misunderstand—I’m no reverend
of the flesh. Priests embarrass me. A real priest
wouldn’t put on that robe, wouldn’t need the public
affirmation. A real priest works in disguise, leads
by example, preaches with his feet. Yes, Jesus walked on water,
but how about a staircase of air? And when the clock
is down to its final ticks, I rise up and over the palms
of a nonbeliever—the whole world watching, thinking
it can’t be done—I let the faith roll off my fingertips, the ball
drunk with backspin, a whole stadium of people holding
the same breath simultaneously, the net flying up like a curtain,
the lord’s truth visible for an instant, converting nonbelievers
by the bushel, who will swear for years they’ve witnessed a miracle.
Copyright © 2015 Jeffrey McDaniel. Originally published in the Winter 2015 issue of Prairie Schooner. Used with permission of Prairie Schooner.
More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.
Copyright © 2017 by Ada Limón. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 15, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Next to her embroidered lawn handkerchiefs my mother's empty gloves lay paired in the nest of her drawer: short white Easter ones that stopped at the wrist; netted crocheted gloves for summer; an ecru pair four inches past her watchband, the backs detailed with three rows of stitching raised like fine bones; three-quarter length pigskin to wear under coats; black lace for cocktails, white for weddings; sexy gloves with gathers up the length so they'd look like they were slouching; the knitted Bavarians, Loden green, stiff as boiled wool. My first prom dress—strapless, floor-length—I wore her formal opera gloves. Pearl buttons on the delicate underside of my wrists, then the white went up and up. I kept six pairs, my sister took the rest. Saying someone should use them, she gave them away at work, set them out for the taking. Tonight, I lay the table with my mother's china. At each place, a pair of gloves palms up, wrists touching in a gesture of receiving and giving. I held back the gloves she'd bought in Italy: black leather, elbow length, the right glove torn at thumb and palm as if she'd reached for something too late or held onto something too long.
Copyright © 2015 by Cathie Sandstrom. Originally published in Wide Awake: Poets of Los Angeles and Beyond (Pacific Coast Poetry Series, 2015). Used with permission of the author.
Poem in which I have wisdom. Poem in which I have a father. Poem in which I care. Poem in which I am from another country. Poem in which I Spanish. Poem in which flowers are important. Poem in which I make pretty gestures. Poem in which I am a Deceptacon. Poem in which I am a novelist. Poem in which I use trash. Poem in which I am a baby. Poem in which I swaddle. Poem in which I bathe. Poem in which I am a box. Poem in which its face is everything. Poem in which faces are everywhere. Poem in which I swear. Poem in which I take an oath. Poem in which I make a joke. Poem in which I can’t move.
Copyright © 2018 by Paola Capó-García. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 12, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
I’ve lived my life as if I were my wife packing for a trip—I’ll need this and that and I can’t possibly do without that! But now I’m about what can be done without. I just need a thin valise. There’s no place on earth where I can’t unpack in a flash down to a final spark of consciousness. No place where I can’t enter the joyless rapture of almost remembering I’ll need this and I’ll need that, hoping to weigh less than silence, lighter than light.
From The Memory of Water, published by New Issues Press. Copyright © 2011 by Jack Myers. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
Last summer, two discrete young snakes left their skin on my small porch, two mornings in a row. Being post-modern now, I pretended as if I did not see them, nor understand what I knew to be circling inside me. Instead, every hour I told my son to stop with his incessant back-chat. I peeled a banana. And cursed God—His arrogance, His gall—to still expect our devotion after creating love. And mosquitoes. I showed my son the papery dead skins so he could know, too, what it feels like when something shows up at your door—twice—telling you what you already know.
Copyright © 2015 by Robin Coste Lewis. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 31, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
Oh, my planet, how beautiful you are. Little curve that leads me to the lakeside. Let me step out of the sack of skin I wore on earth. It’s good to be home. No more need to name me. No more need to make the shape of a machete with my mouth. Pushing up up up the tired sides that want to drop below my teeth. Lord, I’ve missed you. The streets covered all day in light from the moons. I was confused all the time. I wanted so much. My hole felt like a gut with an antler rammed through it. So lonely and strange and always trying to smile. Coin of the realm. And my arms open and my life coming in and out of the “ATM.” Once I saw a fox leap inside the morning light and made the same shape of myself. Once I watched the boats and also rocked back and forth. How does every person not cry out all the time? Yes, it was good to eat doughnuts. Yes. I was blessed by many days of joy. A rabbit in the driveway. A rosemary bush with a sorcerer’s cloak of spider webs. Brian Eno. The Hammond B3 Organ that never asked me who I knew. But that body. Like a factory. That mind like a ship built to pile in other bodies. Skin like a sow without any of the sow’s equanimity. It reflected nothing. Pink skin. Blue eyes hard as an anvil. Like a window with covering that refuses the passerby’s gaze. I loved the bully power some days. Oh my pleasure in not causing harm. My pride. I’m not like so-and-so. My pink skin preaching, my pink skin yawping out my other hole, “I did not choke the man with my elbow!” “Would never!” “I let all the boys in hoodies walk through dark streets.” “I did not shoot them with my guns!” The ship rising up inside me. As if the fox felt pride for not tearing the bird to pieces. As if the owl’s heart grew large from not wrecking the squirrel’s nest. My pink skin a sail full of indignation. My eyes pitching across the feed. It is so good to be home and yet. I have a ship inside. How can the organ welcome me? I’m not a sow on her worst day. Which would be what? Breaking from the barn? Eating all the acorns and rolling in the mud? No. Her worst would be at my hands and on my plate for supper. Grow like the tree, the man who heals the bodies said. In every way I became the ship rising in the harbor. How can I be welcomed after that?
Copyright © 2018 by Gabrielle Calvocoressi. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 9, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Out of the deep and the dark, A sparkling mystery, a shape, Something perfect, Comes like the stir of the day: One whose breath is an odour, Whose eyes show the road to stars, The breeze in his face, The glory of Heaven on his back. He steps like a vision hung in air, Diffusing the passion of Eternity; His abode is the sunlight of morn, The music of eve his speech: In his sight, One shall turn from the dust of the grave, And move upward to the woodland.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on July 8, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Let them come for what’s left: a chorus of bone, river and soot. Worthy enough. Holy enough. Like all the others, singular—or not. Wanting only for your name to blue my lips and call it miracle. Our love double-knotted, saddle-stitched held the world together. Until it didn’t— all the words you placed in me flushed and faltered. From memory, I recited their worn prattle—cut them clean with my bite. The jungle we made in blame grew and grew, fed on our melancholy. Not even the birds knew to change their songs.
Copyright © 2018 by Vandana Khanna. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 24, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
imagine your heart is just a ball you learned to dribble up
and down the length of your driveway back home. slow down
control it. plant your feet in the soft blue of your mat and release
it is hard but slowly you are unlearning the shallow pant
of your childhood. extend your body—do not reach
for someone but something fixed and fleshless and certain—
fold flatten then lift your head like a cobra sure of the sun
waiting and ready to caress the chill
from its scales. inhale—try not to remember how desperate
you’ve been for touch—yes ignore it—that hitch of your heart
you got from mornings you woke to find momma hysterical
or gone. try to give up the certainty she’d never return
recall only the return and not its coldness. imagine her arms
wide to receive you imagine you are not a thing that needs
escaping. it is hard and though at times you are sure
you will always be the abandoned girl trying to abandon herself
push up arch deep into your back exhale and remember—
when it is too late to pray the end of the flood
we pray instead to survive it.
Copyright © 2018 by Brionne Janae. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 22, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
a love letter to traci akemi kato-kiriyama
does a voice have to be auditory to be a voice?
where in the body does hearing take place?
which are the questions that cannot be addressed in language?
which are the questions where promises lodge?
how do we hear what is outside our earshot?
when does distance look like closeness, feel like velvet sunrise cheek to cheek?
what are the objects, ideas, or experiences we drop beneath the more evident surfaces of our lives to the air or water or ground beneath? do we drop them purposefully? are they forgotten?
what word makes the body?
what body defies the word?
which figures, shapes, presences, haunts, methods, media, modes, ephemera, gestures, abandonments, models, anti-models, breaths, harmonics? which soil? which fields?
what does beginning sound like? what body does continuing form? what note does perseverance hum?
is a word a body?
which apertures? which hinges?
where does a body stand without settling?
through which holes does history break into our day?
where in the past does the future excavate?
where in the future does the past propel?
what are the distinctions between proximity and simultaneity?
where does a body resist without refusal?
can borders be exceeded? can borders be disintegrated?
where in the body does hearing take place?
where in the body does loving take place?
how do we make family with someone we do not know?
what do we carry with us and where in the body do we carry it?
might we be permitted a we this evening?
may I hold your hand? to feel your hand as its actual shape, clothed in its papery useful unequivocal skin, bones stacked like tiny branches, the balancing act of a bird, joints unlocking, span from thumb to pinky octaving out toward unfamiliar harmonics?
what space does the body occupy despite everything?
what does despitesound like? what does withsound like?
where does attake place? where does respite take place?
Copyright © 2018 by Jen Hofer. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 7, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
after Reagan Lothes
Because nothing else is on so early
in the morning when he drinks coffee
in an empty house. Because almanacs
are of limited use compared to satellites.
Because spring will have to come somehow
and cold reminds him which bones
he’s broken. Because every flight delayed
or canceled is one he won’t be on. Because
people should stay where they’re from,
except his children, who were right to leave.
Because a flood will take what it can
and move uphill. Because just once
he’d like to see a tornado touch down
in an empty field and go away
hungry. Because his wife nearly died
on an icy road. Because he can’t prepare
for disasters he doesn’t understand.
Because wind keeps him awake. Because
his boots are by the door, but his slicker
is in his truck. Because he can’t change
a damn thing forecast and uncertainty aches
like a tired muscle, an unhealed wound.
Copyright © 2013 Carrie Shipers. Originally published in Alaska Quarterly Review, Volume 30, Number 3-4. Used with permission of the author.
California is a desert and I am a woman inside it.
The road ahead bends sideways and I lurch within myself.
I’m full of ugly feelings, awful thoughts, bad dreams
of doom, and so much love left unspoken.
Is mercury in retrograde? someone asks.
Someone answers, No, it’s something else
like that though. Something else like that.
That should be my name.
When you ask me am I really a woman, a human being,
a coherent identity, I’ll say No, I’m something else
like that though.
A true citizen of planet earth closes their eyes
and says what they are before the mirror.
A good person gives and asks for nothing in return.
I give and I ask for only one thing—
Hear me. Hear me. Hear me. Hear me. Hear me.
Hear me. Bear the weight of my voice and don’t forget—
things haunt. Things exist long after they are killed.
Copyright © 2018 by Joshua Jennifer Espinoza. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 11, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
for my son I have ignored you for a year. I have not dwelt on the soft fur of your arms or the way you rubbed my cheek with your own starry cheek. I splintered your hands away from my heart when you exited me. Of the men who have claimed my body, only you reflect my exact goodness, tragic as a cotton field ripe with bloom, but I have not dwelt on this either. Not in one year or three— the way you break open your own throat, singing, sculpting one world, another, or kiss a girl in my kitchen, calling her, Love, My Love. No: I have ignored you for a year or six, maybe. Not touching your feet or your shoulders to dab them dry. Not humming in your ear as I did once. Not holding your head against my chest in the sad night. I have not dwelt on other women who speak sweetly to you, laugh with you, or hold your head against their chests in the sad night. I have ignored you for a year or ten, finally severing the root, purging, drying out the heart: go.
Copyright © 2018 by Laurie Ann Guerrero. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 20, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.