Surely there was a river, once, but there is no river here. Only a sound of drowning in the dark between the trees. The sound of wet, and only that. Surely there was a country that I called my country, once. Before the thief who would be king made other countries of us all. Before the bright screens everywhere in which another country lives. But what is it, anyway, to live—to breathe, to act, to love, to eat? Surely there was a real earth, wild and green, here, blossoming. Land of milk and honey, once. Land of wind-swept plains and blood, then of shackles and of iron. And then the black smoke of its cities and the laying down of laws. Under which some flourished—if you call that flourishing—and from which others would have fled had there been anywhere to flee. My country, which is cruel, and which is beautiful and lost. Surely, there were notes that made a song, a pledge of birds. And not a child in any cage, no man or woman in a ditch. Surely, what we meant was to anoint some other god. One made of wind and starlight, pulsing, heart that matched the human heart. Surely that god watches us, now, one eye in the river, one eye where the river was.


Copyright © 2024 by Cecilia Woloch. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 4, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets.

there is a kind of memory that feels, somehow
suddenly, like a wound, though not always, not until
one wanders back through: the dark, damp alley the only path 
toward home—every place i have loved has forced me to leave.
and then there is memory as one might always wish: 
bejeweled, like sugar on the tongue upon reentry.
what is the name for the scent that whispers mother,
the twanged hue of evening that gestures island,
limestone, cane, spume? Flatbush, i have sauntered away
from everything that has called me kin now,
as i have before, but in what little time we have left,
let me remember you, let me remember what lay beneath
your weather—your snow-born streams, your troubled foliage. 
guinep, worship, convenience, heel and toe. old dream,
will either of us return to what we once were? to when?

From You Are Here: Poetry in the Natural World (Milkweed Editions, 2024), edited by Ada Limón. Copyright © 2024 Milkweed Editions and the Library of Congress. Used with the permission of the author. Published in Poem-a-Day on April 13, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets.