Epithalamion? Not too long back
I was being ironic about “wives.”
It’s very well to say, creation thrives
on contradiction, but that’s a fast track
shifted precipitately into. Tacky,
some might say, and look mildly appalled. On
the whole, it’s one I’m likely to be called on.
Explain yourself or face the music, Hack.
No law books frame terms of this covenant.
It’s choice that’s asymptotic to a goal,
which means that we must choose, and choose, and choose
momently, daily. This moment my whole
trajectory’s toward you, and it’s not losing
momentum. Call it anything we want.
From Love, Death, and the Changing of the Seasons by Marilyn Hacker. Copyright © 1986 by Marilyn Hacker. Used by permission.
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.
My son’s head is a fist
rapping against the door of the world.
For now, it’s dressers, kitchen islands,
dining room tables that coax his clumsy, creating
small molehills of hurt breaching
the surface. The ice pack,
a cold kiss to lessen the blow equals
a frigid intrusion, a boy cannot be a boy
with all this mothering getting in the way.
Sometimes the floor plays accomplice
snagging an ankle, elbow, top lip to swell.
Other times it’s a tantrum, when he spills his limbs
onto the hardwood, frenzied then limp with anger,
tongue clotted with frustration,
a splay of 2 year-old emotion voiced in one winding wail.
My son cannot continue this path.
Black boys can’t lose control at 21, 30, even 45.
They don’t get do-overs.
So I let him flail about now,
let him run headfirst into the wall
learn how unyielding perceptions can be.
Bear the bruising now,
before he grows, enters a world
too eager to spill his blood, too blind to how red it is.
Copyright © 2016 by Teri Ellen Cross Davis. “Knuckle Head” originally appeared in North American Review. Reprinted with permission of the author.
From Don’t Call Us Dead (Graywolf Press, 2017) Copyright © 2017 by Danez Smith. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Graywolf Press, www.graywolfpress.org.
Keep your lips pressed together
after you say the p:
(soon they’ll try
your breath out—)
three times in a row:
Stop Stop Stop
In a hospital bed
like a curled up fish, someone’s
gulping at air—
How should you apply
List all of the people
you would like
Who offers love,
Put a period at the end.
Decide if it’s a kiss
or a bullet.
Copyright © 2017 by Dana Levin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 6, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
for Michael Brown (1996–2014)
Officer, for hours I lay there.
The sun at my back.
My blood running a country
mile between the pavement
and the crown of my head.
No ambulance ever came.
It took a long time to cover my body.
There are politics to death
and here politics performs
its own autopsies. My aunties
say things like, Boy big and black as you.
Then, the prosecution rests.
My neighbors never do. They lose
sleep as the National Guard parades
down Canfield. I heard my blood
was barely dry. I heard there were soldiers
beating their shields like war cries,
my boys holding hands to hold on
through your tear gas. Heard my mother
wandered the streets,
her body trembling
between a sign of a cross
and a fist. I heard a rumor
about riots got started.
Officer, I heard that after so much blood,
the ground develops
a taste for it.
Copyright 2017 © Hafizah Geter. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Fall 2017.
My mother pushes a grocery cart,
I tug at her blue pleated skirt.
She puts her change into my hands,
For the old soul slumped against the wall,
His gray mouth covered by a beard of wind and dirt.
I place the coins into his cupped hands
And he stacks two neat columns of cents
Next to his seat on the curb.
He nods his chin half-solemnly.
I turn back to Mother,
Suddenly a cop—he came out of nowhere—
Tells me, Take the money back.
I brush the coins
Back into my palms like table crumbs.
As the old man,
Silent as those pennies,
Gets cuffed and hauled off to jail.
I ask Mom why—
We only tried to help.
The cop says bums make thirty bucks a week
Begging for change
And are not too unhappy
Since they get food, shelter,
And a hot shower for at least a week.
My mother pushes the grocery cart without a word,
Knowing that as newlyweds she begged outside markets for change
While Dad stole bread and sliced honey-ham inside.
From The Date Fruit Elegies (Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe, 2008). Copyright © 2008 by John Olivares Espinoza. Used with the permission of Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe.
Because I am a boy, the untouchability of beauty
is my subject already, the book of statues
open in my lap, the middle of October, leaves
foiling the wet ground
in soft copper. “A statue
must be beautiful
from all sides,” Cellini wrote in 1558.
When I close the book,
the bodies touch. In the west,
they are tying a boy to a fence and leaving him to die,
his face unrecognizable behind a mask
of blood. His body, icon
of loss, growing meaningful
against his will.
Copyright © 2016 by Richie Hofmann. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 12, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
the bullet is his whole life.
his mother named him & the bullet
was on its way. in another life
the bullet was a girl & his skin
was a boy with a sad laugh.
they say he asked for it—
must I define they? they are not
monsters, or hooded or hands black
with cross smoke.
they teachers, they pay tithes
they like rap, they police—good folks
gather around a boy’s body
to take a picture, share a prayer.
oh da horror, oh what a shame
why’d he do that to himself?
they really should stop
getting themselves killed
Copyright © 2015 by Danez Smith. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 3, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets