yes, the business folk rush thru midtown.
they talk math that equates to foreclosures. 
yes, the trash has to be taken out
& dinner chewed. when i was a child, 
i saw a house on our block burn. the smoke
was a serpent coiling up getting thicker &
then it was gone. the firemen left the house a puddle,
but what about the smoke? it was easy, then, 
to forget what i couldn’t see. such is life:
the dishes keep piling up. why stop
just because there’s a warm breeze in January.
there are bills to pay and bills about to come due.
smoke thins into air, the serpent i saw as a kid 
never disappeared. it’s not even hiding. 
most folks don’t know the sound of smoke. 
though they hear it. though smoke gets mistaken 
for silence. most folks think they’re saying nothing 
when they’re saying the most.

Copyright © 2023 by José Olivarez. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 12, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.

I have violence in me, of rage, and of necessity, and my love has none.

When pushed to it I would punch a man, or maybe wield a gun, but I am stopped by his pure disgust.

This is something new in me: I have sometimes wished death, where I hadn’t before.

While I wasn’t looking it left me, some of my tenderness, and in leaving something tensed where it had been.

Like A., praying for the man to get hit by a car who yelled at me so loudly, for so long, followed us to keep yelling.

There is malice in the world, and maybe some of it is ours now.

“Why should I cater to you” he said to me, so loudly, in my white high-waisted shorts and my clogs like my mom’s with my hair piled on top of my head, and this word, “cater,” it made me laugh.

Sometimes a poet can tell when a word is not a speaker’s own.

So that I could stop obsessing about this very possibility, I had practiced a response to yelling, and though I surprised myself by responding in exactly this practiced way of course nothing changed.

Language can be about force instead of relation.

When an experience is not really “about you” you can still be there, experiencing it.

“There are only two kinds of people,” he said, so loudly.

Maybe he’s right: maybe there are those who are violent, or who could be, and those who aren’t.

But the watermelon I bring home is yellow on the inside, and the melon my mother takes from the bin of smooth-rind honeydew is a cantaloupe.

This is not about fruit.

A poet is not inherently good.

It’s about how, at the end of the violence, I still want to know—what did it matter to him?

Copyright © 2023 by S. Brook Corfman. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 14, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets. 

At the funeral, his other former girlfriend gives the eulogy. I sit in the pew.

Sitting in front of me, and behind me, and also to both sides, are more other former girlfriends.

Something heartfelt shared by Ex on the Mic sets off a chorus of sniffles among the Exes in Rows. They tuck their hair behind their little ears.

There are so many different people to hate, so I keep things simple and hate everyone.

I know why he picked me, a novelty.

I wore Mary Janes and high-neck dresses and labeled the shelves “Tuna and Nuts” and “Breakfast Items, Soup.” My hair was always squeaky clean.

Now I am someone entirely new.

A black dog, a broken heart.

I revel in being more like him now.

At home, I put on my sunglasses and turn off the lights.

Sitting on the toilet where light can’t peek through, I pretend the plunger’s a white cane. My chin held too high and to the side, I run through gruesome imitations of anger, contempt, disgust, sadness, surprise.

The world will be unsettled.

I will unsettle them.

Copyright © 2023 by Leigh Lucas. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 3, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.

So what if I don’t love you.
My problems don’t even happen to me

But to three girls grandstanding by the Potomac.
Respectively: your mother, her mother and her mother.
Three bitches in front of a trashcan.
Desirous of psychotherapy and a split lip courtesy of me.
Because I didn’t ask to be born here.
Didn’t ask to learn the language.
And don’t know how to save you.

Am I frightening you?
I’m frightening you.

Good and good and good and good.

From Delivered (Persea Books, 2009) by Sarah Gambito. Copyright © 2009 by Sarah Gambito. Used with the permission of the publisher.

After the first boy called me a wetback,
I opened his mouth and fed him a spoonful of honey.

            I like the way you say “honey,” he said.

I made him a necklace out of the bees that have died in my yard.

                        How good it must have felt before the small village
                        echoed its grief in his throat, before the sirens began ringing.

How fallow their scripture.

Perhaps we were on stage which meant it was a show,
which meant our only definition of a flower was also a flower.

I waved to the crowd
like they taught me,
like a mini-miss something.

                                       Thank you.
                                       Thank you.

Yes, I could have ripped open his throat.
I could have blown him a kiss from the curtain.

           I wanted to dance by myself in a dark room
           filled with the wingless bodies of bees—

           to make of this our own Old Testament
with all the same beheaded kings
           pointing at all the same beheaded prophets.

           The same Christ running through every door
           like a man who forgot his child in the car.

But the lights were too bright.
I couldn’t hear him because I wasn’t on stage.

                         I could have been anyone’s idea of pity.

How quiet our prophets.
           Let my bare back remind him of every river he’s swam in.

Miel and miel.

           I pulled the bees off the string
           and cupped them in my palm.

I told him my Spanish name.

There was nothing dry on my body—
The lamps falling over in the dark of me.

Originally published in Cenzontle (BOA Editions, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo. Used with the permission of the poet.

On April 22, 1993, 18-year-old 2nd Generation Jamaican youth Stephen Lawrence was attacked and stabbed to death in an unprovoked hate crime by a gang of white boys as he waited at a bus stop in London. His murderers were acquitted and allowed to walk free for 18 years, until two of his six killers were convicted of murder in 2011.

for Stephen Lawrence (September 13, 1974—April 22, 1993)

In the dream, Stephen  
you’re thicker than when we were young
but thoughtful, as a first kiss.  

We had one summer in Kingston 
before England’s white boys 
kicked, clubbed, knifed you.   

Too brief again, this August light 
its hours shifting. And hate, a hungry  
animal that only takes.  

The day your family stood above  
your grave, swept by coconut palms 
and a small bird orchestra 

I smashed the shuttlecock  
repeatedly against my backyard wall
my grief knocking back 

against the day’s blunt silence. 
What loves still lives, transforms  
my days, each night 

each decade passing—  
I follow you, and return to the gate 
you towered over  

that careless summer 
when you were just a boy  
laughing against the sky 

and I still believed in the light  
and what it makes of us.

Copyright © 2021 by Ann-Margaret Lim. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 21, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

You whom I could not save,
Listen to me. 

Can we agree Kevlar
backpacks shouldn’t be needed

for children walking to school? 
Those same children

also shouldn’t require a suit
of armor when standing

on their front lawns, or snipers
to watch their backs

as they eat at McDonalds.
They shouldn’t have to stop

to consider the speed
of a bullet or how it might

reshape their bodies. But
one winter, back in Detroit,

I had one student
who opened a door and died. 

It was the front
door to his house, but

it could have been any door,
and the bullet could have written

any name. The shooter
was thirteen years old

and was aiming
at someone else. But

a bullet doesn’t care
about “aim,” it doesn’t

distinguish between
the innocent and the innocent,

and how was the bullet
supposed to know this

child would open the door
at the exact wrong moment

because his friend
was outside and screaming

for help. Did I say
I had “one” student who

opened a door and died? 
That’s wrong.

There were many. 
The classroom of grief

had far more seats
than the classroom for math

though every student
in the classroom for math

could count the names
of the dead. 

A kid opens a door. The bullet
couldn’t possibly know,

nor could the gun, because
“guns don't kill people,” they don’t

have minds to decide
such things, they don’t choose

or have a conscience,
and when a man doesn’t

have a conscience, we call him
a psychopath. This is how

we know what type of assault rifle
a man can be,

and how we discover
the hell that thrums inside

each of them. Today,
there’s another

shooting with dead
kids everywhere. It was a school,

a movie theater, a parking lot.
The world

is full of doors.
And you, whom I cannot save,

you may open a door

and enter a meadow, or a eulogy.
And if the latter, you will be

mourned, then buried
in rhetoric. 

There will be
monuments of legislation,

little flowers made
from red tape. 

What should we do? we’ll ask
again. The earth will close

like a door above you. 
What should we do?

And that click you hear?
That’s just our voices,

the deadbolt of discourse
sliding into place.

Copyright © 2016 by Matthew Olzmann. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 5, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

The canary died in the gold mine, her dreams got lost in the sieve.
The canary died in the gold mine, her dreams got lost in the sieve.
Her husband the crow killed under the railroad, the spokes hath shorn his wings.

Something’s cookin’ in Chin’s kitchen, ten thousand yellow-bellied sapsuckers baked in a pie.
Something’s cookin’ in Chin’s kitchen, ten thousand yellow-bellied sapsuckers baked in a pie.
Something’s cookin’ in Chin’s kitchen, die die yellow bird, die die.

O crack an egg on the griddle, yellow will ooze into white.
O crack an egg on the griddle, yellow will ooze into white.
Run, run, sweet little Puritan, yellow will ooze into white.

If you cut my yellow wrists, I’ll teach my yellow toes to write.
If you cut my yellow wrists, I’ll teach my yellow toes to write.
If you cut my yellow fists, I’ll teach my yellow toes to fight.

Do not be afraid to perish, my mother, Buddha’s compassion is nigh.
Do not be afraid to perish, my mother, our boat will sail tonight.
Your babies will reach the promised land, the stars will be their guide.

I am so mellow yellow, mellow yellow, Buddha sings in my veins.
I am so mellow yellow, mellow yellow, Buddha sings in my veins.
O take me to the land of the unreborn, there’s no life on earth without pain.

From Rhapsody in Plain Yellow. Copyright © 2003 by Marilyn Chin. Used with the permission of the author.