Was he then Adam of the Burning Way? hid away in the heat like wrath conceald in Love’s face, or the seed, Eris in Eros, key and lock of what I was? I could not speak the releasing word. For into a dark matter he came and askt me to say what I could not say. "I .." All the flame in me stopt against my tongue. My heart was a stone, a dumb unmanageable thing in me, a darkness that stood athwart his need for the enlightening, the "I love you" that has only this one quick in time, this one start when its moment is true. Such is the sickness of many a good thing that now into my life from long ago this refusing to say I love you has bound the weeping, the yielding, the yearning to be taken again, into a knot, a waiting, a string so taut it taunts the song, it resists the touch. It grows dark to draw down the lover’s hand from its lightness to what’s underground.
From Bending the Bow. Copyright © 1968 by Robert Duncan. Reprinted with the permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.
The boy beside me
is not you but he
is familiar in all
the important ways.
I pass through life
finding you over
and over again—
with love. And every
Afflicted by my
kindness, they leave
me with my music.
I loved you before
I ever loved you.
Copyright © 2015 by Jennifer Franklin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 9, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
When the heavens with stars are gleaming
Like a diadem of light,
And the moon’s pale rays are streaming,
Decking earth with radiance bright;
When the autumn’s winds are sighing,
O’er the hill and o’er the lea,
When the summer time is dying,
Wanderer, wilt thou think of me?
When thy life is crowned with gladness,
And thy home with love is blest,
Not one brow o’ercast with sadness,
Not one bosom of unrest—
When at eventide reclining,
At thy hearthstone gay and free,
Think of one whose life is pining,
Breathe thou, love, a prayer for me.
Should dark sorrows make thee languish,
Cause thy cheek to lose its hue,
In the hour of deepest anguish,
Darling, then I’ll grieve with you.
Though the night be dark and dreary,
And it seemeth long to thee,
I would whisper, “be not weary;”
I would pray love, then, for thee.
Well I know that in the future,
I may cherish naught of earth;
Well I know that love needs nurture,
And it is of heavenly birth.
But though ocean waves may sever
I from thee, and thee from me,
Still this constant heart will never,
Never cease to think of thee.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 15, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
Water levels have bled out,
like it had just bitten its lip
& was about to swell—then rip:
had I paid better attention to drought,
listened more to the stars and stayed
with mountain clouds, I’d have let go
of the knot swing hanging above the slow
life flow beneath my legs, I’d have prayed
to forget all the times he came to me
but not wanted me: how fast it rises,
carrying plumes of pang in undercurrent:
swirls of sediment & silt around my knees—
the dragging stalks and leaves of irises,
how pathetic they look breaking in torrent—
Copyright © 2020 by Tacey M. Atsitty. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 23, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
Finally, morning. This loneliness
feels more ordinary in the light, more like my face
in the mirror. My daughter in the ER again.
Something she ate? Some freshener
someone spritzed in the air?
They’re trying to kill me, she says,
as though it’s a joke. Lucretius
got me through the night. He told me the world goes on
making and unmaking. Maybe it’s wrong
to think of better and worse.
There’s no one who can carry my fear
for a child who walks out the door
not knowing what will stop her breath.
The rain they say is coming
sails now over the Pacific in purplish nimbus clouds.
But it isn’t enough. Last year I watched
elephants encircle their young, shuffling
their massive legs without hurry, flaring
their great dusty ears. Once they drank
from the snowmelt of Kilimanjaro.
Now the mountain is bald. Lucretius knows
we’re just atoms combining and recombining:
star dust, flesh, grass. All night
I plastered my body to Janet,
breathing when she breathed. But her skin,
warm as it is, does, after all, keep me out.
How tenuous it all is.
My daughter’s coming home next week.
She’ll bring the pink plaid suitcase we bought at Ross.
When she points it out to the escort
pushing her wheelchair, it will be easy
to spot on the carousel. I just want to touch her.
It was winter, lunar, wet. At dusk
Pewter seedlings became moonlight orphans.
Pleased to meet you meat to please you
said the butcher's sign in the window in the village.
Everything changed the year that we got married.
And after that we moved out to the suburbs.
How young we were, how ignorant, how ready
to think the only history was our own.
And there was a couple who quarreled into the night,
Their voices high, sharp:
nothing is ever entirely
right in the lives of those who love each other.
In that season suddenly our island
Broke out its old sores for all to see.
We saw them too.
We stood there wondering how
the salt horizons and the Dublin hills,
the rivers, table mountains, Viking marshes
we thought we knew
had been made to shiver
into our ancient twelve by fifteen television
which gave them back as gray and grayer tears
and killings, killings, killings,
then moonlight-colored funerals:
nothing we said
not then, not later,
fathomed what it is
is wrong in the lives of those who hate each other.
And if the provenance of memory is
only that—remember, not atone—
and if I can be safe in
the weak spring light in that kitchen, then
why is there another kitchen, spring light
always darkening in it and
a woman whispering to a man
over and over what else could we have done?
We failed our moment or our moment failed us.
The times were grand in size and we were small.
Why do I write that
when I don't believe it?
We lived our lives, were happy, stayed as one.
Children were born and raised here
and are gone,
As for that couple did we ever
find out who they were
and did we want to?
I think we know. I think we always knew.
From Domestic Violence (W. W. Norton, 2007). Copyright © 2007 by Eavan Boland. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. and Carcanet Press.
When the doctor suggested surgery
and a brace for all my youngest years,
my parents scrambled to take me
to massage therapy, deep tissue work,
osteopathy, and soon my crooked spine
unspooled a bit, I could breathe again,
and move more in a body unclouded
by pain. My mom would tell me to sing
songs to her the whole forty-five minute
drive to Middle Two Rock Road and forty-
five minutes back from physical therapy.
She’d say, even my voice sounded unfettered
by my spine afterward. So I sang and sang,
because I thought she liked it. I never
asked her what she gave up to drive me,
or how her day was before this chore. Today,
at her age, I was driving myself home from yet
another spine appointment, singing along
to some maudlin but solid song on the radio,
and I saw a mom take her raincoat off
and give it to her young daughter when
a storm took over the afternoon. My god,
I thought, my whole life I’ve been under her
raincoat thinking it was somehow a marvel
that I never got wet.
From The Carrying (Milkweed Editions, 2018) by Ada Limón. Copyright © 2018 by Ada Limón. Used with the permission of Milkweed Editions. milkweed.org.
The screech of the recycling truck jolted me awake.
It was just after dawn and the huge trucks were already tearing
through the neighborhood, shrieking brakes keeping rhythm
with shattering glass and clinking cans amidst barking dogs.
I panicked then remembered the bins were out.
The little dogs shot out of the room, their tiny bodies
quivering with excitement and pent-up barking.
Before this moment I dreamt of Shimá, my mother:
she slept under a calico quilt, made with squares of tiny purple and yellow flowers.
She made our clothes from such fabric when we were children,
In my dream, I covered her carefully and patted her sleeping shoulder;
her breathing was soft and labored.
I smoothed her hair and caressed her forehead.
I sat at the foot of the bed and listened to her slumber;
her breathing evened out as the dream filament settled around us.
Perhaps as she slept, she relived the old Fort Wingate Boarding School days,
or maybe she and my father conversed as in all those decades past.
Maybe she relived everyday events—cooking meals, soothing children,
or visiting with relatives at the kitchen table.
In the final weeks of her life, I could not fathom her dreams
or waking thoughts, but in this morning dream, Shimá and I
were joined by our quiet breathing and lingering gestures.
In this dream, my mother and I were alone and silent.
We were alone and silent.
Soon the flurry of the recycling truck faded
and the usual morning calm returned, the sleek little dogs
came back to bed panting from a job well done; they licked my arm in unison.
I said, “Biighaah, Nizhoon,” praise for a job well done.
They fell asleep instantly, sinking into deep borderline snoring.
Outside the bedroom window, the morning was bright and still,
save for the cool breezes and calling of birds;
their innate songs encircled the quiet houses and scattered cacti.
Down the street garage doors slid shut as neighbors
maneuvered out of curved driveways to begin the workday.
Just then I longed to return to this first dream of Shimá.
I longed for the serene space she created,
now I knew she could do so, even in dreams.
How I yearned to make coffee for her one more time,
to cook breakfast—boiled eggs, black coffee and hash browns.
In her final weeks, my sisters and I fed her spoon by spoonful.
She would smile as we recounted childhood memories;
listening then talking, murmuring and remembering.
Now the morning sunlight sweeps through the house.
I put on coffee, go outside to stretch and pray.
The Holy People had already passed through
yet fulfilled my yearning to be with my mother.
They reassured me that she and other loved ones
are with them, and they exist in an arc of quiet solace.
The Holy Ones graced me with a glimpse of our future together;
the dream, a reprieve from the lonely, seemingly bereft present.
Copyright © 2020 by Luci Tapahonso. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 29, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Lark of my house,
this little lark says hi
to the rain—she calls
river as she slaps
the air with both wings—
she doesn’t know pine
from ash or cedar
from linden—she greets
drizzle & downpour
know iceberg from melt—
can’t say sea level
doesn’t know wildfire—
tax or emission—
does not legislate
a fear she can’t yet
feel—only knows cats
& birds & small dogs
& the sway of some
tall trees make her squeal
with delight—it shakes
her tiny body—
this thrill of the live
the taste of wild blue-
berries on her tongue—
the ache of thorn-prick
from blackberry bush—
oh dear girl—look here—
there’s so much to save—
horizon’s pink hue—
we gather lifetimes
on one small petal—
the river’s our friend—
the world: an atom—
name for: hope—rain—change
begins when you hail
the sky sun & wind
the verdure inside
your heart’s four chambers
even garter snakes
and unnamed insects
in the underbrush
as you would a love
that rivers: hi—hi
Copyright © 2020 by Dante Di Stefano. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 9, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Translated by Robert Bly
The onion is frost
shut in and poor.
Frost of your days
and of my nights.
Hunger and onion,
black ice and frost
large and round.
My little boy
was in hunger's cradle.
He was nursed
on onion blood.
But your blood
is frosted with sugar,
onion and hunger.
A dark woman
dissolved in moonlight
pours herself thread by thread
into the cradle.
you can swallow the moon
when you want to.
Lark of my house,
The laughter in your eyes
is the light of the world.
Laugh so much
that my soul, hearing you,
will beat in space.
Your laughter frees me,
gives me wings.
It sweeps away my loneliness,
knocks down my cell.
Mouth that flies,
heart that turns
to lightning on your lips.
Your laughter is
the sharpest sword,
conqueror of flowers
Rival of the sun.
Future of my bones
and of my love.
The flesh fluttering,
the sudden eyelid,
and the baby is rosier
How many linnets
take off, wings fluttering,
from your body!
I woke up from childhood:
don't you wake up.
I have to frown:
Keep to your cradle,
feather by feather.
Yours is a flight so high,
that your body is a sky
If only I could climb
to the origin
of your flight!
Eight months old you laugh
with five orange blossoms.
With five little
With five teeth
like five young
They will be the frontier
of tomorrow's kisses
when you feel your teeth
when you feel a flame
running toward your gums
driving toward the centre.
Fly away, son, on the double
moon of the breast:
it is saddened by onion,
you are satisfied.
Don't let go.
Don't find out what's happening,
or what goes on.
From Selected Poems by Miguel Hernandez, translated by Robert Bly, edited by Timothy Baland, and published by White Pine Press. © 1989 by Robert Bly. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
translated by Francisco Aragón
from my grandma
she’d tell me
on the mornings
at the fish
waltzes with them
in the kitchen
when she’d say
with my grandma
to count clouds
on her dress
in her eyes
I’d see them
in her braids
I’d touch them
in her voice
I was told:
she went far away
I feel her
in my ear:
En un barrio de Los Ángeles
de mi abuela
en las mañanas
en las canerías
con las sillas
con mi abuela
a contar nubes
en las macetas
en el vestido
el mar de México
en sus ojos
yo los veía
en sus trenzas
yo los tocaba
con su voz
yo los olía
se fue muy lejos
pero yo aún
quedito al oído:
From From the Other Side of Night/del otro lado de la noche: New and Selected Poems by Francisco X. Alarcón. © 2002 The Arizona Board of Regents. Reprinted by permission of the University of Arizona Press.
When buffeted and beaten by life’s storms,
When by the bitter cares of life oppressed,
I want no surer haven than your arms,
I want no sweeter heaven than your breast.
When over my life’s way there falls the blight
Of sunless days, and nights of starless skies;
Enough for me, the calm and steadfast light
That softly shines within your loving eyes.
The world, for me, and all the world can hold
Is circled by your arms; for me there lies,
Within the lights and shadows of your eyes,
The only beauty that is never old.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 7, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Sometimes when she sleeps, her face against the pillow (or sheet) almost achieves an otherworldly peace. Sometimes when the traffic and bother of the day dissolve and her deeper self eases out, when sunlight edges through curtains and drapes the bed, I know she’s in another place, a purer place, which perhaps doesn’t include me, though certainly includes love, which may include the possibility of me. Sometimes then her face against the sheet (or pillow) achieves (almost) an otherworldly calm, (do I dare say that?) and glows (almost) as it glowed years ago just after our daughter’s head slipped through the birth canal. I remember that wet sticky swirl of hair turning slightly so the slick body might follow more easily, and how the midwife or nurse or doctor (or someone) laid an firm open hand under that head and guided our child into the world. When that hand laid our daughter on her mother’s breast, such a sigh followed, a long exhausted breath, and (stunned) I saw in my wife’s face an ecstasy I knew I’d never (quite) see again.
The only legend I have ever loved is
the story of a daughter lost in hell.
And found and rescued there.
Love and blackmail are the gist of it.
Ceres and Persephone the names.
And the best thing about the legend is
I can enter it anywhere. And have.
As a child in exile in
a city of fogs and strange consonants,
I read it first and at first I was
an exiled child in the crackling dusk of
the underworld, the stars blighted. Later
I walked out in a summer twilight
searching for my daughter at bed-time.
When she came running I was ready
to make any bargain to keep her.
I carried her back past whitebeams
and wasps and honey-scented buddleias.
But I was Ceres then and I knew
winter was in store for every leaf
on every tree on that road.
Was inescapable for each one we passed. And for me.
It is winter
and the stars are hidden.
I climb the stairs and stand where I can see
my child asleep beside her teen magazines,
her can of Coke, her plate of uncut fruit.
The pomegranate! How did I forget it?
She could have come home and been safe
and ended the story and all
our heart-broken searching but she reached
out a hand and plucked a pomegranate.
She put out her hand and pulled down
the French sound for apple and
the noise of stone and the proof
that even in the place of death,
at the heart of legend, in the midst
of rocks full of unshed tears
ready to be diamonds by the time
the story was told, a child can be
hungry. I could warn her. There is still a chance.
The rain is cold. The road is flint-coloured.
The suburb has cars and cable television.
The veiled stars are above ground.
It is another world. But what else
can a mother give her daughter but such
beautiful rifts in time?
If I defer the grief I will diminish the gift.
The legend will be hers as well as mine.
She will enter it. As I have.
She will wake up. She will hold
the papery flushed skin in her hand.
And to her lips. I will say nothing.
From In a Time of Violence, published by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1994. Copyright © 1994 by Eavan Boland. All rights reserved. Used with permission.