Skin remembers how long the years grow
when skin is not touched, a gray tunnel
of singleness, feather lost from the tail
of a bird, swirling onto a step,
swept away by someone who never saw
it was a feather. Skin ate, walked,
slept by itself, knew how to raise a 
see-you-later hand. But skin felt
it was never seen, never known as
a land on the map, nose like a city,
hip like a city, gleaming dome of the mosque
and the hundred corridors of cinnamon and rope.

Skin had hope, that's what skin does.
Heals over the scarred place, makes a road.
Love means you breathe in two countries.
And skin remembers--silk, spiny grass,
deep in the pocket that is skin's secret own.
Even now, when skin is not alone,
it remembers being alone and thanks something larger
that there are travelers, that people go places
larger than themselves.

From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye. Published by Far Corner. Reprinted with permission of the author. Copyright © 1995 Naomi Shihab Nye.

Put down that bag of potato chips, that white bread, that bottle of pop.

Turn off that cellphone, computer, and remote control.

Open the door, then close it behind you.

Take a breath offered by friendly winds. They travel the earth gathering essences of plants to clean.

Give it back with gratitude.

If you sing it will give your spirit lift to fly to the stars’ ears and back.

Acknowledge this earth who has cared for you since you were a dream planting itself precisely within your parents’ desire.

Let your moccasin feet take you to the encampment of the guardians who have known you before time, who will be there after time. They sit before the fire that has been there without time.

Let the earth stabilize your postcolonial insecure jitters.

Be respectful of the small insects, birds and animal people who accompany you.
Ask their forgiveness for the harm we humans have brought down upon them.

Don’t worry.
The heart knows the way though there may be high-rises, interstates, checkpoints, armed soldiers, massacres, wars, and those who will despise you because they despise themselves.

The journey might take you a few hours, a day, a year, a few years, a hundred, a thousand or even more.

Watch your mind. Without training it might run away and leave your heart for the immense human feast set by the thieves of time.

Do not hold regrets.

When you find your way to the circle, to the fire kept burning by the keepers of your soul, you will be welcomed.

You must clean yourself with cedar, sage, or other healing plant.

Cut the ties you have to failure and shame.

Let go the pain you are holding in your mind, your shoulders, your heart, all the way to your feet. Let go the pain of your ancestors to make way for those who are heading in our direction.

Ask for forgiveness.

Call upon the help of those who love you. These helpers take many forms: animal, element, bird, angel, saint, stone, or ancestor.

Call your spirit back. It may be caught in corners and creases of shame, judgment, and human abuse.

You must call in a way that your spirit will want to return.

Speak to it as you would to a beloved child.

Welcome your spirit back from its wandering. It may return in pieces, in tatters. Gather them together. They will be happy to be found after being lost for so long.

Your spirit will need to sleep awhile after it is bathed and given clean clothes.

Now you can have a party. Invite everyone you know who loves and supports you. Keep room for those who have no place else to go.

Make a giveaway, and remember, keep the speeches short.

Then, you must do this: help the next person find their way through the dark. 

Reprinted from Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings by Joy Harjo. Copyright © 2015 by Joy Harjo.  Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

The one right in front of me
on e-mail, a chain message
forwarded by my mother
on the first day of this new year.
She’s tangled in nets and lines
and there’s only one way to
get her out, she tells us
with her bathtub-sized eyes
one at a time because we
have to swim around to see.

From Late Empire (Copper Canyon Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Lisa Olstein. Used with the permission of the author.

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

This poem originally appeared in Waxwing, Issue 10, in June 2016. Used with permission of the author.

but today
in rain

without coat     without hat

—2012

Originally published in The Beauty (Knopf, 2015); all rights reserved. Copyright © by Jane Hirshfield. Used by permission of the author, all rights reserved.

Let them not say:   we did not see it.
We saw.

Let them not say:   we did not hear it.
We heard.

Let them not say:     they did not taste it.
We ate, we trembled.

Let them not say:   it was not spoken, not written.
We spoke,
we witnessed with voices and hands.

Let them not say:     they did nothing.
We did not-enough.

Let them say, as they must say something: 

A kerosene beauty.
It burned.

Let them say we warmed ourselves by it,
read by its light, praised,
and it burned.

—2014

Copyright © 2017 by Jane Hirshfield. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 20, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Today when persimmons ripen
Today when fox-kits come out of their den into snow
Today when the spotted egg releases its wren song
Today when the maple sets down its red leaves
Today when windows keep their promise to open
Today when fire keeps its promise to warm
Today when someone you love has died
     or someone you never met has died
Today when someone you love has been born
     or someone you will not meet has been born
Today when rain leaps to the waiting of roots in their dryness
Today when starlight bends to the roofs of the hungry and tired
Today when someone sits long inside his last sorrow
Today when someone steps into the heat of her first embrace
Today, let this light bless you
With these friends let it bless you
With snow-scent and lavender bless you
Let the vow of this day keep itself wildly and wholly
Spoken and silent, surprise you inside your ears
Sleeping and waking, unfold itself inside your eyes
Let its fierceness and tenderness hold you
Let its vastness be undisguised in all your days

—2008
 

Originally published in Come, Thief (Knopf, 2011); all rights reserved. Copyright © by Jane Hirshfield. Reprinted with the permission of the author, all rights reserved. 

It was like this:
you were happy, then you were sad,
then happy again, then not.

It went on.
You were innocent or you were guilty.
Actions were taken, or not.

At times you spoke, at other times you were silent.
Mostly, it seems you were silent—what could you say?

Now it is almost over.

Like a lover, your life bends down and kisses your life.

It does this not in forgiveness—
between you, there is nothing to forgive—
but with the simple nod of a baker at the moment
he sees the bread is finished with transformation.

Eating, too, is a thing now only for others.

It doesn’t matter what they will make of you
or your days: they will be wrong,
they will miss the wrong woman, miss the wrong man,
all the stories they tell will be tales of their own invention.

Your story was this: you were happy, then you were sad,
you slept, you awakened.
Sometimes you ate roasted chestnuts, sometimes persimmons.

—2002

Originally published in After (HarperCollins, 2006); all rights reserved. Copyright © by Jane Hirshfield. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

I took the last
dusty piece of china
out of the barrel.
It was your gravy boat,
with a hard, brown
drop of gravy still
on the porcelain lip.
I grieved for you then
as I never had before.

From The Sorrow Psalms: A Book of Twentieth-Century Elegy edited by Lynn Strongin. Reprinted with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

                                    For Darlene Wind and James Welch

I think of Wind and her wild ways the year we had nothing to lose and lost it anyway in the cursed country of the fox. We still talk about that winter, how the cold froze imaginary buffalo on the stuffed horizon of snowbanks. The haunting voices of the starved and mutilated broke fences, crashed our thermostat dreams, and we couldn't stand it one more time. So once again we lost a winter in stubborn memory, walked through cheap apartment walls, skated through fields of ghosts into a town that never wanted us, in the epic search for grace. 

Like Coyote, like Rabbit, we could not contain our terror and clowned our way through a season of false midnights. We had to swallow that town with laughter, so it would go down easy as honey. And one morning as the sun struggled to break ice, and our dreams had found us with coffee and pancakes in a truck stop along Highway 80, we found grace.

I could say grace was a woman with time on her hands, or a white buffalo escaped from memory. But in that dingy light it was a promise of balance. We once again understood the talk of animals, and spring was lean and hungry with the hope of children and corn. 

I would like to say, with grace, we picked ourselves up and walked into the spring thaw. We didn't; the next season was worse. You went home to Leech Lake to work with the tribe and I went south. And, Wind, I am still crazy. I know there is something larger than the memory of a dispossessed people. We have seen it. 

From In Mad Love and War © 1990 by Joy Harjo. Reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press. 

If the saints are to be believed, if this body is a dress
we slip into, out of, if each day and night is the mantle
we tie around our shoulders, fabric thin as the time it takes
teeth to flatten the end of a thread and lead it through

an eyed needle, then what am I to make of the gorgeous
terror every star makes out of its own distance? Sometimes
I can see the body as a blaze, bright-gloried, flamed
and holy as a pin-prick the size of a soul. And if the soul

is a blaze to be believed, then belief blazes a highway
to some beyond, a beauty that begins with every ordinary
sweetness, every one small but still indefinable love.
Every morning, when I wash the wrongs I’ve made right

out of my hair, I want to believe in each drop of water
as a promise of and from the all that we’re meant to contain.

Copyright © 2018 by Emma Bolden. “Beyond Love” originally appeared in the Colorado Review. Used with permission of the author.

 

dear lord in this time of darkness
help us see the darkness

dear lord help us to not pretend
no more pretending

dear lord may our gaze be defenseless
and unshardable

teach us the piety of the open eye

dear lord in this time of darkness
may we be unafraid to mourn and together and hugely

may dignity lose its scaffolding
faces crumble like bricks

dear lord let grief come to grief

and then o lord help us to see the bees yet in the lavender
the spokes of sunlight down through the oaks

and the sleep-opened face of the beloved
and the afternoon all around her
and her small freckled hands

Copyright © 2015 by Teddy Macker. This poem originally appeared in This World (White Cloud Press, 2015). Used with permission of the author.

 

Here is a thing my heart wishes the world had more of:
I heard it in the air of one night when I listened
To a mother singing softly to a child restless and angry
	in the darkness.

This poem is in the public domain.

let ruin end here

let him find honey
where there was once a slaughter

let him enter the lion’s cage
& find a field of lilacs

let this be the healing
& if not   let it be

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.

Now light turns the room a deep orange at dusk and you

think you are floating, but in truth you are falling, and the fall

is so slow, yet precise, like climbing a ladder of straw. Now

leaning forward, you open your hands that keep opening. Is

this what Yes feels like? Making a shore where no water was?

Copyright © 2017 Mark Irwin. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Spring 2017.

translated from the German by Edward Snow

Again and again, even though we know love’s landscape
and the little churchyard with its lamenting names
and the terrible reticent gorge in which the others
end: again and again the two of us walk out together
under the ancient trees, lay ourselves down again and again
among the flowers, and look up into the sky.

“Again and again, even though we know love’s landscape” from Uncollected Poems by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Edward Snow. Translation copyright © 1996 by Edward Snow.