At first, I spoke to my neighbor daily, in part because of the weather
(he could still sit out on bench)
in part because of vice
(I was chain-smoking and he’d shout for one when I passed)
but this stopped, in part because of trust
(he did not believe I was smoking less and resented the imagined lie)
in part because of routes
(at first I added 15 minutes to my commute to walk north, past his apartment, towards 6th avenue, and up through the park, as this removes 25-50% of my anxiety, but now that I have lived here half a year, I find myself incapable of waking up early enough to permit this easy remedy, so I walk the other, faster direction)
and in part because of novelty
(having covered introductions, we now tend to say only “hello” when I do pass).
I have a sense of what he looks like, due to this regularity,
but I could not describe his building.
Someone I was hoping to kiss informed me
that it’s easy to remember
images (all you have to do, they said, is take
a lesson from a children’s book, one in which a girl could
remember anything she wanted by saying “click,”
and imagining she held a camera). Later, distracted
on my walk home by the kiss’s memory, which came
easily because my eyes had been closed for it, I took a wrong
turn and struggled to find my building
on an unfamiliar street. That’s why I’m studying:
There is my own blue bicycle; the round planter to the left
of the steps I use to enter, which the downstairs neighbor keeps
tidy—cutting back the plants that don’t stay green
in the winter, for example, but keeping the heartier cabbages
watered—though I have never seen her do this work;
somewhere between two and five pride flags,
some of which are there year round while others
appear only in June; a fire hydrant; the windows
of the apartment that face mine, through which I see my least
favorite bookshelves: they look mildly expensive
and comprise a set of intersecting diamonds, making the books
hard to remove and reshelf since they are all piled at slants;
some scaffolding that seems to attract unhappy couples mid-fight;
one set of table and chairs; a house that frequently puts books
or toys or clothes out on the sidewalk for free. I know that
there are two or more remarkable sculptures, but only
because I remember remarking: one might be of a silver
bust of a woman, maybe an angel or a pop star, while others
are definitely at the base of the railings to the steps across the street, but I don’t
remember now if they are dogs or birds. There is a statue of an owl
on a window ledge I can see from one chair, and it often scares me.
Now some buildings have Christmas lights, but I couldn’t say
which, and that could easily lead me to turn down any other residential
block. There is a lilac bush immediately next door, and in May, it helped me
identify my building from very far away. But when we came
to pick up our keys, I began to cry—it resembles
another that grew in front of my childhood and I am
sentimental. I sat down and demanded my roommate tell me
why he hadn’t pointed out the lilacs earlier, and he threw up
his hands: he had tried, but I had talked over him.
When the kisser who recommended I take snapshots
of my surroundings came to my apartment, there is a chance
that they noticed many more things: they probably know
whether it is broken up at any point by vinyl siding, or what words
appear on the inflatable Santa down the hill. When we passed
through the park, I did attempt to capture the snow lifting
from the ground in spirals, the two bodies—one seated, one running—blocking
some light, the corner-eye view of their metallic jacket. But I wanted
to remember what we looked like to the seated person, so replaced the above
description with an imagined photo of two people connected
by elbows, which I now see instead.
My panic, when it comes in public, starts
with lost vision; at home, with the heart. The classroom used to turn
to white: I could make out, maybe, the light from the streetlamps
visible from the class’ windows, but the shapes of the students’ faces
and the windows themselves would be gone. I got very good
at remembering where I had left my chair, sitting down, and pretending
to glance thoughtfully at my notebook. If I said “yes, mmhmm,
anyone else?” my students would feel prompted to speak
without raising hands, and sometimes I’d take illegible
notes on their comments in order to prolong the period
before I would need my eyesight back. If no voices emerged, but
I could register the electronic sounds enough to know my hearing
was still with me, I would spontaneously become a person
who lectures, or I would ask them to break into groups of 3-4
to collectively answer some question. Years before, when sound
and sight left together, I would sit on the floor
of the subway hoping to faint from a more auspicious
starting position. Looking at things indirectly—on a telephone,
say—does not typically produce such a reaction.
Copyright © 2020 by Diana Hamilton. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 28, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
My mother married a man who divorced her for money. Phyllis, he would say, If you don’t stop buying jewelry, I will have to divorce you to keep us out of the poorhouse. When he said this, she would stub out a cigarette, mutter something under her breath. Eventually, he was forced to divorce her. Then, he died. Then she did. The man was not my father. My father was buried down the road, in a box his other son selected, the ashes of his third wife in a brass urn that he will hold in the crook of his arm forever. At the reception, after his funeral, I got mean on four cups of Lime Sherbet Punch. When the man who was not my father divorced my mother, I stopped being related to him. These things are complicated, says the Talmud. When he died, I couldn’t prove it. I couldn’t get a death certificate. These things are complicated, says the Health Department. Their names remain on the deed to the house. It isn’t haunted, it’s owned by ghosts. When I die, I will come in fast and low. I will stick the landing. There will be no confusion. The dead will make room for me.
Copyright © 2020 by Richard Siken. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 4, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
We felt nostalgic for libraries, even though we were sitting in a library. We looked around the library lined with books and thought of other libraries we had sat in lined with books and then of all the libraries we would never sit in lined with books, some of which contained scenes set in libraries. * We felt nostalgic for post offices, even though we were standing in a post office. We studied the rows of stamps under glass and thought about how their tiny castles, poets, cars, and flowers would soon be sent off to all cardinal points. We rarely got paper letters anymore, so our visits to the post office were formal, pro forma. * We felt nostalgic for city parks, even though we were walking through a city park, in a city full of city parks in a country full of cities full of city parks, with their green benches, bedraggled bushes, and shabby pansies, cut into the city. (Were the city parks bits of nature showing through cutouts in the concrete, or was the concrete showing through cutouts in nature?) * We sat in a café drinking too much coffee and checking our feeds, wondering why we were more anxious about the future than anxiously awaiting it. Was the future showing through cutouts in the present, or were bits of the present showing through cutouts in a future we already found ourselves in, arrived in our café chairs like fizzled jetpacks? The café was in a former apothecary lined with dark wood shelves and glowing white porcelain jars labeled in gilded Latin, which for many years had sat empty. Had a person with an illness coming to fetch her weekly dose of meds from one of the jars once said to the city surrounding the shop, which was no longer this city, Stay, thou art so fair? Weren’t these the words that had sealed the bargainer’s doom? Sitting in our presumptive futures, must we let everything run through our hands—which were engineered to grab—into the past? In the library, in the post office, in the city park, in the café, in the apothecary... o give us the medicine, even if it is a pharmakon—which, as the pharmacist knows, either poisons or heals—just like nostalgia. Just like the ruins of nostalgia.
Copyright © 2020 by Donna Stonecipher. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 8, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
I keep thinking there’s a piano nearby.
I keep thinking it’s my favorite song. It’s my favorite song!
Below the marquee, I arrange the marquee:
Happy New Year, buddy. Happy ’nother one, sweetheart.
Out of ways to call you dead, I decide to call you busy,
call you at midnight from West Oakland.
These days I raise a glass to make sure it’s empty.
Even when I was a drunk, I thought champagne was pointless.
In my two-story civility, I stick my head out
each window & scream. S’cuse me, s’cuse me,
I’m trying to remember a story about gold,
about a giant falling from the sky.
Someone once asked who I prayed to.
I said a boy with a missing front tooth.
In this order, I ask, first, for water,
which might mean mercy,
which might mean swing by in an hour
& I’ll tell you the rest.
If you were here we’d dance, I think.
If you were here, you’d know what to do
what to do with all this time
Copyright © 2021 by Hieu Minh Nguyen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 4, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
This neighborhood was mine first. I walked each block twice:
drunk, then sober. I lived every day with legs and headphones.
It had snowed the night I ran down Lorimer and swore I’d stop
at nothing. My love, he had died. What was I supposed to do?
I regret nothing. Sometimes I feel washed up as paper. You’re
three years away. But then I dance down Graham and
the trees are the color of champagne and I remember—
There are things I like about heartbreak, too, how it needs
a good soundtrack. The way I catch a man’s gaze on the L
and don’t look away first. Losing something is just revising it.
After this love there will be more love. My body rising from a nest
of sheets to pick up a stranger’s MetroCard. I regret nothing.
Not the bar across the street from my apartment; I was still late.
Not the shared bathroom in Barcelona, not the red-eyes, not
the songs about black coats and Omaha. I lie about everything
but not this. You were every streetlamp that winter. You held
the crown of my head and for once I won’t show you what
I’ve made. I regret nothing. Your mother and your Maine.
Your wet hair in my lap after that first shower. The clinic
and how I cried for a week afterwards. How we never chose
the language we spoke. You wrote me a single poem and in it
you were the dog and I the fire. Remember the courthouse?
The anniversary song. Those goddamn Kmart towels. I loved them,
when did we throw them away? Tomorrow I’ll write down
everything we’ve done to each other and fill the bathtub
with water. I’ll burn each piece of paper down to silt.
And if it doesn’t work, I’ll do it again. And again and again and—
Copyright © 2021 by Hala Alyan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 8, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
An original poem written for the inaugural reading of Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith at the Library of Congress.
There’s a poem in this place—
in the footfalls in the halls
in the quiet beat of the seats.
It is here, at the curtain of day,
where America writes a lyric
you must whisper to say.
There’s a poem in this place—
in the heavy grace,
the lined face of this noble building,
collections burned and reborn twice.
There’s a poem in Boston’s Copley Square
where protest chants
tear through the air
like sheets of rain,
where love of the many
swallows hatred of the few.
There’s a poem in Charlottesville
where tiki torches string a ring of flame
tight round the wrist of night
where men so white they gleam blue—
seem like statues
where men heap that long wax burning
where Heather Heyer
blooms forever in a meadow of resistance.
There’s a poem in the great sleeping giant
of Lake Michigan, defiantly raising
its big blue head to Milwaukee and Chicago—
a poem begun long ago, blazed into frozen soil,
strutting upward and aglow.
There’s a poem in Florida, in East Texas
where streets swell into a nexus
of rivers, cows afloat like mottled buoys in the brown,
where courage is now so common
that 23-year-old Jesus Contreras rescues people from floodwaters.
There’s a poem in Los Angeles
yawning wide as the Pacific tide
where a single mother swelters
in a windowless classroom, teaching
black and brown students in Watts
to spell out their thoughts
so her daughter might write
this poem for you.
There's a lyric in California
where thousands of students march for blocks,
undocumented and unafraid;
where my friend Rosa finds the power to blossom
in deadlock, her spirit the bedrock of her community.
She knows hope is like a stubborn
ship gripping a dock,
a truth: that you can’t stop a dreamer
or knock down a dream.
How could this not be her city
our American lyric to write—
a poem by the people, the poor,
the Protestant, the Muslim, the Jew,
the native, the immigrant,
the black, the brown, the blind, the brave,
the undocumented and undeterred,
the woman, the man, the nonbinary,
the white, the trans,
the ally to all of the above
Tyrants fear the poet.
Now that we know it
we can’t blow it.
We owe it
to show it
not slow it
hurts to sew it
when the world
skirts below it.
we must bestow it
like a wick in the poet
so it can grow, lit,
bringing with it
stories to rewrite—
the story of a Texas city depleted but not defeated
a history written that need not be repeated
a nation composed but not yet completed.
There’s a poem in this place—
a poem in America
a poet in every American
who rewrites this nation, who tells
a story worthy of being told on this minnow of an earth
to breathe hope into a palimpsest of time—
a poet in every American
who sees that our poem penned
doesn’t mean our poem’s end.
There’s a place where this poem dwells—
it is here, it is now, in the yellow song of dawn’s bell
where we write an American lyric
we are just beginning to tell.
Copyright © 2017 by Amanda Gorman. Reprinted from Split This Rock's The Quarry: A Social Justice Database.
she says the planets & stars show that I’m too good at being alone
I have unresolved traumas from past lives it is true
there were difficulties during my delivery even in the womb
I had a bad feeling cord around my throat as I tried
to make passage forced into this world or rather out of another
by extraction the witch asks if I often feel guilty
asks if I try to heal those around me despite finding it difficult
to bond with anyone other than myself
she wants to know about my childhood memories
if I’m alone in them
& I admit I stop listening though I can still hear
the untroubled tone in her voice vowels elongated
mouth full of sounds like spandex bursting at the seams
I want to go back to the stars we’ve strayed so far from the planets
she says there’s much to learn about my sources of pain
the gaping wound I will try to alleviate for the rest of my life
I want to touch her long hair as if it were my hair
I want to convince her I believe in everything she believes
but I demand too much of faith
like apples in the market I inspect the curves & creases
put them back at the slightest sign of bruising
Copyright © 2021 by Eloisa Amezcua. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 19, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.