Why the image just now of a bullet entering the mouth? Why call it raw, when it isn’t sticky and pink like a turkey meatball, just the usual: gold, and shiny, and cylindrical? What about this bullet is uncooked? Why does it multiply with you in parka or short skirt, versions of the you that you were, swallowing raw bullets as you walked? The images come without assailant, without gun, just the holes the bullets opened, the holes through which they went. And now at the age in which you ride enclosed in glass like the Pope or President you are spitting up the bullets slow-simmered in your own juices. You are shitting them out, feeling them drop from you in clumps of blood, in the days of bleeding left. But you cannot expel all of them. Some, raw as the day they entered, have expanded their mushroom heads into the flesh, or lodged their hot tip into the taste center of the brain. Will the tongue’s first encounter with pomegranate seeds be forever a lost Eden, that fruit of your girlhood, which, also meaning grenade, was perhaps never innocent? Do your own raw bullets come back to you, my friends? Let us legislate the active voice, instead. Not, “Many bodies have been used as blanks, aluminum cans.” But, “Here are the men who pulled the trigger, look at them.”
Copyright © 2018 by Rosa Alcalá. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 5, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
In the invitation, I tell them for the seventeenth time
(the fourth in writing), that I am gay.
In the invitation, I include a picture of my boyfriend
& write, You’ve met him two times. But this time,
you will ask him things other than can you pass the
whatever. You will ask him
about him. You will enjoy dinner. You will be
enjoyable. Please RSVP.
They RSVP. They come.
They sit at the table & ask my boyfriend
the first of the conversation starters I slip them
upon arrival: How is work going?
I’m like the kid in Home Alone, orchestrating
every movement of a proper family, as if a pair
of scary yet deeply incompetent burglars
is watching from the outside.
My boyfriend responds in his chipper way.
I pass my father a bowl of fish ball soup—So comforting,
isn’t it? My mother smiles her best
Sitting with Her Son’s Boyfriend
Who Is a Boy Smile. I smile my Hurray for Doing
a Little Better Smile.
Everyone eats soup.
Then, my mother turns
to me, whispers in Mandarin, Is he coming with you
for Thanksgiving? My good friend is & she wouldn’t like
this. I’m like the kid in Home Alone, pulling
on the string that makes my cardboard mother
more motherly, except she is
not cardboard, she is
already, exceedingly my mother. Waiting
for my answer.
While my father opens up
a Boston Globe, when the invitation
clearly stated: No security
blankets. I’m like the kid
in Home Alone, except the home
is my apartment, & I’m much older, & not alone,
& not the one who needs
to learn, has to—Remind me
what’s in that recipe again, my boyfriend says
to my mother, as though they have always, easily
talked. As though no one has told him
many times, what a nonlinear slapstick meets
slasher flick meets psychological
pit he is now co-starring in.
Remind me, he says
to our family.
Copyright © 2018 by Chen Chen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 19, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
My whole life I have obeyed it— its every hunting. I move beneath it as a jaguar moves, in the dark- liquid blading of shoulder. The opened-gold field and glide of the hand, light-fruited, and scythe-lit. I have come to this god-made place— Teotlachco, the ball court— because the light called: lightwards! and dwells here, Lamp-land. We touch the ball of light to one another—split bodies stroked bright— desire-knocked. Light reshapes my lover’s elbow, a brass whistle. I put my mouth there—mercy-luxed, and come, we both, to light. It streams me. A rush of scorpions— fast-light. A lash of breath— god-maker. Light horizons her hip—springs an ocelot cut of chalcedony and magnetite. Hip, limestone and cliffed, slopes like light into her thigh—light-box, skin-bound. Wind shakes the calabash, disrupts the light to ripple—light-struck, then scatter. This is the war I was born toward, her skin, its lake-glint. I desire—I thirst— to be filled—light-well. The light throbs everything, and songs against her body, girdling the knee bone. Our bodies—light-harnessed, light-thrashed. The bruising: bilirubin bloom, violet. A work of all good yokes—blood-light— to make us think the pain is ours to keep, light-trapped, lanterned. I asked for it. I own it— lightmonger. I am light now, or on the side of light— light-head, light-trophied. Light-wracked and light-gone. Still, the sweet maize—an eruption of light, or its feast, from the stalk of my lover’s throat. And I, light-eater, light-loving.
Copyright © 2018 by Natalie Diaz. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 4, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Nobody straightens their hair anymore.
Space trips & limited air supplies will get you conscious quick.
My shea-buttered braids glow planetary
as I turn unconcerned, unburned by the pre-take-off bother.
“Leave it all behind,” my mother’d told me,
sweeping the last specs of copper thread from her front porch steps &
just as quick, she turned her back to me. Why
had she disappeared so suddenly behind that earthly door?
“Our people have made progress, but, perhaps,”
she’d said once, “not enough to guarantee safe voyage
to the Great Beyond,” beyond where Jesus
walked, rose, & ascended in the biblical tales that survived
above sprocket-punctured skylines &
desert-dusted runways jeweled with wrenches & sheet metal scraps.
She’d no doubt exhale with relief to know
ancient practice & belief died hard among the privileged, too.
Hundreds of missions passed & failed, but here
I was strapped in my seat, anticipating—what exactly?
Curved in prayer or remembrance of a hurt
so deep I couldn’t speak. Had that been me slammed to the ground, cuffed,
bulleted with pain as I danced with pain
I couldn’t shake loose, even as the cops aimed pistols at me,
my body & mind both disconnected
& connected & unable to freeze, though they shouted “freeze!”
like actors did on bad television.
They’d watched & thought they recognized me, generic or bland,
without my mother weeping like Mary,
Ruby, Idella, Geneava, or Ester stunned with a grief
our own countrymen refused to see, to
acknowledge or cease initiating, instigating, &
even mocking in the social networks,
ignorant frays bent and twisted like our DNA denied
but thriving and evident nonetheless—
You better believe the last things I saw when far off lifted
were Africa Africa Africa
Africa Africa Africa Africa Africa...
& though it pained me to say it sooner:
the unmistakable absence of the Great Barrier Reef.
Copyright © 2018 by Yona Harvey. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 18, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
The time of birds died sometime between When Robert Kennedy, Jr. disappeared and the Berlin Wall came down. Hope was pro forma then. We’d begun to talk about shelf-life. Parents Thought they’d gotten somewhere. I can’t tell you What to make of this now without also saying that when I was 19 and read in a poem that the pure products of America go crazy I felt betrayed. My father told me not to whistle because I Was a girl. He gave me my first knife and said to keep it in my right Hand and to keep my right hand in my right pocket when I walked at night. He showed me the proper kind of fist and the sweet spot on the jaw To leverage my shorter height and upper-cut someone down. There were probably birds on the long walk home but I don’t Remember them because pastoral is not meant for someone With a fist in each pocket waiting for a reason.
Copyright © 2018 by Ruth Ellen Kocher. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 19, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
makes me think plurality. Maybe I can love you
with many selves. Or. I love all the Porgys.
Even as a colloquialism: a queering of
love as singular. English is a strange
language because I loves
and He loves are not
both grammarly. I loves you,
Porgy. Better to ask what man is not,
The beauty of Nina’s Porgy distorts
gravity. Don’t let him take
me. The ceiling is in
the floor. There is one name
I cannot say.
Beauty, a proposal on
Nina’s eyes know
a fist too well. Not
Copyright © 2018 by Nabila Lovelace. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 6, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
“I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired!” She sat across the desk from me, squirming. It was stifling. My suite runs hot but most days it is bearable. This student has turned in nothing, rarely comes to class. When she does, her eyes bore into me with a disdain born long before either of us. She doesn’t trust anything I say. She can’t respect my station, the words coming out of these lips, this face. My breathing is an affront. It’s me, she says. I never was this student’s professor— her immediate reaction seeing me at the smart board. But I have a calling to complete & she has to finish college, return to a town where she doesn’t have to look at, listen to or respect anyone like me—forever tall, large & brown in her dagger eyes, though it’s clear she looks down on me. She can return— if not to her hometown, another enclave, so many others, where she can brush a dog’s golden coat, be vegan & call herself a good person. Are you having difficulty with your other classes? No. Go, I say, tenderly. Loaded as a cop’s gun, she blurts point-blank that she’s afraid of me. Twice. My soft syllables rattle something planted deep, so I tell her to go where she'd feel more comfortable as if she were my niece or godchild, even wish her a good day. If she stays, the ways this could backfire! Where is my Kevlar shield from her shame? There’s no way to tell when these breasts will evoke solace or terror. I hate that she surprises me, that I lull myself to think her ilk is gone despite knowing so much more, and better. I can’t proselytize my worth all semester, exhaust us for the greater good. I can’t let her make me a monster to myself— I’m running out of time & pity the extent of her impoverished heart. She’s from New England, I’m from the Mid-South. Far from elderly, someone just raised her like this with love. I have essays to grade but words warp on the white page, dart just out of reach. I blink two hours away, find it hard to lift my legs, my voice, my head precious to my parents now being held in my own hands. How did they survive so much worse, the millions with all of their scars! What would these rivers be without their weeping, these streets without their faith & sweat? Fannie Lou Hamer thundered what they felt, we feel, into DNC microphones on black and white TV years before I was a notion. She doesn’t know who Fannie Lou Hamer is, and never has to.
Copyright © 2018 by Kamilah Aisha Moon. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 4, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
The honey bees’ exile is almost complete. You can carry them from hive to hive, the child thought & that is what he tried, walking with them thronging between his pressed palms. Let him be right. Let the gods look away as always. Let this boy who carries the entire actual, whirring world in his calm unwashed hands, barely walking, bear us all there buzzing, unstung.
Copyright © 2017 by Kevin Young. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 29, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.