We never know how high we are
  Till we are called to rise;
And then, if we are true to plan,
  Our statures touch the skies—

The Heroism we recite
  Would be a daily thing,
Did not ourselves the Cubits warp
  For fear to be a King—

This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on April 20, 2013. This poem is in the public domain.

For Hooker, Muddy, and Buddy

of the sluggish, coolly vengeful way
a southern body falters. Muscles whine 
with toiling, browning teeth go tilt and splay,
then tremulous and gone. The serpentine
and slapdash landscape of his mouth is maze
for blue until the heart—so sparsely blessed,
lethargic in its fatty cloak—OKs
that surge of Tallahatchie through his chest,
and Lordy, hear that awful moan unlatch?
Behind the mic, he’s drowning in that great        
migration uniform of sharkskin patched
with prayer and dust. His cramped feet palpitate
in alligator kickers, needle-toed,
so tight he feels the thudding blood, so tight
they make it way too easy to unload
his woe. The drunken drummer misses right
on time, the speakers sputter static, but
our bluesman gravels anyhow—The moon
won’t even rise for me tonight / now what’s
a brokedown man gon’ do? That wretched croon
delights the urban wanderers, intent
on loving on this perfect underwhelm
of Negro, jinxed and catastrophic, bent
into his hurting halves. Inside the realm
of pain as pageant, woozy revelers raise
their plastic cups of fizz and watered rye
to toast the warbler of decay, whose dazed
and dwindling lyric craves its moonlit sky.

Copyright © 2020 by Patricia Smith. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 16, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

1

One summer night, walking from our house after dinner, stars make the sky almost white.

My awe is like blindness; wonder exchanges for sight.

Star-by-star comprises a multiplicity like thought, but quiet, too dense for any dark planet between.

While single stars are a feature of the horizon at dusk, caught at the edge of the net of gems.

Transparence hanging on its outer connectedness casts occurrence as accretion, filling in, of extravagant, euphoric blooming.

Then, being as spirit and in matter is known, here to there.

I go home and tell my children to come out and look.

The souls of my two children fly up like little birds into branches of the Milky Way,  
chatting with each other, naming constellations, comparing crystals and fire.

They exclaim at similarities between what they see in the sky and on our land.

So, by wonder, they strengthen correspondence between sky and home.

Earth is made from this alchemy of all children, human and animal, combined 
with our deep gratitude. 

2

I see his dark shape, moving and shifting against night’s screen of stars.

My little girl reaches for his lighted silhouette.

Human beings are thought upward and flown through by bright birds.

We believe stars are spirits of very high frequency.

We feel proud our animals come from stars so dense in meaning close to sacrament.

We describe time passing in stories about animals; star movement is named for seasonal migrations of deer, wolf, hummingbird, dolphin, and as animals stars walk among us.

Our snake Olivia, for example, tells me there’s no conflict between humans and rain, because resource is all around us.

A coyote loved night, and he loved to gaze at the stars.

“I noticed one star in Cassiopeia; I talked to her, and each night she grew brighter and closer, and she came to life here, as a corn snake, my friend.”

“She looks like a dancer on tiptoe, stepping around pink star-blossoms surging up after rain.”

3

Constellations are experienced emotionally as this play of self through plant and animal symbols and values.

A dream atmosphere flows; everything represented is sacred; being moves in accord, not of time.

Returning from the Milky Way, she realized crystals had fallen from her bag and looked up.

My story links a journey to sky with the creation of stars, in which place accommodates becoming.

Chama River flows north-south to the horizon, then straight up through the Milky Way, like water moving beneath a riverbed that’s dry.        

Abiquiu Mountain, El Rito Creek, coyote, snake, rainbow and rain, spider and hummingbird identify equivalent spiritual placements above, so wherever we go, there is company, nurture, from every star in our regard.

4

I start up to ask my birds to return home, and find our land continuous with a starry sky mapped as entities who set into motion occurrence, here.

Place awaits an imprint from this potential, even though starlight arriving now already happened; what happens is a depth of field, before and after drought, fire, storm disruption.

I move at high speed, but I’m still standing beside my house in the dark. 

To go there, I find the place on our mesa that correlates to their tree in the sky and leap up.

Space stirs as star trilliums emerge through darkness like humus.

I ask one blossom to please in the future renew these bonds between sky and my children, so they will always hold light in the minerals of their eyes.

5

Sun on its nightly underground journey weaves a black thread between white days on the cosmic loom, cord or resonance between new experience and meaning.

The origin of stars expresses the underlying warp of this fabric; summer solstice draws a diagonal across my floor, precession, weaving ground of informing spirit, so therefore, life is fundamental to stars.

The reverse is well known.

That’s why I don’t use a telescope, star charts or glasses when I go out; I think of a place; I wait, then fly to my children.

When the star-gate is raised, there’s a narrow door between sky and ground.

But when I arrive, I find the sky solid; I can’t break through to visit my starbirds and stand there wondering, before dawn.

Then sky vault lifts; maybe I can slip through to find the Milky Way and see its blossoms.

Then our sun appears in the crack and pushes through to the day.

It’s so bright, so hot, I step back and cover my eyes; I hear my mother calling.

Copyright © 2020 by Mei-mei Berssenbrugge. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 13, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

(at St. Mary’s)

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that

From Quilting: Poems 1987–1990 by Lucille Clifton. Copyright © 2001 by Lucille Clifton. Reprinted with permission of BOA Editions Ltd. All rights reserved.

My goal out-distances the utmost star, 
Yet is encompassed in my inmost Soul; 
I am my goal—my quest, to know myself. 
To chart and compass this unfathomed sea, 
Myself must plumb the boundless universe. 
My Soul contains all thought, all mystery, 
All wisdom of the Great Infinite Mind: 
This is to discover, I must voyage far, 
At last to find it in my pulsing heart. 

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on February 8, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Doubt is easy. You welcome it, your old friend.
Poet Edward Field told a bunch of kids,
Invite it in, feed it a good dinner, give it a place to sleep
on the couch.  Don’t make it too comfortable or
it might never leave.  When it goes away, say okay, I’ll see you
again later. Don’t fear. Don’t give it your notebook.

As for bad reviews, sure. William Stafford advised no credence to
praise or blame. Just steady on. 
Once a man named Paul called me “a kid.” I liked kids 
but I knew he meant it as an insult.  Anyway, I was a kid. 
I guess he was saying, why should we listen to kids? 
A newspaper described a woman named Frieda being asked 
if “I was serious” and “she whistled.” What did that mean?
How do you interpret a whistle? This was one thing that bothered me. 
And where did Frieda ever go? 

Copyright © 2020 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 14, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

Who comforts you now that the wheel has broken?
No more princes for the poor. Loss whittling you thin.
Grief is the constant now, hope the last word spoken.

In a dance of two elegies, which circles the drain? A token
year with its daisies and carbines is where we begin.
Who comforts you now? That the wheel has broken

is Mechanics 101; to keep dreaming when the joke’s on
you? Well, crazier legends have been written.
Grief is the constant now; hope, the last word spoken

on a motel balcony, shouted in a hotel kitchen. No kin
can make this journey for you. The route’s locked in.
Who comforts you now that the wheel has broken

the bodies of its makers? Beyond the smoke and
ashes, what you hear rising is nothing but the wind.
Who comforts you? Now that the wheel has broken,

grief is the constant. Hope: the last word spoken.

Copyright © 2020 by Rita Dove. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 21, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

Once there was an opening, an operation: out of which oared the ocean, then oyster and oystercatcher, opal and opal-crowned tanager. From ornateness came the ornate flycatcher and ornate fruit dove. From oil, the oilbird. O is for opus, the Orphean warbler’s octaves, the oratorio of orioles. O for the osprey’s ostentation, the owl and its collection of ossicles. In October’s ochre, the orchard is overgrown with orange and olive, oleander and oxlip. Ovals of dew on the oatgrass. O for obsidian, onyx, ore, for boreholes like inverted obelisks. O for the onion’s concentric O’s, observable only when cut, for the opium oozing from the poppy’s globe only when scored. O for our organs, for the os of the cervix, the double O’s of the ovaries plotted on the body’s plane to mark the origin. O is the orbit that cradles the eye. The oculus opens an O to the sky, where the starry outlines of men float like air bubbles between us and oblivion. Once there were oarfish, opaleyes, olive flounders. Once the oxbows were not overrun with nitrogen. O for the mussels opening in the ocean’s oven. O for the rising ozone, the dropping oxygen, for algae overblooming like an omen or an oracle. O Earth, out-gunned and out-manned. O who holds the void inside itself. O who has made orphans of our hands.

Copyright © 2020 by Claire Wahmanholm. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 2, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

Lying, thinking
Last night
How to find my soul a home
Where water is not thirsty
And bread loaf is not stone
I came up with one thing
And I don’t believe I’m wrong
That nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

There are some millionaires
With money they can’t use
Their wives run round like banshees
Their children sing the blues
They’ve got expensive doctors
To cure their hearts of stone.
But nobody
No, nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Now if you listen closely
I'll tell you what I know
Storm clouds are gathering
The wind is gonna blow
The race of man is suffering
And I can hear the moan,
'Cause nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

From Oh Pray My Wings Are Gonna Fit Me Well By Maya Angelou. Copyright © 1975 by Maya Angelou. Reprinted with permission of Random House, Inc. For online information about other Random House, Inc. books and authors, visit the website at www.randomhouse.com.

Once I freed myself of my duties to tasks and people and went down to the cleansing sea...
The air was like wine to my spirit,
The sky bathed my eyes with infinity,
The sun followed me, casting golden snares on the tide,
And the ocean—masses of molten surfaces, faintly gray-blue—sang to my heart...

Then I found myself, all here in the body and brain, and all there on the shore:
Content to be myself: free, and strong, and enlarged:
Then I knew the depths of myself were the depths of space.
And all living beings were of those depths (my brothers and sisters)
And that by going inward and away from duties, cities, street-cars and greetings,
I was dipping behind all surfaces, piercing cities and people,
And entering in and possessing them, more than a brother,
The surge of all life in them and in me...

So I swore I would be myself (there by the ocean)
And I swore I would cease to neglect myself, but would take myself as my mate,
Solemn marriage and deep: midnights of thought to be:
Long mornings of sacred communion, and twilights of talk,
Myself and I, long parted, clasping and married till death.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on May 24, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.