A moment comes to me
and it’s a lot like the dead
who get in the way sometimes
hanging around, with their ranks
growing bigger by the second
and the game of tag they play
claiming whoever happens by.
I try to put them off
but the space between us
is like a country growing closer
which has a language I know
more and more of me is
growing up inside of, and
the clincher is the nothing
for me to do inside here
except to face my dead
as the spirits they are,
find the parts of me in them—
call them back with my words.
Ancestor worship or prayer?
It’s a kind of getting by—
an extension of living
beyond my self my people taught me,
and each moment is a boundary
I will throw this bridge across.

From Across the Mutual Landscape (Graywolf Press, 1984). Copyright © 1984 by Christopher Gilbert. Used with permission of The Permissions Company inc. on behalf of Graywolf Press.

A picture in a newspaper

She has been burning palaces. “To see
     The sparks look pretty in the wind?” Well, yes—
And something more. But women brave as she
     Leave much for cowards, such as I, to guess.

But this is old, so old that everything
     Is ashes here—the woman and the rest.
Two years are—oh! so long. Now you may bring
     Some newer pictures. You like this one best?

You wish that you had lived in Paris then?
     You would have loved to burn a palace, too?
But they had guns in France, and Christian men
     Shot wicked little Communists like you.

You would have burned the palace?—Just because
     You did not live in it yourself! Oh! why
Have I not taught you to respect the laws?
     You would have burned the palace—would not I?

Would I? Go to your play. Would I, indeed?
     I? Does the boy not know my soul to be
Languid and worldly, with a dainty need
     For light and music? Yet he questions me.

Can he have seen my soul more near than I?
     Ah! in the dusk and distance sweet she seems,
With lips to kiss away a baby’s cry,
     Hands fit for flowers, and eyes for tears and dreams.

Can he have seen my soul? And could she wear
     Such utter life upon a dying face:
Such unappealing, beautiful despair:
     Such garments— soon to be a shroud—with grace?

Has she a charm so calm that it could breathe
     In damp, low places till some frightened hour;
Then start, like a fair, subtle snake, and wreathe
     A stinging poison with shadowy power?

Would I burn palaces? The child has seen
     In this fierce creature of the Commune here,
So bright with bitterness and so serene,
     A being finer than my soul, I fear.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on September 3, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.

You named me for light. How we belong
in the little spaces carved for us, love

tucking us into a walnut shell hollow
where you’d take the tiniest brush and paint
a Christmas star along the concavity—

            Some days I’m a pendulum that exists on a planet
that periodically loses gravity. Some days

my light is spent, the light-years required
to travel back to myself too many.

Since you died I take tiny, redundant steps,
and, a, an. Articles on which I predicate
my survival.

I want to believe death is only a pause
in our continuous language. Stillness,

but what it means is cosmic change, that you and I
and the delicate spaces we drew into being

between us constitute a light source
that spears endlessly through a cloud-break

as hope lances inside
                 spherical borders.


From The Blue Mimes by Sara Daniele Rivera. Copyright © 2024 by Sara Daniele Rivera. Reprinted by permission of Graywolf Press.  

My birthright I have traded for a petal dress
and a summer eulogy. I have pawned my soul
for this opal ring, the color of a pale, taxidermied eye.

If I could carry calla lilies on my shoulder once more
like an umbrella in daylight, I would lean them
on the cemetery gate and sleep until the groundskeeper found me.

For some of us, beauty is carcinoma.
The saint’s stigmata is god’s rose, bestowed
for forgoing a human lover, who will, of course, die.

I died last year. My mother made her tears into crystal
earrings and clipped them to my ears. “Son, you will
pay for your sin,” my father spoke from his throne of glass.

Stars burn a sharp, white nacre until they evaporate.
The moon’s flamingo unfolds her iodine wings over the broken city.
My necropolis. My teeth are the fruit of your olive tree.

"Epitaph X" first appeared in Horror Vacui, published by Sarabande Books, 2006. © Thomas Heise.

The sound of quiet. The sky 
indigo, steeping 
deeper from the top, like tea.
In the absence
of anything else, my own
breathing became obscene.
I heard the beating
of bats’ wings before 
the air troubled above 
my head, turned to look
and saw them gone.
On the surface of the black
lake, a swan and the moon
stayed perfectly 
still. I knew this was
a perfect moment.
Which would only hurt me
to remember and never
live again. My God. How lucky to have lived
a life I would die for.

Copyright © 2023 by Leila Chatti. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 3, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.

translated by Wilfrid Thorley

The moon grew sad, and weeping seraphim,
Musing among the vaporous flowers aswim,
With slow bows from the sobbing viols drew
White tears that sank in their corónals blue.
It was the blesséd day of your first kiss.
My reverie, eager with new miseries,
Was all a-swoon with perfume of shy grief
That leaves the heart to gather its own sheaf,
And frets not, nor yet sickens of its prize.
I wandered, and the worn way held my eyes
When in the street I saw your sun-girt hair
And you all smiling in the twilit air.
I took you for that elf who, crowned with beams,
Once passed before me in my childish dreams,
And shed white posies of sweet-smelling flow’rs
Star-like for tiny hands in snowy show’rs.





La lune s’attristait. Des séraphins en pleurs
Rêvant, l’archet aux doigts, dans le calme des fleurs
Vaporeuses, tiraient de mourantes violes
De blancs sanglots glissant sur l’azur des corolles.
—C’était le jour béni de ton premier baiser.
Ma songerie aimant à me martyriser
S’enivrait savamment du parfum de tristesse
Que même sans regret et sans déboire laisse
La cueillaison d’un Rêve au cœur qui l’a cueilli.
J’errais donc, l’œil rivé sur le pavé vieilli,
Quand avec du soleil aux cheveux, dans la rue
Et dans le soir, tu m’es en riant apparue
Et j’ai cru voir la fée au chapeau de clarté
Qui jadis sur mes beaux sommeils d’enfant gâté
Passait, laissant toujours de ses mains mal fermées
Neiger de blancs bouquets d’étoiles parfumées.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on January 29, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.