I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don't tell! they'd advertise – you know!
How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!
Poetry used by permission of the publishers and the Trustees of Amherst College from The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Ralph W. Franklin ed., Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Copyright © 1998 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © 1951, 1955, 1979 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.
THE POOL PLAYERS.
SEVEN AT THE GOLDEN SHOVEL.
We real cool. We
Left school. We
Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We
Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We
Jazz June. We
From The Bean Eaters by Gwendolyn Brooks, published by Harpers. © 1960 by Gwendolyn Brooks. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
We have tomorrow
Bright before us
Like a flame
a night-gone thing,
A sun-down name.
And dawn to-day
Broad arch above the road we came.
This poem is in the public domain.
To be a good
ex/current friend for R. To be one last
inspired way to get back at R. To be relationship
advice for L. To be advice
for my mother. To be a more comfortable
hospital bed for my mother. To be
no more hospital beds. To be, in my spare time,
America for my uncle, who wants to be China
for me. To be a country of trafficless roads
& a sports car for my aunt, who likes to go
fast. To be a cyclone
of laughter when my parents say
their new coworker is like that, they can tell
because he wears pink socks, see, you don’t, so you can’t,
can’t be one of them. To be the one
my parents raised me to be—
a season from the planet
of planet-sized storms.
To be a backpack of PB&J & every
thing I know, for my brothers, who are becoming
their own storms. To be, for me, nobody,
homebody, body in bed watching TV. To go 2D
& be a painting, an amateur’s hilltop & stars,
simple decoration for the new apartment
with you. To be close, J.,
to everything that is close to you—
blue blanket, red cup, green shoes
with pink laces.
To be the blue & the red.
The green, the hot pink.
From When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities. Copyright © 2016 by Chen Chen. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.
Pretension has it
what’s gone by.
Yet I don’t believe it.
in this place
and the sun
comes, or goes
and comes again,
on the same day.
We live in a circle,
older or younger,
we go round
and around on this earth.
I was trying to remember
at your age.
From The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley, 1945–1975, by Robert Creeley, © 2006 by the Regents of the University of California. Published by the University of California Press. Used with permission of the University of California Press and the Estate of Robert Creeley.
The only legend I have ever loved is
the story of a daughter lost in hell.
And found and rescued there.
Love and blackmail are the gist of it.
Ceres and Persephone the names.
And the best thing about the legend is
I can enter it anywhere. And have.
As a child in exile in
a city of fogs and strange consonants,
I read it first and at first I was
an exiled child in the crackling dusk of
the underworld, the stars blighted. Later
I walked out in a summer twilight
searching for my daughter at bed-time.
When she came running I was ready
to make any bargain to keep her.
I carried her back past whitebeams
and wasps and honey-scented buddleias.
But I was Ceres then and I knew
winter was in store for every leaf
on every tree on that road.
Was inescapable for each one we passed. And for me.
It is winter
and the stars are hidden.
I climb the stairs and stand where I can see
my child asleep beside her teen magazines,
her can of Coke, her plate of uncut fruit.
The pomegranate! How did I forget it?
She could have come home and been safe
and ended the story and all
our heart-broken searching but she reached
out a hand and plucked a pomegranate.
She put out her hand and pulled down
the French sound for apple and
the noise of stone and the proof
that even in the place of death,
at the heart of legend, in the midst
of rocks full of unshed tears
ready to be diamonds by the time
the story was told, a child can be
hungry. I could warn her. There is still a chance.
The rain is cold. The road is flint-coloured.
The suburb has cars and cable television.
The veiled stars are above ground.
It is another world. But what else
can a mother give her daughter but such
beautiful rifts in time?
If I defer the grief I will diminish the gift.
The legend will be hers as well as mine.
She will enter it. As I have.
She will wake up. She will hold
the papery flushed skin in her hand.
And to her lips. I will say nothing.
From In a Time of Violence, published by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1994. Copyright © 1994 by Eavan Boland. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
we let our hair down. It wasn't so much that we worried about what people thought or about keeping it real but that we knew this was our moment. We knew we'd blow our cool sooner or later. Probably sooner. Probably even before we got too far out of Westmont High and had kids of our own who left home wearing clothes we didn't think belonged in school. Like Mrs. C. whose nearly unrecognizably pretty senior photo we passed every day on the way to Gym, we'd get old. Or like Mr. Lurk who told us all the time how it's never too late to throw a Hail Mary like he did his junior year and how we could win everything for the team and hear the band strike up a tune so the cheer squad could sing our name, too. Straight out of a Hallmark movie, Mr. Lurk's hero turned teacher story. We had heard it a million times. Sometimes he'd ask us to sing with him, T-O-N-Y-L-U-R-K Tony Tony Lurk Lurk Lurk. Sin ironia, con sentimiento, por favor, and then we would get back to our Spanish lessons, opening our thin textbooks, until the bell rang and we went on to the cotton gin in History. Really, this had nothing to do with being cool. We only wanted to have a moment to ourselves, a moment before Jazz Band and after Gym when we could look in the mirror and like it. June and Tiffany and Janet all told me I looked pretty. We took turns saying nice things, though we might just as likely say, Die and go to hell. Beauty or hell. No difference. The bell would ring soon. With thanks to "We Real Cool" by Gwendolyn Brooks
I whispered, "I am too young," And then, "I am old enough"; Wherefore I threw a penny To find out if I might love. "Go and love, go and love, young man, If the lady be young and fair," Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny, I am looped in the loops of her hair. Oh, love is the crooked thing, There is nobody wise enough To find out all that is in it, For he would be thinking of love Till the stars had run away, And the shadows eaten the moon. Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny, One cannot begin it too soon.
This poem is in the public domain.
Shame forces what we denied into luminosity.
In dream my father tells me my mother’s grieving
He’s projecting thoughts to a screen for me to read.
I’m at his private film of captivity.
He’s watching us. We’re hunched over heaving the sorrow vomit.
Father stands before me
time without fear suspended and apart
unafraid of anything one way or another.
“When did they cut it?” he wants to know
pushing the thought into space between my eyes.
Raising his pant leg where the mortician
smoothed and stretched the salvage skin Father used for padding
his below-knee amputation
hovering inches above the ground glints in his eyes.
He doesn’t remember the amputation
in the bending.
Father shows me his whole leg. Scars
mended and smooth.
He is an uncut body again. Like before the bending place.
Only the graft scars on his thighs remain.
He projects: “I feel my leg here Margo my foot still itches here” Father
points: “in this empty space” he twirls his fingers a slow spiral.
I nod to him: “I see. I’ll remember this for you.”
Copyright © 2019 by Margo Tamez. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 10, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
I won’t tell you how it ended, &
his mother won’t, either, but beside
me she stood & some things neither
of us could know, & now, all is lost;
lost is all in what came after—the kid,
& we should call him kid, call him a
child, his face smooth & without history
of a razor, he shuffled – ghostly – into
court, & let’s just call it a cauldron, &
admit his nappy head made him blacker
than whatever pistol he’d held,
whatever solitary awaited; the prosecutor’s
bald head was black or brown (but
when has brown not been akin to Black
here? to abyss?) & does it matter,
Black lives, when all he said of Black
boys was that they kill? – the child beside
his mother & his mother beside me &
I am not his father, just a public
defender, near starving, here, where the
state turns men, women, children into
numbers, seeking something more useful
than a guilty plea & this boy beside
me’s withering, on the brink of life &
broken, & it’s all possible, because the
judge spoke & the kid says
—I did it I mean I did it I mean Jesus—
someone wailed & the boy’s mother yells:
This ain’t justice. You can’t throw my son
into that fucking ocean. She meant jail.
& we was powerless to stop it.
& too damn tired to be beautiful.
From Felon. Copyright © 2019 by Reginald Dwayne Betts. Used by permission of the author.
You meant more than life to me. I lived through
you not knowing, not knowing I was living.
I learned that you called for me. I came to where
you were living, up a stair. There was no one there.
No one to appreciate me. The legality of it
upset a chair. Many times to celebrate
we were called together and where
we had been there was nothing there,
nothing that is anywhere. We passed obliquely,
leaving no stare. When the sun was done muttering,
in an optimistic way, it was time to leave that there.
Blithely passing in and out of where, blushing shyly
at the tag on the overcoat near the window where
the outside crept away, I put aside the there and now.
Now it was time to stumble anew,
blacking out when time came in the window.
There was not much of it left.
I laughed and put my hands shyly
across your eyes. Can you see now?
Yes I can see I am only in the where
where the blossoming stream takes off, under your window.
Go presently you said. Go from my window.
I am in love with your window I cannot undermine
it, I said.
Copyright © 2005 John Ashbery
Someone had laced the pot,
my date shape-shifting
in the car’s plush seat.
I rolled with it, his tongue,
not sexy or soft, but possibly
earnest. I must have bit him
on purpose to regain my breath,
redirect him away from my throat.
Get it on, bang a gong, get it on,
his favorite song on the mixtape.
I was a liar, called my parents
hours later from a distant Finger Lake
to say I was sleeping at Suzanne’s.
Is a hydra like the zebra mussel
taking hold here, forever altering
the ecology of Keuka and me, half-dressed
in his younger sister’s top bunk,
my bony hips against his,
the popcorn ceiling scraping my back
each time I was flipped over.
I’d foreseen this happening
the second we left the gymnasium
with its stupid decorations.
Through the bay window of a child’s room,
the black water licked the dock,
the huge lake a dream
into which I threw my still boyish body.
He wasn’t aware of me,
nor I of him. How inelegant and sad
our untangling was, how we’d misremember it.
Copyright © 2019 by Lindsay Bernal. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 25, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
(after the spanish) forgive me if i laugh you are so sure of love you are so young and i too old to learn of love. the rain exploding in the air is love the grass excreting her green wax is love and stones remembering past steps is love, but you. you are too young for love and i too old. once. what does it matter when or who, i knew of love. i fixed my body under his and went to sleep in love all trace of me was wiped away forgive me if i smile young heiress of a naked dream you are so young and i too old to learn of love.
From Homegirls & Handgrenades by Sonia Sanchez. Copyright © 2007 by Sonia Sanchez. Reprinted by permission of White Pine Press.
Copper and ginger, the plentiful
mass of it bound, half loosed, and
bound again in lavish
disregard as though such heaping up
were a thing indifferent, surfeit from
the table of the gods, who do
not give a thought to fairness, no,
who throw their bounty in a single
lap. The chipped enamel—blue—on her nails.
The lashes sticky with sunlight. You would
swear she hadn’t a thought in her head
except for her buttermilk waffle and
its just proportion of jam. But while
she laughs and chews, half singing
with the lyrics on the radio, half
shrugging out of her bathrobe in the
kitchen warmth, she doesn’t quite
complete the last part, one of the
sleeves—as though, you’d swear, she
couldn’t be bothered—still covers
her arm. Which means you do not
see the cuts. Girls of an age—
fifteen for example—still bearing
the traces of when-they-were-
new, of when-the-breasts-had-not-
cleft-was-smooth, are anchored
on a faultline, it’s a wonder they
survive at all. This ginger-haired
darling isn’t one of my own, if
own is ever the way to put it, but
I’ve known her since her heart could still
be seen at work beneath
the fontanelles. Her skin
was almost otherworldly, touch
so silken it seemed another kind
of sight, a subtler
boundary than obtains for all
the rest of us, though ordinary
mortals bear some remnant too,
consider the loved one’s fine-
grained inner arm. And so
it’s there, from wrist to
elbow, that she cuts. She takes
her scissors to that perfect page, she’s good,
she isn’t stupid, she can see that we
who are children of plenty have no
excuse for suffering we
should be ashamed and so she is
and so she has produced this many-
layered hieroglyphic, channels
raw, half healed, reopened
before the healing gains momentum, she
has taken for her copy-text the very
cogs and wheels of time. And as for
her other body, says the plainsong
on the morning news, the hole
in the ozone, the fish in the sea,
you were thinking what exactly? You
were thinking a comfortable
breakfast would help? I think
I thought we’d deal with that tomorrow.
Then you’ll have to think again.
From Prodigal: New and Selected Poems, 1976–2014 (Mariner Books, 2015). Copyright © 2015 by Linda Gregerson. Used with permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
in the backseat, my sons laugh & tussle,
far from Tamir’s age, adorned with his
complexion & cadence, & already warned
about toy pistols, though my rhetoric
ain’t about fear, but dislike—about
how guns have haunted me since I first gripped
a pistol; I think of Tamir, twice-blink
& confront my weeping’s inadequacy, how
some loss invents the geometry that baffles.
The Second Amendment—cold, cruel,
a constitutional violence, a ruthless
thing worrying me still, should be it predicts
the heft in my hand, arm sag, burdened by
what I bear: My bare arms collaged
with wings as if hope alone can bring
back a buried child. A child, a toy gun,
a blue shield’s rapid rapid rabid shit. This
is how misery sounds: my boys
playing in the backseat juxtaposed against
a twelve-year-old’s murder playing
in my head. My tongue cleaves to the roof
of my mouth, my right hand has forgotten.
This is the brick & mortar of the America
that murdered Tamir & may stalk the laughter
in my backseat. I am a father driving
his Black sons to school & the death
of a Black boy rides shotgun & this
could be a funeral procession, the death
a silent thing in the air, unmentioned—
because mentioning death invites taboo:
if you touch my sons the blood washed
away from the concrete must, at some
point, belong to you, & not just to you, to
the artifice of justice that is draped like a blue
g-d around your shoulders, the badge that
justifies the echo of the fired pistol; taboo:
the thing that says freedom is a murderer’s body
mangled & disrupted by my constitutional
rights come to burden, because the killer’s mind
refused the narrative of a brown child, his dignity,
his right to breathe, his actual fucking existence,
with all the crystalline brilliance I saw when
my boys first reached for me. This world best
invite more than story of the children bleeding
on crisp falls days, Tamir’s death must be more
than warning about recklessness & abandoned
justice & white terror’s ghost—& this is
why I hate it all, the protests & their counters,
the Civil Rights attorneys that stalk the bodies
of the murdered, this dance of ours that reduces
humanity to the dichotomy of the veil. We are
not permitted to articulate the reasons we might
yearn to see a man die. A mind may abandon
sanity. What if all I had stomach for was blood?
But history is no sieve & sanity is no elixir
& I am bound to be haunted by the strength
that lets Tamir’s father, mother, kinfolk resist
the temptation to turn everything they see
into a grave & make home the series of cells
that so many brothers already call their tomb.
From Felon. Copyright © 2019 by Reginald Dwayne Betts. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
To a Brown Boy
’Tis a noble gift to be brown, all brown,
Like the strongest things that make up this earth,
Like the mountains grave and grand,
Even like the very land,
Even like the trunks of trees—
Even oaks, to be like these!
God builds His strength in bronze.
To be brown like thrush and lark!
Like the subtle wren so dark!
Nay, the king of beasts wears brown;
Eagles are of this same hue.
I thank God, then, I am brown.
Brown has mighty things to do.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 30, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Is nothing real but when I was fifteen, Going on sixteen, like a corny song? I see myself so clearly then, and painfully— Knees bleeding through my usher's uniform Behind the candy counter in the theater After a morning's surfing; paddling frantically To top the brisk outsiders coming to wreck me, Trundle me clumsily along the beach floor's Gravel and sand; my knees aching with salt. Is that all I have to write about? You write about the life that's vividest. And if that is your own, that is your subject. And if the years before and after sixteen Are colorless as salt and taste like sand— Return to those remembered chilly mornings, The light spreading like a great skin on the water, And the blue water scalloped with wind-ridges, And—what was it exactly?—that slow waiting When, to invigorate yourself, you peed Inside your bathing suit and felt the warmth Crawl all around your hips and thighs, And the first set rolled in and the water level Rose in expectancy, and the sun struck The water surface like a brassy palm, Flat and gonglike, and the wave face formed. Yes. But that was a summer so removed In time, so specially peculiar to my life, Why would I want to write about it again? There was a day or two when, paddling out, An older boy who had just graduated And grown a great blonde moustache, like a walrus, Skimmed past me like a smooth machine on the water, And said my name. I was so much younger, To be identified by one like him— The easy deference of a kind of god Who also went to church where I did—made me Reconsider my worth. I had been noticed. He soon was a small figure crossing waves, The shawling crest surrounding him with spray, Whiter than gull feathers. He had said my name Without scorn, just with a bit of surprise To notice me among those trying the big waves Of the morning break. His name is carved now On the black wall in Washington, the frozen wave That grievers cross to find a name or names. I knew him as I say I knew him, then, Which wasn't very well. My father preached His funeral. He came home in a bag That may have mixed in pieces of his squad. Yes, I can write about a lot of things Besides the summer that I turned sixteen. But that's my ground swell. I must start Where things began to happen and I knew it.
From Questions for Ecclesiastes published by Story Line Press, 1997. Copyright © 1997 by Mark Jarman. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
I divested myself of despair and fear when I came here. Now there is no more catching one's own eye in the mirror, there are no bad books, no plastic, no insurance premiums, and of course no illness. Contrition does not exist, nor gnashing of teeth. No one howls as the first clod of earth hits the casket. The poor we no longer have with us. Our calm hearts strike only the hour, and God, as promised, proves to be mercy clothed in light.
From Constance by Jane Kenyon, published by Graywolf Press. © 1993 by Jane Kenyon. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
Backing out the driveway the car lights cast an eerie glow in the morning fog centering on movement in the rain slick street Hitting brakes I anticipate a squirrel or a cat or sometimes a little raccoon I once braked for a blind little mole who try though he did could not escape the cat toying with his life Mother-to-be possum occasionally lopes home . . . being naturally . . . slow her condition makes her even more ginger We need a sign POSSUM CROSSING to warn coffee-gurgling neighbors: we share the streets with more than trucks and vans and railroad crossings All birds being the living kin of dinosaurs think themselves invincible and pay no heed to the rolling wheels while they dine on an unlucky rabbit I hit brakes for the flutter of the lights hoping it's not a deer or a skunk or a groundhog coffee splashes over the cup which I quickly put away from me and into the empty passenger seat I look . . . relieved and exasperated ... to discover I have just missed a big wet leaf struggling . . . to lift itself into the wind and live
"Possum Crossing" from Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea by Nikki Giovanni. Copyright © 2002 by Nikki Giovanni. Used by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
A youngest brother turns seventeen with a click as good as a roar, finds the door and is gone. You listen for that small sound, hear a memory. The air-raid sirens howled of summer tornadoes, the sound thrown back against the scattered thumbs of grain silos and the open Oklahoma plains like the warning wail of insects. Repudiation is fast like a whirlwind. Only children don't know that all you live is leaving. Yes, the first knowledge that counts is that everything stops. Even in the bible-belt, second comings are promises you never really believed; so you turn and walk into the embrace of the world as you would to a woman, an arrant an orphic movement as shocking as the subtle animal pulse of a flower opening, palm up. We are all so helpless. I can look at my wife's full form now and hope for children, picture her figured by the weight of babies. Only, it's still so much like trying to find something once lost. My brother felt the fullness of his years, the pull in the gut that's almost sickness. His white smooth face is gone into living and fierce illusion, a journey dissolute and as immutable as the whining heat of summer. Soon enough, too soon, momentum just isn't enough. Our tragedy is to live in a world that doesn't invite us back. We slow, find ourselves sitting in a room that shifts so slightly we can only imagine the difference. I want to tell him to listen. I want to tell him what it is to crave darkness, to want to crawl headfirst into a dirt-warm womb to sleep, to wait seventeen years, to emerge again.
From The Green Girls by John Blair, published by Louisiana State University Press. Copyright © 2003 by John Blair. Reproduced with permission of Winthrop University. All rights reserved.