You are not fifteen, or twelve, or seventeen—
You are a hundred wild centuries
And fifteen, bringing with you
In every breath and in every step
Everyone who has come before you,
All the yous that you have been,
The mothers of your mother,
The fathers of your father.
If someone in your family tree was trouble,
A hundred were not:
The bad do not win—not finally,
No matter how loud they are.
We simply would not be here
If that were so.
You are made, fundamentally, from the good.
With this knowledge, you never march alone.
You are the breaking news of the century.
You are the good who has come forward
Through it all, even if so many days
Feel otherwise. But think:
When you as a child learned to speak,
It’s not that you didn’t know words—
It’s that, from the centuries, you knew so many,
And it’s hard to choose the words that will be your own.
From those centuries we human beings bring with us
The simple solutions and songs,
The river bridges and star charts and song harmonies
All in service to a simple idea:
That we can make a house called tomorrow.
What we bring, finally, into the new day, every day,
Is ourselves. And that’s all we need
To start. That’s everything we require to keep going.
Look back only for as long as you must,
Then go forward into the history you will make.
Be good, then better. Write books. Cure disease.
Make us proud. Make yourself proud.
And those who came before you? When you hear thunder,
Hear it as their applause.
Copyright © 2018 by Alberto Ríos. Used with the permission of the author.
During the last 50 miles back from haul & some
months past my 15th birthday, my father fishes
a stuffed polar bear from a Salvation Army
gift-bin, labeled Boys: 6-10. I can almost see him
approach the decision: cold, a little hungry, not enough
money in his pocket for coffee. He worries
he might fall asleep behind the wheel as his giant,
clumsy love for that small word—son—guides
his gaze to the crudely-sewn fabric of the miniature bear
down at the bottom of the barrel. Seasons have flared
& gone out with little change in his fear of stopping
for too long in any city, where he knows the addict
in him waits, patient as a desert bloom. Meanwhile, me:
his eldest child, the uneasy guardian of the house.
In his absence, I’ve not yet lost my virginity,
but I’ve had fist-fights with grown men & seen
my mother dragging her religious beliefs to the bitter
border of divorce. For years my father’s had trouble
saying no to crack-cocaine & women flowered in cheap
summer dresses. Watch his face as he arrives at last
& stretches the toy out, my mother fixed
on the porch behind me, the word son suddenly heavy
in my father’s mouth, his gray coat gathered
around his shoulders: he’s never looked so small.
We could crush him—we hug him instead.
"What I Mean When I Say Truck Driver" from Revising the Storm. Copyright © 2014 by Geffrey Davis, BOA Editions, Ltd. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.
Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.
Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road.
The earth, that is sufficient,
I do not want the constellations any nearer,
I know they are very well where they are,
I know they suffice for those who belong to them.
(Still here I carry my old delicious burdens,
I carry them, men and women, I carry them with me wherever I go,
I swear it is impossible for me to get rid of them,
I am fill’d with them, and I will fill them in return.)
This poem is in the public domain.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
This poem is in the public domain.
after Anis Mojgani and Audre Lorde
For those making tea in the soft light of Saturday morning
in the peaceful kitchen
in the cool house
For those with shrunken hearts still trying to love
For those with large hearts trying to forget
For those with terrors they cannot name
upset stomachs and too tight pants
For those who get cut off in traffic
For those who spend all day making an elaborate meal
that turns out mediocre
For those who could not leave
even when they knew they had to
For those who never win the lottery
or become famous
For those getting groceries on Friday nights
There is something you know
that you guard with your life
your one fragile, wonderful life
wonder, as in, awe,
as in, I had no idea I would be here now.
For those who make plans and those who don’t
For those driving across the country to a highway that knows them
For the routes we take in the dark, trusting
For the roads for the woods for the dead humming in prayer
For an old record and a strong sun
For teeth bared to the wind
a pulse in the chest
a body making love to itself
There is every reason to hate it here
There is a list of things making it bearable:
your friend’s shoulder Texas barbecue a new book
a loud song a strong song a highway that knows you
sweet tea an orange cat a helping hand
an unforgettable dinner
a laugh that escapes you and deflates you
like a pink balloon left soft with room
for goodness to take hold
For those who have looked in the mirror and begged
For those with weak knees and an attitude
For those called “sensitive” or “too much”
For those not called enough
For the times you needed and went without
For the photo of you as a child
quietly icing cupcakes your hair a crackling thunderstorm
Love is coming.
It’s on its way.
Copyright © 2022 by Ariana Brown. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 14, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.