Palm-sized and fledgling, a beak
protruding from the sleeve, I
have kept my birds muted
for so long, I fear they’ve grown
accustom to a grim quietude.
What chaos could ensue
should a wing get loose?
Come overdue burst, come
flock, swarm, talon, and claw.
Scatter the coop’s roost, free
the cygnet and its shadow. Crack
and scratch at the state’s cage,
cut through cloud and branch,
no matter the dumb hourglass’s
white sand yawning grain by grain.
What cannot be contained
cannot be contained.
Copyright © 2020 Ada Limón. This poem was co-commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and the New York Philharmonic as part of the Project 19 initiative.
When you sang your body invented us
an alphabet. No one heard it
The earth in your eyes
is the ink in your words.
Each look writes another line.
Everything I need to know grows wings
and lands on my skin.
A thousand tiny plovers
cover the skies, and shine
like moonlight on us both,
turning us into your verses.
Last night each dot and curve of the letters of our alphabet
came to rest on my body while I slept,
entwined around my hips,
pulled their fingers through my hair.
I breathed them in. Became the song
you sang me.
You spell the morning prayer
uttered by my lips.
Syntax of attention
at the back of your throat. Each rise in note
is your hand on my ribs.
You hold me and no one can see.
Our unholy wholeness hides.
Your name in the nearness. Says listen.
Sentences of rebellion
in the starless night.
Deliverance is not for me in renuncia-
tion. I feel the embrace of freedom in
a thousand bonds of delight.
Thou ever pourest for me the fresh
draught of thy wine of various colours
and fragrance, filling this earthen vessel
to the brim.
My world will light its hundred
different lamps with thy flame and
place them before the altar of thy
No, I will never shut the doors of
of my senses. The delights of sight and
hearing and touch will bear thy delight.
Yes, all my illusions will burn into
illumination of joy, and all my desires
ripen into fruits of love.
From Gitanjali (Macmillan and Company, 1916) by Rabindranath Tagore. This poem is in the public domain.