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
          but me.

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.

From Sister Tongue by Farnaz Fatemi (September, 2022). Copyright © 2022 The Kent State University Press. Reprinted with the permission of  the publisher.

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.

It sometimes happens
that the woman you meet and fall in love with
is of that strange Transylvanian people
with an affinity for cats.

You take her to a restaurant, say, or a show,
on an ordinary date, being attracted
by the glitter in her slitty eyes and her catlike walk,
and afterward of course you take her in your arms,
and she turns into a black panther
and bites you to death.

Or perhaps you are saved in the nick of time,
and she is tormented by the knowledge of her tendency:
that she daren't hug a man
unless she wants to risk clawing him up.

This puts you both in a difficult position,
panting lovers who are prevented from touching
not by bars but by circumstance:
you have terrible fights and say cruel things,
for having the hots does not give you a sweet temper.

One night you are walking down a dark street
and hear the padpad of a panther following you,
but when you turn around there are only shadows,
or perhaps one shadow too many

You approach, calling, "Who's there?"
and it leaps on you.
Luckily you have brought along your sword,
and you stab it to death.

And before your eyes it turns into the woman you love,
her breast impaled on your sword,
her mouth dribbling blood saying she loved you
but couldn't help her tendency.

So death released her from the curse at last,
and you knew from the angelic smile on her dead face
that in spite of a life the devil owned,
love had won, and heaven pardoned her.

From After the Fall by Edward Field. Copyright © 2007 by Edward Field. Used by permission of University of Pittsburgh Press.