I was an apostle to the group of you, strangers
who had known me since I was born. I ate
of your flesh. I drank of your blood. Sipped
the elixir of your moods. Put the remainders
in the tabernacle, wiped the goblet clean with
a cloth. The crosses branded into the wafers
were your voices branded onto my heart.
I heard you live forever. I heard you rise.
The bones of you yield to the memory of flesh,
and we count our blessings and also bless.
We are bright in anticipation of death,
we are living like fissures and set against waste,
and the taste is bitter, left in our mouths.
I am dying, I am dead, lord of the losses, lord
of the faith. I take each breath and my chest
expands. Now I stand knee deep in the muck
unable to move, and if I dip my hands in,
they will fill with bracken and all the thickness
of each formless face, kicking up stones,
until you are gone, mythic lisp the lips
shape. One day, you vanish like a flash.
Confessions in a dark room. Firmaments to read
and spin like dice. I genuflect twice at the edge
of your pews. I kiss the book for you. This is what
the word of family can do. Sit at the round table.
Break bread. In the beginning, the loveless
made the world and saw that it was good.

Copyright © 2017 by Jennifer Militello. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 14, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

the sap that I am springtime
               makes me want to reread Virgil’s

Georgics while eating cacio
              e pepe with fresh-shelled

peas this morning over coffee I
              watched a video of spinach

leaves washed of their cellular
              information and bathed in stem

cells until they became miniature
              hearts vascular hopes capable

of want to roll down a hill
              of clover to cold-spoon chrysanthemum

gelato or to stop whenever
              their phones autocorrect gps

to god the sublime is a suspension
              of disbelief the earth has gotten

sentimental this late in the game
              with its smells of gasoline

rosemary and woodsmoke the Rorschach
              of vitiligo on my eyes mouth

and throat the ongoing
              argument between self

and selfhood the recognition
              of the storm the howling

wind I wish I could scream
              into someone else’s rain

 

Copyright © 2017 by Emilia Phillips. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 31, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Catmint—tubular, lavender, an ointment
to blur the scar, bloom the skin. My mouth has begun
the hunt for words that heal.

In the garden, I am startled by a cluster
of sun-colored petals marked, Radiation.
Piles of radiation. Orange radiation, huddled together

like families bound by a hospital-bright morning.
And behind them: a force of yuccas
called Golden Swords. A bush or mound

of sheath-like leaves sprouting from a proud center.
And isn’t that the plot?
First the radiation, then the golden sword.

I remember, incurably,
your mother. The laughter that flowered
from her lips. I’m sorry I have no good words

to honor her war. It crumbled me to watch you
overwhelmed by her face
in the daffodils outside your childhood home.
 

You, rare as Georgia
snow. Falling

hard. Quick.
Candle shadow.

             The cold
spell that catches

us by surprise.
The too-early blooms,

tricked, gardenias blown about,
circling wind. Green figs.

     Nothing stays. I want
to watch you walk

the hall to the cold tile
bathroom—all

          night, a lifetime.

From Blue Laws: Selected & Uncollected Poems 1995–2015. Copyright © 2016 Kevin Young. Reprinted with the permission of Alfred A. Knopf.

    She looked over his shoulder
       For vines and olive trees,
    Marble well-governed cities
       And ships upon untamed seas,
    But there on the shining metal
       His hands had put instead
    An artificial wilderness
       And a sky like lead.

A plain without a feature, bare and brown,
   No blade of grass, no sign of neighborhood,
Nothing to eat and nowhere to sit down,
   Yet, congregated on its blankness, stood
   An unintelligible multitude,
A million eyes, a million boots in line,
Without expression, waiting for a sign.

Out of the air a voice without a face
   Proved by statistics that some cause was just
In tones as dry and level as the place:
   No one was cheered and nothing was discussed;
   Column by column in a cloud of dust
They marched away enduring a belief
Whose logic brought them, somewhere else, to grief.

    She looked over his shoulder
       For ritual pieties,
    White flower-garlanded heifers,
       Libation and sacrifice,
    But there on the shining metal
       Where the altar should have been,
    She saw by his flickering forge-light
       Quite another scene.

Barbed wire enclosed an arbitrary spot
   Where bored officials lounged (one cracked a joke)
And sentries sweated for the day was hot:
   A crowd of ordinary decent folk
   Watched from without and neither moved nor spoke
As three pale figures were led forth and bound
To three posts driven upright in the ground.

The mass and majesty of this world, all
   That carries weight and always weighs the same
Lay in the hands of others; they were small
   And could not hope for help and no help came:
   What their foes liked to do was done, their shame
Was all the worst could wish; they lost their pride
And died as men before their bodies died.

    She looked over his shoulder
       For athletes at their games,
    Men and women in a dance
       Moving their sweet limbs
    Quick, quick, to music,
       But there on the shining shield
    His hands had set no dancing-floor
       But a weed-choked field.

A ragged urchin, aimless and alone,
   Loitered about that vacancy; a bird
Flew up to safety from his well-aimed stone:
   That girls are raped, that two boys knife a third,
   Were axioms to him, who'd never heard
Of any world where promises were kept,
Or one could weep because another wept.

    The thin-lipped armorer,
       Hephaestos, hobbled away,
    Thetis of the shining breasts
       Cried out in dismay
    At what the god had wrought
       To please her son, the strong
    Iron-hearted man-slaying Achilles
       Who would not live long.

From The Shield of Achilles by W. H. Auden, published by Random House. Copyright © 1955 W. H. Auden, renewed by The Estate of W. H. Auden. Used by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

Where are the loves that we have loved before
When once we are alone, and shut the door?
No matter whose the arms that held me fast,
The arms of Darkness hold me at the last.
No matter down what primrose path I tend,
I kiss the lips of Silence in the end.
No matter on what heart I found delight,
I come again unto the breast of Night.
No matter when or how love did befall,
’Tis Loneliness that loves me best of all,
And in the end she claims me, and I know
That she will stay, though all the rest may go.
No matter whose the eyes that I would keep
Near in the dark, ’tis in the eyes of Sleep
That I must look and look forever more,
When once I am alone, and shut the door.

This poem is in the public domain. 

To everything, there is a season of parrots. Instead of feathers, we searched the sky for meteors on our last night.  Salamanders use the stars to find their way home. Who knew they could see that far, fix the tiny beads of their eyes on distant arrangements of lights so as to return to wet and wild nests? Our heads tilt up and up and we are careful to never look at each other. You were born on a day of peaches splitting from so much rain and the slick smell of fresh tar and asphalt pushed over a cracked parking lot. You were strong enough—even as a baby—to clutch a fistful of thistle and the sun himself was proud to light up your teeth when they first swelled and pushed up from your gums. And this is how I will always remember you when we are covered up again: by the pale mica flecks on your shoulders. Some thrown there from your own smile. Some from my own teeth. There are not enough jam jars to can this summer sky at night. I want to spread those little meteors on a hunk of still-warm bread this winter. Any trace left on the knife will make a kitchen sink like that evening air

the cool night before
star showers: so sticky so
warm so full of light
 

Copyright © 2017 by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 7, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

About me young and careless feet
Linger along the garish street;
   Above, a hundred shouting signs
Shed down their bright fantastic glow
   Upon the merry crowd and lines
Of moving carriages below.
Oh wonderful is Broadway—only
My heart, my heart is lonely.

Desire naked, linked with Passion,
Goes strutting by in brazen fashion;
   From playhouse, cabaret and inn
The rainbow lights of Broadway blaze
   All gay without, all glad within;
As in a dream I stand and gaze
At Broadway, shining Broadway—only
My heart, my heart is lonely.

This poem is in the public domain.

Emptiness is a blessing:
it can’t be owned if it doesn’t exist.
 
*
My father said to bloom but never fruit—
 
a small trickle 
eating its way through stone.
 
*
I am one kind of alive:
I see everything the water sees.
 
I told you a turn was going to come 
& turn the tower did.
 
What are the master’s tools 
but a way to dismantle him.
 
*
Who will replace the blood of my mother in me—
a cold spring rising.
 
She told me a woman made of water 
can never crack.
 
Of her defeat, she said
this is nothing.
 

Copyright © 2017 by Lisa Ciccarello. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 11, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

And victor of life and silence,
I stood upon the Heights; triumphant,
With upturned eyes, I stood,
And smiled unto the sun, and sang
A beautifully sad farewell unto the dying day.
And my thoughts and the eve gathered
Their serpentine mysteries around me,
My thoughts like alien breezes,
The eve like a fragrant legend.
My feeling was that I stood as one
Serenely poised for flight, as a muse
Of golden melody and lofty grace.
Yea, I stood as one scorning the swords
And wanton menace of the cities.
The sun had heavily sunk into the seas beyond,
And left me a tempting sweet and twilight.
The eve with trailing shadows westward
Swept on, and the lengthened shadows of trees
Disappeared: how silently the songs of silence
Steal into my soul! And still I stood
Among the crickets, in the beauteous profundity
Sung by stars; and I saw me
Softly melted into the eve. The moon
Slowly rose: my shadow on the ground
Dreamily began a dreamy roam,
And I upward smiled silent welcome.
 

This poem is in the public domain.

and there was light.
Now God says, Give them a little theatrical lighting
 
and they’re happy,
and we are. So many of us
 
dressing each morning, testing
endless combinations, becoming in our mirrors
 
more ourselves, imagining,
in an entrance, the ecstatic
 
weight of human eyes.
Now that the sun is sheering
 
toward us, what is left
but to let it close in
 
for our close-up? Let us really feel
how good it feels
 
to be still in it, making
every kind of self that can be
 
looked at. God, did you make us
to be your bright accomplices?
 
God, here are our shining spines.
Let there be no more dreams of being
 
more than a beginning.
Let it be
 
that to be is to be
backlit, and then to be only that light.

Copyright © 2018 by Mary Szybist. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 1, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.