When a human is asked about a particular fire,
she comes close:
then it is too hot,
so she turns her face—
and that’s when the forest of her bearable life appears,
always on the other side of the fire. The fire
she’s been asked to tell the story of,
she has to turn from it, so the story you hear
is that of pines and twitching leaves
and how her body is like neither—
all the while there is a fire
at her back
which she feels in fine detail,
as if the flame were a dremel
and her back its etching glass.
You will not know all about the fire
simply because you asked.
When she speaks of the forest
this is what she is teaching you,
you who thought you were her master.
Copyright @ 2014 by Katie Ford. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on May 14, 2014.
Dear C, I dropped
your sentence in hot water.
I talked to the boil. I said Here
is my thumb for you to burn.
Here is the soft heart
of my hand and my arm and
the nape of my wreck.
I said vapor, just take me.
I’m done burning
with these pages. Being invisible
doesn’t mean a person
won’t blister, doesn’t mean
the blisters won’t fill
with pockets of water
or when lanced the rawest flesh
won’t emerge. First the word
then the murky leak
begins—what another mind
may scrape against
but never skin.
Copyright @ 2014 by Idra Novey. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on May 13, 2014.
I skim sadness like fat off the surface
of cooling soup. Don't care about
metaphor but wish it would arrive
me. There’s a cool current of air
this hot day I want to ride.
I have no lover, not even my love.
I have no other, not even I.
Copyright @ 2014 by Rachel Zucker. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on May 28, 2014.
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
From And Still I Rise by Maya Angelou. Copyright © 1978 by Maya Angelou. Reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc.
Out of the dark cup
Your voice broke like a flower.
It trembled, swaying on its taut stem.
The caress in its touch
Made my eyes close.
This poem is in the public domain.
Last night when my work was done,
And my estranged hands
Were becoming mutually interested
In such forgotten things as pulses,
I looked out of a window
Into a glittering night sky.
I began to feather-stitch a ring around the moon.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on November 2, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
You entered the bedroom and fell to your knees.
I wait the rest of my life to hear you say, I made a mistake.
Inside my chest, a mangle.
Inside yours, a deflating balloon.
You took the vacuum cleaner, the ironing board, the dish rack
and left me some lint, an iron to scorch shirts, one chipped plate.
I would like to say at least we perfected
entrances and exits, like professional stage actors
honing their craft, but even that’s a fantasy.
Mostly on TV the lions ate the hyenas
but sometimes the hyenas
formed a posse, and tore a lion up.
Occasionally you came in out of the rain
and I was glad to have you.
Copyright © 2014 by Courtney Queeney. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on June 24, 2014.
Like animals moving daily
through the same open field,
it should be easier to distinguish
light from dark, fabrications
from memory, rain on a sliver
of grass from dew appearing
overnight. In these moments
of desperation, a sentence
serves as a halo, the moon
hidden so the stars eclipse
our daily becoming. You think
it should be easier to define
one’s path, but with the clouds
gathering around our feet,
there’s no sense in retracing
where we’ve been or where
your tired body will carry you.
Eventually the birds become
confused and inevitable. Even our
infinite knowledge of the forecast
might make us more vulnerable
than we would be in drawn-out
ignorance. To the sun
all weeds eventually rise up.
Copyright @ 2014 by Adam Clay. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on July 9, 2014.
Pipe tobacco and the passing of clouds.
The small promises of collarbones
and cedar shingles. Has it been so long
since I’ve really said anything? My days are filled
with meaningless words and the child’s
laughter. Little of what I do
is important, but maybe the ways
are. The crows outside bathing
in the gutters, the strange necessity
of holding up an appearance
and nodding our heads at dinner parties.
If I misspoke, if I misunderstood…
A litany of the stains that show
through on white T-shirts and hands.
What comes out in the wash are afternoons
and sand from the sandbox, a migration
of beaches to backyards, backyards
to the bottoms of sewer lines and imaginations:
what shore do the waves in my dreams
arrive from? Sometimes I hear you
sing there. You bade me speak,
and I howled. You bade me roll over,
and I played dead. I show up beside you
in bed with a dozen bad similes about love.
Don’t ask me what they mean, or if
I am ever —I don’t know. Only the streetlight
coming in and out behind the curtains,
our shadows making shadows
on the wall. Your eyes gone heavy
at the sound of my voice, reading you
these things others have written.
Copyright @ 2014 by Clay Matthews. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on July 8, 2014.
Large sea turtles and some whales
will outlive us, water a manifestation of wind in
I had to use the shovel to hack at the wood, had to grab
a hatchet, down deep in the hole. The oak pitched around
like a ship’s mast, or I was no longer alive; perhaps I was yet
all over again, though I kept recalling your name. The verdurous roots.
Copyright @ 2014 by David Dodd Lee. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on July 16, 2014.
Fragments of sin are a part of me.
New brooms shall sweep clean the heart of me.
Shall they? Shall they?
When this light life shall have passed away,
God shall redeem me, a castaway.
Shall He? Shall He?
“Appellate Jurisdiction” was first published in the May 1915 issue of Poetry magazine.
Copyright @ 2014 by Nick Flynn. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on July 24, 2014.
I have known hours built like cities,
House on grey house, with streets between
That lead to straggling roads and trail off,
Forgotten in a field of green;
Hours made like mountains lifting
White crests out of the fog and rain,
And woven of forbidden music—
Hours eternal in their pain.
Life is a tapestry of hours
Forever mellowing in tone,
Where all things blend, even the longing
For hours I have never known.
This poem is in the public domain.
If I had loved you, soon, ah, soon I had lost you.
Had I been kind you had kissed me and gone your faithless way.
The kiss that I would not give is the kiss that your lips are holding:
Now you are mine forever, because of all I have cost you.
You think that you are free and have given over your sighing,
You think that from my coldness your love has flown away:
But mine are the hands you shall dream that your own are holding,
And mine is the face you shall look for when you are dying.
This poem is in the public domain.
Thank you for dreaming of me
for letting me know
for waking up to remember that you dreamed
I never wake up when I dream of you
What woke you up
was it someone
A small thrill a little secret is ours
a desire for safe travel
in unspilled blood
Copyright @ 2014 by Fady Joudah. Used with permission of the author.
and I go
down into it, the hall again
all the same all the dark
down into it and do what must be done
with my body, with the patience
that I do not have
fellow sufferer, fellow sleeper, not-
night boat, little sail
in the slow air in the rounded dark
inside the broken night
in the stitched-together minute
365 x night x 8 (new)
x 8 again (despair, iron)
x 1, x occasional, x rarity (fever, monsters, light)
Copyright @ 2014 by Lisa Gluskin Stonestreet. Used with permission of the author.
When the afternoon light
touches the broad orange petals
of the tiger lilies, mute tongues
curled, I pray hard
for such joyous sights to continue.
But I pray wrong, selfishly.
I don’t know where the words
I struggle to recall
even the names of my old friends.
When I remember, I try
to search them out but I don’t
have any illusions about their lives.
It rained last night & all day today
so the lake I can’t quite see
over the tree line is pure frothy white.
There is mist everywhere
& I am alone in it.
The white light
burns my eyes, sears a holy purpose
in my human frame.
I’m setting out
on a new journey, ever faithful.
Early on, I walked away
from everything, from things I loved.
But now, when I come to the ocean,
as I know I will, foaming
like some impossible hell,
I won’t despair or surrender.
I’ll find a tree, growing from a crag
on the shore & I’ll cut it down
with the force of my loneliness.
There is the shape of a boat
hidden beneath the bark,
I know it.
So I’ll release it,
using my most tender memories
as tools. I’ll continue.
will block my way.
Copyright @ 2014 by Nate Pritts. Used with permission of the author.
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.
What you said I shattered was the window
but we both know what you meant. I can’t
recall a single meadow that didn’t slow my pulse.
Though you are far you are on my wing: you
are the sight of an apple in the bathroom
or oils unintended for a wood floor. A fence
ran the length of a field, between two trees
so that, in snow, it looked like stitches
or a fallen rope ladder. Did you know
that three hundred years ago the heart was
a furnace? At this point what else can I do
but follow the precedent I’ve established?
Choose one of the following: at Monticello,
the turnips gave me a toothache, or at Red
Hook, the red bees. Will you laugh if I say, I
beat my heart into a red caul of sentences?
Near the pond I lifted a rock and found life
under it crowded with so many urges. To see
if it’s possible to dig a grave, today I took
a shovel to the field. It is possible and surprisingly
easy to dig a grave! Over coffee, on the phone,
I said to you, it took trillions to prop up
the markets, but what I wanted to say was, I have
beaten my heart into a red caul of sentences.
Copyright © 2014 by Robert Ostrom. Used with permission of the author.
I am glad today is dark. No sun. Sky
ribboning with amorphous, complicated
layers. I prefer cumulus on my
morning beach run. What more can we worry
about? Our parents are getting older
and money is running out. The children
are leaving, the new roof is damaged by
rain and rot. I fear the thrashing of the sea
in its unrest, the unforgiving cricket.
But that’s not it. The current is rising.
The dramas are playing out. Perhaps
it’s better to be among these sandpipers
with quick feet dashing out of the surf than
a person who wishes to feel complete.
Copyright © 2014 by Jill Bialosky. Used with permission of the author.
after Mendi Obadike
When I was a white girl, I had no mother.
I drank whiskey, lived in a house with no walls.
Girls visited and marveled at my room to breathe.
When it was sunny, they let down their hair, drank fresh orange juice.
We drank all morning, didn’t go to class.
I knew which words to carry in the arsenal, which memory to disarm the most resilient bully.
Nobody bothered us or asked why we were missing.
I never doubted this was me. I knew how to pull up short, how to light my name under their skin.
There was no need for mirrors. No need to get free.
Copyright © 2014 by Ching-In Chen. Used with permission of the author.
Suddenly, a hole opens in the year and we slip into it, the riptide
pull of strange, lonely dogs and broken phone lines.
You forgive me if I mistake hunted for haunted,
but I do like to rearrange things in my body every few years.
Take a can of gasoline to the frayed and ghosted.
Lights out. All hands on deck.
Still you wonder why I keep losing my shoes in the road
and coaxing cats in the alley with cans of tunafish and a flashlight.
Why my contentment is beautiful, but highly improbable, sort of like
four leaf clovers or an ice cream truck in the middle of the night.
This tiny thing breathing between us that aches something awful.
By summer, I am slipping all the complimentary mints in my coat pockets
while you pay the check. Gripping the railings on bridges to keep
diving over. Some dark dog in my throat when I say hello.
Copyright © 2014 by Kristy Bowen. Used with permission of the author.
The entire world wants
To pretend to be a foreigner
In a big box store & wander
The aisles shouting, endlessly—
But I am pretty sure that today
Is my day to not just be a guy
But to be the guy. A baby grows
In each drawer of the million-
Drawered cherrywood cabinet
That is my head & to keep
This army of tender brutes warm
Before heading to the strip mall,
I put on your coonskin hat.
I swallow a fist of stones
You stole from the Alamo.
It is like it is each time—not
Just like returning to the womb—
It is as if the womb sucked me up
Into the starlight like a spaceship.
Nothing came before us, I suppose.
Tonight, we will once again forgive
Ourselves for the people that have
All gone missing while under
Our care. Fireworks will splash
The sky with a pink wave & we
Will both jump back, feigning
To look at what we’ve done, exactly
In the same way. Like lobsters
Hammering missives back & forth
With claw & rock, when it goes
Black, we will bang our fists
On whatever’s closest to speak
To each other about
The loveliness all over us.
Copyright © 2014 by Alex Lemon. Used with permission of the author.
We are things embarrassing, strange, and hang around
feeling everything things, things, considering beautiful
that which does not consider anything. Are we? Strange
and hang embarrassing, things around, beautiful
feelings. Consider everything. That which considers
we are. Feeling feeling, not beautiful. Hanging things.
Everything we are, strange, which does not feel. Strange,
that which hangs around feeling. Consider beautiful
embarrassing anything. Which thing? That thing thing.
We hang around embarrassing our strange everything.
Consider feeling. Are we? Beautiful everything, we that
does and does not. Hang strange, things, things feel.
We are. Everything feels that strange which feels.
Everything that strange which feels. That strange
everything. Which feels. That strange beautiful
anything which feels strange and embarrassing.
Are we? That hanging strange and everything which
feels considers that we feel, things, hangs, things
and feeling everything we are. Oh and not who.
Copyright © 2014 by Mike Young. Used with permission of the author.
for James Wright
The poet will seek to clothe herself in sparrows.
A motor in each leaf
distills autumn’s engines and we’re off.
Upstart cartoon morning;
these various roosters scratch inside the eyelids
and declare beneath the streetlamps that their
moats are filled with vowels.
That the life alone is not wasted but
rich with a pageantry of else.
Who absconds with our best sense
and seizes us by the throat as we untangle ourselves
from lovers and, draped in fever, split the
night into halves? Each contains a commercial
advertising just that.
Despite his tactics, fully rejecting experience
the candid creator winces at the audience’s heightened
Remain, in secret,
a pea of concern, in some harbor of ghostly direction.
There lurks an I among those hours.
Copyright © 2014 by Larry Sawyer. Used with permission of the author.
The rabbit has stolen
The big bear’s pointy red hat.
The frog looks longingly
At its evaporating pond.
A powerful glow comes
Off the sunflower
So everyone wears goggles.
My son rolls around in the ferns.
It seems he has overdosed
On sugar cookies.
Does he care about the bear’s hat?
To him I am a ghost on a bicycle.
I remember my father’s mouth
Reading aloud beneath his beard.
He is hiding in my face.
The toy cloud is filled with rain.
Copyright © 2014 by Nathan Hok. Used with permission of the author.
as if opening a crepe sail
on a raft of linden
downriver with no
glacial cut swerve down
soft like bourbon if I could
ask the waters then
to chop to shake
an apology when you cry
I feel a wet bank in me
ring dry here I’ll wrap you
in the piano shawl from the upright
to your fists a spray
of dandelion and comb my last
compassion to grasp.
Goodbye, friend. Willows
dip to your lips
dew from their leafed
digits feast now
on the cold blue soup
of sky the iron from bankwater
gilts your blood I’ll break
a bottle on your gunwale
and read broken
poems from the shore
as the dark river
curls back white from the cheap timber
as if letting what’s made to drift
Copyright © 2014 by Thomas Dooley. Used with permission of the author.
What you have not done
is without error. What you
have not said is beyond contradiction.
What you understand of God
was yesterday. Today a bicycle
waits, chained to a bench.
The success of this afternoon’s nap
is the dream of lifting seven boxes,
your week, sealed with clear tape.
They stack, three to a column,
with the seventh like a capstone.
What you do not know they contain.
Copyright © 2014 by Michael Chitwood. Used with permission of the author.
The yards grow ghosts. Between the limbs and wings,
bleached street-lit things, I’m best at moving on.
Hunt-heavy, gray, slunk overlow like so
much weight got in the way, my shape’s the shape
of something missed, flash-pop or empty frame.
Though you could say I’ve made a game of this,
and though midtrickery it might be true,
when evening lingers in the key of leaving
my senses swoon. A synonym for stay,
I’m always coming back. I chew through traps.
I love whatever doesn’t get too close.
Copyright © 2015 by Caki Wilkinson. Used with permission of the author.
A bookkeeping man,
tho one sure to knock on wood,
and mostly light
at loose ends—my friend
who is superstitiously funny, & always
after I’d told him
about Simone’s first time
almost alone, she’d
gripped her sweater, right hand
then, she held on to herself
so, so took a few
oh, he said, you know what? Leonard
Cohen, when he was 13,
after his father’s
out-of-the-blue heart attack, he slit
one of the old man’s
ties, & slipped a
message into it, then buried it
in his backyard—
73 now, he can’t
recall what he wrote—(threadbare
heartfelt prayer perhaps,
his first writing anyway.
The need to comfort
ourselves is always
strongest at the start,
do you think
that’s true? my friend asked.
I don’t, he said,
I think the need
gets stronger, he said, it
just gets stronger.
Copyright © 2015 by David Rivard. Used with permission of the author.
Before going to bed I take off my bracelet. It is meant to protect me. A dancer gave it to me: for decades she has known sorrow and beauty. Beloveds have come and gone. Mountains and forest fires. Lives that might have lived through her, but didn’t. Lives that do still live through her. I go to sleep, protected by her love, even though now my wrist is naked. All of you who have lived with the mysterious succession of love and grief, of dogs and dances, of yoga and tears: all of you will know just what I mean.
There is sunlight and a staircase ending at the sky. There are electrical wires, a black cable. Then the sound of the train going away. There is my bracelet made of jasper that Peggy made for me. The river and the sweetness of going down to the river. There is all that darkness rushing under the arches of the old stone bridge. The waiting darkness. The patience. There is the going away: let’s get that straight once and for all. And the new waitress, her hand shaking, the tattoo pulsing at her neck, “And stray impassioned in the littering leaves.”
Copyright © 2015 by Jim Moore. Used with permission of the author.
Mira, like a white goddess, is translating
so my left ear is a cave near Kotor
where the sea lashes and rakes
the iron darkness inside
the black mountains. Young and old, the poets
are letting us know this sweltering night,
under a bridge near a river outside
Karver Bookstore at the beginning of July,
belongs to them. They clear away debris
about politicians and personal suffering,
these gladiators of desire
and doubt, whose candor has roiled
me like a child shaking stolen beer to foam
the genie of the moment out of
its bottle. The poets’ truth-wrought poems dragging it
out of me, that confession—that I didn’t have children
probably because in some clear corner I knew I would have left
to join these poets half a world away who, in their language
that is able to break stones, have broken me open
like a melon. Instead of children, I leave my small dog,
as I touched her on the nose, to let her know it’s
me, the one who is always leaving her, yes
I’m going, and for her I have no language with
which to reassure her I’m coming
back, no—what’s the use to pretend I’m
a good mistress to her, she who would never
leave me, she who looks for me everywhere
I am not, until I return. I should feel guilty
but the Montenegrin poets have taken false guilt off
the table. I’ve been swallowed by a cosmic
sneer, with an entire country behind it where
each day it occurs to them how many are still missing
in that recent past of war and havoc. Nothing to do
but shut the gate behind me
and not look back where my scent
even now is fading from the grass. Nostalgia
for myself won’t be tolerated here. I’m just a beast
who, if my dog were a person, would give me a pat
on the head and say something stupid like: Good dog.
Copyright © 2015 by Tess Gallagher. Used with permission of the author.
I Woke: —
Night, lingering, poured upon the world
Of drowsy hill and wood and lake
And the breeze accompanied with hushed fingers
On the birches.
Gently the dawn held out to me
A golden handful of bird’s-notes.
This poem is in the public domain.
in memoriam Cecil Young
I am addicted to words, constantly ferret them away
in anticipation. You cannot accuse me of not being prepared.
I am ready for anything. I can create an image faster than
just about anyone. And so, the crows blurring the tree line;
the sky’s light dimming and shifting; the Pacific cold and
impatient as ever: this is just the way I feel. Nothing more.
I could gussy up those crows, transform them
into something more formal, more Latinate, could use
the exact genus Corvus, but I won’t. Not today.
Like any addict, I, too, have limits. And I have written
too many elegies already. The Living have become
jealous of the amount I have written for the Dead.
So, leave the crows perched along the tree line
watching over us. Leave them be. The setting sun?
Leave it be. For God’s sake, what could be easier
in a poem about death than a setting sun? Leave it be.
Words cannot always help you, the old poet had taught
me, cannot always be there for you no matter how you
store them away with sharpened forethought.
Not the courier in his leather sandals, his legs dark and dirty
from the long race across the desert. Not the carrier
pigeon arriving with the news of another dead Caesar
and the request you present yourself. Nothing like that.
The telephone rings. Early one morning, the telephone rings
and the voice is your mother’s voice. No fanfare. Your
father’s brother is dead. He died that morning. And your
went silent. Like any other minor poet, you could not find
the best words, the appropriate words. Leave it be now.
You let your mother talk and talk to fill the silence. Leave it be.
All of your practiced precision, all of the words saved up
for a poem, can do nothing to remedy that now.
Copyright © 2015 by C. Dale Young. Used with permission of the author.
Unclouded third eye and lush
red wings. I’m pouring water
from cup to cup.
This is the water we are meant
to drink with the other animals.
There are daffodils by the water,
a road leading from the water
to the shining crown of the sun.
My white hospital gown—
off-the-rack and totally sane.
My foot unsteady, though,
heel held aloft, missing its stiletto.
Nine months sober emblazoned
on my flat chest in red
below girlish curls and mannish chin.
You can’t see my eyes.
You’ve never seen them.
Copyright © 2015 by Laura Cronk. Used with permission of the author.
The mother elk and 2 babies are sniffing
the metal handle of the bear-proof trash bin.
I remember the instructions for city people:
3 football fields of space between you &
the elk if their babies are with them.
I’m backing up slowly,
watching the calves run into each other
as they bend to eat grass/look up
at the mother at the same time.
The caramel color of their coat,
the sloping line of their small snouts &
I want to hold that beauty,
steal it for me,
but I’m only on football field # 2 & walking
into the woods past the lodge pole pines.
Their fragility, their awkward bumping
opens me to a long ago time—
a hand on the door,
I was walking in
to the psych hospital in Pittsburgh,
feeling broken and stripped down—
a hand on the door
from around my body
& I looked up to see the body
of a man, who said:
Let me get that for you—
a hand on the door
& the bottom of me
I couldn’t breathe for the kindness.
I couldn’t say how deep that went
I had been backing up, awkward/
I had been blind to my own beauty.
Copyright © 2015 by Jan Beatty. Used with permission of the author.
(tired and high-pitched)
Ghosts have been tied into the trees.
At dawn they pivot
In the wind slowly.
Where the moon windows in
I am of those
Who can’t stand it
Kept awake, humming with trucks
While anything lunar
Won’t rut, ruminates. Overhead, uh-hunh—
Days, the neighbor’s girl plays a game: what is?
What is dusk, she says, as the sky
ends it begins.
I play myself. What is death? What’s poetry? What
Is time? Time needs no hanky, time blows by
the Kleenex flowers. Or time’s
so slow, starry-cold, even is cold
and sure, little admonishments.
Were you awake all night?
I was. I was awake all night.
Copyright © 2014 by Kate Northrop. Used with permission of the author.
It must be coming, mustn’t it? Churches
and saloons are filled with decent humans.
A mother wants to feed her daughter,
fathers to buy their children things that break.
People laugh, all over the world, people laugh.
We were born to laugh, and we know how to be sad;
we dislike injustice and cancer,
and are not unaware of our terrible errors.
A man wants to love his wife.
His wife wants him to carry something.
We’re capable of empathy, and intense moments of joy.
Sure, some of us are venal, but not most.
There’s always a punchbowl, somewhere,
in which floats a…
Life’s a bullet, that fast, and the sweeter for it.
It’s the same everywhere: Slovenia, India,
Pakistan, Suriname—people like to pray,
or they don’t,
or they like to fill a blue plastic pool
in the back yard with a hose
and watch their children splash.
Or sit in cafes, or at table with family.
And if a long train of cattle cars passes
along West Ridge
it’s only the cattle from East Ridge going to the abattoir.
The unbroken world is coming,
(it must be coming!), I heard a choir,
there were clouds, there was dust,
I heard it in the streets, I heard it
announced by loudhailers
mounted on trucks.
Copyright © 2015 by Thomas Lux. Used with permission of the author.
No shoes and a glossy
red helmet, I rode
on the back of my dad’s
Harley at seven years old.
Before the divorce.
Before the new apartment.
Before the new marriage.
Before the apple tree.
Before the ceramics in the garbage.
Before the dog’s chain.
Before the koi were all eaten
by the crane. Before the road
between us, there was the road
beneath us, and I was just
big enough not to let go:
Henno Road, creek just below,
rough wind, chicken legs,
and I never knew survival
was like that. If you live,
you look back and beg
for it again, the hazardous
bliss before you know
what you would miss.
Copyright © 2015 by Ada Limón. Used with permission of the author.
Love, if I weep it will not matter,
And if you laugh I shall not care;
Foolish am I to think about it,
But it is good to feel you there.
Love, in my sleep I dreamed of waking, —
White and awful the moonlight reached
Over the floor, and somewhere, somewhere,
There was a shutter loose, —it screeched!
Swung in the wind, — and no wind blowing! —
I was afraid, and turned to you,
Put out my hand to you for comfort, —
And you were gone! Cold, cold as dew,
Under my hand the moonlight lay!
Love, if you laugh I shall not care,
But if I weep it will not matter, —
Ah, it is good to feel you there!
This poem is in the public domain.
I wish I were like Johnny Cash
& thought my heart was mine.
I’ve worn a black suit
my entire life. It suits the war
my eyes ignite.
My sins sit on my lap,
bald, blind, desperate
for the mercy of lost roads,
glottal white lines.
Only smoke will take me
far to nowhere—
a woman living
her own burning road
& a charmed God—
the unmarked sky
where a plague of blackbirds
fell across my back
like an unlit cross.
Copyright © 2015 by Rachel Eliza Griffiths. Used with permission of the author.
A person protests to fate:
“The things you have caused
me most to want
are those that furthest elude me.”
Fate is sympathetic.
To tie the shoes, button a shirt,
for only the very young,
the very old.
During the long middle:
conjugating a rivet
training the cat to stay off the table
preserving a single moment longer than this one
continuing to wake whatever has happened the day before
and the penmanships love practices inside the body.
Copyright © 2015 by Jane Hirshfield. Used with permission of the author. Published in Poem-a-Day on February 24, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
It wasn’t long before I rose
into the silk of my night-robes
and swilled the stars
and the beetles
back into sweetness—even my fingernails
carry my likeness, and I smudge
the marrow of myself
into light. I whisper street-
car, ardor, midnight
into the ears of the soldier
so he will forget everything
but the eyes of the night nurse
whose hair shines beneath
the prow of her white cap.
In the end, it is me
he shipwrecks. O arrow.
My arms knot as I pluck
the lone string tauter.
O crossbow. I kneel. He oozes,
and the grasses and red wasp
knock him back from my sight.
The night braids my hair.
I do not dream. I do not glow.
Copyright © 2015 by Tarfia Faizullah. Used with permission of the author.
Wearing nothing but snakeskin
boots, I blazed a footpath, the first
radical road out of that old kingdom
toward a new unknown.
When I came to those great flaming gates
of burning gold,
I stood alone in terror at the threshold
between Paradise and Earth.
There I heard a mysterious echo:
my own voice
singing to me from across the forbidden
side. I shook awake—
at once alive in a blaze of green fire.
Let it be known: I did not fall from grace.
Copyright © 2015 by Ansel Elkins. Used with permission of the author.
And sometimes it is
that we lose,
it is just lips. When I was
a child, I would ask my mother
to tuck me
in, wrap me tight in blankets,
make me into a burrito.
Sometimes I would wait in bed,
pressing my body stiff, like a board,
mind like a feather, silly— setting the scene
to be seen.
So I could be wrapped.
So I could be kissed.
I miss most,
is being made again.
Copyright © 2015 by David Tomas Martinez . Used with permission of the author.
Night fell one year ago, like this.
He had been writing steadily.
Among these dusky walls of books,
How bright he looked, intense as flame!
Suddenly he paused,
The firelight in his hair,
And said, “The time has come to go.”
I took his hand;
We watched the logs burn out;
The apple boughs fingered the window;
Down the cool, spring night
A slim, white moon leaned to the hill.
To-night the trees are budded white,
And the same pale moon slips through the dusk.
O little buds, tap-tapping on the pane,
O white moon,
I wonder if he sleeps in woods
Where there are leaves?
Or if he lies in some black trench,
His hands, his kind hands, kindling flame that kills?
Or if, or if …
He is here now, to bid me last good-night?
This poem is in the public domain.
My husband says dark matter is a reality
not just some theory invented by adolescent computers
he can prove it exists and is everywhere
forming invisible haloes around everything
and somehow because of gravity
holding everything loosely together
the way a child wants to escape its parents
and doesn’t want to—what’s that—
we don’t know what it is but we know it is real
the way our mothers and fathers fondly
angrily followed fixed orbits around
each other like mice on a track
the way every human and every atom
rushes through space wrapped in its invisible
halo, this big shadow—that’s dark dark matter
sweetheart, while the galaxies
in the wealth of their ferocious protective bubbles
stare at each other
unable to cease
Copyright © 2015 by Alicia Ostriker. Used with permission of the author.
I noticed the mockingbirds first,
not for their call but the broad white bands,
like reverse mourning bands on gunmetal
gray, exposed during flight
then tucked into their chests. A thing
seen once, then everywhere—
the top of the gazebo, the little cracked statue,
along the barbed fence. Noticed because
I know first with my eyes, then followed
their several songs braiding the trees.
Only later, this other, same-same-again song,
a bird I could not see but heard
when I walked from the house to the studio,
studio to the house, its three notes
repeated like a child’s up and down
on a trampoline looping
the ground to the sky—
When I remember being a child like this
I think I wouldn’t mind living alone
on a mountain, stilled into the daily
which isn’t stillness at all but a whirring
gone deep. The composer shows how
the hands, palms down, thumb to thumb
and forefinger to mirrored finger, make
a shape like a cone, a honeybee hive, and then
how that cone moves across the piano—
notes in groups fluttering fast back-and-forth
and it sounds difficult but it isn’t
really, how the hand likes to hover each patch
of sound. Likes gesture. To hold. Listening
is like this. How it took me a week to hear
the ever-there wren. And the bees
are like this, intent on their nectar,
their waggle dance better than any GPS.
A threatened thing. A no-one-knows-why.
But the wrens’ invisible looping their loop—
And I, for a moment, pinned to the ground.
Pinned and spinning in the sound of it.
Copyright © 2015 by Laura Donnelly. Used with permission of the author.
because you’re psychic
no one else could understand me
the way you
I say it to you silently
but it calls forth in me
the water for you
the water you asked for
Copyright © 2015 by Rebecca Wolff. Used with permission of the author.
The pine branches reach—the rain! the sun! the edge of the
moving air! three goats!
Girls on razor scooters turn the corner and scoot
Autonomy actually shows, it shines amidst the stars of decision
I sacrifice hearing to writing, I return to the back of the train
Surrounded by nothing but tattered island nasturtia, the
shoveler is prepared to exclaim, “Grief exterior, grief
Beastly pine cones are falling from the sky
Down in the middle, and a soft wall, the midnight breeze
Check the role, the rock, the rule!
From cardboard pressed to ginger, water spilled on a list, salt
Why so many references to dogs, purple, and bananas?
Then the carnival—it came up afterwards like a vermillion
buttress to say of itself “it appears”
Wren in a ragged bee line, flora sleeping live
Yuki, Felicia, and Maxwell have between them $13.75, and they
are hungry as they enter the small café, where they see a
display of pies and decide to spend all their money on pie
there and then—how much pie will each get to eat if
each pie costs $5.25?
Invincible is my myopia, great is my waist, choral are my ideas,
wingéd are my eyebrows, deep is my obscurity—who am I?
© 2015 Lyn Hejinian. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 31, 2015 by the Academy of American Poets.
Before jumping, remember
the span of time is long and gracious.
No one perches dangerously on any cliff
till you reply. Is there a pouch of rain
desperately thirsty people wait to drink from
when you say yes or no? I don’t think so.
Hold that thought. Hold everything.
When they say “crucial”—well, maybe for them?
Hold your horses and your minutes and
your Hong Kong dollar coins in your pocket,
you are not a corner or a critical turning page.
Wait. I’ll think about it.
This pressure you share is a misplaced hinge, a fantasy.
I am exactly where I wanted to be.
Copyright © 2015 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 9, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
Here are old things:
And here are scraps of new goods,
Needles and thread,
An expectant thimble,
A pair of silver-toothed scissors.
Thimble on a finger,
New thread through an eye;
Needle, do not linger,
Hurry as you ply.
If you ever would be through
Hurry, scurry, fly!
Here are patches,
Strengthening old utility,
Pending the coming of the new.
Yes, I have been mending …
I have been enacting
A little travesty on life.
This poem is in the public domain.
Our paper house sat
on the banks of the red river
and though mother
wasn’t like other mothers
I was like other girls
trapped and lonely
and painting pictures
in the stars. I was slick
with old birth or early longing,
already halfway between
who I wanted to be and who I was.
Our floors were made of flame
but there was no wind
so we were as safe as anyone.
When spring came,
I walked for a very long time
up I-35, and at the end of the road,
I found a boy who placed earphones
onto my head and pumped opera
into my body. I can feel it still.
Underneath that treeless sky,
I was as changed as I would ever be.
Not even mother noticed.
Copyright © 2015 by Nicole Callihan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 14, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
We’ve been told space
is like two dark lips colliding
like science fiction
it outlines a small cosmos
where fear hides in a glow
where negative space
becomes a place for wishing
a constellation of hazy tunes
of faint sharp vowels
a glossary of meteors
a telescope to god
a cold bright white
maybe distance damages us
will suddenly surprise us
with a notion of holiness
but instead an old planet
takes over all the space
and we are reminded
of the traces of fire
in our gaze
defining our infidelities
Copyright © 2015 by Nathalie Handal. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 12, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
Sometimes I don’t know if I’m having a feeling
so I check my phone or squint at the window
with a serious look, like someone in a movie
or a mother thinking about how time passes.
Sometimes I’m not sure how to feel so I think
about a lot of things until I get an allergy attack.
I take my antihistamine with beer, thank you very much,
sleep like a cut under a band aid, wake up
on the stairs having missed the entire party.
It was a real blast, I can tell, for all the vases
are broken, the flowers twisted into crowns
for the young, drunk, and beautiful. I put one on
and salute the moon, the lone face over me
shining through the grates on the front door window.
You have seen me like this before, such a strange
version of the person you thought you knew.
Guess what, I’m strange to us both. It’s like
I’m not even me sometimes. Who am I? A question
for the Lord only to decide as She looks over
my résumé. Everything is different sometimes.
Sometimes there is no hand on my shoulder
but my room, my apartment, my body are containers
and I am thusly contained. How easy to forget
the obvious. The walls, blankets, sunlight, your love.
Copyright © 2015 by Matthew Siegel. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 8, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
It fills up the space where poems used to be,
Until there’s no space left. It’s incessant
Phone calls, figuring out money and flights to
Somewhere, nowhere, not knowing what comes next:
There’s nowhere to go, which is the problem
(I think everything’s the problem) taking its toll.
Diane looked at me cross-eyed at lunch and I sunk
Into a depression I recalled from forty years ago:
The constant consciousness of helplessness;
The constant feeling of inevitability, of the anger
At that feeling; of the separateness of persons.
Talk is like drugs, repeating what I said each night
In the morning, and on the phone each afternoon:
A different hospital each time, then the same hospital.
A fear of selfishness, an imperative of self-defense:
These are the boundaries of my life now,
The borderlines of my existence for a while.
“In the midst of life we are in death.” Any
Person’s death diminishes me, and yet the fear of
Death is something one can only face alone.
Poetry is stylized indifference, a drawing back
From the divide between my life and its negation—
Not because it’s empty, but because it’s full, too full,
Full of someone else’s. Coming home each day
To the message light blinking on the phone,
My heart sinks as I press the button, and the dial tone
Comes as a relief, since I don’t know what to do.
It’s easier in miniature, within the limits of the page,
The confines of a single consciousness, with the drama
All offstage until the phone rings, and it starts again.
Copyright © 2015 by John Koethe. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 10, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
Summers spent practicing in the apartment
stairwell: hand on the bannister, one foot after
another. Did I ever tell you I couldn’t walk
until I was three and then sort of dragged
myself up and downstairs until I was seven
or eight? That burgundy carpet.
I’d stop to breathe and look out the window,
over brick tenements, toward the Capitol
building. Oak leaves so full of late summer
sun even I thought, “Obscene” and stood stunned
for a moment. My God. The urge to rest like the birds
on the phone wires, chatting like barristers
at the end of the day. Myself the useless
Ambassador from the third floor. I was the last one
up so the door was left open. I can still see it gaping
from two stories down. Sometimes music played.
Sometimes I’d smell supper. Neighbors stopped
to say hello. Achingly beautiful how the sky
looked as I stood after they left. Nicer somehow
in the middle. All the trees tucking blackbirds
into their darkness. It really did take this long.
Copyright © 2015 by Gabrielle Calvocoressi. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 15, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
Amy, I was almost run down by a car
after buying my lunch today.
It was the postal police.
I was almost hit by the postal police.
This is not a joke.
There is a police force dedicated to the postal service
(the US Postal Service, mind you).
They race around in cars,
they chase down postal villains,
investigate postal crimes
unearth hidden postal agendas.
Conspiracies that they bring to their postal lieutenants
who summarily tell them to let it go, to stop obsessing,
take a vacation, some time off, you're too close to it,
it happens to the best postal policeman, that's what the
(Potato soup and a chicken sandwich, if you're curious).
I think you should apply, Amy.
I think you would do well.
I think they would give you a hat.
Something jaunty that can handle your hair expertly.
You'd cover the hat with stamps from every country in the world
They would give you a pea coat, I think.
Like the one that you've already got, but more policey.
You would look fucking great in that coat.
Not every country, mind you.
Just the ones that sound like they have decent views
of the country side
and a healthy attitude towards outgoing, independent women.
Copyright © 2015 by B.C. Edwards. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 24, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
I needed, for months after he died, to remember our rooms—
some lit by the trivial, others ample
with an obscurity that comforted us: it hid our own darkness.
So for months, duteous, I remembered:
rooms where friends lingered, rooms with our beds,
with our books, rooms with curtains I sewed
from bright cottons. I remembered tables of laughter,
a chipped bowl in early light, black
branches by a window, bowing toward night, & those rooms,
too, in which we came together
to be away from all. And sometimes from ourselves:
I remembered that, also.
But tonight—as I stand in the doorway to his room
& stare at dusk settled there—
what I remember best is how, to throw my arms around his neck,
I needed to stand on the tip of my toes.
Copyright © 2015 by Laure-Anne Bosselaar. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 25, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
Levinas asked if we have the right
To be the way I ask my sons
If they’d like to be trees
The way the word tree
Makes them a little animal
Dancing up and down
Like bears in movies
Bears I have to say
Pretend we are children
At a river one of them says
So we sip it pivot in the hallway
Call it a canoe
It is noon in the living room
We are rowing through a blue
That is a feeling mostly
The way drifting greenly
Under real trees
Is a feeling near holy
Copyright © 2015 by Idra Novey. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 26, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
Tiger beetles, crickets, velvet ants, all
know the useful friction of part on part,
how rub of wing to leg, plectrum to file,
marks territories, summons mates. How
a lip rasped over finely tined ridges can
play sweet as a needle on vinyl. But
sometimes a lone body is insufficient.
So the sapsucker drums chimney flashing
for our amped-up morning reveille. Or,
later, home again, the wind’s papery
come hither through the locust leaves. The roof
arcing its tin back to meet the rain.
The bed’s soft creak as I roll to my side.
What sounds will your body make against mine?
Copyright © 2015 by Jessica Jacobs. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 8, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
God sees me. I see you. You’re just like me.
This is the cul-de-sac I’ve longed to live on.
Pure-white and dormered houses sit handsomely
along the slate-roofed, yew-lined neighborhood.
Past there is where my daughters walk to school,
across the common rounded by a wood.
And in my great room, a modest TV
informs me how the earth is grown so small,
ringed in spice routes of connectivity.
My father lived and died in his same chair
and kept it to one beer. There’s good in that.
Who could look down upon, or even dare
to question, what he managed out of life?
Age makes us foolish. Still, he had a house,
a patch of grass and room to breathe, a wife.
It’s my house now, and I do as I please.
I bless his name. I edge the yard, plant greens.
Our girls swing on the porch in a coming breeze.
Copyright © 2015 by David Yezzi. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 10, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
The words became librarians, custodians of people
I looked for on the bridge.
I forgot my own face.
I read the book backwards, and
I painted your name in lace
(I drink only the milk of script as beer).
I dislocate all gallery aesthetics,
I carry keys for Baltimore and
Go where no one is my name.
I wish I could sculpt a healing street
from a blanket of guns. The way the sun drops
behind a one-armed cop & we default
to believing in voices. This is the trough of sleep
we draw from. Even gravity works at night.
If I pull your speech on the carpet of impossibility,
will you speak this immediate need for movement?
The immediate need of not drowning in public?
I will walk with the sharks of our pigments
if that's what inconclusive data requires,
until we leave rooms that hold us apart.
What you see as a small minority, I see
as closer to liberatory. Nothing comes from the center
that doesn't break most everything in parts.
I break bread with the handwriting of words.
Nothing of appearance is always an illusion.
Lend me your book when you finish
writing it. I’ll be the first to fill in its spaces.
Copyright © 2015 by Amy King. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 18, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets
A fluctuating charm,
An amber-colored amethyst
Inhabits it; your arm
It opens and
You have meant
To catch it,
And it shrivels;
It opens, and it
Closes and you
Reach for it—
Grows cloudy, and
It floats away
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on August 30, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
the bullet is his whole life.
his mother named him & the bullet
was on its way. in another life
the bullet was a girl & his skin
was a boy with a sad laugh.
they say he asked for it—
must I define they? they are not
monsters, or hooded or hands black
with cross smoke.
they teachers, they pay tithes
they like rap, they police—good folks
gather around a boy’s body
to take a picture, share a prayer.
oh da horror, oh what a shame
why’d he do that to himself?
they really should stop
getting themselves killed
Copyright © 2015 by Danez Smith. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 3, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets
Dear, did we meet in some dim yesterday?
I half remember how the birds were mute
Among green leaves and tulip-tinted fruit,
And on the grass, beside a stream, we lay
In early twilight; faintly, far away,
Came lovely sounds adrift from silver lute,
With answered echoes of an airy flute,
While Twilight waited tiptoe, fain to stay.
Her violet eyes were sweet with mystery.
You looked in mine, the music rose and fell
Like little, lisping laughter of the sea;
Our souls were barks, wind-wafted from the shore—
Gold cup, a rose, a ruby, who can tell?
Soft—music ceases—I recall no more.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on September 19, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
I shall forget you presently, my dear,
So make the most of this, your little day,
Your little month, your little half a year
Ere I forget, or die, or move away,
And we are done forever; by and by
I shall forget you, as I said, but now,
If you entreat me with your loveliest lie
I will protest you with my favorite vow.
I would indeed that love were longer-lived,
And vows were not so brittle as they are,
But so it is, and nature has contrived
To struggle on without a break thus far,—
Whether or not we find what we are seeking
Is idle, biologically speaking.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on September 26, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
Success is the mind-killer.
is the little-death
that brings total
obliteration. I will face
my success. I will
permit it to pass
over me and through
me. And when it has
past, I will
turn the inner
its path. Where
the success has gone there will be
Only I will remain.
Copyright © 2015 by David Tomas Martinez. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 21, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
The moon will shine for God
knows how long.
As if it still matters. As if someone
is trying to recall a dream.
Believe the brain is a cage of light
& rage. When it shuts off,
something else switches on.
There’s no better reason than now
to lock the doors, the windows.
Turn off the sprinklers
& porch light. Save the books
for fire. In darkness,
we learn to read
what moves along the horizon,
across the periphery of a gun scope—
the flicker of shadows,
the rustling of trash in the body
of cities long emptied.
Not a soul lives
in this house &
this house & this
house. Go on, stiffen
the heart, quicken
the blood. To live
in a world of flesh
& teeth, you must
learn to kill
what you love,
& love what can die.
Copyright © 2016 by Burlee Vang. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 20, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.