Soak in a hot bath; arrange my futuristic hair, then, the futon & the cushioned tatami. Cut orchids, cut fruit. Set the table for plenty, (but there is only one of me). And here you come— a cricket’s dance in the woods— in a fog-colored zoot suit. Your eyes are red & bleary. I am practicing good purity. I do not get angry. But here comes my father with the tiger’s claw. He paces and frets; I get no rest. The caged animal must be released. Here comes my mother with the serpent’s touch. I know the dim mak: the touch of death, I know the softness of the temples, the groin, the heart. Here come my sisters with the lizard’s tongue to expel the secret in a moment’s hiss. But they are slow on their haunches. I shall strike first. The weir-basket was a snare; the fish within were dying. You promised me fresh fish. You promised unconditional love and providence. Here comes my brother with the ox’s heart to explain the world in a plum’s pit. He is not your kind. You don’t understand his plight; nor does he your fomenting silence. Tiger’s claw, serpent’s touch, lizard’s tongue, ox’s heart. The caged animal is released. I believe in the touch of life. I shall keep my secret always. Although you have lost your way, you have never forsaken me. you have been whole. you have been good.
From Dwarf Bamboo. Copyright © 1987 by Marilyn Chin. Used with the permission of the author.
Rebuked, she turned and ran uphill to the barn. Anger, the inner arsonist, held a match to her brain. She observed her life: against her will it survived the unwavering flame. The barn was empty of animals. Only a swallow tilted near the beams, and bats hung from the rafters the roof sagged between. Her breath became steady where, years past, the farmer cooled the big tin amphoræ of milk. The stone trough was still filled with water: she watched it and received its calm. So it is when we retreat in anger: we think we burn alone and there is no balm. Then water enters, though it makes no sound.
Jane Kenyon, "Portrait of a Figure Near Water" from Collected Poems. Copyright © 2005 by the Estate of Jane Kenyon. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Graywolf Press, graywolfpress.org.
We pace each other for a long time. I packed my anger with the beef jerky. You are the baby on the mountain. I am in a cold stream where I led you. I packed my anger with the beef jerky. You are the woman sticking her tongue out in a cold stream where I led you. You are the woman with spring water palms. You are the woman sticking her tongue out. I am the woman who matches sounds. You are the woman with spring water palms. I am the woman who copies. You are the woman who matches sounds. You are the woman who makes up words. You are the woman who copies her cupped palm with her fist in clay. I am the woman who makes up words. You are the woman who shapes a drinking bowl with her fist in clay. I am the woman with rocks in her pockets. I am the woman who shapes. I was a baby who knew names. You are the child with rocks in her pockets. You are the girl in a plaid dress. You are the woman who knows names. You are the baby who could fly. You are the girl in a plaid dress upside-down on the monkey bars. You are the baby who could fly over the moon from a swinging perch upside-down on the monkey bars. You are the baby who eats meat. Over the moon from a swinging perch the feathery goblin calls her sister. You are the baby who eats meat the bitch wolf hunts and chews for you. The feathery goblin calls her sister: "You are braver than your mother. The bitch wolf hunts and chews for you. What are you whining about now?" You are braver than your mother and I am not a timid woman: what are you whining about now? My palms itch with slick anger, and I'm not a timid woman. You are the woman I can't mention; my palms itch with slick anger. You are the heiress of scraped knees. You are the woman I can't mention to a woman I want to love. You are the heiress of scraped knees: scrub them in mountain water. To a woman, I want to love women you could turn into, scrub them in mountain water, stroke their astonishing faces. Women you could turn into the scare mask of Bad Mother stroke their astonishing faces in the silver-scratched sink mirror. The scare mask of Bad Mother crumbles to chunked, pinched clay, sinks in the silver-scratched mirror. You are the Little Robber Girl, who crumbles the clay chunks, pinches her friend, givers her a sharp knife. You are the Little Robber Girl, who was any witch's youngest daughter. Our friend gives you a sharp knife, shows how the useful blades open. Was any witch's youngest daughter golden and bold as you? You run and show how the useful blades open. You are the baby on the mountain. I am golden and bold as you. You run and we pace each other for a long time.
From First Cities by Marilyn Hacker. Copyright © 2003, 1980, 1979, 1975, 1974, 1973, 1972, 1970, 1969 by Marilyn Hacker. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.
What’s in this grave is worth your tear;
There's more than the eye can see;
Folly and Pride and Love lie here
Buried alive with me.
This poem is in the public domain.
Now that I know
How passion warms little
Of flesh in the mould,
And treasure is brittle,—
I’ll lie here and learn
How, over their ground,
Trees make a long shadow
And a light sound.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 6, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
what it sounds like is a bird breaking small bones against glass. the least of them, a sparrow, of course. you’re about to serve dinner and this is the scene. blame the bird, the impertinent windows, try not to think of the inconvenience of blood splattering violet in the dusk. how can you eat after this? do not think of whom to blame when the least of us hurdles into the next moment. a pane opening into another. the least of us spoiling your meal.
the smell of it will be smoke and rank. you will mutter about this for days, the injustice of splatter on your window. foolish bird. civilization. house with the view. fucking bird feeder. it will take you a week, while the flesh starts to rot under thinning feathers, while the blood has congealed and stuck, for you to realize that no one is coming to take the body. it is your dead bird. it is your glass. you have options you think. hire out. move out. leave it for the bigger blacker birds.
you will taste rotting just above the top of your tongue. so much, that you check yourself to make sure that it is not you. the bird deserves something. you go to the closet, pick out a shoe box. discount? designer? you start to think of how it has come to this: pondering your mortality through a bird. a dead bird. never-mind. you don’t find it a problem not running into windows.
it is an eyesore and we start to gather as large billows in your yard. you marvel at us, beautiful, collecting and loosening our dark bodies from white sky to your grass. and then it comes. more bones and blood. one by one crashing into the closed pane. mindless birds. brown and gray feathers. filthy pests. another. fucking feeder. we look like billions lifting into flight and then—shatter.
you might find a delicate humility in the art of cleaning glass. while you work, you sustain tiny slivers of opened flesh. tips of your fingers sing. shards, carnage, it has become too much. you are careful to pick up all that you can see. you call a repairman. you are careful to pick up all that you can see. you throw everything into big shiny trash bags. you are careful to pick up all that you can see. you consider french doors. you are careful to pick up all that you can see and find more with each barefoot trip through your bloodbath house.
Copyright © 2020 by Bettina Judd. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 7, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
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.
A moment of pleasure,
An hour of pain,
A day of sunshine,
A week of rain,
A fortnight of peace,
A month of strife,
These taken together
Make up life.
One real friend
To a dozen foes,
Two open gates,
’Gainst twenty that’s closed,
Then adversity’s knife;
These my friends
Make up life.
At daybreak a blossom,
At noontime a rose,
At twilight ’tis withered,
At evening ’tis closed.
The din of confusion,
The strain of the fife,
These with other things
Make up life.
A smile, then a tear,
Like a mystic pearl,
A pause, then a rush
Into the mad whirl,
A kiss, then a stab
From a traitor’s knife;
I think that you’ll agree with me,
That this life.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on July 31, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
who hurt you here by the river
at the supermarket who hurt you
who saw you hurting who hurt
you who saw you hurting who
turned around and walked away
exit exit we must exit but how i have no
advice no direction but up and over and
swerve swerve the metal circle rusted and
dissolved on the side of the road it was left
after construction de stabilize meaning
and reinvent history but only if history
oppressed you six women naked in a hot
tub and we won't leave this house in the
country six women naked in a hot tub
we end it together so we can begin it
again we begin it was a different
rhythm we don't forget our fear we
were never afraid in the woods even
though we knew what was in the woods
we looking in the dirt
for something we all
putting our hands in the
dirt a gesture we saw
before somewhere on
someone she didn't
speak we didn't speak
to each other the forest
lit our hands a gesture
erase ignore separate
they say they tell us
they tell us to be an
individual that we can
be individuals we
cannot be individuals
Copyright © 2021 by LA Warman. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 17, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
She could have loved—her woman-passions beat
Deeper than theirs, or else she had not known
How to have dropped her heart beneath their feet
A living stepping-stone:
The little hands—did they not clutch her heart?
The guarding arms—was she not very tired?
Was it an easy thing to walk apart,
She gave away her crown of woman-praise,
Her gentleness and silent girlhood grace,
To be a merriment for idle days,
Scorn for the market-place:
She strove for an unvisioned, far-off good,
For one far hope she knew she could not see:
These—not her daughters—crowned with motherhood
And love and beauty—free.
This poem is in the public domain.