I'm calling out from pictures to your vision creating it
turn right, that dream building cutglass window in door.
Automatically inside their apartment, you don't have
to get there. This is before the lost sacred corpus vision,
someone says Look at my author photo. I
don't really want to I'm turning to defiant metal
not a dream part, can you see it where the movement of
images turns back towards me I want a
different, how I'm portrayed because you can't
see me, visage. Look at me please. The soul is so thick
larger than the portrait what you'd call madonnaesque,
and then there was more hoax a view as I am
the rose here. And you never wanted to be that, did I?
I was waiting to see what I would be. Blackness
eats you but your soul eats it without your knowing that
figure, because it is causing your appearance to the world.
They arrange me in clothes of Easter, or of
the first day of classes, but I'm projecting pigment
cracked gold on fire, thinking braver thoughts.
It takes courage to get to the ancient altar
of the moment where I create individual time.
The picture body untremblingly stares large-eyed
I also create the tablets of exponential seeing: it brightens
all around it, as I'm the apparatus of what there is to be;
and I am making it, my time visibly becoming me.

Copyright © 2013 by Alice Notley. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on February 19, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

My mother begged me: Please, please, study
stenography...

Without it
I would have no future, and this

is the future that was lost in time to me

having scoffed at her, refusing
to learn the only skill I’d ever need, the one

I will associate forever now with loss, with her
bald head, her wig, a world
already gone
by the time we had this argument, while

our walls stayed slathered in its pale green. 
While we
wore its sweater sets. While we
giddily picked the pineapple
off our hams with toothpicks. Now

I'm lost somewhere between
1937
and 1973. My

time machine, blown off course, just
as my mother knew it would be.

Oh, Mama: forget about me.
You don't have to forgive
me, but know this, please:

I am
the Stenographer now.
I am
the Secretary you wanted me to be.  I am

the girl who gained the expertise you
knew some day some man would need. 

Too late, maybe. 
(Evening.) 
I'm sick, I think.
You're dead. 
I'm weak.

“And now I'm going to tell you
a little secret. 
Get your pen and steno-pad, and sit
down across from me.”

Ready?

The grieving:

It never ends. 

You learn a million
tricks, memorize
the symbols &
practice the techniques

and still you wake up every morning
lost inside your
lost machine. Confused, but always
on a journey.

Disordered.

Cut short.

Still moving.

Keep speaking
Mama.
Please.

I'm taking it down
so quickly, so

quickly, even

(perhaps especially)

when I appear

not to be. 

I do this naturally.

See? So

naturally
that in the end
no training was ever needed.

None at all.
None at all.

I taught myself so well.

It's all I can do now.
 

Copyright © 2017 by Laura Kasischke. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 5, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

I just saw two boys.
One of them gets paid for distributing circulars
and he throws it down the sewer.

I said, Are you a Boy Scout?
He said, no.
The other one was.
I have implicit faith in
      the Boy Scouts

If you talk about it
long enough
you'll finally write it—
If you get by the stage
when nothing
can make you write—
If you don't die first

I keep those bests that love
      has given me
Nothing of them escapes—
I have proved it
proven once more in your eyes

Go marry! your son will have
blue eyes and still
there'll be no answer
you have not found a cure
No more have I for that enormous
wedged flower, my mind
miraculously upon
the dead stick of night

From The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams. Copyright © 1988 by Christopher MacGowan. Reprinted with permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

Letters swallow themselves in seconds.
Notes friends tied to the doorknob,
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.

So much of any year is flammable,
lists of vegetables, partial poems.
Orange swirling flame of days,
so little is a stone.

Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.
I begin again with the smallest numbers.

Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,
only the things I didn’t do
crackle after the blazing dies.

Naomi Shihab Nye, “Burning the Old Year” from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems. Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

A man leaves the world
and the streets he lived on
grow a little shorter.

One more window dark
in this city, the figs on his branches
will soften for birds.

If we stand quietly enough evenings
there grows a whole company of us
standing quietly together.
overhead loud grackles are claiming their trees  
and the sky which sews and sews, tirelessly sewing,
drops her purple hem.
Each thing in its time, in its place,
it would be nice to think the same about people.

Some people do. They sleep completely,
waking refreshed. Others live in two worlds,
the lost and remembered.
They sleep twice, once for the one who is gone,
once for themselves. They dream thickly,
dream double, they wake from a dream
into another one, they walk the short streets
calling out names, and then they answer.

From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye. Published by Far Corner. Reprinted with permission of the author. Copyright © 1995 Naomi Shihab Nye.

Even at this late date, sometimes I have to look up
the word "receive." I received his deep
and interested gaze.

A bean plant flourishes under the rain of sweet words.
Tell what you think—I'm listening.

The story ruffled its twenty leaves.

*

Once my teacher set me on a high stool
for laughing. She thought the eyes
of my classmates would whittle me to size.
But they said otherwise.

We'd laugh too if we knew how.

I pinned my gaze out the window
on a ripe line of sky.

That's where I was going.

From Fuel. Copyright © 1998 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Published by BOA Editions, Ltd. Used by permission of the publisher.

The places where Edmonia’s bones were fractured still hold violent reverberations. When it rains I massage the static hum out of each point of impact. There is nothing heavier than flesh that wishes to be on another axis, except perhaps stone she shaped. Tonight she tells me, it’s impossible to bring a lover to the small death she deserves. An orgasm is excavated, never given. She takes my face in her hands without permission. I take her waist with care not to treat her like a healing thing. My fear winnows. She is digging me out of my misery with her fugitive hands. No one has ever led me out of myself the way she does when we move as though the species depends on our pleasure. She makes a pocket of me until I cry. I’ve seen that field, the site of her breaking, in the empty parking lot I cut through to class. There is nothing left for us to forge in Oberlin, and still we remain, Edmonia a sentient rock, swallowing her own feet in want of motion. We fit on this twin sized bed only by entanglement. We survive here by the brine of our brutish blood.

From Hull (Nightboat Books, 2019). Copyright © 2019 Xandria Phillips. Used with permission of Nightboat Books, nightboat.org.

And whom do I call my enemy?
An enemy must be worthy of engagement.
I turn in the direction of the sun and keep walking.
It’s the heart that asks the question, not my furious mind.
The heart is the smaller cousin of the sun.
It sees and knows everything.
It hears the gnashing even as it hears the blessing.
The door to the mind should only open from the heart.
An enemy who gets in, risks the danger of becoming a friend.

Harjo, Joy, Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings: Poems; Copyright © 2015 by W. W. Norton & Company. Reprinted with permission of Anderson Literary Management LLC, 244 Fifth Avenue, Floor 11, New York, NY 10001.

               for Audre Lorde

This city is made of stone, of blood, and fish.
There are Chugatch Mountains to the east
and whale and seal to the west.
It hasn't always been this way, because glaciers
who are ice ghosts create oceans, carve earth
and shape this city here, by the sound.
They swim backwards in time.

Once a storm of boiling earth cracked open
the streets, threw open the town.
It's quiet now, but underneath the concrete
is the cooking earth,
                                 and above that, air
which is another ocean, where spirits we can't see
are dancing                joking                   getting full
on roasted caribou, and the praying
goes on, extends out.

Nora and I go walking down 4th Avenue
and know it is all happening.
On a park bench we see someone's Athabascan
grandmother, folded up, smelling like 200 years
of blood and piss, her eyes closed against some
unimagined darkness, where she is buried in an ache
in which nothing makes
                                       sense.

We keep on breathing, walking, but softer now,
the clouds whirling in the air above us.
What can we say that would make us understand
better than we do already?
Except to speak of her home and claim her
as our own history, and know that our dreams
don't end here, two blocks away from the ocean
where our hearts still batter away at the muddy shore.

And I think of the 6th Avenue jail, of mostly Native
and Black men, where Henry told about being shot at
eight times outside a liquor store in L.A., but when
the car sped away he was surprised he was alive,
no bullet holes, man, and eight cartridges strewn
on the sidewalk
                        all around him.

Everyone laughed at the impossibility of it,
but also the truth. Because who would believe
the fantastic and terrible story of all of our survival
those who were never meant
                                                to survive?

Copyright © 2008 by Joy Harjo. From She Had Some Horses (W. W. Norton, 2008). Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.

physicists say we change an object simply by turning 
our attention to it—really I am a grandson
only when we are eating at Panera—one of us is lying
always about her particular hunger—I love the children outside of me
counting to 30 while covering their eyes—whose body
will we sacrifice to be in the company of another—each
day across my ongoing—I haul the husk of her—fire
towers are designed for distance viewing—and I am right
here—mothering you into the next life—call me cover
when you don’t know who I could be—time’s
psychologic and legal assault—no one is listening to
ice become water—burying you to keep us alive—

Originally appeared in The Nation. Copyright © 2019 by TC Tolbert. Reprinted with permission of the author. 

We'll say unbelievable things 
to each other in the early morning— 
  
our blue coming up from our roots, 
our water rising in our extraordinary limbs. 
  
All night I dreamt of bonfires and burn piles 
and ghosts of men, and spirits 
behind those birds of flame. 
  
I cannot tell anymore when a door opens or closes, 
I can only hear the frame saying, Walk through. 
  
It is a short walkway— 
into another bedroom. 
  
Consider the handle. Consider the key. 
  
I say to a friend, how scared I am of sharks. 
  
How I thought I saw them in the creek 
across from my street. 
  
I once watched for them, holding a bundle 
of rattlesnake grass in my hand, 
shaking like a weak-leaf girl. 
  
She sends me an article from a recent National Geographic that says, 
  
Sharks bite fewer people each year than 
New Yorkers do, according to Health Department records. 
  
Then she sends me on my way. Into the City of Sharks. 
  
Through another doorway, I walk to the East River saying, 
  
Sharks are people too. 
Sharks are people too. 
Sharks are people too. 
  
I write all the things I need on the bottom 
of my tennis shoes. I say, Let's walk together. 
  
The sun behind me is like a fire. 
Tiny flames in the river's ripples. 
  
I say something to God, but he's not a living thing, 
so I say it to the river, I say, 
  
I want to walk through this doorway 
But without all those ghosts on the edge, 
I want them to stay here. 
I want them to go on without me. 
  
I want them to burn in the water.

From Sharks in the Rivers by Ada Limón. Copyright © 2010 by Ada Limón. Used by permission of Milkweed Editions. All rights reserved.

You walk through Heaven anywhere to any-

where on that soft green grass    or nowhere it

Don’t matter anywhere you walk a bright

And cool and it’s about    a foot-wide stream of

The cleanest water anywhere with each

Step you take parts the grass beside you

On your left side    if you’re left-handed

And on your right side otherwise just reach

 

Down if you’re thirsty or you’re dirty or

You’re hot    they got the sun in Heaven still

And folks get hot sometimes    me    sometimes I

Walk just to see the stream appear

Sometimes I lead it    through my name    on Earth I couldn’t spell

My name now my great thirst has been revealed to me

Copyright © 2019 Shane McCrae. This poem originally appeared in Kenyon Review, March/April 2019. Reprinted with permission of the author.

—for Melissa 

What sadness anywhere is sadness where
I could just stand and walk to you      from sadness 
Go      home to you though I bring home my sadness 
What sadness there though I have felt sad there

Before      when I come home from far away
What sadness then      or from three blocks uptown 
My office      where I write this poem down
In a room full of the dimness that fills spac-

es anywhere where you are not      a film 
Obscuring every surface but it is a light 
Not shining      ever from surfaces

You are not near what sadness      where you might 
By being near reveal each thing for what it is
What sadness where each thing is whole

Copyright © 2020 by Shane McCrae. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 28, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

Nicholas turned     eleven two

Months he ago a he ago

I after him a-running still

But quietly and far away


For the first time turned     far away

Without me or     without that day

Me seeing him on all the bright-

ness gone     the day     the snow had gone


Completely gone     as we have gone

Who were the worlds we walked     far down

Into our lives without each oth-

er as     snow into earth as water


Goes into earth     and as the water

Touches the roots the dry roots wait for

A signal from the sun and air

And do not green the shoots     and what


The water thought it was and what

I thought I was we learn we’re not we’re

Life but not always life and not

Forever     he grows without his father
 

Copyright © 2015 by Shane McCrae. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 23, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets. 

There is no fixed place and by that I mean
take a look at things that are. Split by the
turn of year, its newness and all it brings,
which of its possibilities can we trust?
Elsa is involved in a clandestine
love affair which, let’s be honest, should be
all love affairs until they’re over. She finds
herself dreaming of children and many
other delicacies. Sugared eggs. A
lost palace. But night brings a great expanse
and it’s much too quiet in these hallways.
On her back, Elsa holds her breath, her hands
beneath her, resisting, resisting. That
temptation can be such a dirty rat.

Copyright © 2017 by Angela Veronica Wong. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 2, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

I am taken with the hot animal
of my skin, grateful to swing my limbs

and have them move as I intend, though
my knee, though my shoulder, though something
is torn or tearing. Today, a dozen squid, dead

on the harbor beach: one mostly buried,
one with skin empty as a shell and hollow

feeling, and, though the tentacles look soft,
I do not touch them. I imagine they
were startled to find themselves in the sun.

I imagine the tide simply went out
without them. I imagine they cannot

feel the black flies charting the raised hills
of their eyes. I write my name in the sand:
Donika Kelly. I watch eighteen seagulls

skim the sandbar and lift low in the sky.
I pick up a pebble that looks like a green egg.

To the ditch lily I say I am in love.
To the Jeep parked haphazardly on the narrow
street I am in love. To the roses, white

petals rimmed brown, to the yellow lined
pavement, to the house trimmed in gold I am

in love. I shout with the rough calculus
of walking. Just let me find my way back,
let me move like a tide come in.

Copyright © 2017 by Donika Kelly. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 20, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.