A young man learns to shoot & dies in the mud an ocean away from home, a rifle in his fingers & the sky dripping from his heart. Next to him a friend watches his final breath slip ragged into the ditch, a thing the friend will carry back to America— wound, souvenir, backstory. He’ll teach literature to young people for 40 years. He’ll coach his daughters’ softball teams. Root for Red Wings & Lions & Tigers. Dance well. Love generously. He’ll be quick with a joke & firm with handshakes. He’ll rarely talk about the war. If asked he’ll tell you instead his favorite story: Odysseus escaping from the Cyclops with a bad pun & good wine & a sharp stick. It’s about buying time & making do, he’ll say. It’s about doing what it takes to get home, & you see he has been talking about the war all along. We all want the same thing from this world: Call me nobody. Let me live.
Copyright © 2019 by Amorak Huey. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 20, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
When, at the end, the children wanted
to add glitter to their valentines, I said no.
I said nope, no, no glitter, and then,
when they started to fuss, I found myself
saying something my brother’s football coach
used to bark from the sidelines when one
of his players showed signs of being
human: oh come on now, suck it up.
That’s what I said to my children.
Suck what up? my daughter asked,
and, because she is so young, I told her
I didn’t know and never mind, and she took
that for an answer. My children are so young
when I turn off the radio as the news turns
to counting the dead or naming the act,
they aren’t even suspicious. My children
are so young they cannot imagine a world
like the one they live in. Their God is still
a real God, a whole God, a God made wholly
of actions. And I think they think I work
for that God. And I know they will someday soon
see everything and they will know about
everything and they will no longer take
never mind for an answer. The valentines
would’ve been better with glitter, and my son
hurt himself on an envelope, and then, much
later, when we were eating dinner, my daughter
realized she’d forgotten one of the three
Henrys in her class. How can there be three Henrys
in one class? I said, and she said, Because there are.
And so, before bed we took everything out
again—paper and pens and stamps and scissors—
and she sat at the table with her freshly washed hair
parted smartly down the middle and wrote
WILL YOU BE MINE, HENRY T.? and she did it
so carefully, I could hardly stand to watch.
Copyright © 2019 by Carrie Fountain. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 13, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
is what my sons call the flowers— purple, white, electric blue— pom-pomming bushes all along the beach town streets. I can’t correct them into hydrangeas, or I won’t. Bees ricochet in and out of the clustered petals, and my sons panic and dash and I tell them about good insects, pollination, but the truth is I want their fear-box full of bees. This morning the radio said tender age shelters. This morning the glaciers are retreating. How long now until the space-print backpack becomes district-policy clear? We’re almost to the beach, and High dangerous! my sons yell again, their joy in having spotted something beautiful, and called it what it is.
Copyright © 2019 by Catherine Pierce. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 1, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
There is one atop each of the Girls’ heads. Clearly they have been playing this game for a while. There is only one girl whose turkey is still full of air, and that girl is Girl D. The game is called Duck, Duck, Turkey. They go through the motions of having an “it,” and having that “it” walk around the outside of the circle of sitting girls, tapping them on their turkey heads while saying, “duck, duck, duck, duck...” until they say “turkey!” while hitting the turkey on the head of a girl and then running around the circle, trying to sit down in the open spot in the circle before getting tagged. The general stance over here is based on the unshakeable belief that playing this game is going to lead to a better, more just society for all, once everybody’s turkey is equally deflated. And although most of the turkeys are, indeed, mostly deflated, none of the girls can keep themselves from glancing furtively at the head of Girl D, her hair positively radiant in the light bouncing off of the almost fully inflated rubber turkey on her head. How can this be? What is wrong with everyone else’s turkey? Did Girl D get a refill? Or more air than others to begin with? Is that really a turkey? Maybe Girl D’s turkey is not made out of rubber like the rest. What if the rubber turkey of Girl D was filled with turkey?
Copyright © 2018 by Sawako Nakayasu. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 21, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
& anyway, what good is the metronomic one-note canon two house sparrows cant aloft, between, the pine privacy fence, if not to simulate estrangement? Watching them watching me, I think, First impressions are so medieval. O, to be the provincial drawbridge damming a ramshackle interior, or the alligator- green moat babbling sparsely beneath it— all the unknowable utterances one cheeps forth to be peripherally endeared. A chorus which, at the moment, I take to mean Friend, you look well from this distance, from my vantage, perched over here.
Copyright © 2018 by Marcus Wicker. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 20, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Among the men and women the multitude,
I perceive one picking me out by secret and divine signs,
Acknowledging none else, not parent, wife, husband, brother, child, any nearer than I am,
Some are baffled, but that one is not—that one knows me.
Ah lover and perfect equal,
I meant that you should discover me so by my faint indirections,
And I when I meet you mean to discover you by the like in you.
This poem is in the public domain.
I had forgotten how the frogs must sound
After a year of silence, else I think
I should not so have ventured forth alone
At dusk upon this unfrequented road.
I am waylaid by Beauty. Who will walk
Between me and the crying of the frogs?
Oh, savage Beauty, suffer me to pass,
That am a timid woman, on her way
From one house to another!
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on April 15, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
I have said that the soul is not more than the body,
And I have said that the body is not more than the soul,
And nothing, not God, is greater to one than one’s self is,
And whoever walks a furlong without sympathy walks to his own funeral drest in his shroud,
And I or you pocketless of a dime may purchase the pick of the earth,
And to glance with an eye or show a bean in its pod confounds the learning of all times,
And there is no trade or employment but the young man following it may become a hero,
And there is no object so soft but it makes a hub for the wheel’d universe,
And I say to any man or woman, Let your soul stand cool and composed before a million universes.
And I say to mankind, Be not curious about God,
For I who am curious about each am not curious about God,
(No array of terms can say how much I am at peace about God and about death.)
I hear and behold God in every object, yet understand God not in the least,
Nor do I understand who there can be more wonderful than myself.
Why should I wish to see God better than this day?
I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four, and each moment then,
In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face in the glass,
I find letters from God dropt in the street, and every one is sign’d by God’s name,
And I leave them where they are, for I know that wheresoe’er I go,
Others will punctually come for ever and ever.
From Leaves of Grass (1891-1892). This poem is in the public domain.
O Me! O life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
This poem is in the public domain.
The past and present wilt—I have fill'd them, emptied them.
And proceed to fill my next fold of the future.
Listener up there! what have you to confide to me?
Look in my face while I snuff the sidle of evening,
(Talk honestly, no one else hears you, and I stay only a minute longer.)
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
I concentrate toward them that are nigh, I wait on the door-slab.
Who has done his day's work? who will soonest be through with his supper?
Who wishes to walk with me?
Will you speak before I am gone? will you prove already too late?
This poem is in the public domain.
There once was a planet who was both
sick and beautiful. Chemicals rode through her
that she did not put there.
Animals drowned in her eyeballs
that she did not put there—
animals she could not warn
against falling in because
she was of them, not
separable from them.
Define sick, the atmosphere asked.
So she tried: she made
a whale on fire
swimming and alive.
See? she said. Like that,
kind of. But the atmosphere did
not understand this, so the planet progressed in her argument.
She talked about the skin
that snakes shed, about satellites that circled her
like suitors forever yet never
said a word.
She talked about the shyness
of large things, how a blueberry dominates
the tongue that it dies on.
She talked and talked and
the atmosphere started nodding—
you could call this
a revolution, or just therapy.
Meanwhile the whale spent the rest of his
life burning (etc., etc., he sang a few songs).
When he finally died
his body, continuing
to burn steadily, drifted down
to the ocean floor.
And although the planet
had long since forgotten him—he was merely one
of her many examples—he became
a kind of god in the eyes
of the fish that saw him as he fell. Or
not a god exactly, but at least something
inexplicable. Something strange and worth
briefly turning your face toward.
Copyright © 2019 by Mikko Harvey. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 22, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
turns out there are more planets than stars more places to land than to be burned I have always been in love with last chances especially now that they really do seem like last chances the trill of it all upending what’s left of my head after we explode are you ready to ascend in the morning I will take you on the wing
Copyright © 2019 by D. A. Powell. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 28, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
I am sick of writing this poem
but bring the boy. his new name
his same old body. ordinary, black
dead thing. bring him & we will mourn
until we forget what we are mourning
& isn’t that what being black is about?
not the joy of it, but the feeling
you get when you are looking
at your child, turn your head,
then, poof, no more child.
that feeling. that’s black.
think: once, a white girl
was kidnapped & that’s the Trojan war.
later, up the block, Troy got shot
& that was Tuesday. are we not worthy
of a city of ash? of 1000 ships
launched because we are missed?
always, something deserves to be burned.
it’s never the right thing now a days.
I demand a war to bring the dead boy back
no matter what his name is this time.
I at least demand a song. a song will do just fine.
look at what the lord has made.
above Missouri, sweet smoke.
Copyright © 2014 by Danez Smith. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.