Will it never be possible
to separate you from your greyness?
Must you be always sinking backward
into your grey-brown landscapes—and trees
always in the distance, always against a grey sky?

                          Must I be always
moving counter to you? Is there no place
where we can be at peace together
and the motion of our drawing apart
be altogether taken up?
                                 I see myself

standing upon your shoulders touching 
a grey, broken sky—
but you, weighted down with me,
yet gripping my ankles,—move
                          laboriously on,
where it is level and undisturbed by colors.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on September 20, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

I used to write about Assotto Saint

Slamming his hand down on the pulpit at Donald Wood’s funeral

when it was common to hide the cause of death of

young men who’d died from AIDS if they were buried at all

and weren’t abandoned

Someone told me about a thin boy

Thin with fear and death

played piano for the choir

no one touched him or talked about it

I know in my mother’s family

her mother’s sister said a parasite had killed

her son when he died suddenly

But I remember once him coming out of a Gay bar in Boston

all the white boys said, “How do you know her?”

I don’t know if he or I said cousin

I’m his cousin

He made me promise not to tell anyone in the family

I’d seen him there

So when they said parasite I knew something didn’t ring true

His mother a seemingly healthy woman died shortly after that

but I always felt their deaths were related

His mother either from the lies or repression

or a broken heart

having lost her young son

 

And I know everyone blames Jussie Smollett for his lies and staged attacked

but it makes me think there was something very toxic going on

that he didn’t feel he could talk to someone

Either that he was covering up an addiction or a hookup.

Watching Assotto stand up at Donald’s funeral and tell the truth

goes down in history as one of the bravest moments I’d ever witnessed

Either that or Audre Lorde spreading open the arms of her dashiki

the bravest woman we’d all witnessed

telling a crowded room of followers

I began on this journey as a coward

That or seeing a friend at the height of the AIDS era

at a bar his face covered in purple welts

refusing to hide

going out in public

That or Donald Woods being feeble

barely able to walk

accepting an award as a director of AIDS films

Or an ex-lover on a beach taking off her top and refusing

to hide her mastectomy scar

Or when Danitra Vance performed at The Public Theater

and danced naked revealing her mastectomy scars

and Audre refusing to wear a prosthesis

Or when Zakes Mokae in Master Harold and the Boys in the first Broadway play

that a cousin took me too

said to his white master, “Have you ever seen a Black man’s ass?”

and pulled down his pants and revealed himself to the audience

I was sixteen years old

Or seeing my mother beaten religiously

and still go out to work as if it hadn’t happened at all

Or even me surviving so many incredible tests

Once when I was talking to a doctor, I doubted my strength

He looked at me incredulously and said, “You are strong.”

Another doctor looked at me

my suffering

And asked isn’t anyone there for you?

And another said you deserve to be taken care of

Today once more I am nursing my broken heart

Caused by someone who betrayed

was not honest

That and attending an event and asking white people to give up

their seats to Black people who couldn’t sit down

And seeing social justice in action

Yes I often think of Assotto for the important place

he resides in my history

But today I am examining his tactics

pulling the tools off the shelf

dusting off the weaponry

in an exhibit

because today I need to use what he taught me.

 

Today I feel that puff of rage

That continuous assault

And I want to stand up and testify

though I too haven’t been asked

I want to interrupt all the proceedings

all the places Black lesbians have been erased

and silenced

Like looking down at a manuscript

seeing that they asked a young white woman to write about

Black queer history

when it’s been my area of expertise

forever

Or only attributing ’80s and ’90s AIDS activism

To ACT UP

I want the point of outrage now to not only the historicizing of AIDS

But the fact that women and Black lesbians

have been erased from the dialogue

When there were so many organizations like GMAD

Other countries ADODI

Men of All Colors Together

Salsa Soul/Arican American lesbians united for Societal Change

Las Buenas Amigas

and more

Or asking where are all the Black lesbians on Pose

because certainly they were on the piers and part of that history

And why are white men constantly at the helm

to tell our stories

And why don’t white queers recognize this

That and seeing panel after panel being organized on history and art

all things important to the world and no one thinking or noticing

it might be important to have a Black lesbian present

Just like they kicked Stormé out of

the Stonewall narrative.

And what about the people who weren’t on the streets

but in jobs

fighting the system

The dykes and queers

meeting each other forming community

and connections and families

and love

Just like in South Africa where they prevented intermingling

but ways were found

And each time we touched or loved

found each other in darkness and light

It was resistance

Each time we told each other You’re beautiful

You’re not wrong

It was resistance

When we stood up to the parents and families

and courts and those that shunned us

It was resistance

Wore what we really wanted

It was resistance

Yelled at doctors and drug professionals

It was resistance

Every time we wrote and read poems

It was resistance

Every time some queer kid

stays alive because they saw us

read us

discovered the archive

We’ve won

 

Every war is fought on our bodies

And one day after the gender racial

sexual orientation wars are over

in America

there will be a new generation

just like in South Africa called

the Born Frees.

 

—2019


Watch Pamela Sneed read a version of this poem at the 2019 Stonewall 50 reading.

Copyright © 2019 Pamela Sneed. Used with permission of the poet. Videography by James Matthew Proctor, event co-hosted by Poetry Project and Lambda Literary

These are the letters which Endymion wrote
    To one he loved in secret, and apart.
    And now the brawlers of the auction mart
Bargain and bid for each poor blotted note,
Ay! for each separate pulse of passion quote
    The merchant’s price. I think they love not art
    Who break the crystal of a poet’s heart
That small and sickly eyes may glare and gloat.

Is it not said that many years ago,
    In a far Eastern town, some soldiers ran
    With torches through the midnight, and began
To wrangel for mean raiment, and to throw
    Dice for the garments of a wretched man,
Not knowing the God’s wonder, or His woe?

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on August 18, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

notice now pictures of awful things on top our head
the freight that barricades this view, how enough
how the law batter down the dogged tide we make
the world shoring its dark scars between seasons
as though to hold it together only by a flame
is here a voice to please enough the blunt
borderlessness of this grief turning our heads to rubble
the lunacy of nothing so limning as death in the streets
in these vibrating hours where the corners talk back
need I simply run my tongue along the granite sky and live

to know how lost the millionth life somewhere today
the swift shape of roads new names combust, the sum
of anthems flooding the world with the eye’s sudden and narrow
saltwater and streets ziplined with screams at the pitch of cooking pots
then tear gas, then pepper spray, then militarized lies unzipping
body bags, oh, our many many there, our alive and just born,
and that is how to say let’s fuck it up, we the beat and we the loud
tuning forks and the help arriving empty-handed
propping the hot news of new times on our head

days like these pleat whatever the hollow year must offer
between the not-yet-dead and those just waking up
it will not be the vanished thing that we remember
it will be what we exchanged close to midnight
like smugglers high-wiring the city, hoarding the thoughts
of ours we interrupted midway to discovering the velocity
of the burning world below
of our language in the lateness of our stuck and reckless love

where the forces who claim they love us
level our lives to crust—the centuries-wide dance
of swapped shackles for knees
their batons and miscellany
thrown at our whole lives demanding our mothers
raise from their separate rooms, separate graves, today
to save who and me? I open the book to a naked page
where nothing clatter my heart, what head
what teeth cling to broadside, roll alias after
alias with a pen at their dull tribunes and shrines
imagine our heirlooms of shot nerves make a life
given to placards and synergies and elegies, but more

last things: where letters here where snow in May
where the millennium unstitches the quartered earth
in June, how many today to the viral fire
the frosted rich and their forts, but not
the fulsome rage of my people unpeaced
mute boots with somber looks appear
a fearsome autumn ending spring, though we still hear

I dare not sing

another song to dig a hole this time for the lineages
of magnolias where the offspring bring a hand to cover
our mouth, our heaping lives, who sit who burn who drop
three feet to the tar, who eat and demolish the thing
that takes our head, the thing that is no more
the place that never was except a burning learned

just once and not again when the darker working’s race

Copyright © 2020 by Canisia Lubrin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 3, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

for Malcolm Latiff Shabazz

yellow roses in my mother’s room    mean
I’m sorry   sadness comes in      generations
inheritance           split   flayed    displayed
better than all the others

crown                                    weight

the undue burden of the truly exceptional
most special of your kind, a kind of fire

persisting unafraid      saffron bloom
to remind us of fragility    or beauty       or revolution

to ponder darkly             in the bright
the fate of young kings

the crimes for which          there are no apologies.

Copyright © 2020 by Kristina Kay Robinson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 23, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

HAVENT HEARD FROM YOU IN AGES STOP LOVE YOUR
LATEST SHOW STOP THIS NO PHONE STUFF IS FOR BIRDS
LIKE YOU STOP ONCE SHOUTED UP FROM STREET ONLY

RAIN AND YOUR ASSISTANT ANSWERED STOP DO YOU
STILL SLEEP LATE STOP DOES YOUR PAINT STILL COVER
DOORS STOP FOUND A SAMO TAG COPYRIGHT HIGH

ABOVE A STAIR STOP NOT SURE HOW YOU REACHED STOP
YOU ALWAYS WERE A CLIMBER STOP COME DOWN SOME
DAY AND SEE US AGAIN END

From To Repel Ghosts by Kevin Young, published by Zoland Books, Inc. © 2001 by Kevin Young. Reprinted with permission from Zoland Books, Inc. All rights reserved.

How great my grief, my joys how few, 
Since first it was my fate to know thee! 
- Have the slow years not brought to view 
How great my grief, my joys how few, 
Nor memory shaped old times anew, 
    Nor loving-kindness helped to show thee 
How great my grief, my joys how few, 
    Since first it was my fate to know thee?

This poem is in the public domain.

I suppose I should place them under separate files
Both died from different circumstances kind of, one from HIV AIDS and possibly not having
taken his medicines
the other from COVID-19 coupled with
complications from an underlying HIV status
In each case their deaths may have been preventable if one had taken his meds and the
hospital thought to treat the other
instead of sending him home saying, He wasn’t sick enough
he died a few days later
They were both mountains of men
dark black beautiful gay men
both more than six feet tall fierce and way ahead of their time
One’s drag persona was Wonder Woman and the other started a black fashion magazine
He also liked poetry
They both knew each other from the same club scene we all grew up in
When I was working the door at a club one frequented
He would always say to me haven’t they figured out you’re a star yet
And years ago bartending with the other when I complained about certain people and
treatment he said sounds like it’s time for you to clean house
Both I know were proud of me the poet star stayed true to my roots
I guess what stands out to me is that they both were
gay black mountains of men
Cut down
Felled too early
And it makes me think the biggest and blackest are almost always more vulnerable
My white friend speculates why the doctors sent one home
If he had enough antibodies
Did they not know his HIV status
She approaches it rationally
removed from race as if there were any rationale for sending him home
Still she credits the doctors for thinking it through
But I speculate they saw a big black man before them
Maybe they couldn’t imagine him weak
Maybe because of his size color class they imagined him strong
said he’s okay
Which happened to me so many times
Once when I’d been hospitalized at the same time as a white girl
she had pig-tails
we had the same thing but I saw how tenderly they treated her
Or knowing so many times in the medical system I would never have been treated so terribly if I
had had a man with me
Or if I were white and entitled enough to sue
Both deaths could have been prevented both were almost first to fall in this season of death
But it reminds me of what I said after Eric Garner a large black man was strangled to death over
some cigarettes
Six cops took him down
His famous lines were I can’t breathe
so if we are always the threat
To whom or where do we turn for protection?

Copyright © 2020 by Pamela Sneed. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 18, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

The only precious thing I own, this little espresso
cup. And in it a dark roast all the way
from Honduras, Guatemala, Ethiopia
where coffee was born in the 9th century
getting goat herders high, spinning like dervishes, the white blooms
cresting out of the evergreen plant, Ethiopia
where I almost lived for a moment but
then the rebels surrounded the Capital
so I stayed home. I stayed home and drank
coffee and listened to the radio
and heard how they were getting along. I would walk
down Everett Street, near the hospital
where my older brother was bound
to his white bed like a human mast, where he was
getting his mind right and learning
not to hurt himself. I would walk by and be afraid and smell
the beans being roasted inside the garage
of an old warehouse. It smelled like burnt
toast! It was everywhere in the trees. I couldn’t bear to see him.
I sometimes never knew him. Sometimes
he would call. He wanted us
to sit across from each other, some coffee between us,
sober. Coffee can taste like grapefruit
or caramel, like tobacco, strawberry,
cinnamon, the oils being pushed
out of the grounds and floating to the top of a French Press,
the expensive kind I get
in the mail, the mailman with a pound of Sumatra
under his arm, ringing my doorbell,
waking me up from a night when all I had was tea
and watched a movie about the Queen of England when Spain was hot
for all her castles and all their ships, carved out
of fine Spanish trees, went up in flames
while back home Spaniards were growing potatoes
and coffee was making its careful way
along a giant whip
from Africa to Europe
where cafes would become famous
and people would eventually sit with their cappuccinos, the baristas
talking about the new war, a cup of sugar
on the table, a curled piece of lemon rind. A beret
on someone’s head, a scarf
around their neck. A bomb in a suitcase
left beneath a small table. Right now
I’m sitting near a hospital where psychotropics are being
carried down the hall in a pink cup,
where someone is lying there and he doesn’t know who
he is. I’m listening
to the couple next to me
talk about their cars. I have no idea
how I got here. The world stops at the window
while I take my little spoon and slowly swirl the cream around the lip
of the cup. Once, I had a brother
who used to sit and drink his coffee black, smoke
his cigarettes and be quiet for a moment
before his brain turned its Armadas against him, wanting to burn down
his cities and villages, before grief
became his capital with its one loyal flag and his face,
perhaps only his beautiful left eye, shimmered on the surface of his Americano
like a dark star.

From All-American Poem (Copper Canyon Press, 2008). Copyright © 2008 by Matthew Dickman. Used with the permission of Copper Canyon Press.

i have diver’s lungs from holding my
breath for so long. i promise you
i am not trying to break a record
sometimes i just forget to
exhale. my shoulders held tightly
near my neck, i am a ball of tense
living, a tumbleweed with steel-toed
boots. i can’t remember the last time
i felt light as dandelion. i can’t remember
the last time i took the sweetness in
& my diaphragm expanded into song.
they tell me breathing is everything,
meaning if i breathe right i can live to be
ancient. i’ll grow a soft furry tail or be
telekinetic something powerful enough
to heal the world. i swear i thought
the last time i’d think of death with breath
was that balmy day in july when the cops
became a raging fire & sucked the breath
out of Garner; but yesterday i walked
38 blocks to my father’s house with a mask
over my nose & mouth, the sweat dripping
off my chin only to get caught in fabric & pool up
like rain. & i inhaled small spurts of me, little
particles of my dna. i took into body my own self
& thought i’d die from so much exposure
to my own bereavement—they’re saying
this virus takes your breath away, not
like a mother’s love or like a good kiss
from your lover’s soft mouth but like the police
it can kill you fast or slow; dealer’s choice.
a pallbearer carrying your body without a casket.
they say it’s so contagious it could be quite
breathtaking. so persistent it might as well
be breathing                        down your neck—

Copyright © 2020 by Yesenia Montilla. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 21, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

A Picture

Fair mistress of a warlike State,
What crime of thine deserves this fate?
While other ports to Freedom rise,
In thee that flame of honour dies.

With wars and horrors overspread,
Seven years, and more, we fought and bled:
Seized British hosts and Hessian bands,
And all—to leave you in their hands.

While British tribes forsake our plains,
In you, a ghastly herd remains:
Must vipers to your halls repair;
Must poison taint that purest air?

Ah! what a scene torments the eye:
In thee, what putrid monsters lie!
What dirt, and mud, and mouldering walls,
Burnt domes, dead dogs, and funerals!

Those grassy banks, where oft we stood,
And fondly viewed the passing flood;
There, owls obscene, that daylight shun,
Pollute the waters, as they run.

Thus in the east—once Asia’s queen—
Palmyra’s tottering towers are seen;
While through her streets the serpent feeds,
Thus she puts on her mourning weeds!

Lo! Skinner there for Scotia hails
The sweepings of Cesarean jails:
While, to receive the odious freight,
A thousand sable transports wait.

Had he been born in days of old
When men with gods their 'squires enrolled,
Hermes had claimed his aid above,
Arch-quibbler in the courts of Jove.

O chief, that wrangled at the bar—
Grown old in less successful war;
What crowds of miscreants round you stand,
What vagrants bow to your command!

This poem is in the public domain.

A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration
January 21, 2013
 

One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces
of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth
across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies.
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story
told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.

My face, your face, millions of faces in morning’s mirrors,
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day:
pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights,
fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows
begging our praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper—
bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us,
on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives—
to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did
for twenty years, so I could write this poem.

All of us as vital as the one light we move through,
the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day:
equations to solve, history to question, or atoms imagined,
the “I have a dream” we keep dreaming,
or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won’t explain
the empty desks of twenty children marked absent
today, and forever. Many prayers, but one light
breathing color into stained glass windows,
life into the faces of bronze statues, warmth
onto the steps of our museums and park benches
as mothers watch children slide into the day.

One ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalk
of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat
and hands, hands gleaning coal or planting windmills
in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm, hands
digging trenches, routing pipes and cables, hands
as worn as my father’s cutting sugarcane
so my brother and I could have books and shoes.

The dust of farms and deserts, cities and plains
mingled by one wind—our breath. Breathe. Hear it
through the day’s gorgeous din of honking cabs,
buses launching down avenues, the symphony
of footsteps, guitars, and screeching subways,
the unexpected song bird on your clothes line.

Hear: squeaky playground swings, trains whistling,
or whispers across café tables, Hear: the doors we open
for each other all day, saying: hello / shalom,
buon giorno / howdy / namaste / or buenos días
in the language my mother taught me—in every language
spoken into one wind carrying our lives
without prejudice, as these words break from my lips.

One sky: since the Appalachians and Sierras claimed
their majesty, and the Mississippi and Colorado worked
their way to the sea. Thank the work of our hands:
weaving steel into bridges, finishing one more report
for the boss on time, stitching another wound
or uniform, the first brush stroke on a portrait,
or the last floor on the Freedom Tower
jutting into a sky that yields to our resilience.

One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes
tired from work: some days guessing at the weather
of our lives, some days giving thanks for a love
that loves you back, sometimes praising a mother
who knew how to give, or forgiving a father
who couldn’t give what you wanted.

We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always—home,
always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop
and every window, of one country—all of us—
facing the stars
hope—a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it—together


Watch Richard Blanco read “One Today” at President Obama’s inauguration in 2013:

One Today: A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration, January 21, 2013, by Richard Blanco, © 2013. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

You rode your bike from your house on the corner to the dead end of the street, and turned it around at the factory, back to the corner again. This was the loop your mother let you ride, not along the avenue with its cavalcade of trucks, or up the block where Drac the Dropout waited to plunge his pointy incisors into virginal necks. You can't remember exactly your age, but you probably had a bike with a banana seat, and wore cutoff jeans and sweat socks to the knees. You are trying to be precise but everything is a carbon-like surface that scrolls by with pinpricks emitting memory’s wavy threads. One is blindingly bright and lasts only seconds: You are riding your bike and the shadowy blots behind the factory windows’ steel grates emit sounds that reach and wrap around you like a type of gravity that pulls down the face. You can’t see them but what they say is what men say all day long, to women who are trying to get somewhere. It’s not something you hadn’t heard before. But until then, you only had your ass grabbed by boys your own age—boys you knew, who you could name—in a daily playground game in which teachers looked away. In another pin prick, you loop back to your house, where your mother is standing on the corner talking to neighbors. You tell her what the men said, and ask, does this mean I’m beautiful? What did she say? Try remembering: You are standing on the corner with your mother. You are standing on the corner. This pinprick emits no light; it is dark, it is her silence. Someday you will have a daughter and the dead end will become a cul de sac and all the factories will be shut down or at the edges of town, and the men behind screens will be monitored, blocked. And when things seem safe, and everything is green and historic and homey, you will let her walk from school to park, where you’ll wait for her, thanks to a flexible schedule, on the corner. And when she walks daydreaming along the way and takes too long to reach you, the words they said will hang from the tree you wait under.

Copyright © 2020 by Rosa Alcalá. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 7, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

A recent study found that poems increased 
the sale price of a home by close to $9,000. 
The years, however, have not been kind to poems. 

The Northeast has lost millions of poems, 
reducing the canopy. Just a few days ago, 
high winds knocked a poem onto a power line 

a few blocks from my house. 
I had not expected to lose so many at once. 
“We’ve created a system that is not healthy 

for poems,” said someone. Over the next thirty years, 
there won’t be any poems where there are overhead wires.
Some poems may stay as a nuisance, 

as a gorgeous marker of time.

Copyright © 2019 by Catherine Barnett. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 22, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
    Yes, to the very end.
Will the day's journey take the whole long day?
    From morn to night, my friend.

But is there for the night a resting-place?
    A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
    You cannot miss that inn.

Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
    Those who have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
    They will not keep you standing at that door.

Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
    Of labour you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
    Yea, beds for all who come.

This poem is in the public domain.

I ask the new migrant if he regrets leaving Russia.
We have dispensed already with my ancestry.
He says no. For a time, he was depressed. He found
with every return he missed what he left behind.
A constant state of this. Better to love by far
where you are. He taps the steering wheel of his car,
the hum of the engine an imperceptible tremble
in us. When he isn’t driving, he works tending
to new trees. I’ve seen these saplings popping
up all over the suburbs, tickling the bellies
of bridges, the new rooted darlings of the State.
The council spent a quarter mil on them &
someone, he—Lilian—must ensure the dirt
holds. Gentrification is climate-friendly now.
I laugh and he laughs, and we eat the distance
between histories. He checks on his buds daily.
Are they okay? They are okay. They do not need
him, but he speaks, and they listen or at least
shake a leaf. What a world where you can live off
land by loving it. If only we cared for each other
this way. The council cares for their investment.
The late greenery, that is, not Lilian, who shares
his ride on the side. I wonder what it would cost 
to have men be tender to me regularly, 
to be folded into his burly, to be left on the side
of the road as he drove away, exhausted. Even
my dreams of tenderness involve being used
& I’m not sure who to blame: colonialism,
capitalism, patriarchy, queerness or poetry?
Sorry, this is a commercial for the Kia Sportage
now. This is a commercial for Lilian’s thighs.
He didn’t ask for this and neither did I—how
language drapes us together, how stories tongue
each other in the back seat and the sky blurs
out of frame. There are too many agonies
to discuss here, and I am nearly returned.
He has taken me all the way back, around
the future flowering, back to where I am not,
to the homes I keep investing in as harms.
I should fill them with trees. Let the boughs
cover the remembered boy, cowering
under a mother, her raised weapon
not the cane but the shattering within,
let the green tear through the wall
paper, let life replace memory. Lilian, I left
you that day, and in the leaving, a love
followed. Isn’t that a wonder and a wound?
Tell me which it is, I confess I mistake the two.
I walk up the stairs to my old brick apartment
where the peach tree reaches for the railing,
a few blushing fruits poking through the bars,
eager to brush my leg, to say linger, halt.
I want to stop, to hold it for real, just once
but I must wait until I am safe.

Copyright © 2019 by Omar Sakr. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 4, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

I used to dream of living here. I hike
a trail I know that at the end opens

to glorious views of the city I did
live in once, when men my age kept dying

while I learned how to diagnose AIDS.
Some dreams don’t come true, and some dreams become

nightmares. Across a field that smells of sage,
a few horses loiter. I want to think

that they forgive me, since they’re noble creatures.
They stamp and snort, reminding me they know

nothing of forgiveness. I used to dream
that someday I’d escape to San Francisco,

when I was still in high school and I knew.
Tall and muscled, the horses are like the jocks

on the football team who beat me once, as if pain
teaches truth and they knew I had to learn.

I used to dream I was as white as them,
that I could slam my locker closed and not

think of jail. Some nightmares come true,
like when my uncle got arrested for

cocaine. My family never talked about it,
which made me realize they could also feel shame.

That’s when I started dreaming I could be
a doctor someday, that I could get away,

prescribe myself a new life. Right now, as
the city comes into view, I think of those

animals and hope they got what they deserved.
The city stretches out its arms, its two bridges

to Oakland, to Stockton, to San Rafael,
to Vallejo; places I could have been from

but wasn’t. It looks just as it did
all those years ago. Yet I know it’s changed

because so many of us died, like Rico,
who took me up here for the first time.

We kicked a soccer ball around and smoked
a joint. I think we talked about our dreams,

but who can remember dreams. I look out
and the sun like your hand on my face

is warm, and for a moment I think this is
glorious, this is what forgiveness feels like.

Copyright © 2020 by Rafael Campo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 5, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

I used to dream of living here. I hike
a trail I know that at the end opens

to glorious views of the city I did
live in once, when men my age kept dying

while I learned how to diagnose AIDS.
Some dreams don’t come true, and some dreams become

nightmares. Across a field that smells of sage,
a few horses loiter. I want to think

that they forgive me, since they’re noble creatures.
They stamp and snort, reminding me they know

nothing of forgiveness. I used to dream
that someday I’d escape to San Francisco,

when I was still in high school and I knew.
Tall and muscled, the horses are like the jocks

on the football team who beat me once, as if pain
teaches truth and they knew I had to learn.

I used to dream I was as white as them,
that I could slam my locker closed and not

think of jail. Some nightmares come true,
like when my uncle got arrested for

cocaine. My family never talked about it,
which made me realize they could also feel shame.

That’s when I started dreaming I could be
a doctor someday, that I could get away,

prescribe myself a new life. Right now, as
the city comes into view, I think of those

animals and hope they got what they deserved.
The city stretches out its arms, its two bridges

to Oakland, to Stockton, to San Rafael,
to Vallejo; places I could have been from

but wasn’t. It looks just as it did
all those years ago. Yet I know it’s changed

because so many of us died, like Rico,
who took me up here for the first time.

We kicked a soccer ball around and smoked
a joint. I think we talked about our dreams,

but who can remember dreams. I look out
and the sun like your hand on my face

is warm, and for a moment I think this is
glorious, this is what forgiveness feels like.

Copyright © 2020 by Rafael Campo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 5, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Let us, instead, consider the pockets 
Martin Rodriguez sewed onto the insides 
of his jacket and pants. 
                                      This was 5th grade.
This isn’t about the fact that he got caught 
jacking a bunch of shit from Market Spot. 
All of us wished we’d thought of it first. 
                                                                 We need 
to stay focused on those extra pockets. How 
big those caverns must have been—that fortune 
of whispered temptation. 
                                           Boy-genius, we said. 
Pockets for bags of apple-rings, beef jerky. A Pepsi 
2-liter. Crunch bars. Cans of Cactus Cooler, 
maybe. The lonely monster of desire bent us 
away from boyhood, made it something small 
that we wanted to toss rocks at. 
                                                    Rolls of Oreos 
in those pockets. Enough Doublemint gum 
to anchor friends on a green recess field. A few
sheets of temporary tattoos to offer in class 
while Mrs. Hawkins continued her lesson 
on the Gold Rush. 
                               I can see those pockets 
pomegranate when pulled apart: a bloom 
of endings across the Market Spot parking lot 
as he tried to run. Bomb Pop ice cream bars, 
or the cartoon kind with gumballs for eyes, 
oozing out. 
                   Look, I am talking about collapse. 
As always. The rest of the poem wants to go 
like this: I don’t know what happened 
to Martin Rodriguez. He never came back
to school. But the truth is he returned to class 
the next day. 
                     We stood in a circle, laughing 
about what he took until the day Manny 
got caught smoking weed. Then we talked 
about that until someone’s cousin got shot 
after school by the computer lab. We played 
Oregon Trail on Thursdays. None of us 
could ever cross the river. I kept dying 
of snake bite. 
                       We got older and painted walls 
for different crews. We became enemies, me 
and Martin, drawing exes over each other. We 
turned into no one, and then, 
                                                finally, we became 
fathers. I saw him, years later, with his son. 
We crossed each other on the street. Both of us 
nodded and kept on moving toward the sidewalk. 
So many years collapsing into each other, 
I thought. 
                  Someone has changed the sign 
in front of the store. But if I say Market Spot
today, the homie points to where we watched 
the cashier jump the counter and snatch Martin 
into the air, splicing it with sugar. The sharp kick 
of a boy’s legs. A body jolted into enough quiet 
that police were called. Officers with notepads, 
                the cashier waving flies away from his face.

Copyright © 2020 by Michael Torres. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 16, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

after Olivia Gatwood

I get ready for my first day as the new girl in high school
already knowing what not to wear. I dress perfectly
to stand out and disappear. I know how to put on
makeup, and I do it exactly right. My hair
looks awesome, of course! I step onto the bus,
pause by the driver, raise my arms like a superstar,
and meet the eyes of my adoring audience.
Three different beautiful girls punch
each other in the face to have me sit next to them.
I decline and the school’s most lovely, artsy boy
slides over to make room. He knows his feelings
and only goes too far
when he honestly misunderstands. He’s one of the safer ones.

I walk down the halls and no one makes fun of me.
I pass the section of lockers where her locker is, and
she is there, taking a book out of her backpack.
She’ll go running this weekend, as usual, and won’t
be followed. The man who won’t be following
her has already followed half a dozen women
to rape and kill and leave in the woods. But she won’t be
followed. She’ll survive her fate this time, and come back

to school on Monday, avoid the mean girls in the bathroom.
She’ll pick on the new girl, call her a virgin of all things.
She’ll limp her way through math, cheat a bit in science,
do pretty good in history and English. She’ll graduate,
and go to the state school on a track scholarship. She’ll
have two girls and keep them safe. She’ll almost forget

about this other ending: her in the woods near her house,
staring at the ground beneath her, wondering why.

Copyright © 2020 by Melanie Figg. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 12, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Going there for the first time
it was so much smaller then
that crowded downstairs full of poetry
racks of tattered little mags against the wall
those rickety white tables where folks sat reading/writing
Vesuvio’s was like an adjunct office

Arriving again a year later, two kids in tow
Lawrence gave me a huge stack of his publications
“I’ve got books” he said “like other people have mice”

And North Beach never stopped being mysterious
when I moved out here in 1968
that publishing office on Filbert & Grant was a mecca
a place to meet up with my kids if we got separated
during one of those innumerable demonstrations
(tho Lawrence worried, told me I shd keep them
out of harm’s way, at home) I thought they shd learn
whatever it was we were learning—
Office right around the corner from the bead store
where I found myself daily, picking up supplies

How many late nights did we haunt the Store
buying scads of new poems from all corners of the earth
then head to the all-night Tower Records full of drag queens
& revolutionaries, to get a few songs

And dig it, City Lights still here, like some old lighthouse
though all the rest is gone,
the poetry’s moved upstairs, the publishing office
right there now too       & crowds of people
one third my age or less still haunt the stacks
seeking out voices from all quarters
of the globe

From The Poetry Deal (City Lights Books, 2014) by Diane di Prima. Copyright © 2014 Diane di Prima. All rights reserved. 

But this poem’s got no parents
snapped to life, ditched its
Bildung and flooded backwards
over the border to Canada               it has no appetite,
health or grudges     no sour feelings keep it up at night
no autobiography left to compose of glances,
tresses, snap decisions, remarkable
and unremarkable men        water slouching
through a bathroom ceiling in a singular home
Candy a class act when a landscape
painter at pop punk court
I’ll outlast both, and dexedrine, and I'm not sorry
more like you discover melodrama
in the windows of the technically not that rich

Copyright © 2020 by Kay Gabriel. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 24, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

I beg for invisible fire.

Every night I pray to love,
please invent yourself.

I imagine a place after this place
and I laugh quietly to no one
as the hair on my chin
weeds through old makeup.

When I go to sleep
I am vinegar inside clouded glass.
The world comes to an end
when I wake up and wonder
who will be next to me.

Police sirens and coyote howls
blend together in morning’s net.
Once, I walked out past the cars
and stood on a natural rock formation
that seemed placed there to be stood on.
I felt something like kinship.
It was the first time.

Once, I believed god
was a blanket of energy
stretched out around
our most vulnerable
places,

when really,

she’s the sound
of a promise
breaking

Copyright © 2020 by Joshua Jennifer Espinoza. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 14, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

I used to dream of living here. I hike
a trail I know that at the end opens

to glorious views of the city I did
live in once, when men my age kept dying

while I learned how to diagnose AIDS.
Some dreams don’t come true, and some dreams become

nightmares. Across a field that smells of sage,
a few horses loiter. I want to think

that they forgive me, since they’re noble creatures.
They stamp and snort, reminding me they know

nothing of forgiveness. I used to dream
that someday I’d escape to San Francisco,

when I was still in high school and I knew.
Tall and muscled, the horses are like the jocks

on the football team who beat me once, as if pain
teaches truth and they knew I had to learn.

I used to dream I was as white as them,
that I could slam my locker closed and not

think of jail. Some nightmares come true,
like when my uncle got arrested for

cocaine. My family never talked about it,
which made me realize they could also feel shame.

That’s when I started dreaming I could be
a doctor someday, that I could get away,

prescribe myself a new life. Right now, as
the city comes into view, I think of those

animals and hope they got what they deserved.
The city stretches out its arms, its two bridges

to Oakland, to Stockton, to San Rafael,
to Vallejo; places I could have been from

but wasn’t. It looks just as it did
all those years ago. Yet I know it’s changed

because so many of us died, like Rico,
who took me up here for the first time.

We kicked a soccer ball around and smoked
a joint. I think we talked about our dreams,

but who can remember dreams. I look out
and the sun like your hand on my face

is warm, and for a moment I think this is
glorious, this is what forgiveness feels like.

Copyright © 2020 by Rafael Campo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 5, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

What still grows in winter?
Fingernails of witches and femmes,
green moss on river rocks,
lit with secrets... I let myself
go near the river but not
the railroad: this is my bargain.
Water boils in a kettle in the woods
and I can hear the train grow louder
but I also can’t, you know?
Then I’m shaving in front of an
unbreakable mirror while a nurse
watches over my shoulder.
Damn. What still grows in winter?
Lynda brought me basil I crushed
with my finger and thumb just to
smell the inside of a thing. So
I go to the river but not the rail-
road, think I’ll live another year.
The river rock dig into my shoulders
like a lover who knows I don’t want
power. I release every muscle against
the rock and I give it all my warmth.
                              Snow shakes
onto my chest quick as table salt.
Branches above me full of pine needle
whips: when the river rock is done
with me, I could belong to the evergreen.
Safety is a rock I throw into the river.
My body, ready. Don’t even think
a train run through this town anymore.

Copyright © 2018 by Oliver Baez Bendorf. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 8, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

For Akua

Walking, I drew my hand over the lumpy
bloom of a spray of purple; I stripped away
my fingers, stained purple; put it to my nose,

the minty honey, a perfume so aggressively
pleasant—I gave it to you to smell,
my daughter, and you pulled away as if

I was giving you a palm full of wasps,
deceptions: “Smell the way the air
changes because of purple and green.”

This is the promise I make to you:
I will never give you a fist full of wasps,
just the surprise of purple and the scent of rain.

Reproduced from Nebraska: Poems by Kwame Dawes by permission of the University of Nebraska Press. Copyright 2019 by the Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska.