Translated by Robin Myers
I don’t understand how we walk around the world
as if there were a single way for each of us, a kind
of life stamped into us like a childhood injection,
a cure painstakingly released into the blood with every passing year
like a poison transmuted into antidote
against any possible disobedience that might
awaken in the body. But the body isn’t mere
submissive matter, a mouth that cleanly swallows
whatever it’s fed. It’s a lattice
of little filaments, as I imagine
threads of starlight must be. What can never
be touched: that’s the body. What lives outside
the law when the law is muscled and violent,
a boulder plunging off a precipice
and crushing everything in its path. How do they manage
to wander around so happily and comfortably in their bodies, how
do they feel so sure, so confident in being what they are: this blood,
these organs, this sex, this species? Haven’t they ever longed
to be a lizard scorching in the sun
every day, or an old man, or a vine
clutching a trunk in search of somewhere
to hold on, or a boy sprinting till his heart
bursts from his chest with sheer brute energy,
with sheer desire? We’re forced
to be whatever we resemble. Haven’t
you ever wished you knew what it would feel like to have claws
or roots or fins instead of hands, what it would mean
if you could only live in silence
or by murmuring or crying out
in pain or fear or pleasure? Or if there weren’t any words
at all and so the soul of every living thing were measured
by the intensity it manifests
once it’s set free?
Yo no sé cómo se hace para andar por el mundo
como si solo hubiera una posibilidad para cada cual,
una manera de estar vivos inoculada en las venas durante la niñez,
un remedio que va liberándose lentamente en la sangre
a lo largo de los años igual que un veneno
que se convierte en un antídoto
contra cualquier desobediencia que pudiera
despertarse en el cuerpo. Pero el cuerpo no es
una materia sumisa, una boca que traga limpiamente
aquello con que se la alimenta. Es un entramado
de pequeños filamentos, como imagino que son los hilos
de luz de las estrellas. Lo que nunca podría
ser tocado: eso es el cuerpo. Lo que siempre
queda afuera de la ley cuando la ley es maciza
y violenta, una piedra descomunal cayendo
desde lo alto de una cima
arrasando lo que encuentra. ¿Cómo pueden entonces
andar tan cómodos y felices en su cuerpo, cómo hacen
para tener la certeza, la seguridad de que son eso: esa sangre,
esos órganos, ese sexo, esa especie? ¿Nunca quisieron
ser un lagarto prendido cada día del calor del sol
hasta quemarse el cuero, un hombre viejo, una enredadera
apretándose contra el tronco de un árbol para tener de dónde
sostenerse, un chico corriendo hasta que el corazón
se le sale del pecho de pura energía brutal,
de puro deseo? Nos esforzamos tanto
por ser aquello a lo que nos parecemos. ¿Nunca
se te ocurrió cómo sería si en lugar de manos tuvieras garras
o raíces o aletas, cómo sería
si la única manera de vivir fuera en silencio o aullando
de placer o de dolor o de miedo,
si no hubiera palabras
y el alma de cada cosa viva se midiera
por la intensidad de la que es capaz una vez
que queda suelta?
© 2019 Claudia Masin and Robin Myers. Published in Poem-a-Day in partnership with Words Without Borders (wordswithoutborders.org) on September 28, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Under the cover of night, Icarus,
careful not to wake his captors from sleep,
flees from the prison built by his father’s
master. He does not look back. He does not
stop. Just as Icarus arrives at the border
of the sky, more North than he’s ever thought
possible, Master’s son, with blazing rage,
strikes the wings from Icarus’ shoulders with a whip,
a tendril of flame hungry for dark meat.
Icarus plummets into the river and drowns.
The river carries him and spits him out
someplace colder, some unfamiliar South,
where he’ll tread forever in an ocean
always bloated blue with bodies of kin.
Copyright © 2019 Jonathan Teklit. This poem originally appeared on poets.org as part of the 2019 University and College Poetry Prizes. Used with permission of the author.
Abortions will not let you forget.
You remember the children you got that you did not get,
The damp small pulps with a little or with no hair,
The singers and workers that never handled the air.
You will never neglect or beat
Them, or silence or buy with a sweet.
You will never wind up the sucking-thumb
Or scuttle off ghosts that come.
You will never leave them, controlling your luscious sigh,
Return for a snack of them, with gobbling mother-eye.
I have heard in the voices of the wind the voices of my dim killed children.
I have contracted. I have eased
My dim dears at the breasts they could never suck.
I have said, Sweets, if I sinned, if I seized
And your lives from your unfinished reach,
If I stole your births and your names,
Your straight baby tears and your games,
Your stilted or lovely loves, your tumults, your marriages, aches, and your deaths,
If I poisoned the beginnings of your breaths,
Believe that even in my deliberateness I was not deliberate.
Though why should I whine,
Whine that the crime was other than mine?—
Since anyhow you are dead.
Or rather, or instead,
You were never made.
But that too, I am afraid,
Is faulty: oh, what shall I say, how is the truth to be said?
You were born, you had body, you died.
It is just that you never giggled or planned or cried.
Believe me, I loved you all.
Believe me, I knew you, though faintly, and I loved, I loved you
From A Street in Bronzeville by Gwendolyn Brooks, published by Harper & Brothers. © 1945 by Gwendolyn Brooks. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
More than anything, I need this boy
so close to my ears, his questions
electric as honeybees in an acreage
of goldenrod and aster. And time where
we are, slow sugar in the veins
of white pine, rubbery mushrooms
cloistered at their feet. His tawny
listening at the water’s edge, shy
antlers in pooling green light, while
we consider fox prints etched in clay.
I need little black boys to be able to be
little black boys, whole salt water galaxies
in cotton and loudness—not fixed
in stunned suspension, episodes on hot
asphalt, waiting in the dazzling absence
of apology. I need this kid to stay mighty
and coltish, thundering alongside
other black kids, their wrestle and whoop,
the brightness of it—I need for the world
to bear it. And until it will, may the trees
kneel closer, while we sit in mineral hush,
together. May the boy whose dark eyes
are an echo of my father’s dark eyes,
and his father’s dark eyes, reach
with cupped hands into the braided
current. The boy, restless and lanky, the boy
for whom each moment endlessly opens,
for the attention he invests in the beetle’s
lacquered armor, each furrowed seed
or heartbeat, the boy who once told me
the world gives you second chances, the boy
tugging my arm, saying look, saying now.
Copyright © 2019 by Nicole Terez Dutton. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 25, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Probably you’ll solve gravity, flesh
out our microbiomics, split our God
particles into their constituent bits
of christs and antichrists probably,
probably you’ll find life as we know it
knitted into nooks of the chattering
cosmos, quaint and bountiful as kismet
and gunfights in the movies probably,
probably, probably you have no patience
for the movies there in your eventual
arrondissement where you have more
credible holography, more inspiring
actual events, your ghazals composed
of crow racket, retrorockets, glaciers
breaking, your discotheques wailing
probably, probably, probably, probably
too late a sentient taxi airlifts you
home over a refurbished riverbank,
above the rebuilt cathedral, your head
dozing easy in the crook of your arm,
emptied of any memory of these weeks
we haven’t slept you’ve been erupting
into that hereafter like a hydrant on fire,
like your mother is an air raid, and I am
an air raid, and you’re a born siren
chasing us out of your airspace probably
we’ve caught 46 daybreaks in 39 days,
little emissary arrived to instruct us,
we wake now you shriek us awake,
we sleep now you leave us to sleep.
Copyright © 2019 by Jaswinder Bolina. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 10, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
I want a red dress. I want it flimsy and cheap, I want it too tight, I want to wear it until someone tears it off me. I want it sleeveless and backless, this dress, so no one has to guess what's underneath. I want to walk down the street past Thrifty's and the hardware store with all those keys glittering in the window, past Mr. and Mrs. Wong selling day-old donuts in their café, past the Guerra brothers slinging pigs from the truck and onto the dolly, hoisting the slick snouts over their shoulders. I want to walk like I'm the only woman on earth and I can have my pick. I want that red dress bad. I want it to confirm your worst fears about me, to show you how little I care about you or anything except what I want. When I find it, I'll pull that garment from its hanger like I'm choosing a body to carry me into this world, through the birth-cries and the love-cries too, and I'll wear it like bones, like skin, it'll be the goddamned dress they bury me in.
From Tell Me by Kim Addonizio. Copyright © 2000 by Kim Addonizio. Reprinted by permission of BOA Editions, Ltd. All rights reserved.
There‘s a cry in the air about us–
We hear it, before, behind–
Of the way in which “We, as women,”
Are going to lift mankind!
With our white frocks starched and ruffled,
And our soft hair brushed and curled–
Hats off! for “We, as women,”
Are coming to save the world.
Fair sisters! listen one moment–
And perhaps you‘ll pause for ten:
The business of women as women
Is only with men as men!
What we do, “We, as women,”
We have done all through our life;
The work that is ours as women
Is the work of mother and wife.
But to elevate public opinion,
And to lift up erring man,
Is the work of the Human Being;
Let us do it–if we can.
But wait, warm-hearted sisters–
Not quite so fast, so far.
Tell me how we are going to lift a thing
Any higher than we are!
We are going to “purify politics,”
And to “elevate the press.”
We enter the foul paths of the world
To sweeten and cleanse and bless.
To hear the high things we are going to do,
And the horrors of man we tell,
One would think, “We, as women,” were angels,
And our brothers were fiends of hell.
We, that were born of one mother,
And reared in the self-same place,
In the school and the church together,
We of one blood, one race!
Now then, all forward together!
But remember, every one,
That ‘tis not by feminine innocence
The work of the world is done.
The world needs strength and courage,
And wisdom to help and feed–
When, “We, as women” bring these to man,
We shall lift the world indeed.
This poem is in the public domain.
for Alison Saar
Please approach with care these figures in black.
Regard with care the weight they bear,
the scars that mark their hearts.
Do you think you can handle these bodies of graphite & coal dust?
This color might rub off. A drop of this red liquid
could stain your skin.
This black powder could blow you sky high.
No ordinary pigments blacken our blues.
Would you mop the floor with this bucket of blood?
Would you rinse your soiled laundry in this basin of tears?
Would you suckle hot milk from this cracked vessel?
Would you be baptized in this fountain of funky sweat?
Please approach with care
these bodies still waiting to be touched.
We invite you to come closer.
We permit you to touch & be touched.
We hope you will engage with care.
Copyright © 2019 by Harryette Mullen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 2, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Here on the edge of hell
Remembering the old lies,
The old kicks in the back,
The old "Be patient"
They told us before.
Sure, we remember.
Now when the man at the corner store
Says sugar's gone up another two cents,
And bread one,
And there's a new tax on cigarettes—
We remember the job we never had,
Never could get,
And can't have now
Because we're colored.
So we stand here
On the edge of hell
And look out on the world
What we're gonna do
In the face of what
From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes published by Alfred A. Knopf/Vintage. Copyright © 1994 by the Estate of Langston Hughes. Permissions granted by Harold Ober Associates Incorporated. All rights reserved.
There will be no stars—the poem has had enough of them. I think we can agree
we no longer believe there is anyone in any poem who is just now realizing
they are dead, so let’s stop talking about it. The skies of this poem
are teeming with winged things, and not a single innominate bird.
You’re welcome. Here, no monarchs, no moths, no cicadas doing whatever
they do in the trees. If this poem is in summer, punctuating the blue—forgive me,
I forgot, there is no blue in this poem—you’ll find the occasional
pelecinid wasp, proposals vaporized and exorbitant, angels looking
as they should. If winter, unsentimental sleet. This poem does not take place
at dawn or dusk or noon or the witching hour or the crescendoing moment
of our own remarkable birth, it is 2:53 in this poem, a Tuesday, and everyone in it is still
at work. This poem has no children; it is trying
to be taken seriously. This poem has no shards, no kittens, no myths or fairy tales,
no pomegranates or rainbows, no ex-boyfriends or manifest lovers, no mothers—God,
no mothers—no God, about which the poem must admit
it’s relieved, there is no heart in this poem, no bodily secretions, no body
referred to as the body, no one
dies or is dead in this poem, everyone in this poem is alive and pretty
okay with it. This poem will not use the word beautiful for it resists
calling a thing what it is. So what
if I’d like to tell you how I walked last night, glad, truly glad, for the first time
in a year, to be breathing, in the cold dark, to see them. The stars, I mean. Oh hell, before
something stops me—I nearly wept on the sidewalk at the sight of them all.
Copyright © 2019 by Leila Chatti. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 29, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.