—after Michael Heizer

I may be looking at the set of boulders
that is now in front of me, but it is you I am addressing.

You are near or you are far,
depending on the accuracy of the words I have chosen.

When my teacher told me to use this
instead of the, she was talking about the range between

the intimate and the conventional. The gray cluster
is radiant, but it is a melancholy radiance.

To describe it only seems to lean away
from what I intend. Maybe, then, touch is a better way

of explaining the pleasure of that
encounter: the surprise and familiarity of the plant

that you brush past in the dark of your
own house. Or maybe the always-new logic of a dream

is closer to the truth: the falling that takes place
in a place where there is no ground.

The boulders are there for me, an arrangement
and its warren of rooms. One door opening to foggy roses.

Another one opening to a dawn that is the color of tea.
Surely there will always be new language

to tell you who I am, imagination rousing
out of idleness into urgency, reaching now towards you.

I keep remembering my teacher and she is an image
of joy, the small and wordless music

of her silver bangles. This over the.
One of the rules for writing the poems of a lonely person.

Copyright © 2019 by Rick Barot. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 7, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

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.

Lord,
          when you send the rain,
          think about it, please,
          a little?
  Do
          not get carried away
          by the sound of falling water,
          the marvelous light
          on the falling water.
    I
          am beneath that water.
          It falls with great force
          and the light
Blinds
          me to the light.

From Jimmy’s Blues and Other Poems by James Baldwin (Beacon Press, 2014).  Copyright © 2014 The James Baldwin Estate. Used by permission of Beacon Press.

I hear the sound of the sprinkler outside, not the soft kind we used to run through
but the hard kind that whips in one direction then cranks back and starts again.

Last night we planned to find the white argument of the Milky Way 
but we are twenty years too late. Last night I cut the last stargazer 
lily to wear in my hair. 

This morning, the hardest geography quiz I’ve ever taken: how does one carry
oneself from mountain to lake to desert without leaving anything behind?

Perhaps I ought to have worked harder. 
Perhaps I could have paid more attention.
A mountain I didn’t climb. Music I yearned for but could not achieve.

I travel without maps, free-style my scripture, pretend the sky is an adequate
representation of my spiritual beliefs. 

The sprinkler switches off. The grass will be wet. 
I haven’t even gotten to page 2 of my life and I’m probably more than halfway through,
who knows what kind of creature I will become.

Copyright © 2019 by Kazim Ali. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 8, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Do you know what I was, how I lived? —Louise Glück

It is a goldfinch
one of the two
 
small girls,
both daughters
 
of a friend,
sees hit the window
 
and fall into the fern.
No one hears
 
the small thump but she,
the youngest, sees
 
the flash of gold
against the mica sky
 
as the limp feathered envelope
crumples into the green.
 
How many times
in a life will we witness
 
the very moment of death?
She wants a box
 
and a small towel
some kind of comfort
 
for this soft body
that barely fits
 
in her palm. Its head
rolling side to side,
 
neck broke, eyes still wet
and black as seed.
 
Her sister, now at her side,
wears a dress too thin
 
for the season,
white as the winter
 
only weeks away.
She wants me to help,
 
wants a miracle.
Whatever I say now
 
I know weighs more
than the late fall’s
 
layered sky,
the jeweled leaves
 
of the maple and elm.
I know, too,
 
it is the darkest days
I’ve learned to praise —
 
the calendar packages up time,
the days shrink and fold away
 
until the new season.
We clothe, burn,
 
then bury our dead.
I know this;
 
they do not.
So we cover the bird,
 
story its flight,
imagine his beak
 
singing.
They pick the song
 
and sing it
over and over again.
 

 

Copyright © 2019 by Didi Jackson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 23, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

When I get to where I’m going
I want the death of my children explained to me.

                                                       —Lucille Clifton

They meet over tea and potato chips.
Brown and buttermilk women,
hipped and hardened,
legs uncrossed but proper
still in their smiles;
smiles that carry a sadness in faint creases.
A sadness they will never be without.

One asks the other,
“What do they call a woman who has lost a child?”

The other sighs between sips of lukewarm tea.
There is no name for us.

“No name? But there has to be a name for us.
We must have something to call ourselves.”

Surely, history by now and all the women
who carry their babies’ ghosts on their backs,
mothers who wake up screaming,
women wide awake in their nightmares,
mothers still expected to be mothers and human,
women who stand under hot showers weeping,
mothers who wish they could drown standing up,
women who can still smell them—hear them,
the scent and symphony of their children,
deep down in the good earth.

“Surely, history has not forgotten to name us?”

No woman wants to bear
whatever could be the name for this grief.
Even if she must bear the grief for all her days,
it would be far too painful to be called by that name.

“I’ve lost two, you know.”
Me too.
“I was angry at God, you know.”
Me too.
“I stopped praying but only for a little while,
and then I had no choice. I had to pray again.
I had to call out to something that was no longer there.
I had to believe God knew where it was.”

“I fear death no longer. It has taken everything.
But should I be? Should I be afraid of what death has taken?
That it took and left no name?”

The other who sighs between sips of lukewarm tea
leans over and kisses the cheek of the one still with questions.
She whispers…

No, you don’t have to be afraid.
Death is no more scary than the lives we have lived
without our babies, bound to this grief
with no name.

Copyright © 2019 by Parneshia Jones. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 22, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.