Out here, there’s a bowing even the trees are doing.
Winter’s icy hand at the back of all of us.
Black bark, slick yellow leaves, a kind of stillness that feels
so mute it’s almost in another year.
I am a hearth of spiders these days: a nest of trying.
We point out the stars that make Orion as we take out
the trash, the rolling containers a song of suburban thunder.
It’s almost romantic as we adjust the waxy blue
recycling bin until you say, Man, we should really learn
some new constellations.
And it’s true. We keep forgetting about Antlia, Centaurus,
Draco, Lacerta, Hydra, Lyra, Lynx.
But mostly we’re forgetting we’re dead stars too, my mouth is full
of dust and I wish to reclaim the rising—
to lean in the spotlight of streetlight with you, toward
what’s larger within us, toward how we were born.
Look, we are not unspectacular things.
We’ve come this far, survived this much. What
would happen if we decided to survive more? To love harder?
What if we stood up with our synapses and flesh and said, No.
No, to the rising tides.
Stood for the many mute mouths of the sea, of the land?
What would happen if we used our bodies to bargain
for the safety of others, for earth,
if we declared a clean night, if we stopped being terrified,
if we launched our demands into the sky, made ourselves so big
people could point to us with the arrows they make in their minds,
rolling their trash bins out, after all of this is over?
From The Carrying (Milkweed Editions, 2018) by Ada Limón. Copyright © 2018 by Ada Limón. Used with the permission of Milkweed Editions. milkweed.org.
Palm-sized and fledgling, a beak
protruding from the sleeve, I
have kept my birds muted
for so long, I fear they’ve grown
accustom to a grim quietude.
What chaos could ensue
should a wing get loose?
Come overdue burst, come
flock, swarm, talon, and claw.
Scatter the coop’s roost, free
the cygnet and its shadow. Crack
and scratch at the state’s cage,
cut through cloud and branch,
no matter the dumb hourglass’s
white sand yawning grain by grain.
What cannot be contained
cannot be contained.
Copyright © 2020 Ada Limón. This poem was co-commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and the New York Philharmonic as part of the Project 19 initiative.
Easy light storms in through the window, soft
edges of the world, smudged by mist, a squirrel’s
nest rigged high in the maple. I’ve got a bone
to pick with whomever is in charge. All year,
I’ve said, You know what’s funny? and then,
Nothing, nothing is funny. Which makes me laugh
in an oblivion-is-coming sort of way. A friend
writes the word lover in a note and I am strangely
excited for the word lover to come back. Come back
lover, come back to the five and dime. I could
squeal with the idea of blissful release, oh lover,
what a word, what a world, this gray waiting. In me,
a need to nestle deep into the safe-keeping of sky.
I am too used to nostalgia now, a sweet escape
of age. Centuries of pleasure before us and after
us, still right now, a softness like the worn fabric of a nightshirt
and what I do not say is, I trust the world to come back.
Return like a word, long forgotten and maligned
for all its gross tenderness, a joke told in a sun beam,
the world walking in, ready to be ravaged, open for business.
Copyright © 2021 by Ada Limón. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 4, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
I thought it was the neighbor’s cat back
to clean the clock of the fledgling robins low
in their nest stuck in the dense hedge by the house
but what came was much stranger, a liquidity
moving all muscle and bristle. A groundhog
slippery and waddle thieving my tomatoes still
green in the morning’s shade. I watched her
munch and stand on her haunches taking such
pleasure in the watery bites. Why am I not allowed
delight? A stranger writes to request my thoughts
on suffering. Barbed wire pulled out of the mouth,
as if demanding that I kneel to the trap of coiled
spikes used in warfare and fencing. Instead,
I watch the groundhog closer and a sound escapes
me, a small spasm of joy I did not imagine
when I woke. She is a funny creature and earnest,
and she is doing what she can to survive.
Copyright © 2020 by Ada Limón. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 16, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
—For Mammoth Cave National Park
Humongous cavern, tell me, wet limestone, sandstone caprock,
bat-wing, sightless translucent cave shrimp,
this endless plummet into more of the unknown,
how one keeps secrets for so long.
All my life, I’ve lived above the ground,
car wheels over paved roads, roots breaking through concrete,
and still I’ve not understood the reel of this life’s purpose.
Not so much living, but a hovering without sense.
What’s it like to be always night? No moon, but a few lit up
circles at your many openings. Endless dark, still time
must enter you. Like a train, like a green river?
Tell me what it is to be the thing rooted in shadow.
To be the thing not touched by light (no that’s not it)
to not even need the light? I envy; I envy that.
Desire is a tricky thing, the boiling of the body’s wants,
more praise, more hands holding the knives away.
I’ve been the one who has craved and craved until I could not see
beyond my own greed. There’s a whole nation of us.
To forgive myself, I point to the earth as witness.
To you, your Frozen Niagara, your Fat Man’s Misery,
you with your 400 miles of interlocking caves that lead
only to more of you, tell me,
what it is to be quiet, and yet still breathing.
Ruler of the Underlying, let me
speak to both the dead and the living as you do. Speak
to the ruined earth, the stalactites, the eastern small-footed bat,
to honor this: the length of days. To speak to the core
that creates and swallows, to speak not always to what’s
shouting, but to what’s underneath asking for nothing.
I am at the mouth of the cave. I am willing to crawl.
Copyright © 2016 by Ada Limón. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 29, 2016, this poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.
—Fresno, Spring, 2016
Every few years, miles of upturned fields skirt the city,
& the rows of trees—peach, almond, & sometimes
grapevine trunks—lift their roots toward sky.
No one else comes to pay tribute to this but you
so you walk amongst the dying, the fallow, the sky turning
over another day, stop at some knotted stump & think
about when you’d last come here with your parents
decades ago, posed with siblings for their camera, the voices
of others around you spreading beyond the mist of petals.
The dark now gowns, renders familiar shapes
illegible. The stars reveal this threadbare night, the apogee
of you from your car, but it doesn’t feel quite right
to make your return, so you continue astray, leaving
your ears as guide. The crickets chirp & you
can almost decipher their monosyllabic words, let go
of any pretending to be at one with, to understand nature,
do as you’d done as a child: let the voices
around you spread beyond what is unknown,
the valley walls so far off nothing bounces back.
Copyright © 2017 by Andre Yang. Used with permission of the author.
The place of language is the place between me and the world of presences I have lost —complex country, not flat. Its elements free- float, coherent for luck to come across; its lines curve as in a mental orrery implicit with stars in active orbit, only their slowness or swiftness lost to sense. The will dissolves here. It becomes the infinite air of imagination that stirs immense among losses and leaves me less desolate. Breathing it I spot a sentence or a name, a rescuer, charted for recovery, to speak against the daily sinking flame & the shrinking waters of the mortal sea.
Excerpted from Easy by Marie Ponsot. Copyright © 2009 by Marie Ponsot. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced without permission in writing from the publisher.
New Year on my mountain
mama says: long noodles, long life,
so I slurp them loud, drink gingery
broth—polka-dot beads of sweat
forming as my nose hovers over
the soup’s steam. circles for luck.
circles on my dress. papa says:
make a lot of noise! so the children
bang on pots & pans to hush
yesterday’s demons. later, in the cold,
the family plods up the hill to wonder
at the fireworks, sky like a warzone lit
with spraying flames from Roman Candles—
fire on the ground from Watusi whips snaking
& coiling, sizzling our feet.
I feel it all in my chest—
a warning, a spell.
back in the yard, granny doles out rice
& meat, pineapple liquor, glass bottles
of Sprite. but I am snoring by midnight,
my sisters & I still swathed in red chiffon.
by morning, I cry because I missed it.
I cry because they say I’m not alone.
I cry because home is a warning,
its pulse a whiff of flint in the dark.
Copyright © 2023 by Ina Cariño. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 17, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.
It fell to me to tell the bees, though I had wanted another duty— to be the scribbler at his death, there chart the third day's quickening. But fate said no, it falls to you to tell the bees, the middle daughter. So it was written at your birth. I wanted to keep the fire, working the constant arranging and shifting of the coals blown flaring, my cheeks flushed red, my bed laid down before the fire, myself anonymous among the strangers there who'd come and go. But destiny said no. It falls to you to tell the bees, it said. I wanted to be the one to wash his linens, boiling the death-soiled sheets, using the waters for my tea. I might have been the one to seal his solitude with mud and thatch and string, the webs he parted every morning, the hounds' hair combed from brushes, the dust swept into piles with sparrows' feathers. Who makes the laws that live inside the brick and mortar of a name, selects the seeds, garden or wild, brings forth the foliage grown up around it through drought or blight or blossom, the honey darkening in the bitter years, the combs like funeral lace or wedding veils steeped in oak gall and rainwater, sequined of rent wings. And so arrayed I set out, this once obedient, toward the hives' domed skeps on evening's hill, five tombs alight. I thought I heard the thrash and moaning of confinement, beyond the century, a calling across dreams, as if asked to make haste just out of sleep. I knelt and waited. The voice that found me gave the news. Up flew the bees toward his orchards.
From Trapeze by Deborah Digges. Copyright © 2004 by Deborah Digges. Reprinted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.
1 My mother always called it a nest, the multi-colored mass harvested from her six daughters' brushes, and handed it to one of us after she had shaped it, as we sat in front of the fire drying our hair. She said some birds steal anything, a strand of spider's web, or horse's mane, the residue of sheep's wool in the grasses near a fold where every summer of her girlhood hundreds nested. Since then I've seen it for myself, their genius— how they transform the useless. I've seen plastics stripped and whittled into a brilliant straw, and newspapers—the dates, the years— supporting the underweavings. 2 As tonight in our bed by the window you brush my hair to help me sleep, and clean the brush as my mother did, offering the nest to the updraft. I'd like to think it will be lifted as far as the river, and catch in some white sycamore, or drift, too light to sink, into the shaded inlets, the bank-moss, where small fish, frogs, and insects lay their eggs. Would this constitute an afterlife? The story goes that sailors, moored for weeks off islands they called paradise, stood in the early sunlight cutting their hair. And the rare birds there, nameless, almost extinct, came down around them and cleaned the decks and disappeared into the trees above the sea.
From Vesper Sparrows by Deborah Digges (Antheneum, 1986). Copyright © 1986 by Deborah Digges. Reprinted with permission of the author. All rights reserved.
The wind blows through the doors of my heart. It scatters my sheet music that climbs like waves from the piano, free of the keys. Now the notes stripped, black butterflies, flattened against the screens. The wind through my heart blows all my candles out. In my heart and its rooms is dark and windy. From the mantle smashes birds' nests, teacups full of stars as the wind winds round, a mist of sorts that rises and bends and blows or is blown through the rooms of my heart that shatters the windows, rakes the bedsheets as though someone had just made love. And my dresses they are lifted like brides come to rest on the bedstead, crucifixes, dresses tangled in trees in the rooms of my heart. To save them I've thrown flowers to fields, so that someone would pick them up and know where they came from. Come the bees now clinging to flowered curtains. Off with the clothesline pinning anything, my mother's trousseau. It is not for me to say what is this wind or how it came to blow through the rooms of my heart. Wing after wing, through the rooms of the dead the wind does not blow. Nor the basement, no wheezing, no wind choking the cobwebs in our hair. It is cool here, quiet, a quilt spread on soil. But we will never lie down again.
From The Wind Blows Through the Doors of My Heart by Deborah Digges. Copyright © 2010 by Deborah Digges. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf.