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.
Lark of my house,
this little lark says hi
to the rain—she calls
river as she slaps
the air with both wings—
she doesn’t know pine
from ash or cedar
from linden—she greets
drizzle & downpour
know iceberg from melt—
can’t say sea level
doesn’t know wildfire—
tax or emission—
does not legislate
a fear she can’t yet
feel—only knows cats
& birds & small dogs
& the sway of some
tall trees make her squeal
with delight—it shakes
her tiny body—
this thrill of the live
the taste of wild blue-
berries on her tongue—
the ache of thorn-prick
from blackberry bush—
oh dear girl—look here—
there’s so much to save—
horizon’s pink hue—
we gather lifetimes
on one small petal—
the river’s our friend—
the world: an atom—
name for: hope—rain—change
begins when you hail
the sky sun & wind
the verdure inside
your heart’s four chambers
even garter snakes
and unnamed insects
in the underbrush
as you would a love
that rivers: hi—hi
Copyright © 2020 by Dante Di Stefano. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 9, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
(This poem’s about looking for the sage and not finding her)
Some say she moved in with her ex-girlfriend in Taiwan
Some say she went to Florida to wrestle alligators
Some say she went to Peach Blossom Spring
To drink tea with Tao Qian
Miho says she’s living in Calexico with three cats
And a gerbil named Max
Some say she’s just a shadow of the Great Society
Of what might-have-been
Rhea saw her stark raving mad
Between 23rd and the Avenue of the Americas
Wrapped in a flag!
I swear I saw her floating in a motel pool
Topless, on a plastic manatee, palms up
What in hell was she thinking?
What is poetry? What are stars?
Whence comes the end of suffering?
Copyright © 2020 by Marilyn Chin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 13, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
The windshield’s dirty, the squirter stuff’s all gone, so
we drive on together into a sun-gray pane of grime
and dust. My son
puts the passenger seat back as far as it will go, closes
his eyes. I crack my window open for a bit
of fresher air. It’s so
incredibly fresh out there.
in ditches. Black mirrors with our passing
reflected in them, I suppose, but I’d
have to pull over and kneel down at the side
of the road to know.
The day ahead—
for this, the radio
doesn’t need to be played.
The house we used to live in
in a snapshot, in which
it yellows in another family’s scrapbook.
And a man on a bicycle
rides beside us
for a long time, very swiftly, until finally
he can’t keep up—
but before he slips
behind us, he salutes us
with his left hand—
that every single second—
that every prisoner on death row—
that every name on every tombstone—
that everywhere we go—
that every day, like this one, will
be like every other, having never been, never
thank you. And, oh—
I almost forgot to say it: amen.
Copyright © 2020 by Laura Kasischke. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 15, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Instead, the poem is full of competent trees,
sturdy and slow-growing. The trees live on a wide
clean lawn full of adults. All night, the adults grow
older without somersaulting or spinning. They grow
old while thinking about themselves. They sleep well
and stay out late, their nerves coiled neatly inside
their grown bodies. They don’t think about children
because children were never there to begin with.
The children were not killed or stolen. This is absence,
not loss. There is a world of difference: the distance
between habitable worlds. It is the space that is
unbearable. The poem is relieved not to have to live
in it. Instead, its heart ticks perfectly unfretfully
among the trees. The children who are not in the poem
do not cast shadows or spells to make themselves
appear. When they don’t walk through the poem, time
does not bend around them. They are not black holes.
There are already so many nots in this poem, it is already
so negatively charged. The field around the poem
is summoning children and shadows and singularities
from a busy land full of breathing and mass. My non-
children are pulling children away from their own
warm worlds. They will arrive before I can stop them.
When matter meets anti-matter, it annihilates into
something new. Light. Sound. Waves and waves
of something like water. The poem’s arms are so light
they are falling upward from the body. Why are you crying?
Copyright © 2020 by Claire Wahmanholm. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 25, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
Put your name in a hat, or a volcano:
Your sense of time is inadequate:
While I sleep my secret face faces the other way:
Grief is a heated iron comb:
The kerosene of grief, it doesn’t age well, it degrades:
Grief is a kind of time:
Sign your name. Become a series of signals:
Holes punched through a rag. Make a space to look through:
Your eye is a hole, too:
Your iris constricts a telegraphy of the future:
The midwifery of anything here:
Trade this hide for sod:
At night I dream of an infant made of flour and heat:
We dream of the castaway wind inside us:
At night my throat dresses itself in green feathers:
It does. You do:
Copyright © 2020 by Sun Yung Shin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 29, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
what we do not dream we cannot manufacture
Art follows ear and echo
eyesight searches the dust
and is surprised by love’s
what love sees in daily light
holds open color—ink, roar, melody and quiet
is its own steady gaze
to better endure bumps
“always more song to be sung” between the words
jars memory and its subatomic
moving at the speed of thought
in random thirsts rise
name the sensations,
to fish for breath,
combing through hair as tangled as nets, as
thick as the beat of blossoms’
a fine line between mind and senses spinning
in which her/my/their body becomes expert
without waiting for unified theory,
loving the body of one’s choice and
to live so surrounded
with fewer asterisks and
more verbs and
fewer security alerts
there eloquence before
*For Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor
Copyright © 2020 by Erica Hunt. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 1, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
I grew up on monopoly money and lucky charms
leftover hanukkah gelt from
the friend who always
in her family fridge
but what about those things
I bought with my own money
the sour one-cent gummies,
shaped like warped, warring men
they tasted hard and right
on the way
home from school.
(whispers, loudly: this is an ode to Rihanna)
what about those things?
(title for the thing: maybe “Repairing Rihanna”)
(or maybe: “Rihanna and Redress”)
hard-earned money in the
so-called smart city began to
began to get us less things
the thing itself
kicked back and relaxed
meanwhile i am already so bored
i want to die
whenever I check my balance I hear voices
someone is owed! sing it, honey!
laaaadiiiidii, ladiidaa! louder, honey!!!!
those automated sing-ah-longs…
make it count
make tech boom
a digital glitch is not the mistake
but rather that exact moment
the institution reproduces itself
Copyright © 2020 by Tiana Reid. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 4, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Last night, I visited a captivity story.
I was sitting in a lean-to made of bark
with Ella Ruth, both of us teenagers—
her ebony skin, her black hair touching
her tailbone. I looked at her hard, &
she came back to sit beside the fire.
From a slit in the rawhide doorway
I could see my tribe in surgical masks,
& as dogs began to howl I woke up.
Strange how the mind finds tenderness
even in captivity. Or how amidst
this being held in isolation we dream
of masks. I see my ancestors, too,
at the Carnival of Venice, a bouquet
of myrrh, viper flesh, & honey
in the plague doctor’s long beak—
the face of death meant to ward off death.
They look back through the silver mirror.
Remember traveling to Siena,
& we entered that semi-dark room?
Those strange garments—the garb
worn by a secret society of men—
men who wore what we thought
were pale KKK robes & masks.
But they had cared for the contagious
sick, & escorted them to the here
& after, their faces always hidden.
Yes, we descended the Ospedale’s
winding stairs stories underground,
through a long hall to a hidden room
where a small medieval oil painting hung,
the Confraternity of the Night Oratory,
St. Catherine of Siena holds the brothers,
their faces coved in hoods & white robes,
under her cloak. They worked shifts
on behalf of the many struck with plague.
The hooded prisoners were led behind
medieval-thick walls, into their tiny cells
where solitary penitence was paid twenty-
three hours a day. No one dared to speak
at the Eastern State Penitentiary, eyes
staring always at the cold stone floors.
Beans, flourless bread, shad, lobster,
corn, peppers, & a few grains of salt.
Now, Al Capone had a rug & a radio.
On a poor man’s cell block, uncle Gussie,
who robbed a bank, spent years
in the prison built like a wagon wheel.
The low cell door forced him to bow
when entering; the skylight above—
the Eye of God—a reminder he was watched.
When his mother died, two brothers,
a priest & a cop, left sepia photographs
of the funeral. Now, cats & ghosts roam.
Lord, this big country. Land of plentitude
ravaged, heart & gut torn out in the name
of civilization & progress, & just plain old
unsung unction, low-down skullduggery
& theurgy. Nature ripped out by thew
toned in old world prisons. Horsepower.
Even with hard times here, hug the moon
devastatingly close, & beat down the door
with true love. Wherever you are, bless us.
Yeah, we’ve both known a few in the joint,
robbing Peter to pay Paul, or caught
blowing time with this one or that one.
Some excuse to keep rats on a wheel, or in a cage.
Look, time moves at least twice at once now—
back & forth, slow & fast. I held my palm
on my father’s back when he bent to whisper
in the ear of the dead, & two men in black
draped a white handkerchief over a face.
Copyright © 2020 by Yusef Komunyakaa and Laren McClung. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 12, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
I ask a student how I can help her. Nothing is on her paper.
It’s been that way for thirty-five minutes. She has a headache.
She asks to leave early. Maybe I asked the wrong question.
I’ve always been dumb with questions. When I hurt,
I too have a hard time accepting advice or gentleness.
I owe for an education that hurt, and collectors call my mama’s house.
I do nothing about my unpaid bills as if that will help.
I do nothing about the mold on my ceiling, and it spreads.
I do nothing about the cat’s litter box, and she pisses on my new bath mat.
Nothing isn’t an absence. Silence isn’t nothing. I told a woman I loved her,
and she never talked to me again. I told my mama a man hurt me,
and her hard silence told me to keep my story to myself.
Nothing is full of something, a mass that grows where you cut at it.
I’ve lost three aunts when white doctors told them the thing they felt
was nothing. My aunt said nothing when it clawed at her breathing.
I sat in a room while it killed her. I am afraid when nothing keeps me
in bed for days. I imagine what my beautiful aunts are becoming
underground, and I cry for them in my sleep where no one can see.
Nothing is in my bedroom, but I smell my aunt’s perfume
and wake to my name called from nowhere. I never looked
into a sky and said it was empty. Maybe that’s why I imagine a god
up there to fill what seems unimaginable. Some days, I want to live
inside the words more than my own black body.
When the white man shoves me so that he can get on the bus first,
when he says I am nothing but fits it inside a word, and no one stops him,
I wear a bruise in the morning where he touched me before I was born.
My mama’s shame spreads inside me. I’ve heard her say
there was nothing in a grocery store she could afford. I’ve heard her tell
the landlord she had nothing to her name. There was nothing I could do
for the young black woman that disappeared on her way to campus.
They found her purse and her phone, but nothing led them to her.
Nobody was there to hold Renisha McBride’s hand
when she was scared of dying. I worry poems are nothing against it.
My mama said that if I became a poet or a teacher, I’d make nothing, but
I’ve thrown words like rocks and hit something in a room when I aimed
for a window. One student says when he writes, it feels
like nothing can stop him, and his laughter unlocks a door. He invites me
into his living.
Copyright © 2020 by Krysten Hill. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 7, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
I choose Rhythm,
the beginning as motion,
black Funk shaping itself
in the time before time,
dark, glorious and nimble as a sperm
sparkling its way into the greatest of grooves,
conjuring worlds from dust and storm and primordial soup.
I accept the Funk as my holy savior,
Funk so high you can’t get over it,
so wide you can’t get around it,
ubiquitous Funk that envelopes all creatures great and small,
quickens nerve endings and the white-hot
hearts of stars.
I believe in Rhythm rippling each feather on a sparrow’s back
and glittering in every grain of sand,
I am faithful to Funk as irresistible twitch, heart skip
and backbone slip,
the whole Funk and nothing but the Funk
sliding electrically into exuberant noise.
I hear the cosmos swinging
in the startled whines of newborns,
the husky blare of tenor horns,
lambs bleating and lions roaring,
a fanfare of tambourines and glory.
This is what I know:
Rhythm resounds as a blessing of the body,
the wonder and hurt of being:
the wet delight of a tongue on a thigh
fear inching icily along a spine
the sudden surging urge to holler
the twinge that tells your knees it’s going to rain
the throb of centuries behind and before us
I embrace Rhythm as color and chorus,
the bright orange bloom of connection,
the mahogany lure of succulent loins
the black-and-tan rhapsody of our clasping hands.
I whirl to the beat of the omnipotent Hum;
diastole, systole, automatic,
borderless. Bigger and bigger still:
Bigger than love,
Bigger than desire or adoration.
Bigger than begging and contemplation.
Bigger than wailing and chanting and the slit throats of roosters.
For which praise is useless.
For which gratitude might as well be whispered.
For which motion is meaning enough.
Funk lives in us, begetting light as bright as music
unfolding into dear lovely day
and bushes ablaze in
Rhythm. Until it begins again.
Copyright © 2020 by Jabari Asim. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 6, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.