When the pantheon crumbles, does gravity still work? 
What happens to the arcing satellites? What do you do 
when the high priests have hung up their mitres, when
the shepherd crooks have all gone straight, when the 
curtain is torn, the covenant broke, the tithes spilled all 
across the tiles? Which parishes do you frequent, whose 
statutes do you study, whose name is on your lips when 
you self-flagellate? To whom do you whisper your death
bed confession, alone in the dark, lying atop a certain hill, 
bleeding on a certain throne of thorns? What do you do 
when the sky opens? There are books about this, but 
none written from experience. Like how a baby’s first word
isn’t really its first word, just the first one that’s understood.
The process of rapprochement happens slowly, then all 
at once. Just like the apocalypse, which is unevenly 
distributed, but speeding up. Here we go. Into the breach.
 

Copyright © 2017 by Alex Manley. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 27, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Christmas Eve, 2016

Before everyone died – in my family – first definition I learned was – my mother’s maiden name, ULANDAY – which literally means – of the rain – and biology books remind us – the pouring has a pattern –  has purpose – namesake means release – for my mother meant, flee – meant leave – know exactly what parts of you – slip away – drained sediment of a body – is how a single mama feels – on the graveyard shift – only god is awake –  is where my – family banked itself – a life rooted in rosaries – like nuns in barricade – scream – People Power – one out of five – leave to a new country – the women in my family hone – in my heart – like checkpoints – which is what they know – which is like a halt  – not to be confused for – stop – which is what happened to my ma’s breath– when she went home – for the last time – I didn’t get to – hold her hand as she died – I said I tried – just translates to – I couldn’t make it – in time – I tell myself – ocean salt and tear salt – are one and the same – I press my eyes shut – cup ghost howl – cheeks splint wood worn – which is to say – learn to make myself a harbor – anyway – once I saw a pamphlet that said – what to do when your parent is dead –  I couldn’t finish reading – but I doubt it informs the audience – what will happen – which is to say – you will pour your face & hands – & smother your mother’s scream on everything – you touch – turn eyelids into oars – go, paddle to find her.

Copyright © 2019 by Kay Ulanday Barrett. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 8, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

                                        In my favorite fantasy    
                                                   I am given             

                                        permission    I am prone    
                                        face toward the light 
                                                      beach queen    bathed in body

A thought that comes from a coming-from     the sweet place

                           where a sunset isn’t indescribable
 				                                      something simply looked at

                                                      The sun sets    I sit
                                                      sinless in sand 
                                                      I sip only once

Copyright © 2019 by Chase Berggrun. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 9, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Scrolling through the at-the-limit list of names,
I’m caught unaware: my phone displays a friend
I’ll never be able to call again.
Now that all that’s left of her are memories
I can’t delete her entry, it seems too final,
as if it would erase our entire past together.

Phones are democratic: jumbled together
are lovers and colleagues, name after name
in alphabetical order. It was she who finally
convinced me to get a phone; the day my friend
and I went to buy it is still a vivid memory:

I was having one of those lapses of memory;
not long before, he and I had spent the night together.
We run into him on the street; both he and my friend
expect an introduction, but I’ve forgotten his name.

I’ve now forgotten so many boys; only their names
remain, stored in my phone’s memory.
Those I can delete, but not my friend’s.

It’s as if all that remains of our friend-
ship is this metonymy of her name

on a SIM-card full of memories and names.

From Deleted Names (A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2013). Copyright © 2013 by Lawrence Schimel. Used with the permission of the author.

I want to grow old with you.
Old, old.

So old we pad through the supermarket
using the shopping cart as a cane that steadies us.

I’ll wait at register two in my green sweater
with threadbare elbows, smiling
because you’ve forgotten the bag of day-old pastries.

The cashier will tell me a joke about barbers as I wait.
He repeats the first line three times
but the only word I understand is barber.

Over the years we’ve caught inklings
of our shrinking frames and hunched spines.

You’re a little confused
looking for me at the wrong register with a bag
of almost-stale croissants clenched in your hand.

The first time I held your hand it felt enormous in my own.
Sasquatch, I teased you, a million years ago.

Over here, I yell, but not in a mad way.

We’re laughing.
You have a bright yellow pin on your coat that says, Shalom!

Senior Discount, you say.
But the cashier already knows us.
We’re everyone’s favorite customers.

Copyright © 2016 by Ali Liebegott. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 30, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

I’m few deja-vus from repeating my whole life
I need to study the shapes of things before death
Before declaring myself a better failure:
  waiting mostly for files to get uploaded or downloaded.
My movements are by the book.
I will remember history, all of it, before uttering the next sentence
And in its silence, I will navigate my headache
“something is not what it is”
And we are lost several worlds over 
Exploring the art of other civilizations
After we subjugate them 
And leave the trees behind
To carry on the sensitive task
Of clearing the air
Stop and think of the pointlessness of desire
We keep going, wasting days between orgasms
And thousands of poems
To keep the pleasantness of clothes
We are all implicated
In the father’s death,
The mother’s death etc.

Copyright © 2018 by Maged Zaher. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 16, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Having fallen while no one was looking
Having borne what fell through
Having fallen early
/
Having barely fallen through myself
My luck, so close to catching,
Having caught the worst of it
/
Having fallen from the sky, and then
Through it. Having landed to realize
I had been part
/
Having parted the late sky, partly
Sky where I am delicate, I took
A tumble through the night bloom
/
I took the night with me as I tumbled,
Delicate with the infinite,
Which swells from the tallest branch
/
Having grown swollen
As low-hanging fruit, I tell Nadra,
I couldn’t help it—
/
The fresh heave of new breast
Thick switch of hip: a group
Of unnamed gifts is called a steal
/
She says, fruit you can reach is still
Precious. Her name means rare: her lean
Thins towards the unusual.
/
In Lagos, we name our girls
Darling, Sincere, Precious, because
A name is a stake in the grave
/
Having grieved and taken and taken
On the way to Eros, Thanatos
Having arrived late to my own bloom:
 
 
Halve me like a walnut
Pry the part of me that is hollow
From the part that yields fruit.

Copyright © 2019 by Omotara James. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 23, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

English is your fourth language

the baby of the family

the one your mouth spoils

favorite by default

who may one day be sold off by its siblings

in hopes to never return

all of your other tongues have grown jealous


your country has over 200 dialects

that’s over 200 ways

to say Love

to say family

to say I am a song

to say I belong to something

that does not want to kill me

& does not want to siphon the gold from my

blood or the stories from my bones

Copyright © 2019 by Pages Matam. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 6, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

when I dropped my 12-year-old off at her first
homecoming dance, I tried not to look
 
her newly-developed breasts, all surprise and alert
in their uncertainty. I tried not to imagine her
 
mashed between a young man's curiousness
and the gym's sweaty wall. I tried not picture
 
her grinding off beat/on time to the rhythm
of a dark manchild; the one who whispered
 
“you are the most beautiful girl in brooklyn”
his swag so sincere, she'd easily mistaken him for a god.

Copyright © 2019 by Mahogany L. Browne. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 7, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

This fireman comes every afternoon
to the café on the corner
dressed for his shift in clean dark blues
This time       it’s the second Wednesday of January
and he’s meeting his daughter again
who must be five or six
and who is always waiting for her father like this
in her charcoal gray plaid skirt
with green and red stripes
She probably comes here straight from school
her glasses a couple nickels thick

By now I know     that she can sit       (except
for her one leg swinging from the chair) 
absolutely still      while her father pulls       
fighters’ wraps from his work bag
and begins half way down the girl’s forearm
winding the fabric in overlapping spirals
slowly toward her fist           then     he props            
her wrist      like a pro    on his own hand
unraveling the black cloth   weaving it          
between her thumb and forefinger
around the palm            taut but
not so much that it cuts off the blood          then
up the hand and between the other fingers
to protect the knuckles         the tough           
humpback guppies just under the skin           

He does this once with her left       then again
to her right      To be sure her pops knows he has done
a good job       she nods        Good job       Good      
Maybe you’re right              I don’t know what love is
A father kisses the top of his daughter’s head
and knocks her glasses cockeyed
He sits back and downs the last of the backwash
in his coffee cup         They got 10 minutes to kill
before they walk across the street         down the block
and out of sight         She wants to test
her dad’s handiwork            by throwing 
a couple jab-cross combos from her seat
There is nothing in the daughter’s face         
that says     she is afraid         
There is nothing in the father’s face              
to say he is not                     He checks his watch                 
then holds up his palms    as if to show his daughter            
that nothing is burning                     In Philadelphia
there are fires      I’ve seen those  in my lifetime too

Copyright © 2018 by Patrick Rosal. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 23, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

the blk(est) night
be a blk girl

she think

her hair
too good
    & her waist
    too small
        & her fit
        too cute
            & her jeans
            too flyy

& her mama ain't nothing
like her
& the bitches
on the corner
ain't nothing like her
& can't nobody sweat her style      
                                 but jesus

Copyright © 2015 by Mahogany Browne. From Smudge (Button Poetry, 2015). Used with permission of the author.

imagine your heart is just a ball you learned to dribble up
and down the length of your driveway back home. slow down

control it. plant your feet in the soft blue of your mat and release
it is hard but slowly you are unlearning the shallow pant

of your childhood. extend your body—do not reach
for someone but something fixed and fleshless and certain—

fold flatten then lift your head like a cobra sure of the sun
waiting and ready to caress the chill

from its scales. inhale—try not to remember how desperate
you’ve been for touch—yes ignore it—that hitch of your heart

you got from mornings you woke to find momma hysterical
or gone. try to give up the certainty she’d never return

recall only the return and not its coldness. imagine her arms
wide to receive you imagine you are not a thing that needs

escaping. it is hard and though at times you are sure
you will always be the abandoned girl trying to abandon herself

push up arch deep into your back exhale and remember—
when it is too late to pray the end of the flood

we pray instead to survive it.

Copyright © 2018 by Brionne Janae. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 22, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

for Tomica

My love is as ancient as my blood.

And of course my blood is still mine

because a woman, sweetened black

with good song, pulled me from the river

like an axe pulled back from the bark.

I learned love, first, as scar.

And of course my love is only mine

because I found the nerve to say it is.

Ha, My love is mine.

But was first my mother’s. Not the how

but the why. But was first her mother’s.

Not the how but the why.

Not the how; Not the how; Not the how;
Not the how; Not the how; Not the how.

I am bored with this beat. I seek

a different dance toward death.

Lord, listen up. Lean in:

I crave a love that happens as sweetly

as it was named. If love must be swung,

let it soften. Not split.

Copyright © 2019 by Donte Collins. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 8, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

I am taken with the hot animal
of my skin, grateful to swing my limbs

and have them move as I intend, though
my knee, though my shoulder, though something
is torn or tearing. Today, a dozen squid, dead

on the harbor beach: one mostly buried,
one with skin empty as a shell and hollow

feeling, and, though the tentacles look soft,
I do not touch them. I imagine they
were startled to find themselves in the sun.

I imagine the tide simply went out
without them. I imagine they cannot

feel the black flies charting the raised hills
of their eyes. I write my name in the sand:
Donika Kelly. I watch eighteen seagulls

skim the sandbar and lift low in the sky.
I pick up a pebble that looks like a green egg.

To the ditch lily I say I am in love.
To the Jeep parked haphazardly on the narrow
street I am in love. To the roses, white

petals rimmed brown, to the yellow lined
pavement, to the house trimmed in gold I am

in love. I shout with the rough calculus
of walking. Just let me find my way back,
let me move like a tide come in.

Copyright © 2017 by Donika Kelly. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 20, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Like any mother I lived for my children. Bone of my bones, gave them my body as house, gave them my house as home. I was fruitful. I multiplied. Nothing was ever my own and I called this sacrifice, devotion. What I called them became their names. Some grew and some did not. Some were angry and some were not. Some murdered, some tended the flocks, some built boats to escape the flood. Some built towers into the sky. Some became pillars of salt. I fed them by the sweat of my brow. Some needed more than I could give them, though I saved only thorns and thistles for myself. God was a voice in the sky with no tree to burn. God was a shower of burning sulfur, a snake winding through the dirt. If I had a moment to spare, I might have bent to hear what he was saying.

Copyright © 2018 Holly Karapetkova. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Summer 2018.

imagine a tulip, upon seeing a garden full of tulips, sheds its petals in disgust, prays some bee will bring its pollen to a rose bush. imagine shadows longing for a room with light in every direction. you look in the mirror & see a man you refuse to love. small child sleeping near Clorox, dreaming of soap suds & milk, if no one has told you, you are a beautiful & lovable & black & enough & so—you pretty you—am i.

From Don’t Call Us Dead (Graywolf Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Danez Smith. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Graywolf Press, www.graywolfpress.org.

In this field of thistle, I am the improbable
lady. How I wear the word: sequined weight
snagging my saunter into overgrown grass, blonde
split-end blades. I waltz in an acre of bad wigs.

Sir who is no one, sir who is yet to come, I need you
to undo this zipped back, trace the chiffon
body I’ve borrowed. See how I switch my hips

for you, dry grass cracking under my pretend
high heels? Call me and I’m at your side,
one wildflower behind my ear. Ask me
and I’ll slip out of this softness, the dress

a black cloud at my feet. I could be the boy
wearing nothing, a negligee of gnats.

From Prelude to Bruise (Coffee House Press, 2014). Copyright © 2014 by Saeed Jones. Used with permission of The Permissions Company on behalf of Coffee House Press.

you cannot read what you do not collect
the rain came in algidity after
suffocating heat still the ravaging of
marow is worth it tendons swollen &
seasoned with need madness is always
a hunger                                            that i
am even able to eat is its own feat
i have learned to swallow charitably
cede my mouth to the gristle cede my tongue
                         to cartilage
a former fixation on writhing now what is
left?      what is present when the flesh
rots away?
when the spirit returns to the magnitude it
belongs?                                                                            when my
mother
                                                                                         taught me
                                                                                         how to
                                                                                     properly eat
                                                                                         chicken, she
                                                                                         told me truly
                                                                                     nothing had to
                                                                                         be left behind.
                                                                                         there is
                                                                                     meat through
                                                                                         the bone. this
                                                                                         makes
                                                                                     sense like
                                                                                         Matter.
                                                                                         nothing is
                                                                                         ever lost.
                                                                                     nothing is ever
                                                                                         gone if
                                                                                         devoured
                                                                                     completely.

Copyright © 2018 by jayy dodd. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 18, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Grandma’s rosebush
reminiscent of a Vice Lord’s do-rag.
the unfamiliar bloom in Mrs. Bradley’s yard
banging a Gangster Disciple style blue.
the dandelions all over the park putting on
Latin King gold like the Chicano cats
over east before they turn into a puff
of smoke like all us colored boys.

picking dandelions will ruin your hands,
turn their smell into a bitter cologne.

a man carries flowers for 3 reasons:

                       • he is in love
                       • he is in mourning
                       • he is a flower salesman

i’m on the express train passing stops
to a woman. maybe she’s home.
i have a bouquet in my hand,
laid on 1 of my arms like a shotgun.
the color is brilliant, a gang war
wrapped & cut diagonal at the stems.
i am not a flower salesman.
that is the only thing i know.

From Wild Hundreds. Copyright 2015 by Nate Marshall. Reprinted by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

I am going to die.
No such thought has ever occurred to me
since the beginning of my exclusive time
in air, when God, having made my mind,
first began to wrap it, slowly and continuously,
in strips of linen soaked in a special admixture
of rosewater, chicken fat, and pinecones
studded with cloves to stop them from dripping.
Nor is it likely I would ever have had such a thought
in the time required by Him to finish the job,
if someone else had not first introduced the thought
into the process, thereby interrupting it,
however briefly. But who?

Copyright © 2018 Mary Ruefle. This poem originally appeared in Kenyon Review, September/October 2018. Used with permission of the author.

You might say fear
is a predictable emotion
& I might agree. Whenever
my husband leaves
for his graveyard shift,
when he prepares to walk
out into the abyss of black
sky, I am afraid
tonight will be the night
I become a widow. I don't
want to love like this. But
here we are: walking
hand in hand
in our parkas down
the avenues & he pulls away
from me. I might be
in some dreamy place,
thinking of the roast chicken
we just had, the coconut peas
& rice he just cooked,
& how the food has filled
our bellies with delight. How
many times can I speak
about black men
& an officer enters the scene?
I don't want to love
like this. But there is a gun
in the holster & a hand
on the gun in the holster
& my husband's hands
are no longer in his pockets
because it is night & we are
just trying to breathe in
some fresh evening air,
trying to be unpredictable, to
forget fear for a moment
& live in love & love.

Copyright © 2018 by DéLana R. A. Dameron. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 25, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

These days, I refuse to let you see me
the way I see myself.

I wake up in the morning not knowing
whether I will make it through the day;

reminding myself of the small, small things
I’ve forgotten to marvel in;

these trees, blood-free and bone-dry
have come to rescue me more than once,

but my saving often requires hiding
yet they stand so tall, so slim and gluttonous

refusing to contain me; even baobab trees
will split open at my command, and

carve out fleshless wombs to welcome me.
I must fall out of love of the world

without me in it, but my loves have
long gone, and left me in a foreign land

where once I was made of bone,
now water, now nothing.

Copyright © 2019 by Mahtem Shifferaw. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 6, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

I ripped my mother being born

             and I am the only.

                            The oldest ripped my grandmother

                                     and still came more.

We have a family history

             of losing our heads,

                            of no one listening,

                                        of telling someone before.

We are raucous and willful,

              loud as thunder.

                            No one can forget us,

                                        we bear our teeth.

We pass through bodies

              like summer heat. We eat

                            and thicken, worry men.

                                        They plead and suffer, come again.

I entered the world

              a turning storm,

                            but no one stopped me

                                        though they’d been warned.

Copyright © 2019 by Remica Bingham-Risher. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 12, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

I ripped my mother being born

             and I am the only.

                            The oldest ripped my grandmother

                                     and still came more.

We have a family history

             of losing our heads,

                            of no one listening,

                                        of telling someone before.

We are raucous and willful,

              loud as thunder.

                            No one can forget us,

                                        we bear our teeth.

We pass through bodies

              like summer heat. We eat

                            and thicken, worry men.

                                        They plead and suffer, come again.

I entered the world

              a turning storm,

                            but no one stopped me

                                        though they’d been warned.

Copyright © 2019 by Remica Bingham-Risher. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 12, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

We used to say,
That’s my heart right there.

As if to say,
Don’t mess with her right there.

As if, don’t even play,
That’s a part of me right there.

In other words, okay okay,
That’s the start of me right there.

As if, come that day,
That’s the end of me right there.

As if, push come to shove,
I would fend for her right there.

As if, come what may,
I would lie for her right there.

As if, come love to pay,
I would die for that right there.

From The Crazy Bunch  by Willie Perdomo. Copyright © 2019 by Willie Perdomo. Published by arrangement with Penguin Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. 

You don’t love me, you say, and deflate
our air mattress, meeting me at the fold.
                                        We’re in a bad lesbian performance piece

You don’t eat the sandwich I make you.
I puncture your yoga ball. Or, the dog did
                                                            This is a drawing of the dog.
                                           I meant to watch something and be still
                                                                                 for a long time.

I'm not sure what belongs to me. 
                                      It’s your money
                                                         stop asking me what you mean

Porcelain skunk, perfect Q-tip holder.
Ceramic parrot, good for something.

                  If you don’t trust me with this cup then wrap it yourself.

The dog hasn’t stopped barking in hours—anxious.

                                  I know you can lift the chair, what you can do
                                                                                is not the point.

from Without Protection. Copyright © 2019 by Gala Mukomolova. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Coffee House Press. 

“Child with continuing cling issue his No in final fire”
             -Gwendolyn Brooks

sapphires are lovely as the Star of Bombay revered by Child.
she embodies its six rays replacing spoiled limbs. with
heat she hopes to change her lack luster, halt the continuing
spectrum a cousin sapped from her. a vampire’s cling,
she remembers his as cornflower blue. a distracting issue
a lover is not guilty of. how does he know it’s a turn off? he
cannot enter her that way nor retire to any position. No
moment to gaze without recall. shadows cannot swing in
the amber light. she admires little if at all. a final
twinge when lover pinch upon entering Crayola blush fire.

Copyright © 2019 by LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 18, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

My mother said this to me
long before Beyoncé lifted the lyrics
from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs,

and what my mother meant by
Don’t stray was that she knew
all about it—the way it feels to need

someone to love you, someone
not your kind, someone white,
some one some many who live

because so many of mine
have not, and further, live on top of
those of ours who don’t.

I’ll say, say, say,
I’ll say, say, say,
What is the United States if not a clot

of clouds? If not spilled milk? Or blood?
If not the place we once were
in the millions? America is Maps

Maps are ghosts: white and 
layered with people and places I see through.
My mother has always known best,

knew that I’d been begging for them,
to lay my face against their white
laps, to be held in something more

than the loud light of their projectors
of themselves they flicker—sepia
or blue—all over my body.

All this time,
I thought my mother said, Wait,
as in, Give them a little more time

to know your worth,
when really, she said, Weight,
meaning heft, preparing me

for the yoke of myself,
the beast of my country’s burdens,
which is less worse than

my country’s plow. Yes,
when my mother said,
They don’t love you like I love you,

she meant,
Natalie, that doesn’t mean
you aren’t good.

 

 

*The italicized words, with the exception of the final stanza, come from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs song "Maps."

Copyright © 2019 by Natalie Diaz. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 20, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

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
Your luck
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
All.

From A Street in Bronzeville by Gwendolyn Brooks, published by Harper & Brothers. © 1945 by Gwendolyn Brooks. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

                                                no one speaks of how tendrils feed on the fruits

                        of my demise     these dead hands                  for instance     that alight                phlox

wild strawberry                 and pine             this is my body out of context       rotting in the                wrong hemisphere         

   I died                     so all my enemies would tremble at my murmur                  how it                      populates their homes     

                              so I could say to the nearest fellow dead person        I know more than

      all my living  foes                  I’ve derived sun-fed  design                             for once                             from

                    closing my oak eyes                           now they’ll never snare the civilian

                                                                     pullulating my throat

Copyright © 2019 by Xan Phillips. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 26, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

My son wants to know
his name. What does he look like? What does
he like? My son swims
four days a week. When my son swims
underwater, he glides
between strokes. When he glides underwater, he is
an arrow aimed
at a wall. Four days a week, his coach says,
Count—1…2…—before
coming up for air.
My father had blue eyes, blonde hair,
though mine are brown.
My father could not speak
Spanish and wondered, How can you love
another man? We rarely touched.
When my son
is counting, I count
with him. I say, I am
your father, too. 1…2…

Copyright © 2019 by Blas Falconer. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 18, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Outside the water sings 
its tortuous note, 
devoid of the parrot, 
devoid of the quetzal.

A song without ears, 
a dry silk wrapped around the throat, 
neither warm nor cold 
but a vacillation between the two. 

A hammer swinging 
through the aether of the flesh, 

the mind’s red line. 

Tonight a part of me shivers, liking it, 
my whole body in one place, 
where steel drags along. 

I wonder if the body wants more 
to open or to shut. 

Copyright © 2019 by Stephanie Adams-Santos. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 27, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

In some other life, I can hear you
breathing: a pale sound like running
fingers through tangled hair. I dreamt
again of swimming in the quarry
& surfaced here when you called for me
in a voice only my sleeping self could
know. Now the dapple of the aspen
respires on the wall & the shades cut
its song a staff of light. Leave me—
that me—in bed with the woman
who said all the sounds for pleasure
were made with vowels I couldn’t
hear. Keep me instead with this small sun
that sips at the sky blue hem of our sheets
then dips & reappears: a drowsy penny
in the belt of Venus, your aureole nodding
slow & copper as it bobs against cotton
in cornflower or clay. What a waste
the groan of the mattress must be
when you backstroke into me & pull
the night up over our heads. Your eyes
are two moons I float beneath & my lungs
fill with a wet hum your hips return.
It’s Sunday—or so you say with both hands
on my chest—& hot breath is the only hymn
whose refrain we can recall. And then you
reach for me like I could’ve been another
man. You make me sing without a sound.

Copyright © 2019 by Meg Day. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 1, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

1.

Propped against a tree on a sidewalk next 
to the trash cans, shorn of sheets, its fabric 
a casing for its coils, harborer of secretions 
seeped and dried, its phosphorous surface 
glitters abandoned skin flakes in moonlight, 
shingles from roof sides of humans. Mucous
trails pearlescent from a snail crawled up
the trunk of the tree upon which this bed 
formerly slept on now leans. Loved upon?
Perhaps. Dreamt on most definitely. Hands
on skin most definitely, the stains it harbors
are the trails of dreams, the shotguns aimed
at baby carriages, molars boring holes into 
the palm upon which they are cast like dice,
and the mystery of love as scratchy and fine
smelling as the needle tree that carried you
off with its scent of resin: it’s a hideous thing.

2.

Sheet marks on the face won’t disappear into
the water filling the basin. Under the eyes dark 
lakes before the resinous reflection of window
cast into mirror by interior lights set against
the night. Do you wonder if I dream of your 
shattering? Marks on the face don’t melt into 
the water. It would be strange to dream that 
hard for a stranger, even for you who became 
strange within an hour. Yet, I am waking from 
the press of your face against my face. Carried 
off over the shoulder, hauled through doorways, 
receiving your murder, once this mattress was 
bent at its middle, sagged profuse as a gaping 
blouse, and bore stains of which I was never 
aware while asleep. You knew. You were there 
too. You will dream of congress between us. 
I withdraw my hand. I refuse. Haul me away.

Copyright © 2019 by Cate Marvin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 15, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

/1/

What forest is there to run to,
other than the one within another’s heart?

What appears to be deeply rooted 
is half dead         drowning
            and sucking at the sun.

/2/

I hate to say this 
but what is stable
can be easily disrupted,
and what is easily disrupted
can cloud       even        the clearest of days.

This is what I have come to know 
after being turned on,
             turned over,
                             and turned round.
/3/

I want to spark the heat of this body with the heart, with 
the heart of the heart, with the heart of the heart of this 
body, with the whole body of the heart, and then I want to 
slow it down and tinker with it. I want to slow it all the way 
downdowndown to a gentle timber,
                                                                            or fall.

/4/

To pioneer is to take part in the beginnings of something.

Come, Pioneer.
I am tired of shepherding this heart. Help 
me to believe. Come.
I am near willing to give it up and over. Come,
before I bury it all under.

Copyright © 2019 Leah Umansky. This poem originally appeared in Poetry Northwest, Winter & Spring 2019. Used with permission of the author.

I wake in the golden belly of this abode
and sense some diurnal grace at work.
I take my body to the fall, to bathe
and anoint my genitals with shea.
I have made my journey to the cold hills
to commune with my people there.
I come for the second beautiful harvest
and have waited long to look into its eye.
The harvest hosts libations, the meal
and my desire—so I drink the deep
heady liquid of its languid stare, under
the hum of many voices: burgeoning
friendships and reunion in the low light.
I break into the soft weirdness of injera
and dip my fingers into the meat stew,
to celebrate the glory of the kings.
The clear splendor of the serving boy,
his slow blink as of a camel, does not
distract me—here to reap but seduced
by the second beautiful harvest.

Copyright © 2019 by Dante Micheaux. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 14, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

three girls ago
bloodroot: it was Eid
Al-Adha: a man

I loved shoved
my face into
German reeds

I can still feel his sweat
when I unsleep: the cleave
of his breath-lice

warming chains
of my necklace
I was without people

oh so summerful
I invented my girlhood
I languaged myself

a knife-body
yet all uncles said
I’m badly woven: bad

muslin: say forgiveness
comes easy say freckledirt
buried the faces

of my sisters: lakewarm
& plentiful—
we kiss we touch

we Magdalene each
other it’s true
during the adhan I pulled

down my tights
nylon black like the chador
of my mother

I licked from my yesterlove
the salt licked
real good—to pluck it again

I must whorl ad nauseam
for the addendum
of flesh the soft

sumac, cottonwood hard
as the nipples
he circled

we are singing
it’s spring and God to my song
is unlistening, unlistening

o Maryam o Miriam
o Mary we are undying
we are not gone

are not slayed we are
unslaying—our hand
wields this life

and I ply myself
out come here
between my legs     

come in          all are welcome        who believe

Copyright © 2019 by Aria Aber. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 9, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.