Stopped biting my nails when we started sheltering
and the next week they scratched my daughter
when I held her. Seldom had I ever seen nails intact
on my troubled fingers, but now I persevered to grow
abundant enough to touch any other person.
We ate and uttered grace, my own thanks diminished
by sincerity. Thank you for not being dead!
Seven o’clock. The sunset breathes pink as a gill.
We plead applause out open windows desperate
to once more belong to we. Pandemic, pan demos, means all people,
but our clapping sounds dumb cause it’s not.
I wonder if the virus is only envoi, a final sickness following
the first: that burst of capital scouring the earth for returns.
How gluttonous money flies as half alive as any virus!
Superstructural germ, does the wage like you borrow the body’s life
until investment finally sunders people extra, mere clippings?
The corona seems only the sun’s thin halo,
a white keratin rim, and now they say crisis comes
when people consume too little, so when my nails grow back
I chew them hope hungry, cannibal of my hands,
fearing each hangnail a door for the contaminant.
Does such solipsism tell you I’ve suffered
only paper cuts? It seems that being New Yorkers means
we share only one thing. We each hear the red wound wailing
in the air, soaking the siren red. The siren burns,
the siren spins, but now a different return from that of ambulances
and profits. Now spring strikes. Now the workers walk out
of warehouses. A judge orders ten migrants unthawed
from ice. Is something turning for the people
called surplus? Dread of anticipation before no future.
Stop biting your nails, says my mother
on Skype. She tells me to save the bearded roots
of leeks. If you plant them, new shoots
regenerate from the trimmings.
Copyright © 2020 by Ken Chen. Originally published with the Shelter in Poems initiative on poets.org.
After Hanif Abdurraqib & Frank O’Hara It is the last class of the day & I am teaching a classroom of sixth graders about poetry & across town a man has walked into a Starbucks & blown himself up while some other men throw grenades in the street & shoot into the crowd of civilians & I am 27 years old which means I am the only person in this room who was alive when this happened in New York City & I was in eighth grade & sitting in my classroom for the first class of the day & I made a joke about how mad everyone was going to be at the pilot who messed up & later added, how stupid do you have to be for it to happen twice? & the sixth graders are practicing listing sensory details & somebody calls out blue skies as a sight they love & nobody in this classroom knows what has happened yet & they do not know that the school is in lockdown which is a word we did not have when I was in sixth grade & the whole class is laughing because a boy has called out dog poop as a smell he does not like & what is a boy if not a glowing thing learning what he can get away with & I was once a girl in a classroom on the lucky side of town who did not know what had happened yet & electrical fire is a smell I did not know I did not like until my neighborhood smelled that way for weeks & blue skies is a sight I have never trusted again & poetry is what I reached for in the days when the ash would not stop falling & there is a sixth grade girl in this classroom whose father is in that Starbucks & she does not know what has happened yet & what is a girl if not a pulsing thing learning what the world will take from her & what if I am still a girl sitting in my classroom on the lucky side of town making a careless joke looking at the teacher for some kind of answer & what if I am also the teacher without any answers looking back at myself & what is an adult if not a terrified thing desperate to protect something you cannot save? & how lucky do you have to be for it to miss you twice? & tomorrow a sixth grade girl will come to class while her father has the shrapnel pulled from his body & maybe she will reach for poetry & the sky outside the classroom is so terribly blue & the students are quiet & looking at me & waiting for a grown-up or a poem or an answer or a bell to ring & the bell rings & they float up from their seats like tiny ghosts & are gone
Copyright © 2019 by Sarah Kay. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February , 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Tonight, as you undress, I watch your wondrous
flesh that’s swelled again, the way a river swells
when the ice relents. Sweet relief
just to regard the sheaves of your hips,
your boundless breasts and marshy belly.
I adore the acreage
of your thighs and praise the promising
planets of your ass.
O, you were lean that terrifying year
you were unraveling, as though you were returning
to the slender scrap of a girl I fell in love with.
But your skin was vacant, a ripped sack,
sugar spilling out and your bones insistent.
O praise the loyalty of the body
that labors to rebuild its palatial realm.
Bless butter. Bless brie.
Sanctify schmaltz. And cream and cashews.
Stoke the furnace
of the stomach and load the vessels. Darling,
drench yourself in opulent oil,
the lamp of your body glowing. May you always
flourish enormous and sumptuous,
be marbled with fat, a great vault that
I can enter, the cathedral where I pray.
From Indigo (Copper Canyon Press, 2020) by Ellen Bass. Copyright © 2020 by Ellen Bass. Used with permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Copper Canyon Press, coppercanyonpress.org.
They call. They message.
Then the occasional tag on social media.
I am wanting to check in on you… We
are thinking of you… I am so so sorry…
Then there I go
again pounding my head
sifting through thick
scattering names on a dusty floor
It is morning. It is the afternoon, maybe
the middle of some God-awful hour. I was
calm. I was hunkered low, shades drawn
maybe sipping a tea
should see me pacing kitchen
grabbing at lint or shaking my wrist
in the mirror
don’t remind me there are soldiers
tramping on my lawn with gas
and pepper spray.
I’ve just laid the sheets tight in my bed.
I’ve just trimmed the plants.
And you are so white
and fragile with your checking. You are so late
so late so late.
Copyright © 2020 by Nandi Comer. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 4, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
I tell my uncle’s ghost
don’t waste your time haunting white folks who owe you money,
I try to give him my body, but he won’t take it,
and pulls his wagon on.
I began in fields near pines where we laughed and fried fish.
If someone were to sing,
it would grow through each ghost
and be heard as geese crossing overhead.
The dead know
the work they have done,
and if they are not careful their hands
will stay in the shape of that work.
My hands haven’t touched cotton or tobacco,
I haven’t pulled small green worms
or carried them inside with me hidden in the body’s doublings.
I only was a child in harvested fields,
when my people let the cotton sleep there were no vacations,
the fields of Rolesville belong to my kinfolk, dead and alive
and I don’t know if my great-grandparents ever saw the ocean
or fell asleep on the beach.
Copyright © 2020 Tyree Daye. From Cardinal (Copper Canyon Press, 2020). Used with permission of the author and Copper Canyon Press (coppercanyonpress.org)
Soak in a hot bath; arrange my futuristic hair, then, the futon & the cushioned tatami. Cut orchids, cut fruit. Set the table for plenty, (but there is only one of me). And here you come— a cricket’s dance in the woods— in a fog-colored zoot suit. Your eyes are red & bleary. I am practicing good purity. I do not get angry. But here comes my father with the tiger’s claw. He paces and frets; I get no rest. The caged animal must be released. Here comes my mother with the serpent’s touch. I know the dim mak: the touch of death, I know the softness of the temples, the groin, the heart. Here come my sisters with the lizard’s tongue to expel the secret in a moment’s hiss. But they are slow on their haunches. I shall strike first. The weir-basket was a snare; the fish within were dying. You promised me fresh fish. You promised unconditional love and providence. Here comes my brother with the ox’s heart to explain the world in a plum’s pit. He is not your kind. You don’t understand his plight; nor does he your fomenting silence. Tiger’s claw, serpent’s touch, lizard’s tongue, ox’s heart. The caged animal is released. I believe in the touch of life. I shall keep my secret always. Although you have lost your way, you have never forsaken me. you have been whole. you have been good.
From Dwarf Bamboo. Copyright © 1987 by Marilyn Chin. Used with the permission of the author.
after Idra Novey
On a dirt road
On a drive to el campo
You found a batey
I cut the cane
We sucked on a stalk
You gave me your arms
I swam in the river
We locked the door
Then the lights went out
And the radio played
You fingered the pesos
I walked to the beach
We fried the fish
You ate the mango
I jumped in the water
We bought the flowers
Then the migrants came
And you bartered for more
Then the sirens blared
And they were carried away
But we didn’t stop them
Then the ocean swept
And the palm trees sagged
They were foreigners
We were foreigners
And we lived there
Copyright © 2020 by Jasminne Mendez. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 15, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
Outside, an abandoned mattress sags with rain
and the driveway turns all sludge when I remember
I could’ve died eight years ago, in a bed
smaller than the one I share with a new lover
who just this morning found another grey hair in my afro,
and before resettling the wiry curl with the others,
kissed the freckle on my forehead.
I admit, I don’t know a love that doesn’t
destroy. Last night while we slept,
a mouse drowned in the rice pot
I left soaking in the sink. I tried
to make a metaphor out of this, the way
he took the mouse to the edge of the lake in the yard,
released it to a deeper grave. It was
an anniversary, just my lover
taking a dead thing away, taking it
somewhere I couldn’t see.
Copyright © 2020 by Diannely Antigua. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 28, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
what it sounds like is a bird breaking small bones against glass. the least of them, a sparrow, of course. you’re about to serve dinner and this is the scene. blame the bird, the impertinent windows, try not to think of the inconvenience of blood splattering violet in the dusk. how can you eat after this? do not think of whom to blame when the least of us hurdles into the next moment. a pane opening into another. the least of us spoiling your meal.
the smell of it will be smoke and rank. you will mutter about this for days, the injustice of splatter on your window. foolish bird. civilization. house with the view. fucking bird feeder. it will take you a week, while the flesh starts to rot under thinning feathers, while the blood has congealed and stuck, for you to realize that no one is coming to take the body. it is your dead bird. it is your glass. you have options you think. hire out. move out. leave it for the bigger blacker birds.
you will taste rotting just above the top of your tongue. so much, that you check yourself to make sure that it is not you. the bird deserves something. you go to the closet, pick out a shoe box. discount? designer? you start to think of how it has come to this: pondering your mortality through a bird. a dead bird. never-mind. you don’t find it a problem not running into windows.
it is an eyesore and we start to gather as large billows in your yard. you marvel at us, beautiful, collecting and loosening our dark bodies from white sky to your grass. and then it comes. more bones and blood. one by one crashing into the closed pane. mindless birds. brown and gray feathers. filthy pests. another. fucking feeder. we look like billions lifting into flight and then—shatter.
you might find a delicate humility in the art of cleaning glass. while you work, you sustain tiny slivers of opened flesh. tips of your fingers sing. shards, carnage, it has become too much. you are careful to pick up all that you can see. you call a repairman. you are careful to pick up all that you can see. you throw everything into big shiny trash bags. you are careful to pick up all that you can see. you consider french doors. you are careful to pick up all that you can see and find more with each barefoot trip through your bloodbath house.
Copyright © 2020 by Bettina Judd. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 7, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.