Coming out isn’t the same as coming to America
except for the welcome parade
put on by ghosts like your granduncle Roy
who came to New York from Panamá in the 50s
and was never heard of again
and by the beautiful gays who died of AIDS in the 80s
whose cases your mother studied
in nursing school. She sent you to the US to become
an “American” and you worry
she’ll blame this country
for making you a “marica,”
a “Mary,” like it might have made your uncle Roy.
The words “America” and “marica” are so similar!
Exchange a few vowels
and turn anyone born in this country
queer. I used to watch Queer as Folk as a kid
and dream of sashaying away
the names bullies called me in high school
for being Black but not black enough, or the kind of black they saw on TV:
black-ish, negro claro, cueco.
It was a predominately white school,
the kind of white the Spanish brought to this continent
when they cozened my ancestors from Africa.
There was no welcome parade for my ancestors back then
so, they made their own procession, called it “carnaval”
and fully loaded the streets with egungun costumes,
holy batá drum rhythms, shouting and screaming in tongues,
and booty dancing in the spirit.
I don’t want to disappear in New York City,
lost in a drag of straightness.
So instead, I proceed
to introduce my mother to my first boyfriend
after I’ve moved her to Texas
and helped make her a citizen.
Living is trafficking through ghosts in a constant march
toward a better life, welcoming the next in line.
Thriving is wining the perreo to soca on the
Noah’s Arc pride parade float, like you’re
the femme bottom in an early aughts gay TV show.
Surviving is (cross-)dressing as an American marica,
until you’re a ‘merica or a ‘murica
and your ancestors see
you’re the king-queen of Mardi Gras,
purple scepter, crown, and krewe.
Copyright © 2020 by Darrel Alejandro Holnes. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 25, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
After Robert Minervini’s “Improvised Garden II (Water Street)”
more and more of my friends
are becoming parents or partners
i have lived long and short enough
to remember the homegirls who
danced non-stop until three a.m.
the moon a parabola to our party
i’ve grown up enough
to see them sing their favorite slow songs
to herbs and succulents on their windowsills
in homes they sowed from dreams
the same sister who once dug a heel into
a man’s oblique now steals thyme with me
off of suburban bushes after brunch
in my neighborhood
when a friend locked herself out—
the same person who loses wallets &
laptop chargers & saves my broken earrings
with a hot-glue gun in her backpack—
this pinay macguyver
has me breaking into her house at night
where we be tiptoeing over her
forest of planted avocado jars
into her dark room to find warmth
the one whose living room and bedroom
once resembled a flea market
or a super fly thrift store
and sometimes ikea—
the one who let me stay
she pays full price for potters &
vases—pronounced with the short
& therefore expensive ‘a’ sound
one womxn named her garden
“grown and sexy”
bringing new meaning
to the phrase garden hoe.
another who tops burritos with
white sauce dots like queen anne’s lace
also commits the crime of eating
one half at a time, you know, meal planning
with a sweet tooth, she drinks all of her horchata
& knows how
my family loves orchids &
she brings me them for my birthday
or any other tuesday
my mentee once congratulated me with
mint & basil & lavender & rosemary—
sweet aromas gifted when i
was leaving a job that left me to rot
for another that was not an office
with no windows, no green
the women in my life reroot
over oceans & provinces & planes to cultivate
a geography of trunks & limbs
reminding me that to decompose
is the chance to live again
my mother’s rose bushes open wide this spring
in her backyard without her
my mother’s body is buried in a plot
of other bodies without mine
isn’t a cemetery a garden
of all we’ve loved?
and isn’t a garden full
of already dead things?
those who bury their beloved
put the gentlest parts
of themselves into soil
my mother is a seed
the first woman i cannot unplant
cannot pull or twist back into my hands
her orchids bloom reaching
how delicately the petals hang off
their stakes like gold, glass bangles on wrists
against disco lights against the ambiance of a food truck menu
like lip gloss how bougainvillea spill onto sidewalks
like how the sun stays lit
during an eclipse
the flowers in my garden grow lively
& loving & hungry from pods & cinderblocks
my friends are florists
they water & cry & bloom & sleep
from loss & clay & unfolded laundry
sometimes we grow tired & tough
sometimes you have to open a cactus to cut
pieces off so we don’t grow stuck
arranging the flowers
in my garden
is a lattice
a life lesson
Copyright © 2020 Janice Lobo Sapigao. Originally published for the San José 11th Annual Poetry Invitational. Used with permission of the poet.
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.
I thought I could stop
time by taking apart
the clock. Minute hand. Hour hand.
Nothing can keep. Nothing
is kept. Only kept track of. I felt
accumulate like dead calves
in a thunderstorm
of the mind no longer a mind
but a page torn
from the dictionary with the definition of self
effaced. I couldn’t face it: the world moving
on as if nothing happened.
Everyone I knew got up. Got dressed.
Went to work. Went home.
There were parties. Ecstasy.
around each other. Bluntness. Blunts
rolled to keep
thought after thought
like wind across water—
coercing shapelessness into shape.
I put on my best face.
I was glamour. I was grammar.
Yet my best couldn’t best my beast.
I, too, had been taken apart.
I didn’t want to be
fixed. I wanted everything dismantled and useless
like me. Case. Wheel. Hands. Dial. Face.
Copyright © 2020 by Paul Tran. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 9, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
When I hear news of a hitchhiker
struck by lightning yet living,
or a child lifting a two-ton sedan
to free his father pinned underneath,
or a camper fighting off a grizzly
with her bare hands until someone,
a hunter perhaps, can shoot it dead,
my thoughts turn to black people—
the hysterical strength we must
possess to survive our very existence,
which I fear many believe is, and
treat as, itself a freak occurrence.
Copyright © 2017 by Nicole Sealey. Originally published in Ordinary Beast (Ecco Press, 2017). Used with permission of the author.
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.
I am liberated and focused today
on what it means to govern myself.
I am not watching the news
or wearing a bra.
I will not question America
or ask where it was last night.
I went to bed with a cold fact
With no cuddling, after.
Today, God I want nothing
not even the love I have been praying for.
On the train, I won’t offer
anyone my seat.
No one ever moves for me
Some days, not even the wind.
Today, I will be like the flag
that never waves.
At work, I will be black
and I will act like it.
They will mispronounce my name
And this time I won’t answer.
I will sit at my desk with my legs open
and my mind crossed.
Copyright © 2020 by Starr Davis. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 31, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
As I lie in bed,
Flat on my back;
There passes across my ceiling
An endless panorama of things—
Quick steps of gay-voiced children,
Adolescence in its wondering silences,
Maid and man on moonlit summer’s eve,
Women in the holy glow of Motherhood,
Old men gazing silently thru the twilight
Into the beyond.
O God, give me words to make my dream-children live.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on August 29, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
Watch the dewdrops in the morning,
Shake their little diamond heads,
Sparkling, flashing, ever moving,
From their silent little beds.
See the grass! Each blade is brightened,
Roots are strengthened by their stay;
Like the dewdrops, let us scatter
Gems of love along the way.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on August 16, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
What kind of thoughts now, do you carry
In your travels day by day
Are they bright and lofty visions,
Or neglected, gone astray?
Matters not how great in fancy,
Or what deeds of skill you’ve wrought;
Man, though high may be his station,
Is no better than his thoughts.
Catch your thoughts and hold them tightly,
Let each one an honor be;
Purge them, scourge them, burnish brightly,
Then in love set each one free.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on January 18, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.