and there was light. Now God says, Give them a little theatrical lighting and they’re happy, and we are. So many of us dressing each morning, testing endless combinations, becoming in our mirrors more ourselves, imagining, in an entrance, the ecstatic weight of human eyes. Now that the sun is sheering toward us, what is left but to let it close in for our close-up? Let us really feel how good it feels to be still in it, making every kind of self that can be looked at. God, did you make us to be your bright accomplices? God, here are our shining spines. Let there be no more dreams of being more than a beginning. Let it be that to be is to be backlit, and then to be only that light.
Copyright © 2018 by Mary Szybist. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 1, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
The bumper sticker says Live In The Moment! on a Jeep that cuts me off. I’m working to forget it, to let go of everything but the wheel in my hands, as a road connects two cities without forcing them to touch. When I drive by something, does it sway toward me or away? Does it slip into the past or dance nervously in place? The past suffers from anxiety too. It goes underground, emerging once in a blue moon to hiss. I hear the grass never saying a word. I hear it spreading its arms across each grave & barely catch a name. My dying wish is scattering now before every planet. I want places to look forward to. Listen: the earth is a thin voice in a headset. It’s whispering breathe... breathe... but who believes in going back?
Copyright © 2018 by Ben Purkert. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 2, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
It was easy enough to bend them to my wish, it was easy enough to alter them with a touch, but you adrift on the great sea, how shall I call you back? Cedar and white ash, rock-cedar and sand plants and tamarisk red cedar and white cedar and black cedar from the inmost forest, fragrance upon fragrance and all of my sea-magic is for nought. It was easy enough— a thought called them from the sharp edges of the earth; they prayed for a touch, they cried for the sight of my face, they entreated me till in pity I turned each to his own self. Panther and panther, then a black leopard follows close— black panther and red and a great hound, a god-like beast, cut the sand in a clear ring and shut me from the earth, and cover the sea-sound with their throats, and the sea-roar with their own barks and bellowing and snarls, and the sea-stars and the swirl of the sand, and the rock-tamarisk and the wind resonance— but not your voice. It is easy enough to call men from the edges of the earth. It is easy enough to summon them to my feet with a thought— it is beautiful to see the tall panther and the sleek deer-hounds circle in the dark. It is easy enough to make cedar and white ash fumes into palaces and to cover the sea-caves with ivory and onyx. But I would give up rock-fringes of coral and the inmost chamber of my island palace and my own gifts and the whole region of my power and magic for your glance.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 3, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
You do not seem to realise that beauty is a liability rather than
an asset—that in view of the fact that spirit creates form we are justified in supposing
that you must have brains. For you, a symbol of the unit, stiff and sharp,
conscious of surpassing by dint of native superiority and liking for everything
self-dependent, anything an
ambitious civilisation might produce: for you, unaided to attempt through sheer
reserve, to confute presumptions resulting from observation, is idle. You cannot make us
think you a delightful happen-so. But rose, if you are brilliant, it
is not because your petals are the without-which-nothing of pre-eminence. You would look, minus
thorns—like a what-is-this, a mere
peculiarity. They are not proof against a worm, the elements, or mildew
but what about the predatory hand? What is brilliance without co-ordination? Guarding the
infinitesimal pieces of your mind, compelling audience to
the remark that it is better to be forgotten than to be remembered too violently,
your thorns are the best part of you.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 4, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
This massive apartment: a whole room left
Empty to air, where we used to sleep.
So many steps on the waxed wood, like off turns
On the dial of a lock whose combination one’s lost—
All decaying about me like empire,
The moldings moldering while I sit frozen
As a swan on the surface of a lake changing to ice.
Fruit flies and mosquitoes, a water bug,
Carpet beetles, the mouse found behind the couch
Months after it’d shrunk to a puff of fur:
Nothing to eat here but beer and more dark.
The shower where someone’s young wife died
In an explosion of epilepsy while he slept.
One wonders what he was dreaming then.
The same dreams we once made here, maybe.
Copyright © 2018 by Monica Ferrell. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 5, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Night time is the right time . . .
—Ray Charles and Margie Hendricks
She had me in the car. I came forward like a song. We did it before temple, after temple, between prayers. The windows echoed her mantras, our cries warmed the air. Two peaks merged, then sank below the clouds. We did it before temple, after temple, between prayers. Her stomach began to show and people asked us not to come. Two peaks merged, then sank below the clouds. Night and day, everything was changing. . . . . . Her stomach began to show and people asked her not to come. My mother was all alone when I was born. Night and day. Everything was changing. The radio started playing rhythm and blues. My mother was all alone when I was born— The windows echoed her mantras, our cries warmed the air, The radio started playing rhythm and blues. She had me in a car. I came forward like a song.
Copyright © 2018 by Duy Doan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 6, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
We bank sneaks do it for the back- jumping buzz and for the poetry of course, iamb after iamb of ka- klink in our birdcage coffers. The beard-jammer (that shitty shirtrabbit) dropped from the eaves after a whole lot of listening and squashed my swagger in seconds. So here I am on yonder Ponder Island, forced to forgo the fizz powder that used to give me the good go-ahead, count my every blink and contemplate. It’s always claws for breakfast, then around eye-flicker five thousand he comes in to cat-cuff me, to drone on about the bone orchard or the Burlap Sisters (buzz-nappers all three) who never went free. They didn’t do dialogue. They were islands of their own. Each midnight (thrice daily) I scan the skies for wormholes, which I know is flimsy whimsy, as if I’ll swoon through space into a dimension where there are cackle-tubs full of jokes and tenth chances. Still, I keep the old big-eye open. When I can I prowl the caper-cove hooting help! My sentence: twelve years of mirror manufacture. Not even one lousy weak- ankled gerund. There’s no magic in mirrors but in verbs, hey-brim- ho yes. I narrate my movements to myself with as many as possible—I grind, polish, whistle, wish, but I worry I’m losing the lingo. I never look at my show-me in the glass— it fazzles me. Instead I count what I’ve sent down the wormholes in the past: one year of daily weather diagrams and owl-falls, an exquisite equation for unlocking a safe. I think there are other worlds out there and perhaps in a quicksquint I’ll catch a glimpse of my double (Little-Go- Cheat or Lizzy-Loll- Tongue I call her). Worst: We’re handcuff- Married. Best: Thanks to me her nimbles unlatch a door and cull-money silvers into her lap. She imagines my sky. Sends me hers.
Copyright © 2018 by Matthea Harvey. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 7, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
When we first met, my heart pounded. They said the shock of it was probably what broke his heart. In search of peace, we traveled once to Finland, tasted reindeer heart. It seemed so heartless, how you wanted it to end. I noticed on the nurse who took his pulse a heart tattooed above her collarbone. The kids played hearts all night to pass the time. You said that at its heart rejection was impossible to understand. “We send our heartfelt sympathy,” was written in the card your mother sent, in flowing script. I tried interpreting his EKG, which looked like knife wounds to the heart. I knew enough to guess he wouldn’t last much longer. As if we’d learned our lines by heart, you said, “I can’t explain.” “Please don’t,” was my reply. They say the heart is just a muscle. Or the heart is where the human soul resides. I saw myself in you; you looked so much like him. You didn’t have the heart to say you didn’t want me anymore. I still can see that plastic statue: Jesus Christ, his sacred heart aflame, held out in his own hands. He finally let go. How grief this great is borne, not felt. Borne in the heart.
Copyright © 2018 by Rafael Campo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 8, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
It’s not fair. You owe it to the reader.
We’re trying to help. We have an uncle
with a disability and he always says
exactly what it is. Take it from him.
Take it from us. Take it from them.
You can’t expect people to read you
if you don’t come out and say it.
Everyone knows the default mode
of a poem is ten fingers, ten toes
with sight and hearing and balance.
When this is not true, it is incumbent
on you to come out and say it.
Here’s what. We’ll rope you
to the podium and ask
What do you have? What is it?
Copyright © 2018 by Jillian Weise. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 9, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
I will not walk in the wood to-night,
I will not stand by the water’s edge
And see day lie on the dusk’s bright ledge
Until it turn, a star at its breast,
I will not see the wide-flung hills
Closing darkly about my grief,
I wore a crown of their lightest leaf,
But now they press like a cold, blue ring,
I dare not meet that caroling blade,
Jauntily drawn in the sunset pine,
Stabbing me with its thrust divine,
Knowing my naked, aching need,
Till I bleed.
Sheathe your song, invincible bird,
Strike not at me with that flashing note,
Have pity, have pity, persistent throat,
Deliver me not to your dread delight
I am afraid of the creeping wood,
I am afraid of the furtive trees,
Hiding behind them, memories,
Ready to spring, to clutch, to tear,
Wait for me there.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 10, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Winter was the ravaging in the scarified
Ghost garden, a freak of letters crossing down a rare
Path bleak with poplars. Only the yew were a crewel
Of kith at the fieldstone wall, annulled
As a dulcimer cinched in a green velvet sack.
To be damaged is to endanger—taut as the stark
Throats of castrati in their choir, lymphless & fawning
& pale. The miraculous conjoining
Where the beamless air harms our self & lung,
Our three-chambered heart & sternum,
Where two made a monstrous
Braid of other, ravishing.
To damage is an animal hunch
& urge, thou fallen—the marvelous much
Is the piece of Pleiades the underworld calls
The nightsky from their mud & rime. Perennials
Ghost the ground & underground the coffled
Veins, an aneurism of the ice & spectacle.
I would not speak again. How flinching
The world will seem—in the lynch
Of light as I sail home in a winter steeled
For the deaths of the few loved left living I will
Always love. I was a flint
To bliss & barbarous, a bristling
Of tracks like a starfish carved on his inner arm,
A tindering of tissue, a reliquary, twinned.
A singe of salt-hay shrouds the orchard-skin,
That I would be—lukewarm, mammalian, even then,
In winter when moss sheathes every thing alive
& everything not or once alive.
That I would be—dryadic, gothic, fanatic against
The vanishing; I will not speak to you again.
From The Master Letters by Lucie Brock-Broido, published by Alfred A. Knopf. Copyright © 1997 by Lucie Brock-Broido. Reprinted by permission of the the publisher and author. All rights reserved.
Come to me in the silence of the night; Come in the speaking silence of a dream; Come with soft rounded cheeks and eyes as bright As sunlight on a stream; Come back in tears, O memory, hope, love of finished years. O dream how sweet, too sweet, too bitter sweet, Whose wakening should have been in Paradise, Where souls brimful of love abide and meet; Where thirsting longing eyes Watch the slow door That opening, letting in, lets out no more. Yet come to me in dreams, that I may live My very life again though cold in death: Come back to me in dreams, that I may give Pulse for pulse, breath for breath: Speak low, lean low, As long ago, my love, how long ago!
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 11, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
You, who have bowed your head, shed another season of antlers at my feet, for years you fall asleep to the lullabies of dolls, cotton-stuffed and frayed, ears damp with sleep and saliva, scalps knotted with yarn, milk-breath, and yawns. Birth is a torn ticket stub, a sugar cone wrapped in a paper sleeve, the blackest ice. It has been called irretrievable, a foreign coin, the moon’s slip, showing, a pair of new shoes rubbing raw your heel. I lose the back of my earring and bend the metal in such a way as to keep it fastened to me. In the universe where we are strangers, you kick with fury, impatient as grass. I have eaten all your names. In this garden you are blue ink, baseball cap wishbone, pulled teeth, wet sand, hourglass. There are locks of your hair in the robin’s nest and clogging the shower drain. You, who are covered in feathers, who have witnessed birth give birth to death and watched death suck her purple nipple. You long for a mother like death’s mother, want to nurse until drunk you dream of minnows swimming through your ears—their iridescence causing you to blink, your arms twitching. Even while you sleep I feed you.
Copyright © 2018 by Ama Codjoe. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 12, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Haven’t found anyone From the old gang. They must be still in hiding, Holding their breaths And trying not to laugh. Our street is down on its luck With windows broken Where on summer nights One heard couples arguing, Or saw them dancing to the radio. The redhead we were All in love with, Who sat on the fire escape, Smoking late into the night, Must be in hiding too. The skinny boy On crutches Who always carried a book, May not have Gotten very far. Darkness comes early This time of year Making it hard To recognize familiar faces In those of strangers.
Copyright © 2018 by Charles Simic. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 13, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets
"Save your hands,” my mother says, seeing me untwist a jar's tight cap— just the way she used to tell me not to let boys fool around, or feel my breasts: "keep them fresh for marriage,” as if they were a pair of actual fruit. I scoffed to think they could bruise, scuff, soften, rot, wither. I look down now at my knuckly thumbs, my index finger permanently askew in the same classic crook as hers, called a swan's neck, as if snapped, it's that pronounced. Even as I type, wondering how long I'll be able to—each joint in my left hand needing to be hoisted, prodded, into place, one knuckle like a clock's dial clicking as it's turned to open, bend or unbend. I balk at the idea that we can overuse ourselves, must parcel out and pace our energies so as not to run out of any necessary component while still alive— the definition of "necessary” necessarily suffering change over time. The only certainty is uncertainty, I thought I knew, so ignored whatever she said about boys and sex: her version of a story never mine. It made me laugh, the way she made up traditions, that we didn't kiss boys until a certain age, we didn't fool around. What we? What part of me was she? No part I could put my finger on. How odd, then, one day, to find her half-napping in her room, talking first to herself and then to me, about a boy she used to know, her friend's brother, who she kissed, she said, just because he wanted her to. "Now why would I do that,” she mused, distraught anew and freshly stung by the self-betrayal. So much I still want to do with my hands— type, play, cook, caress, swipe, re-trace.
Copyright © 2018 by Carol Moldaw. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 14, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
The Blue Dress—died on August 6,
2015, along with the little blue flowers,
all silent. Once the petals looked up.
Now small pieces of dust. I wonder
whether they burned the dress or just
the body? I wonder who lifted her up
into the fire? I wonder if her hair
brushed his cheek before it grew into a
bonfire? I wonder what sound the body
made as it burned? They dyed her hair
for the funeral, too black. She looked
like a comic character. I waited for the
next comic panel, to see the speech
bubble and what she might say. But her
words never came and we were left
with the stillness of blown glass. The
irreversibility of rain. And millions of
little blue flowers. Imagination is having
to live in a dead person’s future. Grief is
wearing a dead person’s dress forever.
Copyright © 2018 by Victoria Chang. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 15, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
My mother is taking me to the store because it’s hot out and I’m sick and want a popsicle. All the other kids are at school sitting in rows of small desks, looking out the window. She is wearing one of those pantsuits with shoulder pads and carrying a purse with a checkbook. We are holding hands, standing in front of the big automatic doors which silently swing open so we can walk in together, so we can step out of the heat and step into a world of fluorescent light and cool, cool air. Then, as if a part of the heat had suddenly broken off, had become its own power, a man places his arm around her shoulders but also around her neck and she lets go of my hand and pushes me away. Pushes me toward the safety of the checkout line. Then the man begins to yell. And then the man begins to cry. The pyramid of canned beans in front of me is so perfect I can’t imagine anyone needing beans bad enough to destroy it. The man is walking my mother down one aisle and then another aisle and then another like a father dragging his daughter toward a wedding he cannot find. Everyone is standing so still. All you can hear is my mom pleading and the sound of the air conditioner like Shhhhhhhhhh.
Copyright © 2018 by Matthew Dickman. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 16, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Matched with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel; I will drink
Life to the lees. All times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea. I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known—cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honored of them all,—
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untraveled world whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains; but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the scepter and the isle,
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill
This labor, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and through soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centered in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.
There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail;
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought with me,
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honor and his toil.
Death closes all; but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;
The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
This poem is in the public domain.
I was trying to wave to you but you wouldn’t wave back
—The Be Good Tanyas
Forgive me my deafness now for your name on others’ lips:
each mouth gathers then opens & I search for the wave
the fluke of their tongues should make with the blow
of your name in that mild darkness I recognize but cannot
explain as the same oblivious blue of Hold the conch to your ear
& hearing the highway loud & clear. My hands are bloated
with the name signs of my kin who have waited for water
to reach their ears. Or oil; grease from a fox with the gall
of a hare, bear fat melted in hot piss, peach kernels fried
in hog lard & tucked along the cavum for a cure; a sharp stick
even, a jagged rock; anything to wedge down deep to the drum
inside that kept them walking away from wives—old
or otherwise—& the tales they tell about our being too broken
for their bearing, & yet they bear on. Down. Forgive me
my deafness for my own sound, how I mistook it for a wound
you could heal. Forgive me the places your wasted words
could have saved us from going had I heard you with my hands.
I saw Joni live & still thought a gay pair of guys put up a parking lot.
How could I have known You are worthless sounds like Should we
do this, even with the lights on. You let me say Yes. So what
if Johnny Nash can see clearly now Lorraine is gone—I only wanted
to hear the sea. The audiologist asks Does it seem like you’re under
water? & I think only of your name. I thought it was you
after I love, but memory proves nothing save my certainty—
the chapped round of your mouth was the same shape while at rest
or in thought or blowing smoke, & all three make a similar sound:
Copyright © 2018 by Meg Day. Originally published in TYPO. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 18, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
after Yusef Komunyakaa
My black face fades,
hiding inside black smoke.
I knew they'd use it,
dammit: tear gas.
I'm grown. I'm fresh.
Their clouded assumption eyes me
like a runaway, guilty as night,
chasing morning. I run
this way—the street lets me go.
I turn that way—I'm inside
the back of a police van
again, depending on my attitude
to be the difference.
I run down the signs
half-expecting to find
my name protesting in ink.
I touch the name Freddie Gray;
I see the beat cop's worn eyes.
Names stretch across the people’s banner
but when they walk away
the names fall from our lips.
Paparazzi flash. Call it riot.
The ground. A body on the ground.
A white cop’s image hovers
over us, then his blank gaze
looks through mine. I’m a broken window.
He’s raised his right arm
a gun in his hand. In the black smoke
a drone tracking targets:
No, a crow gasping for air.
Copyright © 2018 by Amanda Johnston. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 19, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
it was clear they were hungry
with their carts empty the clothes inside their empty hands
they were hungry because their hands
were empty their hands in trashcans
the trashcans on the street
the asphalt street on the red dirt the dirt taxpayers pay for
up to that invisible line visible thick white paint
visible booths visible with the fence starting from the booths
booth road booth road booth road office building then the fence
fence fence fence
it started from a corner with an iron pole
always an iron pole at the beginning
those men those women could walk between booths
say hi to white or brown officers no problem
the problem I think were carts belts jackets
we didn’t have any
or maybe not the problem
our skin sunburned all of us spoke Spanish
we didn’t know how they had ended up that way
on that side
we didn’t know how we had ended up here
we didn’t know but we understood why they walk
the opposite direction to buy food on this side
this side we all know is hunger
From Unaccompanied (Copper Canyon Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Javier Zamora. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 20, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
I wish you (my mother once told me—mother of my child-
hood—even though water is water-weary—what is prayer if not quiet
who has made me—what hands you become when you touch—
who laid down on whose body—whose face and whose shoulders
worth shaking—what will I not hear when I look back
at you—who is not the mother of a daughter—who is not
the mother of a man—we are right to be afraid of our bodies—wind
is carried by what is upright and still moves what has) had
(been buried deep enough in the ground to be called roots—
when will this be the world where you stop—whatever broke
into you was torn by the contact—a face wears a face it can see—
what is alive is unrecognizable—need it be—who is my mother,
mother—no one—who hasn’t killed herself by
growing into someone—I’m sorry you have) never been born
Copyright © 2018 by TC Tolbert. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 21, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
after George Jackson
Because something else must belong to him,
More than these chains, these cuffs, these cells—
Something more than Hard Rock’s hurt,
More than remembrances of where men
Go mad with craving—corpuscle, epidermis,
Flesh, men buried in the whale of it, all of it,
Because the so many of us mute ourselves,
Silent before the box, fascinated by the drama
Of confined bodies on prime-time television,
These prisons sanitized for entertainment &;
These indeterminate sentences hidden, because
We all lack this panther’s rage, the gift
Of Soledad &; geographies adorned with state numbers
&; names of the dead &; dying etched on skin,
This suffering, wild loss, under mass cuffs,
Those buried hours must be about more
Than adding to this surfeit of pain as history
As bars that once held him embrace us.
From Bastards of the Reagan Era (Four Way Books, 2015). Copyright © 2015 by Reginald Dwayne Betts. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 22, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets
You wrap my ribs in gauze—
an experiment with the word tenderly
after your hands left my throat too bruised to speak.
While winter sun squints at the ghost flower
dying in its shabby terra cotta
far from home
men tell me to be honest about my role in the incident:
I should have stayed inside
while you railed from the sidewalk
but my confused heart got into the car.
What happened is
I once spent too much time in the desert
so pogonip seems glamorous hung stuck in the trees
like when blood dries on skin
and I want to wear it
out for an evening,
pat my hands over its kinky path down my face
because: f*** you,
you didn’t find me here.
I brought you here.
From Landscape with Sex and Violence (YesYes Books, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Lynn Melnick. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 23, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
For the community of Newtown, Connecticut,
where twenty students and six educators lost their
lives to a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary
School, December 14, 2012
Now the bells speak with their tongues of bronze. Now the bells open their mouths of bronze to say: Listen to the bells a world away. Listen to the bell in the ruins of a city where children gathered copper shells like beach glass, and the copper boiled in the foundry, and the bell born in the foundry says: I was born of bullets, but now I sing of a world where bullets melt into bells. Listen to the bell in a city where cannons from the armies of the Great War sank into molten metal bubbling like a vat of chocolate, and the many mouths that once spoke the tongue of smoke form the one mouth of a bell that says: I was born of cannons, but now I sing of a world where cannons melt into bells. Listen to the bells in a town with a flagpole on Main Street, a rooster weathervane keeping watch atop the Meeting House, the congregation gathering to sing in times of great silence. Here the bells rock their heads of bronze as if to say: Melt the bullets into bells, melt the bullets into bells. Here the bells raise their heavy heads as if to say: Melt the cannons into bells, melt the cannons into bells. Here the bells sing of a world where weapons crumble deep in the earth, and no one remembers where they were buried. Now the bells pass the word at midnight in the ancient language of bronze, from bell to bell, like ships smuggling news of liberation from island to island, the song rippling through the clouds. Now the bells chime like the muscle beating in every chest, heal the cracks in the bell of every face listening to the bells. The chimes heal the cracks in the bell of the moon. The chimes heal the cracks in the bell of the world.
From Bullets Into Bells: Poets and Citizens Respond to Gun Violence (Beacon Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Martín Espada. Used with permission of the author and Beacon Press.
You were forever finding some new play.
So when I saw you down on hands and knees
In the meadow, busy with the new-cut hay,
Trying, I thought, to set it up on end,
I went to show you how to make it stay,
If that was your idea, against the breeze,
And, if you asked me, even help pretend
To make it root again and grow afresh.
But 'twas no make-believe with you to-day,
Nor was the grass itself your real concern,
Though I found your hand full of wilted fern,
Steel-bright June-grass, and blackening heads of clover.
'Twas a nest full of young birds on the ground
The cutter-bar had just gone champing over
(Miraculously without tasting flesh)
And left defenseless to the heat and light.
You wanted to restore them to their right
Of something interposed between their sight
And too much world at once—could means be found.
The way the nest-full every time we stirred
Stood up to us as to a mother-bird
Whose coming home has been too long deferred,
Made me ask would the mother-bird return
And care for them in such a change of scene
And might our meddling make her more afraid.
That was a thing we could not wait to learn.
We saw the risk we took in doing good,
But dared not spare to do the best we could
Though harm should come of it; so built the screen
You had begun, and gave them back their shade.
All this to prove we cared. Why is there then
No more to tell? We turned to other things.
I haven't any memory—have you?—
Of ever coming to the place again
To see if the birds lived the first night through,
And so at last to learn to use their wings.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 25, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Here is a description of hundreds of years in which I never comprehend it is hundreds of years, passing “We lived together,” I write, but what does that mean Last night A. convinced me you are a parasite OK, you’re a parasite, that’s interesting My blood mixes with the blood of the flea And we’re having another poetry lesson It always takes hundreds of years You’ve interrupted us in the midst of our poetry lesson I mean “you,” the reader, have interrupted “us” By which I mean, the bad “you” and, of course, “me” Out of which construction some American relativism Comes… Meanwhile, the flea has returned to Iowa Ah, flea, let’s look into your affairs! You seem to have learned a lot from poetry I truly admired that line about how A phone charger has become entangled in a tree And your love of leopards is a neat neoclassical reference Dionysus animatedly squirting things Here I’ll insert a description of …… ……………………………………. [plus provisional knowledge claim] I wish I could say, “The bad ‘you’ stomps Upon its hat,” or maybe its “hat” Or perhaps “it” “gnashes” “its” soft “teeth” But instead the bad “you” stalks me on email It sends word to remind me that it is “here” I mean, nonchalant, therefore Because this is also poetry Which is why it is part of the lesson And reinforced during office hours The sublime plum The immortal peach The slow death of the humanities Due to pluralism and (?) expense “If I can’t have them nobody can” Is what I wished he’d said Instead he asked me who the fuck I think I am in the Foxhead And the brown stick of the Iowa River We didn’t know much but we knew the river Things occurred and I can remember What my body is, in the traditional manner No politics, except in poems No deeds, except figuratively Here is a description of the pink color of heaven and in standing water Heavens have fallen I am 24 Here is a thread of ice Penetrating the human sciences Once you are here, there is only living Once you were And believed I was good until you no longer believed this Of me
Copyright © 2018 by Lucy Ives. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 26, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Soldiers collect & number: pigment, hair, jade, roasted meat, timber, cum. The enemy’s flute; the face of an enemy as he holds his young; the enemy’s face the moment it’s harmed. The woods are a class in what they can take. The country is fat. We eat from its side.
Copyright © 2018 by Nomi Stone. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 27, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
When it comes at me in the mirror with its meaning ramping up until it passes and lowers in pitch, I’m on the bit of the M1 where it bisects the Ring of Gullion and I switch lanes, and let my right foot alleviate its weight on the accelerator of the Focus, and the ambulance is faster, and the shift in its report an effect of the change in the wave’s frequency and length on the observer, who is, in this case, me, heading up to Newry hospice off the redeye, and I lag and have to have the window down for brisk air. If the grief moves in towards me at high speed, the wavelengths I observe are decreased as the frequency increases. I don’t know what this means though I can tell you how it feels: in the cryptic centre of my head a voice recites a rhyme I read somewhere or heard once or otherwise made up: Let us go to the woods, one little pig cries. But why would we do that? his brother replies. To look for my mother, the little pig cries. But why would we do that? his sister replies. For to kiss her to death, the little pig whispers. What is driving along this but a guided dream since the road feeds itself in as the planed length time feeds to the mind’s lathe to get it trimmed correctly to size: heavy clouds; the waterlogged fields; a rainbow arcing faintly out to the west and I keep that with everything I keep to myself. I am either in the midst of it or on my own or both things are true at the same time. I kill the radio. Were the universe to finish, music would endure though I have no memories left for the moment before so when I think of you I think of you sat slumping on the edge of the mattress, zonked on Zopiclone, small and bald as a wee scaldy fallen out the nest and found there hours after you were meant to have gone on to bed. At my coming in you barely raise your head, your eyes are half-shut and you cannot find the holes for the buttons on your nightie, because you have it on you inside out. I know every journey to a source is homecoming, and I am bombing along the District of Songs along the Great Road of the Fews, towards you, through a depression left by the caldera’s collapse. This is the District of Poets, the district of The Dorsey: Doirse meaning doors or gates, the solitary pass to the old kingdom through the earthworks’ long involvement, a pair of abrupt Iron Age banks running parallel for a mile or so. An entrenchment. An entrance. All manner and slant of analogy etcetera but when, in the end, we had kissed you to death, we sat and held your cold hands for a half hour more and wiped with tissues all the black stuff bubbling up from your lungs away from your lips, and wept a good bit, and got up then and folded your clothes and stacked your cards and binned the flowers, and I sat out there in my rental car in the car park as you kept on lying in here, past all metaphor, left by yourself on the cleared stage like a real corpse.
Copyright © 2018 by Nick Laird. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 28, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
At last understanding
that everything my friend had been saying
for the thirty-three months since he knew
were words of the dog tag, words of, whatever else,
the milled and stamped-into metal of what stays behind.
Blackcap Mountain. Blue scorpion venom. Persimmon pudding.
He spoke them.
He could not say love enough times.
It clinked against itself, it clinked against its little chain.
Copyright © 2018 by Jane Hirshfield. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 29, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
The Zen priest says I am everything I am not.
In order to stop resisting, I must not attempt to stop resisting.
I must believe there is no need to believe in thoughts.
Oblivious to appetites that appear to be exits, and also entrances.
What is there to hoard when the worldly realm has no permanent vacancies?
Ten years I’ve taken to this mind fasting.
My shadow these days is bare.
It drives a stranger, a good fool.
Nothing can surprise.
Clarity is just questioning having eaten its fill.
Copyright © 2018 by Jenny Xie. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 30, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
My Love is of a birth as rare As ’tis for object strange and high: It was begotten by despair Upon Impossibility. Magnanimous Despair alone Could show me so divine a thing, Where feeble Hope could ne'r have flown But vainly flapt its Tinsel Wing. And yet I quickly might arrive Where my extended Soul is fixt, But Fate does Iron wedges drive, And alwaies crowds it self betwixt. For Fate with jealous Eye does see Two perfect Loves; nor lets them close: Their union would her ruine be, And her Tyrannick pow'er depose. And therefore her Decrees of Steel Us as the distant Poles have plac'd, (Though Love's whole World on us doth wheel) Not by themselves to be embrac'd. Unless the giddy Heaven fall, And Earth some new Convulsion tear; And, us to joyn, the World should all Be cramp'd into a Planisphere. As Lines so Loves oblique may well Themselves in every Angle greet: But ours so truly Parallel, Though infinite can never meet. Therefore the Love which us doth bind, But Fate so enviously debarrs, Is the Conjunction of the Mind, And Opposition of the Stars.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 31, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.