My mother never forgave my father
for killing himself,
especially at such an awkward time
and in a public park,
that spring
when I was waiting to be born.
She locked his name
in her deepest cabinet
and would not let him out,
though I could hear him thumping.
When I came down from the attic
with the pastel portrait in my hand
of a long-lipped stranger
with a brave moustache
and deep brown level eyes,
she ripped it into shreds
without a single word
and slapped me hard.
In my sixty-fourth year
I can feel my cheek 
still burning.

The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.

We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother’s countenance
Could not unfrown itself.

The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.

You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard by dirt,
Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.

Copyright © 1942 by Hearst Magazines, Inc. From Collected Poems by Theodore Roethke. Used by permission of Doubleday, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

When I have fears that I may cease to be 
  Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain, 
Before high piled books, in charact’ry, 
  Hold like rich garners the full-ripen’d grain; 
When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face, 
  Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance, 
And think that I may never live to trace 
  Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance; 
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour! 
  That I shall never look upon thee more, 
Never have relish in the faery power 
  Of unreflecting love!—then on the shore 
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think 
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.

This poem is in the public domain.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

From The Complete Poems 1927-1979 by Elizabeth Bishop, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc. Copyright © 1979, 1983 by Alice Helen Methfessel. Used with permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.

And when I heard about the divorce of my friends,
I couldn't help but be proud of them,

that man and that woman setting off in different directions,
like pilgrims in a proverb

—him to buy his very own toaster oven,
her seeking a prescription for sleeping pills.

Let us keep in mind the hidden forces
which had struggled underground for years

to push their way to the surface—and that finally did,
cracking the crust, moving the plates of earth apart,

releasing the pent-up energy required
for them to rent their own apartments,

for her to join the softball league for single mothers
for him to read George the Giraffe over his speakerphone

at bedtime to the six-year-old.

The bible says, Be fruitful and multiply

but is it not also fruitful to subtract and to divide?
Because if marriage is a kind of womb,

divorce is the being born again;
alimony is the placenta one of them will eat;

loneliness is the name of the wet-nurse;
regret is the elementary school;

endurance is the graduation.
So do not say that they are splattered like dropped lasagna

or dead in the head-on collision of clichés
or nailed on the cross of their competing narratives.

What is taken apart is not utterly demolished.
It is like a great mysterious egg in Kansas

that has cracked and hatched two big bewildered birds.
It is two spaceships coming out of retirement,

flying away from their dead world,
the burning booster rocket of divorce
                                 falling off behind them,

the bystanders pointing at the sky and saying, Look.

From Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty. Copyright © 2010 by Tony Hoagland. Used with permission of Graywolf Press.

After "L'Aquilone" by Giovanni Pascoli (1855-1912)
Air from another life and time and place,
Pale blue heavenly air is supporting
A white wing beating high against the breeze,

And yes, it is a kite! As when one afternoon
All of us there trooped out
Among the briar hedges and stripped thorn,

I take my stand again, halt opposite
Anahorish Hill to scan the blue,
Back in that field to launch our long-tailed comet.

And now it hovers, tugs, veers, dives askew,
Lifts itself, goes with the wind until
It rises to loud cheers from us below.

Rises, and my hand is like a spindle
Unspooling, the kite a thin-stemmed flower
Climbing and carrying, carrying farther, higher

The longing in the breast and planted feet
And gazing face and heart of the kite flier
Until string breaks and—separate, elate—

The kite takes off, itself alone, a windfall.

Excerpted from Human Chain by Seamus Heaney. Published in September 2010 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2010 by Seamus Heaney. All rights reserved.

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.
At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

Jane Kenyon, "Otherwise," from Collected Poems. Copyright © 2005 by the Estate of Jane Kenyon. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Graywolf Press, graywolfpress.org.

Tamir Rice, 2002–2014

                          the boy’s face 
climbed back down the twelve-year tunnel  

of its becoming,  a charcoal sunflower 
swallowing itself. Who has eyes to see,  

or ears to hear? If you could see 
what happens fastest, unmaking 

the human irreplaceable, a star 
falling into complete gravitational  

darkness from all points of itself, all this: 

the held loved body into which entered 
milk and music,  honeying the cells of him: 

who sang to him, stroked the nap 
of the scalp, kissed the flesh-knot 

after the cord completed its work 
of fueling into him the long history  

of those whose suffering
was made more bearable  

by the as-yet-unknown of him,

playing alone in some unthinkable 
future city, a Cleveland,  

whatever that might be. 
Two seconds. To elapse: 

the arc of joy in the conception bed,
the labor of hands repeated until  

the hands no longer required attention,
so that as the woman folded  

her hopes for him sank into the fabric 
of his shirts and underpants. Down 

they go, swirling down into the maw 
of a greater dark. Treasure box, 

comic books, pocket knife, bell from a lost cat’s collar,
why even begin to enumerate them

when behind every tributary 
poured into him comes rushing backward 

all he hasn’t been yet. Everything 
that boy could have thought or made,  

sung or theorized, built on the quavering 
but continuous structure 

that had preceded him sank into 
an absence in the shape of a boy 

playing with a plastic gun in a city park 
in Ohio, in the middle of the afternoon. 

 When I say two seconds, I don’t mean the time 
it took him to die. I mean the lapse between

the instant the cruiser braked to a halt 
on the grass, between that moment 

and the one in which the officer fired his weapon.
The two seconds taken to assess the situation.  

I believe it is part of the work 
of poetry to try on at least
the moment and skin of another,  

for this hour I respectfully decline. 

I refuse it. May that officer 
be visited every night of his life
by an enormity collapsing in front of him 

into an incomprehensible bloom,
and the voice that howls out of it.

 If this is no poem then… 

But that voice—erased boy, 
beloved of time, who did nothing 
to no one and became  

nothing because of it—I know that voice 
is one of the things we call poetry.
It isn’t to his killer he’s speaking.

"In Two Seconds: Tamir Rice, 2002-2014" previously appeared in the May-June 2015 issue of American Poetry Review. Copyright © 2015 by Mark Doty. Used with permission of the author. 

My black face fades,
hiding inside the black granite.
I said I wouldn’t,
dammit: No tears.
I’m stone. I’m flesh.
My clouded reflection eyes me
like a bird of prey, the profile of night
slanted against morning. I turn
this way—the stone lets me go.
I turn that way—I’m inside
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again, depending on the light
to make a difference.
I go down the 58,022 names,
half-expecting to find
my own in letters like smoke.
I touch the name Andrew Johnson;
I see the booby trap’s white flash.
Names shimmer on a woman’s blouse
but when she walks away
the names stay on the wall.
Brushstrokes flash, a red bird’s
wings cutting across my stare.
The sky. A plane in the sky.
A white vet’s image floats
closer to me, then his pale eyes
look through mine. I’m a window.
He's lost his right arm
inside the stone. In the black mirror
a woman’s trying to erase names:
No, she’s brushing a boy’s hair.

From Dien Cai Dau by Yusef Komunyakaa. Copyright © 1988 by Yusef Komunyakaa. Reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press. All rights reserved.

Was he looking for St. Lucia’s light
to touch his face those first days 
in the official November snow & sleet 
falling on the granite pose of Lincoln?
 
If he were searching for property lines
drawn in the blood, or for a hint
of resolve crisscrossing a border,
maybe he’d find clues in the taste of breadfruit.
 
I could see him stopped there squinting
in crooked light, the haze of Wall Street
touching clouds of double consciousness,
an eye etched into a sign borrowed from Egypt.

If he’s looking for tips on basketball,
how to rise up & guard the hoop,
he may glean a few theories about war   
but they aren’t in The Star-Apple Kingdom.

If he wants to finally master himself,
searching for clues to govern seagulls
in salty air, he’ll find henchmen busy with locks
& chains in a ghost schooner's nocturnal calm.

He’s reading someone who won’t speak
of milk & honey, but of looking ahead
beyond pillars of salt raised in a dream
where fat bulbs split open the earth.

The spine of the manifest was broken,
leaking deeds, songs & testaments.
Justice stood in the shoes of mercy,
& doubt was bandaged up & put to bed.

Now, he looks as if he wants to eat words,
their sweet, intoxicating flavor. Banana leaf
& animal, being & nonbeing. In fact, 
craving wisdom, he bites into memory.  

The President of the United States of America
thumbs the pages slowly, moving from reverie
to reverie, learning why one envies the octopus
for its ink, how a man’s skin becomes the final page.

Copyright © 2011 by Yusef Komunyakaa. Used with permission of the author.

I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of his mouth.
He didn't fight.
He hadn't fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely. Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
and its pattern of darker brown
was like wallpaper:
shapes like full-blown roses
stained and lost through age.
He was speckled with barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime,
and infested
with tiny white sea-lice,
and underneath two or three
rags of green weed hung down.
While his gills were breathing in
the terrible oxygen
—the frightening gills,
fresh and crisp with blood,
that can cut so badly—
I thought of the coarse white flesh
packed in like feathers,
the big bones and the little bones,
the dramatic reds and blacks
of his shiny entrails,
and the pink swim-bladder
like a big peony.
I looked into his eyes
which were far larger than mine
but shallower, and yellowed,
the irises backed and packed
with tarnished tinfoil
seen through the lenses
of old scratched isinglass.
They shifted a little, but not
to return my stare.
—It was more like the tipping
of an object toward the light.
I admired his sullen face,
the mechanism of his jaw,
and then I saw
that from his lower lip
—if you could call it a lip—
grim, wet, and weaponlike,
hung five old pieces of fish-line,
or four and a wire leader
with the swivel still attached,
with all their five big hooks
grown firmly in his mouth.
A green line, frayed at the end
where he broke it, two heavier lines,
and a fine black thread
still crimped from the strain and snap
when it broke and he got away.
Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw.
I stared and stared
and victory filled up
the little rented boat,
from the pool of bilge
where oil had spread a rainbow
around the rusted engine
to the bailer rusted orange,
the sun-cracked thwarts,
the oarlocks on their strings,
the gunnels—until everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
And I let the fish go.

Copyright © 2011 by Elizabeth Bishop. Reprinted from Poems with the permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

I could play the accordion
so I was selected for the amateur propaganda team.
It was very cold. I had to stop up the hole in my shoe.
I used the lid of a tin can.

As far as I can tell, there's nothing
trustworthy about my experience of reality.
I stand on one leg. I stand on the other leg.
I rotate my arms clockwise

and call this exercise. In the home movie
I recognize my coat. Taking my turn
with the mechanical bull at Uncle Ron’s
Wild West Saloon I hold on for as long as a minute.

So little happens on a given day,
which is why I play the accordion
until I am riddled with someone’s applause,
which is why I drive to Arthur County to see

the hay bale church and the world’s smallest courthouse.
If I was a blue jay or some kind of robin
I would fly figure-eights over the cottonwoods.
Despite the wind, I would not curse the wind.

The future is a rumor like the past.
The new anxiety supplants the old anxiety.
The continent I stand my ground on drifts,
which is why I have asked you to marry me.

I am solid gold, I say, and I am capable
of loving you until the final asteroid
hides Omaha under an ocean of ash,
but you’re unavailable.

They were on their way to the ocean
when they made their minds up to stay here.
The grass was so tall they picked wildflowers
without stepping down from their horses.

We are all so lucky. It is terrifying.
It is a blue sky day for all the freezingness.
I blink into the chasm of sunlight endlessly.
I forget my life, but then I remember my life.

Copyright © 2016 Michael Dumanis. Used with permission of the author.

Fifty years before you did your homework in Ferguson
we did our homework in Ferguson, thinking life was fair.
If we didn’t do our homework we might get a U—Unsatisfactory.
Your dad says you didn’t even get to see the rest of the world yet.
I’ve seen too much of the world and don’t know
how to absorb this—a girl shot through a wall—U! U! U!
I’d give you some of my years if I could—you should not
have died that night—there was absolutely no reason
for you to die. I’d like to be standing in a sprinkler with you,
the way we used to do, kids before air conditioning,
safe with our friends in the drenching of cool,
safe with our shrieks and summer shorts and happy hair,
where can we go without thinking of you now?
Did you know there was a time Ferguson was all a farm?
It fed St. Louis…giant meadows of corn, sweet potatoes,
laden blackberry bushes, perfect tomatoes in crates,
and everything was shovels and hoes, and each life,
even the little tendril of a vine, mattered,
and you did your homework and got an S for Satisfactory,
Super, instead of the S of Sorrow now stamped on our hands.

Copyright © 2016 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Used with permission of the author.