I loved you before I was born.
It doesn't make sense, I know.

I saw your eyes before I had eyes to see.
And I've lived longing 
for your ever look ever since.
That longing entered time as this body. 
And the longing grew as this body waxed.
And the longing grows as the body wanes.
The longing will outlive this body.

I loved you before I was born.
It doesn't make sense, I know.

Long before eternity, I caught a glimpse
of your neck and shoulders, your ankles and toes.
And I've been lonely for you from that instant.
That loneliness appeared on earth as this body. 
And my share of time has been nothing 
but your name outrunning my ever saying it clearly. 
Your face fleeing my ever
kissing it firmly once on the mouth.

In longing, I am most myself, rapt,
my lamp mortal, my light 
hidden and singing. 

I give you my blank heart.
Please write on it
what you wish. 

From The Undressing: Poems by Li-Young Lee. Copyright © 2018 by Li-Young Lee. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

When you ask me to split a dessert with you, I wince
because I don’t like to share my restaurant food

and there is the matter of who pays for what.
If I don’t order a drink and just have a salad,

always the person in the group who gobbled steak,
a glass of wine, and two appetizers says, Let’s just split

the check equally! But you, you raise your eyebrows when
the waitress mentions a brambleberry tart and maybe

so do I. When she places the piping-hot pie dish
with two funnels of steam and two spoons, you look

at me and say: dig in. We have already tasted
from each other’s lips when we’ve shared cold glasses

before. I’m fairly certain across this table across the slide
of the fork, even the knife we both use—this is how

thumbnail-sized coquina clams feel when they tumble
and toss into the shoreline from an impending storm—

how they gasp and slide their feet trying to brace
themselves, then thwap—another wave. And after

that tumble, the sunlight glows below you, and then
above you, where it should be, and I wipe my mouth

with the pink napkin and in the folds of that napkin
is a lipstick kiss where the kiss should be—never

between your neck and shoulder. Our mouths will press
only on this sugar, this glaze, and this caramelized topping.

Copyright © 2018 Aimee Nezhukumatathil. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Spring 2018.

I’ve become the person who says Darling, who says Sugarpie,
Honeybunch, Snugglebear—and that’s just for my children.
What I call my husband is unprintable. You’re welcome. I am
his sweetheart, and finally, finally—I answer to his call and his
alone. Animals are named for people, places, or perhaps a little
Latin. Plants invite names for colors or plant-parts. When you
get a group of heartbeats together you get names that call out
into the evening’s first radiance of planets: a quiver of cobras,
a maelstrom of salamanders, an audience of squid, or an ostentation
of peacocks. But what is it called when creatures on this earth curl
and sleep, when shadows of moons we don’t yet know brush across
our faces? And what is the name for the movement we make when
we wake, swiping hand or claw or wing across our face, like trying
to remember a path or a river we’ve only visited in our dreams?

From Oceanic (Copper Canyon Press, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. Used with the permission of Copper Canyon Press.

No easy thing to bear, the weight of sweetness.

Song, wisdom, sadness, joy: sweetness
equals three of any of these gravities.

See a peach bend
the branch and strain the stem until
it snaps.
Hold the peach, try the weight, sweetness
and death so round and snug
in your palm.
And, so, there is
the weight of memory:

Windblown, a rain-soaked
bough shakes, showering
the man and the boy.
They shiver in delight,
and the father lifts from his son’s cheek
one green leaf
fallen like a kiss.

The good boy hugs a bag of peaches
his father has entrusted
to him.
Now he follows
his father, who carries a bagful in each arm.
See the look on the boy’s face
as his father moves
faster and farther ahead, while his own steps
flag, and his arms grow weak, as he labors
under the weight
of peaches.

From Rose (BOA Editions, 1986). Copyright © 1986 by Li-Young Lee. Used with the permission of BOA Editions.

My river was once unseparated. Was Colorado. Red-
fast flood. Able to take

       anything it could wet—in a wild rush—

                                 all the way to Mexico.

Now it is shattered by fifteen dams
over one-thousand four-hundred and fifty miles,

pipes and pumps filling
swimming pools and sprinklers

      in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

To save our fish, we lifted them from our skeletoned river beds,
loosed them in our heavens, set them aster —

      ‘Achii ‘ahan, Mojave salmon,

                                Colorado pikeminnow—

Up there they glide, gilled with stars.
You see them now—

      god-large, gold-green sides,

                                moon-white belly and breast—

making their great speeded way across the darkest hours,
rippling the sapphired sky-water into a galaxy road.

The blurred wake they drag as they make their path
through the night sky is called

      ‘Achii ‘ahan nyuunye—

                                our words for Milky Way.

Coyote too is up there, crouched in the moon,
after his failed attempt to leap it, fishing net wet

      and empty, slung over his back—

                                a prisoner blue and dreaming

of unzipping the salmon’s silked skins with his teeth.
O, the weakness of any mouth

      as it gives itself away to the universe

                                of a sweet-milk body.

Just as my own mouth is dreamed to thirst
the long desire-ways, the hundred-thousand light year roads

      of your throat and thighs.

Copyright © 2015 by Natalie Diaz. Used with permission of the author.

is even more fun than going to San Sebastian, Irún, Hendaye, Biarritz, Bayonne
or being sick to my stomach on the Travesera de Gracia in Barcelona
partly because in your orange shirt you look like a better happier St. Sebastian
partly because of my love for you, partly because of your love for yoghurt
partly because of the fluorescent orange tulips around the birches
partly because of the secrecy our smiles take on before people and statuary
it is hard to believe when I’m with you that there can be anything as still
as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front of it
in the warm New York 4 o’clock light we are drifting back and forth
between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles

and the portrait show seems to have no faces in it at all, just paint
you suddenly wonder why in the world anyone ever did them
                                                                                                              I look
at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world
except possibly for the Polish Rider occasionally and anyway it’s in the Frick
which thank heavens you haven’t gone to yet so we can go together for the first time
and the fact that you move so beautifully more or less takes care of Futurism
just as at home I never think of the Nude Descending a Staircase or
at a rehearsal a single drawing of Leonardo or Michelangelo that used to wow me
and what good does all the research of the Impressionists do them
when they never got the right person to stand near the tree when the sun sank
or for that matter Marino Marini when he didn’t pick the rider as carefully
as the horse
                               it seems they were all cheated of some marvelous experience
which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I’m telling you about it

From The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara by Frank O’Hara, copyright © 1971 by Maureen Granville-Smith, Administratrix of the Estate of Frank O’Hara, copyright renewed 1999 by Maureen O’Hara Granville-Smith and Donald Allen. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

Come slowly—Eden
Lips unused to Thee—
Bashful—sip thy Jessamines
As the fainting Bee—

Reaching late his flower,
Round her chamber hums—
Counts his nectars—
Enters—and is lost in Balms.

c. 1860

It's all I have to bring today—
This, and my heart beside—
This, and my heart, and all the fields—
And all the meadows wide—
Be sure you count—should I forget
Some one the sum could tell—
This, and my heart, and all the Bees
Which in the Clover dwell.

This poem is in the public domain.

I love you
            because the Earth turns round the sun
            because the North wind blows north
                 sometimes
            because the Pope is Catholic
                 and most Rabbis Jewish
            because the winters flow into springs
                 and the air clears after a storm
            because only my love for you
                 despite the charms of gravity
                 keeps me from falling off this Earth
                 into another dimension
I love you
            because it is the natural order of things

I love you
            like the habit I picked up in college
                 of sleeping through lectures
                 or saying I’m sorry
                 when I get stopped for speeding
            because I drink a glass of water
                 in the morning
                 and chain-smoke cigarettes
                 all through the day
            because I take my coffee Black
                 and my milk with chocolate
            because you keep my feet warm
                 though my life a mess
I love you
            because I don’t want it
                 any other way

I am helpless
            in my love for you
It makes me so happy
            to hear you call my name
I am amazed you can resist
            locking me in an echo chamber
            where your voice reverberates
            through the four walls
            sending me into spasmatic ecstasy
I love you
            because it’s been so good
            for so long
            that if I didn’t love you
            I’d have to be born again
            and that is not a theological statement
I am pitiful in my love for you

The Dells tell me Love
            is so simple
            the thought though of you
            sends indescribably delicious multitudinous
            thrills throughout and through-in my body
I love you
            because no two snowflakes are alike
            and it is possible
            if you stand tippy-toe
            to walk between the raindrops
I love you
            because I am afraid of the dark
                 and can’t sleep in the light
            because I rub my eyes
                 when I wake up in the morning
                 and find you there
            because you with all your magic powers were
                 determined that
I should love you
            because there was nothing for you but that
I would love you

I love you
            because you made me
                 want to love you
            more than I love my privacy
                 my freedom          my commitments
                      and responsibilities
I love you ’cause I changed my life
            to love you
            because you saw me one Friday
                 afternoon and decided that I would
love you
I love you I love you I love you

“Resignation” from The Collected Poetry of Nikki Giovanni: 1968–1998 by Nikki Giovanni. Copyright compilation © 2003 by Nikki Giovanni. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

It’s neither red
nor sweet.
It doesn’t melt
or turn over,
break or harden,
so it can’t feel
pain,
yearning,
regret.

It doesn’t have 
a tip to spin on,
it isn’t even
shapely—
just a thick clutch
of muscle,
lopsided,
mute. Still,
I feel it inside
its cage sounding
a dull tattoo:
I want, I want—

but I can’t open it:
there’s no key.
I can’t wear it
on my sleeve,
or tell you from
the bottom of it
how I feel. Here,
it’s all yours, now—
but you’ll have
to take me,
too.

Copyright © 2017 Rita Dove. Used with permission of the author.

What was said to the rose that made it open was said
to me here in my chest.

What was told the cypress that made it strong
and straight, what was

whispered the jasmine so it is what it is, whatever made
sugarcane sweet, whatever

was said to the inhabitants of the town of Chigil in
Turkestan that makes them

so handsome, whatever lets the pomegranate flower blush
like a human face, that is

being said to me now. I blush. Whatever put eloquence in
language, that's happening here.

The great warehouse doors open; I fill with gratitude,
chewing a piece of sugarcane,

in love with the one to whom every that belongs!

From The Soul of Rumi: A New Collection of Ecstatic Poems, translated by Coleman Barks, published by HarperCollins. Translation copyright © 2002 by Coleman Barks. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins. All rights reserved.

Sun makes the day new.
Tiny green plants emerge from earth.
Birds are singing the sky into place.
There is nowhere else I want to be but here.
I lean into the rhythm of your heart to see where it will take us.
We gallop into a warm, southern wind.
I link my legs to yours and we ride together,
Toward the ancient encampment of our relatives.
Where have you been? they ask.
And what has taken you so long?
That night after eating, singing, and dancing
We lay together under the stars.
We know ourselves to be part of mystery.
It is unspeakable.
It is everlasting.
It is for keeps.

                              MARCH 4, 2013, CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS

Reprinted from Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings by Joy Harjo. Copyright © 2015 by Joy Harjo.  Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

if I had two nickels to rub together
I would rub them together

like a kid rubs sticks together
until friction made combustion

and they burned

a hole in my pocket

into which I would put my hand
and then my arm

and eventually my whole self––
I would fold myself

into the hole in my pocket and disappear

into the pocket of myself, or at least my pants

but before I did

like some ancient star

I’d grab your hand

Copyright © 2013 by Kevin Varrone. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on October 17, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

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.

It flares up at sunrise, a blush in a bramble
Tumbling out of its bed by the city pavement—a single
Rose, coral heat, at the end of the season.			
And you are drawn to it, to its scent, its silky
Layers, to its core. It gathers you into its 
Body until you lose your balance, all you can see	
Is a petaled grid, an endless repetition
Of roses. You sink swirling into the rose,
Deep into the rose, into the rose.
I hold you to me. Love, I am forty-four, 
And you, love, you, my love,
You have planted me.

Copyright © 2005 Michele Wolf. This poem originally appeared in Poetry East, Spring 2005, and also appeared in Immersion (The Word Works, 2011) by Michele Wolf. Used with permission of the author. 

I am much too alone in this world, yet not alone
    enough
to truly consecrate the hour.
I am much too small in this world, yet not small
    enough
to be to you just object and thing,
dark and smart.
I want my free will and want it accompanying
the path which leads to action;
and want during times that beg questions,
where something is up,
to be among those in the know,
or else be alone.

I want to mirror your image to its fullest perfection,
never be blind or too old
to uphold your weighty wavering reflection.
I want to unfold.
Nowhere I wish to stay crooked, bent;
for there I would be dishonest, untrue.
I want my conscience to be
true before you;
want to describe myself like a picture I observed
for a long time, one close up,
like a new word I learned and embraced,
like the everday jug,
like my mother's face,
like a ship that carried me along
through the deadliest storm.

English translation, translator's introduction, and translator's notes copyright © 2001 by Annemarie S. Kidder. Published 2001. All rights reserved.

Fills now my cup, and past thought is
my fulness thereof. I harden as a stone
sets hard at its heart.
Hard that I am, I know this alone:
that thou didst grow—
— — — — — and grow,
to outgrow,
as too great pain,
my heart’s reach utterly.
Now liest thou my womb athwart,
now can I not to thee again
give birth.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on January 6, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

translated from the German by Edward Snow

Again and again, even though we know love’s landscape
and the little churchyard with its lamenting names
and the terrible reticent gorge in which the others
end: again and again the two of us walk out together
under the ancient trees, lay ourselves down again and again
among the flowers, and look up into the sky.

“Again and again, even though we know love’s landscape” from Uncollected Poems by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Edward Snow. Translation copyright © 1996 by Edward Snow.

1
Words can’t do
what bird bones
can: stew
to the stony
essence
of one
small soul, the spent
sacrifice boiled down
to the hard white
matter that nourishes
the mighty
predator, who flourishes
on the slaughtered
animal and water.

2
Who feeds
another is like bones
to him who eats
(I say “him” only
because it is a man
in my house
who eats and a woman
who goes about
the matter of sustenance),
food being always
a matter of life and
death and each day’s
dining
another small dying.

3
Scallops seared
in hot iron
with grated ginger,
rice wine,
and a little oil
of sesame, served
with boiled
jasmine rice, cures
the malaise
of long, fluorescent
weekdays
spent
in the city
for money.

4
I am afraid
I can’t always be
here when you need
a warm body
or words; someday
I’ll slip
into the red clay
I started with
and forget
who you are,
but
for now, here’s
my offering: baked red
fish, clear soup, bread.

From Middle Kingdom (Alice James Books, 1997). Copyright © 1997 by Adrienne Su. Used with the permission of Alice James Books.

If no love is, O God, what fele I so? 
    And if love is, what thing and which is he? 
    If love be good, from whennes cometh my woo? 
    If it be wikke, a wonder thynketh me, 
    When every torment and adversite 
    That cometh of hym, may to me savory thinke, 
    For ay thurst I, the more that ich it drynke. 
And if that at myn owen lust I brenne, 
    From whennes cometh my waillynge and my pleynte? 
    If harm agree me, whereto pleyne I thenne? 
    I noot, ne whi unwery that I feynte. 
    O quike deth, O swete harm so queynte, 
    How may of the in me swich quantite, 
    But if that I consente that it be? 
And if that I consente, I wrongfully 
    Compleyne, iwis.   Thus possed to and fro, 
    Al sterelees withinne a boot am I 
    Amydde the see, betwixen wyndes two, 
    That in contrarie stonden evere mo. 
    Allas! what is this wondre maladie? 
    For hete of cold, for cold of hete, I dye.

From Troilus and Criseyde, as translated by Geoffrey Chaucer. This poem is in the public domain.

I wake up in your bed. I know I have been dreaming.
Much earlier, the alarm broke us from each other,
you’ve been at your desk for hours. I know what I dreamed:
our friend the poet comes into my room
where I’ve been writing for days,
drafts, carbons, poems are scattered everywhere,
and I want to show her one poem
which is the poem of my life. But I hesitate,
and wake. You’ve kissed my hair
to wake me. I dreamed you were a poem,
I say, a poem I wanted to show someone . . .
and I laugh and fall dreaming again
of the desire to show you to everyone I love,
to move openly together
in the pull of gravity, which is not simple,
which carries the feathered grass a long way down the upbreathing air.

Poem II from “Twenty-One Love Poems,” from The Dream of a Common Language: Poems 1974–1977 by Adrienne Rich. Copyright © 1978 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Since we’re not young, weeks have to do time
for years of missing each other. Yet only this odd warp
in time tells me we’re not young.
Did I ever walk the morning streets at twenty,
my limbs streaming with a purer joy?
did I lean from any window over the city
listening for the future
as I listen here with nerves tuned for your ring?
And you, you move toward me with the same tempo.
Your eyes are everlasting, the green spark
of the blue-eyed grass of early summer,
the green-blue wild cress washed by the spring.
At twenty, yes: we thought we’d live forever.
At forty-five, I want to know even our limits.
I touch you knowing we weren’t born tomorrow,
and somehow, each of us will help the other live,
and somewhere, each of us must help the other die.

Poem III from "Twenty-One Love Poems," from The Dream of a Common Language: Poems 1974-1977 by Adrienne Rich. Copyright © 1978 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Love comes quietly,
finally, drops
about me, on me,
in the old ways.

What did I know
thinking myself
able to go
alone all the way.

From For Love: Poems. Copyright © 1962 by Robert Creeley. Used with permission of the Estate of Robert Creeley and The Permissions Company.

Even this late it happens:
the coming of love, the coming of light. 
You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves, 
stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows, 
sending up warm bouquets of air.
Even this late the bones of the body shine 
and tomorrow’s dust flares into breath.

Excerpted from The Late Hour by Mark Strand. Copyright © 2002 by Mark Strand. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.