We’ve been told space
is like two dark lips colliding

like science fiction
it outlines a small cosmos

where fear hides in a glow
where negative space

becomes a place for wishing
a constellation of hazy tunes

of faint sharp vowels
a glossary of meteors

a telescope to god
a cold bright white

maybe distance damages us
maybe Jupiter

will suddenly surprise us
with a notion of holiness

but instead an old planet
takes over all the space

and we are reminded
of the traces of fire

in our gaze
defining our infidelities

Copyright © 2015 by Nathalie Handal. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 12, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

        For Nicole and John

     She drew a name full of winning flesh,
Victory, I mean, so that any Yes she has to say
     We might say is a Yes achieved happily all her own—

And he drew a name large as any god,
     Large as a wall in the center of the night, and as calm,
God in the most gracious, the tenderest way.

     To be, like them, in a tenderness now,
Chill as April; to feel ourselves, like themselves,
     In a communion of that sprung blood; and to trust

That in the dark, in even the wild, forbidding dark
     Which by fact must come, is no threat,
No sudden evidence to break and unheat—

     Then we’re complete. Flesh falls away. Gods do.
I will make a man out of you, says one
     To the other. I will make a woman. Isn’t that

What to say I choose you means, means I let go
     The name I held only for myself to step sharply into yours,
Into that bareness each for the other makes,

     Outside the old conceptions, the old laws,
No she, no he—but together you become a single self
     That spans the sense of the imagination,

Wiser than the oldest language, which is love,
     More patient than the deepest song.  

Copyright © 2015 by Rickey Laurentiis. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 31, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

Stranger, if thou hast learned a truth which needs
No school of long experience, that the world
Is full of guilt and misery, and hast seen
Enough of all its sorrows, crimes, and cares,
To tire thee of it, enter this wild wood
And view the haunts of Nature. The calm shade
Shall bring a kindred calm, and the sweet breeze
That makes the green leaves dance, shall waft a balm
To thy sick heart. Thou wilt find nothing here
Of all that pained thee in the haunts of men
And made thee loathe thy life. The primal curse
Fell, it is true, upon the unsinning earth,
But not in vengeance. God hath yoked to guilt
Her pale tormentor, misery. Hence, these shades
Are still the abodes of gladness; the thick roof
Of green and stirring branches is alive
And musical with birds, that sing and sport
In wantonness of spirit; while below
The squirrel, with raised paws and form erect,
Chirps merrily. Throngs of insects in the shade
Try their thin wings and dance in the warm beam
That waked them into life. Even the green trees
Partake the deep contentment; as they bend
To the soft winds, the sun from the blue sky
Looks in and sheds a blessing on the scene.
Scarce less the cleft-born wild-flower seems to enjoy
Existence, than the winged plunderer
That sucks its sweets. The massy rocks themselves,
And the old and ponderous trunks of prostrate trees
That lead from knoll to knoll a causey rude
Or bridge the sunken brook, and their dark roots,
With all their earth upon them, twisting high,
Breathe fixed tranquillity. The rivulet
Sends forth glad sounds, and tripping o'er its bed
Of pebbly sands, or leaping down the rocks,
Seems, with continuous laughter, to rejoice
In its own being. Softly tread the marge,
Lest from her midway perch thou scare the wren
That dips her bill in water. The cool wind,
That stirs the stream in play, shall come to thee,
Like one that loves thee nor will let thee pass
Ungreeted, and shall give its light embrace.

This poem is in the public domain.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.’ I could say ‘Elves’ to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’

From The Poetry of Robert Frost by Robert Frost, edited by Edward Connery Lathem. Copyright 1916, 1923, 1928, 1930, 1934, 1939, 1947, 1949, © 1969 by Holt Rinehart and Winston, Inc. Copyright 1936, 1942, 1944, 1945, 1947, 1948, 1951, 1953, 1954, © 1956, 1958, 1959, 1961, 1962 by Robert Frost. Copyright © 1962, 1967, 1970 by Leslie Frost Ballantine.

                           —or rhubarb?
 
 
Scant difference between some flowers
and the heads of cauliflowers the fingers get
herbaceous rubbing against. If I could get
ecstatic I would by the low soft
weeds, the hard oracular orifices of tree bark.
Some landscapes under duress
predict this atonal sky.
 
 
Scant difference between flowers.
The canned cool metal slightly
curves, of trash receptacles,
meadow interregna, strange
fanciful flights, toward toward.
 
 
Where the rhubarb field is not so bright
red as you would think, not so precise
or fulminating, too much green sticks
out, stems and leaves like a fuzz
of voices, watery incarnadine,

 
here where the sounds so simplify
the milieu into that wetness there,
 
 
here I stumble
to approximate the durations of others, to appear
of the same time as though of space,
I worry terribly, I hesitate, I lose my measure, a juice
trickles down my side,
 
 
रस ರಸ.
 
 
Like
I get I’m out of tune.

Copyright © 2018 by Aditi Machado. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 19, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

after Bobby Chacon
 

I don’t care about the title
I’m in this for the money

I care about the title
I care about the money

I’m in this for the title
I don’t care about the money

I’m for the money I don’t care
I don’t care I’m for the title

the title don’t care about I
the money don’t care about the title

I’m about the money
I’m about the title

I’m the money I care about in this

Copyright © 2018 Eloisa Amezcua. This poem originally appeared in Kenyon Review, November/December 2018. Used with permission of the author.

As hollow as a gutted fish, a hole in the sand,
a cistern cracked along the seam—

There is no filling such emptiness. And yet—

Stitch it shut. Pour and pour, if you wish. Wish and wish, but it’s wasted—
Water carried to the garden in your cupped palms.

Might as well seal an ember in a wax jar. Kindle fire on the crest of a wave.

Unbloom a poppy, reshut its mouth, unred its lips—
As if it hadn’t already sung,

As if its voice hadn’t already set all summer singing.

And the gall at its throat, the boil it’s prized for,
Hadn’t been cut and bled of its white sleep.

As if a child could be folded, resewn in its sac, and returned to its womb.

Copyright © 2018 Jennifer Atkinson. This poem originally appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Summer 2018. Used with permission of the author.

Because you live, though out of sight and reach,
I will, so help me God, live bravely too,
Taking the road with laughter and gay speech,
Alert, intent to give life all its due.
I will delight my soul with many things,
The humours of the street and books and plays,
Great rocks and waves winnowed by seagulls’ wings,
Star-jewelled Winter nights, gold harvest days.

I will for your sake praise what I have missed,
The sweet content of long-united lives,
The sunrise joy of lovers who have kissed,
Children with flower-faces, happy wives.
And last I will praise Death who gives anew
Brave life adventurous and love—and you. 

This poem is in the public domain.

When we were birds,
we veered & wheeled, we flapped & looped—

it's true, we flew. When we were birds,
we dined on tiny silver fish
& the watery hearts
of flowers. When we were birds

we sistered the dragonfly,
brothered the night-wise bat,

& sometimes when we were birds

we rose as high as we could go—
light cold & strange—

& when we opened our beaked mouths
sundown poured like wine
down our throats.

When we were birds
we worshipped trees, rivers, mountains,

sage knots, rain, gizzard rocks, grub-shot dung piles,

& like all good beasts & wise green things
the mothering sun. We had many gods
when we were birds,

& each in her own way
was good to us, even winter fog,

which found us huddling
in salal or silk tassel,
singing low, sweet songs & closing
our blood-rich eyes & sleeping
the troubled sleep of birds. Yes,

even when we were birds
we were sometimes troubled & tired,

sad for no reason, 

& so pretended we were not birds
& fell like stones—

the earth hurtling up to meet us,
our trussed bones readying
to be shattered, our unusually large hearts
pounding for nothing—

yet at the last minute we would flap
& lift, & as we flew, shudderingly away,

we told ourselves that this falling—

we would remember. We thought
we would always
be birds. We didn't know.

We didn't know
we could love one another

with such ferocity. That we should.

Copyright © 2016 Joe Wilkins. “My Son Asks for the Story About When We Were Birds” was published in When We Were Birds (University of Arkansas Press, 2016). Used with permission of the author.

Goliath was a giant, the bully of his side,
His coat of mail was brazen, his face was fierce with pride;
And when a shepherd stripling to challenge him was fain,
Eleven-foot Goliath ignored him in disdain.

But David didn’t trouble, his heart was cool and glad,
Though a sling and rounded pebbles were the only arms he had.
That slender slip of Jesse, he knew his cause was just,
So he stood up to the bully, and rolled him in the dust.

Those days are gone for ever, but the bully strain survives,
Though at the time of writing one can hardly say it thrives;
The chant of Chauvinism has become an idly yarn,
Like the “negligible British” since the Battle of the Marne.

Our German-made Goliath taunted Tommy on his size,
But the drubbing Tommy gave him has caused him much surprise;
And a hasty memorandum in the Teuton mind is stored—
“The little British Army must never be ignored.”

This poem is in the public domain.

Peace without Justice is a low estate,—
A coward cringing to an iron Fate!
But Peace through Justice is the great ideal,—
We’ll pay the price of war to make it real.

This poem is in the public domain.

My lady, musing at her mirror, said:
“This is my burial night, for I am dead;
Hope dug the grave and laid my sad heart there,
Sorrow was sexton, heavy-footed Care
The lanthorn-bearer, Love in sober stole
Was priest, while fickle Joy stayed but to toll 
The bell for me; then Memory graved the stone,
And all being done, they left me there alone.

But though the grave is made, the earth close-pressed
About my heart, to-morrow I must rise,
Put on my gay attire, laugh and jest,
Lest one should read the secret in my eyes—
Lest one should know that in this careless host
Of revellers, I linger as a ghost.”

This poem is in the public domain.

In heaven, a pale uncertain star,
    Through sullen vapour peeps,
On earth, extended wide and far,
In all the symmetry of war,
    A weary army sleeps.

The heavy-hearted pall of night
    Obliterates the lines,
Save where a dying camp-fire’s light
Leaps up and flares, a moment bright,
    Then once again declines.

Black, solemn peace is brooding low,
    Peace, still unbroken, when
There comes a sound, an ebb and flow—
The steady breathing, deep and slow,
    Of half-a-million men.

The pregnant dawn is drawing nigh,
    The dawn of power or pain;
But now, beneath the mournful sky,
In sleep’s maternal arms they lie
    Like children once again. 

This poem is in the public domain.

            When battles were fought
With a chivalrous sense of should and ought,
            In spirit men said,
             “End we quick or dead,
            Honour is some reward!
Let us fight fair—for our own best or worst;
            So, Gentlemen of the Guard,
                 Fire first!”

            In the open they stood,
Man to man in his knightlihood:
            They would not deign
            To profit by a stain
            On the honourable rules,
Knowing that practice perfidy no man durst
            Who in the heroic schools
                 Was nurst.

            But now, behold, what
Is war with those where honor is not!
            Rama laments
            Its dead innocents;
            Herod howls: “Sly slaughter
Rules now! Let us, by modes once called accurst,
            Overhead, under water
                 Stab first.”

This poem is in the public domain.

There seemed a smell of autumn in the air
At the bleak end of night; he shivered there
In a dank, musty dug-out where he lay,
Legs wrapped in sand-bags,—lumps of chalk and clay
Spattering his face. Dry-mouthed, he thought, "To-day
We start the damned attack; and, Lord knows why,
Zero's at nine; how bloody if I'm done in
Under the freedom of that morning sky!"
And then he coughed and dozed, cursing the din.

Was it the ghost of autumn in that smell
Of underground, or God's blank heart grown kind,
That sent a happy dream to him in hell?—
Where men are crushed like clods, and crawl to find
Some crater for their wretchedness; who lie
In outcast immolation, doomed to die
Far from clean things or any hope of cheer,
Cowed anger in their eyes, till darkness brims
And roars into their heads, and they can hear
Old childish talk, and tags of foolish hymns.

He sniffs the chilly air; (his dreaming starts).
He's riding in a dusty Sussex lane
In quiet September; slowly night departs;
And he's a living soul, absolved from pain.
Beyond the brambled fences where he goes
Are glimmering fields with harvest piled in sheaves,
And tree-tops dark against the stars grown pale;
Then, clear and shrill, a distant farm-cock crows;
And there's a wall of mist along the vale
Where willows shake their watery-sounding leaves.
He gazes on it all, and scarce believes
That earth is telling its old peaceful tale;
He thanks the blessed world that he was born….
Then, far away, a lonely note of the horn.

They're drawing the Big Wood! Unlatch the gate,
And set Golumpus going on the grass:
He knows the corner where it's best to wait
And hear the crashing woodland chorus pass;
The corner where old foxes make their track
To the Long Spinney; that's the place to be.
The bracken shakes below an ivied tree,
And then a cub looks out; and "Tally-o-back!"
He bawls, and swings his thong with volleying crack,—
All the clean thrill of autumn in his blood,
And hunting surging through him like a flood
In joyous welcome from the untroubled past;
While the war drifts away, forgotten at last.

Now a red, sleepy sun above the rim
Of twilight stares along the quiet weald,
And the kind, simple country shines revealed
In solitudes of peace, no longer dim.
The old horse lifts his face and thanks the light,
Then stretches down his head to crop the green.
All things that he has loved are in his sight;
The places where his happiness has been
Are in his eyes, his heart, and they are good.

      * * * *  

Hark! there's the horn: they're drawing the Big Wood.

This poem is in the public domain.

We’d found an old Boche dug-out, and he knew,
And gave us hell, for shell on frantic shell
Hammered on top, but never quite burst through.
Rain, guttering down in waterfalls of slime
Kept slush waist high, that rising hour by hour,
Choked up the steps too thick with clay to climb.
What murk of air remained stank old, and sour
With fumes of whizz-bangs, and the smell of men
Who’d lived there years, and left their curse in the den,
If not their corpses. . . .
                                There we herded from the blast
Of whizz-bangs, but one found our door at last.
Buffeting eyes and breath, snuffing the candles.
And thud! flump! thud! down the steep steps came thumping
And splashing in the flood, deluging muck—
The sentry’s body; then his rifle, handles
Of old Boche bombs, and mud in ruck on ruck.	
We dredged him up, for killed, until he whined
“O sir, my eyes—I’m blind—I’m blind, I’m blind!”
Coaxing, I held a flame against his lids
And said if he could see the least blurred light
He was not blind; in time he’d get all right.
“I can’t,” he sobbed. Eyeballs, huge-bulged like squids
Watch my dreams still; but I forgot him there
In posting next for duty, and sending a scout
To beg a stretcher somewhere, and floundering about
To other posts under the shrieking air.  

Those other wretches, how they bled and spewed,
And one who would have drowned himself for good,—
I try not to remember these things now.
Let dread hark back for one word only: how
Half-listening to that sentry’s moans and jumps,
And the wild chattering of his broken teeth,
Renewed most horribly whenever crumps
Pummelled the roof and slogged the air beneath—
Through the dense din, I say, we heard him shout
“I see your lights!” But ours had long died out. 

This poem is in the public domain.

Music of whispering trees
Hushed by the broad-winged breeze
Where shaken water gleams;
And evening radiance falling
With reedy bird-notes calling.
O bear me safe through dark, you low-voiced streams.

I have no need to pray
That fear may pass away;
I scorn the growl and rumble of the fight
That summons me from cool
Silence of marsh and pool,
And yellow lilies islanded in light.
O river of stars and shadows, lead me through the night.


     June 25th, 1916.

This poem is in the public domain.

Down the close, darkening lanes they sang their way
To the siding-shed,
And lined the train with faces grimly gay.

Their breasts were stuck all white with wreath and spray
As men’s are, dead.  

Dull porters watched them, and a casual tramp
Stood staring hard,
Sorry to miss them from the upland camp.
Then, unmoved, signals nodded, and a lamp
Winked to the guard.

So secretly, like wrongs hushed-up, they went.
They were not ours:
We never heard to which front these were sent. 

Nor there if they yet mock what women meant
Who gave them flowers.

Shall they return to beatings of great bells
In wild trainloads?
A few, a few, too few for drums and yells,
May creep back, silent, to still village wells
Up half-known roads.

This poem is in the public domain.

“...defeated, with great loss.” 

Not we the conquered! Not to us the blame
   Of them that flee, of them that basely yield;
Nor ours the shout of victory, the fame
   Of them that vanquish in a stricken field.

That day of battle in the dusty heat
   We lay and heard the bullets swish and sing
Like scythes amid the over-ripened wheat,
   And we the harvest of their garnering.

Some yielded, No, not we! Not we, we swear
   By these our wounds; this trench upon the hill
Where all the shell-strewn earth is seamed and bare,
   Was ours to keep; and lo! we have it still.

We might have yielded, even we, but death
   Came for our helper; like a sudden flood
The crashing darkness fell; our painful breath
   We drew with gasps amid the choking blood.

The roar fell faint and farther off, and soon
   Sank to a foolish humming in our ears,
Like crickets in the long, hot afternoon
   Among the wheat fields of the olden years.

Before our eyes a boundless wall of red
   Shot through by sudden streaks of jagged pain!
Then a slow-gathering darkness overhead
   And rest came on us like a quiet rain.

Not we the conquered! Not to us the shame,
   Who hold our earthen ramparts, nor shall cease
To hold them ever; victors we, who came
   In that fierce moment to our honoured peace.

This poem is in the public domain.

                                                       (Stand Your Ground)
 
In this one, ladies and gentlemen,
Beware, be clear: the brown man,
 
The able lawyer, the paterfamilias,
Never makes it out of the poem alive:
 
The rash, all-too-daily report,
The out of the blue bullet
 
Blithely shatters our treasured
Legal eagle’s bones and flesh—
 
In the brusque spectacle of point-blank force,
On a crimsoned street,
 
Where a revered immigrant plummets
Over a contested parking spot,
 
And the far-seeing sages insist,
Amid strident maenads
 
Of at-the-ready patrol car sirens,
Clockwork salvos,
 
The charismatic Latino lawyer’s soul
Is banished, elsewhere, without a shred
 
Of eloquence in the matter—
And the brute, churning
 
Surfaces of the world,
They bear our beloved citizen away—
 
Which means, austere saints
And all-seeing masters,
 
If I grasp your bracing challenge:
At our lives’ most brackish hour,
 
Our highest mission isn’t just to bawl,
But to turn the soul-shaking planet
 
Of the desecrated parking lot
(The anti-miracle),
 
The blunt, irascible white man’s
Unnecessary weapon,
 
And the ruse of self-defense
Into justice-cries and ballots?
 
Into newfound pledges and particles of light?

in memory of J. Garza, 1949-2017

Copyright © 2018 by Cyrus Cassells. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 30, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

On the beach, close to sunset, a dog runs
toward us fast, agitated, perhaps feral,
scrounging for anything he can eat.
We pull the children close and let him pass.

Is there such a thing as a stray child? Simon asks.
Like if a mother had a child from her body
but then decided she wanted to be a different child’s mother,
what would happen to that first child?

The dog finds a satisfying scrap and calms.
The boys break free and leap from rock to rock.
I was a stray man before I met your mother,
you say, but they have run on and cannot hear you.

How fast they run on, past the dark pool
your voice makes, our arms which hold them back.
I was a stray man before I met you,
you say. This time you are speaking to me.

From Crave Radiance: New and Selected Poems 1990-2010 (Graywolf Press, 2010). Copyright © 2010 by Elizabeth Alexander. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Graywolf Press.

While they wait in long lines, legs shifting,
fingers growing tired of holding handrails,
pages of paperwork, give them patience.
Help them to recall the cobalt Mediterranean
or the green valleys full of vineyards and sheep.
When peoples’ words resemble the buzz
of beehives, help them to hear the music
of home, sung from balconies overflowing
with woven rugs and bundled vegetables.
At night, when the worry beads are held
in one palm and a cigarette lit in the other,
give them the memory of their first step
onto solid land, after much ocean, air and clouds,
remind them of the phone call back home saying,
We arrived. Yes, thank God we made it, we are here.

Copyright © 2011 Lory Bedikian. This poem originally appeared in The Book of Lamenting (Anhinga Press, 2011). Used with permission of the author.

 

The wild bee reels from bough to bough
    With his furry coat and his gauzy wing.
Now in a lily-cup, and now
    Setting a jacinth bell a-swing,
            In his wandering;
Sit closer love: it was here I trow
            I made that vow,

Swore that two lives should be like one
    As long as the sea-gull loved the sea,
As long as the sunflower sought the sun,—
    It shall be, I said, for eternity
            ‘Twixt you and me!
Dear friend, those times are over and done.
            Love’s web is spun.

Look upward where the poplar trees
    Sway in the summer air,
Here n the valley never a breeze
    Scatters the thistledown, but there
            Great winds blow fair
From the mighty murmuring mystical seas,
            And the wave-lashed leas.

Look upward where the white gull screams,
    What does it see that we do not see?
Is that a star? or the lamp that gleams
    On some outward voyaging argosy,—
            Ah! can it be
We have lived our lives in a land of dreams!
            How sad it seems.

Sweet, there is nothing left to say
    But this, that love is never lost,
Keen winter stabs the breasts of May
    Whose crimson roses burst his frost,
            Ships tempest-tossed
Will find a harbor in some bay,
            And so we may.

And there is nothing left to do
    But to kiss once again, and part,
Nay, there is nothing we should rue,
    I have my beauty,—you your Art,
            Nay, do not start,
One world was not enough for two
            Like me and you.

This poem is in the public domain.

Within the restless, hurried, modern world
    We took our hearts’ full pleasure—You and I,
And now the white sails of our ships are furled,
    And spent the lading of our argosy.

Wherefore my cheeks before their time are wan,
    For very weeping is my gladness fled,
Sorrow hath paled my lip’s vermilion
    And Ruin draws the curtains of my bed.

But all this crowded life has been to thee
    No more than lyre, or lute, or subtle spell
Of viols, or the music of the sea
    That sleeps, a mimic echo, in the shell.

This poem is in the public domain.

Blistered apple,
gold that molts

the eye & boils
animals in their caves.

I touch & touch

          & touch,

branding the hands
of each child.

A circle
of unmoored fury.

I see death all
around you—

          your phantomed self
          charred blue,

          cast against
          asphalt.

The body’s ash already
visible,

          unglittering
          in its cheap velvet.

Bow down
in the brilliance

          of your borrowed light.

Let me ignite
your end.

Copyright © 2017 by Hadara Bar-Nadav. “Sun” was published in The New Nudity (Saturnalia Books, 2017). Used with permission of the author.