My therapist has approved my drinking of three whiskeys per night,
her eyes forbearing, knowing well the ruthlessness of night.

The sun having fled as a father might flee, my cousin fathered
a narrow terror while he robbed, with a pistol, a fellow citizen one night.

The encouraging lies of a mother are greatly underpaid job-keepers;
slovenly kings have dealt much wrong money to generals and knights.

My childhood was a lengthy scene of make believe and disaccord—
my favorite things being rain and watching my mother’s cigarettes ignite.

What of fire, among its timelessness and musculature, is not
more divine when burning past the open gates of night?

Copyright © 2021 by Marcus Jackson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 8, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

Sometimes I still think of Gertrude 
and all her privacies, of the tenuous
sheen of her thin gray hair,
and the sculptural, elegant way 
she piled it high up on her head. 
                                       Even now
typing these simple words, vividly
she returns, conjuring the images 
that made her real, transcending
the withered anonymities of elderly
citizens one passes in the street
without even noticing a whole life
is walking by…  

agony seemed different from ours.
Older. Well-thumbed. Polite
And buckled to her person
Like a well-fitting garment. Ours?
Untamed, sharp-edged and shouting.
Hungry infant, railing in a crib. Not 
noiseless and ancient like hers.  
Nor glamorous as a hologram
Of anguish, flickering and glittering
with broken fragments of 
captured light which lit her up
inside her grief and made her

              Surely she could not 
be as fragile as she looked,
carrying that weight. We craved
the object lesson of her tragedy 
thinking it would teach us how 
to transcend our sobbing, 
corporeal essences that grieved 
us so, and held us back as we 
kept on searching for the sure 
way out: the red door marked exit 
that Gertrude (we assumed) 
had passed through long before.

If you’re lucky, she once said
elliptically and apropos of nothing 
specific, It will bring you to your knees, 
speaking so softly we could barely 
even hear her, her legs crossed at the ankles
arranged off center, cotillion style 
of the debutante she once had been.  
Her vein-swollen, bony hand
gestured midpoint of her chest 
as if something still lodged there 
that had never broken free.

The rest of us felt shocked then—or I did
anyway—perceiving the torment 
still living inside her that we thought
she had conquered. The mystery was how
someone insignificant and ordinary
as Gertrude had redistributed 
that weight, and reoriented
the magnetic poles that for us
always defaulted to agony.  

She had been our hero,
icon of a victory that could
one day be ours if we learned
to live as Gertrude lived: elegant
and stoical, silencing our constant
clamoring for relief. But now 
here she was: testifying to victory 
or defeat? We could not tell, and that
Fucked us up. Oracular and  
Eternal was what we’d
thought she was. In possession 
of the answer. Instead,
her image and her words— 
It will bring you to your knees
turned us back into ourselves.
where the suffering was,
and the mystery, and offered 
no answer but the hard shock 
of our knees knocking against 
the earth, and the prickling burn 
of blood breaking its barrier of skin
and starting to flow.

Copyright © 2021 by Kate Daniels. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 29, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

I’m on an errand to find my grandpa. I’m ten
and finding freedom in a sanctioned outing
on my bike through the streets of Clovis, CA.
I roll past Silver’s house and peek into the backyard
of broke drunks holding paper bags around
a barrel fire. One who just came back
from taking a leak is seasoning some carne
they bought with the tallboys across the street
at Numero Uno market. The door chimes when
I walk in and see Artemio’s white mane. His mustache
stretches from his nostrils to his sideburns
and up into his waxed pomp of hair.
My grandma says I’m not supposed to talk to him,
but he always asks how she’s doing.

I don’t see my grandpa anyplace. Art says
he’s around somewhere. I go to Ruby’s
next door. I’m not allowed, but I look in.
I’m hit with a gust of cigarettes and Bud Light.
Half a dozen heads turn my direction. No dice.
I ride down Pollasky with feet out each way.
I swerve left and right, free, for once. I am this
far from the shouting distance of my grandma.
I take to the alley just for kicks and pop a wheelie
behind the appliance shop. I pull up behind Henry’s,
knowing grandpa’s in there. A few other grandpas too.

I don’t knock. I stay on my bike. I realize
I’m not ready to go home and like most men
in this town, grandpa doesn’t want to be found.
I keep riding. I go North toward what’s left
of the railroad tracks. There’s a grey cloud
moving across the sky and I imagine I’m
chasing it, I’m right behind it. I keep riding
until it’s all oleanders and stacked railroad ties.
I never thought I could go this far. I get off
the seat and stand. I glide next to a forgotten
caboose. I imagine I’m the howling train now.
My tires kick dust as they crunch over the dry dry dirt.

Copyright © 2021 by Joseph Rios. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 9, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

Hard to watch somebody lose their mind
Maybe everybody    should just go get stoned
My father said it happens all the time

I knew a woman    lost her to soul to wine
But who doesn’t live with their life on loan?
Shame to watch somebody lose their mind

Don’tchu gotta wonder when people say they’re fine?
Given what we’re given, I guess they actin grown
I think I used to say that      all the time

When my parents died, I coined a little shrine
And thought about all the stuff they used to own
Felt like I was gonna lose my mind

Used to have a friend    who smiled all the time
Then he started sayin he could hear the devil moan
Hate to see a brotha lose his gotdam mind

Doesn’t matter how you pull, the hours break the line
Mirror, Mirror on the wall, how come nobody’s home?
Broke my soul for real, when my mother lost her mind

Tried to keep my head right, but sanity’s a climb
Been workin on the straight face—I guess my cover’s blown
My father tried to tell me     all the time

Had one last question, baby, but maybe never mind
After’while, even springtime starts to drone

Hard to see somebody lose their mind
My pop said, “Boy, it happens all the time”

Copyright © 2022 by Tim Seibles. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 21, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

Even in California
all of my friends require touch    

to get through winter.                
It’s true, I am waiting to be in love          

in front of the people I love.       
He says, I’m glad you’re here                       

& I want to cover his mouth
to warm my hands.        

Of course I understand              
how one would mistake

that earthquake for a passing train
but what do we do with the stillness                    

when after great change             
nothing moves, but his hand      

sliding a glass of wine
across the table

instructing me to drink              
with a single nod.

I bring the glass to my face                     
but don’t let a drop pass my lips.

Beside him, I am almost somewhere        
I’d like to be for a while.

To make him smile        
I tell him I am bad at sex.

To make him kiss me
I tell him when I’m happy

I go looking for things
I haven’t lost yet.

Copyright © 2022 by Hieu Minh Nguyen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 3, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

And every time, I say this is the last time, now

that we know what travel can grift from the body.

She is naked as I am now, but drunk. In bed.

The place dark, the bamboo blinds like split brooms.

A few weeks before, he’d slipped in using his key,

skittered the dog waiting at the top of the stairs,

watered the mums he’d left on the counter,

put away the wine. He doesn’t mention

coming to the room and she can’t remember.

But this night, every courtesy is whittled

to her littlest part, its radical pink, for once,

indistinguishable from everything: darkness;

his shirt; singed mothwings splayed

on the lampshade like pencil shavings;

wet receipts stuck to the bottom of the vase.

Persephone emerged each spring with the inventory

of her kingdom still clinging to her ankles,

and there were whispers that she grew to love

what we never wanted: swollen Easter fruit, 

its uninvited flesh blue as the vein

bisecting the corridor of my inner thigh.

Each time I go back, I want to sit

with the body. I want to say, “One day you’ll fold

into nights devoid of liquor and lose the taste.

Your joints will ache; your body will try to leave

in ways only your ancestors understand.”

I never think to tell him, “Stop”; tell her “Wake up.”

She’s still afraid of other women, endings, and the dead.

And so I leave, but with the door ajar

as if to say, “Beloved, what has happened

to me shouldn’t happen to you. But until

it does, there is nothing I can tell you.”

Copyright © 2022 by Destiny O. Birdsong. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 5, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

There was a man
   Whose name was Pete,
And he was a buck
   From his head to his feet.

He loved a dollar,
   But hated a dime;
And so was poor
   Nine-tenths of the time.

The Judge said “Pete,
   What of your wife?”
And Pete replied
   “She lost her life.”

“Pete,” said the Judge,
   “Was it lost in a row?
Tell me quick,
   And tell me how.”

Pete straightened up
   With a hic and a sigh,
Then looked the Judge
   Full in the eye.

“O, Judge, my wife
   Would never go
To a Sunday dance
   Or a movie show.

“But I went, Judge,
   Both day and night,
And came home broke
   And also tight.

“The moon was up,
   My purse was down,
And I was the bully
   Of the bootleg town.

“I was crooning a lilt
   To corn and rye
For the loop in my legs
   And the fight in my eye.

“I met my wife;
   She was wearing a frown,
And catechising
   Her Sunday gown.

‘O Pete, O Pete’
   She cried aloud,
‘The Devil is falling
   Right out of a cloud.’

“I looked straight up
   And fell flat down
And a Ford machine
   Pinned my head to the ground.

“The Ford moved on,
   And my wife was in it;
And I was sober,
   That very minute.

“For my head was bleeding,
   My heart was a-flutter;
And the moonshine within me
   Was tipping the gutter.

“The Ford, it faster
   And faster sped
Till it dipped and swerved
   And my wife was dead.

“Two bruised men lay
   In a hospital ward   
One seeking vengeance,
   The other the Lord.

“He said to me:
   ‘Your wife was drunk,
You are crazy,
   And my Ford is junk.’

“I raised my knife
   And drove it in
At the top of his head
   And the point of his chin.

“O Judge, O Judge,
   If the State has a chair,
Please bind me in it
   And roast me there.”

There was a man
   Whose name was Pete,
And he welcomed death
   From his head to his feet.

From Caroling Dusk (Harper & Brothers, 1927), edited by Countee Cullen. This poem is in the public domain.

“Begin at the beginning,” the King said gravely,
“and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

In the land of the JubJub together they had tea.
High tea, one has to understand, six cups of imaginary
tea, the good Miss Julianna Frances, aged two
and a half, and her grandfather, sixty-four. “How do
you do this afternoon, Miss Julianna,” he began,
good manners there in JubJub Land
being understood and de rigueur between
the Professor and his finical little Queen.
Sporting diapers beneath her summer dress,
she poured her airy tea in cups with such finesse
they might’ve been in Queen Victoria’s drawing room
instead of in his modest parlor. “Might I presume
upon you, my lady dear, for yet another piece of cake?”
“Oh, sure,” she too demurely said. “But let me bake
it first. It will only take one minute.” I.e., one minute
in her understanding, for they had time within it
for another cup or two or four or six or three
of Miss Julianna’s very best imaginary tea,
and time for her to sit upon his lap so he might read her
all about the Midnight Land of JubJub and then confer
together about the best way to pick the naughty dirts
from between their toes, or which of her many skirts
her dolly, coincidentally named for Daddy John,
should wear, and which chair he should sit upon
if Daddy John were to be invited to partake
of tea with them, together with a second piece of cake,
which was humming along just fine in the imaginary
oven in the slowly darkening room. High tea
on a Sunday afternoon at summer’s end,
sweet credences of summer. How better to spend
an hour, a day, a year? And Alice leading down
the rabbit hole, and him following into JubJub town,
and all cares left behind now, as the little girl—who would
not be little long—beckoned towards the still-enchanted wood.

From Epitaphs for the Journey (Wipf & Stock Poiema Series, 2012) by Paul Mariani. Copyright © 2012 by Paul Mariani. Used with the permission of the author.

Once I was good like the Virgin Mary and the Minister’s
My father worked for Mr. Pullman and white people’s
    tips; but he died two days after his insurance expired.
I had nothing, so I had to go to work.
All the stock I had was a white girl’s education and a
    face that enchanted the men of both races.
Starvation danced with me.
So when Big Lizzie, who kept a house for white men,
    came to me with tales of fortune that I could reap
    from the sale of my virtue I bowed my head to Vice.
Now I can drink more gin than any man for miles around.
Gin is better than all the water in Lethe.

From The Book of American Negro Poetry (Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1922) edited by James Weldon Johnson. This poem is in the public domain.

I thought I could stop
time by taking apart
the clock. Minute hand. Hour hand.

Nothing can keep. Nothing
is kept. Only kept track of. I felt

passing seconds
accumulate like dead calves
in a thunderstorm

of the mind no longer a mind
but a page torn
from the dictionary with the definition of self

effaced. I couldn’t face it: the world moving

on as if nothing happened.
Everyone I knew got up. Got dressed.
Went to work. Went home.

There were parties. Ecstasy.
Hennessy. Dancing
around each other. Bluntness. Blunts

rolled to keep
thought after thought
from roiling

like wind across water—
coercing shapelessness into shape.

I put on my best face.
I was glamour. I was grammar.

Yet my best couldn’t best my beast.

I, too, had been taken apart.
I didn’t want to be
fixed. I wanted everything dismantled and useless

like me. Case. Wheel. Hands. Dial. Face.

Copyright © 2020 by Paul Tran. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 9, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Is that vintage? they ask.  

It was my father’s, I say and think of a man for whom 
that word meant only a crack about drink—

            Gimme a tall one of your finest vintage!

I found it among tie pins and cufflinks in his top drawer, 
filched it years before I knew the word, 

            knew only that I wanted something I could take from him
            who knew work and the bar better than home, 

            something I would have never called 
            beautiful and ruined. 

Crystal scratched, leather dry and stitching frayed. 
He never noticed it was gone, 

            or else he never said. 

From his dresser to the carved wooden box I buried 
inside my hand-me-down chest, 

            until the no more of him sent me rooting 
            for some relic I could hold. 

Glass polished and gears set right, new band strapped around my wrist.


It’s beautiful, they say.  

It was my father’s, and I let them assume, 

            inheritance or gift, 

that he was a man of taste, who shared it with his son.  

From Filched (Dos Madres Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by James Tolan. Used with the permission of Holly Messitt.

The afternotes: orange, a little frangipani,

and then something harsh and mineral:

an old jug rutted out of the ruins of a lost chapel.

But first it was like drinking spring water

lathed by rocks fatty with quartz. 

No, it’s inexplicable,

even the way that drink spared our feelings.

That drink liked loneliness and appreciation, lingering appreciation.

Just thinking about that drink creates a kind of yearning

that douses you like sea spray.

I drank that drink and was convinced my body

was flying of its own accord, and why not? 

The myth of Icarus is an ugly story

retold and retold and retold

by someone resentful who wasn’t able to drink

the best of the drinks we ever drank.

There was a clear sky in that glass and shaggy pines

and a bit of snowmelt doused in a fire,

and soon a blue shawl drew itself from the rim

and brimmed over us both, and something caught

inside our throats and was released—some old grief.

A grief that, possibly, didn’t even come from us. Or even from our ancestors. 

Copyright © 2016 by Lee Upton. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 20, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

a party. Everybody
at home getting
ready. Pulling
on boots, fixing
their hair, planning
what to say if
she's there, picking
a pluckier lipstick,
rehearsing a joke
with a stickpin
in it, doing
the last minute
fumbling one does
before leaving for
the night like
tying up the dog or
turning on the yard
light. I like to think
of them driving,
finding their way
in the dark, taking
this left, that right,
while I light candles,
start the music softly
seething. Everything
waiting. Even
the wine barely

Copyright © 2013 by Todd Boss. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on November 8, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

I stopped drinking on my way down the hill
to the liquor store when two guys pulled up
and tried to drag me into their pickup. I crossed the street
then ran in the opposite direction, puffing
against the incline. The stranger thrust into reverse 
and, when I wouldn't talk to him,
threw a bag of McDonald’s trash at me,
Stuck up bitch. I stopped drinking
when I realized I was fighting 
for the vodka at the bottom of the hill
more than I was fighting against the terrible
things that could have happened to me
inside the cab of that rusty Chevy. I stopped drinking
before cell phones. I stopped drinking
after Days of Wine and Roses. I stopped drinking
even as I kept walking to El Prado Spirits
and the guy behind the counter who recognized me
asked if I was alright. I didn't tell him
what had happened because he might have called
the police and then I would have had to wait
for them to arrive to fill out a report, delaying my Smirnoff.  
I stopped drinking even before I had that last sip,
as I ran back up the hill squeezing a bottle by its neck.

Copyright © 2011 by Denise Duhamel. Used with permission of the author.