Let me begin again as a quiet thought
in the shape of a shell slowly examined
by a brown child on a beach at dawn
straining to see their future. Let me begin
this time knowing the drumming in my dreams
is me inheriting the earth, is morning
lighting up the rivers. Let me burn
my vanities: old music in the pines, sifters
of scotch, a day moon like a signature
of night. This time, let me circle
the island of my fears only once then
live like a raging waterfall and grow
a magnificent mustache. Let me not ever be
the birdcage or the serrated blade or
the empty season. Dear Glacier, Dear Sea
of Stars, Dear Leopards disintegrating
at the outer limits of our greed; soon we will
encounter you only in motivational tweets.
Reader, I should have married you sooner.
This time, let me not sleep like the prophet who
believes he’s seen infinity. Let me run
at break-neck speeds toward sceneries
of doubt. I have no more dress rehearsals
to attend. Look closer: I am licking my lips.
Copyright © 2021 by Major Jackson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 26, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
When Lynne saw the lizard floating
in her mother-in-law’s swimming pool,
she jumped in. And when it wasn’t
breathing, its body limp as a baby
drunk on milk, she laid it on her palm
and pressed one fingertip to its silky breast
with just about the force you need
to test the ripeness of a peach, only quicker,
a brisk little push with a bit of spring in it.
Then she knelt, dripping wet in her Doc Martens
and camo T-shirt with the neck ripped out,
and bent her face to the lizard’s face,
her big plush lips to the small stiff jaw
that she’d pried apart with her opposable thumb,
and she blew a tiny puff into the lizard’s lungs.
The sun glared against the turquoise water.
What did it matter if she saved one lizard?
One lizard more or less in the world?
But she bestowed the kiss of life,
again and again, until
the lizard’s wrinkled lids peeled back,
its muscles roused its own first breath
and she set it on the hot cement
where it rested a moment
before darting off.
Copyright © Ellen Bass. This poem originally appeared in Indigo
(Copper Canyon Press, 2020). Used with permission of the author.
Finally, morning. This loneliness
feels more ordinary in the light, more like my face
in the mirror. My daughter in the ER again.
Something she ate? Some freshener
someone spritzed in the air?
They’re trying to kill me, she says,
as though it’s a joke. Lucretius
got me through the night. He told me the world goes on
making and unmaking. Maybe it’s wrong
to think of better and worse.
There’s no one who can carry my fear
for a child who walks out the door
not knowing what will stop her breath.
The rain they say is coming
sails now over the Pacific in purplish nimbus clouds.
But it isn’t enough. Last year I watched
elephants encircle their young, shuffling
their massive legs without hurry, flaring
their great dusty ears. Once they drank
from the snowmelt of Kilimanjaro.
Now the mountain is bald. Lucretius knows
we’re just atoms combining and recombining:
star dust, flesh, grass. All night
I plastered my body to Janet,
breathing when she breathed. But her skin,
warm as it is, does, after all, keep me out.
How tenuous it all is.
My daughter’s coming home next week.
She’ll bring the pink plaid suitcase we bought at Ross.
When she points it out to the escort
pushing her wheelchair, it will be easy
to spot on the carousel. I just want to touch her.
She said it softly, without a need
for conviction or romance.
After everything? I asked, ashamed.
That's not the kind of love she meant.
She walked through a field of gray
beetle-pored pine, snags branching
like polished bone. I forget sometimes
how trees look at me with the generosity
of water. I forget all the other
breath I'm breathing in.
Today I learned that trees can't sleep
with our lights on. That they knit
a forest in their language, their feelings.
This is not a metaphor.
Like seeing a face across a crowd,
we are learning all the old things,
newly shined and numbered.
I'm always looking
for a place to lie down
and cry. Green, mossed, shaded.
Or rock-quiet, empty. Somewhere
to hush and start over.
I put on my antlers in the sun.
I walk through the dark gates of the trees.
Grief waters my footsteps, leaving
a trail that glistens.
Copyright © 2020 by Anne Haven McDonnell. From All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis (One World, 2020) edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson. Used with the permission of the editors.
What is water but rain but cloud but river but ocean
but ice but tear.
What is tear but torn what is worn as skin as in as out
Exodus. I am trying to tell a tale that shifts like a gale
that hurricanes and casts a line
that buckles in wind that is reborn a kite a wing.
I am far
from the passage far from the plane of descending
suitcases passports degrees of mobility like heat
like heat on their backs.
This cluster of fine grapes Haitian purple beige
Copyright © 2020 by Danielle Legros Georges. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 8, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Wanting to be that place where inner
and outer meet, this morning
I’m listening to the river inside—
also to the river out the window, river
of sun and branch shadow, muskrat
and mallard, heron, and the rattled cry
of the kingfisher. Out there is a tree
whose roots the river has washed so often
the tree stretches beyond itself, its spirit
like mine, leaning out over the water, held
only by the poised astonishment
of being here. This morning, listening
to the river inside, I’m sinking into a stillness
where what can’t be said stirs beneath
currents of image and memory, below strata
of muons and quarks, now rushes, now hushes
and pools, now casts a net of bright light
so loosely woven there’s a constellation
afloat on the surface of the river, so still
I can almost hear it weave in and out—
interstellar, intercellular—and isn’t it
truly all one, one world, no in or out, no here
or there, seamless, as a lily about to open
from just here into everywhere, is. Just is.
Restful lily. Lucky lily. To bloom must feel
like a river’s brightening at daybreak,
or a slow kiss, a throb in the elapse of time,
a shudder of heron shadow flying over
shallows that are merely the apparent
skim of a depth whose bottomless surface
seeps everywhere, bloom and retraction,
an anchored flow that upholds city
and cathedral, bridge and gate,
Orion, odd toad in the Amazon, blue dragonfly,
what it is to love... Spoil a river, you spoil all this.
From Not Hearing the Wood Thrush (LSU Press, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Margaret Gibson. Used with the permission of the author.