You only watch the news to find out
where the fires are burning, which way
the wind is blowing, and whether
it will rain. Forecast ahead but first:
A mother’s boy laid out
in the street for hours.
These facts don’t wash away.
Copyright © 2016 D. A. Powell. Used with permission of the author.
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door—
"'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more."
Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Nameless here for evermore.
And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
"'Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—
This it is and nothing more."
Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
"Sir," said I, "or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you"—here I opened wide the door;—
Darkness there and nothing more.
Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, "Lenore?"
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, "Lenore!"—
Merely this and nothing more.
Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
"Surely," said I, "surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—
'Tis the wind and nothing more!"
Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.
Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
"Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou," I said, "art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!"
Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."
Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blest with seeing bird above his chamber door—
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as "Nevermore."
But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—
Till I scarcely more than muttered "Other friends have flown before—
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before."
Then the bird said "Nevermore."
Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
"Doubtless," said I, "what it utters is its only stock and store
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
But the Raven still beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking "Nevermore."
This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o'er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o'er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!
Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
"Wretch," I cried, "thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite—respite and nepenthe, from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!"
Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."
"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—
On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—
Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!"
Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."
"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil—prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore."
Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."
"Be that word our sign in parting, bird or fiend!" I shrieked, upstarting—
"Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!"
Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."
And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted—nevermore!
This version appeared in the Richmond Semi-Weekly Examiner, September 25, 1849. For other versions, please visit the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore's site: http://www.eapoe.org/works/poems/index.htm#R.
Just want things
Not kings, kings
should be below:
and most of all—
need be within our ratio.
to population control,
so many ways
to be living,
particles, heavy metals,
even animals are living.
Kings live too amidst their industries
but who would know
just want time
the moment cleaving
Copyright © 2016 Ben Doller. Used with permission of the author.
Maybe it was hog-killing time
when he arrived in Lynchburg,
Virginia, several lifetimes behind him,
the old smell of the monkey house
at the New York Zoological Gardens
receding, a broken memory left.
Not sure of the paths & turns
taken, woozy in a swarm of hues,
he stood in Anne Spencer’s garden
surrounding the clapboard house,
but when she spoke he came back
to himself. The poet had juba
in her voice, & never called him
Artiba, Bengal, Autobank, or
Otto Bingo. Her beds of tiger
lilies, sweet peas, & snapdragons
disarmed him. Her fine drawl
summoned rivers, trees, & boats,
in a distant land, & he could hear
a drum underneath these voices
near the forest. He never spoke
of the St. Louis World’s Fair
or the Bronx Zoo. The boys
crowded around him for stories
about the Congo, & he told them
about hunting “big, big” elephants,
& then showed them the secret
of stealing honey from the bees
with bare hands, how to spear fish
& snare the brown mourning dove.
One night he sat in the hayloft,
singing, “I believe I’ll go home.
Lordy, won’t you help me?”
A hoot owl called to the moon
hemmed in a blackberry thicket,
& he bowed to the shine of the gun.
Copyright © 2016 by Yusef Komunyakaa. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 8, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
So much on the verge
In a hot
is tinder: paper, sage
feverish with bees,
hair, my hand
that glows with a thought.
or sleepless dawn,
nothing is sure
but what’s already burned—
water that’s ash, steel
that has flowed and cooled,
though in the core
of a star, they too
would fuse and rage,
and even volcanic
glass and char,
and the cold seas,
what we once were
might burn again—
or in the heart.
Copyright © 2016 by James Richardson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 10, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
In this life,
I was very minor.
I was a minor lover.
There was maybe a day, a night
or two, when I was on.
I was, would have been,
a minor daughter,
had my parents lived.
I was a minor runner. I was
a minor thinker. In the middle
distance, not too fast.
I was a minor mother: only
two, and sometimes,
I was mean to them.
I was a minor beauty.
I was a minor Buddhist.
There was a certain symmetry, but
it, too, was minor.
My poems were not major
enough to even make me
a “minor poet,”
but I did sit here
instead of getting up, getting
the gun, loading it.
Copyright © 2016 by Olena Kalytiak Davis. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 31, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
The man said I could see them if I wanted
He said America would never be
A place where we could live together not at
Least in my lifetime but the damned don’t see
No important differences between the Ne-
gro and the White the damned don’t see no bad
In folks if what bad they done they ain’t free-
ly chose to do the damned don’t see no good
In folks if what good they done they ain’t hoped
To do and the man he said part of momma
Varina part of daddy Jeff alread-
y was burning in Hell I ought to join them
He said we might see good from seeing each other
Tortured we might finally see each other
Copyright © 2016 by Shane McCrae. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 8, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
As the best actors move on from TV
And leave shows in shambles, viewers bereft,
And characters to death or surgery,
So do I move beyond my yesterdays
Into a new life, an acropolis
So perfect it seems built to be ruined.
Like a swimming pool at noon in summer
The future waits coolly to be entered,
But disturbances of satisfaction
Can overwhelm the impulse of the act.
There are plants that die from too much water,
Some living things are merely suppliant
And others are born to be sycophants.
I reach out for love without knowing if
To love means bliss or merely drunkenness.
There are plans that vanish in their planning
And dreamers that drown in their ambition.
I doubt my senses, I hear smells, I see
Symbols wherever images should be—
A sunbow’s arc above a waterfall.
As yet the beachcomber in me believes
That beneath the proof of dirt is payment
For the labor of creation, or love—
Maybe not the gold doubloon, but a shell
With the ocean where a creature should be.
For the first time, you hear your lover’s voice
Singing a language you don’t understand,
And the words you once knew lose their meanings.
I am so confused by this new feeling.
My greatest fear is I will outlive it.
Everything seems to be going well, but
Who knows well when less is nowhere near?
There is such a thing as a perfect storm,
When all the elements of misfortune
Converge to produce a great disaster
(One of the elements must be belief,
The others should be time and sacrifice),
Which descends upon a decent person
Who stands beside some mean, magnetic soul
To hide their darkness in another’s light.
I am anxious because my life is good
And I love a world I will have destroyed
Just as the rotten persona I’ve made
Transubstantiates in the tendency
Of burning to offer upward its ash.
While my sweetheart works overtime this week
I have spent my hours alone dismantling
The appalling device in my basement,
But as I pull it apart it mocks me,
Knowing as I do it has done its work.
Millions of miles away, death from above
Speeds through the solar system, approaching
The planet where Mahler wrote his music.
It will be a defunct truth that kills me
And the sight of a serpent in the sky
Will be the final sign the condemned see.
If only I had despised the winter
Instead of the cold itself, I could have
Found some relief in fashion and designed
Warm shadows instead of a burning crown.
One must be well acquainted with the charms
Of decorative dishes and warm pies
To know the power that a caterwaul
At midnight may have over someone lost
In chapter nine of Pride and Prejudice,
In which Darcy and Elizabeth speak
Of poetry’s relationship to sex.
Everyone knows what happens in the end,
But the end is just a catastrophe,
The good bits are in the complication.
Aristotle can be hard to follow
But tragedy is simplified in love.
At first, one seems to look at a stranger
In the mirror, and life is love reversed,
Then their reflection proves insubstantial
For conversations and convergences.
I am at this moment in my story
And have no idea how it will feel
To arrive with another at a shrine
With meanings both joyous and saturnine.
The other day I went out for pizza
With the woman who holds my hand in hers,
And the roads of our hunger there diverged.
We ordered a large half-mushroom, half-cheese
So we could our own ways together go,
But by the time the waiter brought our food
We had forgotten who had chosen what
And feasted without discrimination.
The desire to know each other’s desire
Had overwhelmed the knowledge of our own.
Transcendent moments become memories
Like everything else, and maybe that is
An error in the making of the world.
What if evolution’s fundamental
Force were not endurance, but amazement?
Or what if everything already runs
Zigzag toward heaven and I am wrong?
What if a giraffe stretches out its neck
Seeking not fulfillment but pleasing form,
And nature is guided by beauty’s voice?
Copyright © 2016 by Joshua Edwards. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 17, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
seems like a good way to say
I spent all last week feeling helpless
and talking about it in terms of not being
Why can’t compassion change our lives
even half so completely as a suicide bomber,
or half so immediately as a natural disaster
Big ideas get me nowhere, so
the fact that breaking spring feels better
than cracking up is at least a start
toward a walk through Washington Park,
its trees in pink blossom, its white-yellow-purple
Tomorrow I will talk about Frankenstein
in bed and then I will talk about it with people
who are sleeping I will say that it’s a book
about artistic responsibility I will
say it’s alive It’s alive And some number
of eyes will stare back at me without believing
any of it matters, or without believing
it matters for them And what can I say
to convince them I have only my love
to recommend it beyond what it already is
My suspect credibility upon the rockets
of birds, the soft parts of people, the oceans’
inevitable, cyclical weeping Who has time
for poetry has more time than they deserve
Copyright © 2016 by Matt Hart. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 24, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
In the late spring of 1985,
we met in the weedy lot of the Orchid Pavilion Nursery
for a little ritual purification.
Everyone came, all the half-brothers and half-sisters,
the children not yet born,
and men so old they were young again.
We sat beside the aqueduct, and gold cans of beer
floated down to us
like the lines of poems.
The end of the twentieth century hung over
us like a cartoon anvil, but the breeze
that day was a knife so sharp
you couldn’t feel it cutting pieces off of you.
But then, when it’s sunny, no one remembers
how quickly a century turns over.
Our mothers always said that living and dying
ran on the same business model,
that one hand washed the other.
But how to tell that to the rat whose whiskers
will be bound into the brush
that inks these very lines about him?
No, there’s no use pretending the tears our mothers wept
over newborn babies and the dead
were even the same species of water.
Copyright © 2015 by Nick Lantz. Used with permission of the author.
Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)
O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!
I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.
Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”
Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.
O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!
From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Copyright © 1994 the Estate of Langston Hughes. Used with permission.
When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He returning chide;
"Doth God exact day-labor, light denied?"
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, "God doth not need
Either man's work or His own gifts. Who best
Bear His mild yoke, they serve Him best. His state
Is kingly: thousands at His bidding speed,
And post o'er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait."
This poem is in the public domain.
Those afternoons, the Saturdays of my tender childhood
in Mexico City
were just lovely.
It was the time when fathers
were one on one with their sons,
and took them to see friends, have an ice,
talk in the park, or to intriguing stores
from their youth.
I remember going to a store
that sold mountain climbing equipment:
my father knew “The Goat,”
one of the climbers of the great Popocatepetl,
and he would show us boots, ropes, and hammers,
and photographs of the Valley of Mexico and of snow.
Another place in my fantasy was a corner
in the old section of the city,
where they sold model airplanes
with gasoline engines;
I would watch the wealthy kids buy
and we in our dreams would fly.
Another place was the small shop of the Japanese man, Osawa,
who sold shells, butterflies, spiders, beetles,
and other vermin and dried creepers;
for a few pesos one could well
enlarge a modest collection.
A labyrinth in the basement of a mansion
led one to the abode of the Old Catalán
who sold stamps and postal seals;
he had in his possession the first stamp of Juárez,
and promised never to sell it,
though perhaps, he might give it to me some day.
In a garage Don Leopoldo sold supplies for engineers:
slide rules with many rows, squares,
fine pens, india ink, complicated compasses,
and with all this my father’s friend
traced a world for me.
Those crammed afternoons, already abandoned,
shadowed by death,
undone by a fast and coarse world,
taught me what it is to fill out
the alertness of time.
Esas tardes, los sábados de mi tierna niñez
en la Ciudad de México
fueron simplemente hermosas.
Era el tiempo en que los padres
estaban uno a uno con sus hijos,
y los llevaban a ver a amigos, a tomar un helado,
a platicar al parque, o a tiendas interesantes
desde que eran chiquitos.
Me acuerdo ir a una tienda
que vendía equipo de alpinista:
mi padre conocía a “El Cabrito”,
un escalador del gran Popocatépetl,
y él nos enseñaba botas, sogas y martillos,
y fotografías del Valle de México y de la nieve.
Otro lugar de mis ensueños era una esquina
en una parte antigua de la ciudad,
donde vendían modelos de aviones
con motorcitos de gasolina;
yo veía a los niños ricos comprar,
y nosotros volábamos en nuestros sueños.
Otro lugar era la tiendita del japonés Osawa,
que vendía conchas, mariposas, arañas, escarabajos
y otras alimañas y sabandijas disecadas;
por un par de pesos uno podía
aumentar una modesta colección.
Un laberinto en el sótano de una mansión
lo llevaba a uno al recinto de El Viejo Catalán
que vendía timbres y sellos postales;
tenía en su posesión la primera estampa de Juárez,
y prometió que nunca la vendería,
aunque tal vez me la regalaría algún día.
En un garaje Don Leopoldo vendía cosas de ingeniero:
reglas de cálculo con muchas filas, escuadras,
plumas finas, tinta china, compases complicados,
y con todo ello el amigo de mi padre
me trazó un mundo.
Esas tardes repletas, ya abandonadas,
ensombradas por la muerte,
deshechas por un mundo rápido y grosero,
me enseñaron lo que es llenar
el tiempo alerta.
From El ciclo de aprendizaje. Copyright © 2005, Bilingual Press / Editorial Bilingüe, Arizona State University.
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.