You whom I could not save,
Listen to me.
Can we agree Kevlar
backpacks shouldn’t be needed
for children walking to school?
Those same children
also shouldn’t require a suit
of armor when standing
on their front lawns, or snipers
to watch their backs
as they eat at McDonalds.
They shouldn’t have to stop
to consider the speed
of a bullet or how it might
reshape their bodies. But
one winter, back in Detroit,
I had one student
who opened a door and died.
It was the front
door to his house, but
it could have been any door,
and the bullet could have written
any name. The shooter
was thirteen years old
and was aiming
at someone else. But
a bullet doesn’t care
about “aim,” it doesn’t
the innocent and the innocent,
and how was the bullet
supposed to know this
child would open the door
at the exact wrong moment
because his friend
was outside and screaming
for help. Did I say
I had “one” student who
opened a door and died?
There were many.
The classroom of grief
had far more seats
than the classroom for math
though every student
in the classroom for math
could count the names
of the dead.
A kid opens a door. The bullet
couldn’t possibly know,
nor could the gun, because
“guns don't kill people,” they don’t
have minds to decide
such things, they don’t choose
or have a conscience,
and when a man doesn’t
have a conscience, we call him
a psychopath. This is how
we know what type of assault rifle
a man can be,
and how we discover
the hell that thrums inside
each of them. Today,
shooting with dead
kids everywhere. It was a school,
a movie theater, a parking lot.
is full of doors.
And you, whom I cannot save,
you may open a door
and enter a meadow, or a eulogy.
And if the latter, you will be
mourned, then buried
There will be
monuments of legislation,
little flowers made
from red tape.
What should we do? we’ll ask
again. The earth will close
like a door above you.
What should we do?
And that click you hear?
That’s just our voices,
the deadbolt of discourse
sliding into place.
Copyright © 2016 by Matthew Olzmann. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 5, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
Fire in the heart, fire in the sky, the sun just
a smallish smudge resting on the horizon
out beyond the reef that breaks the waves,
fiery sun that waits for no one. I was little more
than a child when my father explained
that the mongrel is stronger than the thoroughbred,
that I was splendidly blended, genetically engineered
for survival. I somehow forgot this, misplaced this,
time eroding my memory as it erodes everything.
But go ask someone else to write a poem about Time.
Out over the bay, the sun is rising, and I am running
out of time. Each and every year, on my birthday,
I wake to watch the sunrise. I am superstitious.
And today, as in years past, it is not my father
but my father’s father who comes to shout at me:
Whether you like it or not, you are a child of fire. You
descend from the Dragon, descend from the Phoenix.
Your blood is older than England, older than Castille.
Year after year, he says the same thing, this old man
dead long before I was born. So, I wake each year
on the day of my birth to watch the fire enter the sky
while being chastised by my dead grandfather.
Despite being a creature of fire, I stay near the water.
Why even try to avoid what can extinguish me?
There are times I can feel the fire flickering inside my frame.
The gulls are quarreling, the palm trees shimmering—
the world keeps spinning on its axis. Some say I have
nine lives. Others think me a machine. Neither is true.
The truth is rarely so conventional. Fire in my heart, fire
in my veins, I write this down for you and watch
as it goes up in flames. There are no paragraphs
wide enough to contain this fire, no stanzas
durable enough to house it. Blood of the Dragon,
blood of the Phoenix, I turn my head slowly
toward the East. I bow and call for another year.
I stand there and demand one more year.
Copyright © 2016 by C. Dale Young. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 22, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
She sang beyond the genius of the sea. The water never formed to mind or voice, Like a body wholly body, fluttering Its empty sleeves; and yet its mimic motion Made constant cry, caused constantly a cry, That was not ours although we understood, Inhuman, of the veritable ocean. The sea was not a mask. No more was she. The song and water were not medleyed sound Even if what she sang was what she heard. Since what she sang was uttered word by word. It may be that in all her phrases stirred The grinding water and the gasping wind; But it was she and not the sea we heard. For she was the maker of the song she sang. The ever-hooded, tragic-gestured sea Was merely a place by which she walked to sing. Whose spirit is this? we said, because we knew It was the spirit that we sought and knew That we should ask this often as she sang. If it was only the dark voice of the sea That rose, or even colored by many waves; If it was only the outer voice of sky And cloud, of the sunken coral water-walled, However clear, it would have been deep air, The heaving speech of air, a summer sound Repeated in a summer without end And sound alone. But it was more than that, More even than her voice, and ours, among The meaningless plungings of water and the wind, Theatrical distances, bronze shadows heaped On high horizons, mountainous atmospheres Of sky and sea. It was her voice that made The sky acutest at its vanishing. She measured to the hour its solitude. She was the single artificer of the world In which she sang. And when she sang, the sea, Whatever self it had, became the self That was her song, for she was the maker. Then we, As we beheld her striding there alone, Knew that there never was a world for her Except the one she sang and, singing, made. Ramon Fernandez, tell me, if you know, Why, when the singing ended and we turned Toward the town, tell why the glassy lights, The lights in the fishing boats at anchor there, As night descended, tilting in the air, Mastered the night and portioned out the sea, Fixing emblazoned zones and fiery poles, Arranging, deepening, enchanting night. Oh! Blessed rage for order, pale Ramon, The maker's rage to order words of the sea, Words of the fragrant portals, dimly-starred, And of ourselves and of our origins, In ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds.
From Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens by Wallace Stevens. Copyright © 1954 by Wallace Stevens. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
This poem is in the public domain.
Although it is a cold evening, down by one of the fishhouses an old man sits netting, his net, in the gloaming almost invisible, a dark purple-brown, and his shuttle worn and polished. The air smells so strong of codfish it makes one's nose run and one's eyes water. The five fishhouses have steeply peaked roofs and narrow, cleated gangplanks slant up to storerooms in the gables for the wheelbarrows to be pushed up and down on. All is silver: the heavy surface of the sea, swelling slowly as if considering spilling over, is opaque, but the silver of the benches, the lobster pots, and masts, scattered among the wild jagged rocks, is of an apparent translucence like the small old buildings with an emerald moss growing on their shoreward walls. The big fish tubs are completely lined with layers of beautiful herring scales and the wheelbarrows are similarly plastered with creamy iridescent coats of mail, with small iridescent flies crawling on them. Up on the little slope behind the houses, set in the sparse bright sprinkle of grass, is an ancient wooden capstan, cracked, with two long bleached handles and some melancholy stains, like dried blood, where the ironwork has rusted. The old man accepts a Lucky Strike. He was a friend of my grandfather. We talk of the decline in the population and of codfish and herring while he waits for a herring boat to come in. There are sequins on his vest and on his thumb. He has scraped the scales, the principal beauty, from unnumbered fish with that black old knife, the blade of which is almost worn away. Down at the water's edge, at the place where they haul up the boats, up the long ramp descending into the water, thin silver tree trunks are laid horizontally across the gray stones, down and down at intervals of four or five feet. Cold dark deep and absolutely clear, element bearable to no mortal, to fish and to seals . . . One seal particularly I have seen here evening after evening. He was curious about me. He was interested in music; like me a believer in total immersion, so I used to sing him Baptist hymns. I also sang "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." He stood up in the water and regarded me steadily, moving his head a little. Then he would disappear, then suddenly emerge almost in the same spot, with a sort of shrug as if it were against his better judgment. Cold dark deep and absolutely clear, the clear gray icy water . . . Back, behind us, the dignified tall firs begin. Bluish, associating with their shadows, a million Christmas trees stand waiting for Christmas. The water seems suspended above the rounded gray and blue-gray stones. I have seen it over and over, the same sea, the same, slightly, indifferently swinging above the stones, icily free above the stones, above the stones and then the world. If you should dip your hand in, your wrist would ache immediately, your bones would begin to ache and your hand would burn as if the water were a transmutation of fire that feeds on stones and burns with a dark gray flame. If you tasted it, it would first taste bitter, then briny, then surely burn your tongue. It is like what we imagine knowledge to be: dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free, drawn from the cold hard mouth of the world, derived from the rocky breasts forever, flowing and drawn, and since our knowledge is historical, flowing, and flown.
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.
Today I woke up in my body
and wasn’t that body anymore.
It’s more like my dog—
for the most part obedient,
warming to me
when I slip it goldfish or toast,
but it sheds.
Can’t get past a simple sit,
stay, turn over. House-trained, but not entirely.
This doesn’t mean it’s time to say goodbye.
I’ve realized the estrangement
is temporary, and for my own good:
My body’s work to break the world
into bricks and sticks
has turned inward.
As all the doors in the world
a big white bed is being put up in my heart.
Copyright © 2017 by Max Ritvo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 19, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.