So that each
is its own, now—each a fallen, blond stillness.
Closer, above them,
the damselflies pass as they would over water,
if the fruit were water,
or as bees would, if they weren’t
somewhere else, had the fruit found
already a point more steep
in rot, as soon it must, if
none shall lift it from the grass whose damp only
softens further those parts where flesh
There are those
whom no amount of patience looks likely
to improve ever, I always said, meaning
gift is random,
here withheld—almost always
as it’s turned out: how your hands clear
easily the wreckage;
how you stand—like a building for a time condemned,
then deemed historic. Yes. You
will be saved.
From The Rest of Love by Carl Phillips. Copyright © 2004 by Carl Phillips. Reprinted by Farrar, Straus, & Giroux. All rights reserved.
Busy old fool, unruly Sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains, call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers' seasons run?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
Late school-boys and sour prentices,
Go tell court-huntsmen that the king will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices;
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.
Thy beams so reverend, and strong
Why shouldst thou think?
I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,
But that I would not lose her sight so long.
If her eyes have not blinded thine,
Look, and to-morrow late tell me,
Whether both th' Indias of spice and mine
Be where thou left'st them, or lie here with me.
Ask for those kings whom thou saw'st yesterday,
And thou shalt hear, "All here in one bed lay."
She's all states, and all princes I;
Nothing else is;
Princes do but play us; compared to this,
All honour's mimic, all wealth alchemy.
Thou, Sun, art half as happy as we,
In that the world's contracted thus;
Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
To warm the world, that's done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;
This bed thy center is, these walls thy sphere.
This poem is in the public domain.
There’s no sense
in telling you my particular
troubles. You have yours too.
Is there value
in comparing notes?
Unlike Williams writing
poems on prescription pads
between patients, I have
no prescriptions for you.
I’m more interested
in the particular
nature and tenor of the energy
of our trouble. Maybe
that’s not enough for you.
Sometimes I stick in
some music. I’m capable
so there’s nothing wrong
with my images. As for me,
I’m not looking for wisdom.
The wise don’t often write
wisely, do they? The danger
is in teetering into platitudes.
Maybe Keats was preternaturally
wise but what he gave us
was beauty, whatever that is,
and truth, synonymous, he wrote,
with beauty, and not the same
as wisdom. Maybe truth
is the raw material of wisdom
before it has been conformed
by ego, fear, and time,
like a shot
of whiskey without
embellishment, or truth lays bare
the broken bone and wisdom
scurries in, wanting
to cover and justify it. It’s really
kind of a nasty
enterprise. Who wants anyone
else’s hands on their pain?
And I’d rather be arrested
than advised, even on my
taxes. So what
can poetry be now? Dangerous
to approach such a question,
and difficult to find the will to care.
But we must not languish, soldiers,
(according to the wise,)
we must go so far as to invent
new mechanisms of caring.
Maybe truth, yes, delivered
with clarity. The tone is up
to you. Truth, unabridged,
has become in itself a strange
and beautiful thing.
Truth may involve a degree
of seeing through time.
Even developing a relationship
with a thing before writing,
whether a bird
or an idea about birds, it doesn’t
matter. But please not only
a picture of a bird. Err
on the side of humility, though
humility can be declarative.
It does not submit. It can even appear
audacious. It takes mettle
to propose truth
and pretend it is generalizable.
Truth should sting, in its way,
like a major bee, not a sweat bee.
It may target the reader like an arrow,
or be swallowable, a watermelon
seed we feared as children
would take up residency in our guts
and grow unabated and change us
forever into something viny
and prolific and terrible.
As for beauty, a problematic word,
one to be side-eyed lest it turn you
to stone or salt,
it is not something to work on
but a biproduct, at times,
of the process of our making.
Beauty comes or it doesn’t, as do
its equally compelling counterparts,
inelegance and vileness.
This we learned from Baudelaire,
Flaubert, Rimbaud, Genet, male poets
of the lavishly grotesque.
You’ve seen those living rooms,
the red velvet walls and lampshades
fringed gold, cat hair thick
on the couches,
and you have been weirdly
compelled, even cushioned,
by them. Either way,
please don’t tell me flowers
are beautiful and blood clots
are ugly. These things I know,
or I know this is how
flowers and blood clots
are assessed by those content
with stale orthodoxies.
Maybe there is such a thing
as the beauty of drawing near.
Near, nearer, all the way
to the bedside of the dying
world. To sit in witness,
without platitudes, no matter
the distortions of the death throes,
no matter the awful music
of the rattle. Close, closer,
to that sheeted edge.
From this vantage point
poetry can still be beautiful.
It can even be useful, though
Copyright © 2022 by Diane Seuss. This poem originally appeared in Chicago Review, January 28, 2022. Used with permission of the author.
When the light wakes & finds again
the music of brooms in Mexico,
when daylight pulls our hands from grief,
& hearts cleaned raw with sawdust
& saltwater flood their dazzling vessels,
when the catfish in the river
raise their eyelids towards your face,
when sweetgrass bends in waves
across battlefields where sweat
& sugar marry, when we hear our people
wearing tongues fine with plain
greeting: How You Doing, Good Morning
when I pour coffee & remember
my mother's love of buttered grits,
when the trains far away in memory
begin to turn their engines toward
a deep past of knowing,
when all I want to do is burn
my masks, when I see a woman
walking down the street holding her mind
like a leather belt, when I pluck a blues note
for my lazy shadow & cast its soul from my page,
when I see God's eyes looking up at black folks
flying between moonlight & museum,
when I see a good-looking people
who are my truest poetry,
when I pick up this pencil like a flute
& blow myself away from my death,
I listen to you again beneath the mercy
of a blue morning's grammar.
Copyright © 2016 by Rachel Eliza Griffiths. Originally published in the Southern Humanities Review, Vol. 49.3. Used with permission of the author.
They say brave but I don’t want it.
Who will we mourn today. Or won’t we.
Black all the windows. Lower
down the afternoon. I barricade
all my belonging. I am mostly never real
American or anything
availing. But I do take. And take
what’s given. The smell of blood.
I breathe it in. The dirt so thick with our good
fortune. And who pays for it. And what am I
but fear, but wanting. I’ll bite
the feeding hand until I’m fed
and buried. In the shining day.
All deadly good
intentions. A catalogue of virtues.
This is how I’ll disappear.
Copyright © 2017 by Camille Rankine. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 19, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
A vacant hour before the sun— and with it a valve's pneumatic hush, the deep and nautical clunk of wood, chanson du ricochet of rivet gun, trowel tap, and bolt drawn— the moon sets and water breaks. Curled within a warm pleroma, playing for time, you finally turn and push your face toward November's glint of frost, grains of salt, weak clarities of dawn.
Copyright © 2010 by Devin Johnston. Used with permission of the author.
Copyright © 2016 by Alexandra Teague. “Late American Aubade” originally appeared in Cimarron Review. Reprinted with permission of the author.
Copyright © 2018 Mark Wagenaar. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Winter 2018.
When sun, light handed, sows this Indian water With a crop of cockles, The vines arrange their tender shadows In the sweet leafage of an artificial France. Awake, in the frames of windows, innocent children, Loving the blue, sprayed leaves of childish life, Applaud the bearded corn, the bleeding grape, And cry: "Here is the hay-colored sun, our marvelous cousin, Walking in the barley, Turning the harrowed earth to growing bread, And splicing the sweet, wounded vine. Lift up your hitch-hiking heads And no more fear the fever, You fugitives, and sleepers in the fields, Here is the hay-colored sun!" And when their shining voices, clean as summer, Play, like churchbells over the field, A hundred dusty Luthers rise from the dead, unheeding, Search the horizon for the gap-toothed grin of factories, And grope, in the green wheat, Toward the wood winds of the western freight.
From In the Dark Before Dawn: New Selected Poems ©2005. Reprinted with permission of New Directions Publishing.
And the morning, too,
fog, the pines,
in my bed’s—
on my neck.
and sob buried inside it
like a pulsar
like a larva
in a bean,