I frowned over the soft zodiac of brown wrinkles
attempting to squint clarity
into my palm’s cracked plate
as if it might be a map to someplace
important. I, too, wanted to disappear
into others but was disappointingly singular.
Brandishing an encyclopedia,
I was stunned to learn along our personal
milky way that there were names for every pleat
& channel, every mount of flesh.
Fate line. Sun line. Money line.
Heart line. Head line. Life line.
My life line looked past repair
A coaxial cable snipped, frayed.
Since my quilted palm was my mother’s responsibility,
I asked her what these alien letters meant.
Every origami starts with a valley or mountain fold,
she said. Yours is the mountain. Yours is a life of work.
Your hand, she said, takes the shape
of the last thing spirit reaches for in its last darkness.
From Black Steel Magnolias In the Hour of Chaos Theory. Copyright © 2018 by James Cagney. Published by Nomadic Press. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.
I am liberated and focused today
on what it means to govern myself.
I am not watching the news
or wearing a bra.
I will not question America
or ask where it was last night.
I went to bed with a cold fact
With no cuddling, after.
Today, God I want nothing
not even the love I have been praying for.
On the train, I won’t offer
anyone my seat.
No one ever moves for me
Some days, not even the wind.
Today, I will be like the flag
that never waves.
At work, I will be black
and I will act like it.
They will mispronounce my name
And this time I won’t answer.
I will sit at my desk with my legs open
and my mind crossed.
Copyright © 2020 by Starr Davis. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 31, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
who hands o-
ver their on-
thing to this
if god so
loved I nev-
er knew him
From The Night Angler. Copyright © 2018 by Geffrey Davis. Used with the permission of BOA Editions.
When the blue and red sirens pass you,
when the school calls because your child
beat the exam and not a classmate,
when the smart phone drops but does not crack,
the rush escaping your mouth betrays your upbringing:
thank you Jesus—a balm over the wound.
When the mammogram finds only density,
when the playground tumble results
in a bruise, not a broken bone,
like steam from a hot tea kettle
thank you Jesus—and the pent-up fear
vents upward, out. Maybe it’s a hand
over breast, supplication learned deeper
than flesh as if one could shush the soul,
the fluttering heartbeat with three words.
Maybe it’s not so dire—an almost trip on the sidewalk,
the accumulated sales total showing savings upon savings,
maybe it’s as small as an empty seat on the Metro
or maybe thank you Jesus—becomes the refrain
every time your husband pulls into the driveway,
alive and whole, and no one has mistaken him
for all the black, scary things. You mutter it,
helpless to stop yourself from the invocation
of a grandmother who gave you your first bible,
you say it because your mother, even knowing
your doubt as a vested commodity, still urges prayer.
You learned early to cast the net—thank you Jesus
and it’s a sweet needle that gathers the fraying thread,
hemming security in steady stitches. From birth
you’ve heard this language; as an adult
you’ve seen religion used nakedly as ambition yet
this sacrifice of praise, still slips past your lips,
this lyrical martyr of your dying faith.
Copyright © 2017 by Teri Ellen Cross Davis. “Thank You Jesus” originally appeared in Harvard Review Online. Reprinted with permission of the author.
One river gives
Its journey to the next.
We give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.
We give because giving has changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.
We have been better for it,
We have been wounded by it—
Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,
Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.
Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,
But we read this book, anyway, over and again:
Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,
Mine to yours, yours to mine.
You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.
Together we are simple green. You gave me
What you did not have, and I gave you
What I had to give—together, we made
Something greater from the difference.
Copyright © 2014 by Alberto Ríos. Used with permission of the author.