Mother, I'm trying
to write
a poem to you—


which is how most
poems to mothers must
begin—or, What I've wanted
to say, Mother.
..but we
as children of mothers,
even when mothers ourselves,

cannot bear our poems
to them. Poems to
mothers make us feel

little again. How to describe
that world that mothers spin
and consume and trap

and love us in, that spreads
for years and men and miles?
Those particular hands that could

smooth anything: butter on bread,
cool sheets or weather. It's
the wonder of them, good or bad,

those mother-hands that pet
and shape and slap,
that sew you together
the pieces of a better house
or life in which you'll try
to live. Mother,

I've done no better
than the others, but for now,
here is your clever failure.

From The Poet's Child (Copper Canyon Press). Copyright © 2002 by Erin Belieu. Used with permission of Copper Canyon Press.

My 16-month old daughter wakes from her nap
and cries. I pick her up, press her against my chest

and rub her back until my palm warms
like an old family quilt. “Daddy’s here, daddy’s here,”

I whisper. Here is the island of Oʻahu, 8,500 miles
from Syria. But what if Pacific trade winds suddenly

became helicopters? Flames, nails, and shrapnel
indiscriminately barreling towards us? What if shadows

cast against our windows aren’t plumeria
tree branches, but soldiers and terrorists marching

in heat? Would we reach the desperate boats of
the Mediterranean in time? If we did, could I straighten

my legs into a mast, balanced against the pull and drift
of the current? “Daddy’s here, daddy’s here,” I

whisper. But am I strong enough to carry her across
the razor wires of sovereign borders and ethnic

hatred? Am I strong enough to plead: “please, help
us, please, just let us pass, please, we aren’t

suicide bombs.” Am I strong enough to keep walking
even after my feet crack like Halaby pepper fields after

five years of drought, after this drought of humanity.
Trains and buses rock back and forth to detention centers.

Yet what if we didn’t make landfall? What if here
capsized? Could you inflate your body into a buoy

to hold your child above rising waters? “Daddy’s
here, daddy’s here,” I whisper. Drowning is

the last lullaby of the sea. I lay my daughter
onto bed, her breath finally as calm as low tide.

To all the parents who brave the crossing: you and your
children matter. I hope your love will teach the nations

that emit the most carbon and violence that they should,
instead, remit the most compassion. I hope, soon,

the only difference between a legal refugee and
an illegal migrant will be how willing

we are to open our homes, offer refuge, and
carry each other towards the horizon of care.
 

Copyright © 2016 by Craig Santos Perez. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 11, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

He had driven half the night
From far down San Joaquin
Through Mariposa, up the
Dangerous Mountain roads,
And pulled in at eight a.m.
With his big truckload of hay
        behind the barn.
With winch and ropes and hooks
We stacked the bales up clean
To splintery redwood rafters
High in the dark, flecks of alfalfa
Whirling through shingle-cracks of light,
Itch of haydust in the 
        sweaty shirt and shoes.
At lunchtime under Black oak
Out in the hot corral,
---The old mare nosing lunchpails,
Grasshoppers crackling in the weeds---
"I'm sixty-eight" he said,
"I first bucked hay when I was seventeen.
I thought, that day I started,
I sure would hate to do this all my life.
And dammit, that's just what
I've gone and done."

From Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems by Gary Snyder, published by North Point Press. Copyright © 1958, 1959, 1965 Gary Snyder. Used with permission.

and if
I were to say

I love you and
I do love you

and I say it
now and again

and again
would you say

parataxis
would you see

the world revolves
anew

its axis
you

From Same Life by Maureen McLane. Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2008 by Maureen McLane. All rights reserved.

As the leaves turn their backs on us
And the lilac gives over to dusk, nothing
Is ever certain, not even the house, stubborn

In twilight as it outlasts the grove
It was wrestled from. Those left behind,
The oak and ancient elm, lean against each other

As if in consent. Out of dirt, out of
Some small mistake, comes the seedling;
It too has learned to watch, as we walk in and out

Of what wilderness was, and will again become,
As we enter our home, the way we enter love
Returning from elsewhere to call out
Each other’s names, pulling the door closed behind us.

Sophie Cabot Black, “Our House” from The Exchange (Graywolf Press, 2013). Copyright © 2013 by Sophie Cabot Black. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc. on behalf of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org.

Lately my 84-year-old mother’s been
hearing noises: a party in the street below
her bedroom window—gruff men cursing,
a woman’s shrieking laughter, beer cans going
“dink” off the concrete. Finally she got the nerve
to peek out: nothing but a street light. Sounds
coming from inside her, she says: pops, clicks,
swooshes, gongs, alarms, heavy steps pounding
through her as if someone’s stumbling around
on the roof. Her cellphone rings. “Hello?” No
answer from its flat, gray face. A fist pounding
on the door she never used to lock—so hard she
feared the wood would split—but the peephole:
empty. A voice in the middle of the night: “Joann!”—
impatient to get her attention, clear as day, she said.
“That must be terrifying,” I said. She giggled,
“I don’t know but it was really something!
You know that poem ‘I Sing the Body Electric’?”
“Of course. Did you recognize the voice?” I asked.
“It must’ve been my mother because she called me
‘Joann!’” she imitated her mother’s scolding voice
“in just that way.” “A woman?” I asked. “Yes,
and a stranger might call me, ‘Jody.’” “Yes,”
I agreed, so at least it’s someone who knows her.

Copyright © 2016 by Jennifer L. Knox. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 12, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

As no assistance could be expected
of the ocean, I turned to the trumpeting
tunnel of sky and rummaged
the tops of plum birch turning
their leaves like coins, then
to the tumbler sweating
on the porch rail. The sky,
the color of whale oil. The wind,
a box of uncolored letters. And so
I was gris-gris with my lichen hair
and moonstone wound
around my neck, a raccoon
stuck under an electric
fence, or a photo showing
only one wick at a séance.
How to unpin this particular
corner of sky? I sing
an antler song to find
you, but there’s no trace
of the sky in the sky. I’ll have to
collapse the air to find you.

Copyright © 2016 by Sarah Messer. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 11, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Twilight—and you
Quiet—the stars;
Snare of the shine of your teeth,
Your provocative laughter,
The gloom of your hair;
Lure of you, eye and lip;
Yearning, yearning,
Languor, surrender;
Your mouth,
And madness, madness,
Tremulous, breathless, flaming,
The space of a sigh;
Then awakening—remembrance,
Pain, regret—your sobbing;
And again, quiet—the stars,
Twilight—and you.

This poem is in the public domain.

They were not kidding
when they said they were blinded
by a vision of love.

It was not just a manner
of speaking or feeling
though it’s hard to say

how the dead
really felt harder
even than knowing the living.

You are so opaque
to me your brief moments
of apparent transparency

seem fraudulent windows
in a Brutalist structure
everyone admires.

The effort your life
requires exhausts me.
I am not kidding.

Copyright © 2013 by Maureen McLane. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on July 1, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Do not hang your head or clench your fists
when even your friend, after hearing the story,
says: My mother would never put up with that.

Fight the urge to rattle off statistics: that,
more often, a woman who chooses to leave
is then murdered. The hundredth time

your father says, But she hated violence,
why would she marry a guy like that?—
don’t waste your breath explaining, again,

how abusers wait, are patient, that they
don’t beat you on the first date, sometimes
not even the first few years of a marriage.

Keep an impassive face whenever you hear
Stand by Your Man, and let go your rage
when you recall those words were advice

given your mother. Try to forget the first
trial, before she was dead, when the charge
was only attempted murder; don’t belabor

the thinking or the sentence that allowed
her ex-husband’s release a year later, or
the juror who said, It’s a domestic issue—

they should work it out themselves. Just
breathe when, after you read your poems
about grief, a woman asks: Do you think

your mother was weak for men? Learn
to ignore subtext. Imagine a thought-
cloud above your head, dark and heavy

with the words you cannot say; let silence
rain down. Remember you were told
by your famous professor, that you should

write about something else, unburden
yourself of the death of your mother and
just pour your heart out in the poems.

Ask yourself what’s in your heart, that
reliquary—blood locket and seed-bed—and
contend with what it means, the folk-saying

you learned from a Korean poet in Seoul:
that one does not bury the mother’s body
in the ground but in the chest, or—like you—

you carry her corpse on your back.

Copyright © 2016 by Natasha Trethewey. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 25, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don't tell! they'd advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!

Poetry used by permission of the publishers and the Trustees of Amherst College from The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Ralph W. Franklin ed., Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Copyright © 1998 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © 1951, 1955, 1979 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.

Your postcard said, Nothing like a little disaster to sort things out.

Blueprints, sketches, such perfect houses in the photograph on the front,
all the lines true and in harmony. I took it with me like a paper charm,

searching for home, hit the road, looking for the exact spot
of my birthright, down the rustling path of thistles and nettles,

under a leaden sky, in the place where God once lifted the home by its hair,
nothing left but the kitchen and the bathtub where we all hid. The supper table

picked up and carried to the county over and laid so gently down.

When I saw you last in the bar in Brooklyn, you told me to sing. But I couldn’t

even speak. I laid my head in your lap, drunk at two am and felt your hand
resting across my back, reluctant, unsure of what I wanted, but knowing

it was a want too much for anyone to give in to, a halter
broke, some rip.

The skeletons of the trees are coming back to life now, sap like stars
risen again. Most anything torn can be mended. No real permanent damage.

The land where the house was

goes back to the plum-colored dusk, hooks and hoods of the hawks
perching in the Hemlocks, clouds and mounds of nebulae in the sky in the pitch night.

Frank Lloyd Wright said, nature will never fail you, though, I suppose it depends
on what you mean by fail. It’ll kill you for sure, Great Revelator.

You can hear the wilderness ad-libbing its prayers in the whip-poor-will and the cypress,
in the percussion and boom of bittern in the bulrushes.

Dead is the mandible, alive the song, wrote Nabokov.

The bones of our houses, the house of our bones
dropped in a sudden blur of wind and wings,

but our voices still throb and palpitate somewhere, by some rapture,
in memory’s ear, in the fluttering pages, behind the stars.

I have a song now I want to sing to you, but you’re long gone.
When you said I’m here for you, was that a promise?

Overwhelm,

to bury or drown beneath a huge mass

Whelmen: to turn upside down

To turn over and over like a boat washed over and overset by a wave

To bring to ruin.

The end of one part of the world, a story that no longer has a witness.

But I’ll sing it to myself. I’ll sing it to the small moth,
the size of scarcely a word,

Ad libitum, according to my desire.

Copyright © 2016 by Heather Derr-Smith. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 19, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

1992

1) I was born in a Free City, near the North Sea.

2) In the year of my birth, money was shredded into 
confetti. A loaf of bread cost a million marks. Of 
course I do not remember this.

3) Parents and grandparents hovered around me. The 
world I lived in had a soft voice and no claws.

4) A cornucopia filled with treats took me into a building 
with bells. A wide-bosomed teacher took me in.

5) At home the bookshelves connected heaven and earth.

6) On Sundays the city child waded through pinecones 
and primrose marshes, a short train ride away.

7) My country was struck by history more deadly than 
earthquakes or hurricanes.

8) My father was busy eluding the monsters. My mother 
told me the walls had ears. I learned the burden of secrets.

9) I moved into the too bright days, the too dark nights 
of adolescence.

10) Two parents, two daughters, we followed the sun 
and the moon across the ocean. My grandparents stayed 
behind in darkness.

11) In the new language everyone spoke too fast. Eventually 
I caught up with them.

12) When I met you, the new language became the language 
of love.

13) The death of the mother hurt the daughter into poetry. 
The daughter became a mother of daughters.

14) Ordinary life: the plenty and thick of it. Knots tying 
threads to everywhere. The past pushed away, the future left 
unimagined for the sake of the glorious, difficult, passionate 
present.

15) Years and years of this.

16) The children no longer children. An old man's pain, an 
old man's loneliness.

17) And then my father too disappeared.

18) I tried to go home again. I stood at the door to my 
childhood, but it was closed to the public.

19) One day, on a crowded elevator, everyone's face was younger 
than mine.

20) So far, so good. The brilliant days and nights are 
breathless in their hurry. We follow, you and I.

From Alive Together: New and Selected Poems by Lisel Mueller, published by Louisiana State University Press. Copyright © 1996 by Lisel Mueller. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

The only thing I miss about Los Angeles

is the Hollywood Freeway at midnight, windows down and
radio blaring
bearing right into the center of the city, the Capitol Tower
on the right, and beyond it, Hollywood Boulevard
blazing

—pimps, surplus stores, footprints of the stars

—descending through the city
                   fast as the law would allow

through the lights, then rising to the stack
out of the city
to the stack where lanes are stacked six deep

              and you on top; the air
              now clean, for a moment weightless

                        without memories, or
                        need for a past.



The need for the past

is so much at the center of my life
I write this poem to record my discovery of it,
my reconciliation.

                   It was in Bishop, the room was done
in California plush: we had gone into the coffee shop, were told
you could only get a steak in the bar:
                                      I hesitated,
not wanting to be an occasion of temptation for my father

but he wanted to, so we entered

a dark room, with amber water glasses, walnut
tables, captain's chairs,
plastic doilies, papier-mâché bas-relief wall ballerinas,
German memorial plates "bought on a trip to Europe,"
Puritan crosshatch green-yellow wallpaper,
frilly shades, cowhide 
booths—

I thought of Cambridge:

                   the lovely congruent elegance
                   of Revolutionary architecture, even of

ersatz thirties Georgian

seemed alien, a threat, sign
of all I was not—

to bode order and lucidity

as an ideal, if not reality—

not this California plush, which

                       also

I was not.

And so I made myself an Easterner,
finding it, after all, more like me
than I had let myself hope.

         And now, staring into the embittered face of 
         my father,

again, for two weeks, as twice a year,
     I was back.

              The waitress asked us if we wanted a drink.
Grimly, I waited until he said no...



Before the tribunal of the world I submit the following
document:

         Nancy showed it to us,
in her apartment at the model,
as she waited month by month
for the property settlement, her children grown
and working for their father,
at fifty-three now alone, 
a drink in her hand:

                   as my father said,
"They keep a drink in her hand":

                                  Name   Wallace du Bois
                                  Box No  128     Chino, Calif.
                                  Date   July  25   ,19 54

Mr Howard Arturian
     I am writing a letter to you this afternoon while I'm in the
mood of writing. How is everything getting along with you these
fine days, as for me everything is just fine and I feel great except for 
the heat I think its lot warmer then it is up there but I don't mind
it so much. I work at the dairy half day and I go to trade school the
other half day Body & Fender, now I am learning how to spray
paint cars I've already painted one and now I got another car to
paint. So now I think I've learned all I want after I have learned all
this. I know how to straighten metals and all that. I forgot to say
"Hello" to you. The reason why I am writing to you is about a job,
my Parole Officer told me that he got letter from and that you want
me to go to work for you. So I wanted to know if its truth. When
I go to the Board in Feb. I'll tell them what I want to do and where
I would like to go, so if you want me to work for you I'd rather have
you sent me to your brother John in Tonapah and place to stay for
my family. The Old Lady says the same thing in her last letter that 
she would be some place else then in Bishop, thats the way I feel
too.and another thing is my drinking problem. I made up my mind
to quit my drinking, after all what it did to me and what happen.
     This is one thing I'll never forget as longs as I live I never want
to go through all this mess again. This sure did teach me lot of things
that I never knew before. So Howard you can let me know soon
as possible. I sure would appreciate it.

P.S                                    From Your Friend
I hope you can read my                 Wally Du Bois
writing. I am a little nervous yet

—He and his wife had given a party, and
one of the guests was walking away
just as Wallace started backing up his car.
He hit him, so put the body in the back seat
and drove to a deserted road.
There he put it before the tires, and
ran back and forth over it several times.

When he got out of Chino, he did,
indeed, never do that again:
but one child was dead, his only son,
found with the rest of the family
immobile in their beds with typhoid,
next to the mother, the child having been
dead two days:

he continued to drink, and as if it were the Old West
shot up the town a couple of Saturday nights.

"So now I think I've learned all I want
after I have learned all this: this sure did teach me a lot of things
that I never knew before.
I am a little nervous yet."

It seems to me
an emblem of Bishop—



For watching the room, as the waitresses in their
back-combed, Parisian, peroxided, bouffant hairdos,
and plastic belts,
moved back and forth

I thought of Wallace, and
the room suddenly seemed to me
         not uninteresting at all:

         they were the same. Every plate and chair

         had its congruence with

         all the choices creating

         these people, created

         by them—by me,

for this is my father's chosen country, my origin.

Before, I had merely been anxious, bored; now,
I began to ask a thousand questions...




He was, of course, mistrustful, knowing I was bored,
knowing he had dragged me up here from Bakersfield

after five years

of almost managing to forget Bishop existed.

But he soon became loquacious, ordered a drink,
and settled down for 
an afternoon of talk...

He liked Bishop: somehow, it was to his taste, this
hard-drinking, loud, visited-by-movie-stars town.
"Better to be a big fish in a little pond."

And he was: when they came to shoot a film,
he entertained them; Miss A—, who wore
nothing at all under her mink coat; Mr. M—,
good horseman, good shot.

"But when your mother 
let me down" (for alcoholism and
infidelity, she divorced him)
"and Los Angeles wouldn't give us water any more,
I had to leave.

We were the first people to grow potatoes in this valley."

When he began to tell me
that he lost control of the business
because of the settlement he gave my mother,

because I had heard it 
many times,

in revenge, I asked why people up here drank so much.

He hesitated. "Bored, I guess.
—Not much to do."

And why had Nancy's husband left her?

In bitterness, all he said was:
"People up here drink too damn much."

And that was how experience
had informed his life.

"So now I think I've learned all I want
after I have learned all this: this sure did teach me a lot of things
that I never knew before.
I am a little nervous yet."



Yet, as my mother said,
returning, as always, to the past,

"I wouldn't change any of it.
It taught me so much. Gladys
is such an innocent creature: you look into her face
and somehow it's empty, all she worries about
are sales and the baby.
her husband's too good!"

It's quite pointless to call this rationalization:
my mother, for uncertain reasons, has had her
bout with insanity, but she's right:

the past in maiming us,
makes us,
fruition
         is also
destruction:

              I think of Proust, dying
in a cork-linked room, because he refuses to eat
because he thinks that he cannot write if he eats
because he wills to write, to finish his novel

—his novel which recaptures the past, and
with a kind of joy, because
in the debris
of the past, he has found the sources of the necessities

which have led him to this room, writing

—in this strange harmony, does he will
for it to have been different?

              And I can't not think of the remorse of Oedipus,

who tries to escape, to expiate the past
by blinding himself, and
then, when he is dying, sees that he has become a Daimon

—does he, discovering, at last, this cruel
coherence created by 
                   "the order of the universe"

—does he will 
anything reversed?



                   I look at my father:
as he drinks his way into garrulous, shaky
defensiveness, the debris of the past
is just debris—; whatever I reason, it is a desolation
to watch...

must I watch?
He will not change; he does not want to change;

every defeated gesture implies
the past is useless, irretrievable...
—I want to change: I want to stop fear's subtle

guidance of my life—; but, how can I do that
if I am still
afraid of its source?

From In the Western Night: Collected Poems 1965-1990, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1990. Copyright © 1973 by Frank Bidart. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

I dig her up and plop her down in a wicker chair.
She’s going to make applesauce and I’m going to get drunk.
She’s cutting worms out of the small green apples from the
     backyard
and I’m opening a bottle. It erects like a tower
in the city of my mouth.

The way she makes applesauce, it has ragged
strips of skin and spreads thickly over toast.
It’s famous; eating it is as close to God as I’m going to get,
but I don’t tell her. There’s a dishtowel wrapped around her head
to keep her jaw from falling slack—

Everything hurts.
But I don’t tell her that either. I have to stand at the call box
and see what words I can squeeze in. I’m getting worried.
If I dig her up and put her down in the wicker chair
I’d better be ready for the rest of the family

to make a fuss about it. I’d better bring her back right.
The whole house smells of cinnamon and dust.
We don’t speak. She’s piling up the worms, half-alive
in a silver bowl, she’s throwing them back into the ground
right where her body should be.

Copyright © 2014 by Bianca Stone. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on March 14, 2014. 

Here you go
light low and long
in the fields
at sunset and sunrise
Everything twice
a doubled existence
two nows
two thens
two names
yours and the other one
also yours
folded into a paper boat
the points of which
constellate stars

Copyright © 2017 by Carl Adamshick. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 18, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

My mother weeping
in the dark hallway, in the arms of a man,
not my father,
as I sat at the top of the stairs unnoticed—
my mother weeping and pleading 
for what I didn’t know and can still only imagine—
for things to be somehow other than they were,
not knowing what I would change,
for, or to, or why,
only that my mother was weeping
in the arms of a man not me,
and the rain brought down the winter sky
and hid me in the walls that looked on,
indifferent to my mother’s weeping,
or mine,
in the rain that brought down the dark afternoon.

From A Primer on Parallel Lives by Dan Gerber. Copyright © 2007 by Dan Gerber. Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press.

What little I know, I hold closer, 
more dear, especially now
that I take the daily
reinvention of loss as my teacher.
I will never graduate from this college,
whose M.A. translates
“Master of Absence,”
with a subtext in the imperative:
Misplace Anything.
If there’s anything I want, it’s that more
people I love join the search party.
You were once renowned
among friends for your luck
in retrieving from the wayside
the perfect bowl for the kitchen,
or a hand carved deer, a pencil drawn
portrait of a young girl
whose brimming innocence
still makes me ache. Now
the daily litany of common losses
goes like this: Do you have
your wallet, keys, glasses, gloves,
giraffe? Oh dear, I forgot
my giraffe—that’s the preferred
response, but no: it’s usually
the glasses, the gloves, the wallet.
The keys I’ve hidden. 
I’ve signed you up for “safe return”
with a medallion (like a diploma)
on a chain about your neck.

Okay, today, this writing, 
I’m amused by the art of losing.  
I bow to Elizabeth Bishop, I try 
“losing faster”—but when I get 
frantic, when I’ve lost
my composure, my nerve, my patience, 
my compassion, I have only
what little I know
to save me. Here’s what I know:
it’s not absence I fear, but anonymity.
I remember taking a deep breath, 
stopped in my tracks.  I’d been
looking for an important document 
I had myself misplaced; 
high and low, no luck yet.  
I was “beside myself,”
so there may have indeed been
my double running the search party.
“Stop,” you said gently.  “I’ll go
get Margaret. She’ll know where it is.”
“But I’m Margaret,” I wailed.
“No, no.” You held out before me
a copy of one of my books,
pointing to the author’s photograph,
someone serious and composed.
“You know her. Margaret 
Gibson, the poet.” We looked 
into each others’ eyes a long time. 
The earth tilted on its axis, 
and what we were looking for,
each other and ourselves,
took the tilt, and we slid into each others’ arms, 
holding on for dear life, holding on. 

Copyright © 2014 by Margaret Gibson. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on March 18, 2014. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

There must be soft words
for an evening like this, when the breeze
caresses like gentle fingertips
all over. I don’t know

how not to write darkly and sad.
But it’s two years today since
my little girl was born, cut safely
from the noose.

We meant nothing but hope;
how near death is to that.

Only children, only some children,
get to run free from these snags. She
was born! She lived and she grows
like joy spreading from the syllables

of songs. She reminds me of now
and now and now.
                            I must learn
to have been so lucky.

Copyright @ 2014 by Craig Morgan Teicher. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on May 22, 2014.

In the days when I wrote shorts stories
and still didn't know how dreadful they were,

when I used the real names of everyone 
I knew, I could not imagine

anything other than how they dressed,
what they ate, and why they did the expected.

And I didn't notice across the river
and overcast afternoon in Manhattan, or see

the girl who's taken to the children's bookstore
where her favorite author signs his latest work.

Her mother, who's recently divorced
and would never describe herself as impulsive

discovers she's attracted to the man,
and while afterward her daughter pretends

to examine the displays of books, the woman
invites him to their apartment for dinner.

The shop where this will happen is small
but well situated, filling steady orders

from the private schools that seem to be 
on every other block. The girl, who's seven

and still loves being read to, is in her room
that looks across to Riverside Park. 

A wall calendar reads 1980,
which seems right for the styles of dresses

hanging in her closet, or the pink
record player that sits in one corner

and is living on borrowed time. In the kitchen
she has to be told more than once to eat lunch,

but she is thinking about later, and while
she isn't sure what will happen at the bookshop,

she dreams of discouraging clouds 
which shadow the other children,

that rain will punish their beautiful mothers,
though none as beautiful as hers,

and she can see―seated at a table,
fountain pen in his long fingers

and waiting patiently, the handsome prince
whose story she will write without my help.

Copyright © 2013 David Petruzelli. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Spring 2013.

between the blind and the sill, nothing
really. There are so many things
 
that destroy. To think solely of them
is as foolish and expedient as not 
 
thinking of them at all. All I want 
is to be the river though I return 
 
again and again to the clouds. 
All I want is to stop beginning sentences 
 
with All I want. No—no really all
I want is this morning: my daughter 
 
and my son saying “Da!” back and forth 
over breakfast, cracking each other up 
 
while eating peanut butter toast 
and raspberries, making a place for 
 
the two of them I will, eventually,
no longer be allowed to enter. Time to be 
 
the fine line. Time to practice being 
the line. And then maybe the darkness. 
 

Copyright © 2017 by Carrie Fountain. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 19, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Sonnets are full of love, and this my tome
      Has many sonnets: so here now shall be
   One sonnet more, a love sonnet, from me
To her whose heart is my heart’s quiet home,
   To my first Love, my Mother, on whose knee
I learnt love-lore that is not troublesome;
   Whose service is my special dignity,
And she my loadstar while I go and come.
And so because you love me, and because
   I love you, Mother, I have woven a wreath
      Of rhymes wherewith to crown your honoured name:
      In you not fourscore years can dim the flame
Of love, whose blessed glow transcends the laws
   Of time and change and mortal life and death.

This poem is in the public domain.

Your love was like moonlight
turning harsh things to beauty,
so that little wry souls
reflecting each other obliquely
as in cracked mirrors . . .
beheld in your luminous spirit
their own reflection,
transfigured as in a shining stream,
and loved you for what they are not.

You are less an image in my mind
than a luster
I see you in gleams
pale as star-light on a gray wall . . .
evanescent as the reflection of a white swan
shimmering in broken water.

This poem is in the public domain. It poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on May 12, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.  

when did we become friends?
it happened so gradual i didn’t notice
maybe i had to get my run out first
take a big bite of the honky world and choke on it
maybe that’s what has to happen with some uppity youngsters
if it happens at all

and now
the thought stark and irrevocable
of being here without you
shakes me

beyond love, fear, regret or anger
into that realm children go
who want to care for/protect their parents
as if they could
and sometimes the lucky ones do

into the realm of making every moment
important
laughing as though laughter wards off death
each word given
received like spanish eight

treasure to bury within
against that shadow day
when it will be the only coin i possess
with which to buy peace of mind

From Heavy Daughter Blues by Wanda Coleman. Copyright © 1987 by Wanda Coleman. Reprinted by permission of Black Sparrow Press, an imprint of David R. Godine, Publisher.

imagine your heart is just a ball you learned to dribble up
and down the length of your driveway back home. slow down

control it. plant your feet in the soft blue of your mat and release
it is hard but slowly you are unlearning the shallow pant

of your childhood. extend your body—do not reach
for someone but something fixed and fleshless and certain—

fold flatten then lift your head like a cobra sure of the sun
waiting and ready to caress the chill

from its scales. inhale—try not to remember how desperate
you’ve been for touch—yes ignore it—that hitch of your heart

you got from mornings you woke to find momma hysterical
or gone. try to give up the certainty she’d never return

recall only the return and not its coldness. imagine her arms
wide to receive you imagine you are not a thing that needs

escaping. it is hard and though at times you are sure
you will always be the abandoned girl trying to abandon herself

push up arch deep into your back exhale and remember—
when it is too late to pray the end of the flood

we pray instead to survive it.

Copyright © 2018 by Brionne Janae. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 22, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

When I woke for school the next day the sky was uniform & less than infinite

with the confusion of autumn & my father

as he became distant with disease the way a boy falls beneath the ice,
before the men that cannot save him—

the cold like a forever on his lips.

Soon, he was never up before us & we’d jump on the bed,
wake up, wake up,

& my sister’s hair was still in curls then, & my favorite photograph still hung:
my father’s back to us, leading a bicycle uphill.

At the top, the roads vanish & turn—

the leaves leant yellow in a frozen sprint of light, & there, the forward motion.

The nights I laid in the crutch of my parents’ doorway & dreamt awake,
listened like a field of snow,

I heard no answer. Then sleepless slept in my own arms beneath the window
to the teacher’s blank & lull—

Mrs. Belmont’s lesson on Eden that year. Autumn: dusk:

my bicycle beside me in the withered & yet-to-be leaves,

& my eyes closed fast beneath the mystery of migration, the flock’s rippled wake:

Copyright © 2018 by Andrés Cerpa. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 7, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

              for Dad

I’m writing you
         10 years later
    & 2,000 miles
                 Away from 
    Our silence
My mouth a cave
That had collapsed 
      I’m writing
  While you 
You wear the
                Hospital gown & 
          count failures
  Such as the body’s 
Inability to rise
             I see your fingers 
Fumbling in the
       Pillbox     as if
             Earthquakes are in
    Your hands
                I think it’s time
    For us to  abandon
Our cruelties
             For us to speak
So     s    o    f    t 
We’re barely
                Human.

Copyright © 2018 by Christopher Soto. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 2, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

One Sister have I in our house -	
And one a hedge away.	
There's only one recorded,	
But both belong to me.	
  
One came the way that I came -	        
And wore my past year's gown -	
The other as a bird her nest,	
Builded our hearts among.	
  
She did not sing as we did -	
It was a different tune	-     
Herself to her a Music	
As Bumble-bee of June.	
  
Today is far from Childhood -
But up and down the hills	
I held her hand the tighter -	        
Which shortened all the miles -	
  
And still her hum 
The years among,	
Deceives the Butterfly;	
Still in her Eye 
The Violets lie	
Mouldered this many May.	        
  
I spilt the dew -
But took the morn, -	
I chose this single star	
From out the wide night's numbers -	
Sue - forevermore!

This poem is in the public domain.

for Otis Douglas Smith, my father

The recipe for hot water cornbread is simple:
Cornmeal, hot water. Mix till sluggish,
then dollop in a sizzling skillet.
When you smell the burning begin, flip it.
When you smell the burning begin again,
dump it onto a plate. You’ve got to wait
for the burning and get it just right.

Before the bread cools down,
smear it with sweet salted butter
and smash it with your fingers,
crumple it up in a bowl
of collard greens or buttermilk,
forget that I’m telling you it’s the first thing
I ever cooked, that my daddy was laughing
and breathing and no bullet in his head
when he taught me.

Mix it till it looks like quicksand, he’d say.
Till it moves like a slow song sounds.

We’d sit there in the kitchen, licking our fingers
and laughing at my mother,
who was probably scrubbing something with bleach,
or watching Bonanza,
or thinking how stupid it was to be burning
that nasty old bread in that cast iron skillet.
When I told her that I’d made my first-ever pan
of hot water cornbread, and that my daddy
had branded it glorious, she sniffed and kept
mopping the floor over and over in the same place.

So here’s how you do it:

You take out a bowl, like the one
we had with blue flowers and only one crack,
you put the cornmeal in it.
Then you turn on the hot water and you let it run
while you tell the story about the boy
who kissed your cheek after school
or about how you really want to be a reporter
instead of a teacher or nurse like Mama said,
and the water keeps running while Daddy says
You will be a wonderful writer
and you will be famous someday and when
you get famous, if I wrote you a letter and
send you some money, would you write about me?


and he is laughing and breathing and no bullet
in his head. So you let the water run into this mix
till it moves like mud moves at the bottom of a river,
which is another thing Daddy said, and even though
I’d never even seen a river,
I knew exactly what he meant.
Then you turn the fire way up under the skillet,
and you pour in this mix
that moves like mud moves at the bottom of a river,
like quicksand, like slow song sounds.
That stuff pops something awful when it first hits
that blazing skillet, and sometimes Daddy and I
would dance to those angry pop sounds,
he’d let me rest my feet on top of his
while we waltzed around the kitchen
and my mother huffed and puffed
on the other side of the door. When you are famous,
Daddy asks me, will you write about dancing
in the kitchen with your father?
I say everything I write will be about you,
then you will be famous too. And we dip and swirl
and spin, but then he stops.
And sniffs the air.

The thing you have to remember
about hot water cornbread
is to wait for the burning
so you know when to flip it, and then again
so you know when it’s crusty and done.
Then eat it the way we did,
with our fingers,
our feet still tingling from dancing.
But remember that sometimes the burning
takes such a long time,
and in that time,
sometimes,

poems are born.

From Teahouse of the Almighty (Coffee House Press, 2006). Copyright © 2006 by Patricia Smith. Used with permission of Coffee House Press.

          I.
living by your words
as if I haven’t enough of my own
ever
to make them stretch
that long distance
from home to here
from then to now.

and all the new words
i’ve ever read learned
or shelved so neatly
can’t explain myself to me
like yours always do.

sometimes that one gesture
of your chin and lips
my memory of
that sideways movement of your eyes
are the only words
from that language
i can manage
put things in their place

          II.
walked in on you today
closed the screened door quietly
so you wouldn’t notice
just yet
stood watched you
mumbling shuffling about the kitchen
your long yellow gray braid
hanging heavy down your back 

wanted to see you turn
just that way
hear that familiar exclamation
you snapping the dishtowel
landing it just short of me
shame on me for surprising you

you walk toward me laughing
don’t change anything i chant silently
wiping your hands on your faded print apron
you lay them gently still damp cool
one on each side of my face
for that long long second

When’d you come? Sit down, I’m making breakfast.
i watch the wrinkled loose flesh jiggle on your arms
as you reach to wind and pin your braid
hurry to find your teeth behind the water pail
pull up your peanut butter stockings
pull down your flowered house dress
and wet your fingers
to smooth the hair back behind your ears

          III.
smoothing away time with the fluid line
of your memory
i am in place at your table
in the morning damp of your still dark kitchen
i wait for you to come

stepping through the curtained doorway
you enter intent on this day
restart the fire
fill place the kettle
pull open the kitchen door
inviting daylight to come
welcoming it into your house—
bringing it into mine.

From Trailing You (Greenfield Review Press, 1994). Copyright © 1994 by Kimberly Blaeser. Used with the permission of the author.

He says I live far-far away as we build a robot
out of blocks. The heart's a dollar music box
 
he chose on his last birthday wringing every
handle for the song about a star. This year
 
a star ornament dashed all colors by an artist
the summer he was born. We hung it by
 
his window like the star he sings about at night.
 
It's not a star that fell inward long ago as its light
fled out. Every troubled night that first year
 
of his life I held him on my chest and called
his name into his sleep until he calmed
 
enough to watch the moon arc past the blinds
above us. Do you have two hearts
 
because you're a boy and a girl? You're a girl
but you're my dad and not and then he says
 
his mother’s partner’s name. Nothing changes
until it must I told myself when I lay down
 
on the surgeon’s table. Drowsy now he sings
again about the star which is a song about
 
a traveler grateful for the light to chart a course. 

Copyright © 2019 by Jordan Rice. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 30, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

As for living to the side of yourself like a pile of rice
                        in the vicinity of the fish (as for being an eye-self
                                    hanging above a body-self

content with separating cowboy stuff
                        from G.I. Joe stuff from Batman boxer shorts):
                                    yeah, I’ve been there, I know what you mean,

don’t get me started.  There were, in fact,
                        ten rooms in one house. 
                                    And dust and a couch and dirt and lamps. 

I was thus the body of the two hands
                        and the body of the feet
                                    becoming somehow

the body primarily of the mouth
                        demanding bleach.  It’s not that I was
                                    pitiful.  It was more like:

who else would eradicate
                        this rotten scattering of skin flakes
                                    and hair and spiders

and such?  Who else would swab the spit? 
                        So sure it was wholesome at the river
                                    when I was a new mom

but creepy is the point
                        to live for the wiping of boots
                                    and the soaking of jackets
                                   
with my mouth open and my poor tongue sticking out
                        like I was hoping to comprehend
                                    what was wrong

with being mostly as I say
                        just the eye part of something
                                    soaking in the grimy particles

while all the other girls went on being actual girls
                        and I’m sorry to have to say this
                                    since I know it’s upsetting
                                   
but that’s the way it was; I appreciate your asking
                        come again real soon
                                    be careful watch your step.

From Live from the Homesick Jamboree (Wesleyan University Press, 2009). Copyright © 2009 by Adrian Blevins. Used with the permission of the author.

I

Ulcerated tooth keeps me awake, there is
such pain, would have to go to the hospital to have
it pulled or would bleed to death from the blood thinners,
but can't leave Mother, she falls and forgets her salve
and her tranquilizers, her ankles swell so and her bowels
are so bad, she almost had a stoppage and sometimes
what she passes is green as grass.  There are big holes
in my thigh where my leg brace buckles the size of dimes.
My head pounds from the high pressure.  It is awful
not to be able to get out, and I fell in the bathroom
and the girl could hardly get me up at all.
Sure thought my back was broken, it will be next time.
Prostate is bad and heart has given out,
feel bloated after supper. Have made my peace
because am just plain done for and have no doubt
that the Lord will come any day with my release.
You say you enjoy your feeder, I don't see why
you want to spend good money on grain for birds
and you say you have a hundred sparrows, I'd buy
poison and get rid of their diseases and turds.

II

We enjoyed your visit, it was nice of you to bring
the feeder but a terrible waste of your money
for that big bag of feed since we won't be living
more than a few weeks long.  We can see
them good from where we sit, big ones and little ones
but you know when I farmed I used to like to hunt
and we had many a good meal from pigeons
and quail and pheasant but these birds won't
be good for nothing and are dirty to have so near 
the house.  Mother likes the redbirds though.
My bad knee is so sore and I can't hardly hear
and Mother says she is hoarse from yelling but I know
it's too late for a hearing aid.  I belch up all the time
and have a sour mouth and of course with my heart
it's no use to go to a doctor.  Mother is the same. 
Has a scab she thinks is going to turn to a wart.

III

The birds are eating and fighting, Ha! Ha!  All shapes
and colors and sizes coming out of our woods
but we don't know what they are.  Your Mother hopes
you can send us a kind of book that tells about birds.
There is one the folks called snowbirds, they eat on the ground,
we had the girl sprinkle extra there, but say,
they eat something awful.  I sent the girl to town
to buy some more feed, she had to go anyway.


IV

Almost called you on the telephone
but it costs so much to call thought better write.
Say, the funniest thing is happening, one
day we had so many birds and they fight
and get excited at their feed you know
and it's really something to watch and two or three
flew right at us and crashed into our window
and bang, poor little things knocked themselves silly.  
They come to after while on the ground and flew away.
And they been doing that.  We felt awful
and didn't know what to do but the other day
a lady from our Church drove out to call 
and a little bird knocked itself out while she sat
and she bought it in her hands right into the house,
it looked like dead.  It had a kind of hat
of feathers sticking up on its head, kind of rose
or pinky color, don't know what it was,
and I petted it and it come to life right there
in her hands and she took it out and it flew.  She says
they think the window is the sky on a fair 
day, she feeds birds too but hasn't got
so many.  She says to hang strips of aluminum foil
in the window so we'll do that.  She raved about
our birds.  P.S. The book just come in the mail.


V

Say, that book is sure good, I study
in it every day and enjoy our birds.
Some of them I can't identify
for sure, I guess they're females, the Latin words

I just skip over.  Bet you'd never guess
the sparrow I've got here, House Sparrow you wrote,
but I have Fox Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Vesper Sparrows,
Pine Woods and Tree and Chipping and White Throat
and White Crowned Sparrows.  I have six Cardinals,
three pairs, they come at early morning and night,
the males at the feeder and on the ground the females.
Juncos, maybe 25, they fight
for the ground, that's what they used to call snowbirds.  I miss
the Bluebirds since the weather warmed. Their breast
is the color of a good ripe muskmelon.  Tufted Titmouse
is sort of blue with a little tiny crest.
And I have Flicker and Red-Bellied and Red-
Headed Woodpeckers, you would die laughing
to see Red-Bellied, he hangs on with his head
flat on the board, his tail braced up under,
wing out.  And Dickcissel and Ruby Crowned Kinglet
and Nuthatch stands on his head and Veery on top
the color of a bird dog and Hermit Thrush with spot
on breast, Blue Jay so funny, he will hop
right on the backs of the other birds to get the grain.
We bought some sunflower seeds just for him.
And Purple Finch I bet you never seen,
color of a watermelon, sits on the rim
of the feeder with his streaky wife, and the squirrels,
you know, they are cute too, they sit tall
and eat with their little hands, they eat bucketfuls.
I pulled my own tooth, it didn't bleed at all.


VI

It's sure a surprise how well Mother is doing,
she forgets her laxative but bowels move fine.
Now that windows are open she says our birds sing
all day.  The girl took a Book of Knowledge on loan
from the library and I am reading up
on the habits of birds, did you know some males have three
wives, some migrate some don't.  I am going to keep
feeding all spring, maybe summer, you can see
they expect it.  Will need thistle seed for Goldfinch and Pine
Siskin next winter.  Some folks are going to come see us
from Church, some bird watchers, pretty soon.
They have birds in town but nothing to equal this.


So the world woos its children back for an evening kiss.

From Letters From a Father and Other Poems, by Mona Van Duyn, published by Atheneum. Copyright © 1982 by Mona Van Duyn. Used with permission.

i.           

I’ve pulled from my throat birdsong like tin-
sheeted lullaby [its vicious cold        its hoax of wings]
the rest of us forest folk       dark angels chafing rabbits-
foot for luck     thrum-necked     wear the face of
nothing       we’ve changed       the Zodiac & I
have refused a little planet little sum for struggle & sailed
ourselves summerlong & arbitrary as a moon grave
across a vastness        [we’ve left the child-
ren]      Named the place penni-
less motherhood      Named the place country
of mothers      Named the place anywhere but death by self-

ii.           

infliction is a god of many faces      many nothings     
I’m afraid I’ll never be whole     I’m afraid
the rope from the hardware store [screws for nails]
will teach itself to knot      I’ve looked up noose I’ve
learned to twine but these babies now
halfway pruned through the clean bathwater of childhood
I promised a god I would take to the ledge
& show the pinstripes the pinkening strobe-
lights maybe angels chiseled at creation
into the rock [around my neck] the rock in the river
I would never let them see        I would never let them

iii.

break & spend a whole life backing away from that slip—
Let us fly & believe [in the wreck] their perfect hope-
sealed bodies the only parachutes we need

Copyright © 2019 by Jenn Givhan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 15, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Translated from the Georgian by Mary Childs

Today is the First of September and
As natural,
As the sun’s setting and rising,
The flowers’ budding and wilting, 
The healing of open wounds,
And death. 
This isn’t a school bell ringing, 
It’s the bells of a church.
The mothers woke us up from our summer games,
But the fathers took our hands more sternly and
more proudly than never before. 
The fathers left work for the market,
Carrying heavy bags and
All kinds of thoughts and rubbish  
in their heads.
We left toys with wilted smiles on the beds,
Little sisters and brothers in the windows,
Grandmothers who had combed our hair and
Crossed us as we were leaving home,
To meet with God, or our first teachers.  
Here, our empty, silent notebooks,
Here, our unopened books and flat, inanimate illustrations,
The red pens, which retain their strictness, but can’t express it,
A roster, read from the grade book with no answers,
Desks without purpose and
The boards, painted black,
On which is written our first, short history.
Here, our flowers for you, who
Were supposed to open the door of life’s wisdom for us,
But the flowers have chosen a better fate. 
Again, light backpacks
Are hanging like crosses upon our weak shoulders and
White shirts—
Like sacrificial lambs, we make our way to the last class.
Don’t look at the road so often,
We won’t return from here,
We continued our summer games and
We are hiding behind September first.

Originally published in the September 2018 issue of Words Without Borders. © Irakli Kakabadze. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2018 by Mary Childs. All rights reserved.

What remains of my childhood
are the fragmentary visions
of large patios
extending
like an oceanic green mist over the afternoon.

Then, crickets would forge in the wind
their deep music of centuries
and the purple fragrances of Grandmother
always would receive without questions
our return home.

The hammock shivering in the breeze
like the trembling voice of light at dusk,
the unforeseeable future
that would never exist without Mother,
the Tall tales that filled
with their most engaging lunar weight our days
—all those unchangeable things—
were the morning constellations
that we would recognize daily without sadness.

In the tropical days we had no intuition of the winter
nor of autumn, that often returns with pain
in the shadows of this new territory
—like the cold moving through our shivering hands—
that I have learned to accept
in the same way you welcome
the uncertainty of a false and cordial smile.

Those were the days of the solstice
when the wind pushed the smoke from the clay ovens
through the zinc kitchens
and the ancient stone stoves
clearly spoke
of the secrets of our barefooted and wise Indian ancestors.

The beautiful, unformed rocks in our hands
that served as detailed toys
seemed to give us the illusion
of fantastic events
that invaded our joyful chants
with infinite color.

It was a life without seasonal pains,
a life without unredeemable time
a life without the somber dark shadows
that have intently translated my life
that slowly move today through my soul.


 

Todos volvemos al lugar donde nacimos

 

De mi infancia solo quedan
     las visiones fragmentarias
          de los patios tendidos
               como un naval terciopelo sobre la tarde.
 
 Entonces, los grillos cuajaban sobre el aire
     su profunda música de siglos
          y las fragancias empurpuradas de la abuela
               meciéndose en la noche
                    siempre recibían sin preguntas nuestra vuelta al hogar.

La hamaca temblando con la brisa,
como la voz trémula del sol en el ocaso;
el futuro imprevisible
que jamás existiría sin la madre;
las leyendas
cargadas de su peso lunar más devorador;
—todas esas cosas inalterables—
eran las constelaciones diurnas que reconocíamos sin tristeza.

Entonces no se intuía el invierno,
ni el otoño que retoña con dolor
entre las sombras de este territorio
—como el frío entre las manos doblegadas—
que hoy he aprendido
a soportar
de la misma forma en que se acepta
la incertidumbre de una falsa sonrisa.

Eran los días en que el solsticio
acarreaba humaredas polvorientas
por las ventanas de las cocinas de zinc
donde el fogón de barro milenario
decía oscuramente
el secreto de nuestros ancestros sabios y descalzos.

Las rocas deformes en nuestras manos
     parecían darnos
          la ilusión de eventos fabulosos
               que invadían nuestras gargantas de aromas desmedidos.

Era una vida sin dolores estacionales
     Vida sin tiempos irredimibles:
          Vida sin las puras formas sombrías
               que se resbalan hoy lentamente por mi pecho.

From Central America in My Heart / Centroamérica en el corazón. Copyright © 2007, Bilingual Press / Editorial Bilingüe, Arizona State University.

             Time’s going has ebbed the moorings
to the memories that make this city-kid

             part farm-boy. Until a smell close enough to
the sweet-musk of horse tunes my ears back

             to tree frogs blossoming after a country rain.
I’m back among snakes like slugs wedged

             in ankle-high grass, back inside that small
eternity spent searching for soft ground, straining

             not to spill the water-logged heft of a drowned
barn cat carried in the shallow scoop of a shovel.

             And my brother, large on the stairs, crying.
Each shift in the winds of remembering renders me

             immediate again, like ancient valleys reignited
by more lightning. If only I could settle on

             the porch of waiting and listening,
near the big maple bent by children and heat,

             just before the sweeping threat of summer
thunderstorms. We have our places for

             loneliness—that loaded asking of the body.
my mother stands beside the kitchen window, her hands

             no longer in constant motion. And my father
walks along the tired fence, watching horses

             and clouds roll down against the dying light—
I know he wants to become one or the other.

             I want to jar the tenderness of seasons,
to crawl deep into the moment. I’ve come

             to write less fear into the boy running
through the half-dark. I’ve come for the boy.


From Revising the Storm (BOA Editions, 2014) by Geffrey Davis. Copyright © 2014 by Geffrey Davis. Used with permission of the author.

I stood on one foot for three minutes & didn’t tilt
the scales. Do you remember how quickly
 
we scrambled up an oak leaning out over the creek,
how easy to trust the water to break
 
our glorious leaps? The body remembers
every wish one lives for or doesn’t, or even horror.
 
Our dance was a rally in sunny leaves, then quick
as anything, Johnny Dickson was up opening
 
his arms wide in the tallest oak, waving
to the sky, & in the flick of an eye
 
he was a buffalo fish gigged, pleading
for help, voiceless. Bigger & stronger,
 
he knew every turn in the creek past his back door,
but now he was cooing like a brown dove
 
in a trap of twigs. A water-honed spear
of kindling jutted up, as if it were the point
 
of our folly & humbug on a Sunday afternoon, right?
Five of us carried him home through the thicket,
 
our feet cutting a new path, running in sleep
years later. We were young as condom-balloons
 
flowering crabapple trees in double bloom
& had a world of baleful hope & breath.
 
Does Johnny run fingers over the thick welt
on his belly, days we were still invincible?
 
Sometimes I spend half a day feeling for bones
in my body, humming a half-forgotten
 
ballad on a park bench a long ways from home.
The body remembers the berry bushes
 
heavy with sweetness shivering in a lonely woods,
but I doubt it knows words live longer
 
than clay & spit of flesh, as rock-bottom love.
Is it easier to remember pleasure
 
or does hurt ease truest hunger?
That summer, rocking back & forth, uprooting
 
what’s to come, the shadow of the tree
weighed as much as a man.

Copyright © 2019 by Yusef Komunyakaa. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 1, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

While they wait in long lines, legs shifting,
fingers growing tired of holding handrails,
pages of paperwork, give them patience.
Help them to recall the cobalt Mediterranean
or the green valleys full of vineyards and sheep.
When peoples’ words resemble the buzz
of beehives, help them to hear the music
of home, sung from balconies overflowing
with woven rugs and bundled vegetables.
At night, when the worry beads are held
in one palm and a cigarette lit in the other,
give them the memory of their first step
onto solid land, after much ocean, air and clouds,
remind them of the phone call back home saying,
We arrived. Yes, thank God we made it, we are here.

Copyright © 2011 Lory Bedikian. This poem originally appeared in The Book of Lamenting (Anhinga Press, 2011). Used with permission of the author.

 

      In Mexico and Latin America, celebrating one’s
      Saint’s day instead of one’s birthday is common.


I was born in Nogales, Arizona,
On the border between 
Mexico and the United States.

The places in between places
They are like little countries
Themselves, with their own holidays

Taken a little from everywhere.
My Fourth of July is from childhood,
Childhood itself a kind of country, too.

It’s a place that’s far from me now,
A place I'd like to visit again.
The Fourth of July takes me there.

In that childhood place and border place
The Fourth of July, like everything else,
It meant more than just one thing.

In the United States the Fourth of July
It was the United States.
In Mexico it was the día de los Refugios,

The saint’s day of people named Refugio.
I come from a family of people with names,
Real names, not-afraid names, with colors

Like the fireworks: Refugio,
Margarito, Matilde, Alvaro, Consuelo,
Humberto, Olga, Celina, Gilberto.

Names that take a moment to say,
Names you have to practice.
These were the names of saints, serious ones,

And it was right to take a moment with them.
I guess that’s what my family thought.
The connection to saints was strong:

My grandmother’s name—here it comes—
Her name was Refugio,
And my great-grandmother’s name was Refugio,

And my mother-in-law’s name now,
It’s another Refugio, Refugios everywhere,
Refugios and shrimp cocktails and sodas.

Fourth of July was a birthday party
For all the women in my family
Going way back, a party

For everything Mexico, where they came from,
For the other words and the green
Tinted glasses my great-grandmother wore.

These women were me,
What I was before me,
So that birthday fireworks in the evening,

All for them,
This seemed right.
In that way the fireworks were for me, too.

Still, we were in the United States now,
And the Fourth of July,
Well, it was the Fourth of July.

But just what that meant,
In this border place and time,
it was a matter of opinion in my family.

From Celebrate America in Poetry and Art, edited by Nora Panzer and published by Hyperion, in association with the National Museum of Art, Smithsonian Museum, 1994. Copyright © 1994 by Alberto Rios. All rights reserved. Used with permission.