When the doctor suggested surgery
and a brace for all my youngest years,
my parents scrambled to take me
to massage therapy, deep tissue work,
osteopathy, and soon my crooked spine
unspooled a bit, I could breathe again,
and move more in a body unclouded
by pain. My mom would tell me to sing
songs to her the whole forty-five minute
drive to Middle Two Rock Road and forty-
five minutes back from physical therapy.
She’d say, even my voice sounded unfettered
by my spine afterward. So I sang and sang,
because I thought she liked it. I never
asked her what she gave up to drive me,
or how her day was before this chore. Today,
at her age, I was driving myself home from yet
another spine appointment, singing along
to some maudlin but solid song on the radio,
and I saw a mom take her raincoat off
and give it to her young daughter when
a storm took over the afternoon. My god,
I thought, my whole life I’ve been under her
raincoat thinking it was somehow a marvel
that I never got wet.

From The Carrying (Milkweed Editions, 2018) by Ada Limón. Copyright © 2018 by Ada Limón. Used with the permission of Milkweed Editions. milkweed.org.

It is really something when a kid who has a hard time becomes a kid who’s having a good time in no small part thanks to you throwing that kid in the air again and again on a mile long walk home from the Indian joint as her mom looks sideways at you like you don’t need to keep doing this because you’re pouring with sweat and breathing a little bit now you’re getting a good workout but because the kid laughs like a horse up there laughs like a kangaroo beating her wings against the light because she laughs like a happy little kid and when coming down and grabbing your forearm to brace herself for the time when you will drop her which you don’t and slides her hand into yours as she says for the fortieth time the fiftieth time inexhaustible her delight again again again and again and you say give me til the redbud tree or give me til the persimmon tree because she knows the trees and so quiet you almost can’t hear through her giggles she says ok til the next tree when she explodes howling yanking your arm from the socket again again all the wolves and mourning doves flying from her tiny throat and you throw her so high she lives up there in the tree for a minute she notices the ants organizing on the bark and a bumblebee carousing the little unripe persimmon in its beret she laughs and laughs as she hovers up there like a bumblebee like a hummingbird up there giggling in the light like a giddy little girl up there the world knows how to love.

Copyright © 2023 by Ross Gay. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 26, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.

Not trying to wipe the smears
of gold from my chin

not trying to erase the decadence
of seeds and profanity  

of grease not trying
to pretend I don’t open

my mouth around the zaftig
pearls of rain in the middle

of the night or that I don’t love
the moment right before sleep

when I am most tender
and translucent my bladder half-filled

knowing I will have to get up
and pee knowing my daughter

will wake up before I am ready
the way I became aware of her

on a climb through the mountains
a heaviness in my limbs a gentle

premonition as I walked later
to the Rite Aid and knew in my hands

and I knew in my mouth
and I knew in the way my body

pulled me forward as I wept
with joy but also grief

that a part of my life was ending
and isn’t it good to know when

life is about to swallow you whole
take you in its arms and say

“Live, bitch, live”
and you believe it

and this is how I will carry her
from her crib and open the curtains

partway not ready to let the
world in the trails of smoke

and exhaust winter-blue 
as Cat Stevens’ Mona Bone Jakon

spinning on the Crosley  
that opens like an old suitcase

when my daughter stands
on a chair lifting the stylus

from its perch guiding
it to the starry chatter

that hisses between songs
wondering what will play next

From I Am Not Trying to Hide My Hungers From the World (BOA Editions, 2021) by Kendra DeColo. Copyright © 2021 by Kendra DeColo. Used with the permission of the publisher.

So I fight all my destructive urges to give her one. A tiny globe
filled with first snow I’m determined not to shatter across blacktop.
Once, in the parking lot of Home Depot, we got into the blue van
& everything felt off, uncanny, a fast-food wrapper from a place 
we hadn’t eaten, the dashboard dustier than it should’ve been. 
It took us a full thirty seconds, Mom in the driver’s
seat though she hadn’t driven in years, me in the passenger, her ride-
or-die since I was a little girl & one of her only friends in our strange &
tiny border town, before we realized This isn’t our van! & we scrambled
out, laughing our heads off & terrified the owner 
had called the cops on the women who look like twins 
carjacking them. We laugh about it every time we’re in a parking lot. 
That wasn’t our only Lucy & Ethel moment. There was the time 
we ordered what we thought was a roll from the drive-
thru at Panera Bread, thinking we’d share it to split the calories 
but when the server handed it to us, the long, thin bread kept
coming through the window. Mom & I thought 
baguette meant roll, it sounded petit. & although this poem’s 
only point is to make Mom happy it’s also to heal
something in myself I hadn’t known needed a balm until the words
hit the page, the way moms know, the way mine sent me flowers 
when the love of my young life got another girl pregnant & left me 
heartbroken & without a prom date, or when Mom gave me a gold
nutcracker pin after the ballet recital when all the other girls got
flowers & I shoved the beautiful pin back at her because it wasn’t flowers.
And she said flowers wilt. I wanted to get you something 
that would last forever. Like her love. A poem can be sentimental 
because poems are filled with life, but sometimes we need to look
our moms in the eyes & apologize. Or say thank you.
Our moms remind us what it felt like when we were safe
in their arms, even if our moms weren’t safe, even 
if they were only holding it together for us, to give us a happiness
they’d created from thin air. Motherhood is made of that
magic. I’m crying now. Mom, I promise, they’re happy tears.

Copyright © 2023 by Jennifer Givhan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 15, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets. 

with all my friends     & sometimes still am     
even though you can’t say that out loud 
except in a karaoke song     at a dive bar on the LES

I hate to swim but love the ocean   
all that artificial       blue for miles    
I miss my mother (who isn’t dead) & always will       

her illegible cursive on my refrigerator door  
when we go shopping       she sits in the fitting room 
while I try on bras & dresses for a wedding

I’m thirty-four & live alone     I don’t know 
the number of any doctor       who will I call in a winter 
without her     I will never pick up the phone

From So Long (Four Way Books, 2023) by Jen Levitt. Copyright © 2023 by Jen Levitt. Used with the permission of the publisher.

translated from the Spanish by Yvette Siegert

My father is sleeping. His noble features
reflect a gentle heart.
How sweet he is;
if anything in him is bitter, it must be me.

There is solitude at home, and prayer,
and there isn’t any news of the children today.
My father wakes up. He considers
the flight into Egypt, the bitter goodbye.
How near he is;
if anything in him is distant, it must be me.

And my mother, who moves through
the orchard, tasting a taste grown tasteless:
how soft she is,
how very wing, how departure, how love.

There is solitude at home, no sound,
no news, no green, no childhood.
And if anything this afternoon is broken,
and is going down and creaking,
it’s two old lanes white and curving,
and my heart is walking along them now.



Los pasos lejanos


Mi padre duerme. Su semblante augusto
figura un apacible corazón;
está ahora tan dulce. . . 
si hay algo en él de amargo, seré yo.

Hay soledad en el hogar; se reza;
y no hay noticias de los hijos hoy.
Mi padre se despierta, ausculta
la huída a Egipto, el restañante adiós.
Está ahora tan cerca;
si hay algo en él de lejos, seré yo.

Y mi madre pasea allá en los huertos,
saboreando un sabor ya sin sabor.
Está ahora tan suave,
tan ala, tan salida, tan amor.

Hay soledad en el hogar sin bulla,
sin noticias, sin verde, sin niñez.
Y si hay algo quebrado en esta tarde,
y que baja y que cruje,
son dos viejos caminos blancos, curvos.
Por ellos va mi corazón a pie.

From Los heraldos negros (Editorial Losada, S. A., 1918) by César Vallejo. Translated from the Spanish by Yvette Siegert. This poem is in the public domain.

                     Bolinao, Philippines
I am worried about tentacles.
How you can still get stung
even if the jelly arm disconnects
from the bell. My husband
swims without me—farther
out to sea than I would like,
buoyed by salt and rind of kelp.
I am worried if I step too far
into the China Sea, my baby
will slow the beautiful kicks
he has just begun since we landed.
The quickening, they call it, 
but all I am is slow, a moon jelly
floating like a bag in the sea.
Or a whale shark. Yes—I could be
a whale shark, newly spotted
with moles from the pregnancy—
my wide mouth always open
to eat and eat with a look that says
Surprise! Did I eat that much?
When I sleep, I am a flutefish,
just lying there, swaying back
and forth among the kelpy mess
of sheets. You can see the wet
of my dark eye awake, awake. 
My husband is a pale blur 
near the horizon, full of adobo
and not waiting thirty minutes 
before swimming. He is free
and waves at me as he backstrokes
past. This is how he prepares
for fatherhood. Such tenderness
still lingers in the air: the Roman
poet Virgil gave his pet fly
the most lavish funeral, complete
with meat feast and barrels 
of oaky wine. You can never know
where or why you hear
a humming on this soft earth.

From Oceanic (Copper Canyon Press, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.m on behalf of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org. All rights reserved.

a thousand years of daughters, then me.
what else could i have learned to be?

girl after girl after giving herself to herself
one long ring-shout name, monarchy of copper 

& coal shoulders. the body too is a garment.
i learn this best from the snake angulating 

out of her pork-rind dress. i crawl out of myself 
into myself, take refuge where i flee. 

once, i snatched my heart out like a track 
& found not a heart, but two girls forever 

playing slide on a porch in my chest.
who knows how they keep count

they could be a single girl doubled 
& joined at the hands. i’m stalling.

i want to say something without saying it 
but there’s no time. i’m waiting for a few folks 

i love dearly to die so i can be myself.
please don’t make me say who. 

bitch, the garments i’d buy if my baby
wasn’t alive. if they woke up at their wake 

they might not recognize that woman
in the front making all that noise.

Copyright © 2017 by Danez Smith. This poem was first printed in Los Angeles Review of Books, No. 15 (Summer 2017). Used with the permission of the author.