What kind of thoughts now, do you carry
   In your travels day by day
Are they bright and lofty visions, 
   Or neglected, gone astray?

Matters not how great in fancy, 
    Or what deeds of skill you’ve wrought; 
Man, though high may be his station, 
    Is no better than his thoughts. 

Catch your thoughts and hold them tightly, 
   Let each one an honor be; 
Purge them, scourge them, burnish brightly, 
   Then in love set each one free. 

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on January 18, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

breathe for George Floyd we
 

breathe for compassion we

do not know what that is we
 

another black man holy we

gone now George Floyd we

Ahmaud running street endless we

America scream & love we
 

do not know what love is we

breathe George Floyd flames we
 

next to you on a sp halt cho  ke we

knee Am Am
 

e      ri                   c        a w e

Copyright © 2020 by Juan Felipe Herrera. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 14, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

We can not tell what happiness 
We might on earth possess 
If in singleness of heart 
We would strive to act a proper part. 
‘Tis true we see the effects of sin
All without and all within. 
We long may live a life in vain, 
Much good possess, but still complain. 
We may appear to other eyes, 
To be extremely rich and wise; 
But if our hearts are not right, 
Life will not be beautiful and bright. 
Oh! may our life, day by day, 
In love and duty pass away; 
And at last when our bodies die, 
We may live in that world above the sky; 
Where free from sin, death and pain, 
The good will meet and love again. 

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on November 16, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

after Idra Novey

On a dirt road

On a drive to el campo

You found a batey

I cut the cane 

We sucked on a stalk

You gave me your arms 

I swam in the river

We locked the door 

Then the lights went out 

And the radio played 

You fingered the pesos 

I walked to the beach

We fried the fish 

You ate the mango  

I jumped in the water

We bought the flowers

Then the migrants came

And you bartered for more 

Then the sirens blared

And they were carried away

But we didn’t stop them 

Then the ocean swept

And the palm trees sagged

They were foreigners

We were foreigners  

And we lived there

Copyright © 2020 by Jasminne Mendez. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 15, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

The sun went down in beauty
    Beyond the Mississippi side,
As I stood on the banks of the river
    And watched its waters glide;
Its swelling currents resembling
    The longing restless soul,
Surging, swelling, and pursuing
    Its ever receding goal.

The sun went down in beauty,
    But the restless tide flowed on,
And the phantom of absent loved ones
    Danced on the waves and were gone;
Fleeting phantoms of loved ones,
    Their faces jubilant with glee,
In the spray seemed to rise and beckon,
    And then rush on to the sea.

The sun went down in beauty,
    While I stood musing alone,
Stood watching the rushing river
    And heard its restless moan;
Longings, vague, untenable,
    So far from speech apart,
Like the endless rush of the river,
    Went surging through my heart.

The sun went down in beauty,
    Peacefully sank to rest,
Leaving its golden reflection
    On the great Mississpi’s breast;
Gleaming on the turbulent river,
    In the coming gray twilight,
Soothing its restless surging,
    And kissing its waters goodnight.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on July 4, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

She needs to eat. She needs
to keep something warm in
her stomach. I reheat rice on the stove,
some cabbage and smoked salmon
and bring it to her in bed.
Like a widow, she chews the end
of a bone already buried. Ignores
the plate. I make her sit up anyways
adjust just before she spits
her last meal into my hands. Warm,
half-digested ghost.

Downstairs in the kitchen
I’ll eat from this plate, the white grains
cold and dead, pinched in my fingers’
tight grip, raised to a mouth
emptied—already open.
And I’ll try to—no, I will,
I’ll keep it down.

Copyright © 2020 by Charleen McClure. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 1, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

Who would have the sky any color but blue,
     Or the grass any color but green?
Or the flowers that bloom the summer through
     Of other color or sheen?

How the sunshine gladdens the human heart—
     How the sound of the falling rain
Will cause the tender tears to start,
     And free the soul from pain.

Oh, this old world is a great old place!
     And I love each season’s change,
The river, the brook of purling grace,
     The valley, the mountain range.

And when I am called to quit this life,
     My feet will not spurn the sod,
Though I leave this world with its beauty rife,—
     There’s a glorious one with God!

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on July 11, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

Watch the dewdrops in the morning,
   Shake their little diamond heads,
Sparkling, flashing, ever moving,
   From their silent little beds.

See the grass! Each blade is brightened,
   Roots are strengthened by their stay;
Like the dewdrops, let us scatter
   Gems of love along the way.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on August 16, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

It should be difficult,
always difficult, rising
from bed each morning,
against gravity, against

dreams, which weigh
like the forgotten names
of remembered faces.
But some days it’s

easy, nothing, to rise,
to feed, to work, to
commit the small graces
that add up to love,

to family, to memory,
finally to life, or
what one would choose
to remember of it, not

those other leaden
mornings when sleep
is so far preferable
to pulling over one’s

head the wet shirt
of one’s identity again,
the self one had been
honing or fleeing

all these years,
one’s fine, blessed
self, one’s only,
which another day fills.

From The Trembling Answers. Copyright © 2017 by Craig Morgan Teicher. Used with the permission of BOA Editions.

so much depends
on the authority

of a reality
to guide me

in a logic
of circumstance—

to live comfortably
yet desire differently.

 

Copyright © 2015 by Douglas Piccinnini. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 19, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

She said it softly, without a need 
for conviction or romance.
After everything? I asked, ashamed. 

That's not the kind of love she meant.
She walked through a field of gray 
beetle-pored pine, snags branching

like polished bone. I forget sometimes
how trees look at me with the generosity 
of water. I forget all the other 

breath I'm breathing in. 
Today I learned that trees can't sleep
with our lights on. That they knit 

a forest in their language, their feelings. 
This is not a metaphor. 
Like seeing a face across a crowd, 

we are learning all the old things, 
newly shined and numbered. 
I'm always looking 

for a place to lie down
and cry. Green, mossed, shaded. 
Or rock-quiet, empty. Somewhere

to hush and start over. 
I put on my antlers in the sun. 
I walk through the dark gates of the trees. 

Grief waters my footsteps, leaving 
a trail that glistens. 

Copyright © 2020 by Anne Haven McDonnell. From All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis (One World, 2020) edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson. Used with the permission of the editors.

I am tired of work; I am tired of building up somebody else's civilization.
Let us take a rest, M’Lissy Jane.
I will go down to the Last Chance Saloon, drink a gallon or two of gin, shoot a game or two of dice and sleep the rest of the night on one of Mike’s barrels.
You will let the old shanty go to rot, the white people’s clothes turn to dust, and the Calvary Baptist Church sink into the bottomless pit.
You will spend your days forgetting you married me and your nights hunting the warm gin Mike serves the ladies in the rear of the Last Chance Saloon.
Throw the children into the river; civilization has given us too many. It is better to die than it is to grow up and find out that you are colored.
Pluck the stars out of the heavens. The stars mark our destiny. The stars marked my destiny.
I am tired of civilization.

This poem is in the public domain, and originally appeared in Others for 1919; An Anthology of the New Verse (Nicholas L. Brown, 1920). 

When hurrying home on a rainy night
And hearing tree-tops rubbed and tossed,
And seeing never a friendly star
And feeling your way when paths are crossed:
Stop fast and turn three times around
And try the logic of the lost.

Where is the heavenly light you dreamed?
Where is your hearth and glowing ash?
Where is your love by the mellow moon?
Here is not even a lightning-flash,
And in a place no worse than this
Lost men shall wail and teeth shall gnash.

Lightning is quick and perilous,
The dawn comes on too slow and pale,
Your love brings only a yellow lamp,
Yet of these lights one shall avail:
The dark shall break for one of these,
I’ve never known this thing to fail.

This poem is in the public domain, and originally appeared in Poems about God (Henry Holt and Co, 1919).

When did I know that I’d have to carry it around
in order to have it when I need it, say in a pocket,

the dark itself not dark enough but needing to be
added to, handful by handful if necessary, until

the way my mother would sit all night in a room
without the lights, smoking, until she disappeared?

Where would she go, because I would go there.
In the morning, nothing but a blanket and all her

absence and the feeling in the air of happiness.
And so much loneliness, a kind of purity of being

and emptiness, no one you are or could ever be,
my mother like another me in another life, gone

where I will go, night now likely dark enough
I can be alone as I’ve never been alone before.

Copyright © 2019 by Stanley Plumly. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 7, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.