When I come home they rush to me, the flies, & would take me, they would take me in their small arms if I were smaller, so fly this way, that way in joy, they welcome me. They kiss my face one two, they say, Come in, come in. Sit at this table. Sit. They hold one hand inside the other & say, Eat. They share the food, sit close to me, sit. As I chew they touch my hair, they touch their hands to my crumbs, joining me. The rim of my cup on which they perch. The milky lake above which. They ask for a story: How does it begin? Before, I was a child, & so on. My story goes on too long. I only want to look into their faces. The old one sits still, I sit with it, but the others busy themselves now with work & after the hour which maybe to them is a week, a month, I sleep in the room between the open window & the kitchen, dreaming though I were the Sierra, though I were their long lost sister, they understand that when I wake I will have to go. One helps me with my coat, another rides my shoulder to the train. Come with me, come, I say. No, no, it says, & waits with me there the rest whistling, touching my hair, though maybe these are its last seconds on earth in the light in the air is this love, though it is little, my errand, & for so little I left my house again.
Copyright © 2020 by Aracelis Girmay. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 2, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
arils loosed from the yellow membrane
pith pocked and pocketed
spread across the plate Aapa
gave us on our wedding day
my daughter, my panniq, picking at the crimson
carapace, her graceful small fingers
examining each aril between finger and thumb
before she consumes it, just so
reminds me of crab cooked in winter
my uncles letting loose
their catch across the tile floor
the clatter as thin tine toes
and later the bodies’
carapace—craggy corniced interiors
the inner sanctum
the source of life
the sacred centering
have I done enough to deserve this
I hold each memory
the December light flickers out
between the dark damp trees
I watch my daughter, my panniq, as she is this moment
Copyright © 2020 by Carrie Ayagaduk Ojanen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 3, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Though I was dwelling in a prison house,
My soul was wandering by the carefree stream
Through fields of green with gold eyed daisies strewn,
And daffodils and sunflower cavaliers.
And near me played a little browneyed child,
A winsome creature God alone conceived,
“Oh, little friend,” I begged. “Give me a flower
That I might bear it to my lonely cell.”
He plucked a dandelion, an ugly bloom,
But tenderly he placed it in my hand,
And in his eyes I saw the sign of love.
‘Twas then the dandelion became a rose.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on April 4, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Again the woods are odorous, the lark
Lifts on upsoaring wings the heaven gray
That hung above the tree-tops, veiled and dark,
Where branches bare disclosed the empty day.
After long rainy afternoons an hour
Comes with its shafts of golden light and flings
Them at the windows in a radiant shower,
And rain drops beat the panes like timorous wings.
Then all is still. The stones are crooned to sleep
By the soft sound of rain that slowly dies;
And cradled in the branches, hidden deep
In each bright bud, a slumbering silence lies.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on April 5, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
A flare of russet,
green fronds, surprise
of flush against
the bare grey cypress
in winter woods.
Cardinal wild pine,
Spikes of bright bloom–
How they contour
against the trunk.
I miss that closeness
against my skin,
Before they latched,
their grief revealed
in such a flash.
Seekers of light,
Over the wetlands
a snail kite skims
tallgrass, then swoops
to scoop the apple
snail in curved bill.
of names, of raptor
and prey, the beak,
like a trap door,
The way two beings
create a space
for one another—
the bud to branch,
tongue against nipple.
Copyright © 2020 by Elise Paschen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 6, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Yesterday: me, a stone, the river,
a bottle of Jack, the clouds
with unusual speed crept by.
A man was in the middle of me.
I was humbled.
Not by him. The earth,
with its unusual speed,
went from dawn to dusk to dawn.
Just like that. The light
every shade of gold. Gold. I’m
greedy for it. Light is my currency.
I am big with dawn. So hot & so
pregnant with the fire I stole.
By pregnant I mean everything
you see is of me. Daylight
is my daughter. Dusk, my lover’s
post-pleasure face. And the night?
Well. Look up.
Are you ever really alone?
Copyright © 2020 by Katie Condon. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 7, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
The translucent claws of newborn mice
this pearl cast of color,
the barely perceptible
like a ghosted threshold of being:
here not here.
The single breath we hold
on the thinnest verge of sight:
not there there.
A curve nearly naked
an arc of almost,
a wisp of becoming
tiny enough to change me.
Copyright © 2020 by Kimberly Blaeser. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 8, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
I begged the Muse.
Always the same
If you want the line,
you’ll have to earn it.
Write about something
besides younger men,
Think of Elizabeth Bishop,
who spent twenty years
on “The Moose.”
No! I won’t!
Too late. I was already
Copyright © 2020 by Marilyn Kallet. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 10, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Love is a rainbow that appears
When heaven’s sunshine lights earth’s tears.
All varied colors of the light
Within its beauteous arch unite:
There Passion’s glowing crimson hue
Burns near Truth’s rich and deathless blue;
And Jealousy’s green lights unfold
‘Mid Pleasure’s tints of flame and gold.
O dark life’s stormy sky would seem,
If love’s clear rainbow did not gleam!
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on April 11, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
The monotone of the rain is beautiful,
And the sudden rise and slow relapse
Of the long multitudinous rain.
The sun on the hills is beautiful,
Or a captured sunset sea-flung,
Bannered with fire and gold.
A face I know is beautiful—
With fire and gold of sky and sea,
And the peace of long warm rain.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on April 12, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Doubt is easy. You welcome it, your old friend.
Poet Edward Field told a bunch of kids,
Invite it in, feed it a good dinner, give it a place to sleep
on the couch. Don’t make it too comfortable or
it might never leave. When it goes away, say okay, I’ll see you
again later. Don’t fear. Don’t give it your notebook.
As for bad reviews, sure. William Stafford advised no credence to
praise or blame. Just steady on.
Once a man named Paul called me “a kid.” I liked kids
but I knew he meant it as an insult. Anyway, I was a kid.
I guess he was saying, why should we listen to kids?
A newspaper described a woman named Frieda being asked
if “I was serious” and “she whistled.” What did that mean?
How do you interpret a whistle? This was one thing that bothered me.
And where did Frieda ever go?
Copyright © 2020 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 14, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Slender as my ring finger, the female hummingbird crashed
into plate glass separating her and me
before we could ask each other’s name. Green flame,
she launched from a dead eucalyptus limb.
Almost on impact, she was gone, her needle beak
opening twice to speak the abrupt language of her going,
taking in the day’s rising heat as I took
one more scalding breath, horrified by death’s velocity.
Too weak from chemo not to cry
for the passage of her emerald shine,
I lifted her weightlessness into my palm.
Mourning doves moaned, who, who,
oh who while her wings closed against the tiny body
sky would quick forget as soon as it would forget mine
Copyright © 2020 by Pamela Uschuk. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 15, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
We two are left:
I with small grace reveal
distaste and bitterness;
you with small patience
take my hands;
you scald their weight
as a bowl, lined with embers,
great petals of white rose,
forced by the heat
too soon to break.
We two are left:
as a blank wall, the world,
earth and the men who talk,
saying their space of life
is good and gracious,
with eyes blank
as that blank surface
their ignorance mistakes
for final shelter
and a resting-place.
We two remain:
yet by what miracle,
searching within the tangles of my brain,
I ask again,
have we two met within
this maze of dædal paths
in-wound mid grievous stone,
where once I stood alone?
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on April 19, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Water levels have bled out,
like it had just bitten its lip
& was about to swell—then rip:
had I paid better attention to drought,
listened more to the stars and stayed
with mountain clouds, I’d have let go
of the knot swing hanging above the slow
life flow beneath my legs, I’d have prayed
to forget all the times he came to me
but not wanted me: how fast it rises,
carrying plumes of pang in undercurrent:
swirls of sediment & silt around my knees—
the dragging stalks and leaves of irises,
how pathetic they look breaking in torrent—
Copyright © 2020 by Tacey M. Atsitty. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 23, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
after Matthew Olzmann
Oh button, don’t go thinking we loved pianos
more than elephants, air conditioning more than air.
We loved honey, just loved it, and went into stores
to smell the sweet perfume of unworn leather shoes.
Did you know, on the coast of Africa, the Sea Rose
and Carpenter Bee used to depend on each other?
The petals only opened for the Middle C their wings
beat, so in the end, we protested with tuning forks.
You must think we hated the stars, the empty ladles,
because they conjured thirst. We didn’t. We thanked
them and called them lucky, we even bought the rights
to name them for our sweethearts. Believe it or not,
most people kept plants like pets and hired kids
like you to water them, whenever they went away.
And ice! Can you imagine? We put it in our coffee
and dumped it out at traffic lights, when it plugged up
our drinking straws. I had a dog once, a real dog,
who ate venison and golden yams from a plastic dish.
He was stubborn, but I taught him to dance and play
dead with a bucket full of chicken livers. And we danced
too, you know, at weddings and wakes, in basements
and churches, even when the war was on. Our cars
we mostly named for animals, and sometimes we drove
just to drive, to clear our heads of everything but wind.
Copyright © 2020 J.P. Grasser. Originally published in American Poets vol. 58. Distributed by the Academy of American Poets.
In 2017 activists strung up wedding dresses between the palm trees along Beirut’s seafront protesting a law allowing a rapist to escape punishment if he married his victim.
unlike eyes, the ears don’t shut when sleep treads in
unlike eye the ear dont sh when sleep tread sin
unlike eyes, the ears hunt din
ik eyes, the ears do read
au ai / inept / little pain
u lied / yes,
keyed shut / yes,
keyed shut we slept red
lithe earth whelp
ears shut in
Copyright © 2020 by Carolina Ebeid. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 27, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Once there was an opening, an operation: out of which oared the ocean, then oyster and oystercatcher, opal and opal-crowned tanager. From ornateness came the ornate flycatcher and ornate fruit dove. From oil, the oilbird. O is for opus, the Orphean warbler’s octaves, the oratorio of orioles. O for the osprey’s ostentation, the owl and its collection of ossicles. In October’s ochre, the orchard is overgrown with orange and olive, oleander and oxlip. Ovals of dew on the oatgrass. O for obsidian, onyx, ore, for boreholes like inverted obelisks. O for the onion’s concentric O’s, observable only when cut, for the opium oozing from the poppy’s globe only when scored. O for our organs, for the os of the cervix, the double O’s of the ovaries plotted on the body’s plane to mark the origin. O is the orbit that cradles the eye. The oculus opens an O to the sky, where the starry outlines of men float like air bubbles between us and oblivion. Once there were oarfish, opaleyes, olive flounders. Once the oxbows were not overrun with nitrogen. O for the mussels opening in the ocean’s oven. O for the rising ozone, the dropping oxygen, for algae overblooming like an omen or an oracle. O Earth, out-gunned and out-manned. O who holds the void inside itself. O who has made orphans of our hands.
Copyright © 2020 by Claire Wahmanholm. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 2, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Like roses the bright dream did pass,
On swift, noiseless footsteps away;
Like glistening dew on the grass,
Dissolving beneath the sun’s ray.
Like voice of the lark that doth soar,
Through the golden haze of the dawn;
You hear it and bend to adore,
Just hear it and then it is gone.
The lark on his swift, flashing wings,
Keeps pace with the flowers in their flight;
And that’s why when soaring he sings,
And passes so swiftly from sight.
I slept, and a vision did see,
Of eyes that were tender and blue;
I awoke to know that for me
The vision may never come true.
The lark soars no more in the skies,
He’s gone with the roses and dew;
The face with the soft tender eyes,
Comes never to gladden my view.
My memory holds images fair,
Of all these beautiful things;
Which I will be seeking somewhere,
When my soul, as lark, findeth wings.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on May 3, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Admittedly I may be blowing my <6 mm mole somewhat
out of proportion in the general scheme of things. At my
last follow-up, Dr. Song gently reminded me that we
entered the “catabasis” phase of my journey through
dermatological oncology some time ago.
Cata-, from the ancient Greek κατά, or downward, prefixed
to the intransitive form of the verbal stem baínō, to go. It
means a trip to the coast, a military retreat, an endless
windstorm over the Antarctic plateau, or the sadness
experienced by some men at a certain point in their lives.
In a clinical context, the term may also refer to the decline
or remission of a disease. So why do I still feel a ghostly
pinprick along the crease of my arm where the needle went
in before I went under? I suspect that I am not quite out of
the woods yet. Then again, maybe the woods have yet to
Copyright © 2020 by Srikanth Reddy. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 6, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Dressed all in plastic,
which means oil,
we’re bright-eyed, scrambling
for the colored cubes
on the rug’s polymer.
is a tiny car.
When we can’t unscrew the tops
we cry for help.
To sleep is to fall
our worst suspicions
may be pleasurable;
we are carried,
the body can heal,
Creatures that never wake
can sprout a whole new
This may be wrong.
Copyright © 2020 by Rae Armantrout. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 8, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Lark of my house,
this little lark says hi
to the rain—she calls
river as she slaps
the air with both wings—
she doesn’t know pine
from ash or cedar
from linden—she greets
drizzle & downpour
know iceberg from melt—
can’t say sea level
doesn’t know wildfire—
tax or emission—
does not legislate
a fear she can’t yet
feel—only knows cats
& birds & small dogs
& the sway of some
tall trees make her squeal
with delight—it shakes
her tiny body—
this thrill of the live
the taste of wild blue-
berries on her tongue—
the ache of thorn-prick
from blackberry bush—
oh dear girl—look here—
there’s so much to save—
horizon’s pink hue—
we gather lifetimes
on one small petal—
the river’s our friend—
the world: an atom—
name for: hope—rain—change
begins when you hail
the sky sun & wind
the verdure inside
your heart’s four chambers
even garter snakes
and unnamed insects
in the underbrush
as you would a love
that rivers: hi—hi
Copyright © 2020 by Dante Di Stefano. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 9, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
The bees build in the crevices
Of loosening masonry, and there
The mother birds bring grubs and flies.
My wall is loosening, honey bees
Come build in the empty house of the stare.
We are closed in, and the key is turned
On our uncertainty; somewhere
A man is killed, or a house burned,
Yet no clear fact to be discerned:
Come build in the empty house of the stare
A barricade of stone or of wood;
Some fourteen days of civil war;
Last night they trundled down the road
That dead young soldier in his blood:
Come build in the empty house of the stare.
We had fed the heart on fantasies,
The heart’s grown brutal from the fare,
More substance in our enmities
Than in our love; oh, honey-bees
Come build in the empty house of the stare.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on May 10, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
The person you are trying
is not accepting. Is not
at this time. Please
again. The person
you are trying is not
in service. Please check
that you have. This
is your call. Your
person is not accepting.
Your person is this
number. You have
not correctly. Your person
is a recording. Again later
at this time. Not accepting.
Copyright © 2020 by Martha Collins. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 12, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
(This poem’s about looking for the sage and not finding her)
Some say she moved in with her ex-girlfriend in Taiwan
Some say she went to Florida to wrestle alligators
Some say she went to Peach Blossom Spring
To drink tea with Tao Qian
Miho says she’s living in Calexico with three cats
And a gerbil named Max
Some say she’s just a shadow of the Great Society
Of what might-have-been
Rhea saw her stark raving mad
Between 23rd and the Avenue of the Americas
Wrapped in a flag!
I swear I saw her floating in a motel pool
Topless, on a plastic manatee, palms up
What in hell was she thinking?
What is poetry? What are stars?
Whence comes the end of suffering?
Copyright © 2020 by Marilyn Chin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 13, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
The windshield’s dirty, the squirter stuff’s all gone, so
we drive on together into a sun-gray pane of grime
and dust. My son
puts the passenger seat back as far as it will go, closes
his eyes. I crack my window open for a bit
of fresher air. It’s so
incredibly fresh out there.
in ditches. Black mirrors with our passing
reflected in them, I suppose, but I’d
have to pull over and kneel down at the side
of the road to know.
The day ahead—
for this, the radio
doesn’t need to be played.
The house we used to live in
in a snapshot, in which
it yellows in another family’s scrapbook.
And a man on a bicycle
rides beside us
for a long time, very swiftly, until finally
he can’t keep up—
but before he slips
behind us, he salutes us
with his left hand—
that every single second—
that every prisoner on death row—
that every name on every tombstone—
that everywhere we go—
that every day, like this one, will
be like every other, having never been, never
thank you. And, oh—
I almost forgot to say it: amen.
Copyright © 2020 by Laura Kasischke. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 15, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Yesterday I held your hand,
Reverently I pressed it,
And its gentle yieldingness
From my soul I blessed it.
But to-day I sit alone,
Sad and sore repining;
Must our gold forever know
Flames for the refining?
Yesterday I walked with you,
Could a day be sweeter?
Life was all a lyric song
Set to tricksy meter.
Ah, to-day is like a dirge,—
Place my arms around you,
Let me feel the same dear joy
As when first I found you.
Let me once retrace my steps,
From these roads unpleasant,
Let my heart and mind and soul
All ignore the present.
Yesterday the iron seared
And to-day means sorrow.
Pause, my soul, arise, arise,
Look where gleams the morrow.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on May 16, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Light o’ the lodge, how I love thee,
Light o’ the lodge, how I love thee,
Mianza, my wild-wood fawn!
To wait and to watch for thy passing.
On hill-top I linger at dawn.
Glimmer of morn, how I love thee,
Glimmer of morn, how I love thee!
My flute to the ground now I fling,
As you tread the steep trail to the spring,
For thy coming has silenced my song.
Shimmer of moon on the river,
Sheen of soft star on the lake!
Moonlight and starlight are naught;
Their gleam and their glow is ne’er fraught
With such love-light as falls from thine eyes.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on May 17, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
The swear jar isn’t empty. Full of flowers
instead of coins it makes a cursed bouquet
of love-me-nots, a tangled vine of credit
extended to one most likely to default.
Such a trifling bargain, flowers for mercy.
O Nature, predatory lender!
Risk is the commuter bus I ride between damnation
and wonder. Stitch my wounds loosely. Give me chastity,
O Lord, says the Berber Saint,
for miracle and sin are kindred. Each is hatched
from a broken law.
Copyright © 2020 by Gregory Pardlo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 19, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Gathering sounds from each provincial
Nook and hilly village, the scholars
Discerned differences between
Long and short vowels, which phonemes,
Mumbled or dipthonged, would become
Brethren, linguistically speaking.
Speaking of taxonomy,
I’ve been busy categorizing what’s
Joseon, what’s American about each
Choice of diction or hill I might die on.
Killing my accent was only ever half the
Task, is what I mean. Q: When grief
Pushes its wet moons from me, is the sound
Historically accurate? or just a bit of feedback?
Copyright © 2020 by Franny Choi. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 20, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
when the tide
then with the paddle
of your tongue
the letters to form
Copyright © 2020 by Craig Santos Perez. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 22, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
What sadness anywhere is sadness where
I could just stand and walk to you from sadness
Go home to you though I bring home my sadness
What sadness there though I have felt sad there
Before when I come home from far away
What sadness then or from three blocks uptown
My office where I write this poem down
In a room full of the dimness that fills spac-
es anywhere where you are not a film
Obscuring every surface but it is a light
Not shining ever from surfaces
You are not near what sadness where you might
By being near reveal each thing for what it is
What sadness where each thing is whole
Copyright © 2020 by Shane McCrae. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 28, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Put your name in a hat, or a volcano:
Your sense of time is inadequate:
While I sleep my secret face faces the other way:
Grief is a heated iron comb:
The kerosene of grief, it doesn’t age well, it degrades:
Grief is a kind of time:
Sign your name. Become a series of signals:
Holes punched through a rag. Make a space to look through:
Your eye is a hole, too:
Your iris constricts a telegraphy of the future:
The midwifery of anything here:
Trade this hide for sod:
At night I dream of an infant made of flour and heat:
We dream of the castaway wind inside us:
At night my throat dresses itself in green feathers:
It does. You do:
Copyright © 2020 by Sun Yung Shin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 29, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Unknown to you, I walk the cheerless shore.
The cutting blast, the hurl of biting brine,
May freeze, and still, and bind the waves at war,
Ere you will ever know, O! Heart of mine,
That I have sought, reflected in the blue
Of these sea depths, some shadow of your eyes;
Have hoped the laughing waves would sing of you,
But this is all my starving sight descries—
Far out at sea a sail
Bends to the freshening breeze,
Yields to the rising gale,
That sweeps the seas;
Yields, as a bird wind-tossed,
To saltish waves that fling
Their spray, whose rime and frost
Like crystals cling
To canvas, mast and spar,
Till, gleaming like a gem,
She sinks beyond the far
Lost to my longing sight,
And nothing left to me
Save an oncoming night,—
An empty sea.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on May 30, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
What would you like, little bone-star?
Would the suicided person please stand up?
Would they please tell the height of their pain
the very top of the trees of it
where it extends dentricles upward
would we prefer their death or this saying of it?
they would sit with the right person
the right person
and tell their pain.
that person would build a shield around the pain
a thin wooden structure half circle uneven
they would leave it there for three days.
on the third would pick it up
and say their words. What words they have.
This would be the listening & the telling.
Copyright © 2020 by Helen Dimos. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 5, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
When buffeted and beaten by life’s storms,
When by the bitter cares of life oppressed,
I want no surer haven than your arms,
I want no sweeter heaven than your breast.
When over my life’s way there falls the blight
Of sunless days, and nights of starless skies;
Enough for me, the calm and steadfast light
That softly shines within your loving eyes.
The world, for me, and all the world can hold
Is circled by your arms; for me there lies,
Within the lights and shadows of your eyes,
The only beauty that is never old.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 7, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Assétou Xango performs at Cafe Cultura in Denver.
“Give your daughters difficult names.
Names that command the full use of the tongue.
My name makes you want to tell me the truth.
My name does not allow me to trust anyone
who cannot pronounce it right.”
Many of my contemporaries,
Have a name that brings the tongue to worship.
Names that feel like ritual in your mouth.
I don’t want a name said without pause,
muttered without intention.
I am through with names that leave me unmoved.
Names that leave the speaker’s mouth unscathed.
I want a name like fire,
like my hand gripping massa’s whip—
I want a name from before the ships
A name Donald Trump might choke on.
I want a name that catches you in the throat
if you say it wrong
and if you’re afraid to say it wrong,
then I guess you should be.
I want a name only the brave can say
a name that only fits right in the mouth of those who love me right,
because only the brave
can love me right
Assétou Xango is the name you take when you are tired
of burying your jewels under thick layers of
Assétou the light
Xango the pickaxe
so that people must mine your soul
just to get your attention.
If you have to ask why I changed my name,
it is already too far beyond your comprehension.
Call me callous,
but with a name like Xango
I cannot afford to tread lightly.
You go hard
or you go home
and I am centuries
and ships away
from any semblance
of a homeland.
I am a thief’s poor bookkeeping skills way from any source of ancestry.
I am blindly collecting the shattered pieces of a continent
much larger than my comprehension.
I hate explaining my name to people:
their eyes peering over my journal
looking for a history they can rewrite
Ask me what my name means...
What the fuck does your name mean Linda?
Not every word needs an English equivalent in order to have significance.
I am done folding myself up to fit your stereotype.
Your black friend.
Your African Queen Meme.
Your hurt feelings.
Your desire to learn the rhetoric of solidarity
without the practice.
I do not have time to carry your allyship.
I am trying to build a continent,
My name is the only thing I have that is unassimilated
and I’m not even sure I can call it mine.
The body is a safeless place if you do not know its name.
Assétou is what it sounds like when you are trying to bend a syllable
into a home.
With shaky shudders
And wind whistling through your empty,
I feel empty.
There is no safety in a name.
No home in a body.
A name is honestly just a name
A name is honestly just a ritual
And it still sounds like reverence.
Copyright © 2017 Assétou Xango. Used with permission of the poet. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 9, 2020.
For Uncle Paul N’nem
hell nah over my dead—i paid mine. I checked
Black & subtraction knows what it did. made Black
a box to check. subtraction doesn’t know how even
a sigh seasons the roux & the second breath my mother
was always trying to catch. american. emergency.
subtraction doesn’t know Black’s many bodies & body’s
of water. though subtraction does. sunken. gifting the sea’s
new strange stones. subtraction reopened the barbershops &
bowling alleys. insists church. sent us home with inhalers &
half-assed sentences: in god - we - the people - vs - degradation
vs - a new packaged deliverance. homicide. hallelujah.
i’ll be damned. i’ll be back before i’ll be buried. i been Black
& ain’t slept since. subtraction needs my blood to water
their weapons to subtract my blood. do you see the necessity
for dreaming? or else the need to stay awake. to watch. worried.
the hand. invisible. make a peace sign. then a pistol.
Copyright © 2020 by Donte Collins. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 10, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
I did not think... I did not know...
What pale excuse is this I make
In answer to my brother’s woe,
Age-long, for deep injustice sake!
Across his mute and patient soul,
While I have gone my heedless way,
The shadows of a fate might roll
That deepened night and darkened day.
But I have read a burning page,
That glowed with white and soul-wrung fire,
And now no more I may engage
My conscience with a feeble hire.
For all the wrong I did not heed,
Chance-born in happier paths to live,
I cry unto my brother’s need
One word of love and shame... forgive!
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 14, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Today I will praise.
I will praise the sun
For showering its light
On this darkened vessel.
I will praise its shine.
Praise the way it wraps
My skin in ultraviolet ultimatums
Demanding to be seen.
I will lift my hands in adoration
Of how something so bright
Could be so heavy.
I will praise the ground
That did not make feast of these bones.
Praise the casket
That did not become a shelter for flesh.
Praise the bullets
That called in sick to work.
Praise the trigger
That went on vacation.
Praise the chalk
That did not outline a body today.
Praise the body
For still being a body
And not a headstone.
Praise the body,
For being a body and not a police report
Praise the body
For being a body and not a memory
No one wants to forget.
Praise the memories.
Praise the laughs and smiles
You thought had been evicted from your jawline
Praise the eyes
For seeing and still believing.
For being blinded from faith
But never losing their vision
Praise the visions.
Praise the prophets
Who don’t profit off of those visions.
Praise the heart
For housing this living room of emotions
Praise the trophy that is my name
Praise the gift that is my name.
Praise the name that is my name
Which no one can plagiarize or gentrify
Praise the praise.
How the throat sounds like a choir.
The harmony in your tongue lifts
Into a song of adoration.
For being able to praise.
For waking up,
When you had every reason not to.
Copyright © 2020 by Angelo Geter. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 15, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Motivated forgetting is a psychological defense mechanism whereby people cope with threatening and unwanted memories by suppressing them from consciousness.
—Amy N. Dalton and Li Huang
in Badagry there is a hung-
ry well of water and memory
loss. in Badagry there was a well
of people lost across a haven
of water. in Badagry there was
a port overwhelmed in un-return.
to omit within the mind is to ebb
heavenward. memory is a wealth
choking the brain in un-respons-
ibility. violence in the mind and
the mind forgets in order to remember
the self before the violence begot.
in Badagry trauma washes ungod-
ly memory heavenward. in Bad-
agry there is an attenuation well
meant to wish away a passage,
meant to unhaven a people.
violence is underwhelming
in return. what the body eats,
the mind waters. responsible
is the memory for un-remittal.
royal is the body for return. god is
the mind for wafting. forgetting
is a port homeward. in Bad-
agry hungry memory grows angry.
in Badagry the memories un-
choke. trauma un-eats the royal.
in Badagry there is a heaven
of people responsible for the birth-
right of remembering, for the well
of us across a haven of water
overwhelmed in un-return.
Copyright © 2020 by Porsha Olayiwola. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 17, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
I suppose I should place them under separate files
Both died from different circumstances kind of, one from HIV AIDS and possibly not having
taken his medicines
the other from COVID-19 coupled with
complications from an underlying HIV status
In each case their deaths may have been preventable if one had taken his meds and the
hospital thought to treat the other
instead of sending him home saying, He wasn’t sick enough
he died a few days later
They were both mountains of men
dark black beautiful gay men
both more than six feet tall fierce and way ahead of their time
One’s drag persona was Wonder Woman and the other started a black fashion magazine
He also liked poetry
They both knew each other from the same club scene we all grew up in
When I was working the door at a club one frequented
He would always say to me haven’t they figured out you’re a star yet
And years ago bartending with the other when I complained about certain people and
treatment he said sounds like it’s time for you to clean house
Both I know were proud of me the poet star stayed true to my roots
I guess what stands out to me is that they both were
gay black mountains of men
Felled too early
And it makes me think the biggest and blackest are almost always more vulnerable
My white friend speculates why the doctors sent one home
If he had enough antibodies
Did they not know his HIV status
She approaches it rationally
removed from race as if there were any rationale for sending him home
Still she credits the doctors for thinking it through
But I speculate they saw a big black man before them
Maybe they couldn’t imagine him weak
Maybe because of his size color class they imagined him strong
said he’s okay
Which happened to me so many times
Once when I’d been hospitalized at the same time as a white girl
she had pig-tails
we had the same thing but I saw how tenderly they treated her
Or knowing so many times in the medical system I would never have been treated so terribly if I
had had a man with me
Or if I were white and entitled enough to sue
Both deaths could have been prevented both were almost first to fall in this season of death
But it reminds me of what I said after Eric Garner a large black man was strangled to death over
Six cops took him down
His famous lines were I can’t breathe
so if we are always the threat
To whom or where do we turn for protection?
Copyright © 2020 by Pamela Sneed. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 18, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Loud laughers in the hands of Fate—
Nurses of babies,
Loaders of ships,
Comedians in vaudeville
And band-men in circuses—
God! What dancers!
God! What singers!
Singers and dancers,
Dancers and laughers.
Loud-mouthed laughers in the hands of Fate.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 20, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Heav’n’s deepest blue,
Earth’s richest green,
Minted dust of stars,
Molten sunset sheen,
Are blent together
On this lithe brown feather,
In a disc of light—
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 21, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
for Malcolm Latiff Shabazz
yellow roses in my mother’s room mean
I’m sorry sadness comes in generations
inheritance split flayed displayed
better than all the others
the undue burden of the truly exceptional
most special of your kind, a kind of fire
persisting unafraid saffron bloom
to remind us of fragility or beauty or revolution
to ponder darkly in the bright
the fate of young kings
the crimes for which there are no apologies.
Copyright © 2020 by Kristina Kay Robinson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 23, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Glory of plums, femur of Glory.
Glory of ferns
on a dark platter.
Glory of willows, Glory of Stag beetles
Glory of the long obedience
of the kingfisher.
Glory of waterbirds, Glory
Glory of the Latin
of the dead and their grammar
composed entirely of decay.
Glory of the eyes of my father
which, when he died, closed
inside his grave,
and opened even more brightly
Glory of dark horses
inside their own
Copyright © 2020 by Gbenga Adesina. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 25, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
“All life is built from song”
In youth’s young morn I sang;
And from a top-near hill
The echo broke and rang.
The years with pinions swift
To youth’s high noon made flight,
“All life is built from song”
I sang amid the fight.
To life’s sun-setting years,
My feet have come—Alas!
And through its hopes and fears
Again I shall not pass.
The lusty song my youth
With high-heart ardor sang
Is but a tinkling sound—
A cymbal’s empty clang.
And now I sing, my Dear,
With wisdom’s wiser heart,
“All life is built from love,
And song is but a part.”
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 27, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Love, leave me like the light,
The gently passing day;
We would not know, but for the night,
When it has slipped away.
So many hopes have fled,
Have left me but the name
Of what they were. When love is dead,
Go thou, beloved, the same.
Go quietly; a dream
When done, should leave no trace
That it has lived, except a gleam
Across the dreamer’s face.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 28, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
after Marie Howe
in the wordless beginning
iguana & myrrh
magma & reef ghost moth
& the cordyceps tickling its nerves
& cedar & archipelago & anemone
dodo bird & cardinal waiting for its red
ocean salt & crude oil now black
muck now most naïve fumbling plankton
every egg clutched in the copycat soft
of me unwomaned unraced
unsexed as the ecstatic prokaryote
that would rage my uncle’s blood
or the bacterium that will widow
your eldest daughter’s eldest son
my uncle, her son our mammoth sun
& her uncountable siblings & dust mite & peat
apatosaurus & nile river
& maple green & nude & chill-blushed &
yeasty keratined bug-gutted i & you
spleen & femur seven-year refreshed
seven-year shedding & taking & being this dust
& my children & your children
& their children & the children
of the black bears & gladiolus & pink florida grapefruit
here not allied but the same perpetual breath
held fast to each other as each other’s own skin
cold-dormant & rotting & birthing & being born
in the olympus of the smallest
possible once before once
Copyright © 2020 by Marissa Davis. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 1, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
If space makes the pattern, her absence is filling a quota.
The president says,
“we’re a nation of laws” :—
under her dreaming :—that lilting.
a Seuss-rhyme’s still funny.
And who’s to say wouldn’t have been, still, at 30?
The Sneetches or What Was I Scared Of?
She’s seven, asleep on the living room sofa.
] in amphibrachs—:
who hears her
If space makes the pattern, her absence is filling a quota.
This absence—: Aiyana.
But what was the officer scared of?
What reaches for him in the recesses of
What formal suggestion of
darkness needs stagger
If space makes the pattern—:
This grief in the rhythm of—: uplift too
a measure of struggle.
Which struggle with law
holds the dark in it? Keeps
the dark of
Quinletta, LaToya, Kimkesia, Oneka, Natasha, Breonna…
my still-breathing cousins
] your still-breathing cousins [
alive in it. Aiyana. Her breath in perfection—:
at seven—: This measure for measure on measure on measure
Law is dead, Aiyana. It never was
Copyright © 2020 by Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 2, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Because there is too much to say
Because I have nothing to say
Because I don’t know what to say
Because everything has been said
Because it hurts too much to say
What can I say what can I say
Something is stuck in my throat
Something is stuck like an apple
Something is stuck like a knife
Something is stuffed like a foot
Something is stuffed like a body
Copyright © 2020 by Toi Derricotte. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 3, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
O dainty bud, I hold thee in my hand—
A castaway, a dead, a lifeless thing.
A few days since I saw thee, wet with dew,
A bud of promise to thy parent cling,
Now thou art crushed yet lovely as before,
The adverse winds but waft thy fragrance more.
How small, how frail! I tread thee underfoot
And crush thy petals in the rocking ground:
Perchance some one in pity for thy state
Will pick thee up in reverence profound—
Lo, thou art pure with virtue more intense,
Thy perfume grows from earthly detriments.
Why do we grieve? Let each affliction bear
A greater beauty springing from the sod,
May sweetness well as incense from the urn,
Which, rising high, enshrouds the throne of God.
Envoy of Hope, this lesson I disclose—
“Be Ever Sweet,” thou humble, fragrant rose!
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on July 5, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
I choose Rhythm,
the beginning as motion,
black Funk shaping itself
in the time before time,
dark, glorious and nimble as a sperm
sparkling its way into the greatest of grooves,
conjuring worlds from dust and storm and primordial soup.
I accept the Funk as my holy savior,
Funk so high you can’t get over it,
so wide you can’t get around it,
ubiquitous Funk that envelopes all creatures great and small,
quickens nerve endings and the white-hot
hearts of stars.
I believe in Rhythm rippling each feather on a sparrow’s back
and glittering in every grain of sand,
I am faithful to Funk as irresistible twitch, heart skip
and backbone slip,
the whole Funk and nothing but the Funk
sliding electrically into exuberant noise.
I hear the cosmos swinging
in the startled whines of newborns,
the husky blare of tenor horns,
lambs bleating and lions roaring,
a fanfare of tambourines and glory.
This is what I know:
Rhythm resounds as a blessing of the body,
the wonder and hurt of being:
the wet delight of a tongue on a thigh
fear inching icily along a spine
the sudden surging urge to holler
the twinge that tells your knees it’s going to rain
the throb of centuries behind and before us
I embrace Rhythm as color and chorus,
the bright orange bloom of connection,
the mahogany lure of succulent loins
the black-and-tan rhapsody of our clasping hands.
I whirl to the beat of the omnipotent Hum;
diastole, systole, automatic,
borderless. Bigger and bigger still:
Bigger than love,
Bigger than desire or adoration.
Bigger than begging and contemplation.
Bigger than wailing and chanting and the slit throats of roosters.
For which praise is useless.
For which gratitude might as well be whispered.
For which motion is meaning enough.
Funk lives in us, begetting light as bright as music
unfolding into dear lovely day
and bushes ablaze in
Rhythm. Until it begins again.
Copyright © 2020 by Jabari Asim. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 6, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
I ask a student how I can help her. Nothing is on her paper.
It’s been that way for thirty-five minutes. She has a headache.
She asks to leave early. Maybe I asked the wrong question.
I’ve always been dumb with questions. When I hurt,
I too have a hard time accepting advice or gentleness.
I owe for an education that hurt, and collectors call my mama’s house.
I do nothing about my unpaid bills as if that will help.
I do nothing about the mold on my ceiling, and it spreads.
I do nothing about the cat’s litter box, and she pisses on my new bath mat.
Nothing isn’t an absence. Silence isn’t nothing. I told a woman I loved her,
and she never talked to me again. I told my mama a man hurt me,
and her hard silence told me to keep my story to myself.
Nothing is full of something, a mass that grows where you cut at it.
I’ve lost three aunts when white doctors told them the thing they felt
was nothing. My aunt said nothing when it clawed at her breathing.
I sat in a room while it killed her. I am afraid when nothing keeps me
in bed for days. I imagine what my beautiful aunts are becoming
underground, and I cry for them in my sleep where no one can see.
Nothing is in my bedroom, but I smell my aunt’s perfume
and wake to my name called from nowhere. I never looked
into a sky and said it was empty. Maybe that’s why I imagine a god
up there to fill what seems unimaginable. Some days, I want to live
inside the words more than my own black body.
When the white man shoves me so that he can get on the bus first,
when he says I am nothing but fits it inside a word, and no one stops him,
I wear a bruise in the morning where he touched me before I was born.
My mama’s shame spreads inside me. I’ve heard her say
there was nothing in a grocery store she could afford. I’ve heard her tell
the landlord she had nothing to her name. There was nothing I could do
for the young black woman that disappeared on her way to campus.
They found her purse and her phone, but nothing led them to her.
Nobody was there to hold Renisha McBride’s hand
when she was scared of dying. I worry poems are nothing against it.
My mama said that if I became a poet or a teacher, I’d make nothing, but
I’ve thrown words like rocks and hit something in a room when I aimed
for a window. One student says when he writes, it feels
like nothing can stop him, and his laughter unlocks a door. He invites me
into his living.
Copyright © 2020 by Krysten Hill. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 7, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
What is water but rain but cloud but river but ocean
but ice but tear.
What is tear but torn what is worn as skin as in as out
Exodus. I am trying to tell a tale that shifts like a gale
that hurricanes and casts a line
that buckles in wind that is reborn a kite a wing.
I am far
from the passage far from the plane of descending
suitcases passports degrees of mobility like heat
like heat on their backs.
This cluster of fine grapes Haitian purple beige
Copyright © 2020 by Danielle Legros Georges. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 8, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Is there a place where black men can go
to be beautiful? Is there light there? Touch?
Is there comfort or room to raise their black
sons as anything other than a future asterisk,
at risk to be asteroid or rogue planet but not
comet—to be studded with awe and clamor
and admired for radial trajectories across
a dark sky made of asphalt and moonshine
to be celebs and deemed a magnificent sight?
Copyright © 2020 by Enzo Silon Surin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 10, 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.
I do not crave to have thee mine alone, dear
Keeping thy charms within my jealous sight;
Go, give the world the blessing of thy beauty,
That other hearts may share of my delight!
I do not ask, thy love should be mine only
While others falter through the dreary night;
Go, kiss the tears from some wayfarer’s vision,
That other eyes may know the joy of light!
Where days are sad and skies are hung with darkness,
Go, send a smile that sunshine may be rife;
Go, give a song, a word of kindly greeting,
To ease the sorrow of some lonely life!
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on July 12, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
what anger in defiance
what sympathy in doubt
emotions steady try us
demanding every shout
what sympathy in doubt
what pleasure in our pain
demanding are our shouts
such hazardous terrain
what pleasure in our pain
mere thinness to our skin
such hazardous terrain
such unrelenting din
sheer thinness of our skin
the ruptures and the breaks
such unrelenting din
mistake after mistake
we rupture and we break
we stagger and we shine
mistake after mistake
inhabiting our minds
we stagger and we shine
we live our lives on spin
inhabiting our minds
and undermining limbs
we live our lives on spin
and thrive until we grieve
we undermine our limbs
then get the strength to leave
we thrive until we grieve
emotions steady try us
we get the strength. we leave.
what anger in defiance.
Copyright © 2020 by Allison Joseph. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 13, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Wild seas of tossing, writhing waves,
A wreck half-sinking in the tortuous gloom;
One man clings desperately, while Boreas raves,
And helps to blot the rays of moon and star,
Then comes a sudden flash of light, which gleams on shores afar.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on July 19, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Copyright © 2020 by Crystal Valentine. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 24, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
I saw you as I passed last night,
Framed in a sky of gold;
And through the sun’s fast paling light
You seemed a queen of old,
Whose smile was light to all the world
Against the crowding dark.
And in my soul a song there purled—
Re-echoed by the lark.
I saw you as I passed last night,
Your tresses burnished gold,
While in your eyes a happy bright
Gleam of your friendship told.
And I went singing on my way;
On, on into the dark.
But in my heart still shone the day,
And still—still sang the lark.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on July 25, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
Sometimes it seems as though some puppet-player,
A clenched claw cupping a craggy chin
Sits just beyond the border of our seeing,
Twitching the strings with slow, sardonic grin.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on July 26, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
Will the new aunt Jemima have dreads?
Why did Susan Smith kill her children and blame a black man?
Would a black man hang himself from a tree with his backpack still on?
Is it justice or revenge we are seeking?
What does justice look like?
What else can I do to feel safe?
Several times a day I stab my fingertips to threads
Looking for something more than blood as a reminder of life
An angry rain whips the window
We lay quiet in bed
Invite Kimiko Hahn to serenade us with her new poems
When she's done my lover says
Give me something something to munch on
I offer her my wrist.
Copyright © 2020 by Cheryl Boyce-Taylor. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 27, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
When in the morning’s misty hour,
When the sun beams gently o’er each flower;
When thou dost cease to smile benign,
And think each heart responds with thine,
When seeking rest among divine,
Forget me not.
When the last rays of twilight fall,
And thou art pacing yonder hall;
When mists are gathering on the hill,
Nor sound is heard save mountain rill,
When all around bids peace be still,
Forget me not.
When the first star with brilliance bright,
Gleams lonely o’er the arch of night;
When the bright moon dispels the gloom,
And various are the stars that bloom,
And brighten as the sun at noon,
Forget me not.
When solemn sighs the hollow wind,
And deepen’d thought enraps the mind;
If e’er thou doest in mournful tone,
E’er sigh because thou feel alone,
Or wrapt in melancholy prone,
Forget me not.
When bird does wait thy absence long,
Nor tend unto its morning song;
While thou art searching stoic page,
Or listening to an ancient sage,
Whose spirit curbs a mournful rage,
Forget me not.
Then when in silence thou doest walk,
Nor being round with whom to talk;
When thou art on the mighty deep,
And do in quiet action sleep;
If we no more on earth do meet,
Forget me not.
When brightness round thee long shall bloom,
And knelt remembering those in gloom;
And when in deep oblivion's shade,
This breathless, mouldering form is laid,
And thy terrestrial body staid,
Forget me not.
“Should sorrow cloud thy coming years,
And bathe thy happiness in tears,
Remember, though we’re doom’d to part,
There lives one fond and faithful heart,
That will forget thee not.”
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on August 2, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
everything i do comes down to the fact that i’ve been here before.
in some arrangement of my atoms i was allowed to be free
so don’t ask me when freedom is coming
when a certain eye of mine has seen it,
a cornea in a convoluted future recalls my freedom.
when asked about the absence of freedom, the lack of it
i laugh at the word absence, which always suggests
a presence that has left. but absence is the arena
of death, and we call the dead free (went on to glory), what
is the absence of freedom but an assumption of it?
i have never longed for something
which was not once mine. even fiction is my possession,
and flight is an act of fleeing as much as an act of flying.
Copyright © 2020 by Kara Jackson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 3, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
Here, poem meets prayer.
We are exceedingly comfortable
with posturing and self-defense
that masquerade as apology.
But what’s needed in this moment
is unmixed confession
of our nation’s sin,
deep and indefensible.
“Now I lay me down to sleep”
must make way for
something more muscular:
sack cloth and ashes,
prayer and fasting,
radical repentance begins
with this unvarnished profession:
You are righteous,
and we are not.
Please heal our nation.
Cleanse our stubborn hearts.
Show each of us what part to play.
Broken as Judah and Jerusalem,
we cry and come bending our will
toward the good
you dream for us still,
no matter our sin,
no matter what skin
Copyright © 2020 by Nikki Grimes. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 7, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
All hail! This honest dusky maid,
Let all others prostrate fall;
Bring forth the international diadem,
And crown her queen of all.
In all pure womanly qualities,
She stands serene and tall,
Way up above the average,
This makes her queen of all.
She’s not a sluggard at any place,
She answers duty’s call
Come all ye people, small and great,
And crown her queen of all.
She stands bolt upright by her men,
She will not let them fall,
Now for her valor, tip your hat,
And crown her queen of all.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on August 9, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
O, come, Love, let us take a walk,
Down the Way-of-Life together;
Storms may come, but what care we,
If be fair or foul the weather.
When the sky overhead is blue,
Balmy, scented winds will after
Us, adown the valley blow
Haunting echoes of our laughter.
When Life’s storms upon us beat
Crushing us with fury, after
All is done, there’ll ringing come
Mocking echoes of our laughter.
So we’ll walk the Way-of-Life,
You and I, Love, both together,
Storm or sunshine, happy we
If be foul or fair the weather.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on August 15, 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’s a long way the sea-winds blow
Over the sea-plains blue,—
But longer far has my heart to go
Before its dreams come true.
It’s work we must, and love we must,
And do the best we may,
And take the hope of dreams in trust
To keep us day by day.
It’s a long way the sea-winds blow—
But somewhere lies a shore—
Thus down the tide of Time shall flow
My dreams forevermore.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on August 22, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
From the charm of radiant faces,
From the days we took to dream,
From the joy of open spaces,
From the mountain and the stream,
Bronzed of sunlight, nerves a-tingle,
Keen of limb and clear of head,
Speed we back again to mingle
In the battle for our bread.
Now again the stern commanding
Of the chosen task is heard,
And the tyrant, care, is standing
Arbiter of deed and word.
But the radiance is not ended,
And the joy, whate’er the cost,
Which those fleeting days attended
Never can be wholly lost.
For we bring to waiting duty,
To the labor and the strife,
Something of the sense of beauty,
And a fairer view of life.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on August 23, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
after Alexander Pushkin
Did anyone ever ask any one of Nikita’s daughters
if they wanted a vagina from the devil’s basket.
conjured by a witch and stored with so little ice.
an organ that had been ridden cross-country on
horseback. had no mind of its own and had flown
up into the trees with all thirty-nine to get stuck up
in the leaves. Clearly not queer at all given that it flew
down at the site of any old whatsit. and furthermore
not even to fuck it, just to crawl back into a box
like the whatsit wanted of the crew of thingums. Witch
only knows how many grimy fingers the poor things
endured. No one asked the tzar’s daughters
if they wouldn’t rather be holeless, lipless and better
unbewitched by devil and hag and flasher
envoy and kingly pop than to lift their skirts
to anyone wanting to see what was missing. or unmissed.
Copyright © 2020 by francine j. harris. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 24, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
As I lie in bed,
Flat on my back;
There passes across my ceiling
An endless panorama of things—
Quick steps of gay-voiced children,
Adolescence in its wondering silences,
Maid and man on moonlit summer’s eve,
Women in the holy glow of Motherhood,
Old men gazing silently thru the twilight
Into the beyond.
O God, give me words to make my dream-children live.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on August 29, 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,
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
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.
Again it is September!
It seems so strange that I who made no vows
Should sit here desolate this golden weather
And wistfully remember—
A sigh of deepest yearning,
A glowing look and words that knew no bounds,
A swift response, an instant glad surrender
To kisses wild and burning!
Again it is September!
It seems so strange that I who kept those vows
Should sit here lone, and spent, and mutely praying
That I may not remember!
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on September 5, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
Come, “Will,” let’s be good friends again,
Our wrongs let’s be forgetting,
For words bring only useless pain,
So wherefore then be fretting.
Let’s lay aside imagined wrongs,
And ne’er give way to grieving,
Life should be filled with joyous songs,
No time left for deceiving.
I’ll try and not give way to wrath,
Nor be so often crying;
There must some thorns be in our path,
Let’s move them now by trying.
How, like a foolish pair were we,
To fume about a letter;
Time is so precious, you and me;
Must spend ours doing better.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on September 6, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
For Laquan McDonald
I think it’s quails lining the road but it's fallen Birchwood.
What look like white clouds in a grassy basin, sprinklers.
I mistake the woman walking her retriever as a pair of fawns.
Could-be animals. Unexplained weather. Maybe they see us
that way. Knowing better, the closer they get. Not quite ready to let it go.
Copyright © 2020 by Rio Cortez. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 8, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
You arrive on a Friday, with hail & vast
moving grey above small window
of white light, as a wound
which might be a passing through
of particulate ultra violet waiting
to arrive in sight, our adjectival
see. will it be violent, our photographic
ring around the light?
we inviolate what we can’t see,
revelate its arrival with our question:
boy or girl?
please, let the unseen speak in me.
there are stellar nurseries we cannot grimace.
i am a certificate of a bright somewhere.
you are a poem passing through
the membranes i have moved, mountainous you,
head up-of the interrogative blue
Copyright © 2020 by Jasmine Reid. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 9, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
Our bodies give
into the ocean rolling
us beneath its tongues How do we sing
with water brimming our throats? Oh
are greedy and transform us—
our faces soft and opening
You do not wash
but strike and shove You
rinse babies from our arms leave
We spin in your disregard You
upend this body We
praise your ruin
rooting bones in all shores
Copyright © 2020 by Ashaki M. Jackson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 11, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
I thought it was the neighbor’s cat back
to clean the clock of the fledgling robins low
in their nest stuck in the dense hedge by the house
but what came was much stranger, a liquidity
moving all muscle and bristle. A groundhog
slippery and waddle thieving my tomatoes still
green in the morning’s shade. I watched her
munch and stand on her haunches taking such
pleasure in the watery bites. Why am I not allowed
delight? A stranger writes to request my thoughts
on suffering. Barbed wire pulled out of the mouth,
as if demanding that I kneel to the trap of coiled
spikes used in warfare and fencing. Instead,
I watch the groundhog closer and a sound escapes
me, a small spasm of joy I did not imagine
when I woke. She is a funny creature and earnest,
and she is doing what she can to survive.
Copyright © 2020 by Ada Limón. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 16, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
translated from the Spanish by Urayoán Noel
Walking is a process in ruins,
a dead history.
You inhabit the ruin and you find
a coin here and there rolling on the ground.
Men without eyes are threshing away time
in Santurce’s surviving businesses.
It makes you want to cry
or sneak into the yards and pluck the fruits
of so many inhabitable houses
with boarded-up windows and doors.
The city is full of homeless people.
The city is full of poor immigrants dreaming of the United States.
Perhaps leaving and coming back makes you a foreigner.
There’s so much you don’t know about Puerto Rico now.
You begin discovering it by walking.
De Barrio Obrero a La Quince
Caminar es un proceso en ruinas,
Habitas la ruina y encuentras
una que otra moneda rodando por el piso.
Hombres sin ojos desgranan tiempo
en los negocios que sobreviven en Santurce.
Da ganas de llorar
o de meterse al patio y arrancarle frutas
a tanta casa habitable
con las puertas y ventanas clausuradas.
La ciudad llena de personas sin hogar.
La ciudad llena de inmigrantes pobres que sueñan con Estados Unidos.
Irse y volver acaso te vuelve un extranjero.
Desconoces ahora tanto a Puerto Rico.
Caminando se empieza a descubrirlo.
Copyright © 2020 by Nicole Cecilia Delgado and Urayoán Noel. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 17, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
translated by Bryan Mendoza
It’s a spacious chamber.
A light that refracts the distant woodland.
Over the table lies
the body and the wings
like sails of a shipwreck.
They’ve stitched together the carnage
with no other motive
than something comparable to mercy.
Soon the volunteers will arrive
and they’ll take the body,
including the wings
to the landfill.
Disección del cadáver de Pegaso
Es una sala espaciosa.
Es luz que refracta el bosque lejano.
Sobre la mesa yacen
el cuerpo y las alas
como velas de bajeles deshechos.
Han hilvanado el despojo
sin otro motivo
que algo semejante a la caridad.
Pronto llegarán los voluntarios
y se llevarán el cuerpo,
incluidas las alas,
© 2020 Julio Pazos Barrera and Bryan Mendoza. Published in Poem-a-Day in partnership with Words Without Borders (wordswithoutborders.org) on September 19, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
Will it never be possible
to separate you from your greyness?
Must you be always sinking backward
into your grey-brown landscapes—and trees
always in the distance, always against a grey sky?
Must I be always
moving counter to you? Is there no place
where we can be at peace together
and the motion of our drawing apart
be altogether taken up?
I see myself
standing upon your shoulders touching
a grey, broken sky—
but you, weighted down with me,
yet gripping my ankles,—move
where it is level and undisturbed by colors.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on September 20, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
Coming out isn’t the same as coming to America
except for the welcome parade
put on by ghosts like your granduncle Roy
who came to New York from Panamá in the 50s
and was never heard of again
and by the beautiful gays who died of AIDS in the 80s
whose cases your mother studied
in nursing school. She sent you to the US to become
an “American” and you worry
she’ll blame this country
for making you a “marica,”
a “Mary,” like it might have made your uncle Roy.
The words “America” and “marica” are so similar!
Exchange a few vowels
and turn anyone born in this country
queer. I used to watch Queer as Folk as a kid
and dream of sashaying away
the names bullies called me in high school
for being Black but not black enough, or the kind of black they saw on TV:
black-ish, negro claro, cueco.
It was a predominately white school,
the kind of white the Spanish brought to this continent
when they cozened my ancestors from Africa.
There was no welcome parade for my ancestors back then
so, they made their own procession, called it “carnaval”
and fully loaded the streets with egungun costumes,
holy batá drum rhythms, shouting and screaming in tongues,
and booty dancing in the spirit.
I don’t want to disappear in New York City,
lost in a drag of straightness.
So instead, I proceed
to introduce my mother to my first boyfriend
after I’ve moved her to Texas
and helped make her a citizen.
Living is trafficking through ghosts in a constant march
toward a better life, welcoming the next in line.
Thriving is wining the perreo to soca on the
Noah’s Arc pride parade float, like you’re
the femme bottom in an early aughts gay TV show.
Surviving is (cross-)dressing as an American marica,
until you’re a ‘merica or a ‘murica
and your ancestors see
you’re the king-queen of Mardi Gras,
purple scepter, crown, and krewe.
Copyright © 2020 by Darrel Alejandro Holnes. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 25, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
translated by Ursula K. Le Guin
When I’m walking, everything
on earth gets up
and stops me and whispers to me,
and what they tell me is their story.
And the people walking
on the road leave me their stories,
I pick them up where they fell
in cocoons of silken thread.
Stories run through my body
or sit purring in my lap.
So many they take my breath away,
buzzing, boiling, humming.
Uncalled they come to me,
and told, they still won’t leave me.
The ones that come down through the trees
weave and unweave themselves,
and knit me up and wind me round
until the sea drives them away.
But the sea that’s always telling stories,
the wearier I am the more it tells me...
The people who cut trees,
the people who break stones,
want stories before they go to sleep.
Women looking for children
who got lost and don’t come home,
women who think they’re alive
and don’t know they’re dead,
every night they ask for stories,
and I return tale for tale.
In the middle of the road, I stand
between rivers that won’t let me go,
and the circle keeps closing
and I’m caught in the wheel.
The riverside people tell me
of the drowned woman sunk in grasses
and her gaze tells her story,
and I graft the tales into my open hands.
To the thumb come stories of animals,
to the index fingers, stories of my dead.
There are so many tales of children
they swarm on my palms like ants.
When my arms held
the one I had, the stories
all ran as a blood-gift
in my arms, all through the night.
Now, turned to the East,
I’m giving them away because I forget them.
Old folks want them to be lies.
Children want them to be true.
All of them want to hear my own story,
which, on my living tongue, is dead.
I’m seeking someone who remembers it
leaf by leaf, thread by thread.
I lend her my breath, I give her my legs,
so that hearing it may waken it for me.
Cuando camino se levantan
todas las cosas de la tierra
y me paran y cuchichean
y es su historia lo que cuentan.
Y las gentes que caminan
en la ruta me la dejan
y la recojo caída
en capullos que son de huella.
Historias corren mi cuerpo
o en mi regazo ronronean.
Tantas son que no dan respiro,
zumban, hierven y abejean.
Sin llamada se me vienen
y contadas tampoco dejan…
Las que bajan por los árboles
se trenzan y se destrenzan,
y me tejen y me envuelvan
hasta que el mar los ahuyenta.
Pero el mar que cuenta siempre
más rendida, más me deja...
Los que están mascando bosque
y los que rompen la piedra,
al dormirse quieren historias.
Mujeres que buscan hijos
perdidos que no regresan,
y las que se creen vivas
y no saben que están muertas,
cada noche piden historias,
y yo me rindo cuenta que cuenta.
A medio camino quedo
entre ríos que no me sueltan,
el corro se va cerrando
y me atrapa en la rueda.
Los ribereños me cuentan
la ahogada sumida en hierbas,
y su mirada cuenta su historia,
y yo las tronco en mis palmas abiertas.
Al pulgar llegan las de animales,
al índice las de mis muertos.
Las de niños, de ser tantas
en las palmas me hormiguean.
Cuando tomaba así mis brazos
el que yo tuve, todas ellas
en regalo de sangre corrieron
mis brazos una noche entera.
Ahora yo, vuelta al Oriente,
se las voy dando porque no recuerdo.
Los viejos las quieren mentidas,
los niños las quieren ciertas.
Todos quieren oír la historia mía
que en mi lengua viva está muerta.
Busco alguna que la recuerde
hoja por hoja, herbra por hebra.
Le presto mi aliento, le doy mi marcha
por si el oírla me la despierta.
From Selected Poems of Gabriela Mistral: Translated by Ursula K. Le Guin. Copyright © 2003 Ursula K. Le Guin. Courtesy of University of New Mexico Press. Published in Poem-a-Day on September 27, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.