I had the passion 
but not the stamina
nor the discipline, 
no one knew how
to discipline me so 
they just let me be,

Let me play along,
let me think I was
somebody, I could
be somebody, even
without the no-how.

Never cared one bit 
when my bow didn’t
match the rest of the 
orchestra, I could get 
their notes right but 
always a little beyond,

sawing my bow across
the strings, cuttin it up
even if I wasn’t valuable
even if I lacked respect
for rules of European
thought and composure.

A crescendo of trying
to be somebody,
a decrescendo of trying 
to belong, I played along
o yes, I play along. 

 

Copyright © 2020 by Nikki Wallschlaeger. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 28, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

              to the memory of Denis Johnson

The stranger bites into an orange
and places the rind between us
on the park bench.
It becomes a small raft of fire.

I came here to admire
the iron-lit indifference
of the geese on the pond.

The summers here
are a circuit in parallel
with everything I cannot say,
wrote the inventor
before he was hanged
from the bridge
this park is named after.
His entire life devoted
to capturing inextinguishable light
in a teardrop of enamel.
He was hanged for touching
the forehead of another man
in the wrong century.

The only thing invented
by the man I lost yesterday
was his last step into a final
set of parenthesis.
I came here to watch the geese
and think of him.

The stranger and I
share the orange rind
as an ashtray.
He lights my cigarette
and the shadows of our hands
touch on the ground.

His left leg is amputated
below the knee
and the bell tower rings
above the town.
I tell him my name
and he says nothing.

With the charred end of a stick
something shaped like a child
on the other side of the pond
draws a door on a concrete wall
and I wonder where the dead
wait in line to be born.

Copyright © 2020 by Michael McGriff. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 21, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

A hint of gold where the moon will be; 
Through the flocking clouds just a star or two; 
Leaf sounds, soft and wet and hushed, 
And oh! the crying want of you. 

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on February 23, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

I’ve lost something and I can’t describe
what it is

line

and what if that’s my job
to say how empty an absence is

line

like rolling 2 gears together
and maybe teeth are missing in one
or both

line

or maybe trying to grind
two stones that are
polished and smoothed

line

I’ve always liked 
a little grit

line

but sand in my shoes
or in my hair

line

is like shattering
a glass in carpet
and using a broom to
get it out

line

I can’t describe
what it’s like to
sit on opposite ends
of a park bench and
not know how
to get any closer

line

I miss so many things
and I’ve looked through my piggy
bank and only found pennies

line

a pile of things that are
almost completely worthless

line

a shoebox full of sporks
a well with a bucket and a rope
that’s too short

line

sometimes in my room
it’s so dark that if I wake
up I won’t know if it’s morning or night

line

imagine being someplace you know
so well but are lost and don’t have any idea
how to get out

line

the rule is, put your right hand out
lay it on the wall, and follow

line

sometimes the rules don’t apply to all of us
I don’t want to sleep here again tonight

Copyright © 2020 by Kenyatta Rogers . Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 26, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

Now shall I store my soul with silent beauty, 
     Beauty of drifting clouds and mountain heights, 
Beauty of sun-splashed hills and shadowed forests, 
     Beauty of dawn and dusk and star-swept nights. 

Now shall I fill my heart with quiet music, 
    Song of the wind across the pine-clad hill, 
Song of the rain and, fairer than all music, 
    Call of the thrush when twilight woods are still. 

So shall the days to come be filled with beauty, 
     Bright with the promise caught from eastern skies; 
So shall I see the stars when night is darkest, 
     Still hear the thrush’s song when music dies. 

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 1, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets. 

The day is done, and the darkness
   Falls from the wings of Night,
As a feather is wafted downward
   From an eagle in his flight.

I see the lights of the village
   Gleam through the rain and the mist,
And a feeling of sadness comes o'er me,
   That my soul cannot resist:
  
A feeling of sadness and longing,
   That is not akin to pain,
And resembles sorrow only
   As the mist resembles the rain.
  
Come, read to me some poem,
   Some simple and heartfelt lay,
That shall soothe this restless feeling,
   And banish the thoughts of day.

Not from the grand old masters,
   Not from the bards sublime,
Whose distant footsteps echo
   Through the corridors of Time.

For, like strains of martial music,
   Their mighty thoughts suggest
Life's endless toil and endeavor;
   And to-night I long for rest.
  
Read from some humbler poet,
   Whose songs gushed from his heart,
As showers from the clouds of summer,
   Or tears from the eyelids start;

Who, through long days of labor,
   And nights devoid of ease,
Still heard in his soul the music
   Of wonderful melodies.

Such songs have power to quiet
   The restless pulse of care,
And come like the benediction
   That follows after prayer.

Then read from the treasured volume
   The poem of thy choice,
And lend to the rhyme of the poet
   The beauty of thy voice.

And the night shall be filled with music
   And the cares that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,
   And as silently steal away.

This poem is in the public domain.

I’ll tell you how the sun rose, —
A ribbon at a time.
The steeples swam in amethyst,
The news like squirrels ran.

The hills untied their bonnets,
The bobolinks begun.
Then I said softly to myself,
“That must have been the sun!”

But how he set, I know not.
There seemed a purple stile
Which little yellow boys and girls
Were climbing all the while

Till when they reached the other side,
A dominie in gray
Put gently up the evening bars,
And led the flock away.
 

This poem is in the public domain.

My throat is dry [   ] a drowsy numbness pains [   ] my sense as though [   ] obscured by smoke [   ] I drive on roads dividing patchwork farmland, fences [   ] wide-eyed llamas [   ] perpetual surprise [   ] after a dream, I sip water in the dark [   ] I don’t want to sleep [   ] my husband breathing deeply [   ] my children twisting in their beds [   ] smoke rising from the fields [   ] end of harvest razing [   ] I lift the rock, find a family of woodlice [   ] curled away from me [   ] sleeping or pretending to sleep [   ] hemlock lacing the road’s shoulders [   ] my too-dry eyes [   ] the tender babies are paler [   ] than their parents, little ghosts [   ] rolled in on themselves, my children are sleeping [   ] when I lift the blanket [   ] when, after a dream, I smoke in the dark [   ] no bird singing [   ] nothing to ode [   ] the sharp scent of pine, wet soil, beast musk, rain [   ] the dull opiate of things [   ] what will outlive us [   ] I turn on the screen [   ] a panel of men in a void, screaming [   ] cornflowers curling into rust [   ] I breathe in smoke [   ] fists curled shut [   ] the green of marijuana fields [   ] the pungent scent of [   ] bodies curled in sleep [   ] as if sleep were a cure [   ] one minute past, and Lethe-wards [   ] hear that crackling? [   ] pine cones dropping like heavy flames [   ] glaciers splitting [   ] howling ghosts [   ] what earth will be left for [   ] my children cry out in their sleep [   ] dark room filling with the smoke I exhale [   ] hills roiling [   ] the screaming stays while the screen goes dark [   ] I can’t see it disappearing [   ] to thy high requiem [   ] my throat is dry [   ] do I wake or sleep? [   ] I don’t want to wake

Copyright © 2020 by Danielle Cadena Deulen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 4, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

Now the flowers are all folded
And the dark is going by. 
The evening is arising…
It is time to rest.
When I am sleeping
I find my pillow full of dreams. 
They are all new dreams:
No one told them to me
Before I came through the cloud. 
They remember the sky, my little dreams,
They have wings, they are quick, they are sweet. 
Help me tell my dreams 
To the other children, 
So that their bread may taste whiter, 
So that the milk they drink 
May make them think of meadows
In the sky of stars. 
Help me give bread to the other children
So that their dreams may come back:
So they will remember what they knew 
Before they came through the cloud.
Let me hold their little hands in the dark, 
The lonely children,
The babies that have no mothers any more. 
Dear God, let me hold up my silver cup 
For them to drink, 
And tell them the sweetness 
Of my dreams. 

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 8, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets. 

I thought I could stop
time by taking apart
the clock. Minute hand. Hour hand.

Nothing can keep. Nothing
is kept. Only kept track of. I felt

passing seconds
accumulate like dead calves
in a thunderstorm

of the mind no longer a mind
but a page torn
from the dictionary with the definition of self

effaced. I couldn’t face it: the world moving

on as if nothing happened.
Everyone I knew got up. Got dressed.
Went to work. Went home.

There were parties. Ecstasy.
Hennessy. Dancing
around each other. Bluntness. Blunts

rolled to keep
thought after thought
from roiling

like wind across water—
coercing shapelessness into shape.

I put on my best face.
I was glamour. I was grammar.

Yet my best couldn’t best my beast.

I, too, had been taken apart.
I didn’t want to be
fixed. I wanted everything dismantled and useless

like me. Case. Wheel. Hands. Dial. Face.

Copyright © 2020 by Paul Tran. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 9, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

Crows assemble in the bare elm above our house.
Restless, staring: like souls
who want back in life.

            —And who wouldn’t want again
            the hot bath after hard work,
            with soft canyons of splitting foam;
            or the glass of spring water
            cold at the mouth?

            To be startled by beauty—drops of bright
            blood on the snow.
            To be radiant.

All morning the crows watch me in the garden
putting in the early onions.
Their bodies look oiled.
Back in, back in,
they shake the wooden rattles. 

Copyright © 2020 by Jenny George. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 19, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

The dive starts
on the board….
                                                                    
something Steve
often said,

or Rub some dirt
in it, Princess,
when in his lesser

inscrutable mood;                         

Steve of the hair gel,
and whistle, a man
who was her
                                                          
diving coach,
who never seemed
to like her much.

Which was odd,

given, objectively,
her admirable discipline,
and natural gifts,

the years and years                                                          
of practice, and the long                                                          
row of golden
trophies she won
                                                                    
for his team. The girl
she was then,

confused, partly
feral, like the outdoor
cat you feed,

when you remember
to, but won’t allow

to come inside….

She’s thinking of Steve
now, many years
later, while swimming

naked in her wealthy
landlord’s pool. Or

“grotto,” to call it
properly, an ugly,
Italian word for

something lovely,

ringed, as it is,
with red hibiscus;                                                  

white lights
in the mimosa trees                                                                  
draping their blurry
pearls along
the water’s skin.

It’s 3 am,

which seemed
the safest time for
this experiment,

in which she’s turned
her strange and aging
body loose. Once,

a man she loved
observed, You’re
the kind of woman

who feels embarrassed
just standing in 

a room alone,
a comment, like him,
two parts ill spirited,

and one perceptive.

But this night she’s
dropped her robe,                                                            
come here to be

the kind of woman
who swims naked                                                             
without asking
for permission, risking
a stray neighbor

getting the full gander,

buoyed by saltwater;
all the tough and sag
of her softened by

this moonlight’s near-
sighted courtesy.

Look at her: how
the woman is floating,

while trying to recall
the exact last
moment of her girlhood—

where she was,
what she was doing—

when she finally
learned what she’d                                               
been taught: to hate

this fleshy sack
of boring anecdotes                                                          
and moles she’s lived

inside so long,
nemesis without                                                                           
a zipper for escape.

A pearl is the oyster’s

autobiography,
Fellini said. How  
clean and weightless

the dive returns
to the woman now;

climbing the high
metal ladder, then

launching herself,
no fear, no notion

of self-preservation,

the arc of her
trajectory pretty
as any arrow’s

in St. Sebastian’s
side. How keen                                                                              
that girl, and sleek,

tumbling more
gorgeous than two                                                            
hawks courting

in a dead drop.                                                                             

Floating, the woman
remembers this again,

how pristine she was
in pike, or tucked
tighter than a socialite, or

twisting in reverse
like a barber’s pole,

her body flying
toward its pivot,
which is, in those seconds,

the Infinite,

before each
possible outcome
tears itself away

(the woman climbing
from the water now)

like the silvery tissue
swaddling a costly
gift.

Copyright © 2020 by Erin Belieu. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 25, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

A.k.a.

          the other gold.

                    Now that’s the stuff,

                               shredded or melted

                                         or powdered

                                                 or canned.

                                                             Behold

                                         the pinnacle of man

                     in a cheeto puff!

Now that’s the stuff

                      you’ve been primed for:

                                             fatty & salty & crunchy

          and poof—gone. There’s the proof.

Though your grandmother

                        never even had one. You can’t

                                    have just one. You

                                              inhale them puff—

                                                                     after puff—

                                                                after puff—

                               You’re a chain smoker. Tongue

                      coated & coaxed

but not saturated or satiated.

                       It’s like pure flavor,

                                   but sadder. Each pink ping

                                                       in your pinball-mouth

                                                                expertly played

                             by the makers who have studied you,

                               the human animal, and culled

                    from the rind

         your Eve in the shape

                                 of a cheese curl.

                                              Girl,

                                come curl in the dim light of the TV.

                           Veg out on the verge of no urge

                  of anything.

         Long ago we beached ourselves,

                                 climbed up the trees then

                                          down the trees,

                                                knuckled across the dirt

                               & grasses & thorns & Berber carpet.

                                           Now is the age of sitting,

                                   so sit.

           And I must say,

                       crouched on the couch like that,

                             you resemble no animal.

                                    Smug in your Snuggie and snug

                                                     in your sloth, you look

                                           nothing like a sloth.

           And you are not an anteater,

                                   an anteater eats ants

                                                   without fear

                                       of diabetes. Though breathing,

                 one could say, resembles a chronic disease. 

                                                                                            What’s real

                             cheese and what is cheese product?

                              It’s difficult to say

               but being alive today

                                      is real-

                                                real-

                                                       really

                                like a book you can’t put down, a stone

                       that plummets from a great height. Life’s

                      a “page-turner” alright.

               But don’t worry

                                      if you miss the finale

                                                of your favorite show, you can

                                                   catch in on queue. Make room

                                      for me and I’ll binge on this,

                                                            the final season with you.

Copyright © 2020 by Benjamin Garcia. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 27, 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,
quill-leaf airplant
or dog-drink-water.
Spikes of bright bloom–
exotic plumage.

How they contour
against the trunk.
I miss that closeness
against my skin,
milky expression.

Before they latched,
their grief revealed
in such a flash.
Seekers of light,
poised acrobats.

Over the wetlands
a snail kite skims
tallgrass, then swoops
to scoop the apple
snail in curved bill.

The provenance
of names, of raptor
and prey, the beak,
like a trap door,
unhinging flesh.

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.

A lot more malaise and a little more grief every day,
aware that all seasons, the stormy, the sunlit, are brief every day. 

I don’t know the name of the hundredth drowned child, just the names
of the oligarchs trampling the green, eating beef every day,

while luminous creatures flick, stymied, above and around
the plastic detritus that’s piling up over the reef every day.

A tiny white cup of black coffee in afternoon shade,
while an oud or a sax plays brings breath and relief every day. 

Another beginning, no useful conclusion in sight‚—
another first draft that I tear out and add to the sheaf every day. 

One name, three-in-one, ninety-nine, or a matrix of tales 
that are one story only, well-springs of belief every day.

But I wake before dawn to read news that arrived overnight
on a minuscule screen , and exclaim  يا لطيف every day.

Copyright © 2020 by Marilyn Hacker. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 9, 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. 

1

One summer night, walking from our house after dinner, stars make the sky almost white.

My awe is like blindness; wonder exchanges for sight.

Star-by-star comprises a multiplicity like thought, but quiet, too dense for any dark planet between.

While single stars are a feature of the horizon at dusk, caught at the edge of the net of gems.

Transparence hanging on its outer connectedness casts occurrence as accretion, filling in, of extravagant, euphoric blooming.

Then, being as spirit and in matter is known, here to there.

I go home and tell my children to come out and look.

The souls of my two children fly up like little birds into branches of the Milky Way,  
chatting with each other, naming constellations, comparing crystals and fire.

They exclaim at similarities between what they see in the sky and on our land.

So, by wonder, they strengthen correspondence between sky and home.

Earth is made from this alchemy of all children, human and animal, combined 
with our deep gratitude. 

2

I see his dark shape, moving and shifting against night’s screen of stars.

My little girl reaches for his lighted silhouette.

Human beings are thought upward and flown through by bright birds.

We believe stars are spirits of very high frequency.

We feel proud our animals come from stars so dense in meaning close to sacrament.

We describe time passing in stories about animals; star movement is named for seasonal migrations of deer, wolf, hummingbird, dolphin, and as animals stars walk among us.

Our snake Olivia, for example, tells me there’s no conflict between humans and rain, because resource is all around us.

A coyote loved night, and he loved to gaze at the stars.

“I noticed one star in Cassiopeia; I talked to her, and each night she grew brighter and closer, and she came to life here, as a corn snake, my friend.”

“She looks like a dancer on tiptoe, stepping around pink star-blossoms surging up after rain.”

3

Constellations are experienced emotionally as this play of self through plant and animal symbols and values.

A dream atmosphere flows; everything represented is sacred; being moves in accord, not of time.

Returning from the Milky Way, she realized crystals had fallen from her bag and looked up.

My story links a journey to sky with the creation of stars, in which place accommodates becoming.

Chama River flows north-south to the horizon, then straight up through the Milky Way, like water moving beneath a riverbed that’s dry.        

Abiquiu Mountain, El Rito Creek, coyote, snake, rainbow and rain, spider and hummingbird identify equivalent spiritual placements above, so wherever we go, there is company, nurture, from every star in our regard.

4

I start up to ask my birds to return home, and find our land continuous with a starry sky mapped as entities who set into motion occurrence, here.

Place awaits an imprint from this potential, even though starlight arriving now already happened; what happens is a depth of field, before and after drought, fire, storm disruption.

I move at high speed, but I’m still standing beside my house in the dark. 

To go there, I find the place on our mesa that correlates to their tree in the sky and leap up.

Space stirs as star trilliums emerge through darkness like humus.

I ask one blossom to please in the future renew these bonds between sky and my children, so they will always hold light in the minerals of their eyes.

5

Sun on its nightly underground journey weaves a black thread between white days on the cosmic loom, cord or resonance between new experience and meaning.

The origin of stars expresses the underlying warp of this fabric; summer solstice draws a diagonal across my floor, precession, weaving ground of informing spirit, so therefore, life is fundamental to stars.

The reverse is well known.

That’s why I don’t use a telescope, star charts or glasses when I go out; I think of a place; I wait, then fly to my children.

When the star-gate is raised, there’s a narrow door between sky and ground.

But when I arrive, I find the sky solid; I can’t break through to visit my starbirds and stand there wondering, before dawn.

Then sky vault lifts; maybe I can slip through to find the Milky Way and see its blossoms.

Then our sun appears in the crack and pushes through to the day.

It’s so bright, so hot, I step back and cover my eyes; I hear my mother calling.

Copyright © 2020 by Mei-mei Berssenbrugge. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 13, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

The slow crawling light wilts
into the dark flat of asphalt.

The moon rings the dim-lit room.
The scraping. The fire.

                                             Dust
in the deep flesh of ear.

Strike a match, watch the flame—
the scraping, the fire, ring
in unison,

                    the brain’s bent
                                                  fugue.

Yoked mica, deafened glint—
scrape and fire, the moon ringing
the dim-lit room.

                               A louse in the crevice
of brain—
                     wrinkle-scape
in knuckles flexed
                                    lashed, etched,
around the steel—
                                     the affliction
of squalor—a pummeling
                                              —skull

and brain
smelted in a starless dark.

Copyright © 2020 by Santee Frazier. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 22, 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.

Lark of my house,
keep laughing.
Miguel Hernández

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
alike—she doesn’t
know iceberg from melt—
can’t say sea level
rise—glacial retreat—
doesn’t know wildfire—
greenhouse gas—carbon
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
electric sudden—
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—
moments—lady bugs—
laughter—trillium—
blue jays—arias—
horizon’s pink hue—
we gather lifetimes
on one small petal—
the river’s our friend—
the world: an atom—
daughter: another
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.

Once I freed myself of my duties to tasks and people and went down to the cleansing sea...
The air was like wine to my spirit,
The sky bathed my eyes with infinity,
The sun followed me, casting golden snares on the tide,
And the ocean—masses of molten surfaces, faintly gray-blue—sang to my heart...

Then I found myself, all here in the body and brain, and all there on the shore:
Content to be myself: free, and strong, and enlarged:
Then I knew the depths of myself were the depths of space.
And all living beings were of those depths (my brothers and sisters)
And that by going inward and away from duties, cities, street-cars and greetings,
I was dipping behind all surfaces, piercing cities and people,
And entering in and possessing them, more than a brother,
The surge of all life in them and in me...

So I swore I would be myself (there by the ocean)
And I swore I would cease to neglect myself, but would take myself as my mate,
Solemn marriage and deep: midnights of thought to be:
Long mornings of sacred communion, and twilights of talk,
Myself and I, long parted, clasping and married till death.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on May 24, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Those years are foliage of trees
their trunks hidden by bushes;
behind them a gray haze topped with silver
hides the swinging steps of my first love
the Danube.

On its face
grave steel palaces with smoking torches,
parading monasteries moved slowly to the Black Sea
till the bared branches scratched the north wind.

On its bed
a great Leviathan waited
for the ceremonies on the arrival of Messiah
and bobbing small fishes snapped sun splinters
for the pleasure of the monster.

Along its shores
red capped little hours danced
with rainbow colored kites,
messengers to heaven.

My memory is a sigh
of swallows swinging
through a slow dormant summer
to a timid line on the horizon.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on May 31, 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.”
      —Warsan Shire

Many of my contemporaries,
role models,
But especially,
Ancestors

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 rebellion,
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
soot
and self-doubt.

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 headline.
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,
A country,
A home.

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. 

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—
Lithe, light!

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 21, 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.

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.

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour
A Robin Red breast in a Cage
Puts all Heaven in a Rage
A Dove house filld with Doves & Pigeons
Shudders Hell thr' all its regions
A dog starvd at his Masters Gate
Predicts the ruin of the State
A Horse misusd upon the Road
Calls to Heaven for Human blood
Each outcry of the hunted Hare
A fibre from the Brain does tear
A Skylark wounded in the wing
A Cherubim does cease to sing
The Game Cock clipd & armd for fight
Does the Rising Sun affright
Every Wolfs & Lions howl
Raises from Hell a Human Soul
The wild deer, wandring here & there
Keeps the Human Soul from Care
The Lamb misusd breeds Public Strife
And yet forgives the Butchers knife
The Bat that flits at close of Eve
Has left the Brain that wont Believe
The Owl that calls upon the Night
Speaks the Unbelievers fright
He who shall hurt the little Wren
Shall never be belovd by Men
He who the Ox to wrath has movd
Shall never be by Woman lovd
The wanton Boy that kills the Fly
Shall feel the Spiders enmity
He who torments the Chafers Sprite
Weaves a Bower in endless Night
The Catterpiller on the Leaf
Repeats to thee thy Mothers grief
Kill not the Moth nor Butterfly
For the Last Judgment draweth nigh
He who shall train the Horse to War
Shall never pass the Polar Bar
The Beggars Dog & Widows Cat
Feed them & thou wilt grow fat
The Gnat that sings his Summers Song
Poison gets from Slanders tongue
The poison of the Snake & Newt
Is the sweat of Envys Foot
The poison of the Honey Bee
Is the Artists Jealousy
The Princes Robes & Beggars Rags
Are Toadstools on the Misers Bags
A Truth thats told with bad intent
Beats all the Lies you can invent
It is right it should be so
Man was made for Joy & Woe
And when this we rightly know
Thro the World we safely go
Joy & Woe are woven fine
A Clothing for the soul divine
Under every grief & pine
Runs a joy with silken twine
The Babe is more than swadling Bands
Throughout all these Human Lands
Tools were made & Born were hands
Every Farmer Understands
Every Tear from Every Eye
Becomes a Babe in Eternity
This is caught by Females bright
And returnd to its own delight
The Bleat the Bark Bellow & Roar
Are Waves that Beat on Heavens Shore
The Babe that weeps the Rod beneath
Writes Revenge in realms of Death
The Beggars Rags fluttering in Air
Does to Rags the Heavens tear
The Soldier armd with Sword & Gun
Palsied strikes the Summers Sun
The poor Mans Farthing is worth more
Than all the Gold on Africs Shore
One Mite wrung from the Labrers hands
Shall buy & sell the Misers Lands
Or if protected from on high
Does that whole Nation sell & buy
He who mocks the Infants Faith
Shall be mockd in Age & Death
He who shall teach the Child to Doubt
The rotting Grave shall neer get out
He who respects the Infants faith
Triumphs over Hell & Death
The Childs Toys & the Old Mans Reasons
Are the Fruits of the Two seasons
The Questioner who sits so sly
Shall never know how to Reply
He who replies to words of Doubt
Doth put the Light of Knowledge out
The Strongest Poison ever known
Came from Caesars Laurel Crown
Nought can Deform the Human Race
Like to the Armours iron brace
When Gold & Gems adorn the Plow
To peaceful Arts shall Envy Bow
A Riddle or the Crickets Cry
Is to Doubt a fit Reply
The Emmets Inch & Eagles Mile
Make Lame Philosophy to smile
He who Doubts from what he sees
Will neer Believe do what you Please
If the Sun & Moon should Doubt
Theyd immediately Go out
To be in a Passion you Good may Do
But no Good if a Passion is in you
The Whore & Gambler by the State
Licencd build that Nations Fate
The Harlots cry from Street to Street
Shall weave Old Englands winding Sheet
The Winners Shout the Losers Curse
Dance before dead Englands Hearse
Every Night & every Morn
Some to Misery are Born
Every Morn and every Night
Some are Born to sweet delight
Some are Born to sweet delight
Some are Born to Endless Night
We are led to Believe a Lie
When we see not Thro the Eye
Which was Born in a Night to perish in a Night
When the Soul Slept in Beams of Light
God Appears & God is Light
To those poor Souls who dwell in Night
But does a Human Form Display
To those who Dwell in Realms of day

This poem is in the public domain.

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,
historia muerta.

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.

for Paul Otremba

Six in all, to be exact. I know it was a Tuesday 
     or Wednesday because the museum closes early
on those days. I almost wrote something 

     about the light being late—; the “late light”
is what I almost said, and you know how we 
     poets go on and on about the light and 

the wind and the dark, but that day the dark was still 
     far away swimming in the Pacific, and we had 
45 minutes to find Goya’s “Still Life with Bream” 

     before the doors closed. I’ve now forgotten 
three times the word Golden in the title of that painting
     —and I wish I could ask what you think 

that means. I see that color most often 
     these days when the cold, wet light of morning 
soaks my son’s curls and his already light 

     brown hair takes on the flash of fish fins
in moonlight. I read somewhere 
     that Goya never titled this painting, 

or the other eleven still lifes, so it’s just 
     as well because I like the Spanish title better.  
“Doradas” is simple, doesn’t point 

     out the obvious. Lately, I’ve been saying 
dorado so often in the song I sing 
     to my son, “O sol, sol, dorado sol 

no te escondes...” I felt lost 
     that day in the museum, but you knew 
where we were going having been there 

     so many times. The canvas was so small 
at 17 x 24 inches. I stood before it 
     lost in its beach of green sand and 

that silver surf cut with pink. 
     I stared while you circled the room 
like a curious cat. I took a step back, 

     and then with your hands in your pockets 
you said, No matter where we stand, 
     there’s always one fish staring at us.

As a new father, I am now that pyramid 
     of fish; my body is all eyes and eyes. 
Some of them watch for you in the west 

where the lion sun yawns and shakes off 
     its sleep before it purrs, and hungry, 
dives deep in the deep of the deep.

Copyright © 2020 by Tomás Q. Morín. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 18, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

The great thing
is not having
a mind. Feelings:
oh, I have those; they
govern me. I have
a lord in heaven
called the sun, and open
for him, showing him
the fire of my own heart, fire
like his presence.
What could such glory be
if not a heart? Oh my brothers and sisters,
were you like me once, long ago,
before you were human? Did you
permit yourselves
to open once, who would never
open again? Because in truth
I am speaking now
the way you do. I speak
because I am shattered.

From The Wild Iris, published by Ecco Press, 1992. Copyright © 1992 by Louise Glück. All rights reserved. Used with permission. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on October 10, 2020.