The world below the brine, Forests at the bottom of the sea, the branches and leaves, Sea-lettuce, vast lichens, strange flowers and seeds, the thick tangle, openings, and pink turf, Different colors, pale gray and green, purple, white, and gold, the play of light through the water, Dumb swimmers there among the rocks,coral, gluten, grass, rushes, and the aliment of the swimmers, Sluggish existences grazing there suspended, or slowly crawling close to the bottom, The sperm-whale at the surface blowing air and spray, or disporting with his flukes, The leaden-eyed shark, the walrus, the turtle, the hairy sea-leopard, and the sting-ray, Passions there, wars, pursuits, tribes, sight in those ocean-depths, breathing that thick-breathing air, as so many do, The change thence to the sight here, and to the subtle air breathed by beings like us who walk this sphere, The change onward from ours to that of beings who walk other spheres.
This poem is in the public domain.
Wait, for now.
Distrust everything if you have to.
But trust the hours. Haven’t they
carried you everywhere, up to now?
Personal events will become interesting again.
Hair will become interesting.
Pain will become interesting.
Buds that open out of season will become interesting.
Second-hand gloves will become lovely again;
their memories are what give them
the need for other hands. The desolation
of lovers is the same: that enormous emptiness
carved out of such tiny beings as we are
asks to be filled; the need
for the new love is faithfulness to the old.
Don’t go too early.
You’re tired. But everyone’s tired.
But no one is tired enough.
Only wait a little and listen:
music of hair,
music of pain,
music of looms weaving our loves again.
Be there to hear it, it will be the only time,
most of all to hear your whole existence,
rehearsed by the sorrows, play itself into total exhaustion.
Copyright © 1980 by Galway Kinnell. From Mortal Acts, Mortal Words (Mariner Books, 1980). Used with permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
I remembered what it was like, knowing what you want to eat and then making it, forgetting about the ending in the middle, looking at the ocean for a long time without restlessness, or with restlessness not inhabiting the joints, sitting Indian style on a porch overlooking that water, smooth like good cake frosting. And then I experienced it, falling so deeply into the storyline, I laughed as soon as my character entered the picture, humming the theme music even when I’d told myself I wanted to be quiet by some freezing river and never talk to anyone again. And I thought, now is the right time to cut up your shirt.
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
From The Poetry of Robert Frost edited by Edward Connery Lathem. Copyright © 1923, 1947, 1969 by Henry Holt and Company, copyright © 1942, 1951 by Robert Frost, copyright © 1970, 1975 by Lesley Frost Ballantine. Reprinted by permission of Henry Holt and Company, LLC.
Love at the lips was touch As sweet as I could bear; And once that seemed too much; I lived on air That crossed me from sweet things, The flow of—was it musk From hidden grapevine springs Downhill at dusk? I had the swirl and ache From sprays of honeysuckle That when they're gathered shake Dew on the knuckle. I craved strong sweets, but those Seemed strong when I was young; The petal of the rose It was that stung. Now no joy but lacks salt, That is not dashed with pain And weariness and fault; I crave the stain Of tears, the aftermark Of almost too much love, The sweet of bitter bark And burning clove. When stiff and sore and scarred I take away my hand From leaning on it hard In grass and sand, The hurt is not enough: I long for weight and strength To feel the earth as rough To all my length.
From The Poetry of Robert Frost by Robert Frost, edited by Edward Connery Lathem. Copyright 1916, 1923, 1928, 1930, 1934, 1939, 1947, 1949, © 1969 by Holt Rinehart and Winston, Inc. Copyright 1936, 1942, 1944, 1945, 1947, 1948, 1951, 1953, 1954, © 1956, 1958, 1959, 1961, 1962 by Robert Frost. Copyright © 1962, 1967, 1970 by Leslie Frost Ballantine.
Every night I sleep on alternate
sides of the bed, as if to duplicate
sleeping with you. If
I'm fast enough, I'm the warmth
of my own body beside me, reach
out and touch myself. Breach
the blue of my bones, breathe in my own ear.
You left me. Lying here,
I left you to be with me.
Someone asks if your body
was worth trading for mine.
My sin was always pride.
Did you want a man that sleeps
with himself to keep
the bed warm? I need you like the earth
needed the flood after dearth
Love has gone and left me and the days are all alike; Eat I must, and sleep I will,—and would that night were here! But ah!—to lie awake and hear the slow hours strike! Would that it were day again!—with twilight near! Love has gone and left me and I don't know what to do; This or that or what you will is all the same to me; But all the things that I begin I leave before I'm through,— There's little use in anything as far as I can see. Love has gone and left me,—and the neighbors knock and borrow, And life goes on forever like the gnawing of a mouse,— And to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow There's this little street and this little house.
This poem is in the public domain.
Coming at an end, the lovers
Are exhausted like two swimmers. Where
Did it end? There is no telling. No love is
Like an ocean with the dizzy procession of the waves’ boundaries
From which two can emerge exhausted, nor long goodbye
Coming at an end. Rather, I would say, like a length
Of coiled rope
Which does not disguise in the final twists of its lengths
But, you will say, we loved
And some parts of us loved
And the rest of us will remain
Two persons. Yes,
Poetry ends like a rope.
From A Book of Music by Jack Spicer. Appears in My Vocabulary Did This to Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer (Wesleyan University Press, 2008). Used by permission.
After Tim Dlugos' Things I Might Do I probably didn't tell you that the last Line of your poem left me on a plane of Movement somewhere between the best of pop Culture and the longest break in your favorite pop song I probably didn't tell you that the train is going to take Way longer than you think and you were probably annoyed I probably broke the moon in pieces with my night vision Straining too hard to remember what I probably dropped in your inbox I probably should've said what I meant. You probably knew how my life didn't fix into That theory box on your shelf, so I probably Ignored you when you said hi to me near Mercer St I probably left off the most important thing But you probably didn't want to hear it I probably tried to be a good New Yorker and Work hard and play hard but it didn't work Out that way, I probably just reverted back to The Rust Belt mode—work hard, have it not mean Enough to play hard or play at all. It's probably too hard to make A dent for yourself in the Rust Belt. It's all probably said and done Your neighbor knows what you did tomorrow and what was Going on yesterday. Probably good too so you don't get in trouble With the other neighbor. But they probably don't know that you could Be in NY for a few hours and have something good and so life changing happen To you it was probably a 360 for you and probably took You years to come down to 180, probably, right?
From Shorthand and Electric Language Stars by Stephanie Gray. Copyright © 2015 Stephanie Gray. Used with permission of Portable Press at Y-Yo Labs.
Because her body is winter inside a cave
because someone built
fire there and forgot to put it out
because bedtime is a castle
she’s building inside herself
with a moat
and buckets full of mist
because when you let go
tumble over cliffs and turn
into moths before hitting bottom
because their hooves leave streaks of midnight
in the sky
because stuffed rabbits
are better at keeping secrets
than stopping hands
because when the world got
shoved up inside her
she held it tight like a kegel ball
at the struggle Atlas had
carrying such a tiny thing
on his back
Copyright © 2015 by Melisa Studdard. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 24, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
See! I give myself to you, Beloved!
My words are little jars
For you to take and put upon a shelf.
Their shapes are quaint and beautiful,
And they have many pleasant colours and lusters
To recommend them.
Also the scent from them fills the room
With sweetness of flowers and crushed grasses.
When I shall have given you the last one,
You will have the whole of me,
But I shall be dead.
This poem is in the public domain.
“After all,” that too might be possible . . .
It isn’t too late, but for what I’m not sure.
Though I live for possibility, I loathe unbridled
Speculation, let alone those vague attempts
At self-exploration that become days wasted
Trying out the various modes of being:
The ecstatic mode, which celebrates the world, a high
That fades into an old idea; the contemplative,
Which says, So what? and leaves it there;
The skeptical, a way of being in the world
Without accepting it (whatever that might mean).
They’re all poses, adequate to different ends
And certain ages, none of them conclusive
Or sufficient to the day. I find myself surprised
By my indifference to what happens next:
You’d think that after almost seventy years of waiting
For the figure in the carpet to emerge I’d feel a sense of
Urgency about the future, rather than dismissing it
As another pretext for more idle speculation.
I’m happy, but I have a pessimistic cast of mind.
I like to generalize, but realize it’s pointless,
Since everything is there to see. I love remembering
For its own sake and the feel of passing time
It generates, which lends it meaning and endows it
With a private sense of purpose—as though every life
Were a long effort to salvage something of its past,
An effort bound to fail in the long run, though it comes
With a self-defeating guarantee: the evaporating
Air of recognition that lingers around a name
Or rises from a page from time to time; or the nothing
Waiting at the end of age; whichever comes last.
Copyright © 2017 John Koethe. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Winter 2017.
When the boys are carnivals
we gather round them in the dark room
& they make their noise while drums
ricochet against their bodies & thin air
below the white ceiling hung up like a moon
& it is California, the desert. I am driving in a car,
clapping my hands for the beautiful windmills,
one of whom is my brother, spinning,
on a hillside in the garage
with other boys he'll grow old with, throw back.
How they throw back their bodies
on the cardboard floor, then spring-to, flying
like the heads of hammers hitting strings
inside of a piano.
This is how they fall & get back up. One
who was thrown out by his father. One
who carries death with him like a balloon
tied to his wrist. One whose heart will break.
One whose grandmother will forget his name.
One whose eye will close. One who stood
beside his mother's body in a green hospital. One.
Kick up against the air to touch the earth.
See him fall, then get back up.
Then get back up.
Copyright © 2015 by Aracelis Girmay. From The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop (Haymarket Books, 2015). Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.
I followed you down the switchback trail of the Grand Canyon and we slept
in a crevice, and we own that,
and we own those moments tossing the football in front of 4073 Wyncote Road
until the streetlights snapped on,
and we own the smoke bomb the cops threw at us and a few thousand others
at the Jefferson Airplane concert, Akron, Ohio, 1972,
and we own the whole country we passed through, all the way to the ocean,
where we checked into a hotel and you discovered, lying atop Gideon’s Bible,
a black film canister’s worth of weed and half-a-pack of rolling papers,
and we smoked it, and it was good, unbelieving of our luck,
which we own, and the lunar landscape surrounding our tent in Big Bend, Texas,
and the stars, so clear we could read by them, and did,
and we own The Godfather—Part One—on the big screen of that packed theater
in Evanston, Illinois, and we own that fear
when were lost in the Tennessee woods, into the dark, and you followed
some analytical instinct until we found—lo and behold—a road,
and Bob Dylan, who was ours, and Joan Baez, who was also ours, singing
“The Times They Are A-Changing” in the War Memorial,
and watching the Indians—miracles of miracles—beat the New York Yankees
at Yankee Stadium during the 1995 heatwave—that, too, that victory, was ours,
and I remember how quiet you sometimes were, and I asked about it, and you said it’s a feeling you
get, you don’t know how to talk about it, and I’d like to think
we own that feeling—how we bested the myths. We didn’t become murderer
and victim. We didn’t cheat on the other’s birthright.
Oh, my brother of the other world, my brother who perhaps will greet me
when I arrive at that place prepared for by our father,
who is now joined by his own flesh and blood, which is not blood, which is not flesh, but bones and
which we believe in, like the moon, or the unpredictable Cleveland weather,
or the way the snow descends on the fallen leaves,
or how the sun glazes them now, for their moment, stirred in the slight wind,
the same wind that blew the Jerusalem dust in our faces, which we own.
From Our Portion: New and Selected Poems (Autumn House Press, 2015). Copyright © 2015 by Philip Terman. Used with permission of the author.
If you are like me and can only see the horizon
that unreachable don’t know that want sheds and
grows and sheds and grows please don’t
keep trying the outline is fine find a closer
aisle pull the cans and boxes from the shelves so
you can eat so you can feed on likeness anything
is possible but the possible isn’t always foldable
it’s okay to not spin the diamond that begs for your
finger it’s okay to reach behind you allow your clothes
to snag onto air to hide in time to exist in
the stars to believe that awards signify nothing it is
okay to watch the birds in the ficus tree clutter the
branches each season leave their waste and let
your hands be hands and the wings be wings
From Barbie Chang (Copper Canyon Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Victoria Chang. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org.
Days come and go:
this bird by minute, hour by leaf,
a calendar of loss.
I shift through woods, sifting
the air for August cadences
and walk beyond the boundaries I’ve kept
for months, past loose stone walls,
the fences breaking into sticks,
the poems always spilling into prose.
A low sweet meadow full of stars
beyond the margin
fills with big-boned, steaming mares.
The skies above are bruised like fruit,
their juices running,
black-veined marble of regret.
The road gusts sideways:
sassafras and rue.
A warbler warbles.
Did I wake the night through?
Walk through sleeping?
Shuffle for another way to mourn?
Dawn pinks up.
In sparking grass I find beginnings.
I was cradled here.
I gabbled and I spun.
And gradually the many men inside me
found their names,
acquired definition, points of view.
There was much to say,
not all of it untrue.
As the faithful seasons fell away,
I followed till my thoughts
inhabited a tree of thorns
that grew in muck of my own making.
Yet I was lifted and laid bare.
I hung there weakly: crossed, crossed-out.
At first I didn’t know
a voice inside me speaking low.
I stumbled in my way.
But now these hours that can’t be counted
find me fresh, this ordinary time
like kingdom come.
In clarity of dawn,
I fill my lungs, a summer-full of breaths.
The great field holds the wind, and sways.
From New and Collected Poems: 1975–2015 by Jay Parini (Beacon Press, 2016). Reprinted with permission from Beacon Press.
Copyright © 2017 by Jennifer Grotz. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 12, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Dreaded season when light’s too long too soon,
winter turns to you before its work is done.
Along with snowdrops, forsythia, anemone,
along with tulips breaking out of their bulbs,
comes the long memory of the fatal spring
when I was thirty-three and my love wasn’t there,
had gone without waiting and said she’d return,
but winter’s work done, was still gone.
Absence stronger than flowers, steaming in sun,
poisoned the season, buried morbid winter
and filled imagined summer with vapors. Light,
light spring drifts in like a feather
used for torture, its touch
too much and not enough.
Copyright © 2012 by Roger Greenwald. First published in Redwood Coast Review.
When the bass drops on Bill Withers’ Better Off Dead, it’s like 7 a.m. and I confess I’m looking over my shoulder once or twice just to make sure no one in Brooklyn is peeking into my third-floor window to see me in pajamas I haven’t washed for three weeks before I slide from sink to stove in one long groove left foot first then back to the window side with my chin up and both fists clenched like two small sacks of stolen nickels and I can almost hear the silver hit the floor by the dozens when I let loose and sway a little back and just like that I’m a lizard grown two new good legs on a breeze -bent limb. I’m a grown-ass man with a three-day wish and two days to live. And just like that everyone knows my heart’s broke and no one is home. Just like that, I’m water. Just like that, I’m the boat. Just like that, I’m both things in the whole world rocking. Sometimes sadness is just what comes between the dancing. And bam!, my mother’s dead and, bam!, my brother’s children are laughing. Just like—ok, it’s true I can’t pop up from my knees so quick these days and no one ever said I could sing but tell me my body ain’t good enough for this. I’ll count the aches another time, one in each ankle, the sharp spike in my back, this mud-muscle throbbing in my going bones, I’m missing the six biggest screws to hold this blessed mess together. I’m wind- rattled. The wood’s splitting. The hinges are falling off. When the first bridge ends, just like that, I’m a flung open door.
They were not kidding
when they said they were blinded
by a vision of love.
It was not just a manner
of speaking or feeling
though it’s hard to say
how the dead
really felt harder
even than knowing the living.
You are so opaque
to me your brief moments
of apparent transparency
seem fraudulent windows
in a Brutalist structure
The effort your life
requires exhausts me.
I am not kidding.
that you are unloved
but that you love
and must decide which
to remember; tracks left
in the field, a language
of going away or coming back—
and to look up
from the single mind,
to let untangle
the far-off snow
until no longer
held as proof
is also where birds
strung along branches
each with their own song
for the other,
every note used
to sing anyway—
how to hold the already
as the not yet
This was once a love poem,
before its haunches thickened, its breath grew short,
before it found itself sitting,
perplexed and a little embarrassed,
on the fender of a parked car,
while many people passed by without turning their heads.
It remembers itself dressing as if for a great engagement.
It remembers choosing these shoes,
this scarf or tie.
Once, it drank beer for breakfast,
drifted its feet
in a river side by side with the feet of another.
Once it pretended shyness, then grew truly shy,
dropping its head so the hair would fall forward,
so the eyes would not be seen.
IT spoke with passion of history, of art.
It was lovely then, this poem.
Under its chin, no fold of skin softened.
Behind the knees, no pad of yellow fat.
What it knew in the morning it still believed at nightfall.
An unconjured confidence lifted its eyebrows, its cheeks.
The longing has not diminished.
Still it understands. It is time to consider a cat,
the cultivation of African violets or flowering cactus.
Yes, it decides:
Many miniature cacti, in blue and red painted pots.
When it finds itself disquieted
by the pure and unfamiliar silence of its new life,
it will touch them—one, then another—
with a single finger outstretched like a tiny flame.
From Given Sugar, Given Salt (HarperCollins, 2001) by Jane Hirshfield. Copyright © 2001 by Jane Hirshfield. Reprinted by permission of the author, all rights reserved.
Masons, when they start upon a building,
Are careful to test out the scaffolding;
Make sure that planks won’t slip at busy points,
Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints.
And yet all this comes down when the job’s done
Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.
So if, my dear, there sometimes seem to be
Old bridges breaking between you and me
Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall
Confident that we have built our wall.
“Scaffolding” from Opened Ground: Selected Poems 1966–1996 by Seamus Heaney. Copyright © 1998 by Seamus Heaney.
No shoes and a glossy
red helmet, I rode
on the back of my dad’s
Harley at seven years old.
Before the divorce.
Before the new apartment.
Before the new marriage.
Before the apple tree.
Before the ceramics in the garbage.
Before the dog’s chain.
Before the koi were all eaten
by the crane. Before the road
between us, there was the road
beneath us, and I was just
big enough not to let go:
Henno Road, creek just below,
rough wind, chicken legs,
and I never knew survival
was like that. If you live,
you look back and beg
for it again, the hazardous
bliss before you know
what you would miss.
Copyright © 2015 by Ada Limón. Used with permission of the author.
I like the lady horses best,
how they make it all look easy,
like running 40 miles per hour
is as fun as taking a nap, or grass.
I like their lady horse swagger,
after winning. Ears up, girls, ears up!
But mainly, let's be honest, I like
that they're ladies. As if this big
dangerous animal is also a part of me,
that somewhere inside the delicate
skin of my body, there pumps
an 8-pound female horse heart,
giant with power, heavy with blood.
Don't you want to believe it?
Don't you want to lift my shirt and see
the huge beating genius machine
that thinks, no, it knows,
it's going to come in first.
From Bright Dead Things (Milkweed Editions, 2015). Copyright © 2015 by Ada Limón. Used with permission from Milkweed Editions, milkweed.org.
From the Academy of American Poets Archives. This poem is part of "September Suite" by Lucille Clifton, 2001.
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