imagine your heart is just a ball you learned to dribble up
and down the length of your driveway back home. slow down
control it. plant your feet in the soft blue of your mat and release
it is hard but slowly you are unlearning the shallow pant
of your childhood. extend your body—do not reach
for someone but something fixed and fleshless and certain—
fold flatten then lift your head like a cobra sure of the sun
waiting and ready to caress the chill
from its scales. inhale—try not to remember how desperate
you’ve been for touch—yes ignore it—that hitch of your heart
you got from mornings you woke to find momma hysterical
or gone. try to give up the certainty she’d never return
recall only the return and not its coldness. imagine her arms
wide to receive you imagine you are not a thing that needs
escaping. it is hard and though at times you are sure
you will always be the abandoned girl trying to abandon herself
push up arch deep into your back exhale and remember—
when it is too late to pray the end of the flood
we pray instead to survive it.
Copyright © 2018 by Brionne Janae. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 22, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
This is not how it begins but how you understand it. I walk many kilometers and find myself to be the same— the same moon hovering over the same, bleached sky, and when the officer calls me it is a name I do not recognize, a self I do not recognize. We are asked to kneel, or stand still, depending on which land we embroider our feet with— this one is copious with black blood or so I am told. Someone calls me by the skin I did not know I had and to this I think—language, there must be a language that contains us all that contains all of this. How to disassemble the sorrow of beginnings, how to let go, and not, how to crouch beneath other bodies how to stop breathing, how not to. Our fathers are not elders here; they are long-bearded men shoving taxi cabs and sprawled in small valet parking lots— at their sight, my body dims its light (a desiccated grape) and murmur, Igziabher Yistilign— our pride, raw-purple again. We begin like this: all of us walking in solitude walking a desert earth and unforgiving bodies. We cross lines we dare not speak of; we learn and unlearn things quickly, or intentionally slow (because, that, we can control) and give ourselves new names because these selves must be new to forget the old blue. But, sometimes, we also begin like this: on a cold, cold night memorizing escape routes kissing the foreheads of small children hiding accat in our pockets, a rosary for safekeeping. Or, married off to men thirty years our elders big house, big job, big, striking hands. Or, thinking of the mouths to feed. At times we begin in silence; water making its way into our bodies— rain, or tears, or black and red seas until we are ripe with longing.
Copyright © 2018 by Mahtem Shiferraw. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 16, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets
These days, I refuse to let you see me
the way I see myself.
I wake up in the morning not knowing
whether I will make it through the day;
reminding myself of the small, small things
I’ve forgotten to marvel in;
these trees, blood-free and bone-dry
have come to rescue me more than once,
but my saving often requires hiding
yet they stand so tall, so slim and gluttonous
refusing to contain me; even baobab trees
will split open at my command, and
carve out fleshless wombs to welcome me.
I must fall out of love of the world
without me in it, but my loves have
long gone, and left me in a foreign land
where once I was made of bone,
now water, now nothing.
Copyright © 2019 by Mahtem Shifferaw. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 6, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes published by Alfred A. Knopf/Vintage. Copyright © 1994 by the Estate of Langston Hughes. Reprinted by permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated. All rights reserved.
I went down to the river,
I set down on the bank.
I tried to think but couldn't,
So I jumped in and sank.
I came up once and hollered!
I came up twice and cried!
If that water hadn't a-been so cold
I might've sunk and died.
But it was Cold in that water! It was cold!
I took the elevator
Sixteen floors above the ground.
I thought about my baby
And thought I would jump down.
I stood there and I hollered!
I stood there and I cried!
If it hadn't a-been so high
I might've jumped and died.
But it was High up there! It was high!
So since I'm still here livin',
I guess I will live on.
I could've died for love—
But for livin' I was born
Though you may hear me holler,
And you may see me cry—
I'll be dogged, sweet baby,
If you gonna see me die.
Life is fine! Fine as wine! Life is fine!
From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Copyright © 1994 the Estate of Langston Hughes. Used with permission.