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 bodydo 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. inhaletry not to remember how desperate
youve been for touchyes ignore itthat hitch of your heart

you got from mornings you woke to find momma hysterical
or gone. try to give up the certainty shed 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 穢 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 thinklanguage,
 
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 穢 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
Ive 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 穢 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 穢 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 wasCold 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 wasHigh 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 穢 1994 the Estate of Langston Hughes. Used with permission.