Odd how you entered my house quietly,
Quietly left again.
While you stayed you ate at my table,
Slept in my bed.
There was much sweetness,
Yet little was done, little said.
After you left there was pain,
Now there is no more pain.

But the door of a certain room in my house
Will be always shut.
Your fork, your plate, the glass you drank from,
The music you played,
Are in that room
With the pillow where last your head was laid.
And there is one place in my garden
Where it’s best that I set no foot.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 5, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

I never thought I’d keep a record of my pain
or happiness
like candles lighting the entire soft lace
of the air
around the full length of your hair/a shower
organized by God
in brown and auburn
undulations luminous like particles
of flame
But now I do
retrieve an afternoon of apricots
and water interspersed with cigarettes
and sand and rocks
we walked across:
                        How easily you held
my hand
beside the low tide
of the world

Now I do
relive an evening of retreat
a bridge I left behind
where all the solid heat
of lust and tender trembling
lay as cruel and as kind
as passion spins its infinite
tergiversations in between the bitter
and the sweet

Alone and longing for you
now I do

Copyright © 2017 by the June M. Jordan Literary Estate. Used with the permission of the June M. Jordan Literary Estate, www.junejordan.com.

While crossing the river of shorn paper,
I forget my name. My body,
a please leave. I want a patron saint

that will hush the dog growling
at trimmed hedges it sees in the night.
I want the world to be without language,

but write my thoughts down just in case.
Send help, the dog’s growling
won’t let me sleep. I haven’t slept in days.

I am looking for a patron saint, but none
will let me pray for guidance. There is a buzz
in my right ear that never goes away, no matter

how hard I hit the side of my head
for loose change. Most mornings I wonder
who I can pray to that will make sure I never

have to survive waking again. Most nights
I forget to pray the rosary, though I sleep with it
by the bed. I’ve never owned a TV because

I’ll replay this conversation in my head.
My dead lovers are hungry in the kitchen,
so I fix them food they cannot eat. I make toast

of vellum paper, fry an egg made of crepe.
I only want a patron saint to protect me.
I only want someone else to bleed.

Copyright © 2019 by Natalie Scenters-Zapico. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 5, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

On balconies, sunlight. On poplars, sunlight on our lips.
Today no one is shooting.
A girl cuts her hair with imaginary scissors—
the scissors in sunlight, her hair in sunlight.
Another girl steals a pair of shoes from a sleeping soldier, skewered with light.
As soldier wakes and looks at us looking at them
what do they see?
Tonight they shot fifty women at Lerna St.,
I sit down to write and tell you what I know:
a child learns the world by putting it in her mouth,
a girl becomes a woman and a woman, earth.
Body, they blame you for all things and they
seek in the body what does not live in the body.

Copyright © 2018 by Ilya Kaminsky. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 26, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

            I was trying to wave to you but you wouldn’t wave back
                                    —The Be Good Tanyas

Forgive me my deafness now for your name on others’ lips:
each mouth gathers then opens & I search for the wave

the fluke of their tongues should make with the blow
of your name in that mild darkness I recognize but cannot

explain as the same oblivious blue of Hold the conch to your ear
& hearing the highway loud & clear. My hands are bloated

with the name signs of my kin who have waited for water
to reach their ears. Or oil; grease from a fox with the gall

of a hare, bear fat melted in hot piss, peach kernels fried
in hog lard & tucked along the cavum for a cure; a sharp stick

even, a jagged rock; anything to wedge down deep to the drum
inside that kept them walking away from wives—old

or otherwise—& the tales they tell about our being too broken
for their bearing, & yet they bear on. Down. Forgive me

my deafness for my own sound, how I mistook it for a wound
you could heal. Forgive me the places your wasted words

could have saved us from going had I heard you with my hands.
I saw Joni live & still thought a gay pair of guys put up a parking lot.

How could I have known You are worthless sounds like Should we
do this, even with the lights on. You let me say Yes. So what

if Johnny Nash can see clearly now Lorraine is gone—I only wanted
to hear the sea. The audiologist asks Does it seem like you’re under

water? & I think only of your name. I thought it was you
after I love, but memory proves nothing save my certainty—

the chapped round of your mouth was the same shape while at rest
or in thought or blowing smoke, & all three make a similar sound:

Copyright © 2018 by Meg Day. Originally published in TYPO. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 18, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Love comes quietly,
finally, drops
about me, on me,
in the old ways.

What did I know
thinking myself
able to go
alone all the way.

From For Love: Poems. Copyright © 1962 by Robert Creeley. Used with permission of the Estate of Robert Creeley and The Permissions Company.

And the just man trailed God's shining agent,
over a black mountain, in his giant track,
while a restless voice kept harrying his woman:
"It's not too late, you can still look back

at the red towers of your native Sodom,
the square where once you sang, the spinning-shed,
at the empty windows set in the tall house
where sons and daughters blessed your marriage-bed."

A single glance: a sudden dart of pain
stitching her eyes before she made a sound . . .
Her body flaked into transparent salt,
and her swift legs rooted to the ground.

Who will grieve for this woman? Does she not seem
too insignificant for our concern?
Yet in my heart I never will deny her,
who suffered death because she chose to turn.

From Poems of Akhmatova, by Anna Akhmatova and translated by Stanley Kunitz and Max Hayward. Published by Little, Brown & Co. © 1973 by Stanley Kunitz and Max Hayward. Granted by permission of Darhansoff & Verrill Literary Agency. All rights reserved.

is even more fun than going to San Sebastian, Irún, Hendaye, Biarritz, Bayonne
or being sick to my stomach on the Travesera de Gracia in Barcelona
partly because in your orange shirt you look like a better happier St. Sebastian
partly because of my love for you, partly because of your love for yoghurt
partly because of the fluorescent orange tulips around the birches
partly because of the secrecy our smiles take on before people and statuary
it is hard to believe when I’m with you that there can be anything as still
as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front of it
in the warm New York 4 o’clock light we are drifting back and forth
between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles

and the portrait show seems to have no faces in it at all, just paint
you suddenly wonder why in the world anyone ever did them
                                                                                                              I look
at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world
except possibly for the Polish Rider occasionally and anyway it’s in the Frick
which thank heavens you haven’t gone to yet so we can go together for the first time
and the fact that you move so beautifully more or less takes care of Futurism
just as at home I never think of the Nude Descending a Staircase or
at a rehearsal a single drawing of Leonardo or Michelangelo that used to wow me
and what good does all the research of the Impressionists do them
when they never got the right person to stand near the tree when the sun sank
or for that matter Marino Marini when he didn’t pick the rider as carefully
as the horse
                               it seems they were all cheated of some marvelous experience
which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I’m telling you about it

From The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara by Frank O’Hara, copyright © 1971 by Maureen Granville-Smith, Administratrix of the Estate of Frank O’Hara, copyright renewed 1999 by Maureen O’Hara Granville-Smith and Donald Allen. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

Bend pages at the corner
Folding into the stories
We tell about ourselves
About each other
About days dissolved
and seasons yet to come

Circulate riches to every spirit and spine
Stack rhyme schemes and prophecy
Humanity and hypotheses
Guard our stories, stretching from soil to sky
Common and crown, ground level to grand heights
And all of our mass in the middle
Mass, in the middle
The accumulated weight of all our question marks
Our catalog of anxious cells and eager breaths

Warm the hallways, the portals and platforms
Ignite hope along dim landscapes
Archive the shine of our collective living.
Our electric resistance to darkness

TK

is a black shambling bear
ruffling its wild back and tossing
mountains into the sea

is a black hawk circling 
the burying ground circling the bones
picked clean and discarded

is a fish black blind in the belly of water
is a diamond blind in the black belly of coal

is a black and living thing 
is a favorite child
of the universe
feel her rolling her hand
in its kinky hair
feel her brushing it clean

Lucille Clifton, "the earth is a living thing" from Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton. Copyright © 1991 by Lucille Clifton. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., boaeditions.org.

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

This poem is in the public domain.

You are standing in the minefield again.
Someone who is dead now

told you it is where you will learn
to dance. Snow on your lips like a salted

cut, you leap between your deaths, black as god’s
periods. Your arms cleaving little wounds

in the wind. You are something made. Then made
to survive, which means you are somebody’s

son. Which means if you open your eyes, you’ll be back
in that house, beneath a blanket printed with yellow sailboats.

Your mother’s boyfriend, his bald head ringed with red
hair, like a planet on fire, kneeling

by your bed again. Air of whiskey & crushed
Oreos. Snow falling through the window: ash returned

from a failed fable. His spilled-ink hand
on your chest. & you keep dancing inside the minefield—

motionless. The curtains fluttering. Honeyed light
beneath the door. His breath. His wet blue face: earth

spinning in no one’s orbit. & you want someone to say Hey…Hey
I think your dancing is gorgeous. A little waltz to die for,

darling. You want someone to say all this
is long ago. That one night, very soon, you’ll pack a bag

with your favorite paperback & your mother’s .45,
that the surest shelter was always the thoughts

above your head. That it’s fair—it has to be—
how our hands hurt us, then give us

the world. How you can love the world
until there’s nothing left to love

but yourself. Then you can stop.
Then you can walk away—back into the fog

-walled minefield, where the vein in your neck adores you
to zero. You can walk away. You can be nothing

& still breathing. Believe me.

Copyright © 2015 by Ocean Vuong. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 2, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets

Swell     you can dream more   the earth
swells      seeds pop
I glance at the prize
eyes closed in the glancing

It's not a time to run
I wear soft shoes
and it took a long time
to walk here

Insects nudge me in my dreams
like the 5 honey bees plus
the strange one
Intelligent bee glances buzzing

to say   Let me out    The fake
lights confuse us
confuses the source

Worker bee buzzed my neck
directly   me not turning off
lamps fast enough

Please
     just open the door
to the sun

Copyright © 2011 by Hoa Nguyen. Used with permission of the author.

To be a good
ex/current friend for R. To be one last

inspired way to get back at R. To be relationship
advice for L. To be advice

for my mother. To be a more comfortable
hospital bed for my mother. To be

no more hospital beds. To be, in my spare time,
America for my uncle, who wants to be China

for me. To be a country of trafficless roads
& a sports car for my aunt, who likes to go

fast. To be a cyclone
of laughter when my parents say

their new coworker is like that, they can tell
because he wears pink socks, see, you don’t, so you can’t,

can’t be one of them. To be the one
my parents raised me to be—

a season from the planet
of planet-sized storms.

To be a backpack of PB&J & every
thing I know, for my brothers, who are becoming

their own storms. To be, for me, nobody,
homebody, body in bed watching TV. To go 2D

& be a painting, an amateur’s hilltop & stars,
simple decoration for the new apartment

with you. To be close, J.,
to everything that is close to you—

blue blanket, red cup, green shoes
with pink laces.

To be the blue & the red.
The green, the hot pink.

From When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities. Copyright © 2016 by Chen Chen. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.

The past and present wilt—I have fill'd them, emptied them.
And proceed to fill my next fold of the future.

Listener up there! what have you to confide to me?
Look in my face while I snuff the sidle of evening,
(Talk honestly, no one else hears you, and I stay only a minute longer.)

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

I concentrate toward them that are nigh, I wait on the door-slab.

Who has done his day's work? who will soonest be through with his supper?
Who wishes to walk with me?

Will you speak before I am gone? will you prove already too late?

This poem is in the public domain. 

Beneath heaven’s vault
remember always walking
through halls of cloud
down aisles of sunlight
or through high hedges
of the green rain
walk in the world
highheeled with swirl of cape
hand at the swordhilt
of your pride
Keep a tall throat
Remain aghast at life

Enter each day
as upon a stage
lighted and waiting
for your step
Crave upward as flame
have keenness in the nostril
Give your eyes
to agony or rapture

Train your hands
as birds to be
brooding or nimble
Move your body
as the horses
sweeping on slender hooves
over crag and prairie
with fleeing manes
and aloofness of their limbs

Take earth for your own large room
and the floor of the earth
carpeted with sunlight
and hung round with silver wind
for your dancing place

From Collected Poems by May Swenson. Copyright © 2013 by The Literary Estate of May Swenson. Reprinted by permission of The Library of America. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on June 6, 2013. Browse the Poem-a-Day archive.

For our new apartment, which my mother may never see
since slugging into that old person’s disease—I won’t bring myself
to say it in writing—I bought a cactus and it’s beautiful,
its soldier-green skin and feline-whiskered dress howls
beneath the den light which encourages me to keep my big-boy jeans on.
I know I look for answers everywhere. Everywhere there you are
with your eyes a war-less country, a privilege we sometimes share.
But tonight, there isn’t a country. Just a sky fussing. Anxious music.
The classic duty of breath as we binge another episode of
What Should I Do When You Want to Die. Sometimes, you fail
to love me, I think I say, the math ain’t mathing—but what could you do?
You’ve researched plants, I know, to find which could live
without much gusto from its human. You pour yourself
another glass of vodka, a shot of tequila for me. Who am I
to think I’m too good for your anger—you were right…
Come, let’s sour our swords together. Come, let morning waltz
into our bedroom all cocky-like like it landlords the place. Come,
let’s plunge forward, drunkenly in love, grab hold the darkness we become.

Copyright © 2021 by Luther Hughes. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 27, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

Catmint—tubular, lavender, an ointment
to blur the scar, bloom the skin. My mouth has begun
the hunt for words that heal.

In the garden, I am startled by a cluster
of sun-colored petals marked, Radiation.
Piles of radiation. Orange radiation, huddled together

like families bound by a hospital-bright morning.
And behind them: a force of yuccas
called Golden Swords. A bush or mound

of sheath-like leaves sprouting from a proud center.
And isn’t that the plot?
First the radiation, then the golden sword.

I remember, incurably,
your mother. The laughter that flowered
from her lips. I’m sorry I have no good words

to honor her war. It crumbled me to watch you
overwhelmed by her face
in the daffodils outside your childhood home.
 

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.

Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.

From Homage to Clio by W. H. Auden, published by Random House. Copyright © 1960 W. H. Auden, renewed by the Estate of W. H. Auden. Used by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

in our chant of the creation of the world
where our beginning, end, and continued existence live
where our kin beyond ourselves, more than ourselves, were born 
where each coral, shellfish, plant, and animal were born
in the depths of pō 
where the churning of the earth creates life
turns hot earth into moʻokūʻauhau 
where we descend from pō
where we chant to remember the names 
of all kin that came before
where we remember laʻilaʻi
where we remember kāne and kiʻi
where we remember papa, wākea, and hoʻohōkūkalani
where we remember hāloanakalaukapalili and hāloa
where we remember haumea and her multitudes
where we remember other creation stories of our people 

in our chant of the creation of the world
where we remembered the power in genealogy
where we utilized print to empower
and reinforced the importance of language
where we defended our humanity with translation
and in the aftermath of an insidious disease spreading
we still tried to remember the pō we come from
and the pō we are headed to 

in our chant of the creation of the world
generations lost bled to remember 
what our language tasted like
how each vowel and consonant felt on our tongue
generations lost bled to feel
the power in names and ancestors and kin
bled to heal the trauma that colonization created
we bled to remember

in our chant of the creation of the world
displaced and disconnected generations
cried each line in dreams
and, finally, remembered our origins

Copyright © 2022 by leilani portillo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 12, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

let ruin end here

let him find honey
where there was once a slaughter

let him enter the lion’s cage
& find a field of lilacs

let this be the healing
& if not   let it be

From Don’t Call Us Dead (Graywolf Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Danez Smith. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Graywolf Press, www.graywolfpress.org.

I like being with you all night with closed eyes.
What luck—here you are
coming
along the stars!
I did a road trip
all over my mind and heart
and
there you were
kneeling by the roadside
with your little toolkit
fixing something.

Give me a world, you have taken the world I was.

Copyright © 2020 by Anne Carson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 10, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

In this archipelago of thought a fog descends, horns of ships to unseen ships, a year

passing overhead, the cry of a year not knowing where, someone in the aftermath

 

who once you knew, the one you were, a little frisson of recognition,

then just like that—gone, and no one for hours, a sound you thought you heard

 

but in waking darkness is not heard again, two sharp knocks on the door, death

it was you said but now nothing, islands, places you have been, the sea the uncertain,

 

ghosts calling out, lost as they are, no one you knew in life, a moon above

the whole of it, like the light at the bottom of a well opening in the iced air

 

where you have gone under and come back light, no longer tethered

to your own past, and were it not for the weather of trance, of haze and murk, you could

 

see everything at once: every moment you have lived or place you have been, without

confusion or bafflement, and you would be one person. You would be one person again.

From In the Lateness of the World by Carolyn Forché, published by Penguin Press, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2020 by Carolyn Forché.

they thought the field was wasting
and so they gathered the marker rocks and stones and
piled them into a barn    they say that the rocks were shaped
some of them scratched with triangles and other forms    they
must have been trying to invent some new language they say
the rocks went to build that wall there guarding the manor and
some few were used for the state house
crops refused to grow
i say the stones marked an old tongue and it was called eternity
and pointed toward the river    i say that after that collection
no pillow in the big house dreamed     i say that somewhere under
here moulders one called alice whose great grandson is old now
too and refuses to talk about slavery    i say that at the
masters table only one plate is set for supper    i say no seed
can flourish on this ground once planted then forsaken    wild
berries warm a field of bones
bloom how you must i say

Lucille Clifton, "mulberry fields" from Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton. Copyright © 1991 by Lucille Clifton. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., boaeditions.org.

Such is the story made of stubbornness and a little air—
a story signed by those who danced wordless before God.
Who whirled and leapt. Giving voice to consonants that rise
with no protection but each other’s ears.
We are on our bellies in this quiet, Lord.

Let us wash our faces in the wind and forget the strict shapes of affection.
Let the pregnant woman hold something of clay in her hand.
She believes in God, yes, but also in the mothers
of her country who take off their shoes
and walk. Their footsteps erase our syntax.
Let her man kneel on the roof, clearing his throat
(for the secret of patience is his wife’s patience).
He who loves roofs, tonight and tonight, making love to her and to her forgetting,
let them borrow the light from the blind.
There will be evidence, there will be evidence.
While helicopters bomb the streets, whatever they will open, will open.
What is silence? Something of the sky in us.

From Deaf Republic. Copyright © 2019 by Ilya Kaminsky. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Graywolf Press.

To your voice, a mysterious virtue, 
to the 53 bones of one foot, the four dimensions of breathing,  

to pine, redwood, sworn-fern, peppermint,  
to hyacinth and bluebell lily,  

to the train conductor’s donkey on a rope, 
to smells of lemons, a boy pissing splendidly against the trees.  

Bless each thing on earth until it sickens,  
until each ungovernable heart admits: “I confused myself   

and yet I loved—and what I loved  
I forgot, what I forgot brought glory to my travels,  

to you I traveled as close as I dared, Lord.” 

Copyright © 2014 by Ilya Kaminsky. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on March 7, 2014.

since feeling is first
who pays any attention 
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;

wholly to be a fool
while Spring is in the world

my blood approves,
and kisses are a better fate 
than wisdom
lady i swear by all flowers. Don’t cry
—the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids’ flutter which says

we are for each other: then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life’s not a paragraph

And death i think is no parenthesis

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on April 16, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

The barber, with his mug of warm foam, his badger-hair brush.

My mother and sister and me and the dog, leashed with a measure
of anchor rope, in the hospital parking lot, waving good-bye
to my father from his window on the 7th floor.

Just him and his tumor, rare as the Hope Diamond,
and his flimsy paper cup half-filled with infirmary water.

The lump in my throat, a tea party cup left in the garage all winter,
holding the silver body and wing dust of a dead moth.

The barber, sweeping the day’s worth of hair into the basement,
remembering how he’d traveled to Memorial
to lather the face of the dying man and shave him smooth
in his raised hospital bed and sometimes he shaved the faces
of the dead as a favor to the mortician.

Wondering how this particular life was the life that had been chosen for him.

The barber, walking home in the dark
to a late supper of torn bread in a cup of heavy cream.

Even the mayor’s wife sipping from a teacup
wreathed in Banded Peacock butterflies wonders, in her loneliness,
why me? Why this cup?

Diane Seuss, "Jesus, with his cup" from Four-Legged Girl. Copyright © 2015 by Diane Seuss. Used with permission of Graywolf Press, www.graywolfpress.org.

They kept showing up, for days,
dead on the windowsill,
and for days I did nothing about the ladybugs
except to ask if their entering the house
unnoticed and dying before I saw them
was symbolic.
Thinking so was easy.
They symbolized birth and death,
change and rebirth.
It was also possible the tiny beetles
embodied an inborn need
to show themselves,
to turn up in every and any place,
even as the dried-out remains of the once lively.
Or they stood for the burden of being one thing
relieved by becoming another,
which all the world’s children suffer.

This went on and on, and could’ve gone on
forever, so finally I opened the window
and blew them into the wide open
because everything and everyone should get a chance
to be mourned, and they got theirs,
but first they had to die, which is life,
not symbolism.

Copyright © 2017 by Hayan Charara. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 25, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

the train leaves the station without me / so does the bus / the sidewalks stay empty of my steps—the rushed ones, the ones pierced with pain, the its-too-late-at-night to still be walking ones / i keep my cash / it doesn’t load my metro card and then another card when the first one’s lost / i don’t panic in the car about leaving late—least not as much / when winter comes, i don’t sit on the cold, cold bench waiting and waiting, clutching a pair of my stockpiled hand warmers / i don’t bundle myself up in oppressive layers / or unravel in the late night, releasing the day’s pressure like a punctured balloon / instead i sit / and continue to sit / in this chair then that one / look out the window to escape the screen’s demands / wonder how i ever had fuel for those past travels / i rest / and i rise / and listen to the body that’s carried me here as it whispers the way forward

Copyright © 2021 by Camisha L. Jones. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 10, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skillfully, mysteriously) her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

From Complete Poems: 1904-1962 by E. E. Cummings, edited by George J. Firmage. Used with the permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation. Copyright © 1923, 1931, 1935, 1940, 1951, 1959, 1963, 1968, 1991 by the Trustees for the E. E. Cummings Trust. Copyright © 1976, 1978, 1979 by George James Firmage.

Finally, morning. This loneliness
feels more ordinary in the light, more like my face
in the mirror. My daughter in the ER again.
Something she ate? Some freshener

someone spritzed in the air?
They’re trying to kill me, she says,
as though it’s a joke. Lucretius
got me through the night. He told me the world goes on

making and unmaking. Maybe it’s wrong
to think of better and worse.
There’s no one who can carry my fear
for a child who walks out the door

not knowing what will stop her breath.
The rain they say is coming
sails now over the Pacific in purplish nimbus clouds.
But it isn’t enough. Last year I watched

elephants encircle their young, shuffling
their massive legs without hurry, flaring
their great dusty ears. Once they drank
from the snowmelt of Kilimanjaro.

Now the mountain is bald. Lucretius knows
we’re just atoms combining and recombining:
star dust, flesh, grass. All night
I plastered my body to Janet,

breathing when she breathed. But her skin,
warm as it is, does, after all, keep me out.
How tenuous it all is.
My daughter’s coming home next week.

She’ll bring the pink plaid suitcase we bought at Ross.
When she points it out to the escort
pushing her wheelchair, it will be easy
to spot on the carousel. I just want to touch her.

Copyright © 2013 by Ellen Bass. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on September 30, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Wrong solitude vinegars the soul,
right solitude oils it.
 
How fragile we are, between the few good moments.
 
Coming and going unfinished,
puzzled by fate,
 
like the half-carved relief
of a fallen donkey, above a church door in Finland.

—2006

From Come, Thief (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011). Copyright © 2013 by Jane Hirshfield. Used with the permission of the author, all rights reserved. 

I, having loved ever since I was a child a few things, never having wavered
In these affections; never through shyness in the houses of the rich or in the presence of clergymen having denied these loves;
Never when worked upon by cynics like chiropractors having grunted or clicked a vertebra to the discredit of these loves;
Never when anxious to land a job having diminished them by a conniving smile; or when befuddled by drink
Jeered at them through heartache or lazily fondled the fingers of their alert enemies; declare

That I shall love you always.
No matter what party is in power;
No matter what temporarily expedient combination of allied interests wins the war;
Shall love you always.

Edna St. Vincent Millay, "Modern Declaration," from Collected Poems. Copyright 1931, 1934, 1939, © 1958 by Edna St. Vincent Millay and Norma Millay Ellis. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Holly Peppe, Literary Executor, The Millay Society. www.millay.org.

Last night I heard your voice, mother,
The words you sang to me
When I, a little barefoot boy,
Knelt down against your knee.
And tears gushed from my heart, mother,
And passed beyond its wall,
But though the fountain reached my throat
The drops refused to fall.
'Tis ten years since you died, mother,
Just ten dark years of pain,
And oh, I only wish that I
Could weep just once again.

From Harlem Shadows (New York, Harcourt, Brace and company, 1922) by Claude McKay. This poem is in the public domain.

I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.

I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.

I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.

From The Complete Poems by Anne Sexton, published by Houghton Mifflin Company. Copyright © 1981 by Linda Gray Sexton. Used with permission.

Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.

Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue.
In a drafty museum, your nakedness
Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.

I’m no more your mother
Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind’s hand.

All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen:
A far sea moves in my ear.

One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
Your mouth opens clean as a cat’s. The window square

Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try
Your handful of notes;
The clear vowels rise like balloons.

From Ariel, published by Harper & Row, 1966. Copyright © 1966 by Ted Hughes. All rights reserved. Used by arrangement with HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

The light retreats and is generous again.
No you to speak of, anywhere—neither in vicinity nor distance, 

so I look at the blue water, the snowy egret, the lace of its feathers 
shaking in the wind, the lake—no, I am lying. 

There are no egrets here, no water. Most of the time, 
my mind gnaws on such ridiculous fictions. 

My phone notes littered with lines like Beauty will not save you
Or: mouthwash, yogurt, cilantro

A hummingbird zips past me, its luminescent plumage 
disturbing my vision like a tiny dorsal fin. 

But what I want does not appear. Instead, I find the redwoods and pines, 
figs that have fallen and burst open on the pavement, 

announcing that sickly sweet smell,
the sweetness of grief, my prayer for what is gone. 

You are so dramatic, I say to the reflection on my phone, 
then order the collected novels of Jean Rhys. 

She, too, was humiliated by her body, that it wanted
such stupid, simple things: food and cherry wine, to touch someone. 

On my daily walk, I steal Meyer lemons from my neighbors’ yard, 
a small pomegranate. Instead of eating them, 

I observe their casual rot on the kitchen counter, 
this theatre of good things turning into something else.

Copyright © 2021 by Aria Aber. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 19, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

The law wants my body reasonable
My body won't fence in its demands
Expects the world to stop
Whenever it wants to lay down
Throws up its middle finger
At deadlines, task lists,
Long awaited meetings
It ain't open to negotiation
Wants you to stop telling it to
Calm down
It has three settings: rest, spark, flare
All that talk about your inconvenience & your hardship
It calls that Bullshit
It will not wait in line
It will not be polite
It will not use its inside voice
It wants all the space
In every room of the house
The entire sky & the full lawn of grass
It wants to set it all aflame
My body is a pyromaniac
My body is the art 
Of Angela Bassett's right hand
Letting reason go up in smoke

Originally published by The Deaf Poets Society. Copyright © 2017 by Camisha L. Jones. Used with the permission of the author.

Then God said
let there be sound
and divided the silence
wide enough for music 
to be let in and it was a good groove 
 
And God said
let there be overflow
sent sound in all directions
pin drops & children's laughter
phones ringing & plates clattering
and it was kind of good but too much at times
 
So God said
let there be volume control
let there be choice how loud life should be 
and there came the power to fade
the voices, the annoyances, the noise
and that was mighty good for all the unnecessary drama
 
Then God said let there be surprise, startle even
at the bird's chirp, the ice maker, 
the cabinet slammed shut
let there be delight
at the first calls in months
to father & best friend
and these were such good reasons for choking back tears 
that God saw
the dark & the light
dangling brilliantly from each ear
and God whispered amen
then smiled when it was heard.
 

From Flare (Finishing Line Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Camisha L. Jones. Used with the permission of the author.

Is it winter again, is it cold again,
didn't Frank just slip on the ice,
didn't he heal, weren't the spring seeds planted

didn't the night end,
didn't the melting ice
flood the narrow gutters

wasn't my body
rescued, wasn't it safe

didn't the scar form, invisible
above the injury

terror and cold,
didn't they just end, wasn't the back garden
harrowed and planted—

I remember how the earth felt, red and dense,
in stiff rows, weren't the seeds planted,
didn't vines climb the south wall

I can't hear your voice
for the wind's cries, whistling over the bare ground

I no longer care
what sound it makes

when was I silenced, when did it first seem
pointless to describe that sound

what it sounds like can't change what it is—

didn't the night end, wasn't the earth
safe when it was planted

didn't we plant the seeds,
weren't we necessary to the earth,

the vines, were they harvested?

Section I is reprinted from October by Louise Glück, published by Sarabande Books, Inc. Copyright © 2004 by Louise Glück. Reprinted by permission of Sarabande Books and the author. All rights reserved.

Small light in the sky appearing
suddenly between
two pine boughs, their fine needles

now etched onto the radiant surface
and above this
high, feathery heaven—

Smell the air. That is the smell of the white pine,
most intense when the wind blows through it
and the sound it makes equally strange,
like the sound of the wind in a movie—

Shadows moving. The ropes
making the sound they make. What you hear now
will be the sound of the nightingale, Chordata,
the male bird courting the female—

The ropes shift. The hammock
sways in the wind, tied
firmly between two pine trees.

Smell the air. That is the smell of the white pine.

It is my mother’s voice you hear
or is it only the sound the trees make
when the air passes through them

because what sound would it make,
passing through nothing?
 

From Faithful and Virtuous Night (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014) by Louise Glück. Copyright © 2014 Louise Glück. All rights reserved. 

Finally, morning. This loneliness
feels more ordinary in the light, more like my face
in the mirror. My daughter in the ER again.
Something she ate? Some freshener

someone spritzed in the air?
They’re trying to kill me, she says,
as though it’s a joke. Lucretius
got me through the night. He told me the world goes on

making and unmaking. Maybe it’s wrong
to think of better and worse.
There’s no one who can carry my fear
for a child who walks out the door

not knowing what will stop her breath.
The rain they say is coming
sails now over the Pacific in purplish nimbus clouds.
But it isn’t enough. Last year I watched

elephants encircle their young, shuffling
their massive legs without hurry, flaring
their great dusty ears. Once they drank
from the snowmelt of Kilimanjaro.

Now the mountain is bald. Lucretius knows
we’re just atoms combining and recombining:
star dust, flesh, grass. All night
I plastered my body to Janet,

breathing when she breathed. But her skin,
warm as it is, does, after all, keep me out.
How tenuous it all is.
My daughter’s coming home next week.

She’ll bring the pink plaid suitcase we bought at Ross.
When she points it out to the escort
pushing her wheelchair, it will be easy
to spot on the carousel. I just want to touch her.

Copyright © 2013 by Ellen Bass. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on September 30, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

I chart the psyche,
observing how I 
force myself to speak
to you, imagining that
together we might
transform a life.  

Why this need
to document change,
to reverse a mood, 
to carry forward the time
when magnolias bloom?

Let’s follow the itinerant we
up and over the jonquil's back,
treading on its spilled bullion.

From Sex At Noon Taxes, Copyright © 2007 by Sally Van Doren. Reprinted with permission of the author.

Friend I need your hand every morning
but anger and beauty and hope
these roses make one rose.

Friend I need a hand every evening
but anger and hope and beauty
are three roses
that make one rose.

Let’s fix our bed it’s in splinters
and I want to stay all year.

Let’s fix our bed it’s in splinters
and I want to stay all year.

Did you hear what that woman on Grafton Street was saying?

You won’t be killed today.
We don’t even know we’re born.

From Door in the Mountain. Copyright © 2004 by Jean Valentine. Reprinted with permission of Wesleyan University Press.

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems. Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

translated by Muna Lee

Yes, I move, I live, I wander astray—
   Water running, intermingling, over the sands.
I know the passionate pleasure of motion;
   I taste the forests; I touch strange lands.

Yes, I move—perhaps I am seeking
   Storms, suns, dawns, a place to hide.
What are you doing here, pale and polished—
   You, the stone in the path of the tide?

 


 

¿Y Tu? 

 

Sí, yo me muevo, vivo, me equivoco;
Agua que corre y se entremezcla, siento
El vértigo feroz del movimiento:
Huelo las selvas, tierra nueva toco.

Sí, yo me muevo, voy buscando acaso
Soles, auroras, tempestad y olvido.
¿Qué haces allí misérrimo y pulido?
Eres la piedra a cuyo lado paso.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on October 17, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

Most explicit—
the sense of trap

as a narrowing
cone one's got

stuck into and
any movement

forward simply
wedges once more—

but where
or quite when,

even with whom,
since now there is no one

quite with you—Quite? Quiet?
English expression: Quait?

Language of singular
impedance? A dance? An

involuntary gesture to
others not there? What's

wrong here? How
reach out to the

other side all
others live on as

now you see the
two doctors, behind

you, in mind's eye,
probe into your anus,

or ass, or bottom,
behind you, the roto-

rooter-like device
sees all up, concludes

"like a worn-out inner tube,"
"old," prose prolapsed, person's

problems won't do, must
cut into, cut out . . .

The world is a round but
diminishing ball, a spherical

ice cube, a dusty
joke, a fading,

faint echo of its
former self but remembers,

sometimes, its past, sees
friends, places, reflections,

talks to itself in a fond,
judgemental murmur,

alone at last.
I stood so close

to you I could have
reached out and

touched you just
as you turned

over and began to
snore not unattractively,

no, never less than
attractively, my love,

my love—but in this
curiously glowing dark, this

finite emptiness, you, you, you
are crucial, hear the

whimpering back of
the talk, the approaching

fears when I may
cease to be me, all

lost or rather lumped
here in a retrograded,

dislocating, imploding
self, a uselessness

talks, even if finally to no one,
talks and talks.

From Selected Poems by Robert Creeley. Copyright © 1991 by The Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Originally published in Windows (New Directions, 1990).

Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain; 
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink 
And rise and sink and rise and sink again; 
Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath, 
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone; 
Yet many a man is making friends with death 
Even as I speak, for lack of love alone. 
It well may be that in a difficult hour, 
Pinned down by pain and moaning for release, 
Or nagged by want past resolution’s power, 
I might be driven to sell your love for peace, 
Or trade the memory of this night for food. 
It well may be. I do not think I would. 

Edna St. Vincent Millay, "Love is Not All" (Sonnet XXX), from Collected Poems. Copyright 1931, 1934, 1939, © 1958 by Edna St. Vincent Millay and Norma Millay Ellis. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Holly Peppe, Literary Executor, The Millay Society. www.millay.org.