A cold wind, later, but no rain.
A bus breathing heavily at the station.
Beggars at the gate, and the moon
like one bright horn of a white
cow up there in space. But
really, must I think about all this
a second time in this short life?
This crescent moon, like a bit
of ancient punctuation. This
pause in the transience of all things.
Up there, Ishtar in the ship
of life he’s sailing. Has
he ripped open again his sack of grain?
Spilled it all over the place?
Bubbles rising to the surface, breaking.
Beside our sharpened blades, they’ve
set down our glasses of champagne.
A joke is made. But, really, must
I hear this joke again?
Must I watch the spluttering
light of this specific flame? Must I
consider forever the permanent
transience of all things:
The bus, breathing at the station.
The beggars at the gate.
The girl I was.
Both pregnant and chaste.
The cold wind, that crescent moon.
No rain. What difference
can it possibly make, that
pain, now that not a single
anguished cry of it remains?
Really, must I grieve it all again
a second time, and why tonight
of all the nights, and just
as I’m about to raise, with the
blissful others, my
glass to the silvery, liquid
chandelier above us?
Copyright © 2015 by Laura Kasischke. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 6, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
Like the human brain, which organizes
The swirls and shades of the bathroom tiles
Into faces, faces
Of exhaustion, of disdain. The
Virgin Mary in the toast of course
But also the penance in the pain, and the way
My mother invented
Plums and tissue paper, while
My father invented the type of
That takes you by surprise
When you’ve expected to be chastised
And makes you cry
|About this poem:|
"The poem's impulse is the same as the poem's subject—a grappling, out of hope?—with the idea that there must be some way to integrate into one's life, if necessary, the experience of physical pain. If I can make out faces and objects every morning (if I stare long enough) at the bathroom tile—or so I was thinking—surely there would be a way to make meaning out of this pain?"
Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.
The librarian does not believe what she sees.
Her eyes are sad
and she walks with her hands in her dress.
The poems are gone.
The light is dim.
The dogs are on the basement stairs and coming up.
Their eyeballs roll,
their blond legs burn like brush.
The poor librarian begins to stamp her feet and weep.
She does not understand.
When I get on my knees and lick her hand,
I am a new man.
I snarl at her and bark.
I romp with joy in the bookish dark.
From Collected Poems by Mark Strand. Copyright © 2014 by Mark Strand. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of his mouth.
He didn't fight.
He hadn't fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely. Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
and its pattern of darker brown
was like wallpaper:
shapes like full-blown roses
stained and lost through age.
He was speckled with barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime,
with tiny white sea-lice,
and underneath two or three
rags of green weed hung down.
While his gills were breathing in
the terrible oxygen
—the frightening gills,
fresh and crisp with blood,
that can cut so badly—
I thought of the coarse white flesh
packed in like feathers,
the big bones and the little bones,
the dramatic reds and blacks
of his shiny entrails,
and the pink swim-bladder
like a big peony.
I looked into his eyes
which were far larger than mine
but shallower, and yellowed,
the irises backed and packed
with tarnished tinfoil
seen through the lenses
of old scratched isinglass.
They shifted a little, but not
to return my stare.
—It was more like the tipping
of an object toward the light.
I admired his sullen face,
the mechanism of his jaw,
and then I saw
that from his lower lip
—if you could call it a lip—
grim, wet, and weaponlike,
hung five old pieces of fish-line,
or four and a wire leader
with the swivel still attached,
with all their five big hooks
grown firmly in his mouth.
A green line, frayed at the end
where he broke it, two heavier lines,
and a fine black thread
still crimped from the strain and snap
when it broke and he got away.
Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw.
I stared and stared
and victory filled up
the little rented boat,
from the pool of bilge
where oil had spread a rainbow
around the rusted engine
to the bailer rusted orange,
the sun-cracked thwarts,
the oarlocks on their strings,
the gunnels—until everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
And I let the fish go.
Copyright © 2011 by Elizabeth Bishop. Reprinted from Poems with the permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Some bad whiskey
I drink by myself
just like you
when this wind
blows as it does
in the delta
where a lost hearing aid
can be taken
for a grub worm
when the black constellations
make you swim backwards
in circles of blood
stableboys ruin their hands
for a while
and a man none of us
can do without
breaks his neck
jumping over some hill
chasing the fox
of a half-pint
and a fine-blooded horse
is put out of its misery
even the young sisters
of the boys we run with
we would give our fingers
to touch them again
but this war
seeps back into us
and the white cricket of those days
drags itself off the hook
there are no more fish
there is no more bait
the rivers are formed by the tears of sports fans
we try to pour a trail of salt
as if making a long fuse
with a gunpowder keg
we try to swim away from the gym
like slugs with gills
the girls from the other school
step off the bus
the clouds are weighed in at the gin
there is a pattern to all this
like a weave of a skirt
we all go crazy from looking
Frank Stanford, "Cotton You Lose in the Field," from What About This: Collected Poems of Frank Stanford. Copyright © 2015 by Ginny Crouch Stanford and C. D. Wright, Estate of Frank Stanford. Reprinted with the permission of Copper Canyon Press.
Things you know but can’t say,
the sort of things, or propositions
that build up week after week at the end of the day,
& have to be dredged
by the practical operators so that their grosser cargo
& barges & boxy schedules can stay.
The great shovels and beaks and the rolling gantries
of Long Beach, and of Elizabeth, New Jersey,
can keep their high and rigorous distinction
between on-time and late, between work and play.
“Since you excluded me, I will represent you,
not meanly but generously, with an attention
that is itself
a revenge, since it shows that I know you
better than you have ever known yourselves,
that if I could never have learned
how to be you, nor how to be
somebody you’d like to be very near, nevertheless
you could not do without me, or keep me away.”
Copyright © 2015 by Stephen Burt. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 15, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
I have gazed the black flower blooming
her animal eye. Gacela oscura. Negra llorona.
Along the clayen banks I follow her-astonished,
gathering grief’s petals she lets fall like horns.
Why not now go toward the things I love?
Like Jacob’s angel, I touched the garnet of her wrist,
and she knew my name. And I knew hers—
it was Auxocromo, it was Cromóforo, it was Eliza.
It hurtled through me like honeyed-rum.
When the eyes and lips are touched with honey
what is seen and said will never be the same.
Eve took the apple in that ache-opened mouth,
on fire and in pieces, from the knife’s sharp edge.
In the photo her fist presses against the red-gold
geometry of her thigh. Black nylon, black garter,
unsolvable mysterium—I have to close my eyes to see.
Achilles chasing Hektor round the walls of Ilium
three times. How long must I circle
the high gate above her knees?
Again the gods put their large hands in me,
move me, break my heart like a clay jar of wine,
loosen a beast from some darklong depth—
my melancholy is hoofed. I, the terrible beautiful
Lampon, a shining devour-horse tethered
at the bronze manger of her collarbones.
I do my grief work with her body—labor
to make the emerald tigers in her hips leap,
lead them burning green
to drink from the violet jetting her.
We go where there is love, to the river,
on our knees beneath the sweet water.
I pull her under four times
until we are rivered. We are rearranged.
I wash the silk and silt of her from my hands—
now who I come to, I come clean to, I come good to.
Copyright © 2015 by Natalie Diaz. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 21, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
I work a lot and live far less than I could,
but the moon is beautiful and there are
blue stars . . . . I live the chaste song of my heart.
—Garcia Lorca to Emilia Llanos Medinor,
November 25, 1920
The moon is in doubt
over whether to be
a man or a woman.
There’ve been rumors,
all manner of allegations,
bold claims and public lies:
He’s belligerent. She’s in a funk.
When he fades, the world teeters.
When she burgeons, crime blossoms.
O how the operatic impulse wavers!
Dip deep, my darling, into the blank pool.
Copyright © 2015 by Rita Dove. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 24, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
My wife’s new pink slippers
have gay pom-poms.
There is not a spot or a stain
on their satin toes or their sides.
All night they lie together
under her bed’s edge.
Shivering I catch sight of them
and smile, in the morning.
Later I watch them
descending the stair,
hurrying through the doors
and round the table,
with a shake of their gay pom-poms!
And I talk to them
in my secret mind
out of pure happiness.
This poem is in the public domain.
I needed, for months after he died, to remember our rooms—
some lit by the trivial, others ample
with an obscurity that comforted us: it hid our own darkness.
So for months, duteous, I remembered:
rooms where friends lingered, rooms with our beds,
with our books, rooms with curtains I sewed
from bright cottons. I remembered tables of laughter,
a chipped bowl in early light, black
branches by a window, bowing toward night, & those rooms,
too, in which we came together
to be away from all. And sometimes from ourselves:
I remembered that, also.
But tonight—as I stand in the doorway to his room
& stare at dusk settled there—
what I remember best is how, to throw my arms around his neck,
I needed to stand on the tip of my toes.
Copyright © 2015 by Laure-Anne Bosselaar. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 25, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
Some did not want to alter the design
when the failure message
said massive problem with oxygen.
Some wanted to live full tilt with risk.
By then we were too weak for daily chores:
feeding chickens, hoeing yams,
calibrating pH this and N2 that . . .
felt like halfway summiting Everest.
We didn’t expect the honeybees
to die. Glass blocked the long-wave
light that guides them.
Farm soil too rich in microbes
concrete too fresh ate the oxygen.
We had pressure problems,
recalibrating the sniffer. Bone tired
I reread Aristotle by waning light.
Being is either actual or potential.
The actual is prior to substance.
Man prior to boy, human prior to seed,
Hermes prior to chisel hitting wood.
I leafed through Turner’s England,
left the book open at Stonehenge.
A shepherd struck by lightning lies dead,
dog howling, several sheep down too.
The painter gave gigantic proportion
to sulphurous god rimmed clouds
lightning slashing indigo sky
while close at hand lie fallen stones
dead religion, pages dusty
brown leaf shards gathering
in the gutter yet I cannot turn the page
wondering what I am and when
in the story of life my life is taking place.
Now what. No shepherd. No cathedral.
How is it then that I read love
in pages that lie open before me?
Copyright © 2015 by Alison Hawthorne Deming. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 23, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
In midsummer, in Los Angeles,
the night is fractured
with mountains, grilling ink
into the blue thaw. I trail
into pools and pastures,
and in the diner,
and skirt up booths,
the waitress, Dottie, is whipping
shells, mac and cheese,
waffles and chickens,
all oracles in the oil.
You think I’m kidding? Look
at Hopper’s orange rooms,
his lone man. Vineyards
are boring to paint,
the coffee rumbling us all
into a primal scene, the mismatched
silverware like guns in a Western,
all the possibilities
of a warm night.
The thing about LA is
anyone can walk through
the door. The drunk drive, the
open-air and clipping down
Highland Avenue. Here are all the streets
I remember: Alvarado and Effie.
Mohawk and Montana. Before
all this? The hills of Carpinteria,
cattle punk, the drained floodplains
and eucharistic jimson weed.
But dig that ditch city,
those impersonal stones,
the great vigilance
of the 19th century,
the circus of eggs on the plate,
Dottie full of lips, just lips
sipping, stinging the sandy air.
Copyright © 2015 by Megan Fernandes. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 22, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
Out here the surf rewrites our silences.
This smell of ocean may never leave me;
our humble life or the sea a dark page
I am trying to turn: Today my mother’s words
sound final. And perhaps this is her first true thing.
Her hands have not been her hands
since she was twelve,
motherless and shucking whatever the sea
could offer, each day orphaned in the tide
of her own necessity—where the men-o-war
ballooned, wearing her face, her anchor of a heart
reaching, mooring for any blasted thing:
sea-roach and black-haired kelp, jeweled perch
or a drop of pearl made with her smallest self,
her night-prayers a hushed word of thanks.
But out here the salt-depths refuse tragedy.
This hand-me-down life burns sufficiently tragic—
here what was cannibal masters the colonial
curse, carved our own language of the macabre,
sucking on the thumb of our own disparity. Holding
her spliff in the wind, she probes and squalls,
trying to remember the face of her own mother,
our island or some strange word she once found
amongst the filth of sailors whose beds she made,
whose shoes she shined, whose guns
she cleaned, while the white bullet of America
ricocheted in her brain. Still that face she can’t recall
made her chew her fingernails, scratch the day down
to its blood, the rusty sunset of this wonder,
this smashed archipelago. Our wild sea-grape kingdom
overrun, gold and belonging in all its glory
to no one. How being twelve-fingered she took her father’s
fishing line to the deviation, and starved
of blood what grew savage and unwanted. Pulled
until they shriveled away, two hungry mouths
askance and blooming, reminding her
that she was still woman always multiplying
as life’s little nubs and dreams came bucking up
in her disjointed. How on the god-teeth
she cut this life, offered her hands and vessel
to be made wide, made purposeful,
her body opalescent with all our clamoring,
our bloodline of what once lived
and will live and live again.
In the sea’s one voice she hears her answer.
Beneath her gravid belly
my gliding hull
a conger eel.
Copyright © 2015 by Safiya Sinclair. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 17, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
Summers spent practicing in the apartment
stairwell: hand on the bannister, one foot after
another. Did I ever tell you I couldn’t walk
until I was three and then sort of dragged
myself up and downstairs until I was seven
or eight? That burgundy carpet.
I’d stop to breathe and look out the window,
over brick tenements, toward the Capitol
building. Oak leaves so full of late summer
sun even I thought, “Obscene” and stood stunned
for a moment. My God. The urge to rest like the birds
on the phone wires, chatting like barristers
at the end of the day. Myself the useless
Ambassador from the third floor. I was the last one
up so the door was left open. I can still see it gaping
from two stories down. Sometimes music played.
Sometimes I’d smell supper. Neighbors stopped
to say hello. Achingly beautiful how the sky
looked as I stood after they left. Nicer somehow
in the middle. All the trees tucking blackbirds
into their darkness. It really did take this long.
Copyright © 2015 by Gabrielle Calvocoressi. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 15, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
The world is water
to these bronzed boys
on their surfboards,
riding the sexual waves
like so many fearless
death on bucking
broncos of foam.
On the beach at Santorini
we ate those tiny silverfish
grilled straight from the sea,
and when the sun went down
in the flaming west
there was applause
from all the sated diners,
as if it had done its acrobatic plunge
just for them.
Swathed from head to toe
in seeming veils of muslin,
the figure in the Nantucket fog
poles along the shoreline on a flat barge.
It could be Charon transporting souls
across the River Styx, or just
another fisherman in a hoodie,
trolling for bluefish
on the outgoing tide.
Copyright © 2015 by Linda Pastan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 12, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
consider Ocean Beach
out of reach.
Try not to gulp
the green water
There is a feeling
just shy of feeling,
like tongue on teeth.
an ill-chosen comma,
a lanyard with a pass.
I swear the train is coming.
I’m only here to help.
A client bought,
on second thought,
that House in Vermont.
Night is flirty words
boning up on Thoreau.
It’s too soon to throw
in the cards.
Live and let give?
Here. Let me give
you the high-five.
I never meant
to live in euphemism.
Copyright © 2015 by Randall Mann. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 11, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
Never, never, never, never, never.
Even now I can’t grasp “nothing” or “never.”
They’re unholdable, unglobable, no map to nothing.
Never? Never ever again to see you?
An error, I aver. You’re never nothing,
because nothing’s not a thing.
I know death is absolute, forever,
the guillotine—gutting—never to which we never say goodbye.
But even as I think “forever” it goes “ever”
and “ever” and “ever.” Ever after.
I’m a thing that keeps on thinking. So I never see you
is not a thing or think my mouth can ever. Aver:
You’re not “nothing.” But neither are you something.
Will I ever really get never?
You’re gone. Nothing, never—ever.
Copyright © 2015 by Meghan O'Rourke. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 13, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
Outside on Fremont Ave, black
snow and no such thing as a
white wig or a lovestruck violet
who sings his heart out. My lungs
ached, huge with breath and the harsh
sweetness of strange words. Veilchen,
Mädchen—my brother spoke them
to show how my tongue was a gate
that could open secrets. He pressed
keys partway, to draw softest sounds
from the upright, and what he loved
I loved. That was my whole faith then.
Copyright © 2015 by Joan Larkin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 16, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
Now let us understand each other, love,
Long time ago I crept off home,
To my own gods I went.
The tale is old,
It has been told
By many men in many lands.
The lands belong to those who tell.
Now surely that is clear.
After the plow had westward swept,
The gods bestowed the corn to stand.
Long, long it stood,
Strong, strong it grew,
To make a forest for new song.
Deep in the corn the bargain hard
Youth with the gods drove home.
The gods remember,
Doubt not the soul of song that waits.
The singer dies,
The singer lives,
The gods wait in the corn,
The soul of song is in the land.
Lift up your lips to that.
This poem is in the public domain.
Got your message, here
in the letter you didn’t write:
burned, with a forbidden seal,
marking the burial site
of what has neither voice nor definition,
what has no face, no peace, no place to sleep,
a whisper in which I can’t [inaudible]
—what the sea doesn’t say, whispering, every night,
and when the rain comes to erase the streets
tomorrow, & all the dusks that follow that,
and runs around making up street dances
from what you once said, I’ll have this map,
without details, made of what I’ve missed,
telling me that that which isn’t is.
Soneto Balbuciendo En Que La Poeta Manda A Su Amor En Nueva York La Lluvia de La Habana
He leído el mensaje que mandaste,
aquí, en la carta no me has escrito:
quemada, y con sello prohibido,
diciéndome dónde enterraste
lo que no tiene voz ni luz ni cara,
ni paz, ni un lugar para dormir,
susurro donde yo puedo oír
cada noche lo que no dice el mar,
y cuando la lluvia borrará las calles
mañana, y los crepúsculos después,
y correrá haciendo bailes
de lo que me dijiste una vez,
yo tendré este mapa, sin detalles,
que me dice que lo que no es, es.
Copyright © 2015 by Suzanne Gardinier. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 15, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
Last summer, two discrete young snakes left their skin on my small porch, two mornings in a row. Being post-modern now, I pretended as if I did not see them, nor understand what I knew to be circling inside me. Instead, every hour I told my son to stop with his incessant back-chat. I peeled a banana. And cursed God—His arrogance, His gall—to still expect our devotion after creating love. And mosquitoes. I showed my son the papery dead skins so he could know, too, what it feels like when something shows up at your door—twice—telling you what you already know.
Copyright © 2015 by Robin Coste Lewis. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 31, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
It’s true there were times when it was too much
and I slipped off in the first light or its last hour
and drove up through the crooked way of the valley
and swam out to those ruins on an island.
Blackbirds were the only music in the spruces,
and the stars, as they faded out, offered themselves to me
like glasses of water ringing by the empty linens of the dead.
When Delilah watched the dark hair of her lover
tumble, she did not shatter. When Abraham
relented, he did not relent.
Still, I would tell you of the humbling and the waking.
I would tell you of the wild hours of surrender,
when the river stripped the cove’s stones
from the margin and the blackbirds built
their strict songs in the high
pines, when the great nests swayed the lattice
of the branches, the moon’s brute music
touching them with fire.
And you, there, stranger in the sway
of it, what would you have done
there, in the ruins, when they rose
from you, when the burning wings
ascended, when the old ghosts
shook the music from your branches and the great lie
of your one sweet life was lifted?
Copyright © 2015 by Joseph Fasano. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 29, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
All yesterday it poured, and all night long
I could not sleep; the rain unceasing beat
Upon the shingled roof like a weird song,
Upon the grass like running children’s feet.
And down the mountains by the dark cloud kissed,
Like a strange shape in filmy veiling dressed,
Slid slowly, silently, the wraith-like mist,
And nestled soft against the earth’s wet breast.
But lo, there was a miracle at dawn!
The still air stirred at touch of the faint breeze,
The sun a sheet of gold bequeathed the lawn,
The songsters twittered in the rustling trees.
And all things were transfigured in the day,
But me whom radiant beauty could not move;
For you, more wonderful, were far away,
And I was blind with hunger for your love.
This poem is in the public domain.
I found it on your belly, and caught it
with two fingers. I kept the bird
on a little perch behind my ear.
I plucked its feathers, stuffed them
against my jaw like chewing tobacco,
and spit the black threads
into a styrofoam cup. One night
the bird died. Crushed beak, split
bone—we did it. Your heart
jealous, my body disgusted
by the taste of seed and bark—
we didn’t want the bird.
We did it over dinner,
you reached into my memory
by placing a finger
in my ear. I placed a hand
in your mouth to catch the bird
and we smashed it
together. This is simple, we did it
and spoke of it with ease. Through
the memory, we killed
the bird that was never ours.
Now we’ve become
bird butchers, you say
and throw the bird’s limp body
in the trash. I reach to clasp
your face, but have lost
both my hands. Each finger
disappeared into your pupils,
our little black cruxes.
Copyright © 2015 by Natalie Scenters-Zapico. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 9, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
It’s not that we’re not dying.
Everything is dying.
We hear these rumors of the planet’s end
none of us will be around to watch.
It’s not that we’re not ugly.
Look at your feet, now that your shoes are off.
You could be a duck,
no, duck-billed platypus,
your feet distraction from your ugly nose.
It’s not that we’re not traveling,
But it’s not the broadback Mediterranean
carrying us against the world’s current.
It’s the imagined sea, imagined street,
the winged breakers, the waters we confuse with sky
willingly, so someone out there asks
are you flying or swimming?
That someone envies mortal happiness
like everyone on the other side, the dead
who stand in watch, who would give up their bliss,
their low tide eternity rippleless
for one day back here, alive again with us.
They know the sea and sky I’m walking on
or swimming, flying, they know it’s none of these,
this dancing-standing-still, this turning, turning,
these constant transformations of the wind
I can bring down by singing to myself,
the newborn mornings, these continuals—
Copyright © 2015 by Peter Cooley. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 11, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
The sky keeps lying to the farmhouse,
lining up its heavy clouds
above the blue table umbrella,
then launching them over the river.
And the day feels hopeless
until it notices a few trees
dropping delicately their white petals
on the grass beside the birdhouse
perched on its wooden post,
the blinking fledglings stuffed inside
like clothes in a tiny suitcase. At first
you wandered lonely through the yard
and it was no help knowing Wordsworth
felt the same, but then Whitman
comforted you a little, and you saw
the grass as uncut hair, yearning
for the product to make it shine.
Now you lie on the couch beneath the skylight,
the sky starting to come clean,
mixing its cocktail of sadness and dazzle,
a deluge and then a digging out
and then enough time for one more
dance or kiss before it starts again,
darkening, then brightening.
You listen to the tall wooden clock
in the kitchen: its pendulum clicks
back and forth all day, and it chimes
with a pure sound, every hour on the hour,
though it always mistakes the hour.
Copyright © 2015 by Kim Addonizio. Used with permission of the author.
I am glad today is dark. No sun. Sky
ribboning with amorphous, complicated
layers. I prefer cumulus on my
morning beach run. What more can we worry
about? Our parents are getting older
and money is running out. The children
are leaving, the new roof is damaged by
rain and rot. I fear the thrashing of the sea
in its unrest, the unforgiving cricket.
But that’s not it. The current is rising.
The dramas are playing out. Perhaps
it’s better to be among these sandpipers
with quick feet dashing out of the surf than
a person who wishes to feel complete.
Copyright © 2014 by Jill Bialosky. Used with permission of the author.
Can we just stay here in the space where our loud laughing
won’t disturb the mausoleum of St. Peter, three times denying
the purple iris, can we hobble the horses to the hitching post
in front of the post office and let everything fall out of where
we put it to be delivered, can we call the night choir of crickets
down here to make the road home sing while the lightning bugs
show us the way to a happy wages of sin so then we will not dare
cry when the trumpet hits the high note of getting up in the morning,
going back to be counted by the straw bosses, and to count them,
making note of how sure this Earth is, this world of work we define
ourselves, as long as we know it will need us, as long as guarantees
paint themselves against the invisible ley lines pulling mountains
together, summoning snow caps in California over the broad brown
hills laying up to hear God’s whims like fallen but contented angels.
Copyright © 2016 by Afaa Michael Weaver. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 26, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
God goes out for whiskey Friday night,
Staggers back Monday morning
Empty-handed, no explanation.
After three nights of not sleeping,
Three nights of listening for
His footsteps, His mules sliding
Deftly under my bed, I stand
At the stove, giving him my back,
Wearing the same tight, tacky dress, same slip,
Same seamed stockings I’d put on before He left.
He leans on the kitchen table, waiting
For me to make him His coffee.
I watch the water boil,
Refuse to turn around,
Wonder how to leave Him.
Woman, He slurs, when have I ever done
What you wanted me to do?
Copyright © 2016 by Robin Coste Lewis. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 5, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
of all the lines of all the subway cars in all of new york city
we walk into the one with a corpse
it just puts everything into prescription for us
as jason stackhouse says
alabaster turning into crystale
nantáa ndé telling me unsaddle yr horse
means to take off your hat
I love it when people use words wrong
like repertoire for rapport, like when
brenda said she had a good repertoire with her students
or cynthia saying she wouldn’t spend an exuberant amount of time
or when nick says anything anymore
the elk antlers are blood-brown
if we can find them on this mountain
edith says she has found
skeletons of bucks who had died
antlers entwined together
on the way to JFK you pass
this sad little enclave of horses
there was no way to assess the land, or the landscape
n/t was real about it.
perhaps by the sides of the railroads s/times,
a hint of the old ways
the river could be…a source of tension
a jackass painted like a zebra
from the ghost’s perspective it’s not humid
when bojack horseman vomits up all that cotton candy
long forgotten poisons
smallpox, ricin, the bacteria that causes
the way that crows remember
the faces of their adversaries
Louise Michel held sick horses in the street
Nietzsche’s last act
was to embrace a horse
the taxi driver who hinted
of his dark past in nyc
wiped his hands together in the universal
gesture of sloughing a thing off
Copyright © 2016 by Julian Talamantez Brolaski . Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 11, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
after Morgan Parker, after Wu-Tang
in the morning I think about money
green horned lord of my waking
forest in which I stumbled toward no salvation
prison made of emerald & pennies
in my wallet I keep anxiety & a condom
I used to sell my body but now my blood spoiled
All my favorite songs tell me to get money
I’d rob a bank but I’m a poet
I’m so broke I’m a genius
If I was white, I’d take pictures of other pictures & sell them
I come from sharecroppers who come from slaves who do not come from kings
sometimes I pay the weed man before I pay the light bill
sometimes is a synonym for often
I just want a grant or a fellowship or a rich white husband & I’ll be straight
I feel most colored when I’m looking at my bank account
I feel most colored when I scream ball so hard motherfuckas wanna find me
I spent one summer stealing from ragstock
If I went to jail I’d live rent-free but there is no way to avoid making white people richer
A prison is a plantation made of stone & steel
Being locked up for selling drugs = Being locked up for trying to eat
a bald fade cost 20 bones now a days
what’s a blacker tax than blackness?
what cost more than being American and poor?
here is where I say reparations.
here is where I say got 20 bucks I can borrow?
student loans are like slavery but not but with vacation days but not but police
I don’t know what it says about me when white institutions give me money
how much is the power ball this week?
I’mma print my own money and be my own god and live forever in a green frame
my grandmamma is great at saving money
before my grandfather passed he showed me where he hid his money & his gun
my aunt can’t hold on to a dollar, a job, her brain
I love how easy it is to be bad with money
don’t ask me about my taxes
the b in debt is a silent black boy trapped
Copyright © 2017 by Danez Smith. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 1, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Others because you did not keep
That deep-sworn vow have been friends of mine;
Yet always when I look death in the face,
When I clamber to the heights of sleep,
Or when I grow excited with wine,
Suddenly I meet your face.
This poem is in the public domain.
How swift, how far
carries a body from shore.
Empires fail, species are lost,
and tufted puffins forsaken.
After eons of fauna and flora, hominids have stood
for mere years
baffled brains atop battered shoulders.
In a murky blanket of heavens
an icy planet
made of diamond spins.
Our sun winks like the star
billions of years ago, without ambition.
We bury bodies in shallow dirt, heedless of lacking space
or how long
our makeshift planet will host us.
Copyright © 2017 by Risa Denenberg. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 10, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
I had sworn I wouldn’t write
another poem about my mom
but in the museum there is a room
filled with centuries-old pottery sherds
and it is difficult not to start seeing
symbols everywhere. We walk through
the frigid air toward a reconstructed
temple, likely stolen, I say, and she
looks at me. A rope keeps us from going
further. Who are you texting? she asks
and I want to scream but don't.
What question could she ask
that wouldn't make me bristle?
I once called our fights a kind of dance
in a poem I rightly tore up. I won’t
call it anything I tell myself in the poem
I told myself I wouldn’t write.
I’d change the subject but resistance
is a sign to go forward, I tell my students
because something is wrong with me.
So I go forward into what it might mean
to struggle a few hours with the one
who made me, whose dark I once lived
inside. We step into the centuries
between us and the vessels behind glass
which once held water, grain, and now
the silence of a light so gentle
as to not damage the precious things.
Copyright © 2017 by Matthew Siegel. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 15, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
We woke to the darkness before our eyes,
unable to take the measure of the loss.
Who are they. What are we. What have we
abandoned to arrive with such violence at this hour.
In answer we drew back, covered our ears
with our hands to the heedless victory, or vowed,
as I did, into the changed air, never to consent.
But it was already too late, too late for the unfarmed fields,
the men by the station, the park swings, the parking lots,
the ground water, the doves—too late for dusk
falling in summer, chains of glass lakes
mingled into dawn, the corals, the neighbors,
the first drizzle on an empty street, cafeterias and stockyards,
young men asking twice a day for
work. Too late for hope. Too far along
to meet a country, a people, its annihilating need.
Because the year is new and the great change
already underway, we concede a thousandfold
and feel, harder than the land itself,
a complicity for everything we did not see
or comprehend: cynicism borne of raw despair,
long-cultivated hatreds, the promises of leaders
traveling like cool silence through the dark.
My life is here, in this small room, and like you
I am waiting to know—but there is no time
to wait for what has happened.
What does the future ask of me,
those who won’t have enough to eat by evening,
those whose disease will now take hold—
and the decades that carry past me once I’ve died,
generations of children, the suffering that is never solved,
the heat over the earth, its marshes,
its crowded towers, its unbreathable night air.
I would open my hand from the wrist,
step outside, not lose nerve.
Here is the day, still to be lived.
We do not fully know what we do.
But the trains depart the stations, traffic lurches
and stalls, a highway crew has paused.
Desert sun softens the first color of the rock.
Who governs now governs by grievance and old scores,
but we compass our worth,
prepare to do the work not our own,
and feel, past the scorn in his eyes, the burden
in the torso of a stranger, draw close to the sick,
the weak, the women without jobs, the twelve-year-old
facing spite half-tangled into sleep, the panic
tightening inside everyone who has been told to go,
I will help you although I do not know you,
and strive not to look away, be unwilling to profit,
an ache inside that endless effort,
a slowed-down summons not from those
whose rage is lit by greed—we do not consent—
but the ones who wake without prospect,
those who don’t speak, cannot recover,
like the old woman at the counter, the helpless father
who, like you, gets no more than his one life.
Copyright © 2017 by Joanna Klink. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 21, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Not many passions take your pants off—
painting with oils, reading in the afternoon,
other people’s bodies. I want to really
say something here. I want to be clear.
But just as no two people see the same
colors, what you hear is not what I’m
saying. Not conversations as much as
serial misunderstandings, proximate
in space. One considers the dictionary
definition of “man.” One considers
the definition of “woman.” One considers
arm hair, soft spaces on a hot body.
The obsessive heat-seeking quality of
attraction. The paint on my pinkie is for
you—a little poison, a little turpentine.
The snaggletooth I want to stick my
tongue into. This is pigment from a rock,
this is pigment from a bug, this is pigment
from a bleeding heart, and this is jeopardy.
Passion brought me here, but passion
cannot save me. To mix linseed and
varnish, to create something is to vanish
what was there before. Chroma for fastness,
chemistry tricks. Such bold strokes in
erasing and framing delicate beginnings.
Copyright © 2017 by Erika Jo Brown. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 1, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
and I didn’t mean to, this was not
my intent. I meant to say how I loved
the birds, how watching them lift off
the branches, hearing their song
helps me get through the gray morning.
When I wrote about how they crash
into the small dark places that only birds
can fit through, layers of night sky, pipes
through drains, how I’ve seen them splayed
across gutters, piles of feathers stuck
together by dried blood, how once my car
ran over a sparrow, though I swerved,
the road was narrow, the bird not quick
enough, dragged it under my tire as I drove
to forget, bird disappearing part by part,
beak, slender feet, fretful, hot,
I did not mean to write about death,
but rather how when something dies
we remember who we love, and we
die a little too, we who are still breathing,
we who still have the energy to survive.
Copyright © 2017 by Kim Dower. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 7, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
God likes to be played like a piano.
Dawn glows with sailors dancing in the eye of a storm
by the river of black water. These days
things make sense under the green and yellow
and brown sky of Granada and I wear a tie as penance
for the sins of my navel. The saints of the north
and the saints of the south fly by dropping scorpions
down my neck and those women
with fire in their eyes drink melon juice and wink.
I play billiards on the other side of town
thinking bone in and bone out is the legacy of canines.
The camouflage, the hunt, the war of ice and water.
God knows. He clinks all day and night.
Fly me to the moon. Yes, I’d rather be sleeping.
A slender, tender rain comes over Granada
and the storm passes and the city sighs.
Copyright © 2017 by Pablo Medina. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 9, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Never step back Never a last
Scent of plumeria
When my parents left
You knew it was for good
It’s a herd of horses never
To reclaim their steppes
You became a moth hanging
Down from the sun
Old river Calling to my mother
Kept spilling out of her lungs
Ridgeline vista closed
Into the locket of their gaze
It’s the Siberian crane
Forbidden to fly back after winter
You marbled my father’s face
Floated him as stone over the sea
Further Every minute
Emptying his child years to the land
You crawled back in your bomb
It’s when the banyan must leave
Relearn to cathedral its roots
From Afterland, published by Graywolf Press. Copyright © 2017 Mai Der Vang. Used with permission of Graywolf Press.
Some maps have blue borders
like the blue of your name
or the tributary lacing of
veins running through your
father’s hands. & how the last
time I saw you, you held
me for so long I saw whole
lifetimes flooding by me
small tentacles reaching
for both our faces. I wish
maps would be without
borders & that we belonged
to no one & to everyone
at once, what a world that
would be. Or not a world
maybe we would call it
something more intrinsic
like forgiving or something
simplistic like river or dirt.
& if I were to see you
tomorrow & everyone you
came from had disappeared
I would weep with you & drown
out any black lines that this
earth allowed us to give it—
because what is a map but
a useless prison? We are all
so lost & no naming of blank
spaces can save us. & what
is a map but the delusion of
safety? The line drawn is always
in the sand & folds on itself
before we’re done making it.
& that line, there, south of
el rio, how it dares to cover
up the bodies, as though we
would forget who died there
& for what? As if we could
forget that if you spin a globe
& stop it with your finger
you’ll land it on top of someone
living, someone who was not
expecting to be crushed by thirst—
Copyright © 2017 by Yesenia Montilla. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 28, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
A woman walks by the bench I’m sitting on
with her dog that looks part Lab, part Buick,
stops and asks if I would like to dance.
I smile, tell her of course I do. We decide
on a waltz that she begins to hum.
We spin and sway across the street in between
parked cars and I can tell she realizes
she chose a man who understands the rhythm
of sand, the boundaries of thought. We glide
and Fred and Ginger might come to mind or
a breeze filled with the scent of flowers of your choice.
Coffee stops flowing as a waitress stares out the window
of a diner while I lead my partner back across the street.
When we come to the end of our dance,
we compliment each other and to repay the favor
I tell her to be careful since the world comes to an end
three blocks to the east of where we stand. Then
I remind her as long as there is a ’59 Cadillac parked
somewhere in a backyard between here and Boise
she will dance again.
As she leaves content with her dog, its tail wagging
like gossip, I am convinced now more than ever
that I once held hundreds of roses in my hands
the first time I cut open a pomegranate.
Copyright © 2017 by Kevin Pilkington. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 20, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
In god’s gleaming empire, herds of triceratops
lunge up on their hind legs to somersault
around the plains. The angels lie in the sun
using straight pins to eat hollyhocks. Mostly
they just rub their bellies and hum quietly
to themselves, but the few sentences
they do utter come out as perfect poems.
Here on earth we blather constantly, and
all we say is divided between combat
and seduction. Combat: I understand you perfectly.
Seduction: Next time don’t say so out loud.
Here the perfect poem eats its siblings
in the womb like a sand shark or a star turning
black hole, then saunters into the world
daring us to stay mad. We know most of our
universe is missing. The perfect poem knows
where it went. The perfect poem is no bigger
than a bear. Its birthday hat comes with
a black veil which prattles on and on about
comet ash and the ten thousand buds of
the tongue. Like people and crows, the
perfect poem can remember faces and hold
grudges. It keeps its promises. The perfect
poem is not gold or lead or a garden gate
locked shut or a sail slapping in a storm.
The perfect poem is its own favorite toy.
It is not a state of mind or a kind of doubt
or a good or bad habit or a flower of any
color. It will not be available to answer
questions. The perfect poem is light as dust
on a bat’s wing, lonely as a single flea.
Copyright © 2017 by Kaveh Akbar. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 3, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
There were always such beautiful shadows in your work,
Though many now dodge their taxes with your art. Rarely
As it seems, life involves death with every decision, which is
Why I miss the non-Euclidean idiom we used to argue over
Everything in the dictionary of what not to do. Somewhere
In a mix between Beaches and Häxan I have these weird
Memories of you sleeping when there’s no way I was there
To see you sleeping—a crystal ball above your bed lets
Tensors, in a tension of tenses, tongue-tie time and divine
Your urge to fearlessly abandon yourself to love as you
Understand love, where paradox gives way to paradox
And awareness is congratulated with awareness of how
This multiverse, in vast tribulation, ushers us on in unison
As one of many big bangs begins again to light the way.
Copyright © 2017 by Aaron Fagan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 11, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
If you think of humans as rare
as snowflakes, your world
is constantly melting.
If you think of humans as essential
to keeping dogs happy,
someone will always want
to buy you a beer.
Copyright © 2017 by Bob Hicok. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 10, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
My Mama moved among the days
like a dreamwalker in a field;
seemed like what she touched was hers
seemed like what touched her couldn’t hold,
she got us almost through the high grass
then seemed like she turned around and ran
right back in
right back on in
From The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton. Copyright © 1987 by Lucille Clifton. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.
I was an apostle to the group of you, strangers
who had known me since I was born. I ate
of your flesh. I drank of your blood. Sipped
the elixir of your moods. Put the remainders
in the tabernacle, wiped the goblet clean with
a cloth. The crosses branded into the wafers
were your voices branded onto my heart.
I heard you live forever. I heard you rise.
The bones of you yield to the memory of flesh,
and we count our blessings and also bless.
We are bright in anticipation of death,
we are living like fissures and set against waste,
and the taste is bitter, left in our mouths.
I am dying, I am dead, lord of the losses, lord
of the faith. I take each breath and my chest
expands. Now I stand knee deep in the muck
unable to move, and if I dip my hands in,
they will fill with bracken and all the thickness
of each formless face, kicking up stones,
until you are gone, mythic lisp the lips
shape. One day, you vanish like a flash.
Confessions in a dark room. Firmaments to read
and spin like dice. I genuflect twice at the edge
of your pews. I kiss the book for you. This is what
the word of family can do. Sit at the round table.
Break bread. In the beginning, the loveless
made the world and saw that it was good.
Copyright © 2017 by Jennifer Militello. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 14, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Storms are generous.
Something so easy to surrender to, sitting by the window,
and then you step out into the garden you were so bored of,
so bored of you hated it,
but now it needs you.
Twang of the rake’s metal tines biting at the dirt.
You destroy a little camp of mushrooms,
pull leaves into a pile,
are struck with wonder
when there rolls out
a little bird’s nest—
You want to hide in it.
Twigs, mud, spit, and woven in:
a magenta strip of Mylar balloon that glints when turned to the sun,
a sway of color you’ve seen before.
You were a boy.
You told your grandfather you spotted a snake in the yard between the buckeyes.
He revved his weed whacker,
conjured a rose mist from the grass
that swelled in the breeze, swirled together, grew dark,
shifting through fans of sun,
magenta, then plum,
Smell of exhaust. Tannins of iced tea
you drank together on the porch later,
his spiked with Wild Turkey,
the tumbler resting on his thigh,
the ice-sweat running off, smearing the dried snake juice,
pooling in a divot of scar tissue.
A souvenir, he called it,
from the winter spent sleeping in a hole in the ground in a Belgian wood,
listening for German voices to start singing
so he knew he could sleep.
Copyright © 2017 by William Brewer. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 16, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
My whole life I have obeyed it— its every hunting. I move beneath it as a jaguar moves, in the dark- liquid blading of shoulder. The opened-gold field and glide of the hand, light-fruited, and scythe-lit. I have come to this god-made place— Teotlachco, the ball court— because the light called: lightwards! and dwells here, Lamp-land. We touch the ball of light to one another—split bodies stroked bright— desire-knocked. Light reshapes my lover’s elbow, a brass whistle. I put my mouth there—mercy-luxed, and come, we both, to light. It streams me. A rush of scorpions— fast-light. A lash of breath— god-maker. Light horizons her hip—springs an ocelot cut of chalcedony and magnetite. Hip, limestone and cliffed, slopes like light into her thigh—light-box, skin-bound. Wind shakes the calabash, disrupts the light to ripple—light-struck, then scatter. This is the war I was born toward, her skin, its lake-glint. I desire—I thirst— to be filled—light-well. The light throbs everything, and songs against her body, girdling the knee bone. Our bodies—light-harnessed, light-thrashed. The bruising: bilirubin bloom, violet. A work of all good yokes—blood-light— to make us think the pain is ours to keep, light-trapped, lanterned. I asked for it. I own it— lightmonger. I am light now, or on the side of light— light-head, light-trophied. Light-wracked and light-gone. Still, the sweet maize—an eruption of light, or its feast, from the stalk of my lover’s throat. And I, light-eater, light-loving.
Copyright © 2018 by Natalie Diaz. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 4, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
The wind then, through seams of bluestem,
or switchgrass swayed by a coyote’s passing.
Where the fabric gapes, Barthes said,
lies the sensual. A prairie cut
by winding seeps, or winds or shearing wings.
Mare’s tails, mackerels, cirrus,
distance dispersed as light. Under a buzzard’s bank
and spiral the prairie folds and unfolds.
Here between the stands of bluestem, I am interruption.
I rake my fingers over culms and panicles.
Here seeds burr into my sleeves, spur each hem.
In a prairie, I am chance. I am rupture. The wind—
thief, ruffian, quick-fingered sky, snatches a kink
of my hair. The broken nap falls, wound round
like a prairie snake, a coil of barbed wire, a snare
for the unwary. In the fall, volunteer naturalists
will wrench invading roots and scour grassy densities
with fire. Wick, knot, gnarl, my kindled hair
will flare, burn, soften into ash, ash that will settle,
sieve through soil, compost for roots to suck
and worms to cast out, out into the loess that raises
redtop, turkeyfoot, sideoats grama,
and all the darkened progenies of grass
that reach and strive and shape dissent from light.
Copyright © 2018 by Janice N. Harrington. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 26, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
The pale sound of jilgueros trilling in the jungle. Abuelo rocks in his chair and maps the birds in his head, practiced in the geometry of sound. My uncle stokes the cabin’s ironblack stove with a short rod. The flames that come are his loves. I cook—chile panameño, coconut milk— a recipe I’d wanted to try. Abuelo eats, suppresses the color that builds in his cheek. To him the chile is a flash of snake in the mud. He asks for plain rice, beans. Tío hugs his father, kneels in front of the fire, whispers away the dying of his little flames. We soak rice until the water clouds. On the television, a fiesta… The person I am showing the poem to stops reading. He questions the TV, circles it with a felt pen. “This feels so out of place in a jungle to me. Can you explain to the reader why it’s there?” For a moment, I can’t believe. You don’t think we have 1930s technology? The poem was trying to talk about stereotype, gentleness instead of violence for once. But now I should fill the little room of my sonnet explaining how we own a TV? A shame, because I had a great last line— there was a parade in it, and a dancing horse like you wouldn’t believe.
Copyright © 2018 by Jacob Shores-Argüello. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 13, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
I will wade out till my thighs are steeped in burn- ing flowers I will take the sun in my mouth and leap into the ripe air Alive with closed eyes to dash against darkness in the sleeping curves of my body Shall enter fingers of smooth mastery with chasteness of sea-girls Will I complete the mystery of my flesh I will rise After a thousand years lipping flowers And set my teeth in the silver of the moon
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on October 14, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Long ago I met a beautiful boy Together we slept in my mother's womb Now the street of our fathers rises to eat him :: Everything black is forbidden in Eden In my arms my brother sleeps, teeth pearls I give away the night so he can have this slumber :: I give away the man who made me white I give away the man who freed my mother I pry apart my skull my scalp unfurls :: I nestle him gray inside my brain, my brother sleeps and dreams of genes mauve lips fast against spine he breathes. The sky :: bends into my eyes as they search for his skin Helicopter blades invade our peace::: Where is that Black Where is it Where :: Blades slice, whine pound the cupolas I slide him down and out the small of my vertebrae He scurries down the bone and to the ocean :: navigates home in a boat carved of gommier When he reaches our island everyone is relieved though they have not forgotten me, belsé :: Where is your sister, eh? Whey? Koté belsé yé? Whey? Koté li yé Koté li yé To the sand To the stars on the sea Koté li yé Koté li yé To the one-celled egun To the torpid moon Koté li yé Koté li yé :: There::: Koté li yé drapes across a baton; glows electric in shine of taser; pumped dry with glass bottle; :: There::: Koté li yé vagina gape into the night; neck dangle taut with plastic bags and poorly knotted ropes; :: There::: Koté li yé belsé Koté? ::: I burn my skin shines blacker, lacquer ::: non-mwen sé flambó ashes tremble in the moonlight ::: sans humanité my smoking bones fume the future ::: pa bwè afwéchi pou lafiyèv dòt moun
Copyright © 2018 by r. erica doyle. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 25, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
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.
When Milo was a kitten
and spent the night
with us in the big bed,
curled like a brown sock
at our feet, he would
wake before daybreak,
in his best Burmese,
and make bread on our stomachs
until if one of us did not rise,
sleep-walk to the kitchen
and open his can of food,
he would steal under the covers,
crouch, run hard at us,
jam his head
in our armpits,
and burrow fiercely.
Probably he meant nothing by that.
Or he meant it in cat-contrary,
just as he did not intend
drawing blood the day
he bolted out the door
and was wild again
for nearly three hours.
I could not catch him
until I knelt, wormed
into the crawl-space
under a neighbor house
and lured him home
with bits of dried fish.
Or he meant exactly what he smelled,
and smelled the future
as it transmogrified out of the past,
for he is, if not an olfactory
a highly nuanced cat—
an undoer of complicated knots,
who tricks cabinets,
who lives to upend tall
glasses of Merlot.
With his whole body,
he has censored the finest passages of Moby-Dick.
He has silenced Beethoven with one paw.
He has leapt three and a half feet
from the table by the wall
and pulled down
your favorite print by Miró.
He does not know the word no.
When you asked the vet what
kind of cat it was, she went
into the next room
came back and said,
The yellow eyes, the voice,
the live spirit that plays into dead seriousness
and will not be punished into goodness,
an ancient, nameless breed—
mink he says and I answer in cat.
Even if I was not
born in a dumpster
between a moldy cabbage
and an expired loaf of bread,
I too was rescued by an extravagant woman.
Copyright © 2019 by Rodney Jones. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 3, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Propped against a tree on a sidewalk next
to the trash cans, shorn of sheets, its fabric
a casing for its coils, harborer of secretions
seeped and dried, its phosphorous surface
glitters abandoned skin flakes in moonlight,
shingles from roof sides of humans. Mucous
trails pearlescent from a snail crawled up
the trunk of the tree upon which this bed
formerly slept on now leans. Loved upon?
Perhaps. Dreamt on most definitely. Hands
on skin most definitely, the stains it harbors
are the trails of dreams, the shotguns aimed
at baby carriages, molars boring holes into
the palm upon which they are cast like dice,
and the mystery of love as scratchy and fine
smelling as the needle tree that carried you
off with its scent of resin: it’s a hideous thing.
Sheet marks on the face won’t disappear into
the water filling the basin. Under the eyes dark
lakes before the resinous reflection of window
cast into mirror by interior lights set against
the night. Do you wonder if I dream of your
shattering? Marks on the face don’t melt into
the water. It would be strange to dream that
hard for a stranger, even for you who became
strange within an hour. Yet, I am waking from
the press of your face against my face. Carried
off over the shoulder, hauled through doorways,
receiving your murder, once this mattress was
bent at its middle, sagged profuse as a gaping
blouse, and bore stains of which I was never
aware while asleep. You knew. You were there
too. You will dream of congress between us.
I withdraw my hand. I refuse. Haul me away.
Copyright © 2019 by Cate Marvin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 15, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
1. I ate eggs from a chafing dish while the baker reminded us: the only thing that will hurt you out here are your own bad decisions
2. I felt fettered then un-
3. I listened to the rain
4. I listened to the rain hitting the Carrier compressor, the gravel walk
5. I listened to the rain flattening the clover, I listened to the rain letting up and then it was ozone and drip
6. On the bench under the overhang in the rain I let myself pretend I was younger and childless, like the first time I arrived here
7. The first time I arrived here, I never thought I am small and luminous
8. The body, burdened and miraculous
9. The body as thin-nest boundary
10. I climbed into your body like a cave
11. I was frightened to walk in the dark
12. Late at night even my own movements became unknowable, magnified and rustling
13. The night cut by the moon, punctured by the whistle of the cargo train
14. There was only a hole, there was only forward and more forward
15. The inevitability of a scarred life, your pulse, stitches, this palace of breath
16. go on, go on / again, again / return, return
Copyright © 2019 by Erika Meitner. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 18, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
how do I admit I’m almost glad of it?
the way it’s scraped off
those flash-storms of rage
I grew delicately-feathered
luna moth antennae
to fine-tune your emotional weather:
sometimes a barometric shift
in the house’s atmosphere / a tight
quickening / some hard dark shadow
flickering glossy as obsidian
pulled down like a nightshade
behind your irises / but sometimes
you struck with no warning at all
rattlesnaked fang of lightning
incinerating my moon-pale wings
to crumpled cinder and ash
now your memory resets
itself every night / a button
clearing the trip odometer
back to zero / dim absinthe fizz
of radium-green glow
from the dashboard half-lifing
a midnight rollover from
omega to alpha to omega
I remember when you told me
(maybe I was three?)
I was mentally damaged
like the boy across the street /
said you’d help me pass
for normal so no one would know
but only if I swore to obey
you / and only you / forever
now your memory fins
around and around / like
the shiny obsessive lassos
of a goldfish gold-banding
the narrow perimeters
of its too-small bowl
coming home from school
(maybe I was fifteen?)
you were waiting for me
just inside the front door /
accused me of stealing a can
of corned beef hash from
the canned goods stashed
in the basement / then beat me
in the face with your shoe
how do I admit I’m almost glad of it?
that I’ve always pined for you
like an unrequited love / though I
was never beautiful enough
for you / your tinned bright laugh
shrapneled flecks of steel to hide
your anger when people used to say
we looked like one another
but now we compare
our same dimpled hands /
the thick feathering of eyebrows
with the same crooked wing
birdwinging over our left eye /
our uneven cheekbones making
one half of our face rounder
than the other / one side
a full moon / the other side
a shyer kind of moon
how can I admit I’m almost glad of it
when you no longer recognize
yourself in photographs
the mirror becoming stranger
until one day—will it be soon?—
you’ll look in my face / once again
seeing nothing of yourself
reflected in it, and—unsure
of all that you were and all
that you are—ask me: who are you?
Copyright © 2019 by Lee Ann Roripaugh. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 24, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Because the cathedral leaked yellow light
onto cobblestones like a slit carton of milk.
Because boxes of red wine emptied
down the throat’s swiveling street.
Because the music of my footsteps
like notes of ash.
Because he curved like a question mark
puncturing a flap of heaven.
Because litros tucked in brown paper bags,
two packs of Chesterfields a day,
at the breakfast table,
on the lip of a balcony.
Because I woke in a shrine
of my own stickiness.
Because his lips were aperitif.
Because my father kissed his forehead
outside the mosque,
the taste of rum and rose petals.
Because oranges bulging in coat pockets.
Because the condom held against the light,
swirling cities of children we would never conceive.
Because it broke,
the cartography of longing pulsed onto soft thigh.
Because the long walk home chaperoned by stray dogs,
the drunk’s grief of the Guadalquivir,
blue cough and jasmine rotting in my hair.
Because I passed out in the bar bathroom
and mistook the toilet for my mother’s legs.
Because the shard of glass in the singer’s throat.
Because he cried when he was happy.
Because the thief looked me in the eyes and didn’t take the purse.
Because the petroglyphs of our hands wounded the white walls,
how we made the world small,
siphoning god’s breath
to sweeten the blood-flavored noon.
Copyright © 2019 by Kendra DeColo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 30, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Translated by Natascha Bruce
There's no cloth hawker in the bazaar
willing to make dirty deals
with the health inspector
neither will they confess the link
between those bolts of flyaway fabric
and ancient birds
(lo a sage appeared
drilled fire from sticks
transformed the stinking food
and the people were happy)
after the ban on cooking smoke
glug glug swallow
the secret of seawater and its fish
tile cities built up and pulled down
at four in the afternoon
a routine inspection
into the cleanliness of laughter
a hand spread wide in the dark is
splattered with light
a carambola tree sprouts branches from stumps
its remaining fruits sour and shrivelled to stardust
swaying in the void
the sky so dull
and the city official
at the newly-sterilized entrance
a spy hole onto the blankness
（有聖人作 鑽燧取火 以化腥臊 而民悅之）
Copyright © 2019 by Dorothy Tse and Natascha Bruce. Published in Poem-a-Day in partnership with Words Without Borders on September 7, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Out here, there’s a bowing even the trees are doing.
Winter’s icy hand at the back of all of us.
Black bark, slick yellow leaves, a kind of stillness that feels
so mute it’s almost in another year.
I am a hearth of spiders these days: a nest of trying.
We point out the stars that make Orion as we take out
the trash, the rolling containers a song of suburban thunder.
It’s almost romantic as we adjust the waxy blue
recycling bin until you say, Man, we should really learn
some new constellations.
And it’s true. We keep forgetting about Antlia, Centaurus,
Draco, Lacerta, Hydra, Lyra, Lynx.
But mostly we’re forgetting we’re dead stars too, my mouth is full
of dust and I wish to reclaim the rising—
to lean in the spotlight of streetlight with you, toward
what’s larger within us, toward how we were born.
Look, we are not unspectacular things.
We’ve come this far, survived this much. What
would happen if we decided to survive more? To love harder?
What if we stood up with our synapses and flesh and said, No.
No, to the rising tides.
Stood for the many mute mouths of the sea, of the land?
What would happen if we used our bodies to bargain
for the safety of others, for earth,
if we declared a clean night, if we stopped being terrified,
if we launched our demands into the sky, made ourselves so big
people could point to us with the arrows they make in their minds,
rolling their trash bins out, after all of this is over?
From The Carrying (Milkweed Editions, 2018) by Ada Limón. Copyright © 2018 by Ada Limón. Used with the permission of Milkweed Editions. milkweed.org.
after Marie Howe
in the wordless beginning
iguana & myrrh
magma & reef ghost moth
& the cordyceps tickling its nerves
& cedar & archipelago & anemone
dodo bird & cardinal waiting for its red
ocean salt & crude oil now black
muck now most naïve fumbling plankton
every egg clutched in the copycat soft
of me unwomaned unraced
unsexed as the ecstatic prokaryote
that would rage my uncle’s blood
or the bacterium that will widow
your eldest daughter’s eldest son
my uncle, her son our mammoth sun
& her uncountable siblings & dust mite & peat
apatosaurus & nile river
& maple green & nude & chill-blushed &
yeasty keratined bug-gutted i & you
spleen & femur seven-year refreshed
seven-year shedding & taking & being this dust
& my children & your children
& their children & the children
of the black bears & gladiolus & pink florida grapefruit
here not allied but the same perpetual breath
held fast to each other as each other’s own skin
cold-dormant & rotting & birthing & being born
in the olympus of the smallest
possible once before once
Copyright © 2020 by Marissa Davis. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 1, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.