Every day you sink into her To make room for me. When I die, I sink into you, When Xing dies, she sinks Into me, her child dies & Sinks into Xing & the Earth, Who is always ravenous, Swallows us. I don’t know where you’re buried. I don’t know your sons’ names, Only their numbers & fates: #2 was murdered, #3 went to jail, #4 hung himself, #5, who did the cooking & cleaning, is alive. #1, my father, died of pancreatic cancer. Of bacon & lunch meat & Napoleons. Your husband died young, of Double Happiness, unfiltered. You died of Time, Of motherhood, Of being the boss, Of working in a sock factory, Of an everyday ailment For which there is no cure. I am alone, like a number. #1 writes me a letter: My dearest Jenny, Do you know Rigoberta Menchú, this name? There were also silences about Chinese girls, Oriental women. In field of literature, you must be strong enough to bear all these. An ivory tower writer can never be successful. You are almost living like a hermit. Are you coming home soon? He doesn’t mention you. Perfect defect. Hidden flaw in the cloth, Yellow bead in the family regalia. Bidden to be understory, Silences, pored & poured over. You are almost living. You say hello to me quietly. What is success? Meat? Pastries? Cigarettes? The cessation of Communion with self? I want to be eaten By an ivory tower, Devoured by the power Of my own solitude. We’re alone together. I read the letter every day before death. Where are you buried, Nainai? I’m coming home soon.
Copyright © 2019 by Jennifer Tseng. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 25, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Who said November’s face was grim?
Who said her voice was harsh and sad?
I heard her sing in wood paths dim,
I met her on the shore, so glad,
So smiling, I could kiss her feet!
There never was a month so sweet.
October’s splendid robes, that hid
The beauty of the white-limbed trees,
Have dropped in tatters; yet amid
Those perfect forms the gazer sees
A proud wood-monarch here and there
Garments of wine-dipped crimson wear.
In precious flakes the autumnal gold
Is clinging to the forest’s fringe:
Yon bare twig to the sun will hold
Each separate leaf, to show the tinge
Of glorious rose-light reddening through
Its jewels, beautiful as few.
Where short-lived wild-flowers bloomed and died
The slanting sunbeams fall across
Vine-broideries, woven from side to side
Above mosaics of tinted moss.
So does the Eternal Artist’s skill
Hide beauty under beauty still.
And, if no note of bee or bird
Through the rapt stillness of the woods
Or the sea’s murmurous trance be heard,
A Presence in these solitudes
Upon the spirit seems to press
The dew of God’s dear silences.
And if, out of some inner heaven,
With soft relenting comes a day
Whereto the heart of June is given, —
All subtle scents and spicery
Through forest crypts and arches steal,
With power unnumbered hurts to heal.
Through yonder rended veil of green,
That used to shut the sky from me,
New glimpses of vast blue are seen;
I never guessed that so much sea
Bordered my little plot of ground,
And held me clasped so close around.
This is the month of sunrise skies
Intense with molten mist and flame;
Out of the purple deeps arrive
Colors no painter yet could name:
Gold-lilies and the cardinal-flower
Were pale against this gorgeous hour.
Still lovelier when athwart the east
The level beam of sunset falls:
The tints of wild-flowers long deceased
Glow then upon the horizon walls;
Shades of the rose and violet
Close to their dear world lingering yet.
What idleness, to moan and fret
For any season fair, gone by!
Life’s secret is not guessed at yet;
Veil under veil its wonders lie.
Through grief and loss made glorious
The soul of past joy lives in us.
More welcome than voluptous gales
This keen, crisp air, as conscience clear:
November breathes no flattering tales;—
The plain truth-teller of the year,
Who wins her heart, and he alone,
Knows she has sweetness all her own.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on November 24, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
To pray you open your whole self
To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon
To one whole voice that is you.
And know there is more
That you can't see, can't hear,
Can't know except in moments
Steadily growing, and in languages
That aren't always sound but other
Circles of motion.
Like eagle that Sunday morning
Over Salt River. Circled in blue sky
In wind, swept our hearts clean
With sacred wings.
We see you, see ourselves and know
That we must take the utmost care
And kindness in all things.
Breathe in, knowing we are made of
All this, and breathe, knowing
We are truly blessed because we
Were born, and die soon within a
True circle of motion,
Like eagle rounding out the morning
We pray that it will be done
From In Mad Love and War © 1990 by Joy Harjo. Reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.
So that each
is its own, now—each a fallen, blond stillness.
Closer, above them,
the damselflies pass as they would over water,
if the fruit were water,
or as bees would, if they weren’t
somewhere else, had the fruit found
already a point more steep
in rot, as soon it must, if
none shall lift it from the grass whose damp only
softens further those parts where flesh
There are those
whom no amount of patience looks likely
to improve ever, I always said, meaning
gift is random,
here withheld—almost always
as it’s turned out: how your hands clear
easily the wreckage;
how you stand—like a building for a time condemned,
then deemed historic. Yes. You
will be saved.
From The Rest of Love by Carl Phillips. Copyright © 2004 by Carl Phillips. Reprinted by Farrar, Straus, & Giroux. All rights reserved.
The river rose wildly every seventh spring
or so, and down the hatch went the town,
just a floating hat box or two, a cradle,
a cellar door like an ark to float us back
into the story of how we drown but never
for good, or long. How the ornate numbers
of the bank clock filled with flood, how
we scraped minute by minute the mud
from the hours and days until the gears
of time started to catch and count again.
Calamity is how the story goes, how
we built the books of the Bible. Not
the one for church, but the one the gods
of weather inscribed into our shoulder
blades and jawbones to grant them grit
enough to work the dumb flour of day
into bread and breath again. The world
has a habit of ending, every grandmother
and father knew well enough never to say,
so deeply was it stained into the brick
and mind. We live in the meantime
is how I remember the length of twilight
and late summer cicadas grinding the air
into what seemed like unholy racket to us,
but for them was the world’s only music.
Copyright © 2021 by Max Garland. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 11, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
My friend and I snickered the first time
we heard the meditation teacher, a grown man,
call himself honey, with a hand placed
over his heart to illustrate how we too
might become more gentle with ourselves
and our runaway minds. It’s been years
since we sat with legs twisted on cushions,
holding back our laughter, but today
I found myself crouched on the floor again,
not meditating exactly, just agreeing
to be still, saying honey to myself each time
I thought about my husband splayed
on the couch with aching joints and fever
from a tick bite—what if he never gets better?—
or considered the threat of more wildfires,
the possible collapse of the Gulf Stream,
then remembered that in a few more minutes,
I’d have to climb down to the cellar and empty
the bucket I placed beneath a leaky pipe
that can’t be fixed until next week. How long
do any of us really have before the body
begins to break down and empty its mysteries
into the air? Oh honey, I said—for once
without a trace of irony or blush of shame—
the touch of my own hand on my chest
like that of a stranger, oddly comforting
in spite of the facts.
Copyright © 2021 by James Crews. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 17, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
I am pledging allegiance to the flag
in the basement classroom when
my crewcut friend appears at the door
with a message. He whispers to the teacher
who motions to me and I learn that
my dog has followed me to school.
What an occasion, that above all the other
scents in the world, all the other
high-topped sneakers, he has found me out
I learn that he has already made it through
the first grade, where he has
muddied a teacher’s dress with his dark paws.
I imagine his journey as he runs down
the long corridors that smell of chalk dust
and institutional cleanser, cantering
past the principal’s office, the holy of holies,
where the records are kept. I see him sniffing
at the blunt toed shoes of the army
of teachers who find him.
He wags his tail when he sees me, but I am
overcome with my notoriety. Why did you
follow me, why single me out? I get the dog
and put him out the front entrance.
Go home, I tell him, go on home, ignoring
his optimistic eyes, shutting
the great wooden doors
on that part of me that is
without a collar and wild.
Copyright © Stuart Kestenbaum. From House of Thanksgiving (Deerbrook Editions, 2003). Used with permission of the author.
The week after Thanksgiving and the stores are decked out
for holiday shopping including a TJ Maxx where what was
once too expensive loses its value and attracts us, there is a
store with a big yellow banner proclaiming GIANT BOOK SALE,
a seasonal operation of remaindered books, which doesn’t mean
that the books aren’t good, only that the great machinery
of merchandising didn’t engage its gears in quite the right way
and I buy two books of poetry and am leaving the store, the ﬁrst snowstorm
of the winter on the way and as I get to the glass double doors
a bearded man with a cane is entering, he has been walking
with a woman who is continuing on to another store and he
has the look that could make him either eccentrically brilliant
or just plain simple and as I open the door and he opens the other side
he turns and says “I love you,” not to me but calling back to his
friend who is departing, only he’s said it looking at me, closest
to me, which is unintended love, random love, love that
should be spread throughout the world, shouted in our ears for free.
From Prayers and Run-on Sentences (Deerbrook Editions, 2007). Copyright © 2007 by Stuart Kestenbaum. Used with permission of the author.
the collard greens my father planted.
A collard is a cabbage that does not develop a heart.
Their green leaves are like hands
about to clasp in solemn devotion,
arching towards the sun for a blessing.
My father sleeps in his grave.
And the collard greens he planted
keep growing in his autumn garden.
The frost sweetens them
and the time comes to reap what dead
hands have sown. My brother cuts
the green hands from the earth’s body.
the green prayers do not leave the black earth.
But here we are. At the table with turkey
and stuffing. Clasping our hands over
his greens drenched in hamhock juice.
We eat prayers.
This we do in remembrance of him.
Take. Eat. His love
grown for you and me.
Copyright © 2015 by Jennifer Bartell Boykin. This poem appeared in The Raleigh Review: Literary & Arts Magazine, Vol. 5, No. 2, Fall 2015. Used with permission of the author.