Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning
my flight had been delayed four hours, I heard an announcement:
"If anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands any Arabic, please
come to the gate immediately."

Well—one pauses these days. Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there.

An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just
like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing. "Help,"
said the flight agent. "Talk to her. What is her problem? We
told her the flight was going to be late and she did this."

I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke haltingly.
"Shu-dow-a, Shu-bid-uck Habibti? Stani schway, Min fadlick, Shu-bit-
se-wee?" The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly
used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled
entirely. She needed to be in El Paso for major medical treatment the
next day. I said, "No, we're fine, you'll get there, just later, who is
picking you up? Let's call him."

We called her son, I spoke with him in English. I told him I would
stay with his mother till we got on the plane and ride next to
her. She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just
for the fun of it. Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while
in Arabic and found out of course they had ten shared friends. Then I
thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian poets I know
and let them chat with her? This all took up two hours.

She was laughing a lot by then. Telling of her life, patting my knee,
answering questions. She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool
cookies—little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and
nuts—from her bag—and was offering them to all the women at the gate.
To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a
sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the
lovely woman from Laredo—we were all covered with the same powdered
sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie.

And then the airline broke out free apple juice from huge coolers and two
little girls from our flight ran around serving it and they
were covered with powdered sugar, too. And I noticed my new best friend—
by now we were holding hands—had a potted plant poking out of her bag,
some medicinal thing, with green furry leaves. Such an old country tradi-
tion. Always carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.

And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and I thought, This
is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that
gate—once the crying of confusion stopped—seemed apprehensive about
any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women, too.

This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.

Naomi Shihab Nye, "Gate A-4" from Honeybee. Copyright © 2008 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Reprinted with permission.

Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark green fields; on; on; and out of sight.

Everyone's voice was suddenly lifted,
And beauty came like the setting sun.
My heart was shaken with tears and horror
Drifted away ... O but every one
Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done.

This poem is in the public domain.

To a Brown Boy

Tis a noble gift to be brown, all brown,
     Like the strongest things that make up this earth,
Like the mountains grave and grand,
     Even like the very land,
     Even like the trunks of trees—
     Even oaks, to be like these!
God builds His strength in bronze.

To be brown like thrush and lark!
     Like the subtle wren so dark!
Nay, the king of beasts wears brown;
     Eagles are of this same hue.
I thank God, then, I am brown.
     Brown has mighty things to do.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 30, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

This poem is in the public domain.

I always took it for granted, the right to vote
She said
And I knew what my mother meant
Her voice constricted tightly by the flu A virus
& a 30-year-relationship 
with Newport 100s
I ain’t no chain smoker
she attempts to silence my concern
only a pack a week. That’s good, you know?

My mother survived a husband she didn’t want 
and an addiction that loved her more 
than any human needs

I sit to write a poem about the 100 year Anniversary
of the 19th Amendment 
& my first thought returns to the womb
& those abortions I did not want at first
but alas

The thirst of an almost anything 
is a gorge always looking to be
until the body is filled with more fibroids 
than possibilities

On the 19th hour of the fourth day in a new decade
I will wake restless from some nightmare
about a bomb & a man with no backbone
on a golf course who clicks closed his Motorola phone
like an exclamation point against his misogynistic stance
He swings the golf club with each chant
Women let me grab
Women like me
Women vote until I say they don’t

In my nightmare he is an infective agent
In the clear of day
he is just the same

Every day he breathes is a threat to this country’s marrow
For Ida & Susan & Lucretia & Elizabeth Cady

& every day he tweets grief  
like a cynical cornball comic’s receipts 
like a red light signaling the end of times

The final night of 2019
& my New Year’s Eve plans involves
anything that will numb the pain
of a world breaking its own heart

My mother & I have already spoken
& her lungs are croaking wet
I just want you to know I don’t feel well
& I pause to pull up my stockings beneath my crumpled smile
On this day I sigh
I just wanted to dance & drink & forget about the 61.7% votes

My silk dress falls to my knees with the same swiftness
defiant as the white feminist who said “I’m your ally”
then voted for the demise of our nation’s most ignored
underpaid, imprisoned & impoverished citizens

Every day there is a telephone near 
I miss my mother
In the waiting room of the OB/GYN
Uptown bound on the dirt orange train seat of the subway
O! How my mother loves the places she can never go
Her bones swaddled with arthritis & smoke
So she relies on my daily bemoans

The train smells like yesterday, Ma
They raise the tolls & fix nothing for the people
My landlord refuses to fix my toilet, my bathroom sink, my refrigerator
The city is annoying like an old boyfriend, always buzzing about nothing 
& in the way of me making it on time to the polls
This woman didn’t say thank you when I held the door
& who does she think she is?

Each time I crack & cap on the everydayness of my day
My mother laughs as if she can see the flimsy MTA card
The yellow cabs that refuse to stop for her daughter
In these moments she can live again 
A whole bodied woman with a full mouth
to speak it plain

I ask my mother what hurts? 
What hurts? 
How can I help from here?

3000 miles away
Alone in a tower between the sea 
& the Mexico borders

My mother sighs a little sigh & says
Nothing
I just wanted to hear your voice

Copyright © 2020 by Mahogany L. Browne. This poem was co-commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and the New York Philharmonic as part of the Project 19 initiative and published in Poem-a-Day on March 21, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

Lying, thinking
Last night
How to find my soul a home
Where water is not thirsty
And bread loaf is not stone
I came up with one thing
And I don’t believe I’m wrong
That nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

There are some millionaires
With money they can’t use
Their wives run round like banshees
Their children sing the blues
They’ve got expensive doctors
To cure their hearts of stone.
But nobody
No, nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Now if you listen closely
I’ll tell you what I know
Storm clouds are gathering
The wind is gonna blow
The race of man is suffering
And I can hear the moan,
’Cause nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

From Oh Pray My Wings Are Gonna Fit Me Well By Maya Angelou. Copyright © 1975 by Maya Angelou. Reprinted with permission of Random House, Inc. For online information about other Random House, Inc. books and authors, visit the website at www.randomhouse.com.

Now shall I store my soul with silent beauty, 
     Beauty of drifting clouds and mountain heights, 
Beauty of sun-splashed hills and shadowed forests, 
     Beauty of dawn and dusk and star-swept nights. 

Now shall I fill my heart with quiet music, 
    Song of the wind across the pine-clad hill, 
Song of the rain and, fairer than all music, 
    Call of the thrush when twilight woods are still. 

So shall the days to come be filled with beauty, 
     Bright with the promise caught from eastern skies; 
So shall I see the stars when night is darkest, 
     Still hear the thrush’s song when music dies. 

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 1, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets. 

It was like the moment when a bird decides not to eat from your hand,
and flies, just before it flies, the moment the rivers seem to still
and stop because a storm is coming, but there is no storm, as when
a hundred starlings lift and bank together before they wheel and drop,
very much like the moment, driving on bad ice, when it occurs to you
your car could spin, just before it slowly begins to spin, like
the moment just before you forgot what it was you were about to say,
it was like that, and after that, it was still like that, only
all the time.

From The Good Thief. Copyright © 1988 by Marie Howe. Reprinted by permission of Persea Books, Inc., New York.

Oh, the coming-out-of-nowhere moment

when,   nothing 

happens 

no what-have-I-to-do-today-list 


maybe   half a moment  

the rush of traffic stops.  

The whir of I should be, I should be, I should be 

slows to silence,

the white cotton curtains hanging still.

Copyright © 2011 by Marie Howe. Used with permission of the author.

At first, the scissors seemed perfectly harmless.
They lay on the kitchen table in the blue light.

Then I began to notice them all over the house,
at night in the pantry, or filling up bowls in the cellar

where there should have been apples. They appeared under rugs,
lumpy places where one would usually settle before the fire,

or suddenly shining in the sink at the bottom of soupy water.
Once, I found a pair in the garden, stuck in turned dirt

among the new bulbs, and one night, under my pillow,
I felt something like a cool long tooth and pulled them out

to lie next to me in the dark. Soon after that I began
to collect them, filling boxes, old shopping bags,

every suitcase I owned. I grew slightly uncomfortable
when company came. What if someone noticed them

when looking for forks or replacing dried dishes? I longed
to throw them out, but how could I get rid of something

that felt oddly like grace? It occurred to me finally
that I was meant to use them, and I resisted a growing compulsion

to cut my hair, although in moments of great distraction,
I thought it was my eyes they wanted, or my soft belly

—exhausted, in winter, I laid them out on the lawn.
The snow fell quite as usual, without any apparent hesitation

or discomfort. In spring, as expected, they were gone.
In their place, a slight metallic smell, and the dear muddy earth.

From The Good Thief. Copyright © 1988 by Marie Howe. Reprinted by permission of Persea Books, Inc., New York.

Crows assemble in the bare elm above our house.
Restless, staring: like souls
who want back in life.

            —And who wouldn’t want again
            the hot bath after hard work,
            with soft canyons of splitting foam;
            or the glass of spring water
            cold at the mouth?

            To be startled by beauty—drops of bright
            blood on the snow.
            To be radiant.

All morning the crows watch me in the garden
putting in the early onions.
Their bodies look oiled.
Back in, back in,
they shake the wooden rattles. 

Copyright © 2020 by Jenny George. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 19, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

Say tomorrow doesn’t come.
Say the moon becomes an icy pit.
Say the sweet-gum tree is petrified.
Say the sun’s a foul black tire fire.
Say the owl’s eyes are pinpricks.
Say the raccoon’s a hot tar stain.
Say the shirt’s plastic ditch-litter.
Say the kitchen’s a cow’s corpse.
Say we never get to see it: bright
future, stuck like a bum star, never
coming close, never dazzling.
Say we never meet her. Never him.
Say we spend our last moments staring
at each other, hands knotted together,
clutching the dog, watching the sky burn.
Say, It doesn’t matter. Say, That would be
enough. Say you’d still want this: us alive,
right here, feeling lucky.

Copyright © 2013 by Ada Limón. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on March 14, 2013. Browse the Poem-a-Day archive.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

From The Poems of Dylan Thomas, published by New Directions. Copyright © 1952, 1953 Dylan Thomas. Copyright © 1937, 1945, 1955, 1962, 1966, 1967 the Trustees for the Copyrights of Dylan Thomas. Copyright © 1938, 1939, 1943, 1946, 1971 New Directions Publishing Corp. Used with permission.

	          after Marina Wilson

Consider the hands
that write this letter.
The left palm pressed flat against the paper,
as it has done before, over my heart,
in peace or reverence
to the sea or some beautiful thing
I saw once, felt once: snow falling
like rice flung from the giants' wedding,
or the strangest birds. & consider, then,
the right hand, & how it is a fist,
within which a sharpened utensil,
similar to the way I've held a spade,
match to the wick, the horse's reins, 
loping, the very fists
I've seen from the roads to Limay & Estelí.
For years, I have come to sit this way:
one hand open, one hand closed,
like a farmer who puts down seeds & gathers up
the food that comes from that farming.
Or, yes, it is like the way I've danced
with my left hand opened around a shoulder
& my right hand closed inside
of another hand. & how
I pray, I pray for this
to be my way: sweet
work alluded to in the body's position
to its paper:
left hand, right hand
like an open eye, an eye closed:
one hand flat against the trapdoor,
the other hand knocking, knocking.

From Teeth by Aracelis Girmay. Copyright © 2007 by Aracelis Girmay. Used by permission of Curbstone Press.

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don't
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

From Otherwise: New & Selected Poems by Jane Kenyon, published by Graywolf Press. Copyright © 1996 by the Estate of Jane Kenyon. Used with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota. All rights reserved.

Pulling out of the old scarred skin
(old rough thing I don't need now
I strip off
slip out of
leave behind)

I slough off deadscales
flick skinflakes to the ground

Shedding toughness
peeling layers down
to vulnerable stuff

And I'm blinking off old eyelids
for a new way of seeing

By the rock I rub against
I'm going to be tender again

From Blues Baby: Early Poems by Harryette Mullen, published by Bucknell University Press. Copyright © 1981, 2002 by Harryette Mullen. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

27ú lá Meitheamh, 2012

Because what’s the alternative?
Because of courage.
Because of loved ones lost.
Because no more.
Because it’s a small thing; shaking hands; it happens every day.
Because I heard of one man whose hands haven’t stopped shaking since a market day in Omagh.
Because it takes a second to say hate, but it takes longer, much longer, to be a great leader.
Much, much longer.

Because shared space without human touching doesn’t amount to much.
Because it’s easier to speak to your own than to hold the hand of someone whose side has been previously described, proscribed, denied.
Because it is tough.
Because it is tough.
Because it is meant to be tough, and this is the stuff of memory, the stuff of hope, the stuff of gesture, and meaning and leading.
Because it has taken so, so long.
Because it has taken land and money and languages and barrels and barrels of blood.

Because lives have been lost.
Because lives have been taken.

Because to be bereaved is to be troubled by grief.
Because more than two troubled peoples live here.
Because I know a woman whose hand hasn’t been shaken since she was a man.
Because shaking a hand is only a part of the start.
Because I know a woman whose touch calmed a man whose heart was breaking.
Because privilege is not to be taken lightly.

Because this just might be good.
Because who said that this would be easy?
Because some people love what you stand for, and for some, if you can, they can.
Because solidarity means a common hand.
Because a hand is only a hand; so hang onto it.

So join your much discussed hands.
We need this; for one small second.
So touch.
So lead.

“Shaking Hands” Originally published in Sorry for your Troubles (Canterbury Press, 2013). Copyright © 2013 by Pádraig Ó Tuama. Reprinted with the permission of the poet.

First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers
the grave and awkward mask.
I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
assiduous team
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.

There is a ladder.
The ladder is always there
hanging innocently
close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for,
we who have used it.
Otherwise
it is a piece of maritime floss
some sundry equipment.

I go down.
Rung after rung and still
the oxygen immerses me
the blue light
the clear atoms
of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
will begin.

First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.

And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
lived here
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
and besides
you breathe differently down here.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.

This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body.
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he

whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
whose breasts still bear the stress
whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
obscurely inside barrels
half-wedged and left to rot
we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass

We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.

From Diving into the Wreck: Poems 1971-1972 by Adrienne Rich. Copyright © 1973 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Reprinted by permission of the author and W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Copyright 1973 by Adrienne Rich.

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou'art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy'or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

This poem is in the public domain.

I am signaling you through the flames.

The North Pole is not where it used to be.

Manifest Destiny is no longer manifest.

Civilization self-destructs.

Nemesis is knocking at the door.

What are poets for, in such an age?
What is the use of poetry?

The state of the world calls out for poetry to save it.

If you would be a poet, create works capable of answering the challenge of apocalyptic times, even if this meaning sounds apocalyptic.

You are Whitman, you are Poe, you are Mark Twain, you are Emily Dickinson and Edna St. Vincent Millay, you are Neruda and Mayakovsky and Pasolini, you are an American or a non-American, you can conquer the conquerors with words....

From Poetry as Insurgent Art by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Copyright © 2007 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Used by permission of New Directions. All rights reserved.

We never know how high we are
  Till we are called to rise;
And then, if we are true to plan,
  Our statures touch the skies—

The Heroism we recite
  Would be a daily thing,
Did not ourselves the Cubits warp
  For fear to be a King—

This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on April 20, 2013. This poem is in the public domain.

                     1.
We are marching, truly marching 
   Can’t you hear the sound of feet? 
We are fearing no impediment 
   We have never known defeat. 

                     2. 
Like Job of old we have had patience, 
  Like Joshua, dangerous roads we’ve trod 
Like Solomon we have built out temples. 
   Like Abraham we’ve had faith in God. 

                     3. 
Up the streets of wealth and commerce, 
   We are marching one by one
We are marching, making history, 
  For ourselves and those to come. 

                     4. 
We have planted schools and churches,
   We have answered duty’s call. 
We have marched from slavery’s cabin 
   To the legislative hall. 

                     5. 
Brethren can’t you catch the spirit? 
  You who are out just get in line
Because we are marching, yes we are marching 
   To the music of the time. 

                     6.
We are marching, steady marching 
   Bridging chasms, crossing streams 
Marching up the hill of progress 
  Realizing our fondest dreams. 

                       7. 
We are marching, truly marching 
   Can’t you hear the sound of feet? 
We are fearing no impediment
   We shall never know defeat. 

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on February 1, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

This poem is in the public domain.

                                              One river gives
                                              Its journey to the next.

We give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.

We give because giving has changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.

We have been better for it,
We have been wounded by it—

Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,
Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.

Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,
But we read this book, anyway, over and again:

Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,
Mine to yours, yours to mine.

You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.
Together we are simple green. You gave me

What you did not have, and I gave you
What I had to give—together, we made

Something greater from the difference.
 

Copyright © 2014 by Alberto Ríos. Used with permission of the author.

your body still your body
your arms still wing
your mouth still a gun
 
          you tragic, misfiring bird
 
you have all you need to be a hero
don’t save the world, save yourself
 
you worship too much & you worship too much
 
when prayer doesn’t work:      dance, fly, fire
 
this is your hardest scene
when you think the whole sad thing might end
 
but you live      oh, you live
 
everyday you wake you raise the dead
 
          everything you do is a miracle
 

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.

(for Ntozake Shange)

I used to be a roller coaster girl
7 times in a row
No vertigo in these skinny legs
My lipstick bubblegum pink 
                          As my panther 10 speed.

never kissed

Nappy pigtails, no-brand gym shoes 
White lined yellow short-shorts

Scratched up legs pedaling past borders of 
humus and baba ganoush 
Masjids and liquor stores 
City chicken, pepperoni bread 
and superman ice cream 
                                    Cones.

Yellow black blending with bits of Arabic
Islam and Catholicism. 

My daddy was Jesus 
My mother was quiet
Jayne Kennedy was worshipped 
by my brother Mark

I don’t remember having my own bed before 12. 
Me and my sister Lisa                                shared. 

Sometimes all three Moore girls slept in the Queen.

You grow up so close 
never close enough.

I used to be a roller coaster girl 
Wild child full of flowers and ideas
Useless crushes on        polish boys 
in a school full of         white girls. 

Future black swan singing 
Zeppelin, U2 and Rick Springfield

Hoping to be Jessie’s Girl 

I could outrun my brothers and 
Everybody else to that 

reoccurring line

I used to be a roller coaster girl
Till you told me I was moving too fast
Said my rush made your head spin 
My laughter hurt your ears

A scream of happiness 
A whisper of freedom 
Pouring out my armpits 
Sweating up my neck 

You were always the scared one
I kept my eyes open for the entire trip
Right before the drop I would brace myself
And let that force push my head back into 

That hard iron seat

My arms nearly fell off a few times
Still, I kept running back to the line  
When I was done
Same way I kept running back to you

I used to be a roller coaster girl
I wasn’t scared of mountains or falling  
Hell, I looked forward to flying and dropping
Off this earth and coming back to life 

every once in a while

I found some peace in being out of control 
allowing my blood to race
through my veins for 180 seconds 

I earned my sometime nicotine pull 
I buy my own damn drinks & the ocean
Still calls my name when it feels my toes 
Near its shore. 

I still love roller coasters 
& you grew up to be 
Afraid 
of all girls who cld  
                                          ride 

Fearlessly

like 
me. 

Copyright © 2019 by jessica Care moore. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 4, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

It’s neither red
nor sweet.
It doesn’t melt
or turn over,
break or harden,
so it can’t feel
pain,
yearning,
regret.

It doesn’t have 
a tip to spin on,
it isn’t even
shapely—
just a thick clutch
of muscle,
lopsided,
mute. Still,
I feel it inside
its cage sounding
a dull tattoo:
I want, I want—

but I can’t open it:
there’s no key.
I can’t wear it
on my sleeve,
or tell you from
the bottom of it
how I feel. Here,
it’s all yours, now—
but you’ll have
to take me,
too.

Copyright © 2017 Rita Dove. Used with permission of the author.

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

From The Woman Who Fell From the Sky (W. W. Norton, 1994) by Joy Harjo. Copyright © 1994 by Joy Harjo. Used with permission of the author.

Between me and the noise of strife 
    Are walls of mountains set with pine;  
The dusty, care-strewn paths of life  
    Lead not to this retreat of mine.  
 
I hear the morning wind awake  
   Beyond the purple height,  
And, in the growing light,  
   The lap of lilies on the lake.  
 
I live with Echo and with Song,  
   And Beauty leads me forth to see  
Her temple’s colonnades, and long 
    Together do we love to be.  
 
The mountains wall me in, complete,  
   And leave me but a bit blue 
Above.    All year, the days are sweet— 
    How sweet! And all the long nights thro’  
 
I hear the river flowing by  
   Along its sandy bars;  
Behold, far in the midnight sky,  
    An infinite of stars!  
 
‘Tis sweet, when all is still,  
   When darkness gathers round,  
To hear, from hill to hill,  
   The far, the wandering sound.  
 
The cedar and the pine 
   Have pitched their tents with me.  
What freedom vast is mine!  
    What room! What mystery!  
 
Upon the dreamy southern breeze,  
    That steals in like a laden bee  
And sighs for rest among the trees,  
   Are far-blown bits of melody.  
 
What afterglows the twilight hold,  
    The darkening skies along!  
And O, what rose-like dawns unfold,  
    That smite the hills to song!  
 
High in the solitude of air,  
   The gray hawk circles on and on,  
Till, like a spirit soaring there,  
    His image pales and he is gone!  

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on April 26, 2020. 

                                              One river gives
                                              Its journey to the next.

We give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.

We give because giving has changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.

We have been better for it,
We have been wounded by it—

Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,
Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.

Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,
But we read this book, anyway, over and again:

Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,
Mine to yours, yours to mine.

You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.
Together we are simple green. You gave me

What you did not have, and I gave you
What I had to give—together, we made

Something greater from the difference.
 

Copyright © 2014 by Alberto Ríos. Used with permission of the author.

for Alison Saar

Please approach with care these figures in black.
Regard with care the weight they bear,
                      the scars that mark their hearts.
Do you think you can handle these bodies of graphite & coal dust?
This color might rub off. A drop of this red liquid
                      could stain your skin.
This black powder could blow you sky high.
No ordinary pigments blacken our blues.
Would you mop the floor with this bucket of blood?
Would you rinse your soiled laundry in this basin of tears?
Would you suckle hot milk from this cracked vessel?
Would you be baptized in this fountain of funky sweat?
Please approach with care
                      these bodies still waiting to be touched.
We invite you to come closer.
We permit you to touch & be touched.
We hope you will engage with care.

Copyright © 2019 by Harryette Mullen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 2, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don't
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

From Otherwise: New & Selected Poems by Jane Kenyon, published by Graywolf Press. Copyright © 1996 by the Estate of Jane Kenyon. Used with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota. All rights reserved.

translated from the Spanish by Jack Hirschman

Like you I
love love, life, the sweet smell
of things, the sky-blue
landscape of January days.
And my blood boils up
and I laugh through eyes
that have known the buds of tears.
I believe the world is beautiful
and that poetry, like bread, is for everyone.
And that my veins don’t end in me
but in the unanimous blood
of those who struggle for life,
love,
little things,
landscape and bread,
the poetry of everyone.


Como Tú

Yo, como tú,
amo el amor, la vida, el dulce encanto
de las cosas, el paisaje
celeste de los días de enero.
También mi sangre bulle
y río por los ojos
que han conocido el brote de las lágrimas.
Creo que el mundo es bello,
que la poesía es como el pan, de todos.
Y que mis venas no terminan en mí
sino en la sangre unánime
de los que luchan por la vida,
el amor,
las cosas,
el paisaje y el pan,
la poesía de todos.

From Poetry Like Bread: Poets of the Political Imagination (Curbstone Press, 2000), edited by Martín Espada. Used with the permission of Northwestern University Press.

(at St. Mary’s)

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that

From Quilting: Poems 1987–1990 by Lucille Clifton. Copyright © 2001 by Lucille Clifton. Reprinted with permission of BOA Editions Ltd. All rights reserved.

I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
     flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
     went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy
     bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I've known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Copyright © 1994 the Estate of Langston Hughes. Used with permission.

I had not known before
    Forever was so long a word.
The slow stroke of the clock of time
    I had not heard.

‘Tis hard to learn so late;
    It seems no sad heart really learns,
But hopes and trusts and doubts and fears,
    And bleeds and burns.

The night is not all dark,
    Nor is the day all it seems,
But each may bring me this relief—
    My dreams and dreams.

I had not known before
    That Never was so sad a word,
So wrap me in forgetfulness—
     I have not heard.
 

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on August 8, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

Copyright © 1966 by Robert Hayden, from Collected Poems of Robert Hayden, edited by Frederick Glaysher. Used by permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation.

What if the submarine
is praying for a way
it can poison the air,
in which some of them have
leaped for a few seconds,
felt its suffocating
rejected buoyancy.
Something floats above their
known world leading a wake
of uncountable death.
What if they organized
into a rebellion?

Now scientists have found
a group of octopuses
who seem to have a sense
of community, who
live in dwellings made of
gathered pebbles and shells,
who cooperate, who
defend an apparent
border. Perhaps they’ll have
a plan for the planet
in a millennium
or two. After we’re gone.

Copyright © 2019 by Marilyn Nelson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 20, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

every tree
a brother
every hill
a pyramid
a holy spot

every valley
a poem
in xochitl
in cuicatl
flower and song

every cloud
a prayer
every rain
drop
a miracle

every body
a seashore
a memory 
at once lost
and found.

we all together—
fireflies
in the night
dreaming up
the cosmos


cada árbol
un hermano
cada monte
una pirámide
un oratorio

cada valle
un poema
in xochitl
in cuicatl
flor y canto

cada nube
una plegaria
cada gota
de lluvia
un milagro

cada cuerpo
una orilla
al mar
un olvido
encontrado

todos juntos—
luciérnagas
de la noche
soñando
el cosmos


cece cuahuitl 
ca totiachcauh 
cecen tepetontli 
ca tzacualli 
ca teoyocan 

cecen tepeihtic 
ca cuicayotl 
in xochitl 
in cuicatl 
xochicuicatl 

cecem mixtli 
ca tlahtlauhtiliztli 
cecen atl 
ichipinca

cece tlactli 
ca atentli 
ca necauhcayotl 
poliuhqui 
in oc tlanextilli 

nehhuantin tocepan— 
tixoxotlameh 
yohuatzinco 
tictemiquih 
in cemanahuactli 

From Snake Poems An Aztec Invocation, by Francisco X. Alarcón (University of Arizona Press)

A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other's
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what's on the other side.

I know there's something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.


 Watch Elizabeth Alexander read “Praise Song for the Day” at President Obama's inauguration in 2009:

Copyright © 2009 by Elizabeth Alexander. All rights reserved. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota. A chapbook edition of Praise Song for the Day was published on February 6, 2009.

The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The reader became the book; and summer night

Was like the conscious being of the book.
The house was quiet and the world was calm.

The words were spoken as if there was no book,
Except that the reader leaned above the page,

Wanted to lean, wanted much most to be
The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom

The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
The house was quiet because it had to be.

The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
The access of perfection to the page.

And the world was calm. The truth in a calm world,
In which there is no other meaning, itself

Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself
Is the reader leaning late and reading there.

"The House Was Quiet And The World Was Calm," copyright © 1954 by Wallace Stevens and copyright renewed 1982 by Holly Stevens; from THE COLLECTED POEMS OF WALLACE STEVENS by Wallace Stevens. 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.

When I am asked
how I began writing poems,
I talk about the indifference of nature.

It was soon after my mother died,
a brilliant June day,
everything blooming.

I sat on a gray stone bench
in a lovingly planted garden,
but the day lilies were as deaf
as the ears of drunken sleepers
and the roses curved inward.
Nothing was black or broken
and not a leaf fell
and the sun blared endless commercials
for summer holidays.

I sat on a gray stone bench
ringed with the ingenue faces
of pink and white impatiens
and placed my grief
in the mouth of language,
the only thing that would grieve with me.

From Alive Together: New and Selected Poems (Louisiana State University Press, 1996). Copyright © 1996 by Lisel Mueller.  Reprinted by permission of Louisiana State University Press.

Listen
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

From Migration: New & Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2005). Copyright © 1988 by W. S. Merwin. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thanks for the tree
between me & a sniper's bullet.
I don't know what made the grass
sway seconds before the Viet Cong
raised his soundless rifle.
Some voice always followed,
telling me which foot
to put down first.
Thanks for deflecting the ricochet
against that anarchy of dusk.
I was back in San Francisco
wrapped up in a woman's wild colors,
causing some dark bird's love call
to be shattered by daylight
when my hands reached up
& pulled a branch away
from my face. Thanks
for the vague white flower
that pointed to the gleaming metal
reflecting how it is to be broken
like mist over the grass,
as we played some deadly
game for blind gods.
What made me spot the monarch
writhing on a single thread
tied to a farmer's gate,
holding the day together
like an unfingered guitar string,
is beyond me. Maybe the hills
grew weary & leaned a little in the heat.
Again, thanks for the dud
hand grenade tossed at my feet
outside Chu Lai. I'm still
falling through its silence.
I don't know why the intrepid
sun touched the bayonet,
but I know that something
stood among those lost trees
& moved only when I moved.

Copyright © 1988 by Yusef Komunyakaa. From Dien Cai Dau (Wesleyan University Press, 1988). Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database

We need some pines to assuage the darkness
when it blankets the mind,
we need a silvery stream that banks as smoothly
as a plane’s wing, and a worn bed of
needles to pad the rumble that fills the mind,
and a blur or two of a wild thing
that sees and is not seen. We need these things
between appointments, after work,
and, if we keep them, then someone someday,
lying down after a walk
and supper, with the fire hole wet down,
the whole night sky set at a particular
time, without numbers or hours, will cause
a little sound of thanks—a zipper or a snap—
to close round the moment and the thought
of whatever good we did.

From Rampant by Marvin Bell. Copyright 2004 Marvin Bell. Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press. All rights reserved.

Backward, turn backward, O Time, in your flight,
Make me a child again just for tonight!
Mother, come back from the echoless shore,
Take me again to your heart as of yore;
Kiss from my forehead the furrows of care,
Smooth the few silver threads out of my hair;
Over my slumbers your loving watch keep;—      
Rock me to sleep, mother, — rock me to sleep!

Backward, flow backward, O tide of the years!
I am so weary of toil and of tears,—      
Toil without recompense, tears all in vain,—   
Take them, and give me my childhood again!
I have grown weary of dust and decay,—   
Weary of flinging my soul-wealth away;
Weary of sowing for others to reap;—   
Rock me to sleep, mother — rock me to sleep!

Tired of the hollow, the base, the untrue,
Mother, O mother, my heart calls for you!
Many a summer the grass has grown green,
Blossomed and faded, our faces between:
Yet, with strong yearning and passionate pain,
Long I tonight for your presence again.
Come from the silence so long and so deep;—   
Rock me to sleep, mother, — rock me to sleep!

Over my heart, in the days that are flown,
No love like mother-love ever has shone;
No other worship abides and endures,—      
Faithful, unselfish, and patient like yours:
None like a mother can charm away pain
From the sick soul and the world-weary brain.
Slumber’s soft calms o’er my heavy lids creep;—      
Rock me to sleep, mother, — rock me to sleep!

Come, let your brown hair, just lighted with gold,
Fall on your shoulders again as of old;
Let it drop over my forehead tonight,
Shading my faint eyes away from the light;
For with its sunny-edged shadows once more
Haply will throng the sweet visions of yore;
Lovingly, softly, its bright billows sweep;—   
Rock me to sleep, mother, — rock me to sleep!

Mother, dear mother, the years have been long
Since I last listened your lullaby song:
Sing, then, and unto my soul it shall seem
Womanhood’s years have been only a dream.
Clasped to your heart in a loving embrace,
With your light lashes just sweeping my face,
Never hereafter to wake or to weep;—      
Rock me to sleep, mother, — rock me to sleep! 

This poem is in the public domain.

When the pickup truck, with its side mirror,
almost took out my arm, the driver’s grin

reflected back; it was just a horror

show that was never going to happen,
don’t protest, don’t bother with the police

for my benefit, he gave me a smile—

he too was startled, redness in his face—
when I thought I was going, a short while,

to get myself killed: it wasn’t anger

when he bared his teeth, as if to caution
calm down, all good, no one died, ni[ght, neighbor]—

no sense getting all pissed, the commotion

of the past is the past; I was so dim,
he never saw me—of course, I saw him.

Copyright © 2020 by Tommye Blount. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 19, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets. 

You, selling roses out of a silver grocery cart

You, in the park, feeding the pigeons
You cheering for the bees

You with cats in your voice in the morning, feeding cats

You protecting the river   You are who I love
delivering babies, nursing the sick

You with henna on your feet and a gold star in your nose

You taking your medicine, reading the magazines

You looking into the faces of young people as they pass, smiling and saying, Alright! which, they know it, means I see you, Family. I love you. Keep on.

You dancing in the kitchen, on the sidewalk, in the subway waiting for the train because Stevie Wonder, Héctor Lavoe, La Lupe

You stirring the pot of beans, you, washing your father’s feet

You are who I love, you
reciting Darwish, then June

Feeding your heart, teaching your parents how to do The Dougie, counting to 10, reading your patients’ charts

You are who I love, changing policies, standing in line for water, stocking the food pantries, making a meal

You are who I love, writing letters, calling the senators, you who, with the seconds of your body (with your time here), arrive on buses, on trains, in cars, by foot to stand in the January streets against the cool and brutal offices, saying: YOUR CRUELTY DOES NOT SPEAK FOR ME

You are who I love, you struggling to see

You struggling to love or find a question

You better than me, you kinder and so blistering with anger, you are who I love, standing in the wind, salvaging the umbrellas, graduating from school, wearing holes in your shoes

You are who I love
weeping or touching the faces of the weeping

You, Violeta Parra, grateful for the alphabet, for sound, singing toward us in the dream

You carrying your brother home
You noticing the butterflies

Sharing your water, sharing your potatoes and greens

You who did and did not survive
You who cleaned the kitchens
You who built the railroad tracks and roads
You who replanted the trees, listening to the work of squirrels and birds, you are who I love
You whose blood was taken, whose hands and lives were taken, with or without your saying
Yes, I mean to give. You are who I love.

You who the borders crossed
You whose fires
You decent with rage, so in love with the earth
You writing poems alongside children

You cactus, water, sparrow, crow      You, my elder
You are who I love,
summoning the courage, making the cobbler,

getting the blood drawn, sharing the difficult news, you always planting the marigolds, learning to walk wherever you are, learning to read wherever you are, you baking the bread, you come to me in dreams, you kissing the faces of your dead wherever you are, speaking to your children in your mother’s languages, tootsing the birds

You are who I love, behind the library desk, leaving who might kill you, crying with the love songs, polishing your shoes, lighting the candles, getting through the first day despite the whisperers sniping fail fail fail

You are who I love, you who beat and did not beat the odds, you who knows that any good thing you have is the result of someone else’s sacrifice, work, you who fights for reparations

You are who I love, you who stands at the courthouse with the sign that reads NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE

You are who I love, singing Leonard Cohen to the snow, you with glitter on your face, wearing a kilt and violet lipstick

You are who I love, sighing in your sleep

You, playing drums in the procession, you feeding the chickens and humming as you hem the skirt, you sharpening the pencil, you writing the poem about the loneliness of the astronaut

You wanting to listen, you trying to be so still

You are who I love, mothering the dogs, standing with horses

You in brightness and in darkness, throwing your head back as you laugh, kissing your hand

You carrying the berbere from the mill, and the jug of oil pressed from the olives of the trees you belong to

You studying stars, you are who I love
braiding your child’s hair

You are who I love, crossing the desert and trying to cross the desert

You are who I love, working the shifts to buy books, rice, tomatoes,

bathing your children as you listen to the lecture, heating the kitchen with the oven, up early, up late

You are who I love, learning English, learning Spanish, drawing flowers on your hand with a ballpoint pen, taking the bus home

You are who I love, speaking plainly about your pain, sucking your teeth at the airport terminal television every time the politicians say something that offends your sense of decency, of thought, which is often

You are who I love, throwing your hands up in agony or disbelief, shaking your head, arguing back, out loud or inside of yourself, holding close your incredulity which, yes, too, I love    I love

your working heart, how each of its gestures, tiny or big, stand beside my own agony, building a forest there

How “Fuck you” becomes a love song

You are who I love, carrying the signs, packing the lunches, with the rain on your face

You at the edges and shores, in the rooms of quiet, in the rooms of shouting, in the airport terminal, at the bus depot saying “No!” and each of us looking out from the gorgeous unlikelihood of our lives at all, finding ourselves here, witnesses to each other’s tenderness, which, this moment, is fury, is rage, which, this moment, is another way of saying: You are who I love   You are who I love  You and you and you are who

Copyright © 2017 by Aracelis Girmay. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database

The Arabs used to say,
When a stranger appears at your door,
feed him for three days
before asking who he is,
where he’s come from,
where he’s headed.
That way, he’ll have strength
enough to answer.
Or, by then you’ll be
such good friends
you don’t care.
 
Let’s go back to that.
Rice? Pine nuts?
Here, take the red brocade pillow.
My child will serve water
to your horse.
 
No, I was not busy when you came!
I was not preparing to be busy.
That’s the armor everyone put on
to pretend they had a purpose
in the world.
 
I refuse to be claimed.
Your plate is waiting.
We will snip fresh mint
into your tea.

Copyright © by Naomi Shihab Nye. Used with the permission of the author.

I love the hour before takeoff,
that stretch of no time, no home
but the gray vinyl seats linked like
unfolding paper dolls. Soon we shall
be summoned to the gate, soon enough
there’ll be the clumsy procedure of row numbers
and perforated stubs—but for now
I can look at these ragtag nuclear families
with their cooing and bickering
or the heeled bachelorette trying
to ignore a baby’s wail and the baby’s
exhausted mother waiting to be called up early
while the athlete, one monstrous hand
asleep on his duffel bag, listens,
perched like a seal trained for the plunge.
Even the lone executive
who has wandered this far into summer
with his lasered itinerary, briefcase
knocking his knees—even he
has worked for the pleasure of bearing
no more than a scrap of himself
into this hall. He’ll dine out, she’ll sleep late,
they’ll let the sun burn them happy all morning
—a little hope, a little whimsy
before the loudspeaker blurts
and we leap up to become
Flight 828, now boarding at Gate 17.

Reprinted from On the Wing, published by the University of Iowa Press.

When summer time has come, and all
The world is in the magic thrall
Of perfumed airs that lull each sense
To fits of drowsy indolence;
When skies are deepest blue above,
And flow'rs aflush,—then most I love
To start, while early dews are damp,
And wend my way in woodland tramp
Where forests rustle, tree on tree,
And sing their silent songs to me;
Where pathways meet and pathways part,—
To walk with Nature heart by heart,
Till wearied out at last I lie
Where some sweet stream steals singing by
A mossy bank; where violets vie
In color with the summer sky,—
Or take my rod and line and hook,
And wander to some darkling brook,
Where all day long the willows dream,
And idly droop to kiss the stream,
And there to loll from morn till night—
Unheeding nibble, run, or bite—
Just for the joy of being there
And drinking in the summer air,
The summer sounds, and summer sights,
That set a restless mind to rights
When grief and pain and raging doubt
Of men and creeds have worn it out;
The birds' song and the water's drone,
The humming bee's low monotone,
The murmur of the passing breeze,
And all the sounds akin to these,
That make a man in summer time
Feel only fit for rest and rhyme.
Joy springs all radiant in my breast;
Though pauper poor, than king more blest,
The tide beats in my soul so strong
That happiness breaks forth in song,
And rings aloud the welkin blue
With all the songs I ever knew.
O time of rapture! time of song!
How swiftly glide thy days along
Adown the current of the years,
Above the rocks of grief and tears!
'Tis wealth enough of joy for me
In summer time to simply be.

This poem is in the public domain.

To everything, there is a season of parrots. Instead of feathers, we searched the sky for meteors on our last night.  Salamanders use the stars to find their way home. Who knew they could see that far, fix the tiny beads of their eyes on distant arrangements of lights so as to return to wet and wild nests? Our heads tilt up and up and we are careful to never look at each other. You were born on a day of peaches splitting from so much rain and the slick smell of fresh tar and asphalt pushed over a cracked parking lot. You were strong enough—even as a baby—to clutch a fistful of thistle and the sun himself was proud to light up your teeth when they first swelled and pushed up from your gums. And this is how I will always remember you when we are covered up again: by the pale mica flecks on your shoulders. Some thrown there from your own smile. Some from my own teeth. There are not enough jam jars to can this summer sky at night. I want to spread those little meteors on a hunk of still-warm bread this winter. Any trace left on the knife will make a kitchen sink like that evening air

the cool night before
star showers: so sticky so
warm so full of light
 

Copyright © 2017 by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 7, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

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.

...because in the dying world it was set burning.”
                                                            —Galway Kinnell

We are not making love but
all night long we hug each other. 
Your face under my chin is two brown
thoughts with no right name, but opens to
eyes when my beard is brushing you.
The last line of the album playing
is Joan Armatrading’s existential stuff, 
we had fun while it lasted.
You inch your head up toward mine
where your eyes brighten, intense, 
as though I were observer and you
a doppled source. In the blue light
in the air we suddenly leave our selves
and watch two salt-starved bodies
lick the sweat from each others’ lips.
When the one mosquito in the night
comes toward our breathing, the pitch
of its buzz turns higher
till it’s fat like this blue room
and burning on both of us;
now it dies like a siren passing
down a street, the color of blood.
I pull the blanket over our heads
about to despair because I think
everything intense is dying, but you, 
you, even asleep, hold onto all
you think I am, more than I think, 
so intensely you can feel me
hugging back where I have gone. 

From Across the Mutual Landscape (Graywolf Press, 1984). Copyright © 1984 by Christopher GIlbert. Published in Poem-a-Day on February 14, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets with permission of The Permissions Company inc. on behalf of Graywolf Press.

So what if it is?
Clear days, I understand it,
molecules scatter azure

light from an in-his-feelings-
sun,  that’s why
the sky is blue. We know

too much, or want to.
Not the Bible, but the i-
Phone tells us so.

Devotion doesn’t work
that way, but it does. Not
the path, per se, for me

though, a trail back to grace-
fully living with one’s light
shone toward higher

axioms than I
can presently see.
It’s the immediacy

of a just-thought
thought, thundering
into a device

of my own decided making,
prayer. You know it as Siri.
I call it instant intimacy.

From Silencer (Mariner Books, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Marcus Wicker. Used with permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

The instructor said,

    Go home and write
    a page tonight.
    And let that page come out of you—
    Then, it will be true.

I wonder if it's that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem,
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:

It's not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I'm what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:
hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York, too.) Me—who?
Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn't make me not like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?

Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white—
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
That's American.
Sometimes perhaps you don't want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that's true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me—
although you're older—and white—
and somewhat more free.

This is my page for English B.

From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Knopf and Vintage Books. Copyright © 1994 by the Estate of Langston Hughes. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated.

the slight angling up of the forehead
neck extension                        quick jut of chin

meeting the strangers’ eyes
a gilded curtsy to the sunfill in another

in yourself      tithe of respect
in an early version the copy editor deleted

the word “head” from the title
the copy editor says              it’s implied

the copy editor means well
the copy editor means

she is only fluent in one language of gestures
i do not explain                     i feel sad for her

limited understanding of greetings              & maybe
this is why my acknowledgements are so long;

didn’t we learn this early?
            to look at white spaces

            & find the color       
            thank god o thank god for

                                                             you               
                                                                                        are here.

Copyright © 2020 by Elizabeth Acevedo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 22, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Sometimes you don’t die

when you’re supposed to

& now I have a choice

repair a world or build

a new one inside my body

a white door opens

into a place queerly brimming

gold light so velvet-gold

it is like the world

hasn’t happened

when I call out

all my friends are there

everyone we love

is still alive gathered

at the lakeside

like constellations

my honeyed kin

honeyed light

beneath the sky

a garden blue stalks

white buds the moon’s

marble glow the fire

distant & flickering

the body whole bright-

winged brimming

with the hours

of the day beautiful

nameless planet. Oh

friends, my friends—

bloom how you must, wild

until we are free.

Copyright © 2018 by Cameron Awkward-Rich. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 30, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Again my fancy takes its flight,
And soars away on thoughtful wing,
Again my soul thrills with delight,
And this the fancied theme, I sing,
From Earthly scenes awhile, I find release,
And dwell upon the restful Plains of Peace.

The Plains of Peace are passing fair,
Where naught disturbs and naught can harm,
I find no sorrow, woe or care,
These all are lost in perfect calm,
Bright are the joys, and pleasures never cease,
For those who dwell on the Plains of Peace.

No scorching sun or blighting storm,
No burning sand or desert drear,
No fell disease or wasting form,
To mar the glowing beauty here.
Decay and ruin ever must decrease,
Here on the fertile, healthful Plains of Peace.

What rare companionship I find,
What hours of social joy I spend,
What restfulness pervades my mind,
Communing with congenial friend.
True happiness seems ever to increase,
While dwelling here upon the Plains of Peace.

Ambitions too, are realized,
And that which I have sought on earth,
I find at last idealized,
My longings ripen into worth,
My fondest hopes no longer fear decease,
But bloom forth brightly on the Plains of Peace.

'Tis by my fancy, yet 'tis true,
That somewhere having done with Earth,
We shall another course pursue,
According to our aim or worth,
Our souls from mortal things must find release,
And dwell immortal on the Plains of Peace.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on August 30, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

As I lie in bed,
Flat on my back;
There passes across my ceiling
An endless panorama of things—
Quick steps of gay-voiced children,
Adolescence in its wondering silences,
Maid and man on moonlit summer’s eve,
Women in the holy glow of Motherhood,
Old men gazing silently thru the twilight
Into the beyond.
O God, give me words to make my dream-children live.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on August 29, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

                    I
In the evening, love returns,
   Like a wand’rer ’cross the sea;
In the evening, love returns
   With a violet for me;
In the evening, life’s a song,
   And the fields are full of green;
All the stars are golden crowns,
   And the eye of God is keen.

                   II
In the evening, sorrow dies
   With the setting of the sun;
In the evening, joy begins,
   When the course of mirth is done;
In the evening, kisses sweet
   Droop upon the passion vine;
In the evening comes your voice:
   “I am yours, and you are mine.”

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on February 18, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

To call oneself African (here) means, simply, the rejection of a view of self as mired in double consciousness. It is to imagine (or know—or avow, finally) one’s consciousness as that of the African’s untainted by the European encounter.
                                                             *  *  *

Think back, say 180 years: The slip, slippage…of thinking as someone free (thinking one’s self free to think, to be) and the cruel knock of the master or mistress insisting that you are object, abject…that what has slipped from your unguarded thoughts is aberration and must be nullified swiftly, permanently

                    You have been made to know at all costs—short of a kind of useless dysfunction—that yours is not to think, muse, contemplate. Your mind must be tabula rasa…your will nonexistent—except what is given you by others to be or do. The sharp eye or blunt iron or cutting whip has told you so.
                               
                          And you must take pains to never forget it.

                                                              *  *  *

Anyone who comes back to this human realm could be considered to have been stuck between a rock and a hard place. A liminal space, it offers possibility yet is fraught with tension. It is a “chafed” position, a chastened position, perhaps—as it does not provide stability or spiritual haven, but is, rather, a way station.
                                                              *  *  *  

It matters most to not just recognize the features of place or to come to know the feel of a place, but rather to have a particular sense of being in a place. 
(To sense one’s feeling of being in place.)

                                                              *  *  *  

                                  Anger has shaped its own place in you.
                                                              *  *  * 

Those who come to this human realm are struck between a rock and a hard place. Its liminal space offers possibility that is fraught with possibility. And you, with great pain, can never forget what others have so carefully forgotten.
                                                              *  *  *

          Think back: Tongue loosened from a bitter muteness…but the body moving among terrors…alight with everything you’ve guarded, even unremembered dreams…
          
       Thronging headlong bodies, buffering or buffeting or….

                    
                The cities and machines set against you, desperate to render you ragged and amorphous as clouds in rain.

                                                              *  *  * 

                    It matters most to not just recognize the features of place or to come to know the feel of a place, but rather to sense one’s being in that place. (To have a particular sense of being in that place.) 
                                                              *  *  * 

                                Where has anger not made a place for you?

Copyright © 2020 by Sharan Strange. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 10, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

You can get there from here, though
there’s no going home.

Everywhere you go will be somewhere
you’ve never been. Try this:

head south on Mississippi 49, one—
by—one mile markers ticking off

another minute of your life. Follow this
to its natural conclusion—dead end

at the coast, the pier at Gulfport where
riggings of shrimp boats are loose stitches

in a sky threatening rain. Cross over
the man-made beach, 26 miles of sand

dumped on a mangrove swamp—buried
terrain of the past. Bring only

what you must carry—tome of memory
its random blank pages. On the dock

where you board the boat for Ship Island,
someone will take your picture:

the photograph—who you were—
will be waiting when you return

"Theories of Time and Space" from Native Guard: Poems by Natasha Trethewey. Copyright © 2006 by Natasha Trethewey. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

^
By the end of the year, I was used to
things I hadn’t seen before, 
like a series of street brawls between fa and antifa 
that often absurdly tumbled 
into the Berkeley all organic full-of-strollers farmer’s market.
Used to hearing about friends’ emails caught up in various FOIAs.
Used to the social media posts about how someone somewhere 
was getting a gun and planned to show up where we worked. 
I should add that the DMs and the @s were rarely realized. 
The gun never arrived.
And if the threat was made good on it was just that moment when 
someone called up my boss and she hung up on them, confused.
If there was anything new about this moment
it was that there was no making sense of what was left and 
right in the way I had previously understood it,
which was as a convention.
The DMs came in from all different directions. 
One day an anonymous white nationalist, 
the next a well-known comrade angry in love 
and wanting to take it out on someone proximate, 
and then perhaps a blog post from someone 
who had been perfectly nice when last seen at a poetry reading
but now was very upset about something I had implied.
It was hard to decipher who was hating what on what day.
By the time the state was burning from both ends
and one end was called Paradise, 
we didn’t bother with the metaphor. 
Instead we just looked out the window, noticed the smoke, 
shut the window, stayed indoors, and kept on typing.
Later we joked,
now we know what we will be doing when the world burns.
We will be shutting the windows and catching up on email
finally.

^
I’m concerned about these other things. 
Or that is what I thought when they said 
they were worried I was losing my relationship to poetry.
It was still summer.
Still mid-afternoon.
There was a nice breeze.
We had half a day of this beauty before us and we knew it. 
Unhurried. Pleasure. 
We drank a beer that was fresh on the tongue 
in a new way. Light. Almost carbonated.
They said they were concerned
about me and my relationship to poetry.
In the afternoon sun, as the breeze blew softly,
I first protested to them not about poetry, 
but about poets. Their nationalism, their acquiescence 
but also their facebook and twitter accounts.
Their brags and their minor attacks, their politics.
Their prizes and their publications.
Their democratic party affiliations.
So I said to them I’m not concerned 
about my relationship to poetry
which regularly felt to me like that moment 
when you open your app and there are a bunch
of mentions and you haven’t posted anything a while
and all you can do is say today is so FML and start to work through them.
This is not the same as the oh no way of the Berkeley farmer’s market brawl,
not the state burning and burning again,
but still, how to write an epiphanic possibility in this sociality?
I had written for so long about being together, 
about how we were together like it or not.
I had used a metaphor of breath and of space.
I had embraced the epiphanic 
not just at the end of the poem, as was the lyric convention,
but sometimes I even made the whole poem epiphanic.
And that I couldn’t do anymore.
Lately there wasn’t any singing that I could hear. 
Just attempts. Dark times. 
Nothing about this terrible moment was new though.
It has always been a terrible moment.
And there have always been poets too.
And always poets writing the terrible nation into existence.
This is one reason I will never get a tramp stamp that says
poetry is my boyfriend.

^
I thought for a while there were two sorts of poets.
Poets who write the terrible nation into existence
and poets screwing around doing something else.
For years I was on team poets screwing around doing something else.
For years I had used poetry to slip away, 
elude the hold of the family, the coupleform, the policing of tradition, 
to pry open time into an endless stretch of possibility.
In that room where we try to pry open possibility.
When I first heard the avant garde 
I heard it as an opening. A door. A window,
Maybe a garage door.
A hole in the wall I could shimmy through.
I heard it as an opening. All sorts of openings.
I could make the hole. 
Or my pink crowbar could.
I would be writing and I would fall into the singing,
That whoosh. The singing whoosh.
And because at first I saw myself as someone who wanted
an opening in the tradition,
I split this whoosh up all the time. 
I fragmented it into words or took away its deictics.
Another friend, a poet, who no longer talks to me 
once gave me the image of the pink crowbar 
as a way of thinking about writing. 
Losing her was a loss all around. 
But to compensate for that loss 
I think often about pulling something open.
Although I’m fairly convinced she would grab 
the pink crowbar out of my hand if she saw me wielding it.
For years, there was that perfect moment after the reading
where we had to leave the bar because 
the couples were coming to buy their cocktails 
and we couldn’t figure out where to go.
Maybe it was Friday or Saturday night and all the bars
were full of people who were not talking about poetry
so we kept walking, looking in each bar and each one wrong.
Eventually the streets opened up and we were at the bridge
and there was a river and we walked across the open space to it
and climbed down its sides and sat there. 
We had bought some beers and a small glass flask of whiskey from a bodega.
We carried the cans and the flask in brown bags as a convention.
But we did not need this convention. 
If there was law, the law drove by, didn’t stop. 
Other things were. Night. Maybe moon. Water. Rats.
Sometimes drugs were involved.
We walked through Wall Street at 3 am and 
we rattled the locked doors of all the buildings, laughing
at their absurdity because we knew where it was at
and at was rattling the doors. 

^
During these days,
I would wake up and my head would hurt 
and then I would realize that in my dream 
I had said to myself that I should write some poetry.
But my dreams never explained to me why. 
Or how.
How to sing in these dark times?
It is true that I have been with poetry for a long time. 
Since I was a teenager.
Those loves of many years and our bodies changing together.
And yet also the deepening of this love. Despite.
That day with the breeze in the bar
And we said together, there needs to be some pleasure in the world. 
And next, poetry is the what is left of life.
And we pledged, more singing.
And we referenced by saying,
In the dark times. Will there also be singing? 
Yes, there will also be singing. About the dark times.

^
At night I thought if I just read all of Brecht, 
I would maybe find the singing.
So I began to read Brecht that night, 
in bed with my son while he too read before he went to sleep.
There was a new edition. 
It was hard to hold because it was so big.
I rested it on a pillow and I rested my head on a pillow
and I turned the pages looking for the singing.
I couldn’t find the singing.
After I started reading Brecht, 
I began sorting through my books. I had too many. 
As I pulled them off the shelves, blew off the dust,
I asked myself would I need it if there was a revolution.
It turned out that I thought I would for sure need
five translations of the Odyssey
and all the books of Susan Howe.
I kept all the plant books too.
The comfort of the Jespen Manual of Vascular Plants of California.
It’s an open question if the revolution will still need poetry,
its tradition and its resistance to that tradition.
But it will for sure need the Vascular Plants of California.

^
It’s always been a terrible moment.
But now I understand it as even more terrible.
The nation is for sure not my boyfriend.
But the land it claims,
though I don’t claim it,
I hold my love for this land on my underside, 
in a small pocket that eventually bursts to release my love spores.
I mean it is not a casual love. 
It is though a difficult one. Threatened. Invaded.
A friend is dying
as the scotch broom is putting out its nitrogen fixing roots
but our friendship died years before 
the seed pods open explosively
another friend has cancer
and last for eighty years
and yet another friend now in the world in some new way
but they are hard and survive rough transport through water
and mainly it was all the information 
fleshy and full of proteins in a way that interests ants 
we suddenly knew about everything
as the ants carry the seeds back to their nests creating dense infestations. 
A mixture of hell. A metaphor of resilience.
The scotch broom has so many tricks.
Grows in patches and as scattered individuals
with a total cover of about 15 percent and 35 percent, respectively.
As does the Tree of Heaven.
There is no space too polluted for it. 
It absorbs sulfur dioxide in its leaves.
It can withstand cement dust and fumes from coal tar operations, 
as well as resist ozone exposure relatively well. 
Even mercury. 
It grows fast, and even faster in California.
And once it starts, it shows up everywhere,
impossible to destroy.
Loves the fires.
Everything. Never ending.
Everything. Yet to come.
And yet the world and the leaves continue to exist. 
Yellow veins. Flowers.
Large, compound leaves. 
Arranged. Alternately on the stem.
11-33 leaflets. Occasionally up to 41.
One to three teeth on each side. Close to the base. 
Everything. Small.
Yellow-green to reddish. Flowers.
Everything. Panicles up to 30 cm long.
Everything.

Copyright © 2020 by Juliana Spahr. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 17, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door—
"'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door—
               Only this and nothing more."

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
               Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
"'Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—
               This it is and nothing more."

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
"Sir," said I, "or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you"—here I opened wide the door;—
               Darkness there and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, "Lenore?"
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, "Lenore!"—
               Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
"Surely," said I, "surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—
               'Tis the wind and nothing more!"

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—
               Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
"Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou," I said, "art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!"
               Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blest with seeing bird above his chamber door—
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
               With such name as "Nevermore."

But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—
Till I scarcely more than muttered "Other friends have flown before—
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before."
               Then the bird said "Nevermore."

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
"Doubtless," said I, "what it utters is its only stock and store
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
               Of 'Never—nevermore.'"

But the Raven still beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore
               Meant in croaking "Nevermore."

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o'er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o'er,
               She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
"Wretch," I cried, "thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite—respite and nepenthe, from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!"
               Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."

"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—
On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—
Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!"
               Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."

"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil—prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore."
               Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."

"Be that word our sign in parting, bird or fiend!" I shrieked, upstarting—
"Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!"
               Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
               Shall be lifted—nevermore!

This version appeared in the Richmond Semi-Weekly Examiner, September 25, 1849. For other versions, please visit the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore's site: http://www.eapoe.org/works/poems/index.htm#R.

Gizaagi’in apii zaagi’idizoyan
I love you when you love yourself

gaye gaawiin zaagi’idizosiiyan
and when you do not

apii zaagijiba’iweyang
when we escape together

gaye zaagijinizhikawangwaa
and when we chase together

wiindigoog wiindamoonangwaa
the demons who tell us

gaawiin zaagiginzinog ozaagiing
nothing sprouts at the inlet

aanawi gikendamang jiigi-zaaga’igan
when we know at the edge of the lake

gii-zaagida’aawangweyang ingoding
where ashes were poured

zaagaakominagaanzh zaagaagoneg
the bearberry stands in the snow

zaagidikwanaaging ezhi-nisidotamang
branches reaching and tracing

zaagijiwebinamang gaye ishkonamang
what we have tossed and what we have saved

ezhi-naagadawaabandamang
as we examine

gizaagi’in, gizaagi miidash ozaagi’aan.
love.

Copyright © 2020 by Margaret Noodin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 2, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

I have just realized that the stakes are myself
I have no other
ransom money, nothing to break or barter but my life
my spirit measured out, in bits, spread over
the roulette table, I recoup what I can
nothing else to shove under the nose of the maitre de jeu
nothing to thrust out the window, no white flag
this flesh all I have to offer, to make the play with
this immediate head, what it comes up with, my move
as we slither over this go board, stepping always
(we hope) between the lines

From Revolutionary Letters (City Lights Publishers, 1971). Copyright © 1971 Diane di Prima. Used with permission of Sheppard Powell. Published in Poem-a-Day on November 1, 2020.

translated by Alejandro Cáceres Joseph

In the bosom of the sad evening
I called upon your sorrow… Feeling it was
Feeling your heart as well. You were pale
Even your voice, your waxen eyelids,

Lowered… and remained silent… You seemed
To hear death passing by… I who had opened
Your wound bit on it—did you feel me?—
As into the gold of a honeycomb I bit!

I squeezed even more treacherously, sweetly
Your heart mortally wounded,
By the cruel dagger, rare and exquisite,
Of a nameless illness, until making it bleed in sobs!
And the thousand mouths of my damned thirst
I offered to that open fountain in your suffering.
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  

Why was I your vampire of bitterness?
Am I a flower or a breed of an obscure species
That devours sores and gulps tears?

 


El vampiro

En el regazo de la tarde triste
Yo invoqué tu dolor… Sentirlo era
Sentirte el corazón! Palideciste
Hasta la voz, tus párpados de cera,

Bajaron… y callaste… y pareciste
Oír pasar la Muerte… Yo que abriera
Tu herida mordí en ella —¿me sentiste? —
Como en el oro de un panal mordiera!

Y exprimí más, traidora, dulcemente
Tu corazón herido mortalmente,
Por la cruel daga rara y exquisita
De un mal sin nombre, hasta sangrarlo en llanto!
Y las mil bocas de mi sed maldita
Tendí á esa fuente abierta en tu quebranto.
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  

¿Por qué fui tu vampiro de amargura?…
¿Soy flor ó estirpe de una especie obscura
Que come llagas y que bebe el llanto?

From Selected Poetry of Delmira Agustini: Poetics of Eros, published by Southern Illinois University Press. Translation copyright and selection © 2003 by Alejandro Cáceres. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on October 31, 2020.

“to touch and at once be touched”
            —Joshua Beckman

to touch and at once be touched
that’s what the poem does
reaches out w/ its long spindly arms its grandmother arms to hold you    but you are the arms also in the act of reaching, enfolding in yourself all the primness and solidarity and creakiness of the grandparent as it holds you thru the reaches of time  and you are time itself  grandfather time grandparent time  the grandiosity of time ticking away in its grandparent clock, the clock that haunted the halls of your grandparents and the further forebears that measure things not by clocks, but by the sun.  as the dawn rang out, everything was ok, we—our forebears—noted where the light of the sun first fell on the earth at dawn, bitole the sun’s rays, these were holy holy and where they fell is where we placed our firepit, and around that pit laid four stones, and those stones were the four directions, and from them measured out four tipi poles at equal distance, and between these eight more fanning out, and atop it erected a tipi the home of the holy person, and atop the tipi a crown of evergreens and other plants, yaa da’a’ah, the tops of the poles unshorn of their leaves, blessings were conferred, songs happened in time, to the beat of the deerhoof rattle, not to a beat itself  since a rattle’s noise is disparate, spread out, but to the idea or the sense of a beat nestled at the center of the shaking of the rattle and its small collection of sounds, thrill of the pulsatile universe unfolding across time, ‘across’ as if time were a length of thread, or a thing traversed in space    songs, poetry happened across the pulse of time, they were not like a painting making its ‘same damn face whether the Louvre was open or closed,’ but like music    happening in time, so that you couldn’t look at the whole thing all at once, you couldn’t look at its face headon    you had to perceive it apace, at a pace     it didn’t matter whether time was a thing you believed in or not, whether time was a thing that was real or not, whether it coalesced with space, the space you moved through with your foot on the real earth.        you spoke to your lover on a thing called ‘facetime’ because you were far apart in space, hours apart in time, you could not hold each other but you could see each other’s face, you could see the face but not touch it, it was a face as represented by a screen, your faces appeared to each other on this screen  and your voices too could be beheld, perceived, in and across time, and across space  they could be beheld but not touched, face-to-face you could be, of a kind, but your cheeks could not touch like in the song where the lovers danced cheek-to-cheek, and your lover said they didn’t want to have a relationship through this thing through this ‘face’ and this ‘time’ and you agreed.    a thing that everafter sterilized your concern into a thing seen but untouchable, like the painting in the museum, which could be looked and looked at only. ‘touch me only with thine eyes’ some prim poet probably once said.  ‘look but don’t touch’ one of my parents said to the other, speaking of attractive people.  that the gaze is said to touch, it is said to do violence.  take that sunmote out of your eye when you look at me.  take that beam out of your eye.  i am a crap.  i am a happenstance.  i am holy holy.  christ’s eyebeams pierced thomas too you know.    a woman wore the feather of a flicker on the top of the red blanket she wore around her shoulders in the peyote meetings of the lipan, who kept the beat first by a bow they hit with a stick, a stick not an arrow and then by various drums of water.  who tie up a drum in the flick of an eye.    a flicker is so called because the undersides of its wings are yellow, you see them in a golden flash flashing across the forest.  by you i mean me.  my lover once held me creakily in grandparent arms before it became an insect  and one calling all of the old ones of the desert to us, even embarrassed about the beat that it made because it was not native, it being the lover, still it was a holy thing, holy holy, díyín, díyínde, a holy person, singing a double beat, first to the earth and then to me, i am erthes i said, erthes, as two syllables, i felt the pricks the holy pricks of the lauered on the crown of my head and i felt them seeding, i felt them being seeded there, holy holy, there is no god there is only dííyi robert said, but what accounts for that thing we saw in the desert.    i seed and then i saw it, i seed and saw it,  a seesaw is a thing that you see and then you saw, it measures vision across time as the bodily movement of two children going up and going down, sawed in half the measure of my eye, the top of my head took clean off.  looking is not the same as touching.  there is a frog that looks with bifocular vision, the top half of its eye evolved a skill for looking above water, and the bottom half of its eye for looking below water.  when isánáklesh came out of the water she danced on the shore but for a long time she stayed in the water with her face half-submerged.  they didn’t know if it was a man or a woman.  when she came out of the water the bottom half of her face was stained with the minerals of the primordial pond.  the bottom half of her face looked white.  now they paint the girl that way with klesh  the white clay  the earth  on the bottom half of her face.  but she is isánáklesh now she is not the girl anymore.    poetry occurs in time, syllable by syllable.  a trance-state occurs peripherally, serially, over and over and in that state you ‘passed’ time but you didn’t notice the passing of time.  you were as it were beyond time,  though occurring in time and primarily to the beat of the rattle and the rhythm of the singing.    you can touch and be touched in a poem, though it come thru the ear, tho it come through the eye, it touches in the way a person is said to be touched, i’m touched you say when a thing touches you emotionally, and you touch your heart to indicate the heart, to say that that is where you are touched.  the heart is understood to be the seat of love.  a pulse is measured there, a cardiac pulse whose stoppage or whose arrest is death, the stopping or the stoppage of cardiac time.    we saw a snake upon the trail, a smooth green snake undulated into curves, elegant s-like curves upon the moss, hello i said, can i touch you i said, and taking its calm aspect for an acquiescence gently stroked the back of its back   and the snake  straightened out, and faced its face toward me, i do not know what this means in snake language.  perhaps i was touched to touch a snake, touched as in mad, mad as in crazy, feet not on the earth, not on the erthes as the creature itself was, and not its avatar, its whole body upon the earth.    time can have a wrinkle in it,   and wrinkles  can be ironed out.

Copyright © 2020 by Julian Talamantez Brolaski. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 30, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

The words “economic,” “family,” and “asylum” remain unspoken as I sit in the back of the courtroom scribbling on a legal pad, trying to structure a context and trace my relation to the seven men who stand before the judge shackled at the wrists, waists, and ankles.

Reader, can you improvise your relation to the phrase “illegal entry,” to the large seal of US District Court, District of Arizona, that hangs above the judge, eagle suspended with talons and arrows pointing?

Perhaps your relation stretches like a wall, bends like footprints towards a road, perhaps your relation spindles and barbs, chollas or ocotillos, twists like a razor wire on top of a fence.

Perhaps you do not improvise, perhaps you shackle, you type, you translate, you prosecute, you daily wage, your mouth goes dry when you speak—paper, palimpsests of silence, palimpsests of complicity and connection never made evident on the page.

Write down everything you need. How long is the list?
Sleep with it beneath your head, eat it, wear it.
Can you use it to make a little shade from an unrelenting gaze?

Speak into the court record the amount of profit extracted from such men as those before the judge shackled at the wrists, waists, and ankles not limited to the amount of profit that will be extracted from such bodies through the payments that will be made per prisoner per day to the Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group, but also inclusive of all the profits generated by trade agreements that makes labor in the so-called developing countries so cheap.

Best of luck to you, the judge says.

Que le vaya bien, the lawyers say as the men begin their slow procession out of the courtroom in chains.

And in that moment, from the back of the courtroom, we can decide to accept or forget what we have seen, to bear it, or to change it

because we love it, we want it, we don’t care enough to stop it, we hate it,

we can’t imagine how to stop it, we can’t imagine it, we can’t imagine.

From Defacing the Monument (Noemi Press, 2020). Copyright © 2020 by Susan Briante. Published in Poem-a-Day on October 26, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

I wish we could hear them just once,
instead of over and over.

One day, tired, I sat down on the couch
just to listen to the ringing in my ears.

My eyes are so deep-set in my head
it makes it hard to see

past the memory of lost glamour,
being born too late, living in the shadow

of a beautiful downtown turned into
a ghost town, a hollowed hulk,

and how that itself now turns into
a memory of treasures,

how when something taken for granted
is suddenly over, the pause when you take stock

and realize you’ll never have as much,
that change is always a lessening,

the wall effect, you can’t see what’s next
even though it’s supposedly obvious.

I don’t know what to say about that,
I mean, I’m just barely here.

Copyright © 2020 by James Cihlar. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 3, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

In the beginning there was darkness,
then a bunch of other stuff—and lots of people.
Some things were said and loosely interpreted,

or maybe things were not communicated clearly.
Regardless—there has always been an index.
That thing about the meek—how we

shall inherit the earth; that was a promise
made in a treaty at the dawn of time
agreed upon in primordial darkness                

and documented in the spiritual record.
The nature of the agreement was thus:
The world will seemingly be pushed past capacity.

A new planet will be “discovered” 31 light-years away.   
Space travel will advance rapidly,
making the journey feasible. The ice sheets will melt.

Things will get ugly. The only way to leave
will be to buy a ticket. Tickets will be priced at exactly
the amount that can be accrued

by abandoning basic humanity.
The index will show how you came by your fortune:            
If you murdered, trafficked or exploited the vulnerable,

stole, embezzled, poisoned, cheated, swindled,
or otherwise subdued nature to come by wealth
great enough to afford passage to the new earth;

if your ancestors did these things and you’ve done nothing
to benefit from their crimes yet do nothing to atone
through returning inherited wealth to the greater good

you shall be granted passage. It was agreed.
The meek shall stay, the powerful shall leave.
And it all shall start again.

The meek shall inherit the earth,
and what shall we do with it,
but set about putting aside our meekness?

Copyright © 2020 by Rena Priest. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 4, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

acrostic golden shovel

America is loving me to death, loving me to death slowly, and I
Mainly try not to be disappeared here, knowing she won’t pledge
Even tolerance in return. Dear God, I can’t offer allegiance.
Right now, 400 years ago, far into the future―it’s difficult to
Ignore or forgive how despised I am and have been in the
Centuries I’ve been here—despised in the design of the flag
And in the fealty it demands (lest I be made an example of).
In America there’s one winning story—no adaptations. The
Story imagines a noble, grand progress where we’re all united.
Like truths are as self-evident as the Declaration states.
Or like they would be if not for detractors like me, the ranks of
Vagabonds existing to point out what’s rotten in America,
Insisting her gains come at a cost, reminding her who pays, and
Negating wild notions of exceptionalism—adding ugly facts to
God’s-favorite-nation mythology. Look, victors get spoils; I know the
Memories of the vanquished fade away. I hear the enduring republic,
Erect and proud, asking through ravenous teeth Who do you riot for?
Tamir? Sandra? Medgar? George? Breonna? Elijah? Philando? Eric? Which
One? Like it can’t be all of them. Like it can’t be the entirety of it:
Destroyed brown bodies, dismantled homes, so demolition stands
Even as my fidelity falls, as it must. She erases my reason too, allows one
Answer to her only loyalty test: yes or no, Michael, do you love this nation?
Then hates me for saying I can’t, for not burying myself under
Her fables where we’re one, indivisible, free, just, under God, her God.

 

Copyright © 2020 by Michael Kleber-Diggs. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 5, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Then said Almitra, Speak to us of Love.
     And he raised his head and looked upon the people, and there fell a stillness upon them. And with a great voice he said:
     When love beckons to you, follow him,
     Though his ways are hard and steep.
     And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
     Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
     And when he speaks to you believe in him,
     Though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden.

     For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.
     Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,
     So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.
     Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself
     He threshes you to make your naked.
     He sifts you to free you from your husks.
     He grinds you to whiteness.
     He kneads you until you are pliant;
     And then he assigns you to his sacred fire, that you may become sacred bread for God’s sacred feast.

     All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life’s heart.

     But if in your heart you would seek only love’s peace and love’s pleasure,
     Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love’s threshing-floor,
     Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.
     Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.
     Love possesses not nor would it be possessed;
     For love is sufficient unto love.

     When you love you should not say, “God is in my heart,” but rather, “I am in the heart of God.”
     And think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.

     Love has no other desire but to fulfil itself.
     But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:
     To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.
     To know the pain of too much tenderness.
     To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
     And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
     To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;
     To rest at the noon hour and meditate love’s ecstasy;
     To return home at eventide with gratitude;
     And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips.

From The Prophet (Knopf, 1923). This poem is in the public domain.

From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were—I have not seen
As others saw—I could not bring
My passions from a common spring—
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow—I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone—
And all I lov’d—I lov’d alone—
Then—in my childhood—in the dawn
Of a most stormy life—was drawn
From ev’ry depth of good and ill
The mystery which binds me still—
From the torrent, or the fountain—
From the red cliff of the mountain—
From the sun that ‘round me roll’d
In its autumn tint of gold—
From the lightning in the sky
As it pass’d me flying by—
From the thunder, and the storm—
And the cloud that took the form
(When the rest of Heaven was blue)
Of a demon in my view—

This poem is in the public domain.

The new grass rising in the hills,
the cows loitering in the morning chill,
a dozen or more old browns hidden
in the shadows of the cottonwoods
beside the streambed. I go higher
to where the road gives up and there's
only a faint path strewn with lupine
between the mountain oaks. I don't
ask myself what I'm looking for.
I didn't come for answers
to a place like this, I came to walk
on the earth, still cold, still silent.
Still ungiving, I've said to myself,
although it greets me with last year's
dead thistles and this year's 
hard spines, early blooming
wild onions, the curling remains
of spider's cloth. What did I bring 
to the dance? In my back pocket
a crushed letter from a woman
I've never met bearing bad news
I can do nothing about. So I wander
these woods half sightless while
a west wind picks up in the trees
clustered above. The pines make
a music like no other, rising and 
falling like a distant surf at night
that calms the darkness before 
first light. "Soughing" we call it, from
Old English, no less. How weightless
words are when nothing will do.

Originally appeared in The New Yorker, 2001. Copyright © 2001 by Philip Levine. Reprinted by permission of the author. All rights reserved.

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.

A map on tissue. A mass of wire. Electricity of the highest order.
Somewhere in this live tangle, scientists discovered—

like shipmates on the suddenly-round earth—
a new catalog of synaptic proteins

presenting how memory is laid down:
At the side of the transmitting neuron

an electrical signal arrives and releases chemical packets.

What I had imagined as “nothing” are a bunch of conversing
    squirts
remaking flat into intimate.

Copyright © 2015 by Kimiko Hahn. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 24, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

Wait, for now.
Distrust everything if you have to.
But trust the hours. Haven’t they
carried you everywhere, up to now?
Personal events will become interesting again.
Hair will become interesting.
Pain will become interesting.
Buds that open out of season will become interesting.
Second-hand gloves will become lovely again;
their memories are what give them
the need for other hands. The desolation
of lovers is the same: that enormous emptiness
carved out of such tiny beings as we are
asks to be filled; the need
for the new love is faithfulness to the old.

Wait.
Don’t go too early.
You’re tired. But everyone’s tired.
But no one is tired enough.
Only wait a little and listen:
music of hair,
music of pain,
music of looms weaving our loves again.
Be there to hear it, it will be the only time,
most of all to hear your whole existence,
rehearsed by the sorrows, play itself into total exhaustion.

Copyright © 1980 by Galway Kinnell. From Mortal Acts, Mortal Words (Mariner Books, 1980). Used with permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

I sang me a song, a tiny song, 
   A song that was sweet to my soul,
And set it a-float on the sea of chance
   In search of a happy goal.

I said to my song: “Go on, go on
   And lodge in a tender spot
Of some human soul where the fires of hate
   And selfishness are not.”

My song went on but a little space
   And hied it back to me;
And fell at my feet in a sorry plight—
   The victim of cruelty.

I gazed a moment and quickly saw
   Just how it had come about,
A cruel critic had caught my song
   And probed the soul of it out.

O, poor indeed is the human mind
   (And why was it ever wrought?)
That can thrive on husk in the form of words,
   And not on a sturdy thought.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on January 9, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

Nobody wants to die on the way
caught between ghosts of whiteness
and the real water
none of us wanted to leave
our bones
on the way to salvation
three planets to the left
a century of light years ago
our spices are separate and particular
but our skins sing in complimentary keys
at a quarter to eight mean time
we were telling the same stories
over and over and over.

Broken down gods survive
in the crevasses and mudpots
of every beleaguered city
where it is obvious
there are too many bodies
to cart to the ovens
or gallows
and our uses have become
more important than our silence
after the fall
too many empty cases
of blood to bury or burn
and there will be no body left
to listen
and our labor
has become more important
than our silence

Our labor has become
more important
than our silence.

Copyright © 1978 by Audre Lorde, from THE COLLECTED POEMS OF AUDRE LORDE by Audre Lorde. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

It moves my heart to see your awakened faces;
the look of “aha!”
shining, finally, in
so many
wide open eyes.
Yes, we are the 99%
all of us
refusing to forget
each other
no matter, in our hunger, what crumbs
are dropped by
the 1%.
The world we want is on the way; Arundhati
and now we
are
hearing her breathing.
That world we want is Us; united; already moving
into it.

Copyright © 2014 by Alice Walker. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database

When first you sang a song to me
With laughter shining from your eyes, 
You trolled your music liltingly
With cadences of glad surprise. 

In after years I heard you croon
In measures delicately slow 
Of trees turned silver by the moon
And nocturnes sprites and lovers know. 

And now I cannot hear you sing, 
But love still holds your melody
For silence is a sounding thing
To one who listens hungrily. 

 

From Caroling Dusk (Harper & Brothers, 1927), edited by Countee Cullen. This poem is in the public domain.

Her love is true I know,
Much more true
Than angel’s love;
For angels love in heaven
Where a thousand harps
Are playing.

She loves in a tenement
Where the only music
She hears
Is the cry of street car brakes
And the toot of automobile horns
And the drip of a kitchen spigot
All day.
Her love is true I know.

From Caroling Dusk (Harper & Brothers, 1927), edited by Countee Cullen. This poem is in the public domain.

We are not come to wage a strife
    With swords upon this hill.
It is not wise to waste the life
    Against a stubborn will.
Yet would we die as some have done:
Beating a way for the rising sun.

From Caroling Dusk (Harper & Brothers, 1927), edited by Countee Cullen. This poem is in the public domain.

She wears, my beloved, a rose upon her head.
Walk softly angels, lest your gentle tread
Awake her to the turmoil and the strife,
The dissonance and hates called life.

She sleeps, my beloved, a rose upon her head.
Who says she will not hear, that she is dead?
The rose will fade and lose its lovely hue,
But not, my beloved, will fading wither you.

From Caroling Dusk (Harper & Brothers, 1927), edited by Countee Cullen. This poem is in the public domain.

He scans the world with calm and fearless eyes,
      Conscious within of powers long since forgot;
At every step, new man-made barriers rise
      To bar his progress—but he heeds them not.
He stands erect, though tempests round him crash,
      Though thunder bursts and billows surge and roll;
He laughs and forges on, while lightings flash
      Along the rocky pathway to his goal.
Impassive as a Sphinx, he stares ahead—
      Foresees new empires rise and old ones fall;
While caste-mad nations lust for blood to shed,
      He sees God’s finger writing on the wall.
With soul awakened, wise and strong he stands,
Holding his destiny within his hands.

From Caroling Dusk (Harper & Brothers, 1927), edited by Countee Cullen. This poem is in the public domain.

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.

...because in the dying world it was set burning.”
                                                            —Galway Kinnell

We are not making love but
all night long we hug each other. 
Your face under my chin is two brown
thoughts with no right name, but opens to
eyes when my beard is brushing you.
The last line of the album playing
is Joan Armatrading’s existential stuff, 
we had fun while it lasted.
You inch your head up toward mine
where your eyes brighten, intense, 
as though I were observer and you
a doppled source. In the blue light
in the air we suddenly leave our selves
and watch two salt-starved bodies
lick the sweat from each others’ lips.
When the one mosquito in the night
comes toward our breathing, the pitch
of its buzz turns higher
till it’s fat like this blue room
and burning on both of us;
now it dies like a siren passing
down a street, the color of blood.
I pull the blanket over our heads
about to despair because I think
everything intense is dying, but you, 
you, even asleep, hold onto all
you think I am, more than I think, 
so intensely you can feel me
hugging back where I have gone. 

From Across the Mutual Landscape (Graywolf Press, 1984). Copyright © 1984 by Christopher GIlbert. Published in Poem-a-Day on February 14, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets with permission of The Permissions Company inc. on behalf of Graywolf Press.

translated by Sarah Arvio

To find a kiss of yours
what would I give
A kiss that strayed from your lips
dead to love

My lips taste
the dirt of shadows     

To gaze at your dark eyes
what would I give
Dawns of rainbow garnet  
fanning open before God— 

The stars blinded them
one morning in May

And to kiss your pure thighs
what would I give
Raw rose crystal  
sediment of the sun

*

[Por encontrar un beso tuyo]

Por encontrar un beso tuyo,
¿qué daría yo?
¡Un beso errante de tu boca
muerta para el amor!

(Tierra de sombra
come mi boca.)

Por contemplar tus ojos negros,
¿qué daría yo?
¡Auroras  de carbunclos irisados
abiertas frente a Dios!

(Las estrellas los cegaron
una mañana de mayo.)

Y por besar tus muslos castos,
¿qué daría yo?

(Cristal de rosa primitiva,
sedimento de sol.)

Translation copyright © 2017 by Sarah Arvio. Original text copyright © The Estate of Federico García Lorca. From Poet in Spain (Knopf, 2017). Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 25, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

love between us is
speech and breath. loving you is
a long river running.

From Like the Singing Coming Off the Drums. Copyright © 1998 by Sonia Sanchez. Used with the permission of Beacon Press. 

Cemeteries are places for departed souls
And bones interred, 
Or hearts with shattered loves. 
A woman with lips made warm for laughter 
Would find grey stones and roving spirits
Too chill for living, moving pulses . . .
And thou, great spirit, wouldst shiver in thy granite shroud 
Should idle mirth or empty talk 
Disturb thy tranquil sleeping. 

A cemetery is a place for shattered loves
And broken hearts . . . . 
Bowed before the crystal chalice of thy soul,
I find the multi-colored fragrances of thy mind
Has lost itself in Death’s transparency. 

Oh, stir the lucid waters of thy sleep 
And coin for me a tale 
Of happy loves and gems and joyous limbs
And hearts where love is sweet! 

A cemetery is a place for broken hearts 
And silent thought . . . 
And silence never moves, 
Nor speaks nor sings. 

From Caroling Dusk (Harper & Brothers, 1927), edited by Countee Cullen. This poem is in the public domain.

I know not why or whence he came
      Or how he chanced to go;
I only know he brought me love
      And going, left me woe.

I do not ask that he turn back,
      Nor seek where he may rove;
For where woe rules can never be
      The dwelling place of love.

For love went out the door of hope,
      And on and on has fled;
Caring no more to dwell within
      The house where faith is dead.

From Caroling Dusk (Harper & Brothers, 1927), edited by Countee Cullen. This poem is in the public domain.

The night was made for rest and sleep, 
For winds that softly sigh; 
It was not made for grief and tears; 
So then why do I cry? 

The wind that blows through leafy trees
Is soft and warm and sweet; 
For me the night is a gracious cloak 
To hide my soul’s defeat. 

Just one dark hour of shaken depths, 
Of bitter black despair—
Another day will find me brave,
And not afraid to dare. 

 

From Caroling Dusk (Harper & Brothers, 1927), edited by Countee Cullen. This poem is in the public domain.

I ask you this: 
Which way to go? 
I ask you this: 
Which sin to bear? 
Which crown to put 
Upon my hair? 
I do not know, 
Lord God, 
I do not know. 

 

From Caroling Dusk (Harper & Brothers, 1927), edited by Countee Cullen. This poem is in the public domain.

When first you sang a song to me
With laughter shining from your eyes, 
You trolled your music liltingly
With cadences of glad surprise. 

In after years I heard you croon
In measures delicately slow 
Of trees turned silver by the moon
And nocturnes sprites and lovers know. 

And now I cannot hear you sing, 
But love still holds your melody
For silence is a sounding thing
To one who listens hungrily. 

 

From Caroling Dusk (Harper & Brothers, 1927), edited by Countee Cullen. This poem is in the public domain.

I have gone back in boyish wonderment
To things that I had foolishly put by . . . . 
Have found an alien and unknown content 
In seeing how some bits of cloud-filled sky 
Are framed in bracken pools; through chuckling hours 
Have watched the antic frogs, or curiously
Have numbered all the unnamed, vagrant flowers, 
That fleck the unkempt meadows, lavishly. 

Or where a headlong toppling stream has stayed
Its racing, lulled to quiet by the song 
Bursting from out the thickleaved oaken shade, 
There I have lain while hours sauntered past—
I have found peacefulness somewhere at last, 
Have found a quiet needed for so long. 

 

From Caroling Dusk (Harper & Brothers, 1927), edited by Countee Cullen. This poem is in the public domain.

From out my open window, I can see
The rolling waves, as fierce and restlessly,
They dash against the long, long stretch of shore,
And in the distance, I can dimly trace,
Some out-bound vessel having left her place
Of Harbor, to return perhaps no more.

Within my mind there dwells this lingering thought,
How oft from ill the greatest good is wrought,
Perhaps some shattered wreck along the strand,
Will help to make the fire burn more bright,
And for some weary traveller to-night,
’Twill serve the purpose of a guiding hand.

Ah yes, and thus it is with these our lives,
Some poor misshapen remnant still survives,
Of what was once a fair and beauteous form,
And yet some dwelling may be made more bright,
Some one afar may catch a gleam of light,
After the fury of the blighting storm.

From Driftwood (Atlantic Printing Co., 1914). This poem is in the public domain.

I doubt not God is good, well-meaning, kind,
And did he stoop to quibble could tell why
The little buried mole continuous blind,
Why flesh that mirrors him must some day die,
Make plain the reason tortured Tantalus
Is baited with the fickle fruit, declare
If merely brute caprice dooms Sisyphus
To struggle up a never-ending stair.

Inscrutable His ways are and immune
To catechism by a mind too strewn
With petty cares to slightly understand
What awful brain compels His awful hand;
Yet do I marvel at this curious thing:
To make a poet black, and bid him sing!

From Caroling Dusk (Harper & Brothers, 1927), edited by Countee Cullen. This poem is in the public domain.

So detached and cool she is
No motion e’er betrays 
The secret life within her soul, 
The anguish of her days. 

She seems to look upon the world 
With cold ironic eyes, 
To spurn emotions’s fevered sway, 
To scoff at tears and sighs. 

But once a woman with a child
Passed by her on the street, 
And once she heard from casual lips
A man’s name, bitter-sweet. 

Such baffled yearning in her eyes,
Such pain upon her face! 
I turned aside until the mask 
Was slipped once more in place. 

From Caroling Dusk (Harper & Brothers, 1927), edited by Countee Cullen. This poem is in the public domain.

 

The dreams of the dreamer
   Are life-drops that pass
The break in the heart
   To the soul’s hour-glass.

The songs of the singer
   Are tones that repeat
The cry of the heart
   ‘Till it ceases to beat.

This poem is in the public domain. 

	      (after the spanish)


forgive me if i laugh 
you are so sure of love 
you are so young 
and i too old to learn of love.

the rain exploding 
in the air is love 
the grass excreting her 
green wax is love 
and stones remembering 
past steps is love, 
but you. you are too young 
for love 
and i too old.

once. what does it matter 
when or who, i knew 
of love. 
i fixed my body 
under his and went 
to sleep in love 
all trace of me 
was wiped away

forgive me if i smile 
young heiress of a naked dream 
you are so young 
and i too old to learn of love.

From Homegirls & Handgrenades by Sonia Sanchez. Copyright © 2007 by Sonia Sanchez. Reprinted by permission of White Pine Press.

Near the end of April
    On the verge of May—
And o my heart, the woods were dusk
    At the close of day.

Half a word was spoken
    Out of half a dream,
And God looked in my soul and saw
    A dawn rise and gleam.

Near the end of April
    Twenty Mays have met,
And half a word and half a dream
    Remember and forget.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on April 18, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

Some people presume to be hopeful
when there is no evidence for hope,
to be happy when there is no cause.
Let me say now, I’m with them.

In deep darkness on a cold twig
in a dangerous world, one first
little fluff lets out a peep, a warble,
a song—and in a little while, behold:

the first glimmer comes, then a glow
filters through the misty trees,
then the bold sun rises, then
everyone starts bustling about.

And that first crazy optimist, can we
forgive her for thinking, dawn by dawn,
“Hey, I made that happen!
And oh, life is so fine.”

Copyright © 2022 by Kim Stafford. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 27, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

I belong there. I have many memories. I was born as everyone is born.
I have a mother, a house with many windows, brothers, friends, and a prison cell
with a chilly window! I have a wave snatched by seagulls, a panorama of my own.
I have a saturated meadow. In the deep horizon of my word, I have a moon,
a bird’s sustenance, and an immortal olive tree.
I have lived on the land long before swords turned man into prey.
I belong there. When heaven mourns for her mother, I return heaven to her mother.
And I cry so that a returning cloud might carry my tears.
To break the rules, I have learned all the words needed for a trial by blood.
I have learned and dismantled all the words in order to draw from them a
single word: Home.

From Unfortunately, It Was Paradise by Mahmoud Darwish translated and edited by Munir Akash and Carolyn Forché with Sinan Antoon and Amira El-Zein. Copyright © 2003 by the Regents of the University of California. Reprinted by permission of the University of California Press. All rights reserved.

translated from the Arabic by Fady Joudah

They will fall in the end, 
those who say you can’t. 
It’ll be age or boredom that overtakes them, 
or lack of imagination. 
Sooner or later, all leaves fall to the ground. 
You can be the last leaf. 
You can convince the universe 
that you pose no threat 
to the tree’s life. 

From You Can Be the Last Leaf (Milkweed Editions, 2022) by Maya Abu Al-Hayyat and Fady Joudah. Copyright © 2022 by Maya Abu Al-Hayyat and Fady Joudah. Reprinted with the permission of Fady Joudah.

Days been dark
don’t say “in these dark days”
done changed my cones and rods

Sometimes I’m the country
other times the countryside

I put my clothes back on
to take them off again

Copyright © 2017 by Fady Joudah. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 17, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

When I say But mother, Black or not Black,
Of course we are polyethnic
, your look does not change
Though it does harden, a drying clay bust
Abandoned or deliberately incomplete,
All the features carved in
Except the eyes. What I’m trying –
I mean – You are an Arab, yes,
By culture, by language, and in part by blood; by blood
You are also Black African 
– and when, then, I say
And probably a fair amount of European, too – the lights,
Though we’re standing at the corner of 195th and Jerome,

Turn up somehow

Tracing an outline of you onto the armory’s sharp red brick, the El
Barreling up from the tunnel like a surge of magma reaching
For air and as I wait for it to pass so that you can
Hear me again, so that I can hear myself at last
Say But here, for me… Don’t you see – ?
Your face hangs on the fair of fair amount – heavy drops
Of oil, or old rain, falling onto us from the tracks – almost willing away
The layer of long-dead men flattened onto it, and the desperate
Rest of you, until I say with my looking
Through the unbearable human noise, My sweet selfless mother, it is
Fine, it is fine. For us here now I will be the first of our line.

From Trace Evidence: Poems (Tin House, 2023) by Charif Shanahan. Copyright © 2023 by Charif Shanahan. Used with the permission of the publisher. 

Specks of toothpaste fleck the mirror.

A fan spins dust in the hall.

I find this is it impossible to accept

So I wait for a new starting point

As though life will begin there and then.

Do you know what I mean?

Not what I’m saying, what I mean.

Is it possible my function is to hold

All the intricate, interstitial pain

And articulate clarity?

Tie a boat to my wrist, I sprout wings.

Give me a pair of shoes, I grow fins.

Once an hour I trick myself into focus:

I look into the glass as I look through it.

When the new beginning comes, what then?

Does life suddenly reset like an Atari?

Does meaning emerge

Assertively and without invitation?

The task is to live well enough with you.

But how? How do you know what you want

If you don’t tell you? If you don’t hear you?

From Trace Evidence: Poems (Tin House, 2023) by Charif Shanahan. Copyright © 2023 by Charif Shanahan. Used with the permission of the publisher. 

At the start of this narrative, I will pretend
Not to be alive, not to be

Speaking to you from the living earth.
To help you. I will pretend

The circumstances of our being
Here, together, are casual—

And not incidental
Of this awkward dilemma: How to co-exist

When you would like me dead.
For simplicity. For lack of threat.

In this narrative I will look
At you from a distance, as into the future,

No more real than I am,
Sitting here in my off-white body which I can feel

But is somehow less important, less
Urgent than the problem it poses. 

Sometimes, when I write this kind of narrative,
My mind flees and all I see above is text

At once strange, because I don’t know
How to hold it, and familiar, because I wrote it—

Send out the memo, I’m nearly done here.
How much more of this life to live? 30 years, if I’m lucky,

I bet. If my life ends, will my brothers’ finally begin?
Who made my mother? Who killed my father who lives?

From Trace Evidence: Poems (Tin House, 2023) by Charif Shanahan. Copyright © 2023 by Charif Shanahan. Used with the permission of the publisher. 

The cog in the eye turns
Until there is nothing left
To discern. I sip tea

Steeped in a kind of lust—

If I say I am, you are, he/she/it is . . .
We don’t have to agree
But it requires, to mean,

A common rubric.

The clock reads the time
Because we set it. I mean,
How else? Who is anyone

Who is anyone?

The grass edges outline the grave:
Get to living!

Copyright © 2023 by Charif Shanahan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 27, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.

Let y equal any number of fathers.
Let x equal the numberless planets.
Let y minus x equal long nights of fog
and let x plus y equal hydra & incubus.

If y is > x, why do all my convictions gape?
If x is > y, does “father” just mean nightcap?
When x ÷ y, we set sail on a windjammer.
When y ÷ x, watch for the banshee, the jinn.

Or let x be replaced by a midsummer night
and y by—well, you can never replace y but
by morning y will lollygag near half-moons:
Odysseus sailing to Ithaca, mildew as it rots.

And a b is no mere theory of relativity: it is
helter-skelter materfamilias, Ma Barker, and
Rebekkah, the mother who deceived. Not
Sarah who couldn’t conceive nor the Mother

of all of Nature: the black tern, the kittiwake;
plants ornamental, baroque; the cumulous,
the nebulosus; and yet, mother-of-pearl and
ice-cold, tiger’s-eye and monkey in the middle.

Let’s say a b is a % of all the love in the world
or synonymous with do you love me now that
I can dance? Let’s agree that a is the salsa or
paso doble and b is always always the beguine.

Copyright © 2021 by Lynne Thompson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 1, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

Thou hast made me endless, such is thy pleasure. This frail vessel thou emptiest again and again, and fillest it ever with fresh life.

This little flute of a reed thou hast carried over hills and dales, and hast breathed through it melodies eternally new.

At the immortal touch of thy hands my little heart loses its limits in joy and gives birth to utterance ineffable.

Thy infinite gifts come to me only on these very small hands of mine. Ages pass, and still thou pourest, and still there is room to fill.

From Gitanjali (Macmillan and Company, 1916) by Rabindranath Tagore. This poem is in the public domain.

late spring wind sounds an ocean 
through new leaves. later the same 
wind sounds a tide. later still the dry 

sound of applause: leaves chapped 
falling, an ending. this is a process.
the ocean leaping out of ocean 

should be enough. the wind 
pushing the water out of itself;
the water catching the light

should be enough. I think this 
on the deck of one boat
then another. I think this 

in the Salish, thought it in Stellwagen
in the Pacific. the water leaping 
looks animal, looks open mouthed,

looks toothed and rolling;
the ocean an animal full 
of other animals.

what I am looking for doesn’t matter.
that I am looking doesn’t matter.
I exert no meaning.

a juvenile bald eagle eats 
a harbor seal’s placenta.
its head still brown. 

this is a process. the land 
jutting out, seals hauled out,
the white-headed eagles lurking 

ready to take their turn at what’s left.
the lone sea otter on its back,
toes flopped forward and curled;

Friday Harbor: the phone booth
the ghost snare of a gray whale’s call; 
an orca’s tooth in an orca’s skull

mounted inside the glass box. 
remains. this is a process. 
three river otters, two adults, a pup, 

roll like logs parallel to the shore. 
two doe, three fawns. a young buck 
stares, its antlers new, limned gold 

in sunset. then the wind again: 
a wave through leaves green 
with deep summer, the walnut’s 

green husk. we are alive in a green 
crashing world. soon winter. 
the boat forgotten. the oceans,

their leaping animal light, off screen.
past. future. this is a process. the eagles 
at the river’s edge cluster 

in the bare tree. they steal fish 
from ducks. they eat the hunter’s 
discards: offal and lead. the juveniles 

practice fighting, their feet tangle 
midair before loosing. this 
is a process. where they came from. 

for how long will they stay. 
that I am looking doesn’t matter. 
I will impose no meaning.

From You Are Here: Poetry in the Natural World (Milkweed Editions, 2024), edited by Ada Limón. Copyright © 2024 Milkweed Editions and the Library of Congress. Used with the permission of the author. Published in Poem-a-Day on April 6, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets.