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.

                                              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.

(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.

On the fifth day
the scientists who studied the rivers
were forbidden to speak
or to study the rivers.

The scientists who studied the air
were told not to speak of the air,
and the ones who worked for the farmers
were silenced,
and the ones who worked for the bees.

Someone, from deep in the Badlands,
began posting facts.

The facts were told not to speak
and were taken away.
The facts, surprised to be taken, were silent.

Now it was only the rivers
that spoke of the rivers,
and only the wind that spoke of its bees,

while the unpausing factual buds of the fruit trees
continued to move toward their fruit.

The silence spoke loudly of silence,
and the rivers kept speaking
of rivers, of boulders and air.

Bound to gravity, earless and tongueless,
the untested rivers kept speaking.

Bus drivers, shelf stockers,
code writers, machinists, accountants,
lab techs, cellists kept speaking.

They spoke, the fifth day,
of silence.

—2017

from Ledger (Knopf, 2020); first appeared in The Washington Post. Used by permission of the author, all rights reserved.

The world asks, as it asks daily: 
And what can you make, can you do, to change my deep-broken, fractured?

I count, this first day of another year, what remains. 
I have a mountain, a kitchen, two hands. 

Can admire with two eyes the mountain, 
actual, recalcitrant, shuffling its pebbles, sheltering foxes and beetles.

Can make black-eyed peas and collards.
Can make, from last year’s late-ripening persimmons, a pudding.

Can climb a stepladder, change the bulb in a track light.

For four years, I woke each day first to the mountain, 
then to the question.

The feet of the new sufferings followed the feet of the old, 
and still they surprised.

I brought salt, brought oil, to the question. Brought sweet tea, 
brought postcards and stamps. For four years, each day, something.

Stone did not become apple. War did not become peace. 
Yet joy still stays joy. Sequins stay sequins. Words still bespangle, bewilder. 

Today, I woke without answer. 

The day answers, unpockets a thought from a friend

don’t despair of this falling world, not yet

didn’t it give you the asking

Copyright © Jane Hirshfield. Used with permission of the author.

Wearing nothing but snakeskin
boots, I blazed a footpath, the first
radical road out of that old kingdom
toward a new unknown.
When I came to those great flaming gates
of burning gold,
I stood alone in terror at the threshold
between Paradise and Earth.
There I heard a mysterious echo:
my own voice
singing to me from across the forbidden
side. I shook awake—
at once alive in a blaze of green fire.

Let it be known: I did not fall from grace.

I leapt
to freedom.

Copyright © 2015 by Ansel Elkins. Used with permission of the author.

Up ahead it’s white. Snow animal,
I’m running at your back. I’ve failed to tell you
I’ve been hungry all this time, to tell you
I’ve been searching for you, like meat,
like water. All my life, I’ve distanced
myself. As if to know you was to drown.
As if to find you I’d usher myself further
from what is real. I’ve been adrift along
the threads of white leading me out
beyond an imagined frame. I’ve untied myself,
uncuffed the arms and neck. I didn’t know
I was hurt like that. I didn’t know
there was a force pulling me downward
toward a bedrock, lulling me to sleep.
You are the one escaping, you are the one
breaking free. I understand your astonishing
dash to freedom, done with the estranged wind,
done with frost and storm, orchids curling
outward beyond grief. The road widens
to glory. The road disappears.

“Color” reprinted from Hybrida: Poems by Tina Chang © 2019 by Tina Chang. Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

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.

We did not say much to each other but
we grinned,
            because this love was so good you sucked the
rib bones

and I licked my fingers like a cat.
Now I’m
            omniscient. I’m going to skip past
the hard

parts that go on for a very long time. Here’s the
future:
            I laugh, because the pleasure was earned
yet vouchsafed,

and I made room for what was dead past and what
yet didn’t
            exist. I was not always kind, but I
was clear.

Copyright © 2019 by Sandra Lim. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 12, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Skin remembers how long the years grow
when skin is not touched, a gray tunnel
of singleness, feather lost from the tail
of a bird, swirling onto a step,
swept away by someone who never saw
it was a feather. Skin ate, walked,
slept by itself, knew how to raise a 
see-you-later hand. But skin felt
it was never seen, never known as
a land on the map, nose like a city,
hip like a city, gleaming dome of the mosque
and the hundred corridors of cinnamon and rope.

Skin had hope, that's what skin does.
Heals over the scarred place, makes a road.
Love means you breathe in two countries.
And skin remembers--silk, spiny grass,
deep in the pocket that is skin's secret own.
Even now, when skin is not alone,
it remembers being alone and thanks something larger
that there are travelers, that people go places
larger than themselves.

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

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.

The sky tonight, so without aliens. The woods, very lacking
in witches. But the people, as usual, replete

with people. & so you, with your headset, sit
in the home office across the hall, stuck in a hell

of strangers crying, computers dying, the new
father’s dropped-in-toilet baby

photos, the old Canadian, her grandson Gregory,
all-grown-up-now Greg, who gave her this phone

but won’t call her. You call her
wonderful. You encourage her to tell you what’s wrong

with her device. You with your good-at-your-job
good-looking-ness, I bet even over the phone

it’s visible. I bet all the Canadian grandmas
want you, but hey, you’re with me. Hey, take off

that headset. Steal away from your post. Cross
the hall, you sings-the-chorus-too-soon, you

makes-a-killer-veggie-taco, you
played-tennis-in-college-build, you Jeffrey, you

Jeff-ship full of stars, cauldron full of you,
come teach me a little bit

of nothing, in the dark
abundant hours.

Copyright © 2017 Chen Chen. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Winter 2017.

 

And so I sat at a tall table
in an Ohio hotel,
eating delivery:
cheese bread

with garlic butter, only it was
not butter, but partially
hydrogenated soy
bean oil

and regular soybean oil and it
came in a little tub like
creamer that’s also not
dairy.

America in 2019
means a poem will have to
contain dairy that is,
in fact,

not dairy. On Instagram: a man
has bought a ten foot by four
foot photo of a bridge
he lives

beside, bridge he can see just outside
his window, window which serves
as a ten foot by four
foot frame.

My materialist mind, I can’t
shake it. Within a perfect
little tub of garlic
butter,

a relief of workers, of sickles,
fields of soy. We were tanners
pushed to the edge of the
city

once, by the stench, the bubble of vats
of flesh and loosening skin,
back when the city pulled,
leather

bucket by leather bucket, its own
water from wells. Then we worked
the cafeterias
at the

petroleum offices of the
British. Then, revolution—

Simple.

Copyright © 2019 by Solmaz Sharif. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 30, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

                The world is a beautiful place 
                                                           to be born into 
if you don’t mind happiness 
                                             not always being 
                                                                        so very much fun 
       if you don’t mind a touch of hell
                                                       now and then
                just when everything is fine
                                                             because even in heaven
                                they don’t sing 
                                                        all the time

             The world is a beautiful place
                                                           to be born into
       if you don’t mind some people dying
                                                                  all the time
                        or maybe only starving
                                                           some of the time
                 which isn’t half so bad
                                                      if it isn’t you

      Oh the world is a beautiful place
                                                          to be born into
               if you don’t much mind
                                                   a few dead minds
                    in the higher places
                                                    or a bomb or two
                            now and then
                                                  in your upturned faces
         or such other improprieties
                                                    as our Name Brand society
                                  is prey to
                                              with its men of distinction
             and its men of extinction
                                                   and its priests
                         and other patrolmen
                                                         and its various segregations
         and congressional investigations
                                                             and other constipations
                        that our fool flesh
                                                     is heir to

Yes the world is the best place of all
                                                           for a lot of such things as
         making the fun scene
                                                and making the love scene
and making the sad scene
                                         and singing low songs of having 
                                                                                      inspirations
and walking around 
                                looking at everything
                                                                  and smelling flowers
and goosing statues
                              and even thinking 
                                                         and kissing people and
     making babies and wearing pants
                                                         and waving hats and
                                     dancing
                                                and going swimming in rivers
                              on picnics
                                       in the middle of the summer
and just generally
                            ‘living it up’

Yes
   but then right in the middle of it
                                                    comes the smiling
                                                                                 mortician

                                           

From A Coney Island of the Mind, copyright ©1955 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.

the hot water in
the abandoned kettle
slowly cools
still carrying the resentment
of colder water

From The Forest of Eyes by Tada Chimako, translated by Jeffrey Angles. Copyright © 2010 by Tada Chimako and Jeffrey Angles. Used by permission of University of California Press. All rights reserved.

The digital map on the wall

displays the American wars

in colors:

Iraq in purple

Syria in yellow

Kuwait in blue

Afghanistan in red

Vietnam in green.

The war

on the map

is beautiful

smart

and colorful.

Copyright © 2017 by Dunya Mikahil. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 19, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

After the birthing of bombs of forks and fear,
the frantic automatic weapons unleashed,
the spray of bullets into a crowd holding hands,
that brute sky opening in a slate metal maw
that swallows only the unsayable in each of us, what’s
left? Even the hidden nowhere river is poisoned
orange and acidic by a coal mine. How can
you not fear humanity, want to lick the creek
bottom dry to suck the deadly water up into
your own lungs, like venom? Reader, I want to
say, Don’t die. Even when silvery fish after fish
comes back belly up, and the country plummets
into a crepitating crater of hatred, isn’t there still
something singing? The truth is: I don't know.
But sometimes, I swear I hear it, the wound closing
like a rusted-over garage door, and I can still move
my living limbs into the world without too much
pain, can still marvel at how the dog runs straight
toward the pickup trucks break-necking down
the road, because she thinks she loves them,
because she’s sure, without a doubt, that the loud
roaring things will love her back, her soft small self
alive with desire to share her goddamn enthusiasm,
until I yank the leash back to save her because
I want her to survive forever. Don’t die, I say,
and we decide to walk for a bit longer, starlings
high and fevered above us, winter coming to lay
her cold corpse down upon this little plot of earth.
Perhaps, we are always hurtling our body towards
the thing that will obliterate us, begging for love
from the speeding passage of time, and so maybe
like the dog obedient at my heels, we can walk together
peacefully, at least until the next truck comes.

Copyright © 2016 by Ada Limón. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 1, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

                    for Frank O’Hara

Frank, we have become an urban species
     at this moment many millions of humans are
          standing on some corner waiting like me

for a signal permitting us to go,
     a signal depicting a small pale pedestrian
          to be followed by a sea-green light

we do not use this opportunity
     to tune in to eternity
          we bounce upon our toes impatiently

It is a Thursday morning, Frank, and I feel
     rather acutely alive but I need a thing of beauty
          or a theory of beauty to reconcile me

to the lumps of garbage I cannot love enclosed
     in these tough shiny black plastic bags
          heaped along the curb of 97th Street, my street—

like a hideous reminder of the fate we all expect
     letting the bulky slimy truth of waste
          attack our aesthetic sense and joie de vivre

reliably every Thursday. Let me scan the handsome amber
     columned and corniced dwellings
          reflected in rear windows of parked cars, let me wish

luck to their hives of intimacies, people
     in kitchens finishing a morning coffee
          saying see you later to the ones they live with

Let me raise my eyes to the blue veil adrift
     between and above the artifice of buildings
          and at last I am slipping through a flaw in time

where the string of white headlights approaching, the string
     of red taillights departing, seem as if
          they carry some kind of message

perhaps the message is that one block west
     Riverside Park extends its length
          at the edge of Manhattan like the downy arm

of a tender, amusing, beautiful lover,
     and after that is the deathless river
          but waiting for the light feels like forever

From Waiting for the Light, by Alicia Ostriker. Copyright © 2017. Reprinted by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

  At times poetry is the vertigo of bodies and the vertigo of speech and the vertigo of death;
  the walk with eyes closed along the edge of the cliff, and the verbena in submarine gardens;
  the laughter that sets on fire the rules and the holy commandments;
  the descent of parachuting words onto the sands of the page;
  the despair that boards a paper boat and crosses,
  for forty nights and forty days, the night-sorrow sea and the day-sorrow desert;
  the idolatry of the self and the desecration of the self and the dissipation of the self;
  the beheading of epithets, the burial of mirrors; the recollection of pronouns freshly cut in the garden of Epicurus, and the garden of Netzahualcoyotl;
  the flute solo on the terrace of memory and the dance of flames in the cave of thought;
  the migrations of millions of verbs, wings and claws, seeds and hands;
  the nouns, bony and full of roots, planted on the waves of language;
  the love unseen and the love unheard and the love unsaid: the love in love.


Syllables seeds.

From The Collected Poems 1957-1987. Copyright © 1986 by Octavio Paz and Eliot Weinberger. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.

I was so willing to pull a page out of my notebook, a day, several bright days and live them as if I was only alive, thirsty, timeless, young enough, to do this one more time, to dare to have nothing so much to lose and to feel that potential dying of the self in the light as the only thing I thought that was spiritual, possible and because I had no other way to call that mind, I called it poetry, but it was flesh and time and bread and friends frightened and free enough to want to have another day that way, tear another page.

Excerpted from Evolution. Copyright © 2018 by Eileen Myles. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Grove Press, an imprint of Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.

You can’t order a poem like you order a taco.
Walk up to the counter, say, “I’ll take two”
and expect it to be handed back to you
on a shiny plate.

Still, I like your spirit.
Anyone who says, “Here’s my address,
write me a poem,” deserves something in reply.
So I’ll tell a secret instead:
poems hide. In the bottoms of our shoes,
they are sleeping. They are the shadows
drifting across our ceilings the moment 
before we wake up. What we have to do
is live in a way that lets us find them.

Once I knew a man who gave his wife
two skunks for a valentine.
He couldn’t understand why she was crying.
“I thought they had such beautiful eyes.”
And he was serious. He was a serious man
who lived in a serious way. Nothing was ugly
just because the world said so. He really
liked those skunks. So, he re-invented them
as valentines and they became beautiful.
At least, to him. And the poems that had been hiding
in the eyes of skunks for centuries 
crawled out and curled up at his feet.

Maybe if we re-invent whatever our lives give us
we find poems. Check your garage, the odd sock
in your drawer, the person you almost like, but not quite.
And let me know.

From Red Suitcase by Naomi Shihab Nye. Copyright 1994 Naomi Shihab Nye. Used by permission of the author. 

When the bass drops on Bill Withers’ 
Better Off Dead, it’s like 7 a.m.  
and I confess I’m looking 
over my shoulder once or twice
just to make sure no one in Brooklyn 
is peeking into my third-floor window 
to see me in pajamas I haven’t washed 
for three weeks before I slide 
from sink to stove in one long groove 
left foot first then back to the window side
with my chin up and both fists clenched 
like two small sacks of stolen nickels
and I can almost hear the silver 
hit the floor by the dozens
when I let loose and sway a little back 
and just like that I’m a lizard grown 
two new good legs on a breeze
-bent limb. I’m a grown-ass man 
with a three-day wish and two days to live.
And just like that everyone knows 
my heart’s broke and no one is home. 
Just like that, I’m water. 
Just like that, I’m the boat. 
Just like that, I’m both things in the whole world 
rocking. Sometimes sadness is just 
what comes between the dancing. And bam!, 
my mother’s dead and, bam!, my brother’s 
children are laughing. Just like—ok, it’s true 
I can’t pop up from my knees so quick these days 
and no one ever said I could sing but 
tell me my body ain’t good enough 
for this. I’ll count the aches another time, 
one in each ankle, the sharp spike in my back, 
this mud-muscle throbbing in my going bones, 
I’m missing the six biggest screws 
to hold this blessed mess together. I’m wind-
rattled. The wood’s splitting. The hinges are
falling off. When the first bridge ends,
just like that, I’m a flung open door. 

Copyright © 2014 by Patrick Rosal. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on April 18, 2014. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

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

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

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

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

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.

That streetlight looks like the slicked backbone
            of a dead tree in the rain, its green lamp blazing
like the first neon fig glowing in the first garden
            on a continent that split away from Africa
from which floated away Brazil. Why are we not
            more amazed by the constellations, all those flung
stars held together by the thinnest filaments
            of our evolved, image making brains. For instance,
here we are in the middle of another Autumn,
            plummeting through a universe that made us
from its shattering and dust, stooping
            now to pluck an orange leaf from the sidewalk,
a small veined hand we hold in an open palm
            as we walk through the park on a weekend we
invented so we would have time to spare. Time,
            another idea we devised so the days would have
an epilogue, precise, unwavering, a pendulum
            strung above our heads.  When was the sun
enough? The moon with its diminishing face?
            The sea with its nets of fish? The meadow’s
yellow baskets of grain? If I was in charge
            I’d say leave them there on their backs
in the grass, wondering, eating berries
            and rolling toward each other’s naked bodies
for warmth, for something we’ve yet to name,
            when the leaves were turning colors in their dying
and we didn’t know why, or that they would return,
            bud and green. One of a billion
small miracles. This planet will again be stone.

Copyright © 2019 by Dorianne Laux. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 10, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

When the grapevine had thinned
but not broken & the worst was yet to come
of winter snow, I tracked my treed heart
to the high boughs of a quaking
aspen & shot it down.
                                           If love comes fast,
let her be a bullet & not a barking dog;
let my heart say, as that trigger’s pulled,
Are all wonders small? Otherwise, let love
be a woman of gunpowder
                                                   & lead; let her
arrive a brass angel, a dark powdered comet
whose mercy is dense as the fishing sinker
that pulleys the moon, even when it is heavy
with milk. I shot my heart
                                                 & turned myself in
to wild kindness, left the road to my coffin
that seemed also to include my carrying it & walked
back along the trampled brush I remembered
only as a blur of hot breath & a howling in my chest.

From Last Psalm at Sea Level (Barrow Street, 2014). Copyright © 2014 by Meg Day. Used with the permission of the author.


Enough seen….Enough had....Enough…
                           —Arthur Rimbaud

No. It will never be enough. Never
enough wind clamoring in the trees,
sun and shadow handling each leaf, never enough clang
of my neighbor hammering,
the iron nails, relenting wood, sound waves
lapping over roofs, never enough
bees purposeful at the throats
of lilies. How could we be replete
with the flesh of ripe tomatoes, the unique
scent of their crushed leaves. It would take many
births to be done with the thatness of that.

Oh blame life. That we just want more.
Summer rain. Mud. A cup of tea.
Our teeth, our eyes. A baby in a stroller.
Another spoonful of crème brûlée, sweet burnt crust crackling.
And hot showers, oh lovely, lovely hot showers.

Today was a good day.
My mother-in-law sat on the porch, eating crackers and cheese
with a watered-down margarita
and though her nails are no longer stop-light red
and she can’t remember who’s alive and dead,
still, this was a day
with no weeping, no unstoppable weeping.

Last night, through the small window of my laptop,
I watched a dying man kill himself in Switzerland.
He wore a blue shirt and snow was falling
onto a small blue house, onto dark needles of pine and fir.
He didn’t step outside to feel the snow on his face.
He sat at a table with his wife and drank poison.

Online I found a plastic bag complete with Velcro
and a hole for a tube to a propane tank. I wouldn’t have to
move our Weber. I could just slide
down the stucco to the flagstones, where the healthy
weeds are sprouting through the cracks.
Maybe it wouldn’t be half-bad
to go out looking at the yellowing leaves of the old camellia.
And from there I could see the chickens scratching—
if we still have chickens then. And yet…

this little hat of life, how will I bear
to take it off while I can still reach up? Snug woolen watch cap,
lacy bonnet, yellow cloche with the yellow veil
I wore the Easter I turned thirteen when my mother let me
    promenade
with Tommy Spagnola on the boardwalk in Atlantic City.

Oxygen, oxygen, the cry of the body—and you always want to
    give it
what it wants. But I must say no—
enough, enough

with more tenderness
than I have ever given to a lover, the gift
of the nipple hardening under my fingertip, more
tenderness than to my newborn,
when I held her still flecked
with my blood. I’ll say the most gentle refusal
to this dear dumb animal and tighten
the clasp around my throat that once was kissed and kissed
until the blood couldn’t rest in its channel, but rose
to the surface like a fish that couldn’t wait to be caught.

 

Copyright © 2015 by Ellen Bass. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 14, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

after Linda Hogan

Nothing wants to suffer. Not the wind
as it scrapes itself against the cliff. Not the cliff

being eaten, slowly, by the sea. The earth does not want
to suffer the rough tread of those who do not notice it.

The trees do not want to suffer the axe, nor see
their sisters felled by root rot, mildew, rust. 

The coyote in its den. The puma stalking its prey.
These, too, want ease and a tender animal in the mouth

to take their hunger. An offering, one hopes, 
made quickly, and without much suffering.

The chair mourns an angry sitter. The lamp, a scalded moth.
A table, the weight of years of argument.

We know this, though we forget.

Not the shark nor the tiger, fanged as they are.
Nor the worm, content in its windowless world

of soil and stone. Not the stone, resting in its riverbed.
The riverbed, gazing up at the stars.

Least of all, the stars, ensconced in their canopy,
looking down at all of us— their offspring—

scattered so far beyond reach.

Copyright © 2021 by Danusha Laméris. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 9, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

Of course I don’t know what
happens to us: if we survive in the
hands of love; if Cal, if Simone
and all the trembling answers
those questions entail; whether
by time or by disease or by
an atom bomb right in the eye. Is it
possible death could be thrilling
and fun? And after could there be
something somewhere and what
will we do if we see each other
there? Will the same songs stay stuck
in our heads? Will medicine
succeed in making life so long
we will beg for medicine to end it?
One cannot lock eyes with a bird,
its eyes vacant as ball bearings, but
mustn’t there be some recognition
in everything? Some fury, some
questioning? If one phrase could echo
throughout eternity, would the ear
on the other side return
a word? But what am I asking?
Will I ever see a whale, and will his size
compared to mine be a true
form of knowledge? Loneliness
has depths writing fails to fathom.
I could be clearer, say more, but
it wouldn’t mean as much. Mother
will I ever find you again? Is fear
of spiders fair? Is a power
above minding the scales, be it
science or gods or the weather,
and can they be tipped toward
balance from here? Is beauty more
than another form of pleasure?
What, which, when, how is better?

From The Trembling Answers. Copyright © 2017 by Craig Morgan Teicher. Used with the permission of BOA Editions.

for Octavio


There's a book called
"A Dictionary of Angels."
No one has opened it in fifty years,
I know, because when I did,
The covers creaked, the pages
Crumbled. There I discovered

The angels were once as plentiful
As species of flies.
The sky at dusk
Used to be thick with them.
You had to wave both arms
Just to keep them away.

Now the sun is shining
Through the tall windows.
The library is a quiet place.
Angels and gods huddled
In dark unopened books.
The great secret lies
On some shelf Miss Jones
Passes every day on her rounds.

She's very tall, so she keeps
Her head tipped as if listening.
The books are whispering.
I hear nothing, but she does.

From Sixty Poem by Charles Simic. Copyright © 2008 by Charles Simic. Reprinted by permission of Harcourt Trade Publishers. All rights reserved.

translated by Ursula K. Le Guin

    When I’m walking, everything
on earth gets up
and stops me and whispers to me,
and what they tell me is their story.

    And the people walking
on the road leave me their stories,
I pick them up where they fell
in cocoons of silken thread.

    Stories run through my body
or sit purring in my lap.
So many they take my breath away,
buzzing, boiling, humming.
Uncalled they come to me,
and told, they still won’t leave me.

    The ones that come down through the trees
weave and unweave themselves,
and knit me up and wind me round
until the sea drives them away.

    But the sea that’s always telling stories,
the wearier I am the more it tells me...

    The people who cut trees,
the people who break stones,
want stories before they go to sleep.

    Women looking for children
who got lost and don’t come home,
women who think they’re alive
and don’t know they’re dead,
every night they ask for stories,
and I return tale for tale.

    In the middle of the road, I stand
between rivers that won’t let me go,
and the circle keeps closing
and I’m caught in the wheel.

    The riverside people tell me
of the drowned woman sunk in grasses
and her gaze tells her story,
and I graft the tales into my open hands.

    To the thumb come stories of animals,
to the index fingers, stories of my dead.
There are so many tales of children
they swarm on my palms like ants.

    When my arms held
the one I had, the stories
all ran as a blood-gift
in my arms, all through the night.
Now, turned to the East,
I’m giving them away because I forget them.

    Old folks want them to be lies.
Children want them to be true.
All of them want to hear my own story,
which, on my living tongue, is dead.

    I’m seeking someone who remembers it
leaf by leaf, thread by thread.
I lend her my breath, I give her my legs,
so that hearing it may waken it for me.

 


La Contadora 

    Cuando camino se levantan
todas las cosas de la tierra
y me paran y cuchichean
y es su historia lo que cuentan.

    Y las gentes que caminan
en la ruta me la dejan
y la recojo caída
en capullos que son de huella.

    Historias corren mi cuerpo
o en mi regazo ronronean.
Tantas son que no dan respiro,
zumban, hierven y abejean.
Sin llamada se me vienen
y contadas tampoco dejan…

    Las que bajan por los árboles
se trenzan y se destrenzan,
y me tejen y me envuelvan
hasta que el mar los ahuyenta.

    Pero el mar que cuenta siempre
más rendida, más me deja...

    Los que están mascando bosque
y los que rompen la piedra,
al dormirse quieren historias.

    Mujeres que buscan hijos
perdidos que no regresan,
y las que se creen vivas
y no saben que están muertas,
cada noche piden historias,
y yo me rindo cuenta que cuenta.

    A medio camino quedo
entre ríos que no me sueltan,
el corro se va cerrando
y me atrapa en la rueda.

   Los ribereños me cuentan
la ahogada sumida en hierbas,
y su mirada cuenta su historia,
y yo las tronco en mis palmas abiertas.

    Al pulgar llegan las de animales,
al índice las de mis muertos.
Las de niños, de ser tantas
en las palmas me hormiguean.

    Cuando tomaba así mis brazos
el que yo tuve, todas ellas
en regalo de sangre corrieron
mis brazos una noche entera.
Ahora yo, vuelta al Oriente,
se las voy dando porque no recuerdo.

    Los viejos las quieren mentidas,
los niños las quieren ciertas.
Todos quieren oír la historia mía
que en mi lengua viva está muerta.

    Busco alguna que la recuerde
hoja por hoja, herbra por hebra.
Le presto mi aliento, le doy mi marcha
por si el oírla me la despierta.

From Selected Poems of Gabriela Mistral: Translated by Ursula K. Le Guin. Copyright © 2003 Ursula K. Le Guin. Courtesy of University of New Mexico Press. Published in Poem-a-Day on September 27, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Together,
you
standing
before me before
the picture
window, my arms
around you, our
eyes pitched
beyond our
reflections into—

(“into, I’d
written, as
though there
swung at the end
of a tunnel,
a passage dotted
with endless
points of
arrival, as
though our gaze
started just outside
our faces and
corkscrewed its way
toward the horizon,
processual, 
as if looking
took time to happen
and weren’t
instantaneous,
offered whole in
one gesture
before we
ask, before our
will, as if the far
Sonoma mountains
weren’t equally ready
to be beheld as
the dead
fly on the sill)—

the distance, a
broad hill of
bright mustard flowers
the morning light
coaxes open.

Copyright © 2021 by Forrest Gander. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 13, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

the poem begins not where the knife enters
but where the blade twists.
Some wounds cannot be hushed
no matter the way one writes of blood
& what reflection arrives in its pooling.
The poem begins with pain as a mirror
inside of which I adjust a tie the way my father taught me
before my first funeral & so the poem begins
with old grief again at my neck. On the radio,
a singer born in a place where children watch the sky
for bombs is trying to sell me on love
as something akin to war.
I have no lie to offer as treacherous as this one.
I was most like the bullet when I viewed the body as a door.
I’m past that now. No one will bury their kin
when desire becomes a fugitive
between us. There will be no folded flag
at the doorstep. A person only gets to be called a widow once,
and then they are simply lonely. The bluest period.
Gratitude, not for love itself, but for the way it can end
without a house on fire.
This is how I plan to leave next.
Unceremonious as birth in a country overrun
by the ungrateful living. The poem begins with a chain
of well-meaning liars walking one by one
off the earth’s edge. That’s who died
and made me king. Who died and made you.

Copyright © 2019 by Hanif Abdurraqib. From A Fortune For Your Disaster (Tin House Books, 2019). Used with permission of the author and Tin House Books. 

Bad things are going to happen.
Your tomatoes will grow a fungus
and your cat will get run over.
Someone will leave the bag with the ice cream
melting in the car and throw
your blue cashmere sweater in the drier.
Your husband will sleep
with a girl your daughter’s age, her breasts spilling
out of her blouse. Or your wife
will remember she’s a lesbian
and leave you for the woman next door. The other cat—
the one you never really liked—will contract a disease
that requires you to pry open its feverish mouth
every four hours. Your parents will die.
No matter how many vitamins you take,
how much Pilates, you’ll lose your keys,
your hair and your memory. If your daughter
doesn’t plug her heart
into every live socket she passes,
you’ll come home to find your son has emptied
the refrigerator, dragged it to the curb,
and called the used appliance store for a pick up—drug money.
There’s a Buddhist story of a woman chased by a tiger.
When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine
and climbs half way down. But there’s also a tiger below.
And two mice—one white, one black—scurry out
and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point
she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.
She looks up, down, at the mice.
Then she eats the strawberry.
So here’s the view, the breeze, the pulse
in your throat. Your wallet will be stolen, you’ll get fat,
slip on the bathroom tiles of a foreign hotel
and crack your hip. You’ll be lonely.
Oh taste how sweet and tart
the red juice is, how the tiny seeds
crunch between your teeth.

"Relax" from Like a Beggar. Copyright © 2014 by Ellen Bass. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc. on behalf of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org.

Small enough to fit 
in your shirt pocket
so you could take it out
in a moment of distress
to ingest a happy 
maxim or just stare
a while at its orange
and yellow cover
(so cheerful in itself
you need go no further),
this little booklet
wouldn’t stop a bullet 
aimed at your heart

and seems a flimsy 
shield against despair,
whatever its contents.
But there it is
by the cash register,
so I pick it up
as I wait in line and
come to a sentence
saying there are few
things that can’t be 
cured by a hot bath
above the name 
Sylvia Plath.

I rest my case,
placing the booklet
back by its petite
companions Sweet Nothings
and Simple Wisdom
but not The Book of Sorrows,
a multivolume set
like the old Britannica
that each of us receives
in installments
of unpredictable
heft and frequency
over a lifetime.

Copyright © 2021 by Jeffrey Harrison. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 22, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

This is the world
so vast and lonely
without end, with mountains
named for men
who brought hunger
from other lands,
and fear
of the thick, dark forest of trees
that held each other up,
knowing fire dreamed of swallowing them
and spoke an older tongue,
and the tongue of the nation of wolves
was the wind around them.
Even ice was not silent.
It cried its broken self
back to warmth.
But they called it
ice, wolf, forest of sticks,
as if words would make it something
they could hold in gloved hands,
open, plot a way
and follow.

This is the map of the forsaken world.
This is the world without end
where forests have been cut away from their trees.
These are the lines wolf could not pass over.
This is what I know from science:
that a grain of dust dwells at the center
of every flake of snow,
that ice can have its way with land,
that wolves live inside a circle
of their own beginning.
This is what I know from blood:
the first language is not our own.

There are names each thing has for itself,
and beneath us the other order already moves.
It is burning.
It is dreaming.
It is waking up.

From DARK. SWEET.: New and Selected Poems (Coffee House Press, 2014) © 2014 by Linda Hogan. Used with the permission of Coffee House Press. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 6, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

The neon burns a hole in the night
and the Freon burns a hole in the sky
            —Dessa

All night darkness
constructs its unquestioning citadel
of intrusive thoughts

*

if you listen closely
you can hear
the rising waters whispers

if you cover your ears
you’ll hear it too

*

trapped in the seashell of night

*

chase the echo
to its origin

*

a useless lullaby
a rythme replacing
the unticking
digital clocks
counting my sleeplessness
in silence

*

the shapelessness of waves
a watery sleep paralysis
gripping the city

*

the high water mark
is reaching for the sky
and getting there

*

new high rises rise
every day like shark teeth

a fire sale

get it while it’s hot
get that land
while it’s still land

*

the world is burning you know

*

all night you can hear them
building another goddamn stadium
while tearing down the house
around you as you sleep

*

enough empty seats
for the displaced

an uncheering home crowd
longing for home

*

enough hollow condos
for everyone
but it’s important
that they stay empty
they won’t say why

*

hurricanes come through
like tourists
and suddenly
there are less homeless people

their names lost
to the larger one
of christened chaos

*

night is a rosary of unanswered hours

*

count them
count them
count them

*

sometimes I’m grateful
for the light pollution

the smug stars
think they know everything

but their slow knowledge
is always late with its light

*

still

I consult the disdainful
horoscope to see what
they promise to promise

*

Miami is obviously
a leo
(look it up)

*

a drowning fire sign

pride pretending everything
is fine

I mean come on

*

a backwards place

you can’t blame everything
on the Bermuda Triangle
but you can try

*

swimming birds
and flying fish
burrowing owls

night sky
reflected in the water

becoming confused

a broth of clouds and corals

*

octopus conspire against us
limbed-brains learning
from our mistakes

our heirs
come too soon

*

certainly
they’ll do better
with this city
than we did

*

this city
with its history of hurricanes
and fraud

*

one day
the neon
will burn out

and then what

*

sun rises
like rent

*

sun rises
like a flag

*

sun rises
like the ocean

*

I can’t sleep
but the city I love
can’t wake up

Copyright © 2021 by Ariel Francisco. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 24, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

And whom do I call my enemy?
An enemy must be worthy of engagement.
I turn in the direction of the sun and keep walking.
It’s the heart that asks the question, not my furious mind.
The heart is the smaller cousin of the sun.
It sees and knows everything.
It hears the gnashing even as it hears the blessing.
The door to the mind should only open from the heart.
An enemy who gets in, risks the danger of becoming a friend.

Harjo, Joy, Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings: Poems; Copyright © 2015 by W. W. Norton & Company. Reprinted with permission of Anderson Literary Management LLC, 244 Fifth Avenue, Floor 11, New York, NY 10001.

When I rise up above the earth,
And look down on the things that fetter me,
I beat my wings upon the air,
Or tranquil lie,
Surge after surge of potent strength
Like incense comes to me
When I rise up above the earth
And look down upon the things that fetter me.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on February 10, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

The narrow clearing down to the river
I walk alone, out of breath

my body catching on each branch.
Small children maneuver around me.

Often, I want to return to my old body
a body I also hated, but hate less

given knowledge.
Sometimes my friends—my friends

who are always beautiful & heartbroken
look at me like they know

I will die before them.
I think the life I want

is the life I have, but how can I be sure?
There are days when I give up on my body

but not the world. I am alive.
I know this. Alive now

to see the world, to see the river
rupture everything with its light.

Copyright © 2017 by Hieu Minh Nguyen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 27, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

The narrow clearing down to the river
I walk alone, out of breath

my body catching on each branch.
Small children maneuver around me.

Often, I want to return to my old body
a body I also hated, but hate less

given knowledge.
Sometimes my friends—my friends

who are always beautiful & heartbroken
look at me like they know

I will die before them.
I think the life I want

is the life I have, but how can I be sure?
There are days when I give up on my body

but not the world. I am alive.
I know this. Alive now

to see the world, to see the river
rupture everything with its light.

Copyright © 2017 by Hieu Minh Nguyen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 27, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Whatever happens with us, your body
will haunt mine—tender, delicate
your lovemaking, like the half-curled frond
of the fiddlehead fern in forests
just washed by sun. Your traveled, generous thighs
between which my whole face has come and come—
the innocence and wisdom of the place my tongue has found there—
the live, insatiate dance of your nipples in my mouth—
your touch on me, firm, protective, searching
me out, your strong tongue and slender fingers
reaching where I had been waiting years for you
in my rose-wet cave—whatever happens, this is.

“Floating Poem, Unnumbered” from “Twenty-One Love Poems,” from The Dream of a Common Language: Poems 1974–1977 by Adrienne Rich. Copyright © 1978 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Whether it’s true
that the moth mistakes the candle’s flame 
for the moon or the bioluminescent 
pheromones of another moth,

I can’t say.
I was the candle. 
I was the flame

conceived in and by reason of 
darkness, nibbling on a darkening wick. 
When moth after moth after moth 
swarmed me with their powdery wings,

I asked why. 
I asked how. 
I asked if

I could survive knowing
that not everything has a reason, 
that not everything is capable
of or interested in reason.

Nothing answered. 
Nothing spoke
my language of smoke.

Copyright © 2021 by Paul Tran. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 24, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

who hurt you here by the river
at the supermarket who hurt you
who saw you hurting who hurt
you who saw you hurting who
turned around and walked away

 

                          exit exit we must exit but how i have no
                          advice no direction but up and over and
                          swerve swerve the metal circle rusted and
                          dissolved on the side of the road it was left
                          after construction de stabilize meaning
                          and reinvent history but only if history
                          oppressed you six women naked in a hot
                          tub and we won't leave this house in the
                          country six women naked in a hot tub

 

we end it together so we can begin it
again we begin it was a different
rhythm we don't forget our fear we
were never afraid in the woods even
though we knew what was in the woods

 

we looking in the dirt
for something we all
putting our hands in the
dirt a gesture we saw
before somewhere on
someone she didn't
speak we didn't speak
to each other the forest
lit our hands a gesture

 

erase ignore separate
they say they tell us
they tell us to be an
individual that we can
be individuals we
cannot be individuals
any more

Copyright © 2021 by LA Warman. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 17, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

Between the bridge and the river
he falls through
a huge portion of night;
it is not as if falling

is something new. Over and over
he slipped into the gulf
between what he knew and how
he was known. What others wanted

opened like an abyss: the laughing
stock-clerks at the grocery, women
at the luncheonette amused by his gestures.
What could he do, live

with one hand tied
behind his back? So he began to fall
into the star-faced section
of night between the trestle

and the water because he could not meet
a little town's demands,
and his earrings shone and his wrists
were as limp as they were.

I imagine he took the insults in
and made of them a place to live;
we learn to use the names
because they are there,

familiar furniture: faggot
was the bed he slept in, hard
and white, but simple somehow,
queer something sharp

but finally useful, a tool,
all the jokes a chair,
stiff-backed to keep the spine straight,
a table, a lamp. And because

he's fallen for twenty-three years,
despite whatever awkwardness
his flailing arms and legs assume
he is beautiful

and like any good diver
has only an edge of fear
he transforms into grace.
Or else he is not afraid,

and in this way climbs back
up the ladder of his fall,
out of the river into the arms
of the three teenage boys

who hurled him from the edge -
really boys now, afraid,
their fathers' cars shivering behind them,
headlights on - and tells them

it's all right, that he knows
they didn't believe him
when he said he couldn't swim,
and blesses his killers

in the way that only the dead
can afford to forgive.

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

        for Jericho, with thanks to Carl Phillips

I like men who are cruel to me;
men who know how I will end;
men who, when they touch me,
fasten their shadows to my neck
then get out my face when certain
they haven’t much use for being seen.
I like men to be cruel to me.
Any men who build their bodies into
widths of doors I only walk through
once will do. There’s a difference
between entrances and exits I don’t
have much use for now. I’ve seen
what’s left behind after a hawk
has seized a smaller bird midair.
The feathers lay circled in prattle
with rotting crab apples, grasses passing
between the entrances and exits
of clover. The raptor, somewhere
over it, over it. Cruelty where?
The hell would grief go in a goshawk?
It’s enough to risk the open field,
its rotten crab apples, grasses passing
out like lock-kneed mourners in sun.
There I was, scoping, scavenging
the damage to drag mystery out of
a simple read: two animals wanted
life enough to risk the open field
and one of them took what it hunted.
Each one tells me he wants me
vulnerable. I already wrote that book.
The body text cleaved to the spine,
simple to read as two animals wanting
to see inside each other and one
pulling back a wing to offer—See?
Here—the fastest way in or out
and you knew how it would end.
You cleaved the body text to the spine
cause you read closely. You clock damage.
It was a door you walked through once
before pivoting toward a newer image of risk.

Copyright © 2020 by Justin Phillip Reed. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 10, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.