Bound to whims,
bred solely for
circuses of desire.
To hell with savannahs,
towns like Rosewood.

Domestics or domesticated,
one name or surnamed, creatures
the dominant ones can’t live without
would truly flourish
without such devious love,
golden corrals.

Harnessed. Muzzled.
Stocks and bonds. Chains
and whips held by hand. 
Ota Benga in a Bronx cage,
Saartjie Baartman on display—
funds sent to her village
didn’t make it okay. Harambe,
Tamir, Cecil, Freddie—names
of the hunted, captives
bleed together. The captors
beasts to all but themselves
and their own.

Two endangered beings in a moat
stare into each other’s eyes.

Slower than light, mercy
must not survive entry
into our atmosphere, never
reaching those who lose
unbridled lives
long before they die
in this world of zoos
and conquerors who treat
earthlings like aliens.

Copyright © 2016 by Kamilah Aisha Moon. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 21, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Maybe you’re not the featherweight champ
of all the cutthroat combat sports

(fifteen and pregnant
again)

but you’d convert your ring corner
into a slaughterhouse

before you’d inquire after human kindness.


In the humdrum flare outside the clinic
you wait for a ride, feel the spill at the tipping point

trickle down your inner thigh
as you bask in the post-industrial particulate

on your skin, ash
into a jasmine pot’s bituminous anchorage

so tacky it glows in a habitat that spent your body
long before it finished growing.

    
     Lynn! they lied to you

don’t you know?
Your womb will be the first thing to heal.

What you smell is pleasure, not the rot of the thing
amid the waste.

You will have babies.
You will write poems about flowers that turn on in darkness.
 

Copyright © 2016 by Lynn Melnick. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 22, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

How strange, how passing strange, when we awake
        And lift our faces to the light
To know that you are lying shut away
        Within the night.

How strange, how passing strange, when we lie down
        To sleep, to know that you are quite
Alone beneath the moon, the stars, the little leaves,
        Within the night.

How strange, how passing strange to know—our eyes
        Will gladden at the fine sweet sight
Of you no more, for now your face is hid
        Within the night.

Strange, strange indeed, these things to us appear
        And yet we know they must be right;
And though your body sleeps, your soul has passed
        Beyond the night.

Ah! friend, it must be sweet to slip from out
        The tears, the pain, the losing fight
Below, and rest, just rest eternally
        Beyond the night.

And sweet it must be too, to know the kiss
        Of Peace, of Peace, the pure, the white
And step beside her hand in hand quite close
        Beyond the night.
 

This poem is in the public domain. 

Great carnal mountains crouching in the cloud
That marrieth the young earth with a ring,
Yet still its thoughts builds heavenward, whence spring
Wee villages of vapor, sunset-proud.—
And to the meanest door hastes one pure-browed
White-fingered star, a little, childish thing,
The busy needle of her light to bring,
And stitch, and stitch, upon the dead day’s shroud.
Poises the sun upon his west, a spark
Superlative,—and dives beneath the world;
From the day’s fillets Night shakes out her locks;
List! One pure trembling drop of cadence purled—
“Summer!”—a meek thrush whispers to the dark.
Hark! the cold ripple sneering on the rocks!

This poem is in the public domain. 

The dead bird, color of a bruise,
and smaller than an eye
swollen shut,
is king among omens.

Who can blame the ants for feasting?

Let him cast the first crumb.

~

We once tended the oracles.

Now we rely on a photograph

a fingerprint
a hand we never saw

coming.

~

A man draws a chalk outline
first in his mind

around nothing

then around the body
of another man.

He does this without thinking.

~

What can I do about the white room I left
behind? What can I do about the great stones

I walk among now? What can I do

but sing.

Even a small cut can sing all day.

~

There are entire nights

                                I would take back.

Nostalgia is a thin moon,
                                                              disappearing

into a sky like cold,
                                          unfeeling iron.

~

I dreamed

you were a drowned man, crown
of phosphorescent, seaweed in your hair,

water in your shoes. I woke up desperate

for air.

~

In another dream, I was a field

and you combed through me
searching for something

you only thought you had lost.

~

What have we left at the altar of sorrow?

What blessed thing will we leave tomorrow?

Copyright © 2016 by Cecilia Llompart. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 26, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Another year is coming to an end
but my old t-shirts will not be back—

the pea-green one from Trinity College,
gunked with streaks of lawnmower grease,

the one with orange bat wings
from Diamond Cavern, Kentucky,

vanished
without a trace.

After a two-day storm I wander the beach
admiring the ocean’s lack of attachment.

I huddle beneath a seashell,
lonely as an exile.

My sadness is the sadness of water fountains.
My sadness is as ordinary as these gulls

importuning for Cheetos or scraps
of peanut butter sandwiches.

Feed them a single crust
and they will never leave you alone.

Copyright © 2016 by Campbell McGrath. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 28, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

What loin-cloth, what rag of wrong
Unpriced?
What turn of body, what of lust
Undiced?
So we’ve worshipped you a little
More than Christ.

This poem is in the public domain. 

Outside the rain upon the street,
        The sky all grim of hue,
Inside, the music–painful sweet,
        And yet I heard but you.

As is a thrilling violin,
        So is your voice to me,
And still above the other strains,
        It sang in ecstasy.
 

This poem is in the public domain. 

Locked in the beauty of the pearl, far from frail,
         these people who claim to love us still
they don’t give up much, do they, sealed? To eradicate class—
      the looking glass of it, the complex glare: “Let me introduce
xxx, impoverished poet.” Winter let up
     like a terrible religion. In its wake, a politics came,
      profane. You were on a train
from Philly to Mass. Winter let up like bands and globes
      and globules and I could feel the trade ships
in my bloodstream, the blood that made me,
        and I wanted to kill it
       really bad like a war path. They said my poems
         were a mess. Well, if that’s the case, then, go ahead.
Strike one match and the mansion will go up in its own ash,
in its obsession with accumulation against the glint of trees.

Copyright © 2016 by Sandra Simonds. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 3, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Bolt, thwarted vault, late brake,
gasp of impact, temblor of thud—
the beast drops on the blade of hood,
ribs rip from their roots, hearts seize,
the windshield goes dark as an eyelid
curtaining to a horizon of blood,
black glass laced with lightning—

I am hit with wheel, steel, doe
embracing me backward as speed
crushes me forward into
a bursting hug, sternums to spines,

past last words,
no extra second to follow the plan to tell
God I am sorry, no foxhole repentance,
no appeal to the fate-maker,
my sentence incomplete, a fragment, a run-on,

no scenes spun out so fast
that the brain convulses with conclusion and love—

I do not even think of you,
cough no torn word for you to live by—

I mesh corpse into carcass,
I am dead, dear,
I leave you my velocity
and there at the edge of the road
I give you my fawn.
 

Copyright © 2016 by David Groff. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 5, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

of water with a bed of rock barely visible
from your surface. You are the only dark body

of water in a desert littered with bleeding cactus.
At your collarbones you carry a gulch, held up by a thread

of hair. You travel days drinking only from yourself,
because you are this land’s only dark body

of water. At the crease of horizon you find a woman
in bed, her chest wet with saliva, you kick her

off the bed, and take her place among its sheets. A man
lies down in bed next to you. He swallows your dark body

of water and gives you a woman’s body, a body you’ve
never known. As a woman he gives you sores, and through

the sores you breathe, and despite the sores you give birth
to a child stillborn for lack of water. You kick the child off

the bed, but it returns in the arms of the woman whose bed
you stole. You cry to be made again into a dark body

of water. The man kicks you off the bed, covers you
with dirt, and turns you desert. You cry for a bed he will never

let you sleep in again. You cry for your body’s bed
of rock turned desert for lack of water.
 

Copyright © 2016 by Natalie Scenters-Zapico. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 6, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Desolate and lone
All night long on the lake
Where fog trails and mist creeps,
The whistle of a boat
Calls and cries unendingly,
Like some lost child
In tears and trouble
Hunting the harbor’s breast
And the harbor’s eyes.

This poem is in the public domain. 

I knew not who had wrought with skill so fine
    What I beheld; nor by what laws of art
    He had created life and love and heart
On canvas, from mere color, curve and line.
Silent I stood and made no move or sign;
    Not with the crowd, but reverently apart;
    Nor felt the power my rooted limbs to start,
But mutely gazed upon that face divine.

And over me the sense of beauty fell,
    As music over a raptured listener to
        The deep-voiced organ breathing out a hymn;
Or as on one who kneels, his beads to tell,
    There falls the aureate glory filtered through
        The windows in some old cathedral dim.

This poem is in the public domain. 

       Mother of flames,
       The men that went ahunting
Are asleep in the snow drifts.
       You have kept the fire burning!
Crooked fingers that pull
Fuel from among the wet leaves,
       Mother of flames
       You have kept the fire burning!
The young wives have fallen asleep
With wet hair, weeping,
       Mother of flames!
The young men raised the heavy spears
And are gone prowling in the darkness.
       O mother of flames,
       You who have kept the fire burning!
       Lo, I am helpless!
Would God they had taken me with them!

This poem is in the public domain. 

And you remember, in the afternoon
The sea and the sky went grey, as if there had sunk
A flocculent dust on the floor of the world: the festoon
Of the sky sagged dusty as spider cloth,
And coldness clogged the sea, till it ceased to croon.

A dank, sickening scent came up from the grime
Of weed that blackened the shore, so that I recoiled
Feeling the raw cold dun me: and all the time
You leapt about on the slippery rocks, and threw
Me words that rang with a brassy, shallow chime.

And all day long, that raw and ancient cold
Deadened me through, till the grey downs dulled to sleep.
Then I longed for you with your mantle of love to fold
Me over, and drive from out of my body the deep
Cold that had sunk to my soul, and there kept hold.

But still to me all evening long you were cold,
And I was numb with a bitter, deathly ache;
Till old days drew me back into their fold,
And dim hopes crowded me warm with companionship,
And memories clustered me close, and sleep was cajoled.

And I slept till dawn at the window blew in like dust,
Like a linty, raw-cold dust disturbed from the floor
Of the unswept sea; a grey pale light like must
That settled upon my face and hands till it seemed
To flourish there, as pale mould blooms on a crust.

And I rose in fear, needing you fearfully.
For I thought you were warm as a sudden jet of blood.
I thought I could plunge in your living hotness, and be
Clean of the cold and the must. With my hand on the latch
I heard you in your sleep speak strangely to me.

And I dared not enter, feeling suddenly dismayed.
So I went and washed my deadened flesh in the sea
And came back tingling clean, but worn and frayed
With cold, like the shell of the moon; and strange it seems
That my love can dawn in warmth again, unafraid.

This poem is in the public domain. 

                          is dark
a neglected mansion

with vanishing court
rats in the empty pool

and antiquated actress
languishing

as ghost of her famous self
flickers in the projector’s beam

or framed in silver
haunts every room

Face unrecognizable?
Name forgotten?

O float me to Oblivion
in my swan bed

with my bandaged wrists
and doors shorn of locks

with swirl of my cigarette smoke
and glitter of my jewels

and silent flutter
of my weightless tulle
 

Copyright © 2016 by David Trinidad. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 7, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

The sense of the world is short,—
Long and various the report,—
              To love and be beloved;
Men and gods have not outlearned it;
And, how oft soe’er they’ve turned it,
              ’Tis not to be improved.

This poem is in the public domain. 

She daily effuses
the close-mouthed
tantrum of her fevers.

Hog-tied and lunatic.                         
Born toothsome, 
unholy. Born uppity.        
    
Blue-jawed and out-order.   
Watched her sculptor                   
split her bitter seam        
              
with his scalding knife;
mauled through the errant                
flesh of her nature

and hemorrhaged mercury, 
molted snakeroot, a smoke           
of weeping silver. 
 
She, accused.
Sprung from the head 
of a thousand-fisted

wretch or a blood-dark                                   
cosmos undoubling
her bound body.  
                   
Vexed shrew. Blight of moon.         
She, armory. Pitched-milk pours
from her gold oracular.

Bred in her nest a lone                          
grenade, prized, unpried
its force-ripe wound.

She, disease. Often bruised
to brush the joy of anything.
Zombic. Un-groomed.      

Her night slinks open 
its sliding pin. One by one
these loose hopes

harpoon themselves
in, small-ghosts alighting
at her unwhoring.    

She, infirmary.
God’s swallowed
lantern, tar-hair and thick.

Her black torchstruck.
A kindling stick.
No sinkle-bible fix

to cure this burning.
Shrill hell. Jezebel.

Isn’t it lonely.

Copyright © 2016 by Safiya Sinclair. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 15, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

All the complicated details
of the attiring and
the disattiring are completed!
A liquid moon
moves gently among
the long branches.
Thus having prepared their buds
against a sure winter
the wise trees
stand sleeping in the cold.

This poem is in the public domain.

Now each of us is
a witness stand:

Vasenka watches us watch four soldiers throw Alfonso Barabinski on the sidewalk.
We let them take him, all of us cowards.

What we don’t say
we carry in our suitcases, coat pockets, our nostrils.

Across the street they wash him with fire hoses. First he screams,
then he stops.

So much sunlight—
a t-shirt falls off a clothes line and an old man stops, picks it up, presses it to his face.

Neighbors line up to watch him thrown on a sidewalk like a vaudeville act: Ta Da.
In so much sunlight—

how each of us
is a witness stand:

They take Alfonso
And no one stands up. Our silence stands up for us.
 

Copyright © 2017 by Ilya Kaminsky. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 6, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

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

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

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

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.

Besides,
They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

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.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

This poem is in the public domain.

I know you know
how to shame into obedience
the long chain tethering lawnmower
to fence. And in your garden
are no chrysanthemums, no hem
of lace from the headscarf
I loose for him at my choosing.
Around my throat still twines a thin line
from when, in another life, I was
guillotined. I know you know
how to slap a child across the face
with a sandal.
Forgive me. I love when he tells me to be
the water you siphon into the roots
of your trees. In that life,
I was your enemy and silverleaf.  
In this one, the child you struck was me.

Copyright © 2017 by Tarfia Faizullah. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 6, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

There was a time when in late afternoon
    The four-o’clocks would fold up at day’s close
Pink-white in prayer, and ’neath the floating moon
    I lay with them in calm and sweet repose.

And in the open spaces I could sleep,
    Half-naked to the shining worlds above;
Peace came with sleep and sleep was long and deep,
    Gained without effort, sweet like early love.

But now no balm—nor drug nor weed nor wine—
    Can bring true rest to cool my body’s fever,
Nor sweeten in my mouth the acid brine,
    That salts my choicest drink and will forever.

This poem is in the public domain. 

How swift, how far
the sea
carries a body from shore.

Empires fail, species are lost,
spotted frogs
and tufted puffins forsaken.

After eons of fauna and flora, hominids have stood
for mere years
baffled brains atop battered shoulders.

In a murky blanket of heavens
an icy planet
made of diamond spins.

Our sun winks like the star
it was
billions of years ago, without ambition.

We bury bodies in shallow dirt, heedless of lacking space
or how long
our makeshift planet will host us.

Copyright © 2017 by Risa Denenberg. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 10, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

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.

To sin by silence, when we should protest,
Makes cowards out of men. The human race
Has climbed on protest. Had no voice been raised
Against injustice, ignorance, and lust,
The inquisition yet would serve the law,
And guillotines decide our least disputes.
The few who dare, must speak and speak again
To right the wrongs of many. Speech, thank God,
No vested power in this great day and land
Can gag or throttle. Press and voice may cry
Loud disapproval of existing ills;
May criticise oppression and condemn
The lawlessness of wealth-protecting laws
That let the children and childbearers toil
To purchase ease for idle millionaires.

Therefore I do protest against the boast
Of independence in this mighty land.
Call no chain strong, which holds one rusted link.
Call no land free, that holds one fettered slave.
Until the manacled slim wrists of babes
Are loosed to toss in childish sport and glee,
Until the mother bears no burden, save
The precious one beneath her heart, until
God’s soil is rescued from the clutch of greed
And given back to labor, let no man
Call this the land of freedom.

This poem is in the public domain. 

Not many passions take your pants off—
painting with oils, reading in the afternoon,
other people’s bodies. I want to really
say something here. I want to be clear.

But just as no two people see the same
colors, what you hear is not what I’m
saying. Not conversations as much as
serial misunderstandings, proximate
in space. One considers the dictionary
definition of “man.” One considers
the definition of “woman.” One considers
arm hair, soft spaces on a hot body.

The obsessive heat-seeking quality of
attraction. The paint on my pinkie is for
you—a little poison, a little turpentine.
The snaggletooth I want to stick my
tongue into. This is pigment from a rock,
this is pigment from a bug, this is pigment
from a bleeding heart, and this is jeopardy. 

Passion brought me here, but passion
cannot save me. To mix linseed and
varnish, to create something is to vanish
what was there before. Chroma for fastness,
chemistry tricks. Such bold strokes in
erasing and framing delicate beginnings.
 

Copyright © 2017 by Erika Jo Brown. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 1, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

The breaking dead leaves ’neath my feet
A plaintive melody repeat,
Recalling shattered hopes that lie
As relics of a bygone sky.

Again I thread the mazy past,
Back where the mounds are scattered fast—
Oh! foolish tears, why do you start,
To break of dead leaves in the heart?

This poem is in the public domain. 

In god’s gleaming empire, herds of triceratops
lunge up on their hind legs to somersault
around the plains. The angels lie in the sun
using straight pins to eat hollyhocks. Mostly
they just rub their bellies and hum quietly

to themselves, but the few sentences
they do utter come out as perfect poems.
Here on earth we blather constantly, and
all we say is divided between combat
and seduction. Combat: I understand you perfectly. 
Seduction: Next time don’t say so out loud.
Here the perfect poem eats its siblings

in the womb like a sand shark or a star turning
black hole, then saunters into the world
daring us to stay mad. We know most of our
universe is missing. The perfect poem knows
where it went. The perfect poem is no bigger
than a bear. Its birthday hat comes with
a black veil which prattles on and on about

comet ash and the ten thousand buds of
the tongue. Like people and crows, the
perfect poem can remember faces and hold
grudges. It keeps its promises. The perfect
poem is not gold or lead or a garden gate
locked shut or a sail slapping in a storm.
The perfect poem is its own favorite toy.

It is not a state of mind or a kind of doubt
or a good or bad habit or a flower of any
color. It will not be available to answer
questions. The perfect poem is light as dust
on a bat’s wing, lonely as a single flea.

Copyright © 2017 by Kaveh Akbar. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 3, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

The orchard was on fire, but that didn’t stop him from slowly walking
straight into it, shirtless, you can see where the flames have
foliaged—here, especially—his chest. Splashed by the moon,
it almost looks like the latest proof that, while decoration is hardly
ever necessary, it’s rarely meaningless: the tuxedo’s corsage,
fog when lit scatteredly, swift, from behind—swing of a torch, the lone
match, struck, then wind-shut…How far is instinct from a thing
like belief? Not far, apparently. At what point is believing so close
to knowing, that any difference between the two isn’t worth the fuss,
finally? A tamer of wolves tames no foxes, he used to say, as if avoiding
the question. But never meaning to. You broke it. Now wear it broken.

Copyright © 2017 by Carl Phillips. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 6, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

for Page
Poetry makes nothing happen
—W. H. Auden

the people in the streets
are plucked up like
radishes from dark earth,
heads beat the purplish-red
of ripeness. the women lead
the stupid & brutish to a
future they don’t deserve.
the organized are still
unbearably human, they
still fuck & hurt & harm
& are not actually sorry.
the people still fight
each other too much &
the system not enough
& too often it is not a fight
but a bullet. too many men
want to be in the front
& don’t want to march
anywhere in particular.
some of us have degrees
& noses to look down. 
so many want a version
of old days that never
existed. many are still unwilling
to grow a vocabulary for personhood,
even from the words already in them.
so many will deny they to a sibling
simply because. our people are
messy & messed up & a mess.
nothing about our people is romantic
& it shouldn’t be. our people deserve
poetry without meter. we deserve our
own jagged rhythm & our own uneven
walk toward sun. you make happening happen.
we happen to love. this is our greatest
action. 

Copyright © 2017 by Nate Marshall. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 12, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

I tried to put a bird in a cage.
                O fool that I am!
         For the bird was Truth.
Sing merrily, Truth: I tried to put
                 Truth in a cage!

And when I had the bird in the cage,
                 O fool that I am!
          Why, it broke my pretty cage.
Sing merrily, Truth: I tried to put
                  Truth in a cage!

And when the bird was flown from the cage,
                  O fool that I am!
            Why, I had nor bird nor cage.
Sing merrily, Truth: I tried to put
                   Truth in a cage!
             Heigh-ho! Truth in a cage.

 

This poem is in the public domain. 

Why do the lilies goggle their tongues at me
When I pluck them;
And writhe, and twist,
And strangle themselves against my fingers,
So that I can hardly weave the garland
For your hair?
Why do they shriek your name
And spit at me
When I would cluster them?
Must I kill them
To make them lie still,
And send you a wreath of lolling corpses
To turn putrid and soft
On your forehead
While you dance?

This poem is in the public domain. 

When Beauty and Beauty meet
   All naked, fair to fair,
The earth is crying-sweet,
   And scattering-bright the air,
Eddying, dizzying, closing round,
   With soft and drunken laughter;
Veiling all that may befall
   After—after—

Where Beauty and Beauty met,
   Earth’s still a-tremble there,
And winds are scented yet,
   And memory-soft the air,
Bosoming, folding glints of light,
   And shreds of shadowy laughter;
Not the tears that fill the years
   After—after—
 

This poem is in the public domain. 

always the hopeless asked to give others hope
the ones pushed up against wall after wall

when you’re done unpinning yourself
from the wall, please give hope

those who work twice as hard to seem half as good
being asked to do one more thing

we need to be seen
because things are not going well
and the crows are up to no good
 

Copyright © 2017 by Ali Liebegott. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 20, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

If space and time, as sages say,
    Are things which cannot be,
The fly that lives a single day
    Has lived as long as we.
But let us live while yet we may,
    While love and life are free,
For time is time, and runs away,
    Though sages disagree.

The flowers I sent thee when the dew
    Was trembling on the vine,
Were withered ere the wild bee flew
    To suck the eglantine.
But let us haste to pluck anew
    Nor mourn to see them pine,
And though the flowers of love be few
    Yet let them be divine.
 

This poem is in the public domain. 

As in some demented romantic comedy,
my wife and I divided the apartment in half.

She took the living room and I took the bedroom.
Bivouacked and bleeding, we waited for the lawyer

to finish the stipulation so we could sign
the pages and crawl away forever.

I lived in her midst like an alien species.
The exclusion zone sizzled like wet lightning

when I whispered to outsiders on the house phone.
Then came the morning of my departure:

I awoke in civil twilight with my wife standing
over me, looking down into my pallid face.

For half a second, I thought she might strike me,
but she grasped my hand and squeezed it goodbye,

an astonishing tenderness glistening in her eyes,
one final gift in all that pain and murderous détente,

all that wailing and mortification of the flesh.
On the way to the gallows of divorce,

she held a merciful cup of clemency to my lips,
and I drank deeply, I drank so deeply

that I forgot what I’d done to deserve her.

Copyright © 2017 by Jerry Williams. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 23, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

I walked down alone Sunday after church
   To the place where John has been cutting trees
To see for myself about the birch
   He said I could have to bush my peas.

The sun in the new-cut narrow gap
   Was hot enough for the first of May,
And stifling hot with the odor of sap
   From stumps still bleeding their life away.

The frogs that were peeping a thousand shrill
   Wherever the ground was low and wet,
The minute they heard my step went still
   To watch me and see what I came to get.

Birch boughs enough piled everywhere!—
   All fresh and sound from the recent axe.
Time someone came with cart and pair
   And got them off the wild flower’s backs.

They might be good for garden things
   To curl a little finger round,
The same as you seize cat’s-cradle strings,
   And lift themselves up off the ground.

Small good to anything growing wild,
   They were crooking many a trillium
That had budded before the boughs were piled
   And since it was coming up had to come.
 

This poem is in the public domain. 

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

This poem is in the public domain.

In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter—bitter,” he answered;

“But I like it
“Because it is bitter,
“And because it is my heart.”
 

This poem is in the public domain. 

“We can no longer afford that particular romance.”
—James Baldwin

Brother Rickey halts me before I cross East
Capitol. He trumpets that we are at war.

I want to admit that I don’t believe in “white”
—in the manner that Baldwin did not—but Brother

Rickey would simply retort that my disbelief
is no immunity from the imaginations of those

who think themselves “white.” As we await
the stoplight’s shift—so I may walk and he may

holler “Final Call!” between lanes of idle traffic—
I think of race as something akin to climate change,

a force we don’t have to believe in for it to kill us.
I once believed in the seasons. (I fantasize

fall as Brother Rickey’s favorite—when his suits,
boxy and plaid, would be neither too hot nor

thin.) But we are losing spring and fall—tripping
from blaze to frost and back. And what’s to say

we won’t soon shed another season, one of these
remaining two, and live on either an Earth

of molten streets or one of frozen light? That’s when
worlds end, no—when, after we’ve eradicated

ourselves, we become faint fossils to be exhumed
by the curiosities of whichever life-forms follow

our reign? I still owe Brother Rickey two dollars
for the paper he last placed in my hand, calling me

“soldier.” I don’t have to believe that I am enlisted
in order to understand he’ll forgive my debt

so long as this idea of “whiteness” sorties above us—
ultraviolet, obliging an aseasonal, unending deployment.

Released by the signal, I advance—my head down,
straining to discern the crossfire from the cover.
 

Copyright © 2017 by Kyle Dargan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 22, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Forty years—aye, and several more—ago,
      When I paced the headlands loosed from dull employ,
The waves huzza’d like a multitude below, 
      In the sway of an all-including joy
              Without cloy.

Blankly I walked there a double decade after,
      When thwarts had flung their toils in front of me,
And I heard the waters wagging in a long ironic laughter
      At the lot of men, and all the vapoury
              Things that be.

Wheeling change has set me again standing where
      Once I heard the waves huzza at Lammas-tide;
But they supplicate now—like a congregation there
      Who murmur the Confession—I outside,
              Prayer denied.

This poem is in the public domain. 

Mysterious shapes, with wands of joy and pain,
Which seize us unaware in helpless sleep,
And lead us to the houses where we keep
Our secrets hid, well barred by every chain
That we can forge and bind: the crime whose stain
Is slowly fading ’neath the tears we weep;
Dead bliss which, dead, can make our pulses leap—
Oh, cruelty! To make these live again!
They say that death is sleep, and heaven’s rest
Ends earth’s short day, as, on the last faint gleam
Of sun, our nights shut down, and we are blest.
Let this, then, be of heaven’s joy the test,
The proof if heaven be, or only seem,
That we forever choose what we will dream!

This poem is in the public domain. 

This is what life is really like.
This is what life is really like.
This is what life is really like every day.

  
—Gray Parrot, Vienna, 1943.


In the circus animals’ diary: “And all this was destroyed in ninety minutes.”
Makeshift forests flaming to high heavens, metal bent bars.
Siberian tigers, black panthers, jaguars, pumas,
bears, hyenas and wolves, and all the lion pit saved from burning
by the keepers’ own hands. By bullets. Only so much can be said.
Herbage will be scarce. Nature will gather like sleeping poppies
over the craters and lost species.
The African wart-hog will be cooked over an open fire in the garden.
One thinks of one’s restlessness, Faustian—
in the minutes-before-dawn dark
with the devil cry of black crows, the miry skull
of the half-eaten rabbit, then gold grimy hills
and light-making jewels and hand mirrors among the trees.
Why are you here? It dawns. All this will never be again.
The circus can’t be locked. 
 

Copyright © 2017 by Carol Frost. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 24, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

when did we become friends?
it happened so gradual i didn’t notice
maybe i had to get my run out first
take a big bite of the honky world and choke on it
maybe that’s what has to happen with some uppity youngsters
if it happens at all

and now
the thought stark and irrevocable
of being here without you
shakes me

beyond love, fear, regret or anger
into that realm children go
who want to care for/protect their parents
as if they could
and sometimes the lucky ones do

into the realm of making every moment
important
laughing as though laughter wards off death
each word given
received like spanish eight

treasure to bury within
against that shadow day
when it will be the only coin i possess
with which to buy peace of mind

From Heavy Daughter Blues by Wanda Coleman. Copyright © 1987 by Wanda Coleman. Reprinted by permission of Black Sparrow Press, an imprint of David R. Godine, Publisher.

To think that my eyes once could draw your eyes down for a moment,
    From their lifting and straining up toward the opulent heights— 
To think that my face was the face you liked best once to look on,
    When fairer ones softened to pleading ’neath shimmering lights! 

Regret you? Not I! I am glad that your proud heart disowned me,
    The while it was lying so sullenly under my feet; 
Since Love was to you but a snare and a pain, and you knew not
    Its height and its depth, all unsounded, and soundless, and sweet. 

Too dark was the shadow that fell from your face bending over me—
    Too hot was the pant of your breath on the spring of my cheek! 
I but dimly divined, yet I shrank from the warring of passions
    So strong that they circled and shook me while leaving you weak. 

Acknowledge! You knew not aright if you loved me or hated;
    But you pushed me aside, since I hindered your seeing the heights. 
They were but the cold, barren peaks up which selfish sould clamber,
    And for which they surrender the gardens of scented delights. 

From where I am sitting I watch your lone steps going upward,
    And to-night I am back in those nights that we knew at the start.
I think of your eyes dark with pain, full of thwarted caressings,
    And suddenly, after these years, from my hold slips my heart! 

But no matter! There’s too much between us—we cannot go back now
    I’m glad of it!—yes, I will say it right on to the end!— 
I’m glad that my once sore-reluctant, tempestuous lover
    Hasn’t leisure nor heart now to be my most leisurely friend! 

My lover! Why how you would fling me the word back in fury!
    Remembering you loved me at arms’ length, in spite of denial; 
That the protests were double: each went from the struggle unconquered:
    The hour of soft, silken compliance was not on our dial. 

You were angry for loving me, all in despite of your reasoning—
     I was angry because you were able to hold your love down; 
And jealous—because in the scales of your logic you weighed me,
    And slighted me for the dry bread of a sordid renown. 

So I laughed at your loving—I laughed in the teeth of your passion;
    And I made myself fair, but to stand in you light from sheer malice;
Delighting to hold up the brim to the lips that were thirsting,
    While I scorned to let fall on their dryness one drop from the chalice!

Alas, for the lips that are strange to the sweetness of kisses—
    The kisses we dream of, and cry for, and think on in dying! 
Alas, for unspoken endearments that stifle the breathing;
    Since such in the depths of two hearts, never wedded, are lying! 

You say, “It is best!” but I know that you catch your breath fiercely.
    I say, “It is best!” but a sob struggles up from my bosom; 
For out of a million of flowers that our fingers are free of,
    The one that we care for the most is the never-plucked blossom.

Yet, O, my Unbroken, my strong one—too strong for my breaking!—
    I am glad of the hours when we warred with each other and Love:
Though you never drew nearer than once when your hair swept my fingers
    And their touch flushed your cheek as you bent at my side for my glove. 

Never mind! I felt kisses that broke through the bitterest sayings.
    Never mind! since caresses were hid under looks that were proud.
Shall we say there’s no moon when she leaves her dear earth in the shadow
    And hides all her light in the breast of some opportune cloud? 

Yet this germ of a love—could it ever have bourgeoned to fulness?—
    For us could there ever have been a sereneness of bliss, 
With the thorns overtopping our flowers, turning fondness to soreness?
    Ah, no! ’twas a thousand times better it ended like this! 

And yet, if I went to you now in the stress of your toiling—
    If we stood but one moment alone while I looked in your eyes— 
What a melting of ice there would be! What a quickening of currents!
    What thrills of despairing delight betwixt claspings and cries!

This poem is in the public domain.

The average mother loses 700 hours of sleep in the first year of her child’s life; or, what that first year taught me about America.

 

Most of us favor one side when we walk. As we tire,
we lean into that side and stop moving in a straight line—
                        so it takes longer to get anywhere,
let alone home.

                        In wilderness conditions,
            where people don’t know the terrain,
a tired person might end up leaning so far into one side
            they’ll walk in a circle rather than straight ahead.

It can kill you, such leaning
                        —and it can get you killed.

                                               
                                                Rest helps.

                                                                        I told my husband,

I walked in a circle in my mind but you came out okay.

                        Initially, he asked me to clarify,
            but then he let it go.

Who wrote that first If You Lived Here You’d Be Home by Now sign? 

                        It seems I’m going to have to move.

            I am tired and also sick
of helping other people in lieu of helping myself.

                        Rest now.

It's really not that bad: we’re in the home stretch.

            That’s the mind of a parent.
Relentless optimism in the face of sheer panic
                                                                        and exhaustion.

Copyright © 2018 by Camille T. Dungy. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 28, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Now, dear, it isn’t the bold things,
Great deeds of valour and might,
That count the most in the summing up of life at the end of the day.
But it is the doing of old things,
Small acts that are just and right;
And doing them over and over again, no matter what others say;
In smiling at fate, when you want to cry, and in keeping at work when you want to play—
Dear, those are the things that count.

And, dear, it isn’t the new ways
Where the wonder-seekers crowd
That lead us into the land of content, or help us to find our own.
But it is keeping to true ways,
Though the music is not so loud,
And there may be many a shadowed spot where we journey along alone;
In flinging a prayer at the face of fear, and in changing into a song a groan—
Dear, these are the things that count.

My dear, it isn’t the loud part
Of creeds that are pleasing to God,
Not the chant of a prayer, or the hum of a hymn, or a jubilant shout or song.
But it is the beautiful proud part
Of walking with feet faith-shod;
And in loving, loving, loving through all, no matter how things go wrong;
In trusting ever, though dark the day, and in keeping your hope when the way seems long—
Dear, these are the things that count.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 3, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

In a dream I spoke with the Cyprus-born,
      And said to her,
"Mother of beauty, mother of joy,
Why hast thou given to men


"This thing called love, like the ache of a wound
      In beauty's side,
To burn and throb and be quelled for an hour
And never wholly depart?"

And the daughter of Cyprus said to me,
      "Child of the earth,
Behold, all things are born and attain,
But only as they desire,—

"The sun that is strong, the gods that are wise,
     The loving heart,
Deeds and knowledge and beauty and joy,—
But before all else was desire."

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on July 7, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

They’re both convinced
that a sudden passion joined them.
Such certainty is beautiful,
but uncertainty is more beautiful still.

Since they’d never met before, they’re sure
that there’d been nothing between them.
But what’s the word from the streets, staircases, hallways—
perhaps they’ve passed by each other a million times?

I want to ask them
if they don’t remember—
a moment face to face
in some revolving door?
perhaps a “sorry” muttered in a crowd?
a curt “wrong number” caught in the receiver?—
but I know the answer.
No, they don’t remember.

They’d be amazed to hear
that Chance has been toying with them
now for years.

Not quite ready yet
to become their Destiny,
it pushed them close, drove them apart,
it barred their path,
stifling a laugh,
and then leaped aside.

There were signs and signals,
even if they couldn’t read them yet.
Perhaps three years ago
or just last Tuesday
a certain leaf fluttered
from one shoulder to another?
Something was dropped and then picked up.
Who knows, maybe the ball that vanished
into childhood’s thicket?

There were doorknobs and doorbells
where one touch had covered another
beforehand.
Suitcases checked and standing side by side.
One night, perhaps, the same dream,
grown hazy by morning.

Every beginning
is only a sequel, after all,
and the book of events
is always open halfway through.

"Love at First Sight" from MAP: Collected and Last Poems by Wislawa Szymborska, translated from Polish by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak. Copyright © 2015 by The Wislawa Szymborska Foundation. English copyright © 2015 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Temples he built and palaces of air,
   And, with the artist’s parent-pride aglow,
   His fancy saw his vague ideals grow
Into creations marvelously fair;
He set his foot upon Fame’s nether stair.
   But ah, his dream,—it had entranced him so
   He could not move. He could no farther go;
But paused in joy that he was even there!

He did not wake until one day there gleamed
   Thro’ his dark consciousness a light that racked
His being till he rose, alert to act.
But lo! What he had dreamed, the while he dreamed,
   Another, wedding action unto thought,
   Into the living, pulsing world had brought. 

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on July 29, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

A young man learns to shoot
& dies in the mud
an ocean away from home,
a rifle in his fingers
& the sky dripping
from his heart. Next to him
a friend watches
his final breath slip
ragged into the ditch,
a thing the friend will carry
back to America—
wound, souvenir,
backstory. He’ll teach 
literature to young people
for 40 years. He’ll coach
his daughters’ softball teams. 
Root for Red Wings
& Lions & Tigers. Dance
well. Love generously. 
He’ll be quick with a joke
& firm with handshakes.
He’ll rarely talk
about the war. If asked
he’ll tell you instead
his favorite story:
Odysseus escaping
from the Cyclops
with a bad pun & good wine
& a sharp stick.
It’s about buying time
& making do, he’ll say. 
It’s about doing what it takes 
to get home, & you see 
he has been talking 
about the war all along.
We all want the same thing
from this world:
Call me nobody. Let me live.

Copyright © 2019 by Amorak Huey. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 20, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

turns out
there are more planets than stars
more places to land
than to be burned

I have always been in love with
last chances especially 
now that they really do 
seem like last chances

the trill of it all upending
what’s left of my head
after we explode

are you ready to ascend
in the morning I will take you
on the wing

Copyright © 2019 by D. A. Powell. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 28, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

When, at the end, the children wanted
to add glitter to their valentines, I said no.

I said nope, no, no glitter, and then,
when they started to fuss, I found myself

saying something my brother’s football coach
used to bark from the sidelines when one

of his players showed signs of being
human: oh come on now, suck it up.

That’s what I said to my children.
Suck what up? my daughter asked,

and, because she is so young, I told her
I didn’t know and never mind, and she took

that for an answer. My children are so young
when I turn off the radio as the news turns

to counting the dead or naming the act,
they aren’t even suspicious. My children

are so young they cannot imagine a world
like the one they live in. Their God is still

a real God, a whole God, a God made wholly
of actions. And I think they think I work

for that God. And I know they will someday soon
see everything and they will know about

everything and they will no longer take
never mind for an answer. The valentines

would’ve been better with glitter, and my son
hurt himself on an envelope, and then, much

later, when we were eating dinner, my daughter
realized she’d forgotten one of the three

Henrys in her class. How can there be three Henrys
in one class? I said, and she said, Because there are.

And so, before bed we took everything out
again—paper and pens and stamps and scissors—

and she sat at the table with her freshly washed hair
parted smartly down the middle and wrote

WILL YOU BE MINE, HENRY T.? and she did it
so carefully, I could hardly stand to watch.

Copyright © 2019 by Carrie Fountain. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 13, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

There is a faith that weakly dies 
When overcast by clouds of doubt, 
That like a blazing wisp of straw 
A vagrant breeze will flicker out. 

Be mine the faith whose living flame 
Shall pierce the clouds and banish night, 
Whose glow the hurricanes increase
To match the gleams of heaven’s night. 

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

It is easy to erase it—a touch of the delete key on this keyboard. Barely moving my finger. Versus how much intention it took to use the eraser on a pencil, to flip the pencil around my thumb and scrub out the lead etched on the paper.

Stone and rain laugh at me. The amount of time it takes to get marks out of stone (gouges, rough edges, grooves) by rubbing them with water.

Copyright © 2019 by Todd Fredson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 29, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

The rising sun had crowned the hills,
            And added beauty to the plain;
O grand and wondrous spectacle!
            That only nature could explain.

I stood within a leafy grove,
            And gazed around in blissful awe;
The sky appeared one mass of blue,
            That seemed to spread from sea to shore.

Far as the human eye could see,
            Were stretched the fields of waving corn.
Soft on my ear the warbling birds
            Were heralding the birth of morn.

While here and there a cottage quaint
            Seemed to repose in quiet ease
Amid the trees, whose leaflets waved
            And fluttered in the passing breeze.

O morning hour! so dear thy joy,
            And how I longed for thee to last;
But e’en thy fading into day
            Brought me an echo of the past.

 ‘Twas this,—how fair my life began;
            How pleasant was its hour of dawn;
But, merging into sorrow’s day,
            Then beauty faded with the morn.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on November 23, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets. 

The wind shrills forth 
From the white cold North 
Where the gates of the Storm-god are; 
And ragged clouds, 
Like mantling shrouds,
Engulf the last, dim star. 

Through naked trees, 
In low coulees, 
The night-voice moans and sighs; 
And sings of deep, 
Warm cradled sleep, 
With wind-crooned lullabies. 

He stands alone 
Where the storm’s weird tone
In mocking swells; 
And the snow-sharp breath 
Of cruel Death 
The tales of its coming tells. 

The frightened plaint
Of his sheep sound faint
Then the choking wall of white—
Then is heard no more, 
In the deep-toned roar, 
Of the blinding, pathless night. 

No light nor guide,
Save a mighty tide
Of mad fear drives him on;
‘Till his cold-numbed form 
Grows strangely warm;
And the strength of his limbs is gone. 

Through the storm and night
A strange, soft light 
O’er the sleeping shepherd gleams;
And he hears the word 
Of the Shepherd Lord 
Called out from the bourne of dreams. 

Come, leave the strife 
Of your weary life;
Come unto Me and rest 
From the night and cold, 
To the sheltered fold,
By the hand of love caressed. 

The storm shrieks on,
But its work is done—
A soul to its God has fled;
And the wild refrain 
Of the wind-swept plain, 
Sings requiem for the dead.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on November 17, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

We can not tell what happiness 
We might on earth possess 
If in singleness of heart 
We would strive to act a proper part. 
‘Tis true we see the effects of sin
All without and all within. 
We long may live a life in vain, 
Much good possess, but still complain. 
We may appear to other eyes, 
To be extremely rich and wise; 
But if our hearts are not right, 
Life will not be beautiful and bright. 
Oh! may our life, day by day, 
In love and duty pass away; 
And at last when our bodies die, 
We may live in that world above the sky; 
Where free from sin, death and pain, 
The good will meet and love again. 

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on November 16, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.