Our heart wanders lost in the dark woods.
Our dream wrestles in the castle of doubt.
But there’s music in us. Hope is pushed down
but the angel flies up again taking us with her.
The summer mornings begin inch by inch
while we sleep, and walk with us later
as long-legged beauty through
the dirty streets. It is no surprise 
that danger and suffering surround us.
What astonishes is the singing.
We know the horses are there in the dark
meadow because we can smell them,
can hear them breathing. 
Our spirit persists like a man struggling 
through the frozen valley
who suddenly smells flowers
and realizes the snow is melting
out of sight on top of the mountain,
knows that spring has begun.

From Collected Poems by Jack Gilbert. Copyright © 2012 by Jack Gilbert. Reprinted with permission of Alfred A. Knopf. All rights reserved.

A double golden shovel

C’mon in, out of that wretched hot, out of the hammer of heat, c’mon! 
Baby, don’t you let these blistering Chi streets put the dead on you. Baby,
don’t you hear that gravel groan, all those wails of been-done-wrong, don’t
you wanna dance, just once, with your backside ’gainst the floor? Don’t you
want to know how grown folk handle heartbroke? You know the boys want
to see all your sugarbottom dripping off a piece of barstool, they want to
go a little crazy with a lotta you on the dance floor. Loose that swivel! Go!
C’mon, sidle on up to the Alabama man on the mic, give him that come-on, 
baby, make him play that brown liquor song that ain’t got no bottom— Baby,
don’t go, please don’t go, he screeches, hurt all up in his neck. Please don’t
you leave me, woman!
And like a blue man do, he already knows what you 
want, how you want it. You want to suffer to the roots of your wig, you want
to break the last written rules in the pulpit of this wicked church, you want to
go wallow in the nasty and the necessary, where every way out is alley, go
back to the west side and lunches of improbable pig, you want to go back 
to being a bowlegged goddess only a kingdom like Chicago could love. To
that, and to you, we raise our jelly jars brimming with hootch. You’re that
same woman who makes men know their knees. Yeah, you’re that same
ol’ gal who pains a man so hard his voice skips like a record. Only one ol’
place got the muscle to birth a woman as woman as you. Just one place,
sweet like Nehi grape soda and sour pickle peppermints. It’s our sweet
home, roguish and royal, that wild child riding the lip of a lake. It’s home.
Chicago is sky enough for a storm like you—a storm that hisses


From Wildsam Field Guides: Chicago (Wildsam Field Guide, 2020), edited by Samantha Alviani and Taylor Bruce. Used with the permission of the author.

at the Sipsey River

make small steps.
in this wild place
there are signs of life
sharp spaces, too:
the slip of a rain-glazed rock
against my searching feet.
small steps, like prayers—
each one a hope exhaled
into the trees. please,
let me enter. please, let me
leave whole.
there are, too, the tiny sounds
of faraway birds. the safety
in their promise of song.
the puddle forming, finally,
after summer rain.
the golden butterfly
against the cave-dark.
maybe there are angels here, too— 
what else can i call the crown of light 
atop the leaves?
what else can i call
my footsteps forward,
small, small, sure?

From You Are Here: Poetry in the Natural World (Milkweed Editions, 2024), edited by Ada Limón. Copyright © 2024 Milkweed Editions and the Library of Congress. Used with the permission of the author. Published in Poem-a-Day on April 27, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets.