From low to high doth dissolution climb,
And sink from high to low, along a scale
Of awful notes, whose concord shall not fail;
A musical but melancholy chime,
Which they can hear who meddle not with crime,
Nor avarice, nor over-anxious care.
Truth fails not; but her outward forms that bear
The longest date do melt like frosty rime,
That in the morning whitened hill and plain
And is no more; drop like the tower sublime
Of yesterday, which royally did wear
His crown of weeds, but could not even sustain
Some casual shout that broke the silent air,
Or the unimaginable touch of Time.
This poem is in the public domain.
Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.
Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road.
The earth, that is sufficient,
I do not want the constellations any nearer,
I know they are very well where they are,
I know they suffice for those who belong to them.
(Still here I carry my old delicious burdens,
I carry them, men and women, I carry them with me wherever I go,
I swear it is impossible for me to get rid of them,
I am fill’d with them, and I will fill them in return.)
This poem is in the public domain.
If I have faltered more or less In my great task of happiness; If I have moved among my race And shown no glorious morning face; If beams from happy human eyes Have moved me not; if morning skies, Books, and my food, and summer rain Knocked on my sullen heart in vain:- Lord, thy most pointed pleasure take And stab my spirit broad awake; Or, Lord, if too obdurate I, Choose thou, before that spirit die, A piercing pain, a killing sin, And to my dead heart run them in!
This poem is in the public domain.
There used to be no one here,
where cypresses and oaks play
shadow puppets on sawgrass.
You heard the music before
I did: tambourines, pan pipes.
Remember how I woke clean
to meet you each morning?
The dew and the dust?
Remember how you’d catch me
as I fell from trees? Someone
heard and hurt us. I’m Black-Eyed
Pea. You’re just Skull Kid.
We wanted our genius to last.
We never wanted chalkboards
or snow. We never came home
before the streetlights buzzed.
All we do is dance in leaves.
Cackle and Dreaming, we call it.
Our mothers call it grief.
Copyright © 2016 by Derrick Austin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 27, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
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.
Too soon, perhaps, for fruit. And the broad branches,
ice-sheathed early, may bear none. But still the woman
waits, with her ladder and sack, for something to break.
A gold, a lengthening of light. For the greens to burst
into something not unlike flame: the pale fruit
blushing over weeks through the furred cleft creases:
a freckling of blood. Then the hot, sweet scent
of August rot, drawing wasps and birds and children
through the month. So much abundance, and the only cost
waiting. Looking at the tree, I almost expect the sound of bells,
a stone church, sheep in flocks. But no sound of bells,
no clarion call. The church is far down in the valley.
This tree should be a revered thing, placed at the ancient
heart of a temple. Instead, it is on a common
lot, beside a road, apartment buildings, a dog
sleeping in its yard. The woman has come here
neither as master nor supplicant. She simply plans
to fill a plastic sack with whatever she can take:
the sweet meat giving under the press of a thumb,
covering what is its true fruit: the little pit, hard
and almond-brown that I’ve scooped out,
palmed and planted, but to no avail. A better gardener
could make demands of such a seed, could train a tree
for what desire anticipates. But here the tree grows
only for itself. And if it bears no fruit for the killing
frost, or if it flowers late because of a too-warm winter,
what debt am I owed? At whose feet should I lay
disappointment? Delight no more comforting
nor wounding than hunger. The tree traffics
in a singular astonishment, its gold tongues
lolling out a song so rich and sweet, the notes
are left to rot upon the pavement. Is this the only religion
left to us? Not one only of mortification or desire,
not one of suffering, succor, not even of pleasure.
The juice of summer coils in the cells. It is a faith
that may not come to more than waiting.
To insist on pleasure alone is a mark
of childishness. To believe only in denial
the fool’s prerogative. You hunger
because you hunger. And the tree calls to this.
But the fruit is real. I have eaten it. Have plucked
and washed and cut the weight, and stewed it
with sugar and lemon peel until the gold
ran rich and thick into jars. I have spooned it
over bread and meat. I have sucked it
from my husband’s fingers. I have watched it sour
in its pots until a mist of green bubbled up
for a crust. I have gathered and failed it, as the tree
for me both ripens and fallows. But now, it is perhaps
too soon for fruit. The winter this year was hard,
the air full of smokes, and do I know if spring
reached the valley in time? Who planted this tree?
How long has it stood here? How many more years
can such a thing remain? The woman reaches a hand
up into the branches, palm cupped, weighing
the leaf knots. She is looking to see
what instincts, what weathers still grow here.
She snakes her hand through the greening branches.
Up from the valley, come the golden tongues of bells.
Copyright © 2016 by Paisley Rekdal. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 3, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
can be enough to make you look up
at the yellowed leaves of the apple tree, the few
that survived the rains and frost, shot
with late afternoon sun. They glow a deep
orange-gold against a blue so sheer, a single bird
would rip it like silk. You may have to break
your heart, but it isn’t nothing
to know even one moment alive. The sound
of an oar in an oarlock or a ruminant
animal tearing grass. The smell of grated ginger.
The ruby neon of the liquor store sign.
Warm socks. You remember your mother,
her precision a ceremony, as she gathered
the white cotton, slipped it over your toes,
drew up the heel, turned the cuff. A breath
can uncoil as you walk across your own muddy yard,
the big dipper pouring night down over you, and everything
you dread, all you can’t bear, dissolves
and, like a needle slipped into your vein—
that sudden rush of the world.
Copyright © 2016 by Ellen Bass. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 18, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
We are even more modern
we are free
not to know
til the trees are in
their autumn beauty
who knows why
we are free
an LP of poetry
left on in the apartment
while I walk my love
to the subway
she turns to gold
in the light banking off
and to have to think
of that small
pale body asleep
I return I take the stairs
3 at a time
and now my heart is sore
Copyright © 2016 by Matthew Rohrer. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 23, 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 the dead past seems vividly alive,
And in this shining moment I can trace,
Down through the vista of the vanished years,
Your faun-like form, your fond elusive face.
And suddenly some secret spring’s released,
And unawares a riddle is revealed,
And I can read like large, black-lettered print,
What seemed before a thing forever sealed.
I know the magic word, the graceful thought,
The song that fills me in my lucid hours,
The spirit’s wine that thrills my body through,
And makes me music-drunk, are yours, all yours.
I cannot praise, for you have passed from praise,
I have no tinted thoughts to paint you true;
But I can feel and I can write the word;
The best of me is but the least of you.
This poem is in the public domain.
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.
I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
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.
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.
Any day now you will have the ability to feed the name
Of anyone into an engine & your long lost half brother
As well as whoever else possesses a version of his name
Will appear before your face in bits of pixels & data
Displaying his monikers (like Gitmo for trapping, Bang
Bang for banging, Dopamine for dope or brains),
The country he would most like to visit (Heaven),
His nine & middle finger pointing towards the arms
Of the last trill trees of Bluff Estates & the arms
Of the slim fly girls the color of trees cut down & shaped
Into something a nail penetrates. I admit, right now
Technology is insufficient, but you will find them
Flashing grins & money in the photos they took
Before they were ghosts when you click here tomorrow.
Copyright © 2017 by Terrance Hayes. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 25, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
You’re used to it, the way,
in the first wide-eyed
minutes, climbing from parking lot
to fire trail, or rifling through
cupboards in a rented kitchen,
I can’t help but tell you
we should visit here again,
my reverie inserting
a variation in the season,
or giving friends the room
next door, in stubborn panic
to fix this happiness in place
by escaping from it.
“We’re here now,” you say,
holding out the book I bought
with its dog-eared maps and lists
and, on the cover, a waterfall,
white flecks frozen, very close.
Copyright © 2017 by Nate Klug. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 23, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Always, before rain, the windows grew thick with fog.
Mist descended over the evening rooftops
and rain made generalities of the neighborhood.
Rain made red leaves stick to car windows.
Rain made the houses vague. A car
slid through rain past rows of houses.
The moon swiveled on a wet gear above it.
The moon—a searchlight suspended from one of the airships—
lit the vague face peering through the windshield,
the car sliding down the rain-filled darkness
toward the highway. The men controlling the airships
were searching for him,
and he passed through the rain
as a thought passes through the collective mind
of the state. Here I am in this rain-filled poem,
looking out my kitchen window into the street,
having read the news of the day—
we are hunting them in our neighborhoods,
they have no place among us—
and now the car has turned the corner and disappeared
into the searchlights that make from the rain
glittering cylinders of power.
Copyright © 2017 by Kevin Prufer. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 7, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
I saw a yellow butterfly
in my opinion
the wrong way, flying across
I saw a cormorant
close to the sea’s surface
as I floated on it on
my back in
the attitude of the crucifixion
minerals in my body
the minerals of the sea
about the sun
how can I possibly
to what’s already been said
by the ancients
and said with
an austerity I’ll never
it is an honor to take
a backseat to the ancients
who knew how
I was a fat white fish
under the sold-out stadium sun
like a god
but like a god
I could live through anything.
Copyright © 2017 by Timothy Donnelly. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 11, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Start with a base map, unlabeled terrain, in shaded green and ochre, nude relief, cool continental mass bathing in blue, a face whose features now are visible, unannotated, apolitical, as if a mighty snow had settled here and muffled every static line and letter, earth as naked as the moon, but full of lively color, from the fissured west into the placid belly of the country, eastward over quartzite ridge, carbonate valley into southwest-trending s-curves up the coast, a range two thousand miles, two hundred fifty million years of mountain formed in three successive waves of rock uplifted and depressed, and in the west it’s just begun. Nine hundred million acres under time, under stress and stretches of content. Reserved for a duration. Blue-green grid of constant revolution.
Copyright © 2017 by Susan Barba. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 11, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
This poem is in the public domain.
Apple plum, carpet steak, seed clam, colored wine, calm seen, cold cream, best shake, potato, potato and no no gold work with pet, a green seen is called bake and change sweet is bready, a little piece a little piece please.
A little piece please. Cane again to the presupposed and ready eucalyptus tree, count out sherry and ripe plates and little corners of a kind of ham. This is use.
From Tender Buttons (1914) by Gertrude Stein. This poem is in the public domain.
This fireman comes every afternoon
to the café on the corner
dressed for his shift in clean dark blues
This time it’s the second Wednesday of January
and he’s meeting his daughter again
who must be five or six
and who is always waiting for her father like this
in her charcoal gray plaid skirt
with green and red stripes
She probably comes here straight from school
her glasses a couple nickels thick
By now I know that she can sit (except
for her one leg swinging from the chair)
absolutely still while her father pulls
fighters’ wraps from his work bag
and begins half way down the girl’s forearm
winding the fabric in overlapping spirals
slowly toward her fist then he props
her wrist like a pro on his own hand
unraveling the black cloth weaving it
between her thumb and forefinger
around the palm taut but
not so much that it cuts off the blood then
up the hand and between the other fingers
to protect the knuckles the tough
humpback guppies just under the skin
He does this once with her left then again
to her right To be sure her pops knows he has done
a good job she nods Good job Good
Maybe you’re right I don’t know what love is
A father kisses the top of his daughter’s head
and knocks her glasses cockeyed
He sits back and downs the last of the backwash
in his coffee cup They got 10 minutes to kill
before they walk across the street down the block
and out of sight She wants to test
her dad’s handiwork by throwing
a couple jab-cross combos from her seat
There is nothing in the daughter’s face
that says she is afraid
There is nothing in the father’s face
to say he is not He checks his watch
then holds up his palms as if to show his daughter
that nothing is burning In Philadelphia
there are fires I’ve seen those in my lifetime too
Copyright © 2018 by Patrick Rosal. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 23, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
after Willie Cole Through the artist’s eyes, we catch this breath of fire, lifting water up to flight. This dead weight sinks our histories back into deep sleep, hidden away to dream of repair. Waking, we clutch at the real weight of a movable flood, catching streams that pour through metal still cold to the touch. Time takes little care over us. Current flowing, its song sighs across weft, warp, wrinkle, fold. It collars us in its minutae. Iron, pierced for steam’s escape! Ease across what was once shift, now skirt, scarf, shirt sleeve, sheet. Warm what will soon cool. Stiffen what will turn soft. Smoothe our way, and drape us in the dignity of this new day.
Copyright © 2018 by Tsitsi Ella Jaji. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 14, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
If I had a million lives to live and a million deaths to die in a million humdrum worlds, I’d like to change my name and have a new house number to go by each and every time I died and started life all over again. I wouldn’t want the same name every time and the same old house number always, dying a million deaths, dying one by one a million times: —would you? or you? or you?
This poem is in the public domain. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 12, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
I want thirty more years of poems
I want tiger lily poems
orange blossom poems
poems by Lucille Clifton and Suheir Hammad
poems by Dionne Brand and Joy Harjo
I want Grace Jones to sing she “Bumper song,” sweet and lawless
doh care a damn what nobody feel
I want Jamaican yard talk poems how I love that Nannie ah de Maroons talk
gimme some Trini bush poems
spiked with Vat 19 rum
and plenty blue hundred dollar bills
lots and lots of blue bills so mami cud just stay home brush she hair and count bills
make flying fish and dumplings count blue bills and
make babies with names like
tamarind and flambeau names like one sweet braid down she back
names like kneel-n-pray
names like inhabited and poems to light white candles
poems that blow kerosene and inspire rage
poems to taunt the gods and almost get them
vex let mami stay home cut oil drums to
make steel pan
and rock melodies until my dead
twin come walking unshaven in de yard
with Malik on he arm and say
all right all’yuh we home
we light ah big yard fire make pigtail soup and smoked duck
and Guinness stout ice cream this time around de girls go churn de ice
de boys go pour de salt we go praise sing for we dead
we go drink old oak rum rub a little on de chiren gums
we go brew mauby bark and sorrell
and at sixty-seven granny go collect fresh blood an child-bear again
Cheryl and mami go get back de twins dey lost at birth
da go be bacchanal plenty ting fer neighbors to talk bout.
Copyright © 2018 by Cheryl Boyce-Taylor. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 3, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
South of Plaza Mayor by Plaza de Cascorro— past streets named Lettuce, Raisin, Barley— is Madrid’s outdoor market called El Rastro, hundreds of stalls, lean-tos, tents squeezed tight as niches where anything from a clawfoot tub, to a surgeon’s saw to a tattered La Celestina bound in sheepskin could be haggled down with raunchy bravado or the promise of beer. Mostly it was junk passed off to the tourists as pricey souvenirs, like plastic castanets, hand fans of silk (rayon really), or tin-plate doubloons. So what drew the youth of Madrid to this place every Sunday afternoon by the hundreds? None of us were bargain hunters or hoarders, just hippieish kids in patched dungarees, espadrilles, & wool coats frayed to cheesecloth, our pockets with enough pesetas to buy a handful of stale cigarettes. It was to revel in life, squeeze out joy from the lees of fate, make fellowship like pilgrims to a shrine. We’d sprawl against a wall or a lamppost long into the afternoon to talk, joke, carouse, eat cheese rinds with secondhand bread, drink wine more like iodine than merlot, oblivious to time & space, the crowds tripping on our legs, tossing butts into our heads, how they smelled like horses & we told them so, who then shot out crude medieval curses, but we didn’t care, for we felt alive as never before, singular in every breath, word, & thought, stubborn as wayward seeds that trick a drought & grow into hardscrabble woodland trees.
Copyright © 2018 by Orlando Ricardo Menes. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 4, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
When glaciers trapped a third of Earth’s water and drained the Bering Strait, humans journeyed to this land where wind swept the steppes of snow, exposing grass that would be plucked by mammoth trunks and ground by washboard teeth. Up to thirteen feet, their tusks curved helically and would intertwine if they went on a little longer. The beasts’ dense hair—brown, blonde, or ginger—swung like a skirt about their flanks. I want to rest my head against that shaggy coat, to crane my ears, to be protected from the giant short-faced bear. I want to be their baby, wrap my trunk around my mother’s, watch the wild horses of Beringia canter across the steppes in tawny, fine-boned movements. The thick fat under my hair keeps me warm when the sun goes low, and I grow into an eight-ton bull, pierce the ice with my tusks and drink from glacial pools. The wind is bitter, but my strongest features have grown bigger than my father’s. When summer comes I must find a mate, and it only takes a few tusk locks to show my strength. After our calf is born, I see upright creatures eyeing him from the mesa. I will fling them against the icy mountains. They wear our hair as if it were their skin. Still, I will live through many winters, through each warm season’s hardheaded matches. I know the range that slopes like the hump on my back, sunsets redder than the long-toothed cat’s gorging mouth, how musk oxen form a wall of horns and still fall prey to the blade thrown. I know how many herds have fled, and the curves of carcasses stripped to bone by men, wind, and time. I do not know that I am gone.
Copyright © 2018 by Lauren Moseley. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 22, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Is there a solitary wretch who hies To the tall cliff, with starting pace or slow, And, measuring, views with wild and hollow eyes Its distance from the waves that chide below; Who, as the sea-born gale with frequent sighs Chills with cold bed upon the mountain turf, With hoarse, half-utter’d lamentation, lies Murmuring responses to the dashing surf? In moody sadness, on the giddy brink, I see him more with envy than with fear; He has no nice felicities that shrink From giant horrors; wildly wandering here, He seems (uncursed with reason) not to know The depth or the duration of his woe.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on October 27, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
for my son I have ignored you for a year. I have not dwelt on the soft fur of your arms or the way you rubbed my cheek with your own starry cheek. I splintered your hands away from my heart when you exited me. Of the men who have claimed my body, only you reflect my exact goodness, tragic as a cotton field ripe with bloom, but I have not dwelt on this either. Not in one year or three— the way you break open your own throat, singing, sculpting one world, another, or kiss a girl in my kitchen, calling her, Love, My Love. No: I have ignored you for a year or six, maybe. Not touching your feet or your shoulders to dab them dry. Not humming in your ear as I did once. Not holding your head against my chest in the sad night. I have not dwelt on other women who speak sweetly to you, laugh with you, or hold your head against their chests in the sad night. I have ignored you for a year or ten, finally severing the root, purging, drying out the heart: go.
Copyright © 2018 by Laurie Ann Guerrero. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 20, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Sometimes it pays to go to Bojangles. To drive out of the parking lot, see the red awning: Fish & Duck Skills. A man walks out and it is broad daylight. Back when I was a new adult in Chattanooga I’d dare myself to go to the Adult Book Shop on Market Street in the daytime or to the gasoline station that my parents frequented, the one close to our old house, where pornography was stored in plastic. Back then I only dreamt in violence. & living was an act of deliberate volatility. Likely, I could trace it all back to Vaughn who laughed in my face when I told him I’d been molested that this was the reason having sex with boys was an act of self-hatred, how Vaughn shared not his story of sexual assault, but my story, with any Tyner Junior High teen willing to listen. So much was going on back then: the little race riots between us & Ooltewah, the White gay guy who thought he was Prince and was terrified of being found out that he wasn’t Prince & that he was gay, the boys who would store their guns in our lockers, my girl friends and I pretending we were gay, kissing each other in the hallway, on the lips, in front of the teachers, because designer clothes were expensive and scandal was free. I didn’t bother telling anyone that I was queer and that just about every single day I didn’t wish I was White, I just wished that White people weren’t. But I fished for the Whitest voice and duck tailed my hair knowing that one day no one would remember that I put a gun in my locker, that I kissed Deidre on her lips, that I sang “the freaks go out at night” at the top of my lungs & thrust my hips to “Candy” on my way to the pep rally. No, what people would remember was that I was Black. The end.
Copyright © 2018 by Metta Sáma. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 17, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.