On New Year’s Eve, my father overfills the baskets with oranges,
mangoes, grapes, grapefruits, other citrus too, but mostly oranges.
The morning of the first, he opens every window to let the new year in.
In Chinatown, red bags sag with mustard greens and mandarin oranges.
A farmer in a fallow season kneels to know the dirt. More silt than soil,
he wipes his brow and mumbles to his dog: time to give up this crop of oranges.
The woman knows she let herself say too much to someone undeserving.
She lays her penance on her sister’s doorstep: a case of expensive oranges.
At the Whitney, I take a photo of a poem in a book behind the glass.
Above it, a painting: smears of blue, Frank O’Hara, his messy oranges.
The handsome server speaks with his hands: Tonight is grilled octopus
with braised fennel and olives, topped with peppercress, cara caras, and blood oranges.
No one at the table looks up, ashamed by the prices on the chic menus.
The busser fills my water and I inhale him: his faraway scent of oranges.
Seventh grade, Southern California: we monitored the daily smog alerts.
Red: stay inside. White: play outside. I forget what warning orange is.
Clutch was serious about art and said our final projects could be
whatever . . . performative . . . like, just show up with a wheelbarrow full of oranges.
Jan, in all of those first six years, why is all you can remember this:
the mist rising in the sunny air as you watched her peeling oranges.
Copyright © 2022 by Jan-Henry Gray. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 28, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.
will become a pessimist eventually
trying to find what’s lost will ransack the house
the overstayed visa the recipe book
the birth certificate the first passport
nowhere to be found
the immigrant will travel
drive with the windows down stop at the rest stops
always in search trying to find more
of what made you leave because nothing can satisfy
the first time around there is something that pushed you out
this is the horrible secret this is the terrible secret
the immigrant always an immigrant there is no returning
Copyright © 2022 by Aline Mello. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 19, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.
My brother was a dark-skinned boy
with a sweet tooth, a smart mouth,
and a wicked thirst. At seventeen,
when I left him for America, his voice
was staticked with approaching adulthood,
he ate everything in the house, grew
what felt like an inch a day, and wore
his favorite shirt until mom disappeared it.
Tonight I’m grateful he slaked his thirst
in another country, far from this place
where a black boy’s being calls like crosshairs
to conscienceless men with guns and conviction.
I remember my brother’s ashy knees
and legs, how many errands he ran on them
up and down roads belonging to no one
and every one. And I’m grateful
he was a boy in a country of black boys,
in the time of walks to the store
on Aunty Marge’s corner to buy contraband
sweeties and sweetdrinks with change
snuck from mom’s handbag or dad’s wallet—
how that was a black boy’s biggest transgression,
and so far from fatal it feels an un-American dream.
Tonight, I think of my brother
as a black boy’s lifeless body spins me
into something like prayer—a keening
for the boy who went down the road, then
went down fighting, then went down dead.
My brother was a boy in the time of fistfights
he couldn’t win and that couldn’t stop
him slinging his weapon tongue anyway,
was a boy who went down fighting,
and got back up wearing his black eye
like a trophy. My brother who got up,
who grew up, who got to keep growing.
Tonight I am mourning the black boys
who are not my brother and who are
my brothers. I am mourning the boys
who walk the wrong roads, which is any road
in America. Tonight I am mourning
the death warrant hate has made of their skin—
black and bursting with such ordinary
hungers and thirsts, such abundant frailty,
such constellations of possibility, our boys
who might become men if this world spared them,
if it could see them whole—boys, men, brothers—human.
Copyright © 2020 by Lauren K. Alleyne. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 14, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
The sound of quiet. The sky
deeper from the top, like tea.
In the absence
of anything else, my own
breathing became obscene.
I heard the beating
of bats’ wings before
the air troubled above
my head, turned to look
and saw them gone.
On the surface of the black
lake, a swan and the moon
still. I knew this was
a perfect moment.
Which would only hurt me
to remember and never
live again. My God. How lucky to have lived
a life I would die for.
Copyright © 2023 by Leila Chatti. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 3, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.