Come to me at the top of the world,
O Mine, before the years spill
Our rare love into Time’s cup
And give our will to Time’s will.
My wide basin is full of starlight,
My moon is lighted with new fire,
I have lit every sun in the firmament
With the hurting flame of my desire.
The worms there in the valley
Die—to forget death!
But here at the top of the world
I laugh under my breath.
There is pain here, and tears,
Bitter, terrible tears;
But the joys have warm mouth, and madness
Dances downwards with the years.
Come to me at the top of the world,
O Mine. The valley is deep,
The valley is full of the dying,
And with those that sleep.
But here wonderful winds blow
And the pines sing one song.
Come to me at the top of the world,
Come soon. I have waited too long.
From On a Grey Thread (Will Ransom, 1923) by Elsa Gidlow. This poem is in the public domain.
I who employ a poet’s tongue,
Would tell you how
You are a golden damson hung
Upon a silver bough.
I who adore exotic things
Would shape a sound
To be your name, a word that sings
Until the head goes round.
I who am proud with other folk
Would grow complete
In pride on bitter words you spoke,
And kiss your petaled feet.
But never past the frail intent
My will may flow,
Though gentle looks of yours are bent
Upon me where I go.
So must I, starved for love’s delight,
Affect the mute,
When love’s divinest acolyte
Extends me holy fruit.
From The Book of American Negro Poetry (Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1922), edited by James Weldon Johnson. This poem is in the public domain.
translated by Babette Deutsch and Avrahm Yarmolinsky
I seek for rhythmic whisperings
Where noises bandy—
For life I listen wistfully
In footless banter.
I cast wide nets and tentative
In lakes of sorrow.
I go toward final tenderness
By pathways sordid.
I look for dewdrops glistering
In falsehood’s gardens.
I save truth’s globules glistening,
From dust-heaps garnered.
I fain would fathom fortitude
Through years of wormwood—
And pierce the mortal fortalice,
Yet live, a worldling.
My cup, through ways impassable,
To bear, untainted;
By tenebrous bleak passages
To joy attaining.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on July 30, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.
Up until this sore minute, you could turn the key, pivot away.
But mine is the only medicine now
wherever you go or follow.
The past is so far away, but it flickers,
then cleaves the night. The bones
of the past splinter between our teeth.
This is our life, love. Why did I think
it would be anything less than too much
of everything? I know you remember that cheap motel
on the coast where we drank red wine,
the sea flashing its gold scales as sun
soaked our skin. You said, This must be
what people mean when they say
I could die now. Now
we’re so much closer
to death than we were then. Who isn’t crushed,
stubbed out beneath a clumsy heel?
Who hasn’t stood at the open window,
sleepless, for the solace of the damp air?
I had to get old to carry both buckets
yoked on my shoulders. Sweet
and bitter waters I drink from.
Let me know you, ox you.
I want your scent in my hair.
I want your jokes.
Hang your kisses on all my branches, please.
Sink your fingers into the darkness of my fur.
Copyright © 2020 by Ellen Bass. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 13, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
Love me stupid.
Love me terrible.
And when I am no
mountain but rather
a monsoon of imperfect
thunder love me. When
I am blue in my face
from swallowing myself
yet wearing my best heart
even if my best heart
is a century of hunger
an angry mule breathing
hard or perhaps even
hopeful. A small sun.
Little & bright.
Copyright © 2019 by Anis Mojgani. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 14, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Soft as a Claude painting, the yellow sky tonight—
trees in the parking lot still thick, though the air, yes,
has an edge, the honey was solid in the jar
when I opened it this morning, found a single ant
frozen in the dunes, stunned by sweetness.
Can you really die of sweetness? Hard
to say yes, though I want to, looking up at these clouds
that make my heart jump: oh joy in seeing
though I can’t touch, like the girl repeating persimmon
as the waitress in the diner tells her about a tree
at the top of the hill she used to see, how beautiful
that vivid orange fruit was all at once.
Can’t touch them, but I see them in her eyes as
she remembers persimmons. Maybe that was
my mistake: thinking every love was different, a fruit
inside its own clear mason jar—my love, her love, his,
all separate as the trees they fell from. Maybe love
is more contagion, bubbles in a bathtub slowly
swelling, all the little circles drifting, gliding
gently into each other until they burst, until
nothing’s left but foam, the sound of rushing water.
Copyright © 2018 Annie Kim. This poem originally appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Summer 2018. Used with permission of the author.
And sometimes I know I am having a feeling
but I don't want to have a feeling so I close up
like a book or a jacket or a sack which holds
a body. Don't mind me, I'll just be dead in here,
you can drag me wherever you want, the body
seems to say. You laugh like a little silver moon.
You laugh like the moon on the water ignored
by necking lovers. You said you didn't like that word
because something so sweet should not call to mind
giraffes, but I love the word “necking,” the way it twists
in on itself, like what I do to you when I want
to disappear in you, leave the sack of my body
strewn on the shore of you. Sometimes I'm inside
the sack and then sometimes I am nothing more
than the stitching which keeps it from bursting.
Sometimes I carry the sack and sometimes the sack
carries me. I only know the difference sometimes.
Do you ever feel like it's difficult to figure out
what you're feeling? I have that all the time, especially
when I look out a window or at your open face
across from me in bed, or your closed face
when I see the quiet pain you contain, or which
contains you. I know you're more than that
frown which makes your face resemble a fist
with gorgeous black hair. I know you contain more
than the reaction to my words or my body.
Some of us have to learn to love with hands
interlocked, but each with our own hand.
Copyright © 2015 by Matthew Siegel. Used with permission of the author. “[And sometimes I know I am having a feeling]” originally appeared in Blood Work (University of Wisconsin Press, 2015).
In my defense, my forgotten breasts. In my defense, the hair
no one brushed from my face. In my defense, my hips.
Months earlier, I remember thinking that sex was a ship retreating
on the horizon. I could do nothing but shove my feet in the sand.
I missed all the things loneliness taught me: eyes that follow you
crossing a room, hands that find their home on you. To be noticed, even.
In my defense, his hands. In my defense, his arms. In my defense,
how when we just sat listening to each other breathe, he said, This is enough.
My body was a house I had closed for the winter. It shouldn’t have been
that difficult, empty as it was. Still, I stared hard as I snapped off the lights.
My body was a specter that haunted me, appearing when I stripped
in the bathroom, when I crawled into empty beds, when it rained.
My body was abandoned construction, restoration scaffolding
that became permanent. My body’s unfinished became its finished.
So in my defense, when he touched me, the lights of my body came on.
In my defense, the windows were thrown open. In my defense, spring.
Copyright © 2013 by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz. “Not Doing Something Wrong Isn’t the Same as Doing Something Right” originally appeared in The Year of No Mistakes (Write Bloody Publishing, 2013). Used with permission of the author.
Copyright © 2017 by Sarah Browning. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 22, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
When we could no longer walk or explore, we decided to wear
the maps and would sit talking, pointing to places, sometimes
touching mountains, canyons, deserts on each other’s body,
and that was how we fell in love again, sitting next to
each other in the home that was not our home, writing letters
with crooked words, crooked lines we handed back and forth,
the huge hours and spaces between us growing smaller and smaller.
Copyright © 2017 Mark Irwin. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Spring 2017.
I don’t call it sleep anymore.
I’ll risk losing something new instead—
like you lost your rosen moon, shook it loose.
But sometimes when I get my horns in a thing—
a wonder, a grief or a line of her—it is a sticky and ruined
fruit to unfasten from,
despite my trembling.
Let me call my anxiety, desire, then.
Let me call it, a garden.
Maybe this is what Lorca meant
when he said, verde que te quiero verde—
because when the shade of night comes,
I am a field of it, of any worry ready to flower in my chest.
My mind in the dark is una bestia, unfocused,
hot. And if not yoked to exhaustion
beneath the hip and plow of my lover,
then I am another night wandering the desire field—
bewildered in its low green glow,
belling the meadow between midnight and morning.
Insomnia is like Spring that way—surprising
and many petaled,
the kick and leap of gold grasshoppers at my brow.
I am struck in the witched hours of want—
I want her green life. Her inside me
in a green hour I can’t stop.
Green vein in her throat green wing in my mouth
green thorn in my eye. I want her like a river goes, bending.
Green moving green, moving.
Fast as that, this is how it happens—
soy una sonámbula.
And even though you said today you felt better,
and it is so late in this poem, is it okay to be clear,
to say, I don’t feel good,
to ask you to tell me a story
about the sweet grass you planted—and tell it again
until I can smell its sweet smoke,
leave this thrashed field, and be smooth.
Copyright © 2017 by Natalie Diaz. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 5, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
We two, how long we were fool’d,
Now transmuted, we swiftly escape as Nature escapes,
We are Nature, long have we been absent, but now we return,
We become plants, trunks, foliage, roots, bark,
We are bedded in the ground, we are rocks,
We are oaks, we grow in the openings side by side,
We browse, we are two among the wild herds spontaneous as any,
We are two fishes swimming in the sea together,
We are what locust blossoms are, we drop scent around lanes mornings and evenings,
We are also the coarse smut of beasts, vegetables, minerals,
We are two predatory hawks, we soar above and look down,
We are two resplendent suns, we it is who balance ourselves orbic and stellar, we are as two comets,
We prowl fang’d and four-footed in the woods, we spring on prey,
We are two clouds forenoons and afternoons driving overhead,
We are seas mingling, we are two of those cheerful waves rolling over each other and interwetting each other,
We are what the atmosphere is, transparent, receptive, pervious, impervious,
We are snow, rain, cold, darkness, we are each product and influence of the globe,
We have circled and circled till we have arrived home again, we two,
We have voided all but freedom and all but our own joy.
This poem is in the public domain.
Sometimes I just sit like this at the window and watch
the darkness come. If I’m smart, I’ll put on Bach.
I’m thinking now of how far it always seems there is to go.
Maybe it is too easy that I speak so often
of late last light on a December day,
of that stubborn grass that somehow still remains green
behind the broken chain link fence on the corner.
But the need is so great for the way light looks
as it takes its leave of us. We say
what we can to each other of these things,
we who are such thieves, stealing first
one breath and then the next. Bach, keep going
just this slowly, show me the way to believe
that what matters in this world has already happened
and will go on happening forever.
The way light falls on the last
of the stricken leaves of the copper beech
at the end of the block is something to behold.
Copyright © 2022 by Jim Moore. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 30, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.
There is this shifting, endless film
And I have followed it down the valleys
And over the hills,—
Pointing with wavering finger
When it disappeared in purple forest-patches
With its ruffle and wave to the slightest-breathing wind-God.
There is this film
Seen suddenly, far off,
When the sun, walking to his setting,
Turns back for a last look,
And out there on the far, far prairie
A lonely drowsing cabin catches and holds a glint,
For one how endless moment,
In a staring window the fire and song of the martyrs!
There is this film
That has passed to my fingers
And I have trembled,
Afraid to touch.
And in the eyes of one
Who had wanted to give what I had asked
But hesitated—tried—and then
Came with a weary, aged, “Not quite,”
I could but see that single realmless point of time,
All that is sad, and tired, and old—
And endless, shifting film.
And I went again
Down the valleys and over the hills,
Pointing with wavering finger,
Ever reaching to touch, trembling,
Ever fearful to touch.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on November 13, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.