My tail of colored feathers
closed behind me
It weighs me down
In this wet darkness
I can neither
dance nor fly
weighs me down
No one here
to see my splendor
My only company
the relentless rain
we fall from the sky
toward the darkening wood
The leafy trees below
reach out to catch me
Between their outstretched
limbs I travel
like a stone
sitting safely in their nests
sleep the sleep of the oblivious
of cellular divisions
Their oblivion weighs me down
Only the insomniac owl
watches ever alert
for the kill
My famous feathery tail-eyes
are folded inward
blind to possibility
I am falling falling away—
escaping at last
this monsoon sickness
sing me a raga spin
me a garland
but do not yet welcome me
Show me the sun.
Copyright © 2016 by Margarita Boyers. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 30, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
Time too is afraid of passing, is riddled with holes
through which time feels itself leaking.
Time sweats in the middle of the night
when all the other dimensions are sleeping.
Time has lost every picture of itself as a child.
Now time is old, leathery and slow.
Can’t sneak up on anyone anymore,
Can’t hide in the grass, can’t run, can’t catch.
Can’t figure out how not to trample
what it means to bless.
Copyright © 2015 by Joy Ladin. Used with permission of the author.
Mid-1700s, Southwestern China
Lightning is the creature who carries a knife.
Two months now,
The rains hold watch.
Statues bury in teak
Smeared with old egret’s blood.
I feel the pulse of this inferno,
Tested by the hour to know
That even torches must not waver.
In the garrison, I teach boulders
To trickle from the cliff.
My fallen grow parchment from their hair,
From their lips.
But my musket knows.
They scale the sides
Yet I tear the rocks.
I am not wife, but my name is Widow.
Let them arrive
To my ready door,
The earth I’ve already dug.
Copyright © 2016 by Mai Der Vang. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 26, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour
A Robin Red breast in a Cage
Puts all Heaven in a Rage
A Dove house filld with Doves & Pigeons
Shudders Hell thr' all its regions
A dog starvd at his Masters Gate
Predicts the ruin of the State
A Horse misusd upon the Road
Calls to Heaven for Human blood
Each outcry of the hunted Hare
A fibre from the Brain does tear
A Skylark wounded in the wing
A Cherubim does cease to sing
The Game Cock clipd & armd for fight
Does the Rising Sun affright
Every Wolfs & Lions howl
Raises from Hell a Human Soul
The wild deer, wandring here & there
Keeps the Human Soul from Care
The Lamb misusd breeds Public Strife
And yet forgives the Butchers knife
The Bat that flits at close of Eve
Has left the Brain that wont Believe
The Owl that calls upon the Night
Speaks the Unbelievers fright
He who shall hurt the little Wren
Shall never be belovd by Men
He who the Ox to wrath has movd
Shall never be by Woman lovd
The wanton Boy that kills the Fly
Shall feel the Spiders enmity
He who torments the Chafers Sprite
Weaves a Bower in endless Night
The Catterpiller on the Leaf
Repeats to thee thy Mothers grief
Kill not the Moth nor Butterfly
For the Last Judgment draweth nigh
He who shall train the Horse to War
Shall never pass the Polar Bar
The Beggars Dog & Widows Cat
Feed them & thou wilt grow fat
The Gnat that sings his Summers Song
Poison gets from Slanders tongue
The poison of the Snake & Newt
Is the sweat of Envys Foot
The poison of the Honey Bee
Is the Artists Jealousy
The Princes Robes & Beggars Rags
Are Toadstools on the Misers Bags
A Truth thats told with bad intent
Beats all the Lies you can invent
It is right it should be so
Man was made for Joy & Woe
And when this we rightly know
Thro the World we safely go
Joy & Woe are woven fine
A Clothing for the soul divine
Under every grief & pine
Runs a joy with silken twine
The Babe is more than swadling Bands
Throughout all these Human Lands
Tools were made & Born were hands
Every Farmer Understands
Every Tear from Every Eye
Becomes a Babe in Eternity
This is caught by Females bright
And returnd to its own delight
The Bleat the Bark Bellow & Roar
Are Waves that Beat on Heavens Shore
The Babe that weeps the Rod beneath
Writes Revenge in realms of Death
The Beggars Rags fluttering in Air
Does to Rags the Heavens tear
The Soldier armd with Sword & Gun
Palsied strikes the Summers Sun
The poor Mans Farthing is worth more
Than all the Gold on Africs Shore
One Mite wrung from the Labrers hands
Shall buy & sell the Misers Lands
Or if protected from on high
Does that whole Nation sell & buy
He who mocks the Infants Faith
Shall be mockd in Age & Death
He who shall teach the Child to Doubt
The rotting Grave shall neer get out
He who respects the Infants faith
Triumphs over Hell & Death
The Childs Toys & the Old Mans Reasons
Are the Fruits of the Two seasons
The Questioner who sits so sly
Shall never know how to Reply
He who replies to words of Doubt
Doth put the Light of Knowledge out
The Strongest Poison ever known
Came from Caesars Laurel Crown
Nought can Deform the Human Race
Like to the Armours iron brace
When Gold & Gems adorn the Plow
To peaceful Arts shall Envy Bow
A Riddle or the Crickets Cry
Is to Doubt a fit Reply
The Emmets Inch & Eagles Mile
Make Lame Philosophy to smile
He who Doubts from what he sees
Will neer Believe do what you Please
If the Sun & Moon should Doubt
Theyd immediately Go out
To be in a Passion you Good may Do
But no Good if a Passion is in you
The Whore & Gambler by the State
Licencd build that Nations Fate
The Harlots cry from Street to Street
Shall weave Old Englands winding Sheet
The Winners Shout the Losers Curse
Dance before dead Englands Hearse
Every Night & every Morn
Some to Misery are Born
Every Morn and every Night
Some are Born to sweet delight
Some are Born to sweet delight
Some are Born to Endless Night
We are led to Believe a Lie
When we see not Thro the Eye
Which was Born in a Night to perish in a Night
When the Soul Slept in Beams of Light
God Appears & God is Light
To those poor Souls who dwell in Night
But does a Human Form Display
To those who Dwell in Realms of day
This poem is in the public domain.
At eleven I learned to lie. Disobedience and its partner, deception, became my constant companions. How enormous then that first transgression, against Father's command, a sin damning as Adam's: walking to school alone. We all lied, mother explained, it was. . .necessario. How else to survive Father's rages, his sweeping interdicts and condemning opinions? Oh sweet allegiance of lies: siblings and mother bound together in a cozy tie! My brothers' lies were manly, obdurate, built to last. Mother's were infirm little things, infected from birth by her obstinate grace, fated to die as soon as they hit the air. But this lie, the lie about me, was sturdy, knit, as it was, from the fiber of maternal love and a wife's defiance. Go ahead; it's right. Walk alone. Grow up. Each assurance a coercion, each coercion a shame. The lie was a coat of mail I'd don each day, threading my arms through its leaden sleeves, pulling its weight over my head, steeling myself for my father's wrath. In it I was strong and getting stronger, but tired, always tired. Oh to rest, shuck the lie and confess! Father forgive me, I knew not what I did! At night I'd rehearse the lines and pray for his cleansing fury. In the morning I'd meet him in the hall, already crabby in his gray lab coat, barking his harsh observations about my robe (pink: ridiculous) about my face (vacant) about my voice (inaudible). Mother, how did we produce such an insect! I was used to this. Exasperated, he would stuff his red frizz into a beret, hurl himself into his loden cape and bolt out the gate--too rushed for truths. Silenced again, I would resume my solitary mission, lugging my books, wearing my lie to school and back again, through the maze of city streets. One day the mist briefly lifted and I saw the winter sun pulsing silver and pale through a hole in the sky--a quiet disk hopeful as the moon. A face emerged, white whiskers smiling, familiar, professorial--an angel perhaps, or a friend of the family-- here to guide me safely across the river to school. He took my bag and my arm, allaying my fears with talk calculated to soothe, flatter, amuse. Gentile, cosí gentile. Ever faithful, he met me at my gate morning after sweet morning. We chatted carelessly the whole way, intimate as lovers, never a snag or worry to hold us up-- I, grateful and happy, he gently leading the way. My trust deepened daily with his purpose and burrowed in the snug darkness of short days where the new lie took root. From deep in the loam, the probing stem pushed to the surface. Meanwhile, the first lie grew light with practice. And my coat assumed the comfort of a uniform. His purpose, obscured from the start by fear, suppressed tenaciously by innocence--canny innocence-- flared up in a question, betraying an ignorance both clear and obscene: "Little Girl, would you touch me--here?" Suddenly my hand, sweetly warming in his flannel pocket, was pushed to the hard, oozing center. My hand recoiled. But the ooze stuck. In that minute my childhood ended. I ran home as fast as my legs would carry me to hide my shame in the place where secrets were made and kept, willful little liar, disobedient sinner trying to find my way alone through fog, through lies. My life was filling up with secrets and deceit's secretions, loneliness and melancholy. I hugged my coat tight against my body so that the lies and I were one.
From Hard Bread by Peg Boyers. Copyright © 2002 by Peg Boyers. Reprinted by permission of the University of Chicago Press. All rights reserved.
I went down to the river,
I set down on the bank.
I tried to think but couldn't,
So I jumped in and sank.
I came up once and hollered!
I came up twice and cried!
If that water hadn't a-been so cold
I might've sunk and died.
But it was Cold in that water! It was cold!
I took the elevator
Sixteen floors above the ground.
I thought about my baby
And thought I would jump down.
I stood there and I hollered!
I stood there and I cried!
If it hadn't a-been so high
I might've jumped and died.
But it was High up there! It was high!
So since I'm still here livin',
I guess I will live on.
I could've died for love—
But for livin' I was born
Though you may hear me holler,
And you may see me cry—
I'll be dogged, sweet baby,
If you gonna see me die.
Life is fine! Fine as wine! Life is fine!
From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Copyright © 1994 the Estate of Langston Hughes. Used with permission.
Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,
Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,
I heard a Negro play.
Down on Lenox Avenue the other night
By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light
He did a lazy sway . . .
He did a lazy sway . . .
To the tune o’ those Weary Blues.
With his ebony hands on each ivory key
He made that poor piano moan with melody.
Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool
He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool.
Coming from a black man’s soul.
In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone
I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan—
"Ain’t got nobody in all this world,
Ain’t got nobody but ma self.
I’s gwine to quit ma frownin’
And put ma troubles on the shelf."
Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor.
He played a few chords then he sang some more—
"I got the Weary Blues
And I can’t be satisfied.
Got the Weary Blues
And can’t be satisfied—
I ain’t happy no mo’
And I wish that I had died."
And far into the night he crooned that tune.
The stars went out and so did the moon.
The singer stopped playing and went to bed
While the Weary Blues echoed through his head.
He slept like a rock or a man that's dead.
From The Weary Blues (Alfred A. Knopf, 1926) by Langston Hughes. This poem is in the public domain.
The gray path glided before me
Through cool, green shadows;
Little leaves hung in the soft air
Like drowsy moths;
A group of dark trees, gravely conferring,
Made me conscious of the gaucherie of sound;
Farther on, a slim lilac
Drew me down to her on the warm grass.
“How sweet is peace!”
My serene heart said.
Then, suddenly, in a curve of the road,
A bright battalion, swaying,
They marched with fluttering flags,
And gay fifes playing!
A swift flame leapt in my heart;
I burned with passion;
I was tainted with cruelty;
I wanted to march in the wind,
To tear the silence with gay music,
And to slash the sober green
Until it sobbed and bled.
The tulips have found me out.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on August 23, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
Coming at an end, the lovers
Are exhausted like two swimmers. Where
Did it end? There is no telling. No love is
Like an ocean with the dizzy procession of the waves’ boundaries
From which two can emerge exhausted, nor long goodbye
Coming at an end. Rather, I would say, like a length
Of coiled rope
Which does not disguise in the final twists of its lengths
But, you will say, we loved
And some parts of us loved
And the rest of us will remain
Two persons. Yes,
Poetry ends like a rope.
From A Book of Music by Jack Spicer. Appears in My Vocabulary Did This to Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer (Wesleyan University Press, 2008). Used by permission.