Through what precinct of life’s forest are you hiking at this moment?
Are you kicking up leaf litter or stabbed by brambles?
Of what stuff are you made? Gossamer or chain mail?
Are you, as reputed, marvelously empty? Or invisibly ever- present,
even as this missive is typed? Have you been to Easter Island? Yes?
Then I’m jealous. Do you use a tongue depressor as bookmark?
Are you reading this at an indecent hour by flashlight?
Plenty of scholarly ink has been spilt praising readers like yourself,
who risk radical dismantling, or being unmasked, by rappelling
deep into sentences. Your trigger warnings could be triggered every
second, yet you forge on, mystic syllables detonating in your head,
the metal-edged smell of monsoon-downpour on hot asphalt
raising steam in your imagination. You hold out for the phrase
with which the soul resonates, am I right? Reading, you’re seized
by tingly feelings, a rustling in the brain, winds that tickle your scalp,
bubbles erupting from a blow hole at the back of your neck.
You forget the breathy woman talking softly on TV across the lobby
(via TiVo you’ve saved her for later.) Birds outside are cracking jokes
and cackling. Reader, smile to yourself, rock the cradle, kiss
everyone you wish to kiss, and please keep reading. It beats
fielding threatening phone calls for $15 an hour which is what
yours truly is meant to be doing right now, instead of speculating
on the strange and happy manifestations of, you, dear reader, you.
Copyright © 2016 by Amy Gerstler. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 8, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
I would prefer
to sit, drink water,
reread some Russians
a while longer
perhaps, but why
should I, anyone,
call it that, why
what I want,
in a well-hydrated fashion,
always be what I’m
planning to finally
do, like hiking
or biking, & now
that I think of it, reading
should make me, anyone,
breathe harder, then
easier, reach for cold,
cold water, & I
prefer my reading
that way, I prefer
who makes me work for
not quite pleasure
no, some truer
who is just now,
in my small room
in West Texas,
getting to the good part,
the very Russian part,
the last few pages
of “The Singers”
when the story
should be over,
Yakov the Turk
has sung with fervor,
meaning he’s won
a kind of 19th century
Idol in the village
tavern, The End, but
on, the narrator walks
out, down a hill,
into a dark
& he hears
from misty far away
some little boy
calling out for
& it’s that voice that stops
then opens my breath
& all Monday-Wednesday-Fridays
I have arrived
in the village of
no day none
& I am sitting
with the villagers
who are each at once
who have the coldest
water to give me
I think I have sung before
they give me silences
from their long
Copyright © 2016 by Chen Chen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 27, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,
as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.
Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,
something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.
Whatever it is you are struggling to remember
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.
It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.
No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.
"Forgetfulness" from Questions About Angels, by Billy Collins, © 1999. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.
For the community of Newtown, Connecticut,
where twenty students and six educators lost their
lives to a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary
School, December 14, 2012
Now the bells speak with their tongues of bronze. Now the bells open their mouths of bronze to say: Listen to the bells a world away. Listen to the bell in the ruins of a city where children gathered copper shells like beach glass, and the copper boiled in the foundry, and the bell born in the foundry says: I was born of bullets, but now I sing of a world where bullets melt into bells. Listen to the bell in a city where cannons from the armies of the Great War sank into molten metal bubbling like a vat of chocolate, and the many mouths that once spoke the tongue of smoke form the one mouth of a bell that says: I was born of cannons, but now I sing of a world where cannons melt into bells. Listen to the bells in a town with a flagpole on Main Street, a rooster weathervane keeping watch atop the Meeting House, the congregation gathering to sing in times of great silence. Here the bells rock their heads of bronze as if to say: Melt the bullets into bells, melt the bullets into bells. Here the bells raise their heavy heads as if to say: Melt the cannons into bells, melt the cannons into bells. Here the bells sing of a world where weapons crumble deep in the earth, and no one remembers where they were buried. Now the bells pass the word at midnight in the ancient language of bronze, from bell to bell, like ships smuggling news of liberation from island to island, the song rippling through the clouds. Now the bells chime like the muscle beating in every chest, heal the cracks in the bell of every face listening to the bells. The chimes heal the cracks in the bell of the moon. The chimes heal the cracks in the bell of the world.
From Bullets Into Bells: Poets and Citizens Respond to Gun Violence (Beacon Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Martín Espada. Used with permission of the author and Beacon Press.