I didn’t know I was blue, until I heard her sing. I was never aware so much had been lost even before I was born. There was so much to lose even before I knew what it meant to choose. Born blue, living blue unconfessed, blue in concealment, I’ve lived all my life at the plinth of greater things than me. Morning is greater with its firstborn light and birdsong. Noon is taller, though a moment’s realm. Evening is ancient and immense, and night’s storied house more huge. But I had no idea. And would have died without a clue, except she began to sing. And I understood my soul is a bride enthralled by an unmet groom, or else the groom wholly spoken for, blue in ardor, happy in eternal waiting. I heard her sing and knew I would never hear the true name of each thing until I realized the abysmal ground of all things. Her singing touched that ground in me. Now, dying of my life, everything is made new. Now, my life is not my life. I have no life apart from all of life. And my death is not my death, but a pillow beneath my head, a rock propping the window open to admit the jasmine. I heard her sing, and I’m no longer afraid. Now that I know what she knows, I hope never to forget how giant the gone and immaculate the going. How much I’ve already lost. How much I go on losing. How much I’ve lived all one blue. O, how much I go on living.
"Spoken For" from The Undressing by Li-Young Lee. Copyright © 2018 Li-Young Lee. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 20, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
You are standing in the minefield again.
Someone who is dead now
told you it is where you will learn
to dance. Snow on your lips like a salted
cut, you leap between your deaths, black as god’s
periods. Your arms cleaving little wounds
in the wind. You are something made. Then made
to survive, which means you are somebody’s
son. Which means if you open your eyes, you’ll be back
in that house, beneath a blanket printed with yellow sailboats.
Your mother’s boyfriend, his bald head ringed with red
hair, like a planet on fire, kneeling
by your bed again. Air of whiskey & crushed
Oreos. Snow falling through the window: ash returned
from a failed fable. His spilled-ink hand
on your chest. & you keep dancing inside the minefield—
motionless. The curtains fluttering. Honeyed light
beneath the door. His breath. His wet blue face: earth
spinning in no one’s orbit. & you want someone to say Hey…Hey
I think your dancing is gorgeous. A little waltz to die for,
darling. You want someone to say all this
is long ago. That one night, very soon, you’ll pack a bag
with your favorite paperback & your mother’s .45,
that the surest shelter was always the thoughts
above your head. That it’s fair—it has to be—
how our hands hurt us, then give us
the world. How you can love the world
until there’s nothing left to love
but yourself. Then you can stop.
Then you can walk away—back into the fog
-walled minefield, where the vein in your neck adores you
to zero. You can walk away. You can be nothing
& still breathing. Believe me.
Copyright © 2015 by Ocean Vuong. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 2, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets
I have eaten
that were in
you were probably
they were delicious
and so cold
Copyright © 1962 by William Carlos Williams. Used with permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved. No part of this poem may be reproduced in any form without the written consent of the publisher.
The narrow clearing down to the river
I walk alone, out of breath
my body catching on each branch.
Small children maneuver around me.
Often, I want to return to my old body
a body I also hated, but hate less
Sometimes my friends—my friends
who are always beautiful & heartbroken
look at me like they know
I will die before them.
I think the life I want
is the life I have, but how can I be sure?
There are days when I give up on my body
but not the world. I am alive.
I know this. Alive now
to see the world, to see the river
rupture everything with its light.
Copyright © 2017 by Hieu Minh Nguyen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 27, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
Mind was a prison, ruby lined
in its lipstick noir—everything woman
I was expected to be, trapped between
papered walls. What they said to do, I did not
but only levitated at the burning,
the body a water in which I drowned, the life
a windshield dirty with love. What they
said to think, I thought not but instead made
my mind into a birdcage with wings
(Title is from an Anne Sexton Poem.)
Copyright © 2017 by Melissa Studdard. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 29, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
The truth is that I fall in love
so easily because
a dozen times some days.
I've lived whole lives,
grown old, and died
in the arms of other women
in no more time
than it takes the 2-train
to get from City Hall to Brooklyn,
which brings me back
to you: the only one
I fall in love with
at least once every day—
there are no other
lovely women in the world,
but because each time,
dying in their arms,
I call your name.
From Boy (University of Georgia Press, 2008). Copyright © 2008 by Patrick Phillips. Used with permission of University Georgia Press.
Copyright © 2017 by Jennifer Grotz. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 12, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
The mayor, in order to marry us, borrowed
a necktie from a lawyer which, on him,
looked stupid and kept his eye on a red pigeon
which somehow got in to coo her disappointment,
if only for the record, though one of the two
witnesses who kicked the red got only what
she deserved and that was that, except that the
rain cooed too, but we didn't give a shit
for we had a bed, for God's sake, with two tin buckets
of blossoms waiting for us; and someone there
of Greek persuasion enacted the dancing though somewhat
lickerish and turned to reading the names of the dead
from World War I the other side of the bandstand
but we didn't care nor did we know her name
nor where she came from or what the necktie or what
our love had to do with it anyhow, mostly nothing.
Copyright © 2011 by Gerald Stern. Used with permission of the author.
She pressed her lips to mind.
How many years I must have yearned
for someone’s lips against mind.
Pheromones, newly born, were floating
between us. There was hardly any air.
She kissed me again, reaching that place
that sends messages to toes and fingertips,
then all the way to something like home.
Some music was playing on its own.
Nothing like a woman who knows
to kiss the right thing at the right time,
then kisses the things she’s missed.
How had I ever settled for less?
I was thinking this is intelligence,
this is the wisest tongue
since the Oracle got into a Greek’s ear,
speaking sense. It’s the Good,
defining itself. I was out of my mind.
She was in. We married as soon as we could.
"The Kiss," from Everything Else in the World by Stephen Dunn. Copyright © 2007 by Stephen Dunn. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
In all these rotten shops, in all this broken furniture and wrinkled ties and baseball trophies and coffee pots I have never seen a post-war Philco with the automatic eye nor heard Ravel's "Bolero" the way I did in 1945 in that tiny living room on Beechwood Boulevard, nor danced as I did then, my knives all flashing, my hair all streaming, my mother red with laughter, my father cupping his left hand under his armpit, doing the dance of old Ukraine, the sound of his skin half drum, half fart, the world at last a meadow, the three of us whirling and singing, the three of us screaming and falling, as if we were dying, as if we could never stop—in 1945— in Pittsburgh, beautiful filthy Pittsburgh, home of the evil Mellons, 5,000 miles away from the other dancing—in Poland and Germany— oh God of mercy, oh wild God.
From Paradise Poems by Gerald Stern, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Copyright © 1982,1983,1984 by Gerald Stern. Used with permission.
It's a year almost that I have not seen her: Oh, last summer green things were greener, Brambles fewer, the blue sky bluer. It's surely summer, for there's a swallow: Come one swallow, his mate will follow, The bird race quicken and wheel and thicken. Oh happy swallow whose mate will follow O'er height, o'er hollow! I'd be a swallow, To build this weather one nest together.
This poem is in the public domain.
There’s too little time left to measure
the space between us for that was
long ago—that time—so just lie
under the dark blue quilt and put
the fat pillows with the blue slips
on the great windowsill so we can
look over them and down to the
small figures hurrying by
in total silence and think of the heat
up here and the cold down there
while I turn the light off with the right
hand and gather you in close with the wrong.
From Galaxy Love: Poems by Gerald Stern. Copyright © 2017 by Gerald Stern. Used with permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
lately, when asked how are you, i
respond with a name no longer living
Rekia, Jamar, Sandra
i am alive by luck at this point. i wonder
often: if the gun that will unmake me
is yet made, what white birth
will bury me, how many bullets, like a
flock of blue jays, will come carry my black
to its final bed, which photo will be used
to water down my blood. today i did
not die and there is no god or law to
thank. the bullet missed my head
and landed in another. today, i passed
a mirror and did not see a body, instead
a suggestion, a debate, a blank
post-it note there looking back. i
haven't enough room to both rage and
weep. i go to cry and each tear turns
to steam. I say I matter and a ghost
white hand appears over my mouth
"what the dead know by heart" by Donte Collins. Copyright © 2016 by Donte Collins. Used with permission of the author.