My white therapist calls it my edge, I hear
Angry Black Woman. She says, Strength
of Willful Negative Focus. She says, Acerbic
Intellectual Temperament. I copy her words
onto an index card. She wants
an origin story, a stranger with his hand
inside me, or worse. I’m without
linear narrative and cannot sate her. We
perform rituals on her living room floor. I burn
letters brimming with resentments, watch
the paper ember in the fireplace, admit
I don’t want to let this go. What if anger,
my armor, is embedded in the marrow
of who I am. Who can I learn to be
without it? Wherever you go,
there you are. She asks what I will lose
if I surrender, I imagine a gutted fish,
silvery skin gleaming, emptied of itself—
Copyright © 2019 by Rage Hezekiah. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 1, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
The worst thing about death must be
the first night.
—Juan Ramón Jiménez
Before I opened you, Jiménez, it never occurred to me that day and night would continue to circle each other in the ring of death, but now you have me wondering if there will also be a sun and a moon and will the dead gather to watch them rise and set then repair, each soul alone, to some ghastly equivalent of a bed. Or will the first night be the only night, a darkness for which we have no other name? How feeble our vocabulary in the face of death, How impossible to write it down. This is where language will stop, the horse we have ridden all our lives rearing up at the edge of a dizzying cliff. The word that was in the beginning and the word that was made flesh— those and all the other words will cease. Even now, reading you on this trellised porch, how can I describe a sun that will shine after death? But it is enough to frighten me into paying more attention to the world’s day-moon, to sunlight bright on water or fragmented in a grove of trees, and to look more closely here at these small leaves, these sentinel thorns, whose employment it is to guard the rose.
From Ballistics by Billy Collins. Copyright © 2008 by Billy Collins. Reprinted by arrangement with The Random House Publishing Group.
When, at the end, the children wanted
to add glitter to their valentines, I said no.
I said nope, no, no glitter, and then,
when they started to fuss, I found myself
saying something my brother’s football coach
used to bark from the sidelines when one
of his players showed signs of being
human: oh come on now, suck it up.
That’s what I said to my children.
Suck what up? my daughter asked,
and, because she is so young, I told her
I didn’t know and never mind, and she took
that for an answer. My children are so young
when I turn off the radio as the news turns
to counting the dead or naming the act,
they aren’t even suspicious. My children
are so young they cannot imagine a world
like the one they live in. Their God is still
a real God, a whole God, a God made wholly
of actions. And I think they think I work
for that God. And I know they will someday soon
see everything and they will know about
everything and they will no longer take
never mind for an answer. The valentines
would’ve been better with glitter, and my son
hurt himself on an envelope, and then, much
later, when we were eating dinner, my daughter
realized she’d forgotten one of the three
Henrys in her class. How can there be three Henrys
in one class? I said, and she said, Because there are.
And so, before bed we took everything out
again—paper and pens and stamps and scissors—
and she sat at the table with her freshly washed hair
parted smartly down the middle and wrote
WILL YOU BE MINE, HENRY T.? and she did it
so carefully, I could hardly stand to watch.
Copyright © 2019 by Carrie Fountain. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 13, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.