wake up when he mentions colors
and light, streets they’ve walked—
Second Avenue, West 20th, Park.
This guy is happy, right? they ask;
who am I to answer. What I like
about Schuyler is the way sonatas
and Coca-Cola flourish in the same stanza,
morning glories opening
their bright mouths, and trailing down
I don’t drink soda and I never listen
to Faure as much as I should
is chanting always be better?). What I like is
the pyrotechnics always just past
the paper horizon,
waiting to burst from underneath.
It’s the idea that it’s enough to think
one thing and then say it: maybe a stapler sits
like a black jaw on the desk while the aloe
stretches half-parabola curves
towards the light and an avocado shell
waits to be rubbish.
There are, of course, always going to be people
who hook us under the sternum and pull
us forward with wire until our own bones break
to make us relinquish them. And in their wake we watch
their boat sail away with a mast solid as the Empire
State Building and all flags in array. Goodbye, little sailor,
I’ll miss you
when I drift down under dark water
where there are shipwrecks and bleached whale
bones and fish bright as constellations, but not enough
to keep swimming.
Copyright © 2016 by Kate Angus. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 12, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
You might think you are not thinking, but you are.
A thought moves from dirt up through me and if I do not
disabuse it, it grows.
To suffer, to bear from below.
Coming down the mountain I could see a reservoir through the
trees, fat and glowing.
You are alone in your one life and no one will enter your
Teenagers sit on the sign outside the nunnery.
We are so afraid of failing we can't live.
So we leave apartments, not breathing, breathe on the way
The potential is not the actual.
I was not a good skateboarder.
As we allow for suffering, we live.
You took a picture of me at sunset, thighs drying roses against
an orange sky.
“This alone is deathless and everlasting”
In the dark we know one another finally.
I can be as you as I am.
“The mind-body problem”
You did things to block out the light.
Yes, another reference to morning.
When I am feeding myself I hate myself.
I was younger and not planning on dying.
In the forest between trees we dismantle thought.
Bed of summer branches, us gently.
“Much learning does not teach the mind”
And, walking across the road to the post office, able to see the
You: I googled “If you postpone love will it not end?”
To feel you have to exit the body.
To use a higher mind is to be part of the cosmos.
Then she lowered her voice to a rasp and told those assembled
There are no edges.
Waiting on the patio with whiskey, girl, they said, he’s not
The ethical implications of thinking.
In order to understand nature do we have to die?
Affixed to us driving the road to a mountain lake.
One must stay diligent to avoid becoming a symbol.
Let us bow down and never leave the island.
Me: “Did you think my angry phase would end?”
A day, a peeling scrim.
The moon looks into our lion mouths.
The mind’s hedge in an empty neighborhood.
If god is reason the mind is dead.
Ornate Senate of Loss, Call Me Forth to Announce Myself as
You’ll use what I taught you to manipulate others.
This gives me sad pleasure.
Copyright © 2015 by Emily Kendal Frey. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 5, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
Wearing nothing but snakeskin
boots, I blazed a footpath, the first
radical road out of that old kingdom
toward a new unknown.
When I came to those great flaming gates
of burning gold,
I stood alone in terror at the threshold
between Paradise and Earth.
There I heard a mysterious echo:
my own voice
singing to me from across the forbidden
side. I shook awake—
at once alive in a blaze of green fire.
Let it be known: I did not fall from grace.
Copyright © 2015 by Ansel Elkins. Used with permission of the author.
Not these my hands
And yet I think there was
A woman like me once had hands
This poem is in the public domain.
Our subjects were nice. We kept
our distance. We brewed detachment
in bottles. “We kept our distance”
is an anecdote. Her name
is Anecdote. She was born in the study.
Cages, bottles. Books all around.
She was our favorite / forbid us
to see her. She was the muse
for the bottles marked “Distance”
from which we drank. Could not
get by without. We buried the results;
they were dead. It was painless
for us. Thanks
to detachment. Our hypothesis held up
a snapshot. Braces, barrettes.
Copyright © 2015 by Melissa Ginsburg. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 2, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
every chair in the strip mall
salon where she rents
a little space of her own
reflects a face waiting
to make a change. Another
mother next to me rips an ad
for the full Hollywood wax
& here the best graffiti:
DON’T DO DRUGS, BE SAD.
They’ll grow back, my own
mom on the bangs I butchered
more than once. Do you think
America is pretty? This skinny
blonde kid who never really
has to ask if she is, asks me
as we walk more hot city blocks
because by now we’ve chopped
the pecans to protect the power lines.
I think America is pretty. A pierced
Xicana with one side of her own
do done in deep brown waves,
the other buzzed tight
& dyed a bright chemical green.
America fits the description
& when she’s done holds up
her small mirror in the big one
turning my girl around
so she can see herself.
You can call me Erica, she says
if you like, but we like
America better here.
Copyright © 2016 by Jenny Browne. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 7, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
(for E. and G.)
Hello beautiful talented
dark semi-optimists of June,
from far off I send my hopes
Brooklyn is sunny, and the ghost
of Whitman who loved everyone
is there to see you say what
can never be said, something like
partly I promise my whole life
to try to figure out what it means
to stand facing you under a tree,
and partly no matter how angry
I get I will always remember
we met before we were born,
it was in a village, someone
had just cast a spell, it was
in the park, snow everywhere,
we were slipping and laughing,
at last we knew the green secret,
we were sea turtles swimming
a long time together without
needing to breathe, we were
two hungry owls silently
hunting night, our terrible claws,
I don’t want to sound like I know,
I’m just one who worries all night
about people in a lab watching
a storm in a glass terrarium
perform lethal ubiquity,
tiny black clouds make the final
ideogram above miniature lands
exactly resembling ours, what is
happening happens again,
they cannot stop it, they take off
their white coats, go outside,
look up and wonder, only we
who promise everything despite
everything can tell them
the solution, only we know.
Copyright © 2016 by Matthew Zapruder. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 26, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
you don’t quite know
to the periphery
through the constant
re-drawing of its
what Makers make
you must set aside
a lumpy backpack
by the ticket window
at the station
Let the gentleman
in pleated khakis
pressed for time
not the poem.
Copyright © 2016 by Leslie McGrath. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 24, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
you devour it
and then, then
good as it was
Copyright © 2016 by Noah Eli Gordon. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 3, 2016, 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
To live through the days sometimes you moan like deer. Sometimes you sigh. The world says stop that. Another sigh. Another stop that. Moaning elicits laughter, sighing upsets. Perhaps each sigh is drawn into existence to pull in, pull under, who knows; truth be told, you could no more control those sighs than that which brings the sighs about.
The sigh is the pathway to breath; it allows breathing. That's just self-preservation. No one fabricates that. You sit down, you sigh. You stand up, you sigh. The sighing is a worrying exhale of an ache. You wouldn't call it an illness; still it is not the iteration of a free being. What else to liken yourself to but an animal, the ruminant kind?
You like to think memory goes far back though remembering was never recommended. Forget all that, the world says. The world's had a lot of practice. No one should adhere to the facts that contribute to narrative, the facts that create lives. To your mind, feelings are what create a person, something unwilling, something wild vandalizing whatever the skull holds. Those sensations form a someone. The headaches begin then. Don't wear sunglasses in the house, the world says, though they soothe, soothe sight, soothe you.
Originally published in Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press, 2014). Copyright © by Claudia Rankine. Reprinted with the permission of the author.
What was it I was going to say?
Slipped away probably because
it needn’t be said. At that edge
almost not knowing but second
guessing the gain, loss, or effect
of an otherwise hesitant remark.
Slant of light on a brass box. The way
a passing thought knots the heart.
There’s nothing, nothing to say.
Copyright © 2015 by Thomas Meyer. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 1, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
Before jumping, remember
the span of time is long and gracious.
No one perches dangerously on any cliff
till you reply. Is there a pouch of rain
desperately thirsty people wait to drink from
when you say yes or no? I don’t think so.
Hold that thought. Hold everything.
When they say “crucial”—well, maybe for them?
Hold your horses and your minutes and
your Hong Kong dollar coins in your pocket,
you are not a corner or a critical turning page.
Wait. I’ll think about it.
This pressure you share is a misplaced hinge, a fantasy.
I am exactly where I wanted to be.
Copyright © 2015 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 9, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
The yards grow ghosts. Between the limbs and wings,
bleached street-lit things, I’m best at moving on.
Hunt-heavy, gray, slunk overlow like so
much weight got in the way, my shape’s the shape
of something missed, flash-pop or empty frame.
Though you could say I’ve made a game of this,
and though midtrickery it might be true,
when evening lingers in the key of leaving
my senses swoon. A synonym for stay,
I’m always coming back. I chew through traps.
I love whatever doesn’t get too close.
Copyright © 2015 by Caki Wilkinson. Used with permission of the author.
Steamtown National Historic Site was created in 1986 to
preserve the history of steam railroading in America,
concentrating on the era 1850 through 1950.
We weren’t supposed to, so we did
what any band of boys would do
& we did it the way they did in books
none of us would admit we stole
from our brothers & kept hidden
under bedskirts in each of our rooms:
dropped our bicycles without flipping
their kickstands & scaled the fence
in silence. At the top, somebody’s overalls
snagged, then my Levi’s, & for a few deep
breaths, we all sat still—grouse in a line—
considering the dark yard before
us, how it gestured toward our defiance—
of gravity, of curfews, of what we knew
of goodness & how we hoped we could be
shaped otherwise—& dared us to jump.
And then we were among them,
stalking their muscled silhouettes as our own
herd, becoming ourselves a train
of unseen movements made singular,
never strangers to the permanent way
of traveling through the dark
of another’s shadow, indiscernible to the dirt.
Our drove of braids & late summer
lice buzz cuts pivoted in unison
when an engine sighed, throwing the moon
into the whites of our eyes & carrying it,
still steaming, across the yard to a boilerman,
her hair tied up in a blue bandana.
Somewhere, our mothers were sleeping
prayers for daughters who did not want women
to go to the moon, who did not ask
for train sets or mitts. But here—with the moon
at our feet, & the whistle smearing
the cicadas’ electric scream, & the headlamp
made of Schwinn chrome, or a cat’s eye
marble, or, depending on who
you asked, the clean round scar of a cigarette
burn on the inside of a wrist so small
even my fingers could fasten around
it—was a woman refilling the tender
in each of us. We watched her
the way we’d been told to watch
our brothers, our fathers:
in quiet reverence, hungry all the while.
Copyright © 2016 by Meg Day. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 29, 2016, this poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.
A fluctuating charm,
An amber-colored amethyst
Inhabits it; your arm
It opens and
You have meant
To catch it,
And it shrivels;
It opens, and it
Closes and you
Reach for it—
Grows cloudy, and
It floats away
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on August 30, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
Wither me to within me:
Welt me to weal me common again:
Withdraw to wear me weary:
Over me to hover and lover again:
Before me to form and perform me:
Round me to rill me liquid incisions:
Behind me to hunt and haunt me:
Down me to drown indecision:
Bury me to seed me: bloom me
In loam me: grind me to meal me
Knead me to rise: raise me to your mouth
Rive me to river me:
End me to unmend me:
Rend me to render me:
Copyright © 2015 by Philip Metres. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 22, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.