We played a hiding game,
the son of my mother's friend and I,
until he chased me into the toolshed
and bolted the door from outside. It was there,
in the secret, moist dark, the child's game changed
to adventure. As I listened through the splintered wood
to his ragged breath, his weight pressing down
on the thin wood, making it groan, waiting
while I stood on the other side, I was
caught in time, thrilled and afraid by his power,
by his power to strike, and mine to yield.
I crouched close to the ground
inhaling the sour-sweet potpourri of rancid oil,
rotting wood, old leather, and rust. I could have died
right then and there, of anticipation,
and become one with the molecules
in the laden air. I was deliciously afraid of all
the invisible creeping, crawling dangers inhabiting
the luscious ground where I squatted to pee,
allowing impulse and need to fully overtake me,
inviting all the demons that reside in dark damp
hiding places into my most secret self.
Not since then has pleasure and fear in the dark
been so finely tuned in my mind, except perhaps
in moments of passion when all we know
is surrendered to the demands of skin and blood.
Then the pizzicato of the predictable afternoon shower
on that half remembered island, rain every day at four,
and her piercing voice, growing nearer,
the cutting slash of light. She had caught the boy
peeking through a crack at me doing what?
She did not want to know.
I was sent straight to the bath, as if
the delectable stink of danger I had discovered
could ever be washed off with plain soap and water.
Copyright © 2005 Judith Ortiz Cofer. From A Love Story Beginning in Spanish. Reprinted with permission of the University of Georgia Press.
I’m afraid of death
because it inflates
of what a person
is, or love, until
they become the same,
love, the beloved,
I’m afraid of death
because it invents
a different kind of
time, a stopped clock
that can’t be reset,
I’m afraid of death,
the magician who
makes vanish and who
makes odd things appear
in odd places—your
name engraves itself
on a stranger’s chest
in letters of char.
And whom do I call my enemy?
An enemy must be worthy of engagement.
I turn in the direction of the sun and keep walking.
It’s the heart that asks the question, not my furious mind.
The heart is the smaller cousin of the sun.
It sees and knows everything.
It hears the gnashing even as it hears the blessing.
The door to the mind should only open from the heart.
An enemy who gets in, risks the danger of becoming a friend.
Harjo, Joy, Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings: Poems; Copyright © 2015 by W. W. Norton & Company. Reprinted with permission of Anderson Literary Management LLC, 244 Fifth Avenue, Floor 11, New York, NY 10001.
It fills up the space where poems used to be,
Until there’s no space left. It’s incessant
Phone calls, figuring out money and flights to
Somewhere, nowhere, not knowing what comes next:
There’s nowhere to go, which is the problem
(I think everything’s the problem) taking its toll.
Diane looked at me cross-eyed at lunch and I sunk
Into a depression I recalled from forty years ago:
The constant consciousness of helplessness;
The constant feeling of inevitability, of the anger
At that feeling; of the separateness of persons.
Talk is like drugs, repeating what I said each night
In the morning, and on the phone each afternoon:
A different hospital each time, then the same hospital.
A fear of selfishness, an imperative of self-defense:
These are the boundaries of my life now,
The borderlines of my existence for a while.
“In the midst of life we are in death.” Any
Person’s death diminishes me, and yet the fear of
Death is something one can only face alone.
Poetry is stylized indifference, a drawing back
From the divide between my life and its negation—
Not because it’s empty, but because it’s full, too full,
Full of someone else’s. Coming home each day
To the message light blinking on the phone,
My heart sinks as I press the button, and the dial tone
Comes as a relief, since I don’t know what to do.
It’s easier in miniature, within the limits of the page,
The confines of a single consciousness, with the drama
All offstage until the phone rings, and it starts again.
Copyright © 2015 by John Koethe. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 10, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
For Peggy Munson
That you must accept
what you cannot prevent. That fear inverts
the meaning of success. That you can be fearless
when fear is all you have.
That fear is all you have.
That you aren’t alone in loneliness,
there’s a whole world here,
a pregnant, fascinating glimpse,
all stomach and hips,
of the life-creating love
you’re finally sick enough to feel.
That that glimpse can't stop you from melting
into the futures you fear
you will and will not have.
That you have, you still have,
everything you need to live:
night, ice, plums, a lap and a laptop, a name, a parent,
whipped cream, gossip, steaming plates
of life and death.
That this is the end of the world.
That you will survive it.
From The Future Is Trying to Tell Us Something: New and Selected Poems (Sheep Meadow Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Joy Ladin. Used with the permission of the author.
I am taken with the hot animal
of my skin, grateful to swing my limbs
and have them move as I intend, though
my knee, though my shoulder, though something
is torn or tearing. Today, a dozen squid, dead
on the harbor beach: one mostly buried,
one with skin empty as a shell and hollow
feeling, and, though the tentacles look soft,
I do not touch them. I imagine they
were startled to find themselves in the sun.
I imagine the tide simply went out
without them. I imagine they cannot
feel the black flies charting the raised hills
of their eyes. I write my name in the sand:
Donika Kelly. I watch eighteen seagulls
skim the sandbar and lift low in the sky.
I pick up a pebble that looks like a green egg.
To the ditch lily I say I am in love.
To the Jeep parked haphazardly on the narrow
street I am in love. To the roses, white
petals rimmed brown, to the yellow lined
pavement, to the house trimmed in gold I am
in love. I shout with the rough calculus
of walking. Just let me find my way back,
let me move like a tide come in.
Copyright © 2017 by Donika Kelly. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 20, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Then Almitra spoke, saying, We would ask now of Death.
And he said:
You would know the secret of death.
But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?
The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light.
If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life.
For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.
In the depth of your hopes and desires lies your silent knowledge of the beyond;
And like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring.
Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.
Your fear of death is but the trembling of the shepherd when he stands before the king whose hand is to be laid upon him in honour.
Is the shepherd not joyful beneath his trembling, that he shall wear the mark of the king?
Yet is he not more mindful of his trembling?
For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?
Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.
From The Prophet (Knopf, 1923). This poem is in the public domain.
In misty cerements they wrapped the word My heart had feared so long: dead... dead... I heard But marvelled they could think the thing was true Because death cannot be for such as you. So while they spoke kind words to suit my need Of foolish idle things my heart took heed, Your racquet and worn-out tennis shoe, Your pipe upon the mantel,—then a bird Upon the wind-tossed larch began to sing And I remembered how one day in Spring You found the wren’s nest in the wall and said “Hush!... listen! I can hear them quarrelling...” The tennis court is marked, the wrens are fled, But you are dead, beloved, you are dead
This poem is in the public domain.