I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.
I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.
I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.
From The Complete Poems by Anne Sexton, published by Houghton Mifflin Company. Copyright © 1981 by Linda Gray Sexton. Used with permission.
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
From And Still I Rise by Maya Angelou. Copyright © 1978 by Maya Angelou. Reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc.
I want a red dress. I want it flimsy and cheap, I want it too tight, I want to wear it until someone tears it off me. I want it sleeveless and backless, this dress, so no one has to guess what's underneath. I want to walk down the street past Thrifty's and the hardware store with all those keys glittering in the window, past Mr. and Mrs. Wong selling day-old donuts in their café, past the Guerra brothers slinging pigs from the truck and onto the dolly, hoisting the slick snouts over their shoulders. I want to walk like I'm the only woman on earth and I can have my pick. I want that red dress bad. I want it to confirm your worst fears about me, to show you how little I care about you or anything except what I want. When I find it, I'll pull that garment from its hanger like I'm choosing a body to carry me into this world, through the birth-cries and the love-cries too, and I'll wear it like bones, like skin, it'll be the goddamned dress they bury me in.
From Tell Me by Kim Addonizio. Copyright © 2000 by Kim Addonizio. Reprinted by permission of BOA Editions, Ltd. All rights reserved.
You foolish men who lay
the guilt on women,
not seeing you’re the cause
of the very thing you blame;
if you invite their disdain
with measureless desire
why wish they well behave
if you incite to ill.
You fight their stubbornness,
you say it was their lightness
when it was your guile.
In all your crazy shows
you act just like a child
who plays the bogeyman
of which he’s then afraid.
With foolish arrogance
you hope to find a Thais
in her you court, but a Lucretia
when you’ve possessed her.
What kind of mind is odder
than his who mists
a mirror and then complains
that it’s not clear.
Their favour and disdain
you hold in equal state,
if they mistreat, you complain,
you mock if they treat you well.
No woman wins esteem of you:
the most modest is ungrateful
if she refuses to admit you;
yet if she does, she’s loose.
You always are so foolish
your censure is unfair;
one you blame for cruelty
the other for being easy.
What must be her temper
who offends when she’s
ungrateful and wearies
But with the anger and the grief
that your pleasure tells
good luck to her who doesn’t love you
and you go on and complain.
Your lover’s moans give wings
to women’s liberty:
and having made them bad,
you want to find them good.
Who has embraced
the greater blame in passion?
She who, solicited, falls,
or he who, fallen, pleads?
Who is more to blame,
though either should do wrong?
She who sins for pay
or he who pays to sin?
Why be outraged at the guilt
that is of your own doing?
Have them as you make them
or make them what you will.
Leave off your wooing
and then, with greater cause,
you can blame the passion
of her who comes to court?
Patent is your arrogance
that fights with many weapons
since in promise and insistence
you join world, flesh and devil.
Copyright © 2004 by Michael Smith. Reprinted by permission of the translator and Shearsman Books Ltd.
Because her body is winter inside a cave
because someone built
fire there and forgot to put it out
because bedtime is a castle
she’s building inside herself
with a moat
and buckets full of mist
because when you let go
tumble over cliffs and turn
into moths before hitting bottom
because their hooves leave streaks of midnight
in the sky
because stuffed rabbits
are better at keeping secrets
than stopping hands
because when the world got
shoved up inside her
she held it tight like a kegel ball
at the struggle Atlas had
carrying such a tiny thing
on his back
Copyright © 2015 by Melisa Studdard. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 24, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
As a girl I made my calves into little drinking elephants,
I would stare at the wonder of their pumping muscles,
the sup of their leg-trunks. I resuscitated a bunny once
from my cat’s electric teeth. I was on neighborhood watch
to save animals, as many as I could. My damage was easy.
My plainspoken voice is a watercolor. I’m afraid of it
as I’m afraid of what the world will do to color. I don’t
think I’ve done much. A table leans against itself
to be a table. I hold nothing but this air. I give it off.
I want a literature that is not made from literature, says Bhanu.
Last night my legs ached a low-tone. I imagined the body
giving itself up for another system. Dandelions tickling
out of my knee. The meniscus a household of worms.
It is okay to bear. My apartment hums in a Rilke sense.
A pain blooms. I am told that it’s okay to forego details
of what happened. I am told it doesn’t matter now.
I want to write sentences for days. I want days to not
be a sentence. We put men in boxes and sail them away.
Justice gave me an amber necklace. I tried to swallow
as many as I could.
Copyright © 2015 by Natalie Eilbert. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 30, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets
if there is a river more beautiful than this bright as the blood red edge of the moon if there is a river more faithful than this returning each month to the same delta if there is a river braver than this coming and coming in a surge of passion, of pain if there is a river more ancient than this daughter of eve mother of cain and of abel if there is in the universe such a river if there is some where water more powerful than this wild water pray that it flows also through animals beautiful and faithful and ancient and female and brave
Lucille Clifton, "poem in praise of menstruation" from Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton. Copyright © 1991 by Lucille Clifton. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., boaeditions.org.
When I rise up above the earth,
And look down on the things that fetter me,
I beat my wings upon the air,
Or tranquil lie,
Surge after surge of potent strength
Like incense comes to me
When I rise up above the earth
And look down upon the things that fetter me.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on February 10, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)
O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!
I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.
Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”
Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.
O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!
From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Copyright © 1994 the Estate of Langston Hughes. Used with permission.
Do you remember our earnestness our sincerity
in first grade when we learned to sing America
The Beautiful along with the Star-Spangled Banner
and say the Pledge of Allegiance to America
We put our hands over our first grade hearts
we felt proud to be citizens of America
I said One Nation Invisible until corrected
maybe I was right about America
School days school days dear old Golden Rule Days
when we learned how to behave in America
What to wear, how to smoke, how to despise our parents
who didn’t understand us or America
Only later learning the Banner and the Beautiful
live on opposite sides of the street in America
Only later discovering the Nation is divisible
by money by power by color by gender by sex America
We comprehend it now this land is two lands
one triumphant bully one still hopeful America
Imagining amber waves of grain blowing in the wind
purple mountains and no homeless in America
Sometimes I still put my hand tenderly on my heart
somehow or other still carried away by America
Copyright © 2013 by Alicia Ostriker. "Ghazal: America the Beautiful" has appeared in the July-August 2012 issue of The Atlantic and in the Winter 2013 issue of Logos. Used with permission of the author.
Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,
And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth,
Stealing my breath of life, I will confess
I love this cultured hell that tests my youth!
Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,
Giving me strength erect against her hate.
Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.
Yet as a rebel fronts a king in state,
I stand within her walls with not a shred
Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.
Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,
And see her might and granite wonders there,
Beneath the touch of Time’s unerring hand,
Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.
This poem is in the public domain.