We were all Jack Gilbert’s lovers, not in the world
but in the poems, in the world of the poems, dying
on the rocky broken spurs of hard islands in a blue
country across the sea, lovers carried in his arms
for decades sometimes, more, the wind a character
that refused to lift the center of the word pain, where
vowels fall into the letter n the way the summer,
wheat-blazed and feral, pours into the cold weeks
of November, winter in its bones to come. Jack
loved us, not as a god or a devil, however nuanced,
but as one who must attend to the difficult harvest
of a life, to the losses and the simple grain that we might,
if we listen beyond the howling in our own hearts, hear 
him singing about as he carries us up the dead mountain.

Copyright © 2019 by Brian Turner. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 23, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Because the cathedral leaked yellow light

onto cobblestones like a slit carton of milk.

Because boxes of red wine emptied

down the throat’s swiveling street.

Because the music of my footsteps

like notes of ash.

Because he curved like a question mark

puncturing a flap of heaven.

Because litros tucked in brown paper bags,

two packs of Chesterfields a day, 

at the breakfast table, 

on the lip of a balcony.

Because I woke in a shrine   

of my own stickiness.

Because his lips were aperitif.

Because my father kissed his forehead 

outside the mosque,

the taste of rum and rose petals. 

Because oranges bulging in coat pockets.

Because the condom held against the light,

swirling cities of children we would never conceive.

Because it broke,

the cartography of longing pulsed onto soft thigh.

Because the long walk home chaperoned by stray dogs,

the drunk’s grief of the Guadalquivir,

blue cough and jasmine rotting in my hair.

Because I passed out in the bar bathroom

and mistook the toilet for my mother’s legs.

Because the shard of glass in the singer’s throat.

Because he cried when he was happy.

Because the thief looked me in the eyes and didn’t take the purse.

Because the petroglyphs of our hands wounded the white walls,

how we made the world small,

siphoning god’s breath 

to sweeten the blood-flavored noon.

Copyright © 2019 by Kendra DeColo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 30, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

My two hunting dogs have names, but I rarely use them. As 
I go, they go: I lead; they follow, the blue-eyed one first, then
the one whose coloring—her coat, not her eyes—I sometimes 
call never-again-o-never-this-way-henceforth. Hope, ambition: 
these are not their names, though the way they run might suggest 
otherwise. Like steam off night-soaked wooden fencing when 
the sun first hits it, they rise each morning at my command. Late 
in the Iliad, Priam the king of Troy predicts his own murder—
correctly, except it won’t be by spear, as he imagines, but by 
sword thrust. He can see his corpse, sees the dogs he’s fed and 
trained so patiently pulling the corpse apart. After that, he says,
When they’re full, they’ll lie in the doorway, they’ll lap my blood. 
I say: Why shouldn’t they? Everywhere, the same people who 
mistake obedience for loyalty think somehow loyalty weighs more 
than hunger, when it doesn’t. At night, when it’s time for bed, 
we sleep together, the three of us: muscled animal, muscled animal, 
muscled animal. The dogs settle to either side of me as if each 
were the slightly folded wing of a beast from fable, part power, part 
recognition. We breathe in a loose kind of unison. Our breathing 
ripples the way oblivion does—routinely, across history’s face.

Copyright © 2019 by Carl Phillips. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 31, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

A silver flash from the sinking sun, 
Then a shot of crimson across the sky
That, bursting, lets a thousand colors fly
And riot among the clouds; they run,
Deepening in purple, flaming in gold,
Changing, and opening fold after fold,
Then fading through all of the tints of the rose into gray.
Till, taking quick fright at the coming night,
They rush out down the west,
In hurried quest
Of the fleeing day.

Now above where the tardiest color flares a moment yet,
One point of light, now two, now three are set
To form the starry stairs,—
And, in her firefly crown,
Queen Night, on velvet slippered feet, comes softly down.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on August 4, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

I hear the sound of the sprinkler outside, not the soft kind we used to run through
but the hard kind that whips in one direction then cranks back and starts again.

Last night we planned to find the white argument of the Milky Way 
but we are twenty years too late. Last night I cut the last stargazer 
lily to wear in my hair. 

This morning, the hardest geography quiz I’ve ever taken: how does one carry
oneself from mountain to lake to desert without leaving anything behind?

Perhaps I ought to have worked harder. 
Perhaps I could have paid more attention.
A mountain I didn’t climb. Music I yearned for but could not achieve.

I travel without maps, free-style my scripture, pretend the sky is an adequate
representation of my spiritual beliefs. 

The sprinkler switches off. The grass will be wet. 
I haven’t even gotten to page 2 of my life and I’m probably more than halfway through,
who knows what kind of creature I will become.

Copyright © 2019 by Kazim Ali. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 8, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

I thought I could stop
time by taking apart
the clock. Minute hand. Hour hand.

Nothing can keep. Nothing
is kept. Only kept track of. I felt

passing seconds
accumulate like dead calves
in a thunderstorm

of the mind no longer a mind
but a page torn
from the dictionary with the definition of self

effaced. I couldn’t face it: the world moving

on as if nothing happened.
Everyone I knew got up. Got dressed.
Went to work. Went home.

There were parties. Ecstasy.
Hennessy. Dancing
around each other. Bluntness. Blunts

rolled to keep
thought after thought
from roiling

like wind across water—
coercing shapelessness into shape.

I put on my best face.
I was glamour. I was grammar.

Yet my best couldn’t best my beast.

I, too, had been taken apart.
I didn’t want to be
fixed. I wanted everything dismantled and useless

like me. Case. Wheel. Hands. Dial. Face.

Copyright © 2020 by Paul Tran. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 9, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

I awake to you.  A burning building.  
The alarm is my own.  Internal alarm, clock alarm, 
then coming through your very walls.  The alarm 
is of you.  I call first with my mouth.  Then with my phone.
No one.  Then maybe someone.  Then yes, a fire fighter, or two, is coming.  
Outside, the children gather and gawk.  Cover their ears from the blare.
They are clothed in their footed pajamas.  We are all awake now. Even you,
the burning building.  
I’m leaving, I say.  I look them each in the eyes, the mouths, the chests.  
I look at their footed feet.
I’m leaving you burning.   The children can walk.  The children can follow.
The building burns now behind me.  You burn, 
behind me.  The alarm
Screams.  No. No.
Not screaming. 
There is a field between us.  
Now you are calling. 
And now beseeching.
Behind me the children are a trail of children.  Some following.  Some clinging.
And now you, my home, my building, burn and burn.
There is a mountain between us.
And now you are ringing.  
And now you are singing.
I look back.  Back to you, burning building.
You are a glowing dancer, you are a façade on sparkling display.
Now a child.  Or two.  Or three.  Pilgrim children. Between me 
And you.  

Copyright © 2020 by Tiphanie Yanique. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 12, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

I cannot sing, because when a child, 
   My mother often hushed me. 
The others she allowed to sing, 
   No matter what their melody. 

And since I’ve grown to manhood
   All music I applaud, 
But have no voice for singing, 
   So I write my songs to God. 

I have ears and know the measures, 
   And I’ll write a song for you, 
But the world must do the singing 
   Of my sonnets old and new. 

Now tell me, world of music, 
   Why I cannot sing one song? 
Is it because my mother hushed me
   And laughed when I was wrong?

Although I can write music, 
   And tell when harmony’s right, 
I will never sing better than when 
   My song was hushed one night. 

Fond mothers, always be careful; 
   Let the songs be poorly sung. 
To hush the child is cruel; 
   Let it sing while it is young. 

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on January 26, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Just a rainy day or two
In a windy tower,
That was all I had of you—
Saving half an hour.

Marred by greeting passing groups
In a cinder walk,
Near some naked blackberry hoops
Dim with purple chalk.

I remember three or four
Things you said in spite,
And an ugly coat you wore,
Plaided black and white.

Just a rainy day or two
And a bitter word.
Why do I remember you
As a singing bird?

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on January 25, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

You are someone with a penchant for dark
beers and pasts, walk-in closets and porch-step

smokes, who liked to ride it out to the depths 
of the middle of Lake Hopatcong, spark

the flint of your lighter, take longing drags
and talk about hipster coffee and sex

with whipped cream designs—and sometimes, your next
lover—and dive in to put out the fag,

swim to the deck to peel off your cotton
boxers and wring them in your fighter’s fist.

It’s too cold in the fall on the water
we fall in, too naked for falling in

naked and docking unanchored like this.
I remember. You’d kiss me and shiver.

Copyright © 2020 by Billie R. Tadros. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 2, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

They were calm because it had never happened before,
because they thought it had, it must have, when designed, 
a tunnel to fit the child but not the adult. Then how 
if a child crawled there and curled and closed her mouth, 
how to get the child out? Send another in. Send in 
someone small. They were calm because everyone 
finds reasons to be calm when there is wind or sun or 
this coat at the base of the slide, it must be the child’s,
Come out. It’s fine. Come on, now. Come out. 
They were wrong. All of them were wrong. Some thought:
a saw! Some thought: calm down! They were getting 
somewhere with their thoughts. Part of the crowd grew 
angry with the other part for making a crowd,
so one crawled up into the tube until his chest stopped 
like his breath and he saw something wrong: 
the sun made blue in the tube. Something about the sun 
and black streaks from shoes. The crowd saw the half of him
left out kick then kick wild, so they pulled the other 
half out. They sat him up and someone groaned, 
someone said Enough, now, come on. Sweetheart, enough. 
Come out. Then another crawled inside, left her coat 
by the slide, passed the streaks, saw the blue, smelled the plastic
in her mouth that comes from plastic having caught
the sun at noon, the burning soon night-cooled,
a thousand black-streak tallies to mark the cycle of shoes then 
wider shoes of older children pressed inside by two 
to touch and make the space between them small—
this one heard a sound. Someone’s calling me she thought.
I’m found. So she crawled back. Remembered all. 
Moved aside. Another tried. Lost. Another tried. 

Copyright © 2019 by Mario Chard. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 27, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

The world baffles with sounds,
the worst of which is a human voice.
You would think that with a judgment like that
I would hate crowds, but better a pub’s intermingled dozens
than the sound of one fool speaking his mind.
The dozens drum and buzz and hum.
Against the dozens I could ring a wet glass
and sing C above high C,
could settle a bet with bold harmonics,
could stun down the bark of a barracks of dogs.
But against one idiot all another idiot can do is shout.
Imagine a life in which shouting was the precondition
for every action, if you had to shout to step, shout to sit,
shout loudly to effect any outcome.
What when you did speak would you say?
What wouldn’t sound old to you, 
about what could you not say I’ve heard this before?
What a relief it would be to scream yourself hoarse,
to be forced into silence,
the one note you know you can always hold.

Copyright © 2019 by Raymond McDaniel. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 24, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

It was at first fire
Then volcanoes 
Now the latest fear keeping 
My daughter’s door open
Through the night
Is that of being afraid
Is there a narrator in this show 
She asks as the authority  
Of the voiceover in the cartoon
Loses what I imagine as credibility 
In her six-year-old mind
It’s a creation myth
The one she’s watching
Because it was intentional 
For months before her conception 
I was afraid of having sex
As though there’s an answer 
That would eclipse this 
New-found complication
How can I not be scared 
Of being scared she asks
Never trust the authority 
Of the narrator I want 
To tell her but I’d be lying

Copyright © 2019 by Noah Eli Gordon. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 30, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

A Memory

You lay so still in the sunshine,
So still in that hot sweet hour—
That the timid things of the forest land
Came close; a butterfly lit on your hand,
Mistaking it for a flower.

You scarcely breathed in your slumber,
So dreamless it was, so deep—
While the warm air stirred in my veins like wine,
The air that had blown through a jasmine vine,
But you slept—and I let you sleep.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on August 25, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

When I get to where I’m going
I want the death of my children explained to me.

                                                       —Lucille Clifton

They meet over tea and potato chips.
Brown and buttermilk women,
hipped and hardened,
legs uncrossed but proper
still in their smiles;
smiles that carry a sadness in faint creases.
A sadness they will never be without.

One asks the other,
“What do they call a woman who has lost a child?”

The other sighs between sips of lukewarm tea.
There is no name for us.

“No name? But there has to be a name for us.
We must have something to call ourselves.”

Surely, history by now and all the women
who carry their babies’ ghosts on their backs,
mothers who wake up screaming,
women wide awake in their nightmares,
mothers still expected to be mothers and human,
women who stand under hot showers weeping,
mothers who wish they could drown standing up,
women who can still smell them—hear them,
the scent and symphony of their children,
deep down in the good earth.

“Surely, history has not forgotten to name us?”

No woman wants to bear
whatever could be the name for this grief.
Even if she must bear the grief for all her days,
it would be far too painful to be called by that name.

“I’ve lost two, you know.”
Me too.
“I was angry at God, you know.”
Me too.
“I stopped praying but only for a little while,
and then I had no choice. I had to pray again.
I had to call out to something that was no longer there.
I had to believe God knew where it was.”

“I fear death no longer. It has taken everything.
But should I be? Should I be afraid of what death has taken?
That it took and left no name?”

The other who sighs between sips of lukewarm tea
leans over and kisses the cheek of the one still with questions.
She whispers…

No, you don’t have to be afraid.
Death is no more scary than the lives we have lived
without our babies, bound to this grief
with no name.

Copyright © 2019 by Parneshia Jones. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 22, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Your ride home complains      the grocery store is freezing
they’d rather wait outside       the burly guy
with the walrus stache asks whether you want your Italian
with the works              You’re not sure what that means

So you ask and he tells you    laboriously surprised
and also do you want tomato              thanks
you lean on the counter and focus     on condensation
the chill on your palm and forearm    and under the glass

the meats in trays and butcher paper beds
some sausages            sad stacked-up tongue
a leathery souse or loaf            so out of it

that when he wants to know if that’s your order
and calls out loud         Is that your order ma’am
you startle and then apologize            for taking up his time
but he called you ma’am          so you don’t mind

Copyright © 2019 by Stephanie Burt. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 9, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.