is a field 

             as long as the butterflies say 

                                                                       it is a field 

 
with their flight

 
                                         it takes a long time 

to see

                         like light or sound or language

                                                                                      to arrive

and keep 
                         arriving

 
 
                                       we have more

than six sense dialect

                                                                      and i

am still

              adjusting to time

 
                              the distance and its permanence

 
i have found my shortcuts

 
                             and landmarks

                                                          to place

 
where i first took form

                                                                                           in the field

Copyright © 2022 by Marwa Helal. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 3, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

                The world is a beautiful place 
                                                           to be born into 
if you don’t mind happiness 
                                             not always being 
                                                                        so very much fun 
       if you don’t mind a touch of hell
                                                       now and then
                just when everything is fine
                                                             because even in heaven
                                they don’t sing 
                                                        all the time

             The world is a beautiful place
                                                           to be born into
       if you don’t mind some people dying
                                                                  all the time
                        or maybe only starving
                                                           some of the time
                 which isn’t half so bad
                                                      if it isn’t you

      Oh the world is a beautiful place
                                                          to be born into
               if you don’t much mind
                                                   a few dead minds
                    in the higher places
                                                    or a bomb or two
                            now and then
                                                  in your upturned faces
         or such other improprieties
                                                    as our Name Brand society
                                  is prey to
                                              with its men of distinction
             and its men of extinction
                                                   and its priests
                         and other patrolmen
                                                         and its various segregations
         and congressional investigations
                                                             and other constipations
                        that our fool flesh
                                                     is heir to

Yes the world is the best place of all
                                                           for a lot of such things as
         making the fun scene
                                                and making the love scene
and making the sad scene
                                         and singing low songs of having 
                                                                                      inspirations
and walking around 
                                looking at everything
                                                                  and smelling flowers
and goosing statues
                              and even thinking 
                                                         and kissing people and
     making babies and wearing pants
                                                         and waving hats and
                                     dancing
                                                and going swimming in rivers
                              on picnics
                                       in the middle of the summer
and just generally
                            ‘living it up’

Yes
   but then right in the middle of it
                                                    comes the smiling
                                                                                 mortician

                                           

From A Coney Island of the Mind, copyright ©1955 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.

You have been my love for so many years,
It makes me dizzy to think of so much hope,
And my dizziness won't be aged, or cooled;
Even by what waited for our death,
Or slowly learned how to fight us,
Even by what is foreign to us,
Or by my eclipses and my returns.

A boxwood shutter
Encloses our outrageous luck,
Our chain of mountains,
Our compressed splendor.

I say luck, my wounded one,
Each of us can receive
The mystery of the other
Without divulging it;
Moreover our grief, which comes from elsewhere,
That grief, which destroys and renews us,
Will dissolve itself
In the flesh of our union,
Will finally find its orbit
In our cloudy center.

I say luck; it's how I feel.
You have lifted the mountain top
Which my hope will have to climb
When tomorrow disappears.

From This Smoke That Carried Us by Rene Char. Copyright © 2004 by White Pine Press. Translation copyright © 2004 by Susanne Dubroff. All rights reserved.

I would like to watch you sleeping,
which may not happen.
I would like to watch you,
sleeping. I would like to sleep
with you, to enter
your sleep as its smooth dark wave
slides over my head

and walk with you through that lucent
wavering forest of bluegreen leaves
with its watery sun & three moons
towards the cave where you must descend,
towards your worst fear

I would like to give you the silver
branch, the small white flower, the one
word that will protect you
from the grief at the center
of your dream, from the grief
at the center. I would like to follow
you up the long stairway
again & become
the boat that would row you back
carefully, a flame
in two cupped hands
to where your body lies
beside me, and you enter
it as easily as breathing in

I would like to be the air
that inhabits you for a moment
only. I would like to be that unnoticed
& that necessary.

From Selected Poems II: 1976-1986 by Margaret Atwood. Copyright © 1987 by Margaret Atwood. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.

dear lord in this time of darkness
help us see the darkness

dear lord help us to not pretend
no more pretending

dear lord may our gaze be defenseless
and unshardable

teach us the piety of the open eye

dear lord in this time of darkness
may we be unafraid to mourn and together and hugely

may dignity lose its scaffolding
faces crumble like bricks

dear lord let grief come to grief

and then o lord help us to see the bees yet in the lavender
the spokes of sunlight down through the oaks

and the sleep-opened face of the beloved
and the afternoon all around her
and her small freckled hands

Copyright © 2015 by Teddy Macker. This poem originally appeared in This World (White Cloud Press, 2015). Used with permission of the author.

 

after Gwendolyn Brooks

My wild grief didn’t know where to end.
Everywhere I looked: a field alive and unburied.
Whole swaths of green swallowed the light.
All around me, the field was growing. I grew out
My hair in every direction. Let the sun freckle my face.
Even in the greenest depths, I crouched
Towards the light. That summer, everything grew
So alive and so alone. A world hushed in green.
Wildest grief grew inside out.

I crawled to the field’s edge, bruises blooming
In every crevice of my palms.
I didn’t know I’d reached a shoreline till I felt it
There: A salt wind lifted
The hair from my neck.
At the edge of every green lies an ocean.
When I saw that blue, I knew then:
This world will end.

Grief is not the only geography I know.
Every wound closes. Repair comes with sweetness,
Come spring. Every empire will fall:
I must believe this. I felt it
Somewhere in the field: my ancestors
Murmuring Go home, go home—soon, soon.
No country wants me back anymore and I’m okay.

If grief is love with nowhere to go, then
Oh, I’ve loved so immensely.
That summer, everything I touched
Was green. All bruises will fade
From green and blue to skin.
Let me grow through this green
And not drown in it.
Let me be lawless and beloved,
Ungovernable and unafraid.
Let me be brave enough to live here.
Let me be precise in my actions.
Let me feel hurt.
I know I can heal.
Let me try again—again and again.

Copyright © 2022 by Laurel Chen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 21, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

Out of the bosom of the Air,
    Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
    Over the harvest-fields forsaken,
      Silent, and soft, and slow
      Descends the snow.

Even as our cloudy fancies take
    Suddenly shape in some divine expression,
Even as the troubled heart doth make
In the white countenance confession,
      The troubled sky reveals
      The grief it feels.

This is the poem of the air,
    Slowly in silent syllables recorded;
This is the secret of despair,
    Long in its cloudy bosom hoarded,
      Now whispered and revealed
      To wood and field.

This poem is in the public domain.

All night the cocks crew, under a moon like day,
And I, in the cage of sleep, on a stranger's breast,
Shed tears, like a task not to be put away---
In the false light, false grief in my happy bed,
A labor of tears, set against joy's undoing.
I would not wake at your word, I had tears to say.
I clung to the bars of the dream and they were said,
And pain's derisive hand had given me rest
From the night giving off flames, and the dark renewing.

From The Blue Estuaries: Poems 1923-1968 by Louise Bogan, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Copyright © 1968 Louise Bogan. Used with permission.

It’s love you left, we’ll say
when you never come back
for bells for the dead, for the grave
stone heads: the only ones
that don’t keep count. Don’t
we know it’s love that keeps you
away, that marks every mile
devotion? You would’ve went
to the end with each one,
made Orpheus turn back.
Would’ve fell / would’ve leapt /
would’ve left. The living is easy
/ the leaving is easy / living
with ghosts, it was easy
to give up your home
to your father, struck
with the same grief
of living, demanding
what are you gonna do
with my mama’s house?
Shorn grass & damp dirt:
they’ll put me in the middle.
I kick the ground like tires,
feeling dumb without flowers /
tokens / grief / anything
in my hands. You’ll bring me
back home, won’t you? Stamp
it down, as if the flat earth
could answer sometimes this,
too, is love. You left. 

Copyright © 2016 Gary Jackson. Used with permission of the author.

And not just those disciples
whom he loved, and not just
his mother; for all creation

was his mother, if he shared
his cells with worms and ferns
and whales, silt and spiderweb,

with the very walls of his crypt.
Of all creation, only he slept,
the rest awake and rapt with grief

when love’s captain leapt
onto the cross, into an abyss
the weather hadn’t dreamt.

Hero mine the beloved,
cried snowflakes, cried the moons
of unknown planets, cried the thorns

in his garland, the nails bashed
through his bones, the spikes of dry grass
on the hillside, dotted with water

and with blood—real tears,
and not a trick of rain-light
blinked and blurred onto a tree

so that the tree seems wound
in gold. It was not wound
in gold or rain but in a rapture

of salt, the wood splintering
as he splintered when he wept
over Lazarus, over Jerusalem,

until his sorrow became his action,
his grief his victory—
until his tears became a rupture

in nature, all creation
discipled to his suffering
on the gilded gallows-tree,

the wood which broke beneath the weight
of love, though it had no ears to hear
him cry out, and no eyes to see.

Excerpted from Scriptorium: Poems by Melissa Range (Beacon Press, 2016). Reprinted with Permission from Beacon Press. 

            after Mary Oliver

Here is the meat
and fat and bone
of the day. The smoke
too for the god of recognition.

A love offering,
where love is also
grief and mourning,
the business of waking
and moving in a body far
away from you,
sweet friend.

Where waking
and moving mean
crying or not crying,
but always breathing.

Mark how the light
bends through the dry
air, like breath,
at the end of the day.

Mark the chirbling of the bird
outside my window.

Mark the day we will see
one another again,
and what light there will be,
what song.

Originally published in West Branch (Issue 97, 2021). Copyright © 2021 by Donika Kelly. Used with the permission of the poet.

In the beginning, there was your mouth:
soft rose, rose murmur, murmured breath, a warm

cardinal wind that drew my needle north.
Magnetic flux, the press of form to form. 

In the beginning, there was your mouth—
the trailhead, the pathhead faintly opened,

the canyon, river-carved, farther south,
and ahead: the field, the direction chosen.

In the beginning, there was your mouth,
a sky full of stars, raked or raking, clock-

wise or west, and in the close or mammoth 
matter, my heart’s red muscle, knocked and knocked.

In the beginning, there was your mouth,
And nothing since but what the earth bears out.

Copyright © 2021 by Donika Kelly. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 26, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

Here at the center      of a field            of green

                                                                                   

leaves waving            center of a         grief I can’t

 

see far enough           to tell how         it will ease

 

it will not ease           it goes on           and on now

 

as yours does            in sunlight         and in rain

 

holding hands with    her in the           last minutes

 

sky so vast                hear the            wheat roar—

Copyright © 2015 by David Baker. Used with permission of the author. “Pastoral” originally appeared in T Magazine.

means nostalgia, I’m told, but also
nostalgia for what never was. Isn’t it
the same thing? At a café
in Rio flies wreathe my glass.

How you would have loved this: the waiter
sweating his knit shirt dark. Children
loping, in tiny suits or long shorts, dragging
toys and towels to the beach. We talk,

or I talk, and imagine your answer, the heat clouding our view.
Here, again, grief fashioned in its cruelest translation:
my imagined you is all I have left of you.

Copyright © 2017 by John Freeman. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 10, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Where do words come from?
from what rubbing of sounds are they born
on what flint do they light their wicks
what winds brought them into our mouths

Their past is the rustling of stifled silences
the trumpeting of molten elements
the grunting of stagnant waters

Sometimes
they grip each other with a cry
expand into lamentations
become mist on the windows of dead houses
crystallize into chips of grief on dead lips
attach themselves to a fallen star
dig their hole in nothingness
breathe out strayed souls

Words are rocky tears
the keys to the first doors
they grumble in caverns
lend their ruckus to storms
their silence to bread that's ovened alive

From She Says by Vénus Khoury-Ghata, translated from the French by Marilyn Hacker, published by Graywolf Press, May 2003. Copyright © 2003 by Vénus Khoury-Ghata. Reprinted by permission of Graywolf Press. All rights reserved.

The dead thing mashed into the street
the crows are squabbling over isn't
her, nor are their raucous squawks
the quiet cawing from her throat
those final hours she couldn't speak.
But the racket irks him.
It seems a cruel intrusion into grief
so mute it will never be expressed
no matter how loud or long the wailing
he might do. Nor could there be a word
that won't debase it, no matter
how kind or who it comes from.
She knew how much he loved her.
That must be his consolation
when he must talk to buy necessities.
Every place will be a place without her.
What people will see when they see him
pushing a shopping cart or fetching mail
is just a neatly dressed polite old man. 

From New and Selected Poems by Michael Ryan. Copyright © 2004 by Michael Ryan. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.

The world will keep trudging through time without us

When we lift from the story contest to fly home

We will be as falling stars to those watching from the edge

Of grief and heartbreak

Maybe then we will see the design of the two-minded creature 

And know why half the world fights righteously for greedy masters 

And the other half is nailing it all back together

Through the smoke of cooking fires, lovers’ trysts, and endless 

Human industry—

Maybe then, beloved rascal

We will find each other again in the timeless weave of breathing

We will sit under the trees in the shadow of earth sorrows 

Watch hyenas drink rain, and laugh.

This poem originally appeared in The New Yorker (October 4, 2021). Copyright © 2021 by Joy Harjo. Used with the permission of the poet.

They say there’s a high windless world and strange,
    Out of the wash of days and temporal tide,
    Where Faith and Good, Wisdom and Truth abide,
Æterna corpora, subject to no change.
There the sure suns of those pale shadows move;
    There stand the immortal ensigns of our war;
    Our melting flesh fixed Beauty there, a star,
And perishing hearts, imperishable Love. . . .

Dear, we know only that we sigh, kiss, smile;
    Each kiss lasts but the kissing; and grief goes over;
    Love has no habitation but the heart.
Poor straws! on the dark flood we catch awhile,
    Cling, and are born into the night apart.
    The laugh dies with the lips, ‘Love’ with the lover.

This poem is in the public domain.

Reincarnation, life everlasting--
call it whatever you will--

it will not change
the facts: we are ashes of stellar death.

And, in the end, wishing on shooting stars
is like pinning your hopes

on the last sound of the whistle
trailing off, last chord of the train

sparking on the tracks
then fading into the dark.

From Song of Thieves by Shara McCallum. Copyright © 2003 by Shara McCallum. Reprinted by permission of University of Pittsburgh Press. All rights reserved.

When the dead return
they will come to you in dream
and in waking, will be the bird
knocking, knocking against glass, seeking
a way in, will masquerade
as the wind, its voice made audible
by the tongues of leaves, greedily
lapping, as the waves’ self-made fugue
is a turning and returning, the dead
will not then nor ever again
desert you, their unrest
will be the coat cloaking you,
the farther you journey
from them the more
that distance will maw in you,
time and place gulching
when the dead return to demand
accounting, wanting
and wanting and wanting
everything you have to give and nothing
will quench or unhunger them
as they take all you make as offering.
Then tell you to begin again.

Copyright © 2018 by Shara McCallum. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 31, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

To honor movement in crescendos of text, combing through ashes for fragments of human bone, studying maps drawn for the absurdity of navigation — what may be so edgy about this state of emergency is my lack of apology for what I am bound to do. For instance, if I dream the wetness of your mouth an oyster my tongue searches for the taste of ocean, if I crave the secret corners of your city on another continent, in another time, in series of circular coils extending outward, then it is only because I continue to harbor the swirls of galaxies in the musculature and viscera of my body. You will appear because I have mouthed your name in half-wish, reluctant to bring myself to you. You will appear for me, because you always do, with earthen skin outside the possibility of human causation.

Copyright © 2005 by Barbara Jane Reyes. Reprinted with permission of the author from poeta en san francisco, published by Tinfish Press.

Before she is turned away
  for the last time in the moment
before the new world begins
  harrowing her like a field

and the sun and moon disappear
  and the stars and the houses
suddenly become illustrations
  in a book no longer to be

believed burning to ashes—
  before the earth beneath her
rises up through her body
  slowly, every green cell

yellowing in the aftermath—
  just before this begins and
it begins constantly over
  and over in the secret nucleus

of mothers quietly humming
  at every second continuously
she breathes the odor of honey,
  his hair still the odor of honey.

Reprinted by permission of Louisiana State University Press from For Love of Common Words: Poems by Steve Scafidi. Copyright © 2006 by Steve Scafidi.

"Curse thee, Life, I will live with thee no more!
Thou hast mocked me, starved me, beat my body sore!
And all for a pledge that was not pledged by me,
I have kissed thy crust and eaten sparingly
That I might eat again, and met thy sneers
With deprecations, and thy blows with tears,—
Aye, from thy glutted lash, glad, crawled away,
As if spent passion were a holiday!
And now I go. Nor threat, nor easy vow
Of tardy kindness can avail thee now
With me, whence fear and faith alike are flown;
Lonely I came, and I depart alone,
And know not where nor unto whom I go;
But that thou canst not follow me I know."

Thus I to Life, and ceased; but through my brain
My thought ran still, until I spake again:

"Ah, but I go not as I came,—no trace
Is mine to bear away of that old grace
I brought! I have been heated in thy fires,
Bent by thy hands, fashioned to thy desires,
Thy mark is on me! I am not the same
Nor ever more shall be, as when I came.
Ashes am I of all that once I seemed.
In me all's sunk that leapt, and all that dreamed
Is wakeful for alarm,—oh, shame to thee,
For the ill change that thou hast wrought in me,
Who laugh no more nor lift my throat to sing
Ah, Life, I would have been a pleasant thing
To have about the house when I was grown
If thou hadst left my little joys alone!
I asked of thee no favor save this one:
That thou wouldst leave me playing in the sun!
And this thou didst deny, calling my name
Insistently, until I rose and came.
I saw the sun no more.—It were not well
So long on these unpleasant thoughts to dwell,
Need I arise to-morrow and renew
Again my hated tasks, but I am through
With all things save my thoughts and this one night,
So that in truth I seem already quite
Free,and remote from thee,—I feel no haste
And no reluctance to depart; I taste
Merely, with thoughtful mien, an unknown draught,
That in a little while I shall have quaffed."

Thus I to Life, and ceased, and slightly smiled,
Looking at nothing; and my thin dreams filed
Before me one by one till once again
I set new words unto an old refrain:

"Treasures thou hast that never have been mine!
Warm lights in many a secret chamber shine
Of thy gaunt house, and gusts of song have blown
Like blossoms out to me that sat alone!
And I have waited well for thee to show
If any share were mine,—and now I go
Nothing I leave, and if I naught attain
I shall but come into mine own again!"

Thus I to Life, and ceased, and spake no more,
But turning, straightway, sought a certain door
In the rear wall. Heavy it was, and low
And dark,—a way by which none e'er would go
That other exit had, and never knock
Was heard thereat,—bearing a curious lock
Some chance had shown me fashioned faultily,
Whereof Life held content the useless key,
And great coarse hinges, thick and rough with rust,
Whose sudden voice across a silence must,
I knew, be harsh and horrible to hear,—
A strange door, ugly like a dwarf.—So near
I came I felt upon my feet the chill
Of acid wind creeping across the sill.
So stood longtime, till over me at last
Came weariness, and all things other passed
To make it room; the still night drifted deep
Like snow about me, and I longed for sleep.

But, suddenly, marking the morning hour,
Bayed the deep-throated bell within the tower!
Startled, I raised my head,—and with a shout
Laid hold upon the latch,—and was without.

* * * *

Ah, long-forgotten, well-remembered road, 
Leading me back unto my old abode, 
My father's house! There in the night I came, 
And found them feasting, and all things the same 
As they had been before. A splendour hung 
Upon the walls, and such sweet songs were sung 
As, echoing out of very long ago, 
Had called me from the house of Life, I know.
So fair their raiment shone I looked in shame
On the unlovely garb in which I came;
Then straightway at my hesitancy mocked:
"It is my father's house!" I said and knocked;
And the door opened. To the shining crowd
Tattered and dark I entered, like a cloud,
Seeing no face but his; to him I crept,
And "Father!" I cried, and clasped his knees, and wept.

* * * *

Ah, days of joy that followed! All alone
I wandered through the house. My own, my own,
My own to touch, my own to taste and smell,
All I had lacked so long and loved so well!
None shook me out of sleep, nor hushed my song,
Nor called me in from the sunlight all day long.

I know not when the wonder came to me
Of what my father's business might be,
And whither fared and on what errands bent
The tall and gracious messengers he sent.
Yet one day with no song from dawn till night
Wondering, I sat, and watched them out of sight.
And the next day I called; and on the third
Asked them if I might go,—but no one heard.
Then, sick with longing, I arose at last
And went unto my father,—in that vast
Chamber wherein he for so many years
Has sat, surrounded by his charts and spheres.
"Father," I said, "Father, I cannot play
The harp that thou didst give me, and all day
I sit in idleness, while to and fro
About me thy serene, grave servants go;
And I am weary of my lonely ease.
Better a perilous journey overseas
Away from thee, than this, the life I lead,
To sit all day in the sunshine like a weed
That grows to naught,—I love thee more than they
Who serve thee most; yet serve thee in no way.
Father, I beg of thee a little task
To dignify my days,—'tis all I ask
Forever, but forever, this denied,
I perish."
        "Child," my father's voice replied,
"All things thy fancy hath desired of me
Thou hast received. I have prepared for thee
Within my house a spacious chamber, where
Are delicate things to handle and to wear,
And all these things are thine. Dost thou love song?
My minstrels shall attend thee all day long.
Or sigh for flowers? My fairest gardens stand
Open as fields to thee on every hand.
And all thy days this word shall hold the same:
No pleasure shalt thou lack that thou shalt name.
But as for tasks—" he smiled, and shook his head;
"Thou hadst thy task, and laidst it by," he said.

From Collected Poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay, published by Harper & Brothers Publishers. Copyright © 1956 by Norma Millay Ellis.

Before
a long time ago
I lived in a tree, then in a cemetery.
My tomb was under an oak. Dogs and men pissed on my head. I said nothing. Little 
     mauve flowers, scentless, grew there.
I had nothing to say.
Today shovels picked me up and threw me in this well.
I pace the abyss.
I descend. I am suspended.
The ashes still smolder. They rise, surround me, then fall again,
grey dust that makes my body a sand-filled hourglass.
I crumble. I am old abandoned rock.
I am sand and time.
I am faceless.
I nourish the land and pour my words into the land's blood.
I irrigate the tree roots in late spring.
I count the days and the deaths while 
men carry their households on their backs.

     *

This body which was once a word will no longer look at the sea and think of Homer.
It did not pass away. It was touched by a flash from the sky crushing speech and breath.
These crystals mixed in the sand are the last words pronounced by these unarmed men.

     *

In this country the dead travel
as statues and flames
They wear eyeglasses
and stretch out their scorched arms for flight.
We say they became invisible
Left to offer the living the years that remained of their lives.
Thus only years litter the desert: a century, more.
Lives for the taking, as jackals gorged on lives tremble to say:
"Death is not fatal just as night is the sun's shadow."

From The Rising of the Ashes by Tahar Ben Jelloun. Copyright © 2010 by Tahar Ben Jelloun and Cullen Goldblatt. Used by permission of City Lights Books.

She’s in the desert
releasing the ashes of her father,
the ashes of her child,
or the ashes of the world. She is not

what she observes. The rare spinystar.
It does not belong to her. Bright needle threading
a cloud through the sky. There’s sun enough,
there’s afterlife. Her own body, a pillar of ash.
I fall to pieces, she says. Faithless

nimbus, faithless thought. In my life,
I have lost two men. One by death,
inevitable. One

by error: a waste. He wept
from a northern state,
hunger too cold
for human knowledge.

Once I was a woman with nothing to say. 

Never did I say ash to ash.
Never has the desert woken me up.
I said
who releases whom?

Inevitably, all have known
what the desert knows. No one
will count the lupine when I’m gone.

No one looks to the sun
for meaning. For meat
I’ve done so much less.

Cattle in the far basin, sagebrush, sage. 

I live in the city where I loved that man.
The ash of him, the self’s argument.

Now and then, I think of his weeping,
how my body betrays me:
I am not done with releasing.

Copyright © 2015 by Jennifer Chang. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 11, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

Reanimated, spirit restored, 
reincorporated, body restored, 
I contemplate between dreams 
the scene I've stolen 
like the one who took fire, 
like the one who opened the devil box 
out of curiosity, 
like the one who saw her equal 
and her life's love 
were the same and so effortlessly 
brought them together. 
I took exactly
what was not mine, 
with my eyes. 
I saw the sea inside you:
on your surface, mud. 
I kissed you like a shipwreck, 
like one who insufflates the word. 
With my lips I traveled 
that entire continent, 
Adam, from dirt, Nothing. 
I knew myself in your substance, 
grounded there, 
emitting aromatic fumes, 
an amatory banquet of ashes.

Copyright © 2002 by Pura López-Colomé. Reprinted from No Shelter, with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota. All rights reserved.

To be the name uttered, but not to have the burden to be
To be the name said, but not heard
To not breathe anymore, to be the thing
To be the thing being breathed
To not be about to die, to be already dead
To not have to disappoint
To not have the burden of being late
Or punctual
To not eat, to not have to eat
To not feel anything
To not be the one whose affect is criticized
To not pick up the fallen over boxes
To be everywhere but the boxes or plates
To not break the plates
To be beyond breaking
To have been broken 
To not bear the burden of not being present
To not have to feel the pain of being hurt
To have transferred that pain over
So that hurt is only part of the imagination
And the imagination is everywhere, is every color
To not contain color, to be color
To not make sound, to be sound
To not have language, to echo, to plan language
To be the stream of words
To not be sad for
To not have those to be sad for
To not eat alone
To not fuck those who do not find your corpse attractive
To not fuck
Or stuff
To be ashes and non-placed
Not displaced, but to not be in any place
To enter the ocean on not a whim, but a physical force
Where there is no center
Where there is no safety
There never was
There was never any anger
There was never anything to look at
I never looked at anything
I just went and walked
I tried to love
But love is hopeless
And I have lost all hope, so bleak I am beyond
I am beyond what might be considered low
There is low nor high, space or time, I have 
Gone away from that which is uttered
I have not burdened to be spoken of or spoken for
To croak everyday to the livelong bog
I do not speak a thing
I exist
No, no I don't
I never did
And you may have
But I never did 
And you may have called out for me
But I was already gone
And I am already there
That which you speak of
I am already spoken for
In a world of light and ashes
They all call my name
They have waited for me
And now I know
I was always
Already there 
With them

Copyright © 2011 by Dorothea Lasky. Used with permission of the author.

A silver Lucifer
serves
cocaine in cornucopia

To some somnambulists
of adolescent thighs
draped
in satirical draperies

Peris in livery
prepare
Lethe
for posthumous parvenues

Delirious Avenues
lit
with the chandelier souls
of infusoria
from Pharoah's tombstones

lead
to mercurial doomsdays
Odious oasis
in furrowed phosphorous---

the eye-white sky-light
white-light district
of lunar lusts

---Stellectric signs
"Wing shows on Starway"
"Zodiac carrousel"

Cyclones
of ecstatic dust
and ashes whirl
crusaders
from hallucinatory citadels
of shattered glass
into evacuate craters

A flock of dreams 
browse on Necropolis

From the shores
of oval oceans
in the oxidized Orient

Onyx-eyed Odalisques
and ornithologists
observe
the flight
of Eros obsolete

And "Immortality"
mildews...
in the museums of the moon

"Nocturnal cyclops"
"Crystal concubine"
-------
Pocked with personification
the fossil virgin of the skies
waxes and wanes----

From The Lost Lunar Baedeker: Poems of Mina Loy, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1996. Copyright © 1996 by the Estate of Mina Loy. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

It was easy enough
to bend them to my wish,
it was easy enough
to alter them with a touch,
but you
adrift on the great sea,
how shall I call you back?

Cedar and white ash,
rock-cedar and sand plants
and tamarisk
red cedar and white cedar
and black cedar from the inmost forest,
fragrance upon fragrance
and all of my sea-magic is for nought.

It was easy enough—
a thought called them
from the sharp edges of the earth;
they prayed for a touch,
they cried for the sight of my face,
they entreated me
till in pity
I turned each to his own self.

Panther and panther,
then a black leopard
follows close—
black panther and red
and a great hound,
a god-like beast,
cut the sand in a clear ring
and shut me from the earth,
and cover the sea-sound
with their throats,
and the sea-roar with their own barks
and bellowing and snarls,
and the sea-stars
and the swirl of the sand,
and the rock-tamarisk
and the wind resonance—
but not your voice.

It is easy enough to call men
from the edges of the earth.
It is easy enough to summon them to my feet
with a thought—
it is beautiful to see the tall panther
and the sleek deer-hounds
circle in the dark.

It is easy enough
to make cedar and white ash fumes
into palaces
and to cover the sea-caves
with ivory and onyx.

But I would give up
rock-fringes of coral
and the inmost chamber
of my island palace
and my own gifts
and the whole region
of my power and magic
for your glance.

This poem is in the public domain.

To never be touched again. That line
has a sound. Hear it?
I don’t want to bring a story
to it. Not even an image.
It has a sound. Listen.

To never be touched. Oh, a nurse,
a doctor, but never to be touched in that way.
You know what way. Listen.
Hear it. Let’s not tag it with a feeling.
Give me a break. What possible song

would you play when you toss my ashes,
someone once asked me.
There is no song, he said. Don’t
narrativize, Diane. Don’t narrativize Diane.
See what a comma can do?
 

Copyright © 2022 by Diane Seuss. This poem originally appeared in The New Republic, May 19, 2022. Used with the permission of the author.

My friends are dead who were

the arches    the pillars of my life 

the structural relief when

the world gave none.

 

My friends who knew me as I knew them

their bodies folded into the ground or burnt to ash.

If I got on my knees

might I lift my life as a turtle carries her home?  

 

Who if I cried out would hear me?

My friends—with whom I might have spoken of this—are gone.

Copyright © 2022 by Marie Howe. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 22, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

233

            In heart’s perspective the distance looms large.

234

            The moon has her light all over the sky, her dark spots to herself.

235

            Do not say, “It is morning,” and dismiss it with a name of yesterday. See it for the first time as a new-born child that has no name.

236

            Smoke boasts to the sky, and Ashes to the earth, that they are brothers to the fire.

237

            The raindrop whispered to the jasmine, “Keep me in your heart for ever.”
            The jasmine sighed, “Alas,” and dropped to the ground.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on July 28, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

So much on the verge
of flame.
In a hot
wind anything
is tinder: paper, sage

feverish with bees,
your auburn
hair, my hand
that glows with a thought.
Sunset

or sleepless dawn,
nothing is sure
but what’s already burned—
water that’s ash, steel
that has flowed and cooled,

though in the core
of a star, they too
would fuse and rage,
and even volcanic
glass and char,

and the cold seas,
and even    
what we once were
might burn again—
or in the heart.

Copyright © 2016 by James Richardson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 10, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

ALWAYS I knew that it could not last
          (Gathering clouds, and the snowflakes flying),
Now it is part of the golden past;
    (Darkening skies, and the night-wind sighing)
It is but cowardice to pretend.
    Cover with ashes our love’s cold crater,––
Always I’ve known that it had to end
    Sooner or later.

Always I knew it would come like this
    (Pattering rain, and the grasses springing),
Sweeter to you is a new love’s kiss
    (Flickering sunshine, and young birds singing).
Gone are the raptures that once we knew,
    Now you are finding a new joy greater,––
Well, I’ll be doing the same thing, too,
    Sooner or later.

From Enough Rope (Boni & Liveright, 1926) by Dorothy Parker. This poem is in the public domain.

The night comes down, in ever-darkening shapes that seem—
To grope, with eerie fingers for the window—then—
To rest to sleep, enfolding me, as in a dream
            Faith—might I awaken!
 
And drips the rain with seeming sad, insistent beat.
Shivering across the pane, drooping tear-wise,
And softly patters by, like little fearing feet.
            Faith—this weather!
 
The feathery ash is fluttered; there upon the pane,—
The dying fire casts a flickering ghostly beam,—
Then closes in the night and gently falling rain.
            Faith—what darkness!

This poem is in the public domain.

The man has chosen
that he wants his ashes scattered
from the end of the pier

where he used to fish with his buddies.
They’d sit on overturned paint buckets.
Sometimes the waves gusted up

and the hems of his pants got wet and salty.
He liked the gulls that stood on the railing,
all puffed up with sky.

Having made the decision,
he walks at dusk to the end of the pier
and looks out at the sea.

As he turns away, he sometimes gives
a small, happy nod, like a man
thinking yes, I will buy this house.

Copyright © 2023 by Chloe Honum. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 26, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets

This after-sunset is a sight for seeing,
Cliff-heads of craggy cloud surrounding it.
     —And dwell you in that glory-show?
You may; for there are strange strange things in being,
            Stranger than I know.

Yet if that chasm of splendour claim your presence
Which glows between the ash cloud and the dun,
     How changed must be your mortal mould!
Changed to a firmament-riding earthless essence
            From what you were of old:

All too unlike the fond and fragile creature
Then known to me….Well, shall I say it plain?
     I would not have you thus and there,
But still would grieve on, missing you, still feature
            You as the one you were.

This poem is in the public domain.