Say tomorrow doesn’t come.
Say the moon becomes an icy pit.
Say the sweet-gum tree is petrified.
Say the sun’s a foul black tire fire.
Say the owl’s eyes are pinpricks.
Say the raccoon’s a hot tar stain.
Say the shirt’s plastic ditch-litter.
Say the kitchen’s a cow’s corpse.
Say we never get to see it: bright
future, stuck like a bum star, never
coming close, never dazzling.
Say we never meet her. Never him.
Say we spend our last moments staring
at each other, hands knotted together,
clutching the dog, watching the sky burn.
Say, It doesn’t matter. Say, That would be
enough. Say you’d still want this: us alive,
right here, feeling lucky.

Copyright © 2013 by Ada Limón. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on March 14, 2013. Browse the Poem-a-Day archive.

I’m in the gray box. The fluorescent light hums to itself 
and never stops humming. Sometimes I don’t know 
if it’s the light or if it’s me humming, like I’m a beehive. 
And there are bees in my head. The walkie-talkies are jabbering. 
Out there, they are walking and they are talking. 

In here, I swear I can smell the screams from down the hall. 
They got someone whispering into the vent,
because sometimes I hear that tiny voice.
Sometimes my hands curl up, like grubs. And I can’t uncurl them. 
Sometimes I catch myself smacking my lips, 

freestyling without words. I just have to stay focused. 
I don’t want to turn into one of those guys. 
I don’t want to turn. I don’t want to be the guy who bites 
his arm to see the blood, who smears his shit on the walls. 
The guy who chews off his own fingers.

One day, somehow, a cricket got into the cell. Goddamn, 
it drove me crazy. Tiny thing, I searched for it for days. 
Where the hell was it going to hide? And when I found it, 
I grabbed its little rickety leg between my fingers and raised it 
to my eye. I laughed and popped it into my mouth. 

Then it was like all the angels came shining through the ceiling 
and filled the room with glory. Finally, I had won something.
But afterwards, the noises rushed back in, ten times as loud. 
The door clangs, the wild cries, the walkie-fucking-talkies. 
And they beat about my head like an invisible bird. 

And I said, “It’s not that bad, it’s not so bad.” But it was.

Copyright © 2019 by Tony Barnstone. This poem was first printed in River Styx, 2019. Used with the permission of the author. 

A strange time has come to America. We keep children in cages. 
Sometimes across the parking lot a woman screams 
after her husband comes home. I think they are making love, 

but it sounds like pain. She screams very softly at night, 
a knuckle grinding my temple. I spend a lot of time angry 
at the television. Eating angry, drinking angry.

They tell us a dash of lead in the water makes you strong. 
That isotopes will protect you from cancer.   
Do you have night shakes, a metal taste on your tongue?

I heard the gunshot last night, but didn’t get out of bed. 
To do what? Investigate in my pajamas? This, I guess, is that. 
Isn’t that what the mystics say? Therefore, what my country does 

is also what I do. Therefore, the news is a vibrating needle 
scraping under the gums, making the rot bleed. And the sun, 
a red coin, a stoplight, a feral eyeball, glares at me.

“Son of a whore!” shouts the guard, sitting on the writhing boy
while another cracks his mouth open like an oyster
and shoves pills past the tongue. Then he stops shrieking. 

They have the girls fight like gladiators, tearing cheeks, 
jerking hair. The winner gets Skittles, potato chips. 
They tremble and wobble and have trouble walking.

Copyright © 2018 by Tony Barnstone. This poem was first printed in Cutthroat, 2018. Used with the permission of the author. 

O, rich young lord, thou ridest by
With looks of high disdain;
It chafes me not thy title high,
Thy blood of oldest strain.
The lady riding at thy side
Is but in name thy promised bride.
       Ride on, young lord, ride on!

Her father wills and she obeys,
The custom of her class;
’Tis Land not Love the trothing sways—
For Land he sells his lass.
Her fair white hand, young lord, is thine,
Her soul, proud fool, her soul is mine,
       Ride on, young lord, ride on!

No title high my father bore;
The tenant of thy farm,
He left me what I value more:
Clean heart, clear brain, strong arm
And love for bird and beast and bee
And song of lark and hymn of sea,
       Ride on, young lord, ride on!

The boundless sky to me belongs,
The paltry acres thine;
The painted beauty sings thy songs,
The lavrock lilts me mine;
The hot-housed orchid blooms for thee,
The gorse and heather bloom for me,
       Ride on, young lord, ride on!

From The Book of American Negro Poetry (Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1922), edited by James Weldon Johnson. This poem is in the public domain.

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

From Collected Poems of Stevie Smith by Stevie Smith, published by New Directions Publishing Corp. Copyright © 1972 by Stevie Smith. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved. No part of this poem may be reproduced in any form without the written consent of the publisher.

I’m in my room writing
speaking in myself
& I hear you
move down the hallway
to water your plants

I write truth on the page
I strike the word over & over
yet I worry you’ll pour too much water on the plants
& the water will overflow onto the books
ruining them

If I can’t speak out of myself
how can I tell you I don’t care about the plants?
how can I tell you I don’t care if the books get wet?

We’ve been together seven years
& only now do I begin
clearing my throat to speak to you.

“A Poem for My Wife” from DAVID'S COPY: THE SELECTED POEMS OF DAVID MELTZER by David Meltzer, Introduction by Jerome Rothenberg, Edited with a Foreword by Michael Rothenberg, copyright © 2005 by David Meltzer. Used by permission of Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.