Sometimes you don’t die
when you’re supposed to
& now I have a choice
repair a world or build
a new one inside my body
a white door opens
into a place queerly brimming
gold light so velvet-gold
it is like the world
when I call out
all my friends are there
everyone we love
is still alive gathered
at the lakeside
my honeyed kin
beneath the sky
a garden blue stalks
white buds the moon’s
marble glow the fire
distant & flickering
the body whole bright-
with the hours
of the day beautiful
nameless planet. Oh
friends, my friends—
bloom how you must, wild
until we are free.
Copyright © 2018 by Cameron Awkward-Rich. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 30, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Going abruptly into a starry night It is ignorance we blink from, dark, unhoused; There is a gaze of animal delight Before the human vision. Then, aroused To nebulous danger, we may look for easy stars, Orion and the Dipper; but they are not ours, These learned fields. Dark and ignorant, Unable to see here what our forebears saw, We keep some fear of random firmament Vestigial in us. And we think, Ah, If I had lived then, when these stories were made up, I Could have found more likely pictures in haphazard sky. But this is not so. Indeed, we have proved fools When it comes to myths and images. A few Old bestiaries, pantheons and tools Translated to the heavens years ago— Scales and hunter, goat and horologe—are all That save us when, time and again, our systems fall. And what would we do, given a fresh sky And our dearth of image? Our fears, our few beliefs Do not have shapes. They are like that astral way We have called milky, vague stars and star-reefs That were shapeless even to the fecund eye of myth— Surely these are no forms to start a zodiac with. To keep the sky free of luxurious shapes Is an occupation for most of us, the mind Free of luxurious thoughts. If we choose to escape, What venial constellations will unwind Around a point of light, and then cannot be found Another night or by another man or from other ground. As for me, I would find faces there, Or perhaps one face I have long taken for guide; Far-fetched, maybe, like Cygnus, but as fair, And a constellation anyone could read Once it was pointed out; an enlightenment of night, The way the pronoun you will turn dark verses bright.
Reprinted from Effort at Speech: New and Selected Poems by William Meredith, published by Triquarterly Books/Northwestern University Press in 1997. Copyright (c) 1997 by William Meredith. All rights reserved; used by permission of Northwestern University Press and the author.
I used to dream of living here. I hike
a trail I know that at the end opens
to glorious views of the city I did
live in once, when men my age kept dying
while I learned how to diagnose AIDS.
Some dreams don’t come true, and some dreams become
nightmares. Across a field that smells of sage,
a few horses loiter. I want to think
that they forgive me, since they’re noble creatures.
They stamp and snort, reminding me they know
nothing of forgiveness. I used to dream
that someday I’d escape to San Francisco,
when I was still in high school and I knew.
Tall and muscled, the horses are like the jocks
on the football team who beat me once, as if pain
teaches truth and they knew I had to learn.
I used to dream I was as white as them,
that I could slam my locker closed and not
think of jail. Some nightmares come true,
like when my uncle got arrested for
cocaine. My family never talked about it,
which made me realize they could also feel shame.
That’s when I started dreaming I could be
a doctor someday, that I could get away,
prescribe myself a new life. Right now, as
the city comes into view, I think of those
animals and hope they got what they deserved.
The city stretches out its arms, its two bridges
to Oakland, to Stockton, to San Rafael,
to Vallejo; places I could have been from
but wasn’t. It looks just as it did
all those years ago. Yet I know it’s changed
because so many of us died, like Rico,
who took me up here for the first time.
We kicked a soccer ball around and smoked
a joint. I think we talked about our dreams,
but who can remember dreams. I look out
and the sun like your hand on my face
is warm, and for a moment I think this is
glorious, this is what forgiveness feels like.
Copyright © 2020 by Rafael Campo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 5, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.