Tamir Rice, 2002–2014

                          the boy’s face 
climbed back down the twelve-year tunnel  

of its becoming,  a charcoal sunflower 
swallowing itself. Who has eyes to see,  

or ears to hear? If you could see 
what happens fastest, unmaking 

the human irreplaceable, a star 
falling into complete gravitational  

darkness from all points of itself, all this: 

the held loved body into which entered 
milk and music,  honeying the cells of him: 

who sang to him, stroked the nap 
of the scalp, kissed the flesh-knot 

after the cord completed its work 
of fueling into him the long history  

of those whose suffering
was made more bearable  

by the as-yet-unknown of him,

playing alone in some unthinkable 
future city, a Cleveland,  

whatever that might be. 
Two seconds. To elapse: 

the arc of joy in the conception bed,
the labor of hands repeated until  

the hands no longer required attention,
so that as the woman folded  

her hopes for him sank into the fabric 
of his shirts and underpants. Down 

they go, swirling down into the maw 
of a greater dark. Treasure box, 

comic books, pocket knife, bell from a lost cat’s collar,
why even begin to enumerate them

when behind every tributary 
poured into him comes rushing backward 

all he hasn’t been yet. Everything 
that boy could have thought or made,  

sung or theorized, built on the quavering 
but continuous structure 

that had preceded him sank into 
an absence in the shape of a boy 

playing with a plastic gun in a city park 
in Ohio, in the middle of the afternoon. 

 When I say two seconds, I don’t mean the time 
it took him to die. I mean the lapse between

the instant the cruiser braked to a halt 
on the grass, between that moment 

and the one in which the officer fired his weapon.
The two seconds taken to assess the situation.  

I believe it is part of the work 
of poetry to try on at least
the moment and skin of another,  

for this hour I respectfully decline. 

I refuse it. May that officer 
be visited every night of his life
by an enormity collapsing in front of him 

into an incomprehensible bloom,
and the voice that howls out of it.

 If this is no poem then… 

But that voice—erased boy, 
beloved of time, who did nothing 
to no one and became  

nothing because of it—I know that voice 
is one of the things we call poetry.
It isn’t to his killer he’s speaking.

"In Two Seconds: Tamir Rice, 2002-2014" previously appeared in the May-June 2015 issue of American Poetry Review. Copyright © 2015 by Mark Doty. Used with permission of the author. 

& I found it at the bottom of an american river—& in
the leaves which gathered at its surface’s semblance
of stillness, appearing & not so, as if endless

though counted for, & I found it not in the beams
of light, but how, electric & frantic, they danced beneath 
the water, like a choreography preceding any notion of

body, or unknowable twins returning to the half-self 
they could have never imagined & I found it in that half
-liminal light, divined into fractal’s endless—before split 

& risen, before splay & tempt, before 
womblessness became an american sadness & I found it
in my mother’s breath, her reek of rivers still

enough to pass as reflection & in the smogged 
aftermath of filter & filter &, I found it—there,
yes, there: in the wilderness rotting 

at the center of me—crater of me, tender cesspool 
unaccounted for, unnameable aside from the complacency 
of latex & in the tempt of men I will 

not fable, not legend, or border between. Because I cannot
taint this dark with all the names
they could not give me, the only crown I reach for 

is felled kingdom—this is how I fawn 
the toxic, flora. But is this not the first 
motion, of arriving at a pastoral: to have 

a past to run from? Though the Anthropocene of me
is memoryless as a pathing wind, as prayer’s
barter. Gethsemane of me, I beg of you a fruit

half-bitten & worm writhed—first language, bitter 
prosody of me. This is the only fall my body 
can muster: eclipse of. Lone, knowable 

nightfall. I cannot return to a weightless less american 
than this, the pulled into: body 
                                                    of me. Poisoning eucharist 

of. Take me into the canon’s night & may it be a good, 
good night—& may that night be anything, anything but 
            a mouth—anything                      but a body of—

Copyright © 2021 by George Abraham. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 1, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

The cat releases his urine on
your side of the bed
where it neatly
pools in the indention
you nightly rest your head

How am I to infer this male urine?
A stream of (un)consciousness?
Relief(-lease) to my neuroses?
A psychoanalytical sweet caress?

The cat releases his yearning
on my side of the bed
Westernized tentacles of Thought
Colon(-ized) instinctual urges
s(M)other the Matriarch’s head

My dynamic unconscious reaches
to strangle the cat, my past life
extends a hand to stroke fixations,
relief with each sleek touch

The cat (wise old man) releases his Jungian
approach, vicissitudes flood my bed-
lam. The body politic morphs, treaty lines
blackened with cedar charcoal. Your
Urban Indian complex(ations), fix(you)ations thunder and split
                                                                       lightning
                                                          awakens
                                                                         oppressed
                                                                                    id
                                                                                          cathars(eizing)
                                                                                  soles
                                                                    limbs
                                                     head

Copyright © 2021 by Esther Belin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 25, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

I grew up in South Korea during the US-backed military dictatorship. I was born a year after General Park Chung Hee led a military coup and came into power. My father filmed the day of martial-law declaration in front of Seoul City Hall. Back then, he worked as a freelance photojournalist for UPI. The saluting lieutenant general is one of Park’s collaborators. The man in the background below the window, holding a small camera in front of his face, is most likely a police or intelligence officer. My father is at the bottom left, holding his film camera. After the parade, my father was briefly taken into the building where he stood face-to-face with Park. My father said that he was not afraid. He said he wasn’t afraid of Syngman Rhee, the previous dictatorial president, either. He wasn’t afraid of anything then, he said; instead, he complained to Park about the censorship of the news. That day his film made it out of Kimpo Airport to Tokyo, and his news footage appeared worldwide. Because I was an infant, I have no memory of this infamous day except through my father’s memory. Memory’s memory. Memory’s child. My memory lives inside my father’s camera, the site where my memory was born, where my retina and my father’s overlap. When I was old enough, I always accompanied my mother to the airport to greet my father, who returned home every three to five months from Vietnam. Overlapping memory always longs for return, the return of memory.

What I remember about my childhood are the children, no older than I, who used to come around late afternoons begging for leftovers, even food that had gone sour. The drills at school in preparation for attacks by North Korea kept me anxious at night. I feared separation from my family due to the ever-pending war. I feared what my mother feared—my brother being swept up in protests and getting arrested and tortured. Our radio was turned off at night in case we were suspected of being North Korean sympathizers. At school, former North Korean spies came to give talks on the evil leader of North Korea. I stood at bus stops to see if I could spot any North Korean spies, but all I could spot were American GIs. My friends and I waved to them and called them Hellos. In our little courtyard, I skipped rope and played house with my paper dolls among big, glazed jars of fermented veggies and spicy, pungent pastes. I feared the shadows they cast along the path to the outhouse. Stories of abandoned infant girls always piqued my interest, so I imagined that the abandoned babies might be inside the jars. Whenever I obeyed the shadows, I saw tiny, floating arms covered in mold. And whenever it snowed, I made tiny snowmen on the covers of the jars. Like rats, children can be happy in darkness. But the biggest darkness of all was the midnight curfew. I didn’t know the curfew was a curfew till my family escaped from it in 1972 and landed in Hong Kong. That’s how big the darkness was.

In 1980, my father filmed the rising waves of student protests against the dictatorship in Seoul. He also witnessed the beginning of the brutal military crackdown on the pro-democratic movement in Gwangju. He believed then that the dictatorship would never end and that it would be too dangerous for us to return home. He sold one of his cameras to pay for surgery when my older brother was injured during his mandatory military service. He gave the South Korean government news footage of a student protest in downtown Seoul he had filmed—from far away, from a rooftop—in exchange for the release of my injured brother from the military and a permit to leave South Korea. He believed that he was saving us from a life of perpetual darkness. In 1983, my family scattered all over, as my mother said. My parents and my younger brother headed to West Germany. My sister remained in Hong Kong, my older brother left for Australia, and I went to the US as a foreign student to complete my degrees in art. In light, we all were ailing from separation and homesickness. In light, we had to find a way to settle down, as my mother said. In light, we lived like birds.

In December 2016, I returned to South Korea. I returned in the guise of a translator, which is to say, I returned as a foreigner. And as a foreigner, I was invisible to most. I flittered about in downtown Seoul searching for my child self that had been left behind long ago. As a foreigner, I understood only the language of wings—the wings on totem animals on old palaces where I used to run around and play. The traditional tiled roofs I grew up beneath had grown wings, as had the mountain peaks behind Gwanghwamun Square. They no longer recognized me in a crowd of other foreigners—tourists, rather. Nevertheless, I went on searching for more wings, my language of return.

From DMZ Colony (Wave Books, 2020) by Don Mee Choi. Copyright © 2020 by Don Mee Choi. Used with permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Wave Books, wavepoetry.com.

We should have a land of sun, 
Of gorgeous sun, 
And a land of fragrant water
Where the twilight is a soft bandanna handkerchief
Of rose and gold, 
And not this land
Where life is cold.

We should have a land of trees,
Of tall thick trees,
Bowed down with chattering parrots
Brilliant as the day,
And not this land where birds are gray.

Ah, we should have a land of joy, 
Of love and joy and wine and song, 
And not this land where joy is wrong.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 19, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

By which a strip of land became a hole in time
            —Durs Grünbein

Grandfather I cannot find,
flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone,
what country do you belong to:

where is your body buried,
where did your soul go
when the road led nowhere?

Grandfather I’ll never know,
the moment father last saw you
rips open a wormhole

that has no end: the hours
became years, the years
forever: and on the other side

lies a memory of a memory
or a dream of a dream of a dream
of another life, where what happened

never happened, what cannot come true
comes true: and neither erases
the other, or the other others,

world after world, to infinity—
If only I could cross the border
and find you there,

find you anywhere,
as if you could tell me who he is, or was, 
or might have become: 

no bloodshot eyes, or broken
bottles, or praying with cracked lips
because the past is past and was is not is

Grandfather, stranger,
give me back my father—
or not back, not back, give me the father

I might have had:                                 
there, in the country that no longer exists,
on the other side of the war—

Copyright © 2019 by Suji Kwock Kim. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 6, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

I don't mean to make you cry.
I mean nothing, but this has not kept you
From peeling away my body, layer by layer,

The tears clouding your eyes as the table fills
With husks, cut flesh, all the debris of pursuit.
Poor deluded human: you seek my heart.

Hunt all you want. Beneath each skin of mine
Lies another skin: I am pure onion—pure union
Of outside and in, surface and secret core.

Look at you, chopping and weeping. Idiot.
Is this the way you go through life, your mind
A stopless knife, driven by your fantasy of truth,

Of lasting union—slashing away skin after skin
From things, ruin and tears your only signs
Of progress? Enough is enough.

You must not grieve that the world is glimpsed
Through veils. How else can it be seen?
How will you rip away the veil of the eye, the veil

That you are, you who want to grasp the heart
Of things, hungry to know where meaning
Lies. Taste what you hold in your hands: onion-juice,

Yellow peels, my stinging shreds. You are the one
In pieces. Whatever you meant to love, in meaning to
You changed yourself: you are not who you are,

Your soul cut moment to moment by a blade
Of fresh desire, the ground sown with abandoned skins.
And at your inmost circle, what? A core that is

Not one. Poor fool, you are divided at the heart,
Lost in its maze of chambers, blood, and love,
A heart that will one day beat you to death.

From Notes from the Divided Country by Suji Kwock Kim. Copyright © 2003 by Suji Kwock Kim. Reproduced with permission of Louisiana State University Press. All rights reserved.

Out of albumen and blood, out of amniotic brine,
placental sea-swell, trough, salt-spume and foam,
 
you came to us infinitely far, little traveler, from the other world—
skull-keel and heel-hull socketed to pelvic cradle,
 
rib-rigging, bowsprit-spine, driftwood-bone,
the ship of you scudding wave after wave of what-might-never-have-been.
 
Memory, stay faithful to this moment, which will never return: 
may I never forget when we first saw you, there on the other side,
 
still fish-gilled, water-lunged,
your eelgrass-hair and seahorse-skeleton floating in the sonogram screen
 
like a ghost from tomorrow,
moth-breath quicksilver in snowy pixels, fists in sleep-twitch,
 
not yet alive but not not, 
you who were and were not,
 
a thunder of bloodbeats sutured in green jags on the ultrasound machine
like hooves galloping from eternity to time,
 
feet kicking bone-creel and womb-wall,
while we waited, never to waken in that world again, 
 
the world without the shadow of your death,
with no you or not-you, no is or was or might-have-been or never-were.
 
May I never forget when we first saw you in your afterlife
which was life,
 
soaked otter-pelt and swan-down crowning,
face cauled in blood and mucus-mud, eyes soldered shut,
 
wet birth-cord rooting you from one world to the next,
you who might not have lived, might never have been born, like all the others,
 
as we looked at every pock and crook of your skull,
every clotted hair, seal-slick on your blue-black scalp,
 
every lash, every nail, every pore, every breath,
with so much wonder that wonder is not the word—

Copyright © 2018 by Suji Kwock Kim. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 4, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Qawem ya sha’abi, qawemhum. Resist my people, resist them.
—Dareen Tatour

Hawaiians are still here. We are still creating, still resisting.
—Haunani-Kay Trask



Stand in rage as wind and current clash
                                       rile lightning and thunder
fire surge and boulder crash

         Let the ocean eat and scrape away these walls
Let the sand swallow their fences whole
                       Let the air between us split the atmosphere

We have no land             No country
             But we have these bodies              these stories
this language of rage                    left 

                 This resistance is bitter
and tastes like medicine                 Our lands 
               replanted in the dark and warm             there

We unfurl our tangled roots                stretch
                             to blow salt across
             blurred borders of memory  

             They made themselves
fences and bullets             checkpoints 

gates and guardposts                           martial law

They made themselves
            hotels and mansions         adverse 
possession             eminent domain and deeds

                   They made themselves 
                                                       shine 
                                           through the plunder

They say we can never— They say 
                           we will never—because
            because they— 

            and the hills and mountains have been 
mined for rock walls                    the reefs 
            pillaged for coral floors

They say we can never—
                           and the deserts and dunes have been
shoveled and taken for their houses and highways—

                because we can never— because 
the forests have been raided                      razed 
and scorched and we                                 we the wards

refugees          houseless          present-
absentees       recognition refusers        exiled
uncivilized       disposable        natives

protester-activist-terrorist-resisters—
               our springs and streams have been
dammed—so they say we can never return

                       let it go accept this 
progress         stop living
            in the past—

but we make ourselves
         strong enough to carry all of our dead
                engrave their names in the clouds

We gather to sing whole villages awake 
        We crouch down to eat rocks like fruit
                 to hold the dirt the sand in our hands 

to fling words 
           the way fat drops of rain 
                   splatter off tarp or corrugated roofs

We remember the sweetness                We rise from the plunder
           They say there is no return                             
                   they never could really make us leave

Copyright © 2021 by Brandy Nālani McDougall. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 23, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

What is home: 
it is the shade of trees on my way to school
    before they were uprooted.
It is my grandparents’ black-and-white wedding 
    photo before the walls crumbled. 
It is my uncle’s prayer rug, where dozens of ants
   slept on wintry nights, before it was looted and 
   put in a museum. 
It is the oven my mother used to bake bread and 
   roast chicken before a bomb reduced our house 
   to ashes. 
It is the café where I watched football matches
   and played—

My child stops me: Can a four-letter word hold
   all of these? 

From Things You May Find Hidden in My Ear by Mosab Abu Toha. Copyright © 2022 by Mosab Abu Toha. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC, on behalf of City Lights Publishers.

some days        you seem
so disappointed, love   but you knew 

what it was.
i am your dread wife. 

you will not throw me out 
of eden            i walk myself to the door. 

o! 
there is no snake          i plant the tree. 

i pluck the apple       i bite.
the pomegranate          the passion fruit

whatever the fuck. 
i am feast unto myself.  

in this wilderness         the feral things name me. 

& i was raised to one day wash 
my husband’s feet at night.

of course i molted        made myself a woman 
who unmakes home. 

refused to be whittled to a fine point              
but you like me piercing.

beloved                        i will not 
only writhe when coming. 

my vow: break through this shell         fully impossible.
your vow: lap every slick of the yolk. 

Copyright © 2023 by Elizabeth Acevedo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 5, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.

after Pedro Pietri

We were      nocturnal players, 

Bats in ball,      & ever since Don Pedro said 

There are Puerto Ricans      on the moon 

The night is      my cousin      & the clustered stars 

My cousin      & Saturn’s little ring of smoke      my second cousin 

Though not the same ring      as a freshly snapped Medalla bottle      which

My abuelo      also named Pedro      apparently liked too much 

But back to the moon      the first rock      dollop of sugar  

& slinging hoop in the dark      which we learned was a game

      of approximation

Less math      more muscle memory      less Mozart      more Machito 

Like descarga      more riff      more wrist. 

We set our eyes      on not seeing      but feeling a thing through, indeed

From elbow to hip      wherever the orange lip might lead

Copyright © 2022 by Denice Frohman. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 6, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

The fern gathers where the water seldom goes
unless the storms swell this world of wise choices,
the loud trickle of clear tongues of the stream
licking the edges of rock, while up ahead a curve
hides tomorrow from our crystal ball, the thing
we are afraid to admit we have, the guarantee
we hide from faith. In the woods our dog is lost
from time to time, until suddenly we hear her paws
inside winter’s death becoming the yearly promise
of new undergrowth, her careless paws that beg
each day for the next bowl of treats, true faith
in what love yields. The rain stops not long after
it threatens to soak us with cold and chills, the trees
open to the gradual break of blue inside the gray,
turning the clouds naked and white under the sun,
the stream disappears under a bridge made by men
so trucks can crawl back and forth over this road
of dirt with its one row of grass, where our tongues
make a silver thread finding its way past the fear.

Copyright © 2017 Afaa Michael Weaver. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 27, 2017.

In the old recording of the birthday party,
the voices of the living and the dead
instruct twelve absent friends
on the reliable luxury of gratitude.
The celebrated one hands out presents.
The dead dog barks once. We
take one another’s hands and follow their lead,
past the garden wall, out to the land
still stripped by winter. Those gone
do not usurp those here. We keep
the warning close, the timbre of their voices
mingling with the sounds of traffic
going much faster to its destinations.
Is it the size or the scale of the past
on the small reels of the cassette?
Someone gives her a new pot, which,
she exclaims, is too great a luxury for her.
Someone’s missing who can convert
the currencies. The old treasure
was dropped in the furrows
to await spring, with rings and pennies
and florins and other denominations
from those pockets and fingers.

Copyright © 2013 by Saskia Hamilton. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on March 1, 2013. Browse the Poem-a-Day archive.

I make peace with this being a beginning:
speaking
when commentary makes me unbelieve
in my body / saying No
when asked if I found a church home
in my respective
shelter city / saying Because
they’re not good people when asked why I don’t attend
family functions / spreading the good word
of moving out 
of a town you could never call home
If home is really where the heart should be
my heart is somewhere in Fort Worth, Texas 
between sundry items at Ramey Market
or sinking in Kool-Aid
at Madea’s Down Home Cooking 
I don’t remember a time I wasn’t lying
about how much something harmed me
I run with the opposite
of progress
every time my father speaks
Congress is no match
to the grave I choose to lay my mind
in / I’m making peace
with all of the I’s in this poem
unfortunately being the speaker
& I am tired
of making peace with small
progress being a precursor
for my death
& ignoring the pleading for A/C
permeating through my clothes every time
a Texas summer gets hotter / I make
peace
with all the living things around me
shaking my hand as if we’ll make it
through this
unscarred & together
& the sun 
is just a metaphor for my falling–

Reprinted from Freedom House. Copyright © 2023 by KB Brookins. Used with permission of the author. All rights reserved.

This is not how it begins
but how you understand it.
 
I walk many kilometers and
find myself to be the same—
 
the same moon hovering over
the same, bleached sky,
 
and when the officer calls me
it is a name I do not recognize,
a self I do not recognize.
 
We are asked to kneel, or
stand still, depending on which land
we embroider our feet with—
 
this one is copious with black blood
or so I am told.
 
Someone calls me by the skin
I did not know I had
and to this I think—language,
 
there must be a language
that contains us all
that contains all of this.
 
How to disassemble
the sorrow of beginnings,
 
how to let go, and not,
how to crouch beneath other bodies
how to stop breathing, how not to.
 
Our fathers are not elders here;
they are long-bearded men
shoving taxi cabs and sprawled
in small valet parking lots—
 
at their sight, my body dims its light
(a desiccated grape)
and murmur, Igziabher Yistilign—
our pride, raw-purple again.
 
We begin like this: all of us
walking in solitude
walking a desert earth and
unforgiving bodies. We cross lines
we dare not speak of; we learn and
unlearn things quickly, or intentionally slow
(because, that, we can control)
and give ourselves new names
because these selves must be new
to forget the old blue.
 
But, sometimes, we also begin like this:
on a cold, cold night
memorizing escape routes
kissing the foreheads of small children
hiding accat in our pockets,
a rosary for safekeeping.
 
Or, married off to men thirty years our elders
big house, big job, big, striking hands.
 
Or, thinking of the mouths to feed.
 
At times
we begin in silence;
 
water making its way into our bodies—
rain, or tears, or black and red seas
until we are ripe with longing.

Copyright © 2018 by Mahtem Shiferraw. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 16, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets

In the beginning there was darkness,
then a bunch of other stuff—and lots of people.
Some things were said and loosely interpreted,

or maybe things were not communicated clearly.
Regardless—there has always been an index.
That thing about the meek—how we

shall inherit the earth; that was a promise
made in a treaty at the dawn of time
agreed upon in primordial darkness                

and documented in the spiritual record.
The nature of the agreement was thus:
The world will seemingly be pushed past capacity.

A new planet will be “discovered” 31 light-years away.   
Space travel will advance rapidly,
making the journey feasible. The ice sheets will melt.

Things will get ugly. The only way to leave
will be to buy a ticket. Tickets will be priced at exactly
the amount that can be accrued

by abandoning basic humanity.
The index will show how you came by your fortune:            
If you murdered, trafficked or exploited the vulnerable,

stole, embezzled, poisoned, cheated, swindled,
or otherwise subdued nature to come by wealth
great enough to afford passage to the new earth;

if your ancestors did these things and you’ve done nothing
to benefit from their crimes yet do nothing to atone
through returning inherited wealth to the greater good

you shall be granted passage. It was agreed.
The meek shall stay, the powerful shall leave.
And it all shall start again.

The meek shall inherit the earth,
and what shall we do with it,
but set about putting aside our meekness?

Copyright © 2020 by Rena Priest. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 4, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

After The Entombment by Raphael

The night my father died, I sat on a stool 
          at the Buckhorn, gazing
                     out the window’s cool counter seat. 
Like a funhouse mirror, you appeared. 
          I have a familiar-looking face; my father used to say—
                     his wish for me to blend in. 
Late after an argument, I fled 
          and was found bound to a prairie fence 
                     after eighteen hours.
My body is like a sock in the wind 
          in a field just a mile from here. 
                     My face blooms, velvety 
and light like a lamb’s ear, 
          stachys byzantina; my ears 
                     frozen with blood; down 
my neck, it goes. A medley of ants shuffles 
          away. My body is rich with the sour smell 
                     of urine on my head like a crown of daffodils. 

Copyright © 2023 by Ruben Quesada. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 27, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets. 

One morning the spirit of my lover’s uncle returned
there was no fanfare no terror only a blue silhouette

translucent above our bed growing dim
I was the sole witness to this specter quiet

as the rising sun waking overhead I awakened
cold to see an Aegean blue figure hovering bedside

through his gaze and mustachioed grin
on the other side of his face a dazzling tremolo

of morning light streamed into this darkened space
and later that evening as we moved

through the neighborhood streets dead with aging trees
frozen sidewalks led us freely into the moonlight ahead

Copyright © 2018 by Ruben Quesada. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 7, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

We drank coffee and got ready,
listened to 93.3 during our commute

to take our mind off how
every day we die on tv. Every day

down the block, kids in surgical masks
spraypaint Magneto was Right on street signs

and new storefronts waiting to redeem
spa resort passes and avocado toast dreams

until they, too, are forced out of business.
Or not. People can surprise you

like beating cancer or criminal charges,
the 2016 election, the high cost

of middle shelf liquor with a decent view.
If you want to succeed, let them see you

coming, our mothers once said before asking
if we wanted the switch or the belt.

But a whooping beats sitting
at the rooftop bar looking over the steepled skyline

and feeling the pang of worlds we’d rather be,
with two empty seats right beside us

that stay empty for the next two hours
surrounded by people drinking & eating

standing up—the wind threatening
to blow their hats off their sunburned heads.

Somewhere right now
there are two people looking for those seats.

We keep hoping they’ll find them—
find us. Let’s have another drink,

watch the muted news above
a row of decent bourbon,
  
wait to hear, to see
if they make it to us or turn up on tv.

Copyright © 2019 by Gary Jackson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 9, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

for Molly Peacock

My mother thinks she cannot grow 
orchids: the initial blooms shrivel,  
turn to dust on the window ledge.  
The stalk, once green, becomes 
a dry stick, soon appraised  
for the same value she gives  
every crinkled brown leaf: 

She cut it off. 

She did not know to wait 
to examine turgid base leaves,  
jungle vibrant, roots brimming  
the pot’s rim, testing the drainage holes,  
seeking sun, trickling water. 

It must work harder now 
to bloom once the stem  
has been removed. 

At middle age, I appreciate 
the orchid’s beauty: its shy blooms 
burst from a dead stick: 
nodes of growth emerge  
as tender youth did once. 

I got my first orchid at fifty. I was 
unable to accept the end of my body’s  
usefulness. The aura of attraction 
shriveled, I secretly  
cheered for the orchid  
whose tender nodes explode 
unexpected, fighting 
against our assumption that  
beauty only bursts from  
the sweet young green.  

Copyright © 2024 by Cherise Pollard. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 9, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets. 

let ruin end here

let him find honey
where there was once a slaughter

let him enter the lion’s cage
& find a field of lilacs

let this be the healing
& if not   let it be

From Don’t Call Us Dead (Graywolf Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Danez Smith. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Graywolf Press, www.graywolfpress.org.

After the birthing of bombs of forks and fear,
the frantic automatic weapons unleashed,
the spray of bullets into a crowd holding hands,
that brute sky opening in a slate metal maw
that swallows only the unsayable in each of us, what’s
left? Even the hidden nowhere river is poisoned
orange and acidic by a coal mine. How can
you not fear humanity, want to lick the creek
bottom dry to suck the deadly water up into
your own lungs, like venom? Reader, I want to
say, Don’t die. Even when silvery fish after fish
comes back belly up, and the country plummets
into a crepitating crater of hatred, isn’t there still
something singing? The truth is: I don't know.
But sometimes, I swear I hear it, the wound closing
like a rusted-over garage door, and I can still move
my living limbs into the world without too much
pain, can still marvel at how the dog runs straight
toward the pickup trucks break-necking down
the road, because she thinks she loves them,
because she’s sure, without a doubt, that the loud
roaring things will love her back, her soft small self
alive with desire to share her goddamn enthusiasm,
until I yank the leash back to save her because
I want her to survive forever. Don’t die, I say,
and we decide to walk for a bit longer, starlings
high and fevered above us, winter coming to lay
her cold corpse down upon this little plot of earth.
Perhaps, we are always hurtling our body towards
the thing that will obliterate us, begging for love
from the speeding passage of time, and so maybe
like the dog obedient at my heels, we can walk together
peacefully, at least until the next truck comes.

Copyright © 2016 by Ada Limón. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 1, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Nothing today hasn’t happened before: 
I woke alone, bundled the old dog
into his early winter coat, watered him, 
fed him, left him to his cage for the day 
closing just now. My eye drifts 
to the buff belly of a hawk wheeling, 
as they do, in a late fall light that melts 
against the turning oak and smelts 
its leaves bronze. 
                             Before you left, 
I bent to my task, fixed in my mind
the slopes and planes of your face; 
fitted, in some essential geography,
your belly’s stretch and collapse 
against my own, your scent familiar 
as a thousand evenings. 
                                       Another time, 
I might have dismissed as hunger 
this cataloguing, this fitting, this fixing, 
but today I crest the hill, secure in the company 
of my longing. What binds us, stretches:
a tautness I’ve missed as a sapling, 
supple, misses the wind.

Copyright © 2023 by Donika Kelly. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 10, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets. 

Though the people on the internet help too. 
They send money by pressing a small button 
on their screens. It would be disingenuous 
to claim all the credit—we can’t heal

or hurt alone. I sniff the tops of the rose heads 
like a newborn’s scalp—fresh skin and hair
only a few days picked. I try to arrange the flowers
on my bed, create a romantic scene 

like all the 90s rom-coms I still watch. I’m stuck
in the past, I know. I’m stuck in the present, 
I know that too. I thought the roses 
could be a cure, and maybe in a small way

they were, each petal I plucked so gently 
from the stems gave in to me. 

Copyright © 2022 by Diannely Antigua. This poem appeared in Waxwing Literary Journal, Fall 2022. Used with permission of the author.

Parchman Farm Chain Gang, Sunflower County Mississippi, 1911

How long since my left foot has known a day
    It did not spend drug along by your right? Since the first
Rust-iron rattlers made fields of cattails kneel, fronds
    Curdling like browlines in brutal heat? I forget
My name, its sins, when I march behind you. I know nothing
    Of before. Nothing but your nape, its tributary of creases;
But your gait, pressing smooth miles of streetside weeds.
    What else can a lonesome roadboy do but look
At the one to his front: you, with keloid scars inside
    Even your ears, you with long lashes that, when blinked,
Seem heavier than these chains, all the men they carry.
    What I wouldn’t give to see your eyes open again
After that brief, merciful closing. What I don’t have
    to give. What I know, if I did, I would.

Copyright © 2023 by Ariana Benson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 8, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets. 

When it is finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful 
and terrible thing, needful to man as air,   
usable as earth; when it belongs at last to all,   
when it is truly instinct, brain matter, diastole, systole,   
reflex action; when it is finally won; when it is more   
than the gaudy mumbo jumbo of politicians:   
this man, this Douglass, this former slave, this Negro   
beaten to his knees, exiled, visioning a world   
where none is lonely, none hunted, alien,   
this man, superb in love and logic, this man   
shall be remembered. Oh, not with statues’ rhetoric,   
not with legends and poems and wreaths of bronze alone, 
but with the lives grown out of his life, the lives   
fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing.

"Frederick Douglass." Copyright © 1966 by Robert Hayden. From Collected Poems of Robert Hayden by Robert Hayden, edited by Frederick Glaysher. Used by permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation.

A hush is over all the teeming lists,
   And there is pause, a breath-space in the strife;
A spirit brave has passed beyond the mists
   And vapors that obscure the sun of life.
And Ethiopia, with bosom torn,
Laments the passing of her noblest born.

She weeps for him a mother's burning tears—
   She loved him with a mother's deepest love.
He was her champion thro' direful years,
   And held her weal all other ends above.
When Bondage held her bleeding in the dust,
He raised her up and whispered, "Hope and Trust."

For her his voice, a fearless clarion, rung
   That broke in warning on the ears of men;
For her the strong bow of his power he strung,
   And sent his arrows to the very den
Where grim Oppression held his bloody place
And gloated o'er the mis'ries of a race.

And he was no soft-tongued apologist;
   He spoke straightforward, fearlessly uncowed;
The sunlight of his truth dispelled the mist,
   And set in bold relief each dark hued cloud;
To sin and crime he gave their proper hue,
And hurled at evil what was evil's due.

Through good and ill report he cleaved his way.
   Right onward, with his face set toward the heights,
Nor feared to face the foeman's dread array,—
   The lash of scorn, the sting of petty spites.
He dared the lightning in the lightning's track,
And answered thunder with his thunder back.

When men maligned him, and their torrent wrath
   In furious imprecations o'er him broke,
He kept his counsel as he kept his path;
   'Twas for his race, not for himself he spoke.
He knew the import of his Master's call,
And felt himself too mighty to be small.

No miser in the good he held was he,—
   His kindness followed his horizon's rim.
His heart, his talents, and his hands were free
   To all who truly needed aught of him.
Where poverty and ignorance were rife,
He gave his bounty as he gave his life.

The place and cause that first aroused his might
   Still proved its power until his latest day.
In Freedom's lists and for the aid of Right
   Still in the foremost rank he waged the fray;
Wrong lived; his occupation was not gone.
He died in action with his armor on!

We weep for him, but we have touched his hand,
   And felt the magic of his presence nigh,
The current that he sent throughout the land,
   The kindling spirit of his battle-cry.
O'er all that holds us we shall triumph yet,
And place our banner where his hopes were set!

Oh, Douglass, thou hast passed beyond the shore,
   But still thy voice is ringing o'er the gale!
Thou'st taught thy race how high her hopes may soar,
   And bade her seek the heights, nor faint, nor fail.
She will not fail, she heeds thy stirring cry,
She knows thy guardian spirit will be nigh,
And, rising from beneath the chast'ning rod,
She stretches out her bleeding hands to God!

This poem is in the public domain.

I find myself most alone 
When I believe I am striving for glory. 

These times, cool and sharp,  
A monument of moon-white stone 

lodges in place near my heart. 
In a dream, my children  

Glisten inside raindrops, or teardrops. 
Like strangers, like seeds of children.  

I will only be allowed to claim them 
if I consent to love everyone’s children. 

If I consent to love everyone’s children, 
Only then will I be allowed to claim them, 

My strangers, my seeds of children, 
Glistening inside raindrops or teardrops 

In my dream. Children 
Lodged in place near my heart— 

A monument of moon-white stone, 
Cool and sharp. 

I believe I am striving for glory 
When I find myself most alone. 

Copyright © 2024 by Tracy K. Smith. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 20, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets. 

Joy shakes me like the wind that lifts a sail,
Like the roistering wind
That laughs through stalwart pines.
It floods me like the sun
On rain-drenched trees
That flash with silver and green.

I abandon myself to joy—
I laugh—I sing.
Too long have I walked a desolate way,
Too long stumbled down a maze
Bewildered.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on February 6, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

I once saw Jazell Barbie Royale
Do Whitney Houston so well
I got upset with myself for sneaking 
Past the cashier 
After having been patted down. Security frisks you 
For nothing. They don’t believe in trouble. They don’t 
Imagine a gun or a blade, though
Sometimes they make you walk all the way back 
To the car with the weed you didn’t tuck well.
No one’s at fault. That’s how they say it
Where I’m from. Everyone’s got a job. 
I should have paid. Our women
Need to perform for the tips they couldn’t earn
After the state shut down for good reason 
And too late. We lost so many friends. 
My buddy Janir swears 
He still can’t smell his lip balm. Our women need us 
To call them beautiful 
Because they are. They’ve done what they must
To prove it, and how often does any woman get
To hear the truth? Jazell is so pretty.
Whitney Houston is dead. No one wore a mask.
It wasn’t safe, so it wasn’t really free.
If you don’t watch me, I’ll get by you. I’ll take
What I’ve been missing. My mother says 
That’s not how she raised me. I spent 
A year and a half sure she’d die.
The women who lip sync for us could die.
People like to murder them, 
And almost everyone else wonders
If they should be dead. Who got dressed looking 
For safety today? Who got patted down?  My mother 
Says what we do is sin. But all we do 
Is party. Even when I’m broke, I can 
Entertain. You’re going to miss me some day. 
You’re going to forget the words to your favorite song. 
You’re going to miss me when I’m gone.

Copyright © 2021 by Jericho Brown. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 27, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
"I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,"
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

From Another Time by W. H. Auden, published by Random House. Copyright © 1940 W. H. Auden, renewed by the Estate of W. H. Auden. Used by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

George Steiner, “The Poetry of Thought”

Unlike the
work of
most people
you’re supposed
to unthread
the needle.
It will be
a lifetime
task, far
from simple:
the empty eye
achievable—
possibly—but
it’s going
to take
fake sewing
worthy of
Penelope.

Copyright © 2024 by Kay Ryan. This poem was first printed in Revel, Issue 1 (Winter 2024). Published in a special arrangement with Revel by permission of the author and Grove Press. 

I once made a diorama from a shoebox
for a man I loved. I was never a crafty person,

but found tiny items at an art store and did my best
to display the beginning bud of our little love,

a scene recreating our first kiss in his basement
apartment, origin story of an eight-year marriage.

In the dollhouse section, I bought a small ceiling fan.
Recreated his black leather couch, even found miniscule

soda cans for the cardboard counters that I cut and glued.
People get weird about divorce. Think it’s contagious.

Think it dirty. I don’t need to make it holy, but it purifies—
It’s clear. Sometimes the science is simple. Sometimes

people love each other but don’t need each other
anymore. Though, I think the tenderness can stay

(if you want it too). I forgive and keep forgiving,
mostly myself. People still ask, what happened?

I know you want a reason, a caution to avoid, but
life rarely tumbles out a cheat sheet. Sometimes

nobody is the monster. I keep seeing him for the first
time at the restaurant off of West End where we met

and worked and giggled at the micros. I keep seeing
his crooked smile and open server book fanned with cash

before we would discover and enter another world
and come back barreling to this one, astronauts

for the better and for the worse, but still spectacular
as we burned back inside this atmosphere to live

separate lives inside other shadow boxes we cannot see.
I remember I said I hate you once when we were driving

back to Nashville, our last long distance. I didn’t mean it.
I said it to hurt him, and it did. I regret that I was capable

of causing pain. I think it’s important to implicate
the self. The knife shouldn’t exit the cake clean.

There is still some residue, some proof of puncture,
some scars you graze to remember the risk.

Copyright © 2021 by Tiana Clark. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 14, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

            , because there was yet no lake
 
into many nights we made the lake
             a labor, and its necessary laborings
to find the basin not yet opened
in my body, yet my body—any body
wet or water from the start, to fill a clay
, start being what it ever means, a beginning—
the earth’s first hand on a vision-quest
wildering night’s skin fields, for touch
             like a dark horse made of air
, turned downward in the dusk, opaquing
a hand resembles its ancestors—
the war, or the horse who war made
             , what it means to be made
to be ruined before becoming—rift
             glacial, ablation and breaking
lake-hip sloping, fluvial, then spilled—
  
I unzip the lake, walk into what I am—
             the thermocline, and oxygen
, as is with kills, rivers, seas, the water
             is of our own naming 
I am wet we call it because it is
a happening, is happening now
 
imagined light is light’s imagination
a lake shape of it
             , the obligatory body, its dark burning
reminding us back, memory as filter
desire as lagan, a hydrology—
             The lake is alone, we say in Mojave
 
, every story happens because someone’s mouth,
a nature dependent—life, universe
             Here at the lake, say
, she wanted what she said
             to slip down into it
for which a good lake will rise—Lake
which once meant, sacrifice
which once meant, I am devoted
 
             , Here I am, atmosphere
sensation, pressure
, the lake is beneath me, pleasure bounded
a slip space between touch and not
slip of paper, slip of hand
             slip body turning toward slip trouble
, I am who slipped the moorings
             I am so red with lack
 
to loop-knot
or leave the loop beyond the knot
             we won’t say love because it is
a difference between vertex and vertices—
the number of surfaces we break
enough or many to make the lake
             loosened from the rock
one body’s dearth is another body’s ache
             lay it to the earth
 
, all great lakes are meant to take
             sediment, leg, wrist, wrist, the ear
let down and wet with stars, dock lights
distant but wanted deep,
             to be held in the well of the eye
woven like water, through itself, in
and inside, how to sate a depression
if not with darkness—if darkness is not
             fingers brushing a body, shhhh
, she said, I don’t know what the world is
 
I slip for her, or anything
, like language, new each time
             diffusionremade and organized
and because nothing is enough, waves
each an emotional museum of water
 
left light trembles a lake figure on loop    
             a night-loop
, every story is a story of water
             before it is gold and alone
before it is black like a rat snake
I begin at the lake
, clean once, now drained
             I am murkI am not clean
everything has already happened
always the lake is just up ahead in the poem
, my mouth is the moon, I bring it down
lay it over the lake of her thighs
             warm lamping ax
hewing water’s tender shell
slant slip, entering like light, surrounded
into another skin
             where there was yet no lake  
yet we made it, make it still
to drink and clean ourselves on

Copyright © 2020 by Natalie Diaz. This poem was co-commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and the New York Philharmonic as part of the Project 19 initiative and published in Poem-a-Day on March 28, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

I always took it for granted, the right to vote
She said
And I knew what my mother meant
Her voice constricted tightly by the flu A virus
& a 30-year-relationship 
with Newport 100s
I ain’t no chain smoker
she attempts to silence my concern
only a pack a week. That’s good, you know?

My mother survived a husband she didn’t want 
and an addiction that loved her more 
than any human needs

I sit to write a poem about the 100 year Anniversary
of the 19th Amendment 
& my first thought returns to the womb
& those abortions I did not want at first
but alas

The thirst of an almost anything 
is a gorge always looking to be
until the body is filled with more fibroids 
than possibilities

On the 19th hour of the fourth day in a new decade
I will wake restless from some nightmare
about a bomb & a man with no backbone
on a golf course who clicks closed his Motorola phone
like an exclamation point against his misogynistic stance
He swings the golf club with each chant
Women let me grab
Women like me
Women vote until I say they don’t

In my nightmare he is an infective agent
In the clear of day
he is just the same

Every day he breathes is a threat to this country’s marrow
For Ida & Susan & Lucretia & Elizabeth Cady

& every day he tweets grief  
like a cynical cornball comic’s receipts 
like a red light signaling the end of times

The final night of 2019
& my New Year’s Eve plans involves
anything that will numb the pain
of a world breaking its own heart

My mother & I have already spoken
& her lungs are croaking wet
I just want you to know I don’t feel well
& I pause to pull up my stockings beneath my crumpled smile
On this day I sigh
I just wanted to dance & drink & forget about the 61.7% votes

My silk dress falls to my knees with the same swiftness
defiant as the white feminist who said “I’m your ally”
then voted for the demise of our nation’s most ignored
underpaid, imprisoned & impoverished citizens

Every day there is a telephone near 
I miss my mother
In the waiting room of the OB/GYN
Uptown bound on the dirt orange train seat of the subway
O! How my mother loves the places she can never go
Her bones swaddled with arthritis & smoke
So she relies on my daily bemoans

The train smells like yesterday, Ma
They raise the tolls & fix nothing for the people
My landlord refuses to fix my toilet, my bathroom sink, my refrigerator
The city is annoying like an old boyfriend, always buzzing about nothing 
& in the way of me making it on time to the polls
This woman didn’t say thank you when I held the door
& who does she think she is?

Each time I crack & cap on the everydayness of my day
My mother laughs as if she can see the flimsy MTA card
The yellow cabs that refuse to stop for her daughter
In these moments she can live again 
A whole bodied woman with a full mouth
to speak it plain

I ask my mother what hurts? 
What hurts? 
How can I help from here?

3000 miles away
Alone in a tower between the sea 
& the Mexico borders

My mother sighs a little sigh & says
Nothing
I just wanted to hear your voice

Copyright © 2020 by Mahogany L. Browne. This poem was co-commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and the New York Philharmonic as part of the Project 19 initiative and published in Poem-a-Day on March 21, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

Bendito, 
bendito, 
bendito sea Dios
los ángeles cantan y alaban a Dios

Memories of my grandfather’s garden come back to me 
differently than other child of the hood memories
Memories of my grandfather’s garden come back to me
in well water voices 
in deep chest hymns
that begin as a gurgle deep in the belly and rise to the throat
slowly
I remember little of the day my friends jumped me in
I remember fists flailing and afterwards 
those deep, fleshy embraces 
only Latinos know how to give
but grandfather’s garden comes back to me with aromas, with tastes
with corridos sung to the sun
and novenas sung to the moon
thanking both sides of life 
the light and the dark
for their bountiful harvests
Ay, Dios mio,
all those nights we knelt together in brown earth
it was always about harmony, about balance
He’d intone deeply thanking the life-giving soil for its gift
and I’d follow suit
carefully pulling up cilantro, manzanilla, yerba del manso
always making sure metal spade never touches fragile root
sweet, ancient Abuelito, 
how could I be anything but a poet after those moments we shared
Don’t you see,
In my grandfather’s garden 
chiles grew
In my grandfather’s garden 
children grew
In my grandfather’s garden 
poems rose from the earth
like the twisted arms of la llorona desperately reaching out 
for her missing children
In my grandfather’s garden all of these things grew
slowly
because beautiful things take time to bloom
In my grandfather’s garden all of these things would rise 
slowly
like well water voices 
like deep chest hymns 
that begin as a gurgle deep in the belly and rise to the throat 
slowly singing
always singing

Bendito, 
bendito, 
bendito sea Dios
los ángeles cantan y alaban a Dios
los ángeles cantan y alaban a Dios

 

Copyright © 2022 by Joaquin Zihuatanejo. This poem appeared in Dallas Morning News, April 10, 2022Used with permission of the author.

“If you were a star,” you said, “you’d be called Forgive me.
To which I smiled (you couldn’t see me) and said,
“Or Forgive me not.”

You said “Beware the ides of March on days we’re distant
from bees and flowers.”

“Not if the bees in the mouth don’t sting,” I said,
“and the air we move is a monk’s in a meditative year.”

“Are we the plants or the particles,
the planets or the elements?” you asked,
“and our touchless touching, vector-dependent sex,

and the honey mouth, are they
the silences that waggle the tune
on our foraging routes?”

“When I say honey,” I clarified,
“I’m asking you whose pollen you contain.
We’re no snowflake symmetry

yet to each pollen grain its aperture:
porous, colpate, yet blanketing the earth
as crystals might, and light isn’t refused.”

“And when I say honey,” you said
“I grip my sweetness on your life,
on stigma and anthophile,

and the soporific folded on its synchronous river
that doesn’t intend to dissect my paradise.”

“O captive my captive, we lost and what did love gain,”
I asked, “I haven’t fallen from where I haven’t been,
or exited what I didn’t enter.”

“Seen or unseen,” you said, “I’ll live in your mouth.
We have an extra room. The children like it there,
mead in it their stories and playdough.”

“As if a child is the cosmic dust that made me,
and I’m the suffix, its -ide.”

“And within that child a child.”
“And within that another.”

Copyright © 2020 by Fady Joudah. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 11, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

for Jaiden Peter Morgan

A good poem
is summer
                 my nephew said 
             mirage rising 
from corn fields
midday 
pollen on our tongues
each syllable 
flecked with sunbeams
and names not said 
shiye’ you should know 
the voice isn’t ours alone
    but a dwelling space
    a hooghan’s
    cool inner darkness
    before ceremony 
    it is you 
    who will heal 
    these wounds
a good poem 
is song
            I said
so let there be mountains
singing in all directions
let there be laughter
uninterrupted and innocent 
shiye’ what joy you are
naahoniiłt’ąh
nahałtin
náhoolt’ąh

Copyright © 2021 by Manny Loley. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 1, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

—for Juan Antonio Corretjer and Consuelo Lee Tapia

In the photograph, the poet leans over to kiss his wife. He wears a black
suit and a black tie, as if there will be a ceremony and a medallion hung
around his neck. His hair is white and crowns the back of his head. Her hair
is white in waves. She lifts her face to kiss him through his white mustache.

This is a despedida. They are kissing goodbye. The charge is conspiracy again.
The officers born years after his first incarceration lead him away to Castillo
de Ponce. The officers lead her away to the women’s prison at Vega Alta.

The evidence is in the poetry. As the convoy of the empire’s army rumbles in
the dark, past the mountain town where one day they will be buried side by side,
the poet says to his beloved: Esta es pausa / para el amor. Es sólo / breve pausa.
The poet watches her sleep. This is a pause / for love. It’s only / a brief pause.

Copyright © 2024 by Martín Espada. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 23, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets. 

Like any good grandson, I follow
traditions your kids were too rebellious to learn. Your
hands were mottled with calluses and
your forearms had the muscle of farm life buried
under sheets of white hair. You seemed to me a god when you
kneaded sticky dough into stone countertops
to turn flour and yeast
and yolk and salt
to bread. I seemed to be some misread Chronos
when I devoured those
sibling braided loaves this year. It seems to me
your flesh is in that recipe. Your essence preserved
in flour and crisco
and tepid water and poppy seeds
and I with jaws like railroad tracks and
teeth like headstones, like margarine
swallow your bones
to remember.
Like any good grandson, I sleep
in the bed she watched you die in and
never ask which side was yours. Your pillows are flat and hurt my
neck like thumbtacks and bullet holes. The statue of you
in the ceiling is dusty and
stained with scotch and pond scum.
I don’t cry when I see it but my eyes do leak tractor oil when I remember                how
my feet used to fit on top of yours as they pushed the pedals.
How your lap got too small to be a seat. How the ashes
from your fireplace smell like how I wasn’t there to spread yours.
Like any good grandson, I take the memories and armchairs and
don’t ask for more. I reek of sympathy and
gratitude for the time we had and
don’t taste like ivy at all. I don’t say how I dreamed you
came back as a secret I couldn’t keep, then
left again but this time I knew
we are one part sugar, two parts flour, one part sea foam, one part                          peppermint,
two parts maize, three parts firewood, one part grape juice, two parts rhubarb
and we
will swim together again.

From Poems from the 2023 National Student Poets © 2023 Alliance for Young Artists & Writers. Used with the permission of the publisher.  

This Black History Month
I have seen too much sorrow. Been reminded
too many times of tragedy, seen too much
black blood spilt in old grainy videos. It’s seemed
like we’ve turned victims
into figureheads. Made mascots out of martyrs. Sent
sacrifices strolling down red carpets. I’m tired
of treating tears and tragedy like they’re all we have to remember.
This Black History Month
I dreamed beyond the struggle. But I think
you’d need an oracle to see that far
past all the work we have left to do.
So the best I could do was
cobble these memories into something resembling
a vision. But close your eyes.
It looked like my father and his sister dancing to
Parliament after Christmas dinner. Their father
has spent months in a hospital just a few miles away, but
their smile lines still deepen in the same places their
eyes spent the morning crying. It smelled like
stories. My great-grandmother’s cooking, a fable
retold so many times I can practically taste her fried chicken. If I did,
I think it would taste like the last hug my grandmother ever gave me. It was
hard for her to walk, but she still
squeezed me tight enough that I’ll never feel her
let me go. It smelled like my aunt
whose perfume always reminds me of
relatives I’ve never seen, family trees she’s learned to recite from memory.
It sounded like my
great-aunt’s laughter, crackling through her
vocal cords like sandpaper. It makes you question
how the harshest sounds on earth are also the most joyous.
Three generations of mothers, daughters, and sisters reminding me that
black love is both the unstoppable force and the immovable object.
It will reach you wherever you are, and it will never stop letting you know
you’re home. We have weathered
so much pain that we have learned to call it beautiful. From my 
great-uncle, forced to flee the south as a 12-year-old boy after accidentally            running into
a white man on his bicycle, we have learned
that home isn’t a place in space but just the
place where you can keep your family safe. From my grandmother
I have learned love. From my cousins
I have learned laughter. I have my uncle’s pen, my aunt’s soul, my uncle’s              heart, my aunt’s grin.
And I’m told I have my father’s voice. So understand
that it’s not just me speaking to you today, but
my whole family chanting through my lips
Ain’t we black? Ain’t we history? Ain’t we beautiful? Ain’t we excellence?
Ain’t we heritage, ancestry? Ain’t we the future, ain’t we tomorrow?
Ain’t we the product of everything
that’s tried to keep us down and failed?
Ain’t we the beauty in the struggle, the joy in the hardship, the
fire that burns through generations? Ain’t that black history?
Ain’t it beautiful?

From Poems from the 2023 National Student Poets © 2023 Alliance for Young Artists & Writers. Used with the permission of the publisher.  

The quake last night was nothing personal, 
you told me this morning. I think one always wonders, 
unless, of course, something is visible: tremors 
that take us, private and willy-nilly, are usual.

But the earth said last night that what I feel, 
you feel; what secretly moves you, moves me. 
One small, sensuous catastrophe 
makes inklings letters, spelled in a worldly tremble.

The earth, with others on it, turns in its course 
as we turn toward each other, less than ourselves, gross, 
mindless, more than we were. Pebbles, we swell 
to planets, nearing the universal roll, 
in our conceit even comprehending the sun, 
whose bright ordeal leaves cool men woebegone.

Excerpted from Selected Poems by Mona Van Duyn. Copyright © 2002 by Mona Van Duyn. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

When a mouth aboard said ship
called out to me, I was a berry
turned sour by sun’s
neglect, an old ornament gone
unglossed. It spoke to me & warranted
a new way of listening & at once
I heard two crows, heard both.
For years, that strange whistle
of new language nettled me sloppily
its orientation unmapped. I let it
holler too long untended, & after
too long an ignorance it came back
to beat me, a bullet of tenacity.
I took too long to know its nature
& now I count a debt. It takes
exactly this much effort to tell you
that I have been stayed. Stayed by
a new forgetfulness, stayed by
an urgent condition, a mother warbler
feeding me melons by the whole.
Is there a mouth as hungry
as mine? As wide in its receiving?
I open to a 30th orbit
& want for nothing more than the syrup
of fruit, than the blade of a garden
in the small of my back, than to bait
the braid of duty.
& so, for this wily bewitched reason
of little perspicuity
I regret to inform you of my imminent
departure, my eventual, divine
escape from cog-wheel
mandates, my prescriptions grown old.
What I love is a heaven
that vexes me—& to it I must become
a faithful wife.

Copyright © 2023 by Camonghne Felix. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 27, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.

So powerful, the free opera streams. So powerful, 
the Navy ship treading to Manhattan, 

my students inventing words: afterwhen, leitmarsh— 
one renames herself Golden Bird. And I am 

thinking of you, lost friend—you in the new 
Pacific mountains and the wrought-iron herb 

garden, you for whom love is grief and truth 
a weapon you hand the enemy—barbed like 

the spores of a virus, infectious and exponential. 
Will I ever touch you again? A biologist calls me 

asking for meaning. I write in my garage
until a neighbor pulls down the door. Who am I 

to exist? By what right? We’re all going to catch it 
eventually, you say, and I want to take your head 

in my hands. I was supposed to be wiser. But this 
notion of deserving—to live, to breathe easy. 

Afterwhen I find my soul again, afterwhen I know 
what to say. Oh you, oh dear one, oh precious careful 

salve. You for whom love is a demand, whose name
is an incantation—you whose name I cannot say at all. 

The letter planes are all grounded. And in this long 
sabbath month, what words do we utter but prayer? 

From Ardor (Gasher Press, 2023) by Alyse Knorr. Copyright © 2023 by Alyse Knorr. Reprinted with the permission of the author.