The mountains are at their theater again,
each ridge practicing an oration of scale and crest,
and the sails, performing glides across the lake, complain
for being out-shadowed despite their gracious
bows. Thirteen years in this state, what hasn’t occurred?
A cyclone in my spirit led to divorce, four books
gave darkness an echo of control, my slurred
hand finding steadiness by the prop of a page,
and God, my children whom I scarred! Pray they forgive.
My crimes felt mountainous, yet perspective
came with distance, and like those peaks, once keening
beneath biting ice, then felt resurrection in a vestige
of water, unfrozen, cascading and adding to the lake’s
depth, such have I come to gauge my own screaming.
The masts tip so far they appear to capsize, keeling
over where every father is a boat on water. The wakes
carry the memory of battles, and the Adirondacks
hold their measure. I am a tributary of something greater.

Copyright © 2016 by Major Jackson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 4, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

this week’s last load of laundry has me stealing
my son’s precious teenage time    I reenact the duty

of my father and what comes hammering back
are trips with him    pushing his cart of dirties down

the street    his southern charm waving or shaking
hands—: bus driver    mailman    neighbors get

countless invites to dinner or a Saturday bbq
my father’s good morning darlin’ clanks & pings

as quarters spill into the bona fide grip
of the present    my son’s hands show signs

he’s ready for the tedious work ahead as he storms
through pile after pile    then his precision when offering

assistance to a stranger    this chore becomes a lesson
for the two of us    this shared work turns and tumbles  

neatly folds—: a fond memory
 

Copyright © 2016 F. Douglas Brown. Used with permission of the author.

Trauma is not what happens to us, but what
we hold inside us in the absence of an
empathetic witness.

Peter Levine, The Unspoken Voice

 

 

I.

 

The first was a bassinet. I don’t remember what it was made of; I think it was one of those big white wicker baskets with wheels. When I couldn’t sleep at night, my father would drag it into the kitchen. It was winter. He’d light the gas oven. I remember the room’s stuffiness, the acrid bite of cold and fumes.

     My father didn’t like crying. He said I was doing it to get attention. He didn’t like my mother teaching me that I could cry and get attention. Nothing was wrong with me, and, even if I was hungry, it wasn’t time to eat. Sometimes, I screamed for hours, and my father—I do remember this—would push his chair up to the lip of the bassinet and smoke, as if he were keeping me company.

     After a few nights, he had broken me.  I stopped crying.  But, when he put the bottle to my lips, I didn’t want it.  I was too exhausted to drink.

 

 

V.

 

Most times I liked my food. I didn’t mind eating until my daddy started making me clean my plate and either struck me off my chair if I didn’t or lifted me up by my hair and held me midair if I was slow. He wanted me to eat faster; he didn’t have all day.

     He’d hold me off the floor until I pleaded. I’d sputter in fear and humiliation—I don’t remember pain—but I had to button up before he put me down to do exactly what he had told me to do, fast.

     Slowness was a sign of insubordination. If I missed a pea or a crumb, I was trying to outwit him. I must have thought he was stupid. And if I pleaded that I hadn’t seen the pea, he’d know I was lying. “Your story is so touching till it sounds like a lie.”

     I swallowed it down; I wiped that look off my face. But still he would notice my bottom lip beginning to quiver.  This was a personal insult, as if I had taken a knife and put it to his face. If my brow wrinkled in a question—“Do you love me, daddy? How could you hurt me like this?”—this implied I was pursuing my own version of the truth, as if I were his victim.

     It was a war of wills, as he so clearly saw, and these were my attempts to subvert him, to make my will reign, to plant my flag.

     He was the ruler of my body. I had to learn that.  He had to be deep in me, deeper than instinct, like the commander of a submarine during times of war.

 

 

Afterword:

I hear in myself a slight opposition, a wounded presence saying, “I am me, I know who I am.” But I am left with only a narrow hole, a thin tube that the words must squeak through. Where words might have gushed out as from a struck well, now, instead, I watch it—watch every word. It wasn’t my father’s thought that I took in; it was his language. It is the language in me that must change.

 

“Burial Sites” was originally published in The Undertaker’s Daughter (University of Pittsburgh Press). Copyright © by Toi Derricotte. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.

Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue.
In a drafty museum, your nakedness
Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.

I’m no more your mother
Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind’s hand.

All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen:
A far sea moves in my ear.

One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
Your mouth opens clean as a cat’s. The window square

Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try
Your handful of notes;
The clear vowels rise like balloons.

From Ariel, published by Harper & Row, 1966. Copyright © 1966 by Ted Hughes. All rights reserved. Used by arrangement with HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers
the grave and awkward mask.
I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
assiduous team
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.

There is a ladder.
The ladder is always there
hanging innocently
close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for,
we who have used it.
Otherwise
it is a piece of maritime floss
some sundry equipment.

I go down.
Rung after rung and still
the oxygen immerses me
the blue light
the clear atoms
of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
will begin.

First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.

And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
lived here
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
and besides
you breathe differently down here.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.

This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body.
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he

whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
whose breasts still bear the stress
whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
obscurely inside barrels
half-wedged and left to rot
we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass

We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.

From Diving into the Wreck: Poems 1971-1972 by Adrienne Rich. Copyright © 1973 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Reprinted by permission of the author and W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Copyright 1973 by Adrienne Rich.

The door was opened and I saw you there
And for the first time heard you speak my name.
Then like the sun your sweetness overcame
My shy and shadowy mood; I was aware
That joy was hidden in your happy hair,
And that for you love held no hint of shame;
My eyes caught light from yours, within whose flame
Humor and passion have an equal share.

How many times since then have I not seen
Your great eyes widen when you talk of love,
And darken slowly with a fair desire;
How many times since then your soul has been
Clear to my gaze as curving skies above,
Wearing like them a raiment made of fire.
 

This poem is in the public domain. 

To have been told “I love you” by you could well be, for me,
the highlight of my life, the best feeling, the best peak
on my feeling graph, in the way that the Chrysler building
might not be the tallest building in the NY sky but is
the best, the most exquisitely spired, or the way that
Hank Aaron’s career home-run total is not the highest
but the best, the one that signifies the purest greatness. 
So improbable!  To have met you at all and then
to have been told in your soft young voice so soon
after meeting you: "I love you."  And I felt the mystery
of being that you, of being a you and being
loved, and what I was, instantly, was someone
who could be told "I love you" by someone like you. 
I was, in that moment, new; you were 19; I was 22;
you were impulsive; I was there in front of you, with a future
that hadn't yet been burned for fuel; I had energy;
you had beauty; and your eyes were a pale blue,
and they backed what you said with all they hadn't seen,
and they were the least ambitious eyes I'd known,
the least calculating, and when you spoke and when
they shone, perhaps you saw the feeling you caused.
Perhaps you saw too that the feeling would stay.

Copyright © 2016 by Matthew Yeager. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 31, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

                                      Come, Lord, and lift the fallen bird
                                      Abandoned on the ground;
                                      The soul bereft and longing so
                                      To have the lost be found…


Before the movers came,
we found the sparrows’ nest

concealed inside the chive
plant on the patio.

And the bald chicks there
calling, unfledged, undone. 

Love, the mean days collecting
scored us, and hourly

such years: we feel too much

assembling what our world
got wrong; black artery 

of wires, branched hazard, rat
stinking in the beams. Wrong as

your mattress on the floor,
walls where the only stud

sinks into a metal grief.

Take this distance as you go,
Love, which is my faith, tedious,

steady, like scraping gum
from a shoe. Strong as a cobweb,

I give you this durable string.

Because I remember you:
who saves the sparrows;

the chicks calling and calling
and you who won’t forget them;

have seen the ghost who rents
your eyes dissolve when

your face turns to the light.

Today, I watched the other birds
who lived this winter

peppering our tulip tree. The buds’
tough seams begin to crack.

Ordinary. No sign to read, I know.
But while we breathe, we hope.


epigraph from “Come Lord And Lift,” by T. Merrill

Copyright © 2016 by Erin Belieu. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 30, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Why, who makes much of a miracle?
As to me I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of the water,
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with any one I love, or sleep in the bed at night with any one I love,
Or sit at table at dinner with the rest,
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,
Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive of a summer forenoon,
Or animals feeding in the fields,
Or birds, or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,
Or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of stars shining so quiet and bright,
Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon in spring;
These with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,
The whole referring, yet each distinct and in its place.

To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same,
Every foot of the interior swarms with the same.

To me the sea is a continual miracle,
The fishes that swim—the rocks—the motion of the waves—the
        ships with men in them,
What stranger miracles are there?

This poem is in the public domain.