There’s no law that says
life needs to get more complicated.
In fact, it’s difficult to grow big.
Humanity has always been improbable,
but occurred when two single cells
floated—perhaps they wanted
each other?—into one. Even a host
can learn to love a leech. This is molecular:
One thing cares for another, in a way
it could never care for itself. Everything
you know was born from this sacrifice. Red-
woods stretched, shellfish bristled the floor.
Life, in even the simplest form, has always
been a matter of finding the energy.
Copyright © 2017 by Lizzie Harris. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 21, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
my father moved through dooms of love
through sames of am through haves of give,
singing each morning out of each night
my father moved through depths of height
this motionless forgetful where
turned at his glance to shining here;
that if (so timid air is firm)
under his eyes would stir and squirm
newly as from unburied which
floats the first who, his april touch
drove sleeping selves to swarm their fates
woke dreamers to their ghostly roots
and should some why completely weep
my father’s fingers brought her sleep:
vainly no smallest voice might cry
for he could feel the mountains grow.
Lifting the valleys of the sea
my father moved through griefs of joy;
praising a forehead called the moon
singing desire into begin
joy was his song and joy so pure
a heart of star by him could steer
and pure so now and now so yes
the wrists of twilight would rejoice
keen as midsummer’s keen beyond
conceiving mind of sun will stand,
so strictly (over utmost him
so hugely) stood my father’s dream
his flesh was flesh his blood was blood:
no hungry man but wished him food;
no cripple wouldn’t creep one mile
uphill to only see him smile.
Scorning the Pomp of must and shall
my father moved through dooms of feel;
his anger was as right as rain
his pity was as green as grain
septembering arms of year extend
less humbly wealth to foe and friend
than he to foolish and to wise
offered immeasurable is
proudly and (by octobering flame
beckoned) as earth will downward climb,
so naked for immortal work
his shoulders marched against the dark
his sorrow was as true as bread:
no liar looked him in the head;
if every friend became his foe
he’d laugh and build a world with snow.
My father moved through theys of we,
singing each new leaf out of each tree
(and every child was sure that spring
danced when she heard my father sing)
then let men kill which cannot share,
let blood and flesh be mud and mire,
scheming imagine, passion willed,
freedom a drug that’s bought and sold
giving to steal and cruel kind,
a heart to fear, to doubt a mind,
to differ a disease of same,
conform the pinnacle of am
though dull were all we taste as bright,
bitter all utterly things sweet,
maggoty minus and dumb death
all we inherit, all bequeath
and nothing quite so least as truth
—i say though hate were why men breathe—
because my Father lived his soul
love is the whole and more than all
Copyright © 1940, 1968, 1991 by the Trustees for the E. E. Cummings Trust from The Complete Poems: 1904-1962 by E. E. Cummings, Edited by George J. Firmage. Reprinted by permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.
Here’s the End of the World
mobile with its shiny bullhorn
& platitudes among drawings
tattooed across the beige hood
big as a mammoth broken out
of ice, bellyful of buttercups.
Doomsday has come & gone,
& now the sluggish van rolls
toward the snowy East River
at a quarter past midnight,
& I wonder how it is to quit
a job one week earlier
& return on blue Monday,
begging the foreman
for a chance to stoke
the brimstone furnace.
Changes stumble into my life
sometimes, like last Sunday
when I sat at the dining table
of an old friend of a thousand
stories, a glare falling into my left
eye, her daughter watching
TV in a side room, & I heard
this Foley guy sawing a maple
cross with a horse-hair bow.
I can’t help but walk over
& lean into the doorway,
& then raise a phantom alto
to my lips. The cat’s young too,
rocking his upright at the foot
of Babel, speaking pain & joy
in the most beautiful way
I’ve heard in a long time,
& say to myself, Rabbas,
you could run the table
with this guy at Small’s,
could teach the shadows
to walk on their hands
& dance with alley cats.
I’ve been here a long time
working this hunk of brass,
& knew Mingus in the days
when he’d strike a righteous
pose up on the bandstand
& bring down the house,
talking jive & rave, jabbing
below the belt, where it hurts.
Can you imagine him up there
today, playing a new version
of “Fables of Faubus,” big
as thunder at dawn rocking
hundred-year-old hanging trees
out of memory, can you dig?
The guy on the corner
jingling coins in a Dixie cup
pulls on his blind-man’s shades
as March runs down Delancey,
woozy as a rush-up of sparrows
over Chinatown. One small thing
seems almost holy, & lightheaded
hues settle over the architecture
& a handkerchief dance unfolds
into some jostle of bumper balls.
This is the hour paradise is not
only for itself, & one doesn’t feel
stupid picking up a dull penny
from a sidewalk. A tremble goes
through cloth, tugging bodies
into a new world, & by ten-thirty
the wind rolls on past the Hudson,
headed upstate. I want to jump
up & down, to shout as March
ambushes the last antiheroes
this scatterbrain side of town.
Copyright © 2017 by Yusef Komunyakaa. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 26, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
New York Public Library, Edna St. Vincent Millay archives
Because Norma saved even the grocery lists,
it was no surprise to find a lock of hair
coiled and glued loosely into the scrapbook,
crimped and rusty, more weird
and alive than any calling card or photograph,
letter, erotic or otherwise, sweeter
than the candy kisses fixed upon the page.
I shouldn’t have touched it, but in those days
I was always hungry. Despite the rare books
librarian lurking, I set my thumb against it.
Weightless, dusty, it warmed at my touch.
By 1949, all the grocery lists affirmed
the same fixations: Liverwurst, Olives, Cookies, Scotch.
Liverwurst, Olives, Cookies, Scotch, penciled
on squares of insipid paper. By 1950,
unsteady on her feet; by year’s end, dead at the foot
of the stairs. As I placed the book of relics
back into its archival box, a single
copper wire fell from the page,
bright tendril on the table. I lifted it,
casket of DNA, protein, lipids, and still Titian red.
Really, was I wrong to swallow it?
Copyright © 2017 by Ann Townsend. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 27, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
You’re used to it, the way,
in the first wide-eyed
minutes, climbing from parking lot
to fire trail, or rifling through
cupboards in a rented kitchen,
I can’t help but tell you
we should visit here again,
my reverie inserting
a variation in the season,
or giving friends the room
next door, in stubborn panic
to fix this happiness in place
by escaping from it.
“We’re here now,” you say,
holding out the book I bought
with its dog-eared maps and lists
and, on the cover, a waterfall,
white flecks frozen, very close.
Copyright © 2017 by Nate Klug. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 23, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
At the midnight in the silence of the sleep-time,
When you set your fancies free,
Will they pass to where—by death, fools think, imprisoned—
Low he lies who once so loved you, whom you loved so,
Oh to love so, be so loved, yet so mistaken!
What had I on earth to do
With the slothful, with the mawkish, the unmanly?
Like the aimless, helpless, hopeless, did I drivel
One who never turned his back but marched breast forward,
Never doubted clouds would break,
Never dreamed, though right were worsted, wrong would triumph,
Held we fall to rise, are baffled to fight better,
Sleep to wake.
No, at noonday in the bustle of man's work-time
Greet the unseen with a cheer!
Bid him forward, breast and back as either should be,
“Strive and thrive!” cry “Speed,—fight on, fare ever
There as here!”
This poem is in the public domain.
That the deepest wound is the least unique
surprises nobody but the living.
Secretly, and with what feels like good reason,
we’re the pain the people we love
put the people they no longer love in.
Copyright © 2017 by Graham Foust. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 5, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Copyright © 2017 by James Longenbach. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 14, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.