Sorry for mercury strewn in veins of fish,
for traces of carbon monoxide loose in the air,
for radiation that circles and enters the aura.

Sorry for deliberate puffs and sips
late in the night, for an empty stomach
burning with coffee grounds,

for words of magma, thoughts rough as tufa
scratching the indivisible cells, fragile nerves,
divisions of labor and function,

for scraping skin until it bled, garnet
scars in constellation form, for chemicals
bathing in a pool of genetics, under viral stars.

I’m looking to cleanse regret. I want to give
you a balm for lesions, give you evening
primrose, milk thistle, turmeric, borage,

feet moving toward a language
of trees, hands deciphering sediment, steady
rhythm back in the pulse, the breathing you knew

before you were born. Believe me that we began
together and I will mend each sheath of myelin,
reverse the dark that grows behind my eyes.

Copyright © 2018 Lory Bedikian. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Fall 2018.

To everything, there is a season of parrots. Instead of feathers, we searched the sky for meteors on our last night.  Salamanders use the stars to find their way home. Who knew they could see that far, fix the tiny beads of their eyes on distant arrangements of lights so as to return to wet and wild nests? Our heads tilt up and up and we are careful to never look at each other. You were born on a day of peaches splitting from so much rain and the slick smell of fresh tar and asphalt pushed over a cracked parking lot. You were strong enough—even as a baby—to clutch a fistful of thistle and the sun himself was proud to light up your teeth when they first swelled and pushed up from your gums. And this is how I will always remember you when we are covered up again: by the pale mica flecks on your shoulders. Some thrown there from your own smile. Some from my own teeth. There are not enough jam jars to can this summer sky at night. I want to spread those little meteors on a hunk of still-warm bread this winter. Any trace left on the knife will make a kitchen sink like that evening air

the cool night before
star showers: so sticky so
warm so full of light
 

Copyright © 2017 by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 7, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

On the side of the road, white cardboard in the shape of a man,
     	     illegible script. A signpost with scrawl: Will pay cash for 
              diabetes strips.
 
A system under the system with its black box.                    	Disability hearing?
a billboard reads. Trouble with Social Security? Where does the riot begin?
 
Spark of dry grass, Russian thistle in flames, or butterflies bobbing
as if pulled by unseen strings            	  through the alleyway.
        	
My mother’s riot would have been peace. A bicycle wheel
              chained to a concrete planter. What metaphor
 
              can I use to describe the children sleeping in cages in 
                  detention
centers? Birds pushed fenceward by a breeze? A train of brake lights
 
extending? Mesquite pods mill under our feet
on a rainless sidewalk. What revolution            will my daughter feed?
 
A break-the-state twig-quick snap or a long divining       	    as if
for water? A cotton silence? A death?          	      Who will read this
 
in the next economy, the one that comes after the one that kills us?
What lessons will we take from the side of the road? A wooden crucifix,
 
a white bicycle, a pinwheel, a poem
waiting to be redacted:                         Which would you cross out?

Copyright © 2018 by Susan Briante. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 3, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Between each vertebra
is the through line
of your life’s story,
where the setting sun
has burned all colors
into the cord.  Step

over.  Put on the dark
shirt of stars. 
A full moon rises
over the breathing field,
seeps into clover and the brown
lace of its roots
where insects are resting

their legs.  Take in the view.
So much is still
to be seen.  Get back
behind your back, behind
what is behind you. 

From The Breathing Field (Little, Brown and Co., 2002). Copyright © 2002 by Wyatt Townley. Used with permission of the author.

we were never caught

we partied the southwest, smoked it from L.A. to El Dorado
worked odd jobs between delusions of escape
drunk on the admonitions of parents, parsons & professors
driving faster than the road or law allowed.
our high-pitched laughter was young, heartless & disrespected
authority. we could be heard for miles in the night

the Grand Canyon of a new manhood.
womanhood discovered
like the first sighting of Mount Wilson

we rebelled against the southwestern wind

we got so naturally ripped, we sprouted wings,
crashed parties on the moon, and howled at the earth

we lived off love. It was all we had to eat

when you split you took all the wisdom
and left me the worry

Copyright © 2001 by Wanda Coleman. Reprinted from Mercurochrome: New Poems with the permission of Black Sparrow Press. All rights reserved.

I have been living
closer to the ocean than I thought--
in a rocky cove thick with seaweed.

It pulls me down when I go wading.
Sometimes, to get back to land
takes everything that I have in me. 

Sometimes, to get back to land
is the worst thing a person can do. 
Meanwhile, we are dreaming: 

The body is innocent.
She has never hurt me.
What we love flutters in us. 

From House of Poured Out Waters by Jane Mead. Copyright © 2000 by Jane Mead. Used with permission of the author and the University of Illinois Press. All rights reserved.

translated by Edith Grossman

It is a July night
scented with gardenias.
The moon and stars shine
hiding the essence of the night.
As darkness fell
—with its deepening onyx shadows
and the golden brilliance of the stars—
my mother put the garden, her house, the kitchen, in order.
Now, as she sleeps,
I walk in her garden
immersed in the solitude of the moment.
I have forgotten the names
of many trees and flowers
and there used to be more pines
where orange trees flower now.
Tonight I think of all the skies
I have pondered and once loved.
Tonight the shadows around
the house are kind.
The sky is a camera obscura
projecting blurred images.
In my mother’s house
the twinkling stars
pierce me with nostalgia,
and each thread in the net that surrounds this world
is a wound that will not heal.


El cielo encima de la casa de mi madre

Es una noche de julio
perfumada de gardenias.
La luna y las estrellas brillan
sin revelar la esencia de la noche.
A través del anochecer
—con sus gradaciones cada vez más intensas de ónix,
y el resplandor dorado de los astros, de las sombras—
mi madre ha ido ordenando su casa, el jardín, la cocina.
Ahora, mientras ella duerme,
yo camino en su jardín,
inmerso en la soledad de esta hora.
Se me escapan los nombres
de muchos árboles y flores,
y había más pinos antes
donde los naranjos florecen ahora.
Esta noche pienso en todos los cielos
que he contemplado y que alguna vez amé.
Esta noche las sombras
alrededor de la casa son benignas.
El cielo es una cámara oscura
que proyecta imágenes borrosas.
En la casa de mi madre
los destellos de los astros
me perforan con nostalgia,
y cada hilo de la red que circunvala este universo
es una herida que no sana.

From My Night with / Mi noche con Federíco García Lorca by Jaime Manrique. Reprinted by permission of the University of Wisconsin Press. © 2003 by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. All rights reserved.

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.

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.

I use a trick to teach students
how to avoid passive voice.

Circle the verbs.
Imagine inserting “by zombies”
after each one.

Have the words been claimed
by the flesh-hungry undead?
If so, passive voice.

I wonder if these
sixth graders will recollect,
on summer vacation,
as they stretch their legs
on the way home
from Yellowstone or Yosemite
and the byway’s historical marker
beckons them to the
site of an Indian village—

Where trouble was brewing.
Where, after further hostilities, the army was directed to enter.
Where the village was razed after the skirmish occurred.
Where most were women and children.

Riveted bramble of passive verbs
etched in wood—
stripped hands
breaking up from the dry ground
to pinch the meat
of their young red tongues.

From Tributaries (University of Arizona Press, 2015). Copyright © 2015 by Laura Da’. Used with the permission of the author.