The birds were louder this morning,
raucous, oblivious, tweeting their teensy bird-brains out.
It scared me, until I remembered it’s Spring.
How do they know it? A stupid question.
Thank you, birdies. I had forgotten how promise feels.

Copyright © 2015 by Michael Ryan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 4, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

Finally, morning. This loneliness
feels more ordinary in the light, more like my face
in the mirror. My daughter in the ER again.
Something she ate? Some freshener

someone spritzed in the air?
They’re trying to kill me, she says,
as though it’s a joke. Lucretius
got me through the night. He told me the world goes on

making and unmaking. Maybe it’s wrong
to think of better and worse.
There’s no one who can carry my fear
for a child who walks out the door

not knowing what will stop her breath.
The rain they say is coming
sails now over the Pacific in purplish nimbus clouds.
But it isn’t enough. Last year I watched

elephants encircle their young, shuffling
their massive legs without hurry, flaring
their great dusty ears. Once they drank
from the snowmelt of Kilimanjaro.

Now the mountain is bald. Lucretius knows
we’re just atoms combining and recombining:
star dust, flesh, grass. All night
I plastered my body to Janet,

breathing when she breathed. But her skin,
warm as it is, does, after all, keep me out.
How tenuous it all is.
My daughter’s coming home next week.

She’ll bring the pink plaid suitcase we bought at Ross.
When she points it out to the escort
pushing her wheelchair, it will be easy
to spot on the carousel. I just want to touch her.

Copyright © 2013 by Ellen Bass. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on September 30, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

               1.

It was winter, lunar, wet. At dusk
Pewter seedlings became moonlight orphans.
Pleased to meet you meat to please you
said the butcher's sign in the window in the village.

Everything changed the year that we got married.
And after that we moved out to the suburbs.
How young we were, how ignorant, how ready
to think the only history was our own.

And there was a couple who quarreled into the night,
Their voices high, sharp:
nothing is ever entirely
right in the lives of those who love each other.

               2.

In that season suddenly our island
Broke out its old sores for all to see.
We saw them too.
We stood there wondering how

the salt horizons and the Dublin hills,
the rivers, table mountains, Viking marshes
we thought we knew
had been made to shiver

into our ancient twelve by fifteen television
which gave them back as gray and grayer tears
and killings, killings, killings,
then moonlight-colored funerals:

nothing we said
not then, not later,
fathomed what it is
is wrong in the lives of those who hate each other.

             3.

And if the provenance of memory is
only that—remember, not atone—
and if I can be safe in
the weak spring light in that kitchen, then

why is there another kitchen, spring light
always darkening in it and
a woman whispering to a man
over and over what else could we have done?

               4.

We failed our moment or our moment failed us.
The times were grand in size and we were small.
Why do I write that
when I don't believe it?

We lived our lives, were happy, stayed as one.
Children were born and raised here
and are gone,
including ours.

As for that couple did we ever
find out who they were
and did we want to?
I think we know. I think we always knew.

From Domestic Violence (W. W. Norton, 2007). Copyright © 2007 by Eavan Boland. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. and Carcanet Press.


hurtling from 
the airport down
the mountain road

past barbed wire
snagged with
plastic bags

fields of scrap
and thistle
farmyards

from the edge
of the plateau
my eye zooms

into the clarity
of Belfast
streets

shipyards
domes
theatres

British Army
helicopter
poised

motionless
at last

I see everything

From Breaking News by Ciaran Carson. Copyright © 2003 by Ciaran Carson. Used by permission of Wake Forest University Press All rights reserved.

When a friend calls to me from the road
And slows his horse to a meaning walk,
I don’t stand still and look around
On all the hills I haven’t hoed,
And shout from where I am, What is it?
No, not as there is a time to talk.
I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground,
Blade-end up and five feet tall,
And plod: I go up to the stone wall
For a friendly visit.

This poem is in the public domain.

who will be the messenger of this land
count its veins
speak through the veins
translate the language of water
navigate the heels of lineage
who will carry this land in parcels
paper, linen, burlap
who will weep when it bleeds
and hardens
forgets to birth itself

who will be the messenger of this land
wrapping its stories carefully
in patois of creole, irish,
gullah, twe, tuscarora
stripping its trees for tea
and pleasure
who will help this land to
remember its birthdays, baptisms
weddings, funerals, its rituals
denials, disappointments
and sacrifices

who will be the messengers
of this land
harvesting its truths
bearing unleavened bread
burying mutilated crops beneath
its breasts

who will remember
to unbury the unborn seeds
that arrived
in captivity
shackled, folded,
bent, layered in its
bowels

we are their messengers
with singing hoes
and dancing plows
with fingers that snap
beans, arms that
raise corn, feet that
cover the dew falling from
okra, beans, tomatoes

we are these messengers
whose ears alone choose
which spices
whose eyes alone name
basil, nutmeg, fennel, ginger,
cardamom, sassafras
whose tongues alone carry
hemlock, blood root, valerian,
damiana, st. john’s wort
these roots that contain
its pleasures its languages its secrets

we are the messengers
new messengers
arriving as mutations of ourselves
we are these messengers
blue breath
red hands
singing a tree into dance

From Breath of the Song: New and Selected Poems (Carolina Wren Press, 2005). Copyright © 2005 by Jaki Shelton Green. Used with the permission of the author.

When the doctor suggested surgery
and a brace for all my youngest years,
my parents scrambled to take me
to massage therapy, deep tissue work,
osteopathy, and soon my crooked spine
unspooled a bit, I could breathe again,
and move more in a body unclouded
by pain. My mom would tell me to sing
songs to her the whole forty-five minute
drive to Middle Two Rock Road and forty-
five minutes back from physical therapy.
She’d say, even my voice sounded unfettered
by my spine afterward. So I sang and sang,
because I thought she liked it. I never
asked her what she gave up to drive me,
or how her day was before this chore. Today,
at her age, I was driving myself home from yet
another spine appointment, singing along
to some maudlin but solid song on the radio,
and I saw a mom take her raincoat off
and give it to her young daughter when
a storm took over the afternoon. My god,
I thought, my whole life I’ve been under her
raincoat thinking it was somehow a marvel
that I never got wet.

From The Carrying (Milkweed Editions, 2018) by Ada Limón. Copyright © 2018 by Ada Limón. Used with the permission of Milkweed Editions. milkweed.org.

Translated by Carina del Valle Schorske

Pensive light. Light
with folded hands, a shrug
of song in the shoulders.
Light that sullies the sea’s
Sunday best, the foam
moving blind over it.

I’ve lost the waistline
of my violet mountains
in the sky’s mouth.
El Yunque is an ancient flute;
retrospective leap.
Blue swallow, blue choke.

Here lives San Juan.
There’s a light that might
save you in the gold
pigeon coop, its womb
made of glass. Here
the rays of the sun
keep growing towards
the dense eyes
of blank harmony.

Passionate
from the balcony I watch
the living death of the sun
high above the shoulders
of the stricken minute.
To the sound of trumpets
I defend my feeling
from the grey bite
of disenchantment.

And the day grows through me
like a magic tree
from nothing to nothing—
grows and sings,
fragrant, shaken,
fills up with promises
and hours.

Nothing changes.
Everything is just twilight.
Physical laws.
I make this light
because I love it.
It’s mine because we are,
eye to eye,
mute correspondence.

We are twilight, luz mía,
just twilight. 


Luz pensativa.
Luz de manos cerradas
y hombros de canto breve.
Luz que ensucia al mar
su camisón de fiesta.
Anda ciega la espuma.

Mis montañas violetas
han perdido su talle
en la boca del cielo.
El Yunque es flauta histórica;
Salto en retrospectiva.
Bocado azul que ahoga.

Acá vive San Juan.
Hay luz que salva
en palomar de oro
su vientre hecho de vidrio.
Aquí siguen creciendo
las espigas del sol
para los ojos densos
de la blanca armonía.

Apasionada
desde el balcón yo miro
la muertevida del sol
alto sobre los hombros
del fenecido instante.
A trompetazos de alma
defiendo mi emoción
de la mordida gris
del desencanto.

Y crece el día por mí
como mágico árbol
de la nada a la nada.
Crece y canta,
fragante, estremecido
y se llena de promesas
y horas.

Nada cambia.
Todo es sólo twilight.
De leyes físicas.

Yo hago esta luz
porque la amo.
Es mía porque somos,
de mirada a mirada,
muda correspondencia.

Somos twilight, luz mía,
Sólo twilight.

Copyright © 2020 by Carina del Valle Schorske and Marigloria Palma. Published in Poem-a-Day on February 25, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

Lord,
          when you send the rain,
          think about it, please,
          a little?
  Do
          not get carried away
          by the sound of falling water,
          the marvelous light
          on the falling water.
    I
          am beneath that water.
          It falls with great force
          and the light
Blinds
          me to the light.

From Jimmy’s Blues and Other Poems by James Baldwin (Beacon Press, 2014).  Copyright © 2014 The James Baldwin Estate. Used by permission of Beacon Press.

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don't
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

From Otherwise: New & Selected Poems by Jane Kenyon, published by Graywolf Press. Copyright © 1996 by the Estate of Jane Kenyon. Used with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota. All rights reserved.

They eat beans mostly, this old yellow pair.
Dinner is a casual affair.
Plain chipware on a plain and creaking wood,
Tin flatware.

Two who are Mostly Good.
Two who have lived their day,
But keep on putting on their clothes
And putting things away.

And remembering . . .
Remembering, with twinklings and twinges,
As they lean over the beans in their rented back room that
          is full of beads and receipts and dolls and cloths,
          tobacco crumbs, vases and fringes.

From The Bean Eaters by Gwendolyn Brooks, published by Harpers. © 1960 by Gwendolyn Brooks. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

As though
the river were
a floor, we position
our table and chairs
upon it, eat, and
have conversation.
As it moves along,
we notice—as
calmly as though
dining room paintings
were being replaced—
the changing scenes
along the shore. We
do know, we do
know this is the
Niagara River, but
it is hard to remember
what that means.

From The Niagara River by Kay Ryan, published by Grove Press. Copyright © 2005 by Kay Ryan. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

translated from the Spanish by Jack Hirschman

Like you I
love love, life, the sweet smell
of things, the sky-blue
landscape of January days.
And my blood boils up
and I laugh through eyes
that have known the buds of tears.
I believe the world is beautiful
and that poetry, like bread, is for everyone.
And that my veins don’t end in me
but in the unanimous blood
of those who struggle for life,
love,
little things,
landscape and bread,
the poetry of everyone.


Como Tú

Yo, como tú,
amo el amor, la vida, el dulce encanto
de las cosas, el paisaje
celeste de los días de enero.
También mi sangre bulle
y río por los ojos
que han conocido el brote de las lágrimas.
Creo que el mundo es bello,
que la poesía es como el pan, de todos.
Y que mis venas no terminan en mí
sino en la sangre unánime
de los que luchan por la vida,
el amor,
las cosas,
el paisaje y el pan,
la poesía de todos.

From Poetry Like Bread: Poets of the Political Imagination (Curbstone Press, 2000), edited by Martín Espada. Used with the permission of Northwestern University Press.

Dusk fell every night. Things
fall. Why should I
have been surprised. 

Before it was possible
to imagine my life
without it, the winds

arrived, shattering air
and pulling the tree
so far back its roots,

ninety years, ripped
and sprung. I think
as it fell it became

unknowable. Every day
of my life now I cannot
understand. The force

of dual winds lifting
ninety years of stillness
as if it were nothing,

as if it hadn’t held every
crow and fog, emptying
night from its branches. 

The needles fell. The pinecones
dropped every hour
on my porch, a constant

irritation. It is enough
that we crave objects,
that we are always

looking for a way
out of pain. What is beyond
task and future sits right

before us, endlessly
worthy. I have planted
a linden, with its delicate

clean angles, on a plot
one tenth the size. Some change
is too great. 

Somewhere there is a field,
white and quiet, where a tree
like this one stands,

made entirely of
hovering. Nothing will
hold me up like that again.
 

Copyright © 2016 by Joanna Klink. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 14, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

(at St. Mary’s)

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that

From Quilting: Poems 1987–1990 by Lucille Clifton. Copyright © 2001 by Lucille Clifton. Reprinted with permission of BOA Editions Ltd. All rights reserved.

I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
     flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
     went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy
     bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I've known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Copyright © 1994 the Estate of Langston Hughes. Used with permission.

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

From The Woman Who Fell From the Sky (W. W. Norton, 1994) by Joy Harjo. Copyright © 1994 by Joy Harjo. Used with permission of the author.

every tree
a brother
every hill
a pyramid
a holy spot

every valley
a poem
in xochitl
in cuicatl
flower and song

every cloud
a prayer
every rain
drop
a miracle

every body
a seashore
a memory 
at once lost
and found.

we all together—
fireflies
in the night
dreaming up
the cosmos


cada árbol
un hermano
cada monte
una pirámide
un oratorio

cada valle
un poema
in xochitl
in cuicatl
flor y canto

cada nube
una plegaria
cada gota
de lluvia
un milagro

cada cuerpo
una orilla
al mar
un olvido
encontrado

todos juntos—
luciérnagas
de la noche
soñando
el cosmos


cece cuahuitl 
ca totiachcauh 
cecen tepetontli 
ca tzacualli 
ca teoyocan 

cecen tepeihtic 
ca cuicayotl 
in xochitl 
in cuicatl 
xochicuicatl 

cecem mixtli 
ca tlahtlauhtiliztli 
cecen atl 
ichipinca

cece tlactli 
ca atentli 
ca necauhcayotl 
poliuhqui 
in oc tlanextilli 

nehhuantin tocepan— 
tixoxotlameh 
yohuatzinco 
tictemiquih 
in cemanahuactli 

From Snake Poems An Aztec Invocation, by Francisco X. Alarcón (University of Arizona Press)

A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other's
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what's on the other side.

I know there's something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.


 Watch Elizabeth Alexander read “Praise Song for the Day” at President Obama's inauguration in 2009:

Copyright © 2009 by Elizabeth Alexander. All rights reserved. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota. A chapbook edition of Praise Song for the Day was published on February 6, 2009.

The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The reader became the book; and summer night

Was like the conscious being of the book.
The house was quiet and the world was calm.

The words were spoken as if there was no book,
Except that the reader leaned above the page,

Wanted to lean, wanted much most to be
The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom

The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
The house was quiet because it had to be.

The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
The access of perfection to the page.

And the world was calm. The truth in a calm world,
In which there is no other meaning, itself

Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself
Is the reader leaning late and reading there.

"The House Was Quiet And The World Was Calm," copyright © 1954 by Wallace Stevens and copyright renewed 1982 by Holly Stevens; from THE COLLECTED POEMS OF WALLACE STEVENS by Wallace Stevens. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

This poem is in the public domain.

	The changing light at San Francisco
	                         is none of your East Coast light
	                                          none of your
	                                                                 pearly light of Paris
	The light of San Francisco
	                                                is a sea light
	                                                                      an island light
	And the light of fog
	                                    blanketing the hills
	                        drifting in at night
	                                     through the Golden Gate
	                                                          to lie on the city at dawn
	And then the halcyon late mornings
	                  after the fog burns off
	                          and the sun paints white houses
	                                                           with the sea light of Greece
	                                with sharp clean shadows
	                                       making the town look like
	                                                     it had just been painted
But the wind comes up at four o’clock
                                                                    sweeping the hills
And then the veil of light of early evening
And then another scrim
                                when the new night fog
                                                                          floats in
And in that vale of light
                                           the city drifts
                                                                    anchorless upon the ocean

From How to Paint Sunlight by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Copyright © 2000 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.

When I am asked
how I began writing poems,
I talk about the indifference of nature.

It was soon after my mother died,
a brilliant June day,
everything blooming.

I sat on a gray stone bench
in a lovingly planted garden,
but the day lilies were as deaf
as the ears of drunken sleepers
and the roses curved inward.
Nothing was black or broken
and not a leaf fell
and the sun blared endless commercials
for summer holidays.

I sat on a gray stone bench
ringed with the ingenue faces
of pink and white impatiens
and placed my grief
in the mouth of language,
the only thing that would grieve with me.

From Alive Together: New and Selected Poems (Louisiana State University Press, 1996). Copyright © 1996 by Lisel Mueller.  Reprinted by permission of Louisiana State University Press.

Listen
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

From Migration: New & Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2005). Copyright © 1988 by W. S. Merwin. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

We need some pines to assuage the darkness
when it blankets the mind,
we need a silvery stream that banks as smoothly
as a plane’s wing, and a worn bed of
needles to pad the rumble that fills the mind,
and a blur or two of a wild thing
that sees and is not seen. We need these things
between appointments, after work,
and, if we keep them, then someone someday,
lying down after a walk
and supper, with the fire hole wet down,
the whole night sky set at a particular
time, without numbers or hours, will cause
a little sound of thanks—a zipper or a snap—
to close round the moment and the thought
of whatever good we did.

From Rampant by Marvin Bell. Copyright 2004 Marvin Bell. Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press. All rights reserved.

My pants could maybe fall down when I dive off the diving board.
My nose could maybe keep growing and never quit.
Miss Brearly could ask me to spell words like stomach and special.
     (Stumick and speshul?)
I could play tag all day and always be "it."
Jay Spievack, who's fourteen feet tall, could want to fight me.
My mom and my dad—like Ted's—could want a divorce.
Miss Brearly could ask me a question about Afghanistan.
     (Who's Afghanistan?)
Somebody maybe could make me ride a horse.
My mother could maybe decide that I needed more liver.
My dad could decide that I needed less TV.
Miss Brearly could say that I have to write script and stop printing.
     (I'm better at printing.)
Chris could decide to stop being friends with me.

The world could maybe come to an end on next Tuesday.
The ceiling could maybe come crashing on my head.
I maybe could run out of things for me to worry about.
And then I'd have to do my homework instead.

From If I Were in Charge of the World and Other Worries . . ., published by Macmillan, 1981. Used with permission.

                                              One river gives
                                              Its journey to the next.

We give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.

We give because giving has changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.

We have been better for it,
We have been wounded by it—

Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,
Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.

Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,
But we read this book, anyway, over and again:

Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,
Mine to yours, yours to mine.

You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.
Together we are simple green. You gave me

What you did not have, and I gave you
What I had to give—together, we made

Something greater from the difference.
 

Copyright © 2014 by Alberto Ríos. Used with permission of the author.