The world is a beautiful place 
                                                           to be born into 
if you don’t mind happiness 
                                             not always being 
                                                                        so very much fun 
       if you don’t mind a touch of hell
                                                       now and then
                just when everything is fine
                                                             because even in heaven
                                they don’t sing 
                                                        all the time

             The world is a beautiful place
                                                           to be born into
       if you don’t mind some people dying
                                                                  all the time
                        or maybe only starving
                                                           some of the time
                 which isn’t half so bad
                                                      if it isn’t you

      Oh the world is a beautiful place
                                                          to be born into
               if you don’t much mind
                                                   a few dead minds
                    in the higher places
                                                    or a bomb or two
                            now and then
                                                  in your upturned faces
         or such other improprieties
                                                    as our Name Brand society
                                  is prey to
                                              with its men of distinction
             and its men of extinction
                                                   and its priests
                         and other patrolmen
                                                         and its various segregations
         and congressional investigations
                                                             and other constipations
                        that our fool flesh
                                                     is heir to

Yes the world is the best place of all
                                                           for a lot of such things as
         making the fun scene
                                                and making the love scene
and making the sad scene
                                         and singing low songs of having 
and walking around 
                                looking at everything
                                                                  and smelling flowers
and goosing statues
                              and even thinking 
                                                         and kissing people and
     making babies and wearing pants
                                                         and waving hats and
                                                and going swimming in rivers
                              on picnics
                                       in the middle of the summer
and just generally
                            ‘living it up’

   but then right in the middle of it
                                                    comes the smiling


From A Coney Island of the Mind, copyright ©1955 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.

Spring in Hell and everything’s blooming.

I dreamt the worst was over but it wasn’t.

Suppose my punishment was fields of lilies sharper than razors, cutting up fields of lies.

Suppose my punishment was purity, mined and blanched.

They shunned me only because I knew I was stunning.

Then the white plague came, and their pleas were like a river.

Summer was orgiastic healing, snails snaking around wrists.

In heat, garbage festooned the sidewalks.

Old men leered at bodies they couldn’t touch

until they did. I shouldn’t have laughed but I laughed

at their flesh dozing into their spines, their bones crunching like snow.

Once I was swollen and snowblind with grief, left for dead

at the castle door. Then I robbed the castle and kissed my captor,

my sadness, learned she was not a villain. To wake up in this verdant field,

to watch the lilies flay the lambs. To enter paradise,

a woman drinks a vial of amnesia. Found in only the palest

flowers, the ones that smell like rotten meat. To summon the stinky

flower and access its truest aroma, you have to let its stigma show.

You have to let the pollen sting your eyes until you close them.


Copyright © 2019 by Sally Wen Mao. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 31, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

I tell you, hopeless grief is passionless—
That only men incredulous of despair,
Half-taught in anguish, through the midnight air,
Beat upward to God’s throne in loud access
Of shrieking and reproach. Full desertness
In souls, as countries, lieth silent-bare
Under the blenching, vertical eye-glare
Of the absolute Heavens. Deep-hearted man, express
Grief for thy Dead in silence like to death;
Most like a monumental statue set
In everlasting watch and moveless woe,
Till itself crumble to the dust beneath!
Touch it! the marble eyelids are not wet—
If it could weep, it could arise and go.

This poem is in the public domain. 

Memorial day for the war dead. Add now
the grief of all your losses to their grief,
even of a woman that has left you. Mix
sorrow with sorrow, like time-saving history,
which stacks holiday and sacrifice and mourning
on one day for easy, convenient memory.

Oh, sweet world soaked, like bread,
in sweet milk for the terrible toothless God.
“Behind all this some great happiness is hiding.”
No use to weep inside and to scream outside.
Behind all this perhaps some great happiness is hiding.

Memorial day. Bitter salt is dressed up
as a little girl with flowers.
The streets are cordoned off with ropes,
for the marching together of the living and the dead.
Children with a grief not their own march slowly,
like stepping over broken glass.

The flautist’s mouth will stay like that for many days.
A dead soldier swims above little heads
with the swimming movements of the dead,
with the ancient error the dead have
about the place of the living water.

A flag loses contact with reality and flies off.
A shopwindow is decorated with
dresses of beautiful women, in blue and white.
And everything in three languages:
Hebrew, Arabic, and Death.

A great and royal animal is dying 
all through the night under the jasmine 
tree with a constant stare at the world.

A man whose son died in the war walks in the street
like a woman with a dead embryo in her womb.
“Behind all this some great happiness is hiding.”

From Amen by Yehuda Amichai, published by Harper & Row. Copyright © 1977 Yehuda Amichai. Used by arrangement with HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

My words are dust.
I who would build a star,
I who would touch the heel of the white sun;
Staggering up the inaccessible sky,
I look upon the dust.

The stainless clouds go mounting
In shining spires;
And a little heap of dust
Are my desires.

Yet, dwelling long upon these peaks
Unchained upon the flickering western sky,
I have beheld them at the breath of darkness
Fade slowly out and die.

What of my lineage?
Arrogant and swift,
I bend above the dust,
Untouched of all my grief,
Untarnished of the hour,
And lo! the leaf—
The passionate climbing flower!

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on September 2, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

And only where the forest fires have sped, 
  Scorching relentlessly the cool north lands,
A sweet wild flower lifts its purple head, 
And, like some gentle spirit sorrow-fed,
  It hides the scars with almost human hands.

And only to the heart that knows of grief,
  Of desolating fire, of human pain,
There comes some purifying sweet belief, 
Some fellow-feeling beautiful, if brief.
  And life revives, and blossoms once again.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on May 2, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

Waking from comalike sleep, I saw the poppies,
with their limp necks and unregimented beauty.
Pause, I thought, say something true: It was night,
I wanted to kiss your lips, which remained supple,
but all the water in them had been replaced
with embalming compound. So I was angry.
I loved the poppies, with their wide-open faces,
how they carried themselves, beckoning to me
instead of pushing away. The way in and the way out
are the same, essentially: emotions disrupting thought,
proximity to God, the pain of separation.
I loved the poppies, with their effortless existence,
like grief and fate, but tempered and formalized.
Your hair was black and curly; I combed it.

Reprinted from Blackbird and Wolf © 2007 by Henri Cole, by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Learn more about FSG poets at

In the skull kept on the desk.
In the spider-pod in the dust.

Or nowhere. In milkmaids, in loaves,
Or nowhere. And if Socrates leaves

His house in the morning,
When he returns in the evening

He will find Socrates waiting
On the doorstep. Buddha the stick

You use to clear the path,
And Buddha the dog-doo you flick

Away with it, nowhere or in each
Several thing you touch:

The dollar bill, the button
That works the television.

Even in the joke, the three
Words American men say

After making love. Where's
The remote? In the tears

In things, proximate, intimate.
In the wired stem with root

And leaf nowhere of this lamp:
Brass base, aura of illumination,

Enlightenment, shade of grief.
Odor of the lamp, brazen.

The mind waiting in the mind
As in the first thing to hand.

"First Things to Hand" first appeared in First Things to Hand, published by Sarabande Books, 2006 © Robert Pinsky.

A poem should be palpable and mute
As a globed fruit,

As old medallions to the thumb,

Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
Of casement ledges where the moss has grown—

A poem should be wordless
As the flight of birds.


A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs,

Leaving, as the moon releases
Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,

Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,
Memory by memory the mind—

A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs.


A poem should be equal to:
Not true.

For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf.

For love
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea—

A poem should not mean
But be.

Copyright © by the Estate of Archibald MacLeish and reprinted by permission of the Estate.

for T

Late winter yet we stood at the open window
Its green wood shutters pushed back like wings
Against the walls of the ancient building
We stood at the aperture of the narrow room
Looking down onto the fountain in the cortile
Her old room now mine & she said nothing
Of the year she’d slept here
Knowing the Russian painter she loved
Was out somewhere on the streets of Rome
Walking with his Contessa every evening at dusk
As the grief of a rossignol ran down the stones of
The faded wall just outside her window & along the ivy
Seeping slowly as water from the lips of Orpheus
& those liquid sobs of a Roman nightingale

Copyright © 2021 by David St. John. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 15, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.


we just climbed. Reached the lip
and fell back, slipped

and started up again––
climbed to be climbing, sang

to be singing. It's just what we do.
No one bothered to analyze our blues

until everybody involved
was strung out or dead; to solve

everything that was happening
while it was happening

would have taken some serious opium.
Seriously: All wisdom

is afterthought, a sort of helpless relief.
So don't go thinking none of this grief

belongs to you: Even if
you don't know how it

feels to fall, you can get my drift;
and I, who live it

daily, have heard
that perfect word

enough to know just when
to use it––as in:

Oh hell. Hell, no.
No ––

this is hell.

Copyright © 2013 by Rita Dove. Originally published in Poet Lore. Used with the permission of the poet.

I slept through the whole thing

Two floors above me
“the brother from Senegal”
on the roof’s edge ready
to trade one kingdom for another,
his long swarthy legs dangling
in the dusk of Anacostia morning

My neighbors said
“his whole body shook”
with weeping—the kind
of grief we have forgotten,
or have become too dignified to show

His wife left him
the night before;
his kingdom had come
& gone

Later that morning
I wanted to ask him if there
is a Wolof word
for the blues
or if there is any music

with notes large enough.

From Blood/Sound (Central Square Press, 2019). Copyright © 2019 by Fred L. Joiner. Used with the permission of the author.

We have encountered storms 
Perfect in their drench and wreck
Each of us bears an ornament of grief
A ring, a notebook, a ticket torn, scar
It is how humans know their kind—
What is known as love, what can become  
the heart’s food stored away for some future
Love remains a jewel in the hand, guarded
Shared fragments of earth & air   drift & despair.
We ponder what patterns matter other than moons and tides:
musical beats—rumba or waltz or cha cha cha
cosmic waves like batons furiously twirling
colors proclaiming sparkle of darkness
as those we love begin to delight
in the stars embracing


Copyright © 2017 by Patricia Spears Jones. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 17, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

     “Snow where the horse impresses itself / is solitude, a gallop of grief.” —Miguel Hernández

What use is a language
that lacks a name for hazard?

When wheat brays in an alley.

Where do you go
if you aren’t born
an adoration?

If you start the book
of brutality
you will never finish,

knowing how many
teeth go missing
every year.

A trapped animal
will tell you

how each chrysalis
necessarily entombs

a liberating force.

When water hisses in a barrel.

How many excuses
for the absence
of footprints about the body?

Even the desert
has a language

capable of uncovering
the ontology of the castaway.

Around the ocotillo,
around the narthex and dumpster,

each mouth exhales
a shrine.


Copyright © 2018 by Rodney Gomez. Used with the permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Quarterly West, Issue 94.

Again the sea-machines creep from the east,
their Cronus jaws unlatched and pups expelled.
The scene the same. Again. Again. The sand
now boot-lace muck, the rutted shore resigned.
No words will do. Laments will not withstand
this thrashing tide. It's time for snarling beast-
speak. Gnash-rattle. Fracas-snap. Unmuzzled
hell-hound chorus unbound from roughened tongues.
Kynos-sema keen-keen lash-kaak nein grind
then ground and rot and reek and teeth and grief
and gabble ratchet growl: custodian
of woe. It doesn't end. Fleets on the reef,
horizon buckling. To meet what comes
the body cleaves from all that is human.

Originally published in Adanna Literary Journal. Copyright © 2013 by Deborah Paredez. Used with permission of the author.

                                    in the backseat a
                             portion of our music is
                          mucus flying into stillness
                          at what point do we submit
                           to the authority of flowers
                          at what point after it enters
                   the mouth is it no longer in the
                  mouth but the throat the colon
making sumptuous death of the world
  this is what crossing the line gains
                 no need to pretend we
                     are the people we
                           want to be in
                            the next life
                             bone under
                          tongue drives
             taste of snow to metal
        sorry I threw up at your wedding
     it wasn’t from drinking it was from
thinking on mountain all night waking
      tangled in spirits of morning light
            our planet floats on emptiness
                         the undisclosed mirror
                                       held to flame
                                      pushed it into
                                      a pile of ash
                                      a trail of ash
                                         leading us
                                         toe to toe
                                       with wild sides
                                     what’s emerging is
                                       a grip we’ve been
                                     reaching for please
                                       grab hold with us

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

See the pair of us
                              Raining and morning

the first soft ashes

                              along the high road

running the far ridge
                              of pines ripped wild to

timbers by storming
                              to shreds see the white

shreds like coals like a
                              sudden sorrow see

the partial moon see
                              the cut sky see us

serene with singing
                              are we merry are

we rueful neither
                              is there sufficient

wording for what falls
                              all the muffled horns

pleading but too late
                              along the last route

of what remains can
                              you see us what can

you see there—lost leaves
                              waiting to come back

as leaves . . .

Copyright © 2013 by David Baker. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on May 2, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Cut off the ears of winter
they have overheard too much,
where incinerators burn,
where rubble-strewn streets
are covered in dust from the remodeling.
Again, the doe-man in mauve cashmere—
the nerve of him—in the never world 
(where ashes are harvested) where 
ashes rain down in glory, a jackpot
of answers. Tonight, the underwriting 
of desire is an inky carbon copy.
I have already—that last time drunk
on scotch. Then all morning
a chain gang of transvestite prostitutes 
litters the front yard—the Police Station 
next door also on fire, burning,
burning handcuffs, the soles of shoes
not holding the earth, cars skidding 
everywhere, the tire’s frame sets sparks
along the road. This is my last dollar,
last cigarette, last match.

From Cut Off the Ears of Winter by Peter Covino. Reprinted with the permission of New Issues Poetry & Prose, Kalamazoo, Michigan. All rights reserved.

Inside the wood stove the smith steadies,
proclaims his alliance with flame as
heat quickens his hammer. And the singer, at first
inaudible, fashions her rising song from seasons
stored within logs of seasoned cherry, birch.

I have delighted in their concert
winter days and nights, rapt before
doors framed in brass, their
glass etched with twin wreaths. Circles
that focused wonders I am about to mention:
livid saints and salamanders,
paraphernalia of magicians
performing—with blue fluidity—
their act without their masters.
   And always before curtain, the casket
split asunder, the thief’s hand passing over 
unattainable gems.

But now there are people in the wind;
the chimney sucks them down. I hear the
singer inhale a choir; voice of thousands.
A purity of anguish to leave the listener
breathless. The notes, the notes are inferno;
the smith beats out a knell.
Those ashes I spill tomorrow
upon freshly fallen snow
have already blown for days across the city.

Copyright © 2005 by Margot Farrington. From Flares and Fathoms. Reprinted with permission of Bright Hill Press.

Of the hundreds of deaths that inhabit me,
this one today bleeds the least.
It's the death that comes with the afternoons,
when the pale shadows grow longer,
and contours collapse
and the  mountains show themselves.

Then someone passes hawking
his merchandise under my window,
where I lean out to see
those streetlamps that are still unlit.

Shadows cross the ashes of the streets
without leaving tracks, men that pass
who do not come to me and do not stay
with their lonely soul on their backs.

The daylight escapes toward the west.
The night air comes in before time,
and a bitter, confused fear, almost
pain, hardly hope, reaches me.

Everything that tied me to life
becomes untied, becomes distance,
goes farther off, disappears at last,
and I'm a dead man,
      ...and no one raises me.

Copyright © 2005 by Ángel González and David Ignatow. From Roots and Wings: Poetry from Spain 1900-1975. Used with permission of White Pine Press.

When we slid out of the lane.

When my sleeve caught fire.

While we fought in the snow.

While the oncologist spoke.

Before the oil spilled.

Before your retina bled.

Beyond the kids at the curb.

Beyond the turn to the forest.

After the forest turned to ashes.

After you escorted my mother out.

As I led your father in.

As the dolphin swam the derelict canal.

While the cameras filmed it dying.

While the blackout continued.

When the plane dipped.

When the bank closed.

While the water.

While the water.

And we drank it.

Copyright © 2019 by Idra Novey. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 25, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.