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 inspirations 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 dancing and going swimming in rivers on picnics in the middle of the summer and just generally ‘living it up’ Yes but then right in the middle of it comes the smiling mortician
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 fsgpoetry.com.
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:
For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf.
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea—
A poem should not mean
Copyright © by the Estate of Archibald MacLeish and reprinted by permission of the Estate.
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.
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
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.
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
If you start the book
you will never finish,
knowing how many
teeth go missing
A trapped animal
will tell you
how each chrysalis
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
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
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
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 . . .
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.