To section off
is to intensify,

to deaden.
Some surfaces

cannot be salvaged.
Leave them

to lose function,
to persist only

as armature,
holding in place

those radiant
squares

of sensation—
the body a dichotomy

of flesh and
blood. Wait here

in the trellised
garden you

are becoming.
Soon you’ll know

that the strictures
have themselves

become superfluous,
but at that point

you’ll also know
that ungridded

you could no longer survive.

Copyright © 2013 by Monica Youn. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on August 8, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

for Jordan Bantuelle, keeper of the urban farm

 

You have seen a bee face up close. The verbs fell away, the sky tore strips of wax paper. You heard the thrill of the bees, you felt the stings. Through the metal hexes of fence, your fingers caught. Sleeping, you hurtled in a Beethoven surge. The geometry of winter: an angle of dead bees. The secret honey in the cells of six. The smell of honey heals all wounds. White wax kisses them, seals. Still you hurt underneath. The stars really do have sharps. The sky black as bees’ eyes. You go on unforgiven. Hungry for honey, hungry for balm, hungry for wings.

Copyright © 2018 Rodger Kamenetz. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Summer 2018.

My life was the size of my life.
Its rooms were room-sized,
its soul was the size of a soul.
In its background, mitochondria hummed,
above it sun, clouds, snow,
the transit of stars and planets.
It rode elevators, bullet trains,
various airplanes, a donkey.
It wore socks, shirts, its own ears and nose.
It ate, it slept, it opened
and closed its hands, its windows.
Others, I know, had lives larger.
Others, I know, had lives shorter.
The depth of lives, too, is different.
There were times my life and I made jokes together.
There were times we made bread.
Once, I grew moody and distant.
I told my life I would like some time,
I would like to try seeing others.
In a week, my empty suitcase and I returned.
I was hungry, then, and my life,
my life, too, was hungry, we could not keep
our hands off       our clothes on   
our tongues from

—2012

Originally published in The Beauty (Knopf, 2015); all rights reserved. Copyright © by Jane Hirshfield. Used by permission of the author, all rights reserved.

This morning I looked at the map of the day
And said to myself, “This is the way! This is the way I will go;
Thus shall I range on the roads of achievement,
The way is so clear—it shall all be a joy on the lines marked out.”
And then as I went came a place that was strange,—
’Twas a place not down on the map!
And I stumbled and fell and lay in the weeds,
And looked on the day with rue.

I am learning a little—never to be sure—
To be positive only with what is past,
And to peer sometimes at the things to come
As a wanderer treading the night
When the mazy stars neither point nor beckon,
And of all the roads, no road is sure.

I see those men with maps and talk
Who tell how to go and where and why;
I hear with my ears the words of their mouths,
As they finger with ease the marks on the maps;
And only as one looks robust, lonely, and querulous,
As if he had gone to a country far
And made for himself a map,
Do I cry to him, “I would see your map!
I would heed that map you have!”

This poem is in the public domain. 

But with the sentence: "Use your failures for paper." Meaning, I understood, the backs of failed poems, but also my life. Whose far side I begin now to enter— A book imprinted without seeming season, each blank day bearing on its reverse, in random order, the mad-set type of another. December 12, 1960. April 4, 1981. 13th of August, 1974— Certain words bleed through to the unwritten pages. To call this memory offers no solace. "Even in sleep, the heavy millstones turning." I do not know where the words come from, what the millstones, where the turning may lead. I, a woman forty-five, beginning to gray at the temples, putting pages of ruined paper into a basket, pulling them out again.

—1998

From Given Sugar, Given Salt by Jane Hirshfield, published by HarperCollins. Copyright © 2001 by Jane Hirshfield. Reprinted by permission of the author, all rights reserved.

They’re reading Tarot cards right now,
in the little pink house with the sign in the yard.
Shadows spider across still-green lawn
whose fate, so far, defies the frosts.

Someone asks the right question,
draws the right card.
Many cups in the immediate future;
radiance pouring down.

They know the future,
the creatures in the yard:
night, thirst, frost.
Only the sapiens in the house believe

fire, water, air, and earth
would bother to reveal
when to fear and love.
The one who’s paying

draws another card.
Outside, in the yard,
a squirrel noses seed that fell
like radiance, from above.

 

Copyright © 2017 by Joy Ladin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 26, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.


You say wind is only wind
& carries nothing nervous
in its teeth.
        I do not believe it.

I have seen leaves desist
                        from moving
although the branches
                      move, & I
believe a cyclone has secrets
the weather is ignorant of.
                           I believe
in the violence of not knowing.

I've seen a river lose its course
& join itself again,
                  watched it court
a stream & coax the stream
into its current,

              & I have seen
rivers, not unlike
                 you, that failed to find
their way back.

                    I believe the rapport
between water & sand, the advent
from mirror to face.

                   I believe in rain
to cover what mourns,
                     in hail that revives
& sleet that erodes, believe
whatever falls
             is a figure of rain

& now I believe in torrents that take
everything down with them.

The sky calls it quits,
                        or so I believe,
when air, or earth, or air
has had enough.

               I believe in disquiet,
the pressure it plies, believe a cloud
to govern the limits of night.

                          I say I,
but little is left to say it, much less
mean it--
           & yet I do.

                        Let there be
no mistake:
        I do not believe
things are reborn in fire.
They're consumed by fire

& the fire has a life of its own.

From Anabranch by Andrew Zawacki. Copyright © 2004 by Andrew Zawacki. Reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press. All rights reserved.

In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter—bitter,” he answered;

“But I like it
“Because it is bitter,
“And because it is my heart.”
 

This poem is in the public domain. 

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.

A shattered bottle tore through my hand last month and split 
a vein until every finger was purple and I couldn’t
 
make even a tentative fist. I used the other hand to indicate
 
I’m okay. 
 
How unwise I am, how polite in a crisis.
In triage, an overheard photo of someone’s lover 
 
almost 3000 miles west made me seize with longing 
when I spied a palm tree in the background.
 
I understand what it says about me 
that my body lustfully wishes to place itself where it was never safe.
 
I have put enormous energy into trying to convince you I’m fine and
 
I’m just about there, no? 
 
Besides, decades on, poorly healed bones help me to predict rain!
though it’s true I like to verify weather
 
with another source because I tend not to believe myself.
I’ve been told repeatedly that I don’t understand plot but
 
it would be a clever twist, wouldn’t it, if in the end 
I realize it’s me who does me in.
 

Copyright © 2017 by Lynn Melnick. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 26, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Loneliness is not an accident or a choice.
It’s an uninvited and uncreated companion.
It slips in beside you when you are not aware that a
choice you are making will have consequences.
It does you no good even though it’s like one of the
elements in the world that you cannot exist without.
It takes your hand and walks with you. It lies down
with you. It sits beside you. It’s as dark as a shadow
but it has substance that is familiar.
It swims with you and swings around on stools.
It boards the ferry and leans on the motel desk.

Nothing great happens as a result of loneliness.
Your character flaws remain in place. You still stop in
with friends and have wonderful hours among them,
but you must run as soon as you hear it calling.
It does call. And you climb the stairs obediently,
pushing aside books and notes to let it know that you
have returned to it, all is well.
If you don’t answer its call, you sense that it will sink
towards a deep gravity and adopt a limp.

From loneliness you learn very little. It pulls you
back, it pulls you down.

It’s the manifestation of a vow never made but kept:
I will go home now and forever in solitude.

And after that loneliness will accompany you to
every airport, train station, bus depot, café, cinema,
and onto airplanes and into cars, strange rooms and
offices, classrooms and libraries, and it will hang near
your hand like a habit.
But it isn’t a habit and no one can see it.

It’s your obligation, and your companion warms itself
against you.
You are faithful to it because it was the only vow you
made finally, when it was unnecessary.

If you figured out why you chose it, years later, would
you ask it to go?
How would you replace it?

No, saying good-bye would be too embarrassing.
Why?
First you might cry.
Because shame and loneliness are almost one.
Shame at existing in the first place. Shame at being
visible, taking up space, breathing some of the sky,
sleeping in a whole bed, asking for a share.

Loneliness feels so much like shame, it always seems
to need a little more time on its own.

From Second Childhood (Graywolf Press, 2014) by Fanny Howe. Copyright © 2014 by Fanny Howe. Used with permission of the author.

sand’s infinitely solid, infinitely wide. Not a single grain skips or blows—cemented, glued. The old folks stare, and the sand hardens, absorbing secretions, drying to shell. Waves abuse it and can’t make a scratch. Now their seeing’s silk, to wear down glass tabletops. The seeing sea’s impatient for effect. It beats the beach which was a natural one, has become real property; hard-floor finish. Stop all stupid pounding. Stop before it becomes embarrassing. It’s already. The sea’s frothing and embarrassing.

From Bird Lovers, Backyard by Thalia Field. Copyright © 2010 by by Thalia Field. Used by permission of New Directions.

I have not felt a thing for weeks.
But getting up and going to work on time
I did what needed to be done, then rushed home.
And even the main streets, those ancient charmers,
Failed to amuse me, and the fight between
The upstairs couple was nothing but loud noise.
None of it touched me, except as an irritation,
And though I knew I could stop
And enjoy if I wanted to
The karate excitement and the crowd
That often gathers in front of funeral homes,
I denied myself these dependable pleasures,
The tricks of anti-depression
That had taken me so long to learn,
By now worn smooth with use, like bowling alleys in my soul.
And certain records that one can't hear without
Breaking into a smile, I refused to listen to
In order to find out what it would be like
To be cleansed of enthusiasm,
And to learn to honor my emptiness,
My indifference, myself at zero degrees.

More than any desire to indulge the numbness I wanted to be free of the bullying urge to feel, Or to care, or to sympathize. I have always dreaded admitting I was unfeeling From the time my father called me ‘a cold fish,' And I thought he might be right, at nine years old And ever since I have run around convincing everyone What a passionate, sympathetic person I am.

I would have said no poetry can come From a lack of enthusiasm; yet how much of my life, Of anyone's life, is spent in neutral gear? The economics of emotions demand it. Those rare intensities of love and anguish Are cheapened when you swamp them with souped-up ebulliences, A professional liveliness that wears so thin. There must be a poetry for that other state When I am feeling precisely nothing, there must Be an interesting way to write about it. There are continents of numbness to discover If I could have the patience or the courage.

But supposing numbness were only a disguised disappointment? A veil for anger? Then it would have no right to attention In and of itself, and one would always have to push on, Push on, to the real source of the trouble— Which means, back to melodrama. Is the neutral state a cover for unhappiness, Or do I make myself impatient and unhappy To avoid my basic nature, which is passive and low-key? And if I knew the answer, Would it make any difference in my life? At bottom I feel something stubborn as ice fields, Like sorrow or endurance, propelling me.

From At the End of the Day: Selected Poems and an Introductory Essay, copyright © 2009 by Phillip Lopate. Used by permission of Marsh Hawk Press.

How to make-up with yourself
after each self break-up?
how to cuddle under a broken wing
the girl of you?
or how to explain
that deep inside the sea
sister wind tries on her dress?
snails leave their homes
when no one is looking
and birds sometimes are afraid to fly
who is going to tell you about
what you only know?
whose fool will tell spider
to spin less?
it turns out that it is possible
to mend the crevices inside yourself
without silk threads and silver spoons
it is possible to tell the truth
and not burn in hell
to win wars without shooting a rifle
and without a rifle to write a poem

From Killing Marias (Two Sylvias Press, 2017) Copyright © 2017 by Claudia Castro Luna. Used with permission of the author. 

there are the stars
and the sickle stare
of the moon

there are the frogs
dancing in the joy
of the ditch and the crickets
serenading everything

there are the trees
and the huge shadow
of the wind whispering
the old hymns of my childhood

and of course, there are the stars again.
winking at me like a curious woman.

               i am learning to breathe.

From A Jury of Trees (Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe and Letras Latinas, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Andrés Montoya. Used with the permission of Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe.