We get used to trash along the road 
or don’t even have to get used to it 
but then some kids put their beer cans 
on the tips of small trees trying to come up. 
Little star. Now I know the cancer 
is in my body and always will be. 
Still, we can convince ourselves 
of anything. When Bea wants to play, 
that’s what I do. She gets under the covers 
and pretends to be part of my body. 
We tell her daddy she’s gone, 
but she’s right there. I say 
this is just me.

Copyright © 2022 by Elizabeth Barnett. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 16, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

I measure every Grief I meet
With narrow, probing, eyes – 
I wonder if It weighs like Mine – 
Or has an Easier size.

I wonder if They bore it long – 
Or did it just begin – 
I could not tell the Date of Mine – 
It feels so old a pain – 

I wonder if it hurts to live – 
And if They have to try – 
And whether – could They choose between – 
It would not be – to die – 

I note that Some – gone patient long – 
At length, renew their smile –  
An imitation of a Light
That has so little Oil – 

I wonder if when Years have piled –  
Some Thousands – on the Harm –  
That hurt them early – such a lapse
Could give them any Balm –  

Or would they go on aching still
Through Centuries of Nerve – 
Enlightened to a larger Pain –  
In Contrast with the Love –  

The Grieved – are many – I am told –  
There is the various Cause –  
Death – is but one – and comes but once –  
And only nails the eyes –  

There's Grief of Want – and grief of Cold –  
A sort they call "Despair" –  
There's Banishment from native Eyes – 
In sight of Native Air –  

And though I may not guess the kind –  
Correctly – yet to me
A piercing Comfort it affords
In passing Calvary –  

To note the fashions – of the Cross –  
And how they're mostly worn –  
Still fascinated to presume
That Some – are like my own – 

Poetry used by permission of the publishers and the Trustees of Amherst College from The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Ralph W. Franklin ed., Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Copyright © 1998 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © 1951, 1955, 1979, by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.

“Oh, we had an intruder alert,”
said my fourth grade daughter
when I asked how school was.

She said this
after the usual shoulder shrug and mumble.
My kindergarten daughter sang in, “Yeah,
we did.”

And I keep the car moving forward.
Even though it feels like a bird
just thwapped against a window in my chest
and this car should stop
now.

Over the intercom, the same silver strainers in the ceilings as the school I went to a long
time ago,
a voice will say, “Mr. Snow, please come to the office,”
and what is expected

is that the teacher will sharply walk to the door
and lock it, that every student in the room
will hide, will be unseeable from the block of glass targeted above the doorknob.

My fourth grader
says everyone tried to fit
in the prairie schooner the teacher and her husband built between the two bookcases,
but there wasn’t room so she tried to squeeze herself alone
behind the filing cabinet.

They tell me this
as no big thing.
They tell me this

like it’s line up, single file, quiet down,
hands to yourself, march outside.

They can’t say it
like I do now. They don’t think about it
like it’s a heartbreak
poem,

have no inclination to want to ask the NRA to give one actual moment of silence,
no inclination to know the name of the school secretary in Atlanta who
talked an AK-47 and a gym bag full of bullets
onto the floor, no inclination to think of grade school teachers
laying their bodies over students,
arms out,
lungs pulling in so hard
they could make their backs
as wide
as wings.

It’s my kindergartener.
It’s my fourth grader.

It’s another thing
that happened
today.

Copyright © 2020 by Matt Mason. From I Have a Poem the Size of the Moon (Stephen F. Austin University Press, 2020). Used with the permission of the poet.  

I remind myself that I am not fragile
People will not tiptoe around me
My blackness is on full display
To complement my femininity
I attempted to understand you
I put my heart and mind in your shoes
And now it is pounding out of sync
To the rhythm of my blues
I am not supposed to be fragile
I am not expected to cry
But instead to throw back my shoulders
And hold my head up high
I am not considered fragile
I am the epitome of strength
Careful to not show my emotions
Careful to disregard the length
Of my pain, expected to be perfect
You seldom allowed the privilege of a mistake
I did it all in the right order
You never wondered if it made my mind break
Split my consciousness in two
The black, the female, in addition to
The wife and the mother,
The nurse, the friend,
The sister to a brother
And each title adds a brick to my back
Just as I attempt to swim
I am unable to be fragile
Even though my patience is wearing thin
Of being expected to get over the past
Expected to hide my pain
I pray that if I am reincarnated
Lord please don’t make me a Black woman again
Because I desperately NEED to be FRAGILE
To be handled with tenderness and love
To have my very soul caressed
And be praised as I am capable of
Such amazing and beautiful things
I need to be able to fully experience my pain
Instead of brushing it aside and acting
Like everything is okay
White girls want to be fragile like bombs
Not fragile like the flowers
Black girls aren’t even given the choice
Because our feelings simply don’t matter
We are and were never expected to be fragile

Copyright © 2022 by Ashanti Files. This poem originally appeared in For Colored Girls graphic novel. Used with permission of the author.

                                     With nothing          but the slurry of an organ
                                                        maybe      a lake     to
                                                  dip my feet in     money
                                            trees to pick my fruit from
                                                     a mini fridge

to keep         it all fresh while

                                                    I lie             on my back
threatening to throw         all my stuff             away for good
let it wilt into my body        of water                every better thing
that don’t involve ideals
                   of better things                    I’ll never have
                                                                     a sanctuary for

From The Collection Plate: Poems by Kendra Allen. Copyright © 2021 by Kendra Allen. Reprinted by permission of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

with first line from Gwendolyn Brooks

Surely you stay my certain own, you stay
obtuse. Surely your kisses were little poisons 
gripping tight my lips, my arms, mapping their way
across my unsure body. Surely, this fission

is a gift—a gilded parcel laced like God, scent 
of Mother Mary’s milkbreath and her virgin promise,
that virginal mirror, me. Surely, I was sent—
and, incidentally, that other she, to put you on notice—

hearts aren’t toys for juggling, no, the blood
too sticky to really ever disappear—
surely you know that. Surely, your own beating brick withstood
the blows I tried to strike with my unrelenting care.

The morning opens, now, without your sun-blacked face—
the bluejays and morningbirds sing away your waste.

Copyright © 2021 by Ashley M. Jones. From REPARATIONS NOW! (Hub City Press, 2021). Used with permission of the author.

the way it ricocheted—a boomerang flung 
from your throat, stilling the breathless air.

How you were luminous in it. Your smile. Your hair 
tossed back, flaming. Everyone around you aglow.

How I wanted to live in it those times it ignited us 
into giggles, doubling us over aching and unmoored

for precious minutes from our twin scars—
the thorned secrets our tongues learned too well

to carry. It is impossible to imagine you gone, 
dear one, your laugh lost to some silence I can’t breach,

from which you will not return.

for Fay Botham (May 31, 1968–January 10, 2021)

Copyright © 2022 by Lauren K. Alleyne. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 6, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

translated from the Arabic by Fady Joudah

Each time I hear that word
I recall the disappointments
that were committed in its name:
the children who don’t return,
the ailments that are never cured,
the memory that’s never senile,
all of them hope crushed
beneath its wings as I smash
this mosquito on my daughter’s head.

*

The grieving have only the unknown.
It’s their only staple and inheritance.
Pain has no logic. All things redeem
the grieving except your rational questions.

*

I wish that no one goes
and no one comes.
All going is a stroke of myth
and each return
a punctured lung.

From You Can Be the Last Leaf by Maya Abu Al-Hayyat and Fady Joudah. Copyright © 2022 by Maya Abu Al-Hayyat and Fady Joudah. Reprinted with the permission of the Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Milkweed Editions.

My friends are dead who were

the arches    the pillars of my life 

the structural relief when

the world gave none.

 

My friends who knew me as I knew them

their bodies folded into the ground or burnt to ash.

If I got on my knees

might I lift my life as a turtle carries her home?  

 

Who if I cried out would hear me?

My friends—with whom I might have spoken of this—are gone.

Copyright © 2022 by Marie Howe. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 22, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.