Dog knows when friend will come home
because each hour friend’s smell pales,
air paring down the good smell
with its little diamond. It means I miss you
O I miss you, how hard it is to wait
for my happiness, and how good when
it arrives. Here we are in our bodies,
ripe as avocados, softer, brightening
with latencies like a hot, blue core
of electricity: our ankles knotted to our
calves by a thread, womb sparking
with watermelon seeds we swallowed
as children, the heart again badly hurt, trying
and failing. But it is almost five says
the dog. It is almost five.
Copyright © 2018 Nomi Stone. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Summer 2018.
Palm-sized and fledgling, a beak
protruding from the sleeve, I
have kept my birds muted
for so long, I fear they’ve grown
accustom to a grim quietude.
What chaos could ensue
should a wing get loose?
Come overdue burst, come
flock, swarm, talon, and claw.
Scatter the coop’s roost, free
the cygnet and its shadow. Crack
and scratch at the state’s cage,
cut through cloud and branch,
no matter the dumb hourglass’s
white sand yawning grain by grain.
What cannot be contained
cannot be contained.
Copyright © 2020 Ada Limón. This poem was co-commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and the New York Philharmonic as part of the Project 19 initiative.
More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.
Copyright © 2017 by Ada Limón. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 15, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Out here, there’s a bowing even the trees are doing.
Winter’s icy hand at the back of all of us.
Black bark, slick yellow leaves, a kind of stillness that feels
so mute it’s almost in another year.
I am a hearth of spiders these days: a nest of trying.
We point out the stars that make Orion as we take out
the trash, the rolling containers a song of suburban thunder.
It’s almost romantic as we adjust the waxy blue
recycling bin until you say, Man, we should really learn
some new constellations.
And it’s true. We keep forgetting about Antlia, Centaurus,
Draco, Lacerta, Hydra, Lyra, Lynx.
But mostly we’re forgetting we’re dead stars too, my mouth is full
of dust and I wish to reclaim the rising—
to lean in the spotlight of streetlight with you, toward
what’s larger within us, toward how we were born.
Look, we are not unspectacular things.
We’ve come this far, survived this much. What
would happen if we decided to survive more? To love harder?
What if we stood up with our synapses and flesh and said, No.
No, to the rising tides.
Stood for the many mute mouths of the sea, of the land?
What would happen if we used our bodies to bargain
for the safety of others, for earth,
if we declared a clean night, if we stopped being terrified,
if we launched our demands into the sky, made ourselves so big
people could point to us with the arrows they make in their minds,
rolling their trash bins out, after all of this is over?
From The Carrying (Milkweed Editions, 2018) by Ada Limón. Copyright © 2018 by Ada Limón. Used with the permission of Milkweed Editions. milkweed.org.
Nesting, the turtle seems to be crying even though she is simply secreting
her salt. Her dozens bud limbs inside amniotic pillows
as she leaves every egg in a cup of sand the size of her body,
shaped like a tilting teardrop — and both cryings
are mentioned by scientists. My niece Eve is startle-eyed when you feed her
avocado and when you feed her sweet potato. She lives mouth first:
she would eat the sidewalk and piano, the symmetrical petals of the Bradford pear,
as if she could learn which parts of the world are made and how,
and yesterday she put her mouth on the image of her own face
in the mirror. Larkin says what will survive of us is love,
but the scientists say that the end of the decay-chain is lead and uranium and after that,
plastics. Just now the zooplankton are swallowing micro pearls of plastic
and the sea is aflame with waste caught in the moon’s light.
Here is the darkening hour and here, the shore, as she droplets her eggs,
bright as ping pong balls, into the sand. She can’t find the spot.
The beach is saltined with lights, neoned with spectacular
globes of light, a dozen moons instead of the one moon. Still, she lets them go
and one month later, tiny turtles hatch. They seem groggy,
carrying their houses of bone and cartilage to the ocean,
scrambling toward the horizon alongside the earth’s magnetic field.
Less than one percent of the hatchlings make it past
the seagulls and crabs, so Noah spent a summer dashing them to the water.
But my poem is not about the moment when a bird dove and bore
into the underflesh and into Noah’s memory.
My poem is about how we are gathered around Eve
in the kitchen as she eats a fruit she has never tried before
and each newness in the world
stops the world’s ending in its tracks.
Copyright © 2016 Nomi Stone. “Anthropocene” originally appeared in Plume. Used with permission of the author.
We were made to understand it would be
Terrible. Every small want, every niggling urge,
Every hate swollen to a kind of epic wind.
Livid, the land, and ravaged, like a rageful
Dream. The worst in us having taken over
And broken the rest utterly down.
A long age
Passed. When at last we knew how little
Would survive us—how little we had mended
Or built that was not now lost—something
Large and old awoke. And then our singing
Brought on a different manner of weather.
Then animals long believed gone crept down
From trees. We took new stock of one another.
We wept to be reminded of such color.
From Wade in the Water. Copyright © 2018 by Tracy K. Smith. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org.
Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.
This poem originally appeared in Waxwing, Issue 10, in June 2016. Used with permission of the author.
The whole earth is filled with the love of God.
In the backwoods, the green light
is startled by blossoming white petals,
soft pathways for the praying bird
dipping into the nectar, darting in starts
among the tangle of bush and trees.
My giddy walk through this speckled grotto
is drunk with the slow mugginess
of a reggae bassline, finding its melody
in the mellow of the soft earth’s breath.
I find the narrow stream like a dog sniffing,
and dip my sweaty feet in the cool.
While sitting in this womb of space
the salad romantic in me constructs a poem. This is all I
before the clatter of schoolchildren
searching for the crooks of guava branches
startles all with their expletives and howls;
the trailing snot-faced child wailing perpetual—
with ritual pauses for breath and pity.
In their wake I find the silver innards of discarded
cigarette boxes, the anemic pale of tossed
condoms, the smashed brown sparkle of Red Stripe
bottles, a mélange of bones and rotting fruit,
there in the sudden white light of noon.
How quickly the grandeur fades into a poem,
how easily everything of reverie starts to crumble.
I walk from the stream. Within seconds
sweat soaks my neck and back; stones clog my shoes,
flies prick my flaming face and ears,
bramble draws thin lines of blood on my arms.
There is a surfeit of love hidden here;
at least this is the way faith asserts itself.
I emerge from the valley of contradictions,
my heart beating with the effort, and stand looking
over the banking, far into Kingston Harbor
and the blue into gray of the Caribbean Sea.
I dream up a conceit for this journey
and with remarkable snugness it fits;
this reggae sound: the bluesy mellow
of a stroll on soft, fecund earth, battling the crack
of the cross-stick; the scratch of guitar,
the electronic manipulation of digital sound,
and the plaintive wail of the grating voice.
With my eyes closed, I am drunk with the mellow,
swimming, swimming among the green of better days;
and I rise from the pool of sound, slippery with
the warm cling of music on my skin,
and enter the drier staleness of the road
that leads to the waiting city of fluorescent lights.
From Shook Foil. Copyright © 1997 by Kwame Dawes. Used with the permission of Peepal Tree Press.
for the Geechee Gullah Ring Shouters
One of the women greeted me.
I love you, she said. She didn’t
Know me, but I believed her,
And a terrible new ache
Rolled over in my chest,
Like in a room where the drapes
Have been swept back. I love you,
I love you, as she continued
Down the hall past other strangers,
Each feeling pierced suddenly
By pillars of heavy light.
I love you, throughout
The performance, in every
Handclap, every stomp.
I love you in the rusted iron
Chains someone was made
To drag until love let them be
Unclasped and left empty
In the center of the ring.
I love you in the water
Where they pretended to wade,
Singing that old blood-deep song
That dragged us to those banks
And cast us in. I love you,
The angles of it scraping at
Each throat, shouldering past
The swirling dust motes
In those beams of light
That whatever we now knew
We could let ourselves feel, knew
To climb. O Woods—O Dogs—
O Tree—O Gun—O Girl, run—
O Miraculous Many Gone—
O Lord—O Lord—O Lord—
Is this love the trouble you promised?
From Wade in the Water (Graywolf Press, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Tracy K. Smith. Used with the permission of Graywolf Press.
I am taken with the hot animal
of my skin, grateful to swing my limbs
and have them move as I intend, though
my knee, though my shoulder, though something
is torn or tearing. Today, a dozen squid, dead
on the harbor beach: one mostly buried,
one with skin empty as a shell and hollow
feeling, and, though the tentacles look soft,
I do not touch them. I imagine they
were startled to find themselves in the sun.
I imagine the tide simply went out
without them. I imagine they cannot
feel the black flies charting the raised hills
of their eyes. I write my name in the sand:
Donika Kelly. I watch eighteen seagulls
skim the sandbar and lift low in the sky.
I pick up a pebble that looks like a green egg.
To the ditch lily I say I am in love.
To the Jeep parked haphazardly on the narrow
street I am in love. To the roses, white
petals rimmed brown, to the yellow lined
pavement, to the house trimmed in gold I am
in love. I shout with the rough calculus
of walking. Just let me find my way back,
let me move like a tide come in.
Copyright © 2017 by Donika Kelly. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 20, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Tumbling through the
city in my
mind without once
the racket in
the lugwork probably
stupid thing I
said or did
some crime or
other the city they
say is a lonely
place until yes
the sound of sweeping
and a woman
yes with a
which you are now
too the canopy
of a fig its
arms pulling the
September sun to it
has a hose too
and so works hard
rinsing and scrubbing
lest some poor sod
slip on the
silk of a fig
and break his hip
and not probably
reach over to gobble up
the light catches
the veins in her hands
when I ask about
the tree they
flutter in the air and
she says take
as much as
so I load my
pockets and mouth
and she points
to the step-ladder against
the wall to
mean more but
I was without a
sack so my meager
plunder would have to
suffice and an old woman
was pulling into
the earth loosed one
from a low slung
branch and its eye
wept like hers
which she dabbed
with a kerchief as she
cleaved the fig with
what remained of her
teeth and soon there were
eight or nine
people gathered beneath
the tree looking into
it like a
do you see it
and I am tall and so
good for these things
and a bald man even
told me so
when I grabbed three
or four for
him reaching into the
giddy throngs of
stoned which he only
pointed to smiling and
rubbing his stomach
I mean he was really rubbing his stomach
like there was a baby
it was hot his
head shone while he
offered recipes to the
group using words which
I couldn’t understand and besides
I was a little
tipsy on the dance
of the velvety heart rolling
in my mouth
pulling me down and
down into the
oldest countries of my
body where I ate my first fig
from the hand of a man who escaped his country
by swimming through the night
never said more than
five words to me
at once but gave me
figs and a man on his way
to work hops twice
to reach at last his
fig which he smiles at and calls
baby, c’mere baby,
he says and blows a kiss
to the tree which everyone knows
cannot grow this far north
and favoring the rocky, sun-baked soils
of Jordan and Sicily
but no one told the fig tree
or the immigrants
there is a way
the fig tree grows
in groves it wants,
it seems, to hold us,
yes I am anthropomorphizing
goddammit I have twice
in the last thirty seconds
rubbed my sweaty
forearm into someone else’s
gleeful eating out of each other’s hands
on Christian St.
in Philadelphia a city like most
which has murdered its own
this is true
we are feeding each other
from a tree
at the corner of Christian and 9th
Copyright © 2013 by Ross Gay. Originally published in the May-June 2013 issue of American Poetry Review. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.