The lake was (all along) a reservoir.        

                                My third grade trip was to a dam. 

All along, I wore nothing but hand me down sweaters.

                               I grow at the mercy of my mother. 

Everytime. I height. At the mercy. Of someone. Else.

                                When I put my forehead on the floor fives times a day.

It will be game over.

                               My third grade self played squash.

My third grade self could have continued playing squash.

                               A child is an investment to a future.

Because now. 26. Fat. Drenched dreaming. Of figure skating. 

                               I can’t even sit straight. I look out of windows.

Do you know what a country smells like?

                               Not home. Never home. (All along) Not me.

Smells like teen spirit.

                                Smells like sweat moustache.

Smells like mercy lighting up a dam.

                                Every sleep I was consumed by a bonfire. No music. No dance. 

I don’t hate it here.

                                I don’t hate it anywhere.

But it’s hard hearing my mother cry on the toilet.

                                It’s hard hearing the winter knock up New York.

It’s hard breathing in smog and realizing (all along) it was Lahore.

                                All along, it was just me.

But did I even know?

                               In third grade, I ate a whole box of chalk.

In third grade, I witnessed a freed pigeon return to where it was homed.

                               In third grade, they found me. Without proof. At the squash court. Hustled.

I only know ill.

                               I only know mercy.


                               Have mercy.

I spend my day shifting light bulbs to create company with my shadow.

                               I spend my day resting halved in warmth and shade.

I know what it will take to not burn me.

                               But I do not step out of the house.

And the house never steps out of me.

Copyright © 2021 by Ayesha Raees. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 1, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

I’m allergic to hair dye and silver. Of the natives,
I love the Aztecs most of all, the way they lit fires
in the gouged chests of men to keep the world spinning.
I’ve seen women eat cotton balls so they wouldn’t eat bread
I will never be as beautiful as the night I danced in a garage,
anorexic, decked in black boots, black sweater, black jeans,
hip-hop music and a girl I didn’t know pulling my hips
to hers. Hunger is hunger. I got drunk one night
and argued with the Pacific. I was twenty. I broke
into the bodies of men like a cartoon burglar. I wasn’t twenty.
In the winter of those years I kept Christmas lights
strung around my bed and argued with the Italian landlady
who lived downstairs about turning the heat off,
and every night I wanted to drink but didn’t.

from The Twenty-Ninth Year: Poems by Hala Alyan. Copyright © 2019 by Hala Alyan. Used by permission by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.

Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.

From Homage to Clio by W. H. Auden, published by Random House. Copyright © 1960 W. H. Auden, renewed by the Estate of W. H. Auden. Used by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.


maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach(to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn't remember her troubles,and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose(like a you or a me)
it's always ourselves we find in the sea

Copyright © 1956, 1984, 1991 by the Trustees for the E. E. Cummings Trust from The Complete Poems: 1904-1962 by E. E. Cummings, Edited by George J. Firmage. Reprinted by permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.