During the last 50 miles back from haul & some
months past my 15th birthday, my father fishes
a stuffed polar bear from a Salvation Army
gift-bin, labeled Boys: 6-10. I can almost see him
approach the decision: cold, a little hungry, not enough
money in his pocket for coffee. He worries
he might fall asleep behind the wheel as his giant,
clumsy love for that small word—son—guides
his gaze to the crudely-sewn fabric of the miniature bear
down at the bottom of the barrel. Seasons have flared
& gone out with little change in his fear of stopping
for too long in any city, where he knows the addict
in him waits, patient as a desert bloom. Meanwhile, me:
his eldest child, the uneasy guardian of the house.
In his absence, I’ve not yet lost my virginity,
but I’ve had fist-fights with grown men & seen
my mother dragging her religious beliefs to the bitter
border of divorce. For years my father’s had trouble
saying no to crack-cocaine & women flowered in cheap
summer dresses. Watch his face as he arrives at last
& stretches the toy out, my mother fixed
on the porch behind me, the word son suddenly heavy
in my father’s mouth, his gray coat gathered
around his shoulders: he’s never looked so small.
We could crush him—we hug him instead.
"What I Mean When I Say Truck Driver" from Revising the Storm. Copyright © 2014 by Geffrey Davis, BOA Editions, Ltd. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.
There is absolutely nothing lonelier
than the little Mars rover
never shutting down, digging up
rocks, so far away from Bond street
in a light rain. I wonder
if he makes little beeps? If so
he is lonelier still. He fires a laser
into the dust. He coughs. A shiny
thing in the sand turns out to be his.
Copyright © 2014 by Matthew Rohrer. Used with permission of the author.
So this morning I made a list
of obsessions and you were on it.
And waiting, and forgiveness, and five-dollar bills,
and despots, telescopes, anonymity, beauty,
silent comedy, and waiting.
I could forswear all these things
and just crawl back into the bed
you and I once slept in.
What would happen then?
Play any film backwards and it’s elegy.
Play it fast-forward it’s a gas.
I try not to get attached.
I see stars when I look at him.
Copyright © 2015 by Catherine Barnett. Originally published in the Summer 2015 issue of Tin House. Used with permission of the author.
Is that Eric Garner worked
for some time for the Parks and Rec.
Horticultural Department, which means,
perhaps, that with his very large hands,
perhaps, in all likelihood,
he put gently into the earth
some plants which, most likely,
some of them, in all likelihood,
continue to grow, continue
to do what such plants do, like house
and feed small and necessary creatures,
like being pleasant to touch and smell,
like converting sunlight
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe.
Copyright © 2015 by Ross Gay. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.
Only our hearts will argue hard
against the small lights letting in the news
and who can choose between the worst possibility
and the last
between the winners of the wars against breathing
and the last
war everyone will lose
and who can choose between the dry gas
domination of the future
and the past
between the consequences of the killers
and the past
of all the killing? There
is no choice in these.
breaks very close to me my love.
Copyright © 2017 by the June M. Jordan Literary Estate. Used with the permission of the June M. Jordan Literary Estate, www.junejordan.com.
This is like a life. This is lifelike.
I climb inside a mistake
and remake myself in the shape
of a better mistake—
a nice pair of glasses
without any lenses,
shoes that don’t quite fit,
a chest that always hurts.
There is a checklist of things
you need to do to be a person.
I don’t want to be a person
but there isn’t a choice,
so I work my way down and
kiss the feet.
I work my way up and lick
I give you my skull
to do with whatever you please.
You grow flowers from my head
and trim them too short.
I paint my nails nice and pretty
and who cares. Who gives a shit.
I’m trying not to give a shit
but it doesn’t fit well on me.
I wear my clothes. I wear my body.
I walk out in the grass and turn red
at the sight of everything.
Copyright © 2015 by Joshua Jennifer Espinoza. Used with the permission of the author.
“Syrian refugees go about their business in a refugee camp in Mafraq, Jordan…”
Ropes on poles, jeans & shirts flapping in wind.
He sits on a giant bag of rice, head in hands.
Too much or too little, rips & bursts & furrows.
Something seared in a pan.
If you knew a mother, any mother, you would care
for mothers, yes? No.
What it is to be lonesome for stacked papers
on a desk, under glass globe,
brass vase with standing pencils,
How quickly urgencies of doing disappear.
And where is the child from the next apartment,
whose crying kept him awake
these last terrible months?
Where do you file this unknowing?
Copyright © by Naomi Shihab Nye. Used with the permission of the author.
won’t you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.
Lucille Clifton, “won’t you celebrate with me” from Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton. Copyright © 1991 by Lucille Clifton. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., boaeditions.org.
The whales can’t hear each other calling
in the noise-cluttered sea: they beach themselves.
I saw one once— heaved onto the sand with kelp
stuck to its blue-gray skin.
Heavy and immobile
it lay like a great sadness.
And it was hard to breathe with all the stink.
Its elliptical black eyes had stilled, were mostly dry,
and barnacles clustered on its back
like tiny brown volcanoes.
Imagining the other whales, their roving weight,
their blue-black webbing of the deep,
I stopped knowing how to measure my own grief.
And this one, large and dead on the sand
with its unimaginable five-hundred-pound heart.
Copyright © 2016 by Sally Bliumis-Dunn. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 19, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
It’s summer here so soda pop and blue
jeans in the trees. I am peeling
my sunburn on a bus bound for Saratoga
Springs where I will lob my father’s
ashes on the line where the racehorses
finish one at a time, and as they do,
the mist of a million particles
of ash in the air, all likeness will disappear
between us. I had built a boundary
out of skin where I sat quietly
until blood was the only moving
thing on a map of where we are.
On the dirt track, horses fill
their lungs in the sun and urge on.
When a losing horse dips
its head to greet me, his black whiskers
tickle the flesh of my neck. Why
do all hearted creatures stink?
I am asked by my brother’s
youngest child, Is horse your favorite
or least favorite mammal? I say
don’t beg the Lord if the sky is
a gray roof beneath which
you have waited all day to see
gallop something graceful, swift.
Copyright © 2016 by Christopher Salerno. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 4, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.