I think a lot about the character everybody wanted to put babies inside of
a lot about cracked statues recovered satellites

I think a lot about voyager
I think a lot about gold
I think a lot about that thing the fork is going into

Are you ever the thing the fork is going into?
Are you ever driving through cotton fields at night
and everything around you is a pillow?

What words are you whispering into my pillow?
What words cast the spell that puts the babies inside of me?
What words make the moon just something good to look at but no place to go?

If I’m looking at my window and hear the hawk, is that the signal?
I think a lot about the longer my hair grows, the farther you are
about your face in my hair

I think a lot about becoming a pill you can swallow
I think a lot about growing my hair into a tent

Copyright © 2018 by Emily Hunerwadel. This poem originally appeared in Professional Crybaby (Poetry Society of America, 2018). Used with permission of the author.

You are standing in the minefield again.
Someone who is dead now

told you it is where you will learn
to dance. Snow on your lips like a salted

cut, you leap between your deaths, black as god’s
periods. Your arms cleaving little wounds

in the wind. You are something made. Then made
to survive, which means you are somebody’s

son. Which means if you open your eyes, you’ll be back
in that house, beneath a blanket printed with yellow sailboats.

Your mother’s boyfriend, his bald head ringed with red
hair, like a planet on fire, kneeling

by your bed again. Air of whiskey & crushed
Oreos. Snow falling through the window: ash returned

from a failed fable. His spilled-ink hand
on your chest. & you keep dancing inside the minefield—

motionless. The curtains fluttering. Honeyed light
beneath the door. His breath. His wet blue face: earth

spinning in no one’s orbit. & you want someone to say Hey…Hey
I think your dancing is gorgeous. A little waltz to die for,

darling. You want someone to say all this
is long ago. That one night, very soon, you’ll pack a bag

with your favorite paperback & your mother’s .45,
that the surest shelter was always the thoughts

above your head. That it’s fair—it has to be—
how our hands hurt us, then give us

the world. How you can love the world
until there’s nothing left to love

but yourself. Then you can stop.
Then you can walk away—back into the fog

-walled minefield, where the vein in your neck adores you
to zero. You can walk away. You can be nothing

& still breathing. Believe me.

Copyright © 2015 by Ocean Vuong. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 2, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets

What if you knew you'd be the last
to touch someone?
If you were taking tickets, for example,
at the theater, tearing them,
giving back the ragged stubs,
you might take care to touch that palm,
brush your fingertips
along the life line's crease.

When a man pulls his wheeled suitcase
too slowly through the airport, when
the car in front of me doesn't signal,
when the clerk at the pharmacy
won't say Thank you, I don't remember
they're going to die.

A friend told me she'd been with her aunt.
They'd just had lunch and the waiter,
a young gay man with plum black eyes,
joked as he served the coffee, kissed
her aunt's powdered cheek when they left.
Then they walked half a block and her aunt
dropped dead on the sidewalk.

How close does the dragon's spume
have to come? How wide does the crack
in heaven have to split?
What would people look like
if we could see them as they are,
soaked in honey, stung and swollen,
reckless, pinned against time?

From The Human Line (Copper Canyon Press, 2007). Copyright © 2007 by Ellen Bass. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

If you can keep your head when all about you
   Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
   But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
   Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,
   And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
   If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
   And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
   Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
   And stoop and build ’em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
   And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
   And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
   To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
   Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
   Or walk with kings—nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
   If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run—
   Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

This poem is in the public domain.

Now, dear, it isn’t the bold things,
Great deeds of valour and might,
That count the most in the summing up of life at the end of the day.
But it is the doing of old things,
Small acts that are just and right;
And doing them over and over again, no matter what others say;
In smiling at fate, when you want to cry, and in keeping at work when you want to play—
Dear, those are the things that count.

And, dear, it isn’t the new ways
Where the wonder-seekers crowd
That lead us into the land of content, or help us to find our own.
But it is keeping to true ways,
Though the music is not so loud,
And there may be many a shadowed spot where we journey along alone;
In flinging a prayer at the face of fear, and in changing into a song a groan—
Dear, these are the things that count.

My dear, it isn’t the loud part
Of creeds that are pleasing to God,
Not the chant of a prayer, or the hum of a hymn, or a jubilant shout or song.
But it is the beautiful proud part
Of walking with feet faith-shod;
And in loving, loving, loving through all, no matter how things go wrong;
In trusting ever, though dark the day, and in keeping your hope when the way seems long—
Dear, these are the things that count.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 3, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Give me hunger,
O you gods that sit and give
The world its orders.
Give me hunger, pain and want,
Shut me out with shame and failure
From your doors of gold and fame,
Give me your shabbiest, weariest hunger!

But leave me a little love,
A voice to speak to me in the day end,
A hand to touch me in the dark room
Breaking the long loneliness.
In the dusk of day-shapes
Blurring the sunset,
One little wandering, western star
Thrust out from the changing shores of shadow.
Let me go to the window,
Watch there the day-shapes of dusk
And wait and know the coming
Of a little love.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on November 10, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skillfully, mysteriously) her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

From Complete Poems: 1904-1962 by E. E. Cummings, edited by George J. Firmage. Used with the permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation. Copyright © 1923, 1931, 1935, 1940, 1951, 1959, 1963, 1968, 1991 by the Trustees for the E. E. Cummings Trust. Copyright © 1976, 1978, 1979 by George James Firmage.

First there was the blue wing
of a scraggly loud jay tucked
into the shrubs. Then the bluish-
black moth drunkenly tripping
from blade to blade. Then
the quiet that came roaring
in like the R. J. Corman over
Broadway near the RV shop.
These are the last three things
that happened. Not in the universe,
but here, in the basin of my mind,
where I’m always making a list
for you, recording the day’s minor
urchins: silvery dust mote, pistachio
shell, the dog eating a sugar
snap pea. It’s going to rain soon,
close clouds bloated above us,
the air like a net about to release
all the caught fishes, a storm
siren in the distance. I know
you don’t always understand,
but let me point to the first
wet drops landing on the stones,
the noise like fingers drumming
the skin. I can’t help it. I will
never get over making everything
such a big deal.

From The Carrying (Milkweed Editions, 2018) by Ada Limón. Copyright © 2018 by Ada Limón. Used with the permission of Milkweed Editions. milkweed.org.

It must be coming, mustn’t it? Churches
and saloons are filled with decent humans.
A mother wants to feed her daughter,
fathers to buy their children things that break.
People laugh, all over the world, people laugh.
We were born to laugh, and we know how to be sad;
we dislike injustice and cancer,
and are not unaware of our terrible errors.
A man wants to love his wife.
His wife wants him to carry something.
We’re capable of empathy, and intense moments of joy.
Sure, some of us are venal, but not most.
There’s always a punchbowl, somewhere,
in which floats a…
Life’s a bullet, that fast, and the sweeter for it.
It’s the same everywhere: Slovenia, India,
Pakistan, Suriname—people like to pray,
or they don’t,
or they like to fill a blue plastic pool
in the back yard with a hose
and watch their children splash. 
Or sit in cafes, or at table with family.
And if a long train of cattle cars passes
along West Ridge
it’s only the cattle from East Ridge going to the abattoir.
The unbroken world is coming,
(it must be coming!), I heard a choir,
there were clouds, there was dust,
I heard it in the streets, I heard it
announced by loudhailers
mounted on trucks.

Copyright © 2015 by Thomas Lux. Used with permission of the author.

You might think you are not thinking, but you are.

A thought moves from dirt up through me and if I do not
    disabuse it, it grows.

To suffer, to bear from below.

Coming down the mountain I could see a reservoir through the
    trees, fat and glowing.

You are alone in your one life and no one will enter your
    dreams.

Teenagers sit on the sign outside the nunnery.

We are so afraid of failing we can't live.

So we leave apartments, not breathing, breathe on the way
    home.

The potential is not the actual.

I was not a good skateboarder.

As we allow for suffering, we live.

You took a picture of me at sunset, thighs drying roses against
    an orange sky.

“This alone is deathless and everlasting”

In the dark we know one another finally.

I can be as you as I am.

“The mind-body problem”

You did things to block out the light.

Yes, another reference to morning.

When I am feeding myself I hate myself.

I was younger and not planning on dying.

In the forest between trees we dismantle thought.

Bed of summer branches, us gently.

“Much learning does not teach the mind”

And, walking across the road to the post office, able to see the
    ocean.

You: I googled “If you postpone love will it not end?”

To feel you have to exit the body.

To use a higher mind is to be part of the cosmos.

Then she lowered her voice to a rasp and told those assembled
    a secret.

There are no edges.

Waiting on the patio with whiskey, girl, they said, he’s not
    coming.

The ethical implications of thinking.

In order to understand nature do we have to die?

Affixed to us driving the road to a mountain lake.

One must stay diligent to avoid becoming a symbol.

Let us bow down and never leave the island.

Me: “Did you think my angry phase would end?”

A day, a peeling scrim.

The moon looks into our lion mouths.

The mind’s hedge in an empty neighborhood.

If god is reason the mind is dead.

Ornate Senate of Loss, Call Me Forth to Announce Myself as
    Infinite Mystery.

You’ll use what I taught you to manipulate others.

This gives me sad pleasure.

Orange rose.
 

Copyright © 2015 by Emily Kendal Frey. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 5, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

translated by Tracy K. Smith and Changtai Bi

My eye laps at you in lamplight
Like a white hot tongue. Longing

Draws back, then rises, tidal.

The curtain of my hair
Announces my breasts. Your lips:

A languid breeze. Like a miracle
We feast and feast and nothing is spent.

Let flesh attend to flesh, sex to sex.
O, dexterous gold watch of the universe

On which one minute can straddle
A hundred years.

Copyright © 2018 by Tracy K. Smith. Used with the permission of the author.

After the birthday crowds thin out,
after the “Hokey Pokey” and “Chicken Dance,”
after the parents have towed their shaky kids   
like cabooses ready to decouple	
and the pint-sized skaters have circled the rink 
like a gang of meerkats spun into a 10-car pileup, 
you turn sideways and angle by as “Another One Bites the Dust” 
thumps overhead. You give a finger point to the DJ stand 
because, in your mind, we are soldiers in the march against time,
grooving to the retro beat while the disco ball shines overhead
cut crystal against rainbow walls. 
You glide like Mercury or Apollo Ono 
without wings or skin suit, in low-rider jeans 
that hug your body like you hug corners, 
pass them all on the smoothed-out parquet floor,
worn down by time and rhythm. The trick is 
to make it look effortless, remind them that
your quickness is a kind of love. You are the spark 
between wood and wheel. And when your cranky kids 
hang out by the wall ready to go,
holding those eight wheels by their brown leather tongues, 
you give them a wave and keep circling, 
Just one more song, you say.   
This is your “me” time. It’s all-skate. 
You’ve got your whole self in—
That’s what it’s all about.

Originally published in Sou’wester. Copyright © 2012 by January Gill O’Neil. Used with the permission of the author.

what I really mean. He paints my name
 
across the floral bed sheet and ties the bottom corners
to my ankles. Then he paints another
 
for himself. We walk into town and play the shadow game,
saying Oh! I’m sorry for stepping on your
 
shadow! and Please be careful! My shadow is caught in the wheels
of your shopping cart. It's all very polite.
 
Our shadows get dirty just like anyone’s, so we take
them to the Laundromat—the one with
 
the 1996 Olympics themed pinball machine—
and watch our shadows warm
 
against each other. We bring the shadow game home
and (this is my favorite part) when we
 
stretch our shadows across the bed, we get so tangled
my husband grips his own wrist,
 
certain it’s my wrist, and kisses it.

Copyright © 2018 by Paige Lewis. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 6, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

They’re both convinced
that a sudden passion joined them.
Such certainty is beautiful,
but uncertainty is more beautiful still.

Since they’d never met before, they’re sure
that there’d been nothing between them.
But what’s the word from the streets, staircases, hallways—
perhaps they’ve passed by each other a million times?

I want to ask them
if they don’t remember—
a moment face to face
in some revolving door?
perhaps a “sorry” muttered in a crowd?
a curt “wrong number” caught in the receiver?—
but I know the answer.
No, they don’t remember.

They’d be amazed to hear
that Chance has been toying with them
now for years.

Not quite ready yet
to become their Destiny,
it pushed them close, drove them apart,
it barred their path,
stifling a laugh,
and then leaped aside.

There were signs and signals,
even if they couldn’t read them yet.
Perhaps three years ago
or just last Tuesday
a certain leaf fluttered
from one shoulder to another?
Something was dropped and then picked up.
Who knows, maybe the ball that vanished
into childhood’s thicket?

There were doorknobs and doorbells
where one touch had covered another
beforehand.
Suitcases checked and standing side by side.
One night, perhaps, the same dream,
grown hazy by morning.

Every beginning
is only a sequel, after all,
and the book of events
is always open halfway through.

"Love at First Sight" from MAP: Collected and Last Poems by Wislawa Szymborska, translated from Polish by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak. Copyright © 2015 by The Wislawa Szymborska Foundation. English copyright © 2015 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Not that I always struck the proper mean
Of what mankind must give for what they gain,
But, when I think of those whom dull routine
And the pursuit of cheerless toil enchain,
Who from their desk-chairs seeing a summer cloud
Race through blue heaven on its joyful course
Sigh sometimes for a life less cramped and bowed,
I think I might have done a great deal worse;
For I have ever gone untied and free,
The stars and my high thoughts for company;
Wet with the salt-spray and the mountain showers,
I have had the sense of space and amplitude,
And love in many places, silver-shoed,
Has come and scattered all my path with flowers.

 

 

This poem is in the public domain. 

I’ll tell you how the sun rose, —
A ribbon at a time.
The steeples swam in amethyst,
The news like squirrels ran.

The hills untied their bonnets,
The bobolinks begun.
Then I said softly to myself,
“That must have been the sun!”

But how he set, I know not.
There seemed a purple stile
Which little yellow boys and girls
Were climbing all the while

Till when they reached the other side,
A dominie in gray
Put gently up the evening bars,
And led the flock away.
 

This poem is in the public domain.

You can’t order a poem like you order a taco.
Walk up to the counter, say, “I’ll take two”
and expect it to be handed back to you
on a shiny plate.

Still, I like your spirit.
Anyone who says, “Here’s my address,
write me a poem,” deserves something in reply.
So I’ll tell a secret instead:
poems hide. In the bottoms of our shoes,
they are sleeping. They are the shadows
drifting across our ceilings the moment 
before we wake up. What we have to do
is live in a way that lets us find them.

Once I knew a man who gave his wife
two skunks for a valentine.
He couldn’t understand why she was crying.
“I thought they had such beautiful eyes.”
And he was serious. He was a serious man
who lived in a serious way. Nothing was ugly
just because the world said so. He really
liked those skunks. So, he re-invented them
as valentines and they became beautiful.
At least, to him. And the poems that had been hiding
in the eyes of skunks for centuries 
crawled out and curled up at his feet.

Maybe if we re-invent whatever our lives give us
we find poems. Check your garage, the odd sock
in your drawer, the person you almost like, but not quite.
And let me know.

From Red Suitcase by Naomi Shihab Nye. Copyright 1994 Naomi Shihab Nye. Used by permission of the author. 

I jumped against the sky expecting I would find another sky. A subtlety to sky.
I wanted to get to know the sky better. I wanted to breathe in the air. The sky as a blank space.
Or maybe the opening to a decent conversation.
If you’re using a camera you can pose against the sky and people will think that you’re flying.
Which is very dishonest.
Particularly to the sky.
Have you known a sky? I am trying to make its acquaintance.
The sky I am thinking of is a set piece for honesty.

Look into the night sky. All it is is confused.
The sky is revealing to the people what a sky can really look like.
Not day. Not the sky that’s being suspended over the whole state of Texas.
Just estranged populations.
So many populations running away from the earth.
I don’t know what to do about a sky when it’s like this.

I am more a middle of the day. My favorite meal is lunch.
My favorite tree is whatever it is that is happening in the spring, mainly after a strong rain.
Maybe sometimes when the leaves change.
So long as the place I’m living in is conducive to trees.
Their weights and measurements. Their various relationships with a sky.
Is there a place where birds come from? I think it’s the sky.
A tree absorbs sky. It takes it into its lungs.
How sky is sky? say the trees. And that seems to mean something.

I built a house, and I made sure there was one window.
I nailed a tether to the side of that window. On the outside, I put sky.
I was jumping to the outside so many times I forgot what falling is in a sky.
I am coming for you, Sky!
Do not misinform me or take me into account. I was attached to this house for a reason.
Sometimes I jump, and I am air.
Then I am sky.
I think, “And, now, everything else!” Where everything else is the order of sky.
Air molecules. Air molecules existing. All they can do is keep existing.

Copyright © 2018 Kent Shaw. This poem originally appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Summer 2018. Used with permission of the author.

Tiger beetles, crickets, velvet ants, all
know the useful friction of part on part,
how rub of wing to leg, plectrum to file,
marks territories, summons mates. How

a lip rasped over finely tined ridges can
play sweet as a needle on vinyl. But
sometimes a lone body is insufficient.
So the sapsucker drums chimney flashing

for our amped-up morning reveille. Or,
later, home again, the wind’s papery
come hither through the locust leaves. The roof
arcing its tin back to meet the rain.

The bed’s soft creak as I roll to my side.
What sounds will your body make against mine?
 

Copyright © 2015 by Jessica Jacobs. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 8, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

out in the wild the kingdom
of worms spin in silence
in separation and live
to leave behind

what’s become to them
useless such as luxury
begins and again becomes

the meticulous work
it took to shape a pattern out of
patience wore down a continent’s

grasses into paths and passed
through dangerous terrain for what
for something so indisputably beautiful

you’d be willing to trade everything for it
you’d be willing to go to war to wear it
under your armor as close as anything

might get to your heart, it’s hard to believe
something so small so easy
to kill for even less could produce this dress
this red mess it makes of my senses
 

Copyright © 2014 by Brian Russell. Used with permission of the author.

Liposuction for everyone who can recite
the Pledge of Allegiance! Lip gloss, Lee
press-On Nails arrive weekly in the mail.
The turkey is always fat free & the cottage
cheese is nothing but protein. Helicopters
drop leaflets, but in truth, no one understands
the food pyramid. & so I’m inconsolable—
I can’t get rid of these love handles. The woman
in the radio tells me to eat more hearts
of palm but I don’t know
what they look like. Bundles of skin-
tight tracksuits are thrown on each stop
like the morning paper & I think gastric
bypass is the answer for me. I stay up late
& cut out coupons for Botox injections,
but there’s no money left, so I whiten
my teeth with bleach. I toss & turn in the middle
of the night, listening to Wide-Awake Sammy
riffle through the trash outside. He doesn’t sleep
& I can’t stop thinking about my love
handles. When I turn the kitchen light on,
I can see him out there—filling his bag
with recyclables, his belly with whatever drops
from the half-empty cans. At the table, I fondle
my love handles & tell the cat that I’m not afraid
of science. Cut ‘em right off me & feed ‘em
to the dogs. But I have to admit, I’ve been
disappointed—you can’t taste the range
in those free-range hogs. I say let all of the beef
be beef fed. I want night vision
after eating a plate of salmon. Let the teats
of cows drip with the sweetest honey. I want
my baby spinach made with real, 100% baby.

Copyright © 2010 Alex Lemon. “Beautification Campaign” originally appeared in Fancy Beasts (Milkweed Editions, 2010). Reprinted with permission of the author.

 

a love letter to traci akemi kato-kiriyama

does a voice have to be auditory to be a voice?

where in the body does hearing take place?

which are the questions that cannot be addressed in language?

which are the questions where promises lodge?

how do we hear what is outside our earshot?

when does distance look like closeness, feel like velvet sunrise cheek to cheek?

what are the objects, ideas, or experiences we drop beneath the more evident surfaces of our lives to the air or water or ground beneath? do we drop them purposefully? are they forgotten?

what word makes the body?

what body defies the word?

which figures, shapes, presences, haunts, methods, media, modes, ephemera, gestures, abandonments, models, anti-models, breaths, harmonics? which soil? which fields?

what does beginning sound like? what body does continuing form? what note does perseverance hum?

is a word a body?

which apertures? which hinges?

where does a body stand without settling?

through which holes does history break into our day?

where in the past does the future excavate?

where in the future does the past propel?

what are the distinctions between proximity and simultaneity?

where does a body resist without refusal?

can borders be exceeded? can borders be disintegrated?

where in the body does hearing take place?

where in the body does loving take place?

how do we make family with someone we do not know?

what do we carry with us and where in the body do we carry it?

might we be permitted a we this evening?

may I hold your hand? to feel your hand as its actual shape, clothed in its papery useful unequivocal skin, bones stacked like tiny branches, the balancing act of a bird, joints unlocking, span from thumb to pinky octaving out toward unfamiliar harmonics?

what space does the body occupy despite everything?

what does despitesound like? what does withsound like?

where does attake place? where does respite take place?

 

Copyright © 2018 by Jen Hofer. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 7, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

It should be difficult,
always difficult, rising
from bed each morning,
against gravity, against

dreams, which weigh
like the forgotten names
of remembered faces.
But some days it’s

easy, nothing, to rise,
to feed, to work, to
commit the small graces
that add up to love,

to family, to memory,
finally to life, or
what one would choose
to remember of it, not

those other leaden
mornings when sleep
is so far preferable
to pulling over one’s

head the wet shirt
of one’s identity again,
the self one had been
honing or fleeing

all these years,
one’s fine, blessed
self, one’s only,
which another day fills.

From The Trembling Answers. Copyright © 2017 by Craig Morgan Teicher. Used with the permission of BOA Editions.

Really nice meeting you sorry
I have to hurry off there’s this thing
happening this thing I must do
you too yes dying is the thing
everyone is not talking about it
why ruin karaoke night why discolor
the air between you and the bartender
hello what can I get for you
it’s miraculous we’re here and then
the world is yanked from us and then
time dismantles our bodies to dust
okay um can I help the next customer
see it would be awkward
let’s not bring it up mum’s the word
come on now we’ve still got
some living to do pick up that trumpet
I’ve got mine already never mind
we can’t play any instruments
the point is to make a sound
any sound in this endless parade
shimmering toward silence.

Copyright © 2018 David Hernandez. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Winter 2018.

Our paper house sat
on the banks of the red river

and though mother
wasn’t like other mothers

I was like other girls
trapped and lonely

and painting pictures
in the stars. I was slick

with old birth or early longing,
already halfway between

who I wanted to be and who I was.
Our floors were made of flame

but there was no wind
so we were as safe as anyone.

When spring came,
I walked for a very long time

up I-35, and at the end of the road,
I found a boy who placed earphones

onto my head and pumped opera
into my body. I can feel it still.

Underneath that treeless sky,
I was as changed as I would ever be.

Not even mother noticed.   
 

Copyright © 2015 by Nicole Callihan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 14, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

A person protests to fate:

“The things you have caused
me most to want
are those that furthest elude me.”

Fate nods.
Fate is sympathetic.

To tie the shoes, button a shirt,
are triumphs
for only the very young,
the very old.

During the long middle:

conjugating a rivet
mastering tango
training the cat to stay off the table
preserving a single moment longer than this one
continuing to wake whatever has happened the day before

and the penmanships love practices inside the body.

Copyright © 2015 by Jane Hirshfield. Used with permission of the author. Published in Poem-a-Day on February 24, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

What can be said in New Year rhymes,
That's not been said a thousand times?

The new years come, the old years go,
We know we dream, we dream we know.

We rise up laughing with the light,
We lie down weeping with the night.

We hug the world until it stings,
We curse it then and sigh for wings.

We live, we love, we woo, we wed,
We wreathe our brides, we sheet our dead.

We laugh, we weep, we hope, we fear,
And that's the burden of the year.

This poem is in the public domain.

I was so willing to pull a page out of my notebook, a day, several bright days and live them as if I was only alive, thirsty, timeless, young enough, to do this one more time, to dare to have nothing so much to lose and to feel that potential dying of the self in the light as the only thing I thought that was spiritual, possible and because I had no other way to call that mind, I called it poetry, but it was flesh and time and bread and friends frightened and free enough to want to have another day that way, tear another page.

Excerpted from Evolution. Copyright © 2018 by Eileen Myles. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Grove Press, an imprint of Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.

The east is yellow as a daffodil.
Three steeples—three stark swarthy arms—are thrust
Up from the town. The gnarlèd poplars thrill
Down the long street in some keen salty gust—
Straight from the sea and all the sailing ships—
Turn white, black, white again, with noises sweet
And swift. Back to the night the last star slips.
High up the air is motionless, a sheet
Of light. The east grows yellower apace,
And trembles: then, once more, and suddenly,
The salt wind blows, and in that moment’s space
Flame roofs, and poplar-tops, and steeples three;
From out the mist that wraps the river-ways,
The little boats, like torches, start ablaze.

This poem is in the public domain.

Life! Ay, what is it? E’en a moment spun
    From cycles of eternity. And yet,
    What wrestling ’mid the fever and the fret
Of tangled purposes and hopes undone!
What affluence of love! What vict’ries won
    In agonies of silence, ere trust met
    A manifold fulfillment, and the wet,
Beseeching eyes saw splendors past the sun!
What struggle in the web of circumstance,
    And yearning in the wingèd music! All,
        One restless strife from fetters to be free;
Till, gathered to eternity’s expanse,
    Is that brief moment at the Father’s call.
        Life! Ay, at best, ’tis but a mystery!

This poem is in the public domain.

Oh mother, mother, where is happiness?
They took my lover’s tallness off to war,
Left me lamenting. Now I cannot guess
What I can use an empty heart-cup for.
He won’t be coming back here any more.
Some day the war will end, but, oh, I knew
When he went walking grandly out that door
That my sweet love would have to be untrue.
Would have to be untrue. Would have to court
Coquettish death, whose impudent and strange
Possessive arms and beauty (of a sort)
Can make a hard man hesitate—and change.
And he will be the one to stammer, “Yes.”
Oh mother, mother, where is happiness?

From “Appendix to The Anniad: leaves from a loose-leaf war diary” in Annie Allen by Gwendolyn Brooks, published by Harper © 1949 by Gwendolyn Brooks. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

If my lover were a comet
          Hung in air,
I would braid my leaping body
          In his hair.

Yea, if they buried him ten leagues
          Beneath the loam,
My fingers they would learn to dig
          And I’d plunge home!

This poem is in the public domain. 

Except within poetic pale
   I have not found a nightingale,
Nor hearkened in a dusky vale
   To song and silence blending;
No stock-dove have I ever heard,
Nor listened to a cuckoo-bird,
   Nor seen a lark ascending.
But I have felt a pulse-beat start
   Because a robin, spending
The utmost of his simple art
Some of his pleasure to impart
   While twilight came descending,
Has found an answer in my heart,
   A sudden comprehending. 

This poem is in the public domain.

Put down that bag of potato chips, that white bread, that bottle of pop.

Turn off that cellphone, computer, and remote control.

Open the door, then close it behind you.

Take a breath offered by friendly winds. They travel the earth gathering essences of plants to clean.

Give it back with gratitude.

If you sing it will give your spirit lift to fly to the stars’ ears and back.

Acknowledge this earth who has cared for you since you were a dream planting itself precisely within your parents’ desire.

Let your moccasin feet take you to the encampment of the guardians who have known you before time, who will be there after time. They sit before the fire that has been there without time.

Let the earth stabilize your postcolonial insecure jitters.

Be respectful of the small insects, birds and animal people who accompany you.
Ask their forgiveness for the harm we humans have brought down upon them.

Don’t worry.
The heart knows the way though there may be high-rises, interstates, checkpoints, armed soldiers, massacres, wars, and those who will despise you because they despise themselves.

The journey might take you a few hours, a day, a year, a few years, a hundred, a thousand or even more.

Watch your mind. Without training it might run away and leave your heart for the immense human feast set by the thieves of time.

Do not hold regrets.

When you find your way to the circle, to the fire kept burning by the keepers of your soul, you will be welcomed.

You must clean yourself with cedar, sage, or other healing plant.

Cut the ties you have to failure and shame.

Let go the pain you are holding in your mind, your shoulders, your heart, all the way to your feet. Let go the pain of your ancestors to make way for those who are heading in our direction.

Ask for forgiveness.

Call upon the help of those who love you. These helpers take many forms: animal, element, bird, angel, saint, stone, or ancestor.

Call your spirit back. It may be caught in corners and creases of shame, judgment, and human abuse.

You must call in a way that your spirit will want to return.

Speak to it as you would to a beloved child.

Welcome your spirit back from its wandering. It may return in pieces, in tatters. Gather them together. They will be happy to be found after being lost for so long.

Your spirit will need to sleep awhile after it is bathed and given clean clothes.

Now you can have a party. Invite everyone you know who loves and supports you. Keep room for those who have no place else to go.

Make a giveaway, and remember, keep the speeches short.

Then, you must do this: help the next person find their way through the dark. 

Reprinted from Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings by Joy Harjo. Copyright © 2015 by Joy Harjo.  Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

We live in secret cities
And we travel unmapped roads.

We speak words between us that we recognize
But which cannot be looked up.

They are our words.
They come from very far inside our mouths.

You and I, we are the secret citizens of the city
Inside us, and inside us

There go all the cars we have driven
And seen, there are all the people

We know and have known, there
Are all the places that are

But which used to be as well. This is where
They went. They did not disappear.

We each take a piece 
Through the eye and through the ear.

It's loud inside us, in there, and when we speak
In the outside world

We have to hope that some of that sound
Does not come out, that an arm

Not reach out
In place of the tongue.

Copyright © 1998 by Alberto Rios. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Passers-by,
Out of your many faces
Flash memories to me
Now at the day end
Away from the sidewalks
Where your shoe soles traveled
And your voices rose and blent
To form the city’s afternoon roar
Hindering an old silence.

Passers-by,
I remember lean ones among you,
Throats in the clutch of a hope,
Lips written over with strivings,
Mouths that kiss only for love,
Records of great wishes slept with,
      Held long
And prayed and toiled for:

      Yes,
Written on
Your mouths
And your throats
I read them
When you passed by.

This poem is in the public domain.

In that great journey of the stars through space
     About the mighty, all-directing Sun,
     The pallid, faithful Moon, has been the one
Companion of the Earth. Her tender face,
Pale with the swift, keen purpose of that race,
     Which at Time’s natal hour was first begun,
     Shines ever on her lover as they run
And lights his orbit with her silvery smile.

Sometimes such passionate love doth in her rise,
     Down from her beaten path she softly slips,
And with her mantle veils the Sun’s bold eyes,
     Then in the gloaming finds her lover’s lips.
While far and near the men our world call wise
     See only that the Sun is in eclipse.

This poem is in the public domain.

The periodic pleasure
of small happenings
is upon us—
behind the stalls
at the farmer’s market
snow glinting in heaps,
a cardinal its chest
puffed out, bloodshod
above the piles of awnings,
passion’s proclivities;
you picking up a sweet potato
turning to me  ‘This too?’—
query of tenderness
under the blown red wing.
Remember the brazen world?
Let’s find a room
with a window onto elms
strung with sunlight,
a cafe with polished cups,
darling coffee they call it,
may our bed be stoked
with fresh cut rosemary
and glinting thyme,
all herbs in due season
tucked under wild sheets:
fit for the conjugation of joy.

Copyright © 2015 by Meena Alexander. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 15, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems. Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

It is difficult to know what to do with so much happiness.
With sadness there is something to rub against,
a wound to tend with lotion and cloth.
When the world falls in around you, you have pieces to pick up,
something to hold in your hands, like ticket stubs or change.

But happiness floats.
It doesn’t need you to hold it down.
It doesn’t need anything.
Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing,
and disappears when it wants to.
You are happy either way.
Even the fact that you once lived in a peaceful tree house
and now live over a quarry of noise and dust
cannot make you unhappy.
Everything has a life of its own,
it too could wake up filled with possibilities
of coffee cake and ripe peaches,
and love even the floor which needs to be swept,
the soiled linens and scratched records . . .

Since there is no place large enough
to contain so much happiness,
you shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you
into everything you touch. You are not responsible.
You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit
for the moon, but continues to hold it, and share it,
and in that way, be known.

“So Much Happiness” from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye, copyright © 1995. Reprinted with the permission of Far Corner Books.

Let's not kill or die today.
Let's make angels out of yarn, men of snow, mashed potato animals
that smile as we spoon
their eyes of melted butter.

Instead of killing ourselves or one another,
let's neatly stack anxiety's sweaters
and scratch our itchy trigger fingers
by whittling turtles for our mothers,

or pretending to understand Heidegger,
or imagining the sexual embrace
through which time and space
first conceived of matter.

If we still aren't over killing and dying,
we can search the stacks for library books
that haven't circulated in generations
and savor the mold

that spores their spines
the way wine snobs savor the nose
of vintage wines bottled
between wars to end all wars.

Look, we've played all day
and haven't spilled a drop of blood
apart from the occasional paper cut.
In an hour or two, when it's very dark,

let's make up stories out of stars,
and fill them with all the killing and dying
we didn't do today, except in our imaginations.
Let's pull our comforters over our heads

and sing ourselves to sleep
like good little civilizations.

From The Future Is Trying to Tell Us Something: New and Selected Poems (Sheep Meadow Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Joy Ladin. Used with the permission of the author.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

This poem is in the public domain.

We might have coupled
In the bed-ridden monopoly of a moment
Or broken flesh with one another
At the profane communion table
Where wine is spilled on promiscuous lips

We might have given birth to a butterfly
With the daily news
Printed in blood on its wings.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on December 5, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow:
You are not wrong who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand--
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep--while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

This poem is in the public domain.

What do I care, in the dreams and the languor of spring,
That my songs do not show me at all?
For they are a fragrance, and I am a flint and a fire,
I am an answer, they are only a call.

But what do I care, for love will be over so soon,
Let my heart have its say and my mind stand idly by,
For my mind is proud and strong enough to be silent, 
It is my heart that makes my songs, not I.

This poem is in the public domain.

That everything’s inevitable.
That fate is whatever has already happened.
The brain, which is as elemental, as sane, as the rest of the processing universe is.
In this world, I am the surest thing.
Scrunched-up arms, folded legs, lovely destitute eyes.
Please insert your spare coins.
I am filling them up.
Please insert your spare vision, your vigor, your vim.
But yet, I am a vatic one.
As vatic as the Vatican.
In the temper and the tantrum, in the well-kept arboretum
I am waiting, like an animal,
For poetry.

From The Heaven-Sent Leaf by Katy Lederer. Copyright © 2008 by Katy Lederer. Used by permission of BOA Editions, Ltd, www.boaeditions.org. All rights reserved.

This is not a poem about sex, or even
   about fish or the genitals of fish, 
So if you are a fisherman or someone interested
   primarily in sex, this would be as good a time
As any to put another worm on your hook 
   or find a poem that is really about fucking. 

This, rather, is a poem about language, 
   and about the connections between mind and ear
And the strange way a day makes its tenuous
   progress from almost anywhere. 

Which is why I've decided to begin with the idea
   of fish fucking (not literally, mind you, 
But the idea of fish fucking), because the other
   day, and a beautiful day it was, in Virginia
The woman I was with, commenting on the time
   between the stocking of a pond and the 

First day of fishing season, asked me if this
   was perhaps because of the frequency with which
Fish fuck, and—though I myself know nothing at all
   about the fucking of fish—indeed, I believe 

From the little biology I know that fish do not
   fuck at all as we know it, but rather the male
Deposits his sperm on the larvae, which the female, 
   in turn, has deposited—yet the question 
Somehow suggested itself to my mind as the starting
   point of the day, and from the idea of fish 

Fucking came thoughts of the time that passes
   between things and our experience of them, 
Not only between the stocking of the pond and our
   being permitted to fish in it, but the time, 

For example, that passes between the bouncing
   of light on the pond and our perception of the
Pond, or between the time I say the word jujungawop
   and the moment that word bounces against your 
Eardrum and the moment a bit further on when the
   nerves that run from the eardrum to the brain 

Inform you that you do not, in fact, know 
   the meaning of the word jujungawop, but this,
Perhaps, is moving a bit too far from the idea of 
   fish fucking and how beautifully blue the pond was 

That morning and how, lying among the reeds atop 
   the dam and listening to the water run under it, 
The thought occurred to me how the germ of an idea
   has little to do with the idea itself, and how 
It is rather a small leap from fish fucking to the
   anthropomorphic forms in a Miró painting, 

Or the way certain women, when they make love,
   pucker their lips and gurgle like fish, and how
This all points out how dangerous it is for a 
   man or a woman who wants a poet's attention 

To bring up an idea, even so ludicrous and 
   biologically ungrounded a one as fish fucking,
Because the next thing she knows the mind is taking 
   off over the dam from her beautiful face, off 
Over the hills of Virginia, perhaps as far as Guatemala 
   and the black bass that live in Lake Atitlán who 

Feast on the flightless grebe, which is not merely
   a sexual thought or a fishy one, but a thought 
About the cruelty that underlies even great beauty,
   the cruelty of nature and love and our lives which 

We cannot do without and without which even the idea
   of fish fucking would be ordinary and no larger than
Itself, but to return now to that particular day, and to 
   the idea of love, which inevitably arises from the 
Thought that even so seemingly unintelligent a creature
   as a fish could hold his loved one, naked in the water, 

And say to her, softly, Liebes, mein Lubes; it was 
   indeed a beautiful day, the kind filled with anticipation 
And longing for the small perfections usually found only 
   in poems; the breeze was slight enough just to brush 

A few of her hairs gently over one eye, the air was
   the scent of bayberry and pine as if the gods were
Burning incense in some heavenly living room, and
   as we lay among the reeds, our faces skyward, 
The sun fondling our cheeks, it was as if each 
   time we looked away from the world it took 

On again a precise yet general luminescence when we 
   returned to it, a clarity equally convincing as pain 
But more pleasing to the senses, and though it was not 
   such a moment of perfection as Keats or Hamsun 

Speak of and for the sake of which we can go on for 
   years almost blissful in our joylessness, it was 
A day when at least the possibility of such a thing 
   seemed possible: the deer tracks suggesting that 
Deer do, indeed, come to the edge of the woods to feed
   at dusk, and the idea of fish fucking suggesting 

A world so beautiful, so divine in its generosity 
   that even the fish make love, even the fish live 
Happily ever after, chasing each other, lustful 
   as stars through the constantly breaking water.

From Days We Would Rather Know, published by The Viking Press. Copyright © 1984 by Michael Blumenthal. Used by permission of the author.

Only name the day, and we'll fly away
	In the face of old traditions,
To a sheltered spot, by the world forgot,
	Where we'll park our inhibitions.
Come and gaze in eyes where the lovelight lies
	As it psychoanalyzes,
And when once you glean what your fantasies mean
	Life will hold no more surprises.
When you've told your love what you're thinking of
	Things will be much more informal;
Through a sunlit land we'll go hand-in-hand,
	Drifting gently back to normal.

While the pale moon gleams, we will dream sweet dreams,
	And I'll win your admiration,
For it's only fair to admit I'm there
	With a mean interpretation.
In the sunrise glow we will whisper low
	Of the scenes our dreams have painted,
And when you're advised what they symbolized
	We'll begin to feel acquainted.
So we'll gaily float in a slumber boat
	Where subconscious waves dash wildly;
In the stars' soft light, we will say good-night—
	And “good-night!” will put it mildly.

Our desires shall be from repressions free—
	As it's only right to treat them.
To your ego's whims I will sing sweet hymns,
	And ad libido repeat them.
With your hand in mine, idly we'll recline
	Amid bowers of neuroses,
While the sun seeks rest in the great red west
	We will sit and match psychoses.
So come dwell a while on that distant isle
	In the brilliant tropic weather;
Where a Freud in need is a Freud indeed,
	We'll always be Jung together.

From Not Much Fun: The Lost Poems of Dorothy Parker published by Scribner. Used by permission of the publisher.

I want to write a poem as long as California
like lying on a couch forever
as a serious man takes notes on your dreams in a little book
maybe I mean I want to talk forever
but is there even a difference anyway
like my uncle who went walking
and never stopped
or that day on the LA Freeway
when a horse got loose, people freaking out 
cars honking and skidding 
and me and my sister rooting for the horse
who I still imagine, 20 years later
trotting around the LA Freeway
a living argument against time
as people drive right past her
without even noticing a horse 
she keeps on, at home in the gridlock
a phenomenon in the smog
we want to think she is looking for something
but she is past panic now
content, her heart a part of that freeway
unaware that I 
am the one telling this story
and in this version
no one listens to anyone’s dreams
and that couch is the one we broke off on
while your parents were gone 
blood on the cushion 
which wouldn’t come out
no matter what we tried
so we gave up 
and just laid there, sweating
in the bliss of thinking nothing
and somewhere 
a startled horse 
is not smashed by a semi
on the LA Freeway
on a summer day in 1988

Copyright © 2014 by Sampson Starkweather. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on March 12, 2014. Browse the Poem-a-Day archive.

can be enough to make you look up
at the yellowed leaves of the apple tree, the few
that survived the rains and frost, shot
with late afternoon sun. They glow a deep
orange-gold against a blue so sheer, a single bird
would rip it like silk. You may have to break
your heart, but it isn’t nothing
to know even one moment alive. The sound
of an oar in an oarlock or a ruminant
animal tearing grass. The smell of grated ginger.
The ruby neon of the liquor store sign.
Warm socks. You remember your mother,
her precision a ceremony, as she gathered
the white cotton, slipped it over your toes,
drew up the heel, turned the cuff. A breath
can uncoil as you walk across your own muddy yard,
the big dipper pouring night down over you, and everything
you dread, all you can’t bear, dissolves
and, like a needle slipped into your vein—
that sudden rush of the world.

Copyright © 2016 by Ellen Bass. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 18, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

It's all I have to bring today—
This, and my heart beside—
This, and my heart, and all the fields—
And all the meadows wide—
Be sure you count—should I forget
Some one the sum could tell—
This, and my heart, and all the Bees
Which in the Clover dwell.

This poem is in the public domain.

is what my sons call the flowers—
purple, white, electric blue—
 
pom-pomming bushes all along
the beach town streets.
 
I can’t correct them into
hydrangeas, or I won’t.
 
Bees ricochet in and out
of the clustered petals,
 
and my sons panic and dash
and I tell them about good
 
insects, pollination, but the truth is
I want their fear-box full of bees.
 
This morning the radio
said tender age shelters.
 
This morning the glaciers
are retreating. How long now
 
until the space-print backpack
becomes district-policy clear?
 
We’re almost to the beach,
and High dangerous! my sons
 
yell again, their joy in having
spotted something beautiful,
 
and called it what it is.

Copyright © 2019 by Catherine Pierce. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 1, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

And on the first day
god made
something up.
Then everything came along:

seconds, sex and
beasts and breaths and rabies;
hunger, healing,
lust and lust’s rejections;
swarming things that swarm
inside the dirt;
girth and grind
and grit and shit and all shit’s functions;
rings inside the treetrunk
and branches broken by the snow;
pigs’ hearts and stars,
mystery, suspense and stingrays;
insects, blood
and interests and death;
eventually, us,
with all our viruses, laments and curiosities;
all our songs and made-up stories;
and our songs about the stories we’ve forgotten;
and all that we’ve forgotten we’ve forgotten;

and to hold it all together god made time
and those rhyming seasons
that display decay.

Copyright © 2019 by Pádraig Ó Tuama. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 2, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

At gate C22 in the Portland airport
a man in a broad-band leather hat kissed
a woman arriving from Orange County.
They kissed and kissed and kissed. Long after
the other passengers clicked the handles of their carry-ons
and wheeled briskly toward short-term parking,
the couple stood there, arms wrapped around each other
like he’d just staggered off the boat at Ellis Island,
like she’d been released at last from ICU, snapped
out of a coma, survived bone cancer, made it down
from Annapurna in only the clothes she was wearing.

Neither of them was young. His beard was gray.
She carried a few extra pounds you could imagine
her saying she had to lose. But they kissed lavish
kisses like the ocean in the early morning,
the way it gathers and swells, sucking
each rock under, swallowing it
again and again. We were all watching—
passengers waiting for the delayed flight
to San Jose, the stewardesses, the pilots,
the aproned woman icing Cinnabons, the man selling
sunglasses. We couldn’t look away. We could
taste the kisses crushed in our mouths.

But the best part was his face. When he drew back
and looked at her, his smile soft with wonder, almost
as though he were a mother still open from giving birth,
as your mother must have looked at you, no matter
what happened after—if she beat you or left you or
you’re lonely now—you once lay there, the vernix
not yet wiped off, and someone gazed at you
as if you were the first sunrise seen from the Earth.
The whole wing of the airport hushed,
all of us trying to slip into that woman’s middle-aged body,
her plaid Bermuda shorts, sleeveless blouse, glasses,
little gold hoop earrings, tilting our heads up.

From The Human Line (Copper Canyon Press, 2007). Copyright © 2007 by Ellen Bass. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

Once the world was perfect, and we were happy in that world.
Then we took it for granted.
Discontent began a small rumble in the earthly mind.
Then Doubt pushed through with its spiked head.
And once Doubt ruptured the web,
All manner of demon thoughts
Jumped through—
We destroyed the world we had been given
For inspiration, for life—
Each stone of jealousy, each stone
Of fear, greed, envy, and hatred, put out the light.
No one was without a stone in his or her hand.
There we were,
Right back where we had started.
We were bumping into each other
In the dark.
And now we had no place to live, since we didn’t know
How to live with each other.
Then one of the stumbling ones took pity on another
And shared a blanket.
A spark of kindness made a light.
The light made an opening in the darkness.
Everyone worked together to make a ladder.
A Wind Clan person climbed out first into the next world,
And then the other clans, the children of those clans, their children,
And their children, all the way through time—
To now, into this morning light to you.

From Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings by Joy Harjo. Copyright © 2015 by Joy Harjo. Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

     My neighbor to the left had a stroke a couple years ago. It didn’t look 
     like he was going to make it, and then he made it. I’m watching him 
     now from my window as he makes his slow way across his yard 
     with some tree branches that fell in last night’s storm. Three steps.  
     Wait. Three steps. It’s a hard slog. Watching, I want to pitch in.  
     And we do, at such times, wanting to help. But on the other hand, 
     it’s good to be as physical as possible in recovery. Maybe this is part 
     of his rehab. Maybe this is doctor’s orders: DO YARDWORK.  
     And here comes his wife across the yard anyway, to give a hand 
     with a large branch. She’s able to quickly overtake him, and she folds 
     into the process smoothly, no words between them that I can make out.  
     It’s another part of what makes us human, weighing the theory of mind, 
     watching each other struggle or perform, anticipating each other’s 
     thoughts, as the abject hovers uncannily in the background, threatening 
     to break through the fragile borders of the self. “What’s it like to be 
     a bat?” we ask. The bats don’t respond. How usually, our lives 
     unfold at the periphery of catastrophes happening to others. I’m 
     reading, while my neighbor struggles, that the squirrel population 
     in New England is in the midst of an unprecedented boom. A recent 
     abundance of acorns is the reason for this surge in squirrel populations, 
     most particularly in New Hampshire. They’re everywhere, being 
     squirrely, squirreling acorns away. We call it “Squirrelnado” because 
     it’s all around us, circling, and dangerous, and kind of funny. Language 
     springs from the land, and through our imagination we become 
     human. They’re back in the house now. We name the things we see, 
     or they name themselves into our experience, whichever, and then 
     we use those names for things we don’t understand, what we can’t 
     express. Wind becomes spirit becomes ghost. Mountain becomes 
     god. The land springs up before us. It shakes us and pushes us over.  

Copyright © 2019 by John Gallaher. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 14, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

                       I

When the sea has devoured the ships,
And the spires and the towers
Have gone back to the hills.
And all the cities
Are one with the plains again.
And the beauty of bronze,
And the strength of steel
Are blown over silent continents,
As the desert sand is blown—
My dust with yours forever.

                       II

When folly and wisdom are no more,
And fire is no more,
Because man is no more;
When the dead world slowly spinning
Drifts and falls through the void—
My light with yours
In the Light of Lights forever!
 

This poem is in the public domain.

A young man learns to shoot
& dies in the mud
an ocean away from home,
a rifle in his fingers
& the sky dripping
from his heart. Next to him
a friend watches
his final breath slip
ragged into the ditch,
a thing the friend will carry
back to America—
wound, souvenir,
backstory. He’ll teach 
literature to young people
for 40 years. He’ll coach
his daughters’ softball teams. 
Root for Red Wings
& Lions & Tigers. Dance
well. Love generously. 
He’ll be quick with a joke
& firm with handshakes.
He’ll rarely talk
about the war. If asked
he’ll tell you instead
his favorite story:
Odysseus escaping
from the Cyclops
with a bad pun & good wine
& a sharp stick.
It’s about buying time
& making do, he’ll say. 
It’s about doing what it takes 
to get home, & you see 
he has been talking 
about the war all along.
We all want the same thing
from this world:
Call me nobody. Let me live.

Copyright © 2019 by Amorak Huey. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 20, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

The Spring comes in with all her hues and smells,
In freshness breathing over hills and dells;
O’er woods where May her gorgeous drapery flings,
And meads washed fragrant by their laughing springs.
Fresh are new opened flowers, untouched and free
From the bold rifling of the amorous bee.
The happy time of singing birds is come,
And Love’s lone pilgrimage now finds a home;
Among the mossy oaks now coos the dove,
And the hoarse crow finds softer notes for love.
The foxes play around their dens, and bark
In joy’s excess, ’mid woodland shadows dark.
The flowers join lips below; the leaves above;
And every sound that meets the ear is Love.

From The Rural Muse: Poems (Whittaker & Co., 1835) by John Clare. This poem is in the public domain. 

There once was a planet who was both
sick and beautiful. Chemicals rode through her
that she did not put there.
Animals drowned in her eyeballs
that she did not put there—
animals she could not warn
against falling in because
she was of them, not
separable from them.
Define sick, the atmosphere asked.
So she tried: she made
a whale on fire
somehow still
swimming and alive.
See? she said. Like that,
kind of. But the atmosphere did
not understand this, so the planet progressed in her argument.
She talked about the skin
that snakes shed, about satellites that circled her
like suitors forever yet never
said a word.
She talked about the shyness
of large things, how a blueberry dominates
the tongue that it dies on.
She talked and talked and
the atmosphere started nodding—
you could call this
a revolution, or just therapy.
Meanwhile the whale spent the rest of his
life burning (etc., etc., he sang a few songs).
When he finally died
his body, continuing
to burn steadily, drifted down
to the ocean floor.
And although the planet
had long since forgotten him—he was merely one
of her many examples—he became
a kind of god in the eyes
of the fish that saw him as he fell. Or
not a god exactly, but at least something
inexplicable. Something strange and worth
briefly turning your face toward.

Copyright © 2019 by Mikko Harvey. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 22, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

And so I sat at a tall table
in an Ohio hotel,
eating delivery:
cheese bread

with garlic butter, only it was
not butter, but partially
hydrogenated soy
bean oil

and regular soybean oil and it
came in a little tub like
creamer that’s also not
dairy.

America in 2019
means a poem will have to
contain dairy that is,
in fact,

not dairy. On Instagram: a man
has bought a ten foot by four
foot photo of a bridge
he lives

beside, bridge he can see just outside
his window, window which serves
as a ten foot by four
foot frame.

My materialist mind, I can’t
shake it. Within a perfect
little tub of garlic
butter,

a relief of workers, of sickles,
fields of soy. We were tanners
pushed to the edge of the
city

once, by the stench, the bubble of vats
of flesh and loosening skin,
back when the city pulled,
leather

bucket by leather bucket, its own
water from wells. Then we worked
the cafeterias
at the

petroleum offices of the
British. Then, revolution—

Simple.

Copyright © 2019 by Solmaz Sharif. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 30, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Within me, the sipped, iced bourbon enacts
the sense of a slow, April rain
blurring and nurturing a landscape.
Decades I’ve been pipe-dreaming of finding
a life as concise as a wartime telegram.
Ultimately, I’ve ended up compiling
an archive of miscommunication
and the faded receipts of secondary disgraces.
In third grade, a friend’s uncle stole the two dollars
from my pocket as I slept on their couch,
and later he must’ve hurried into the night
toward a flat in the nearby building
where a newly minted narcotic promised
to evict the misgivings from all riled souls.
I told no one of the theft, letting the emptiness
become my government, my friend’s
mother counting her food stamps while we walked
the late-morning blocks to a bustling grocery,
within which she eventually smacked
the hopeful face of my friend as he reached
again for too costly a thing.

Copyright © 2019 by Marcus Jackson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 27, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

The quake last night was nothing personal, 
you told me this morning. I think one always wonders, 
unless, of course, something is visible: tremors 
that take us, private and willy-nilly, are usual.

But the earth said last night that what I feel, 
you feel; what secretly moves you, moves me. 
One small, sensuous catastrophe 
makes inklings letters, spelled in a worldly tremble.

The earth, with others on it, turns in its course 
as we turn toward each other, less than ourselves, gross, 
mindless, more than we were. Pebbles, we swell 
to planets, nearing the universal roll, 
in our conceit even comprehending the sun, 
whose bright ordeal leaves cool men woebegone.

Excerpted from Selected Poems by Mona Van Duyn. Copyright © 2002 by Mona Van Duyn. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

It's not the first time
we've bitten into a peach.
But now at the same time
it splits--half for each.
Our "then" is inside its "now,"
its halved pit unfleshed--

what was refreshed.
Two happinesses unfold
from one joy, folioed.
In a hotel room
our moment lies
with its ode inside,
a red tinge,
with a hinge.

From Cornucopia by Molly Peacock. Copyright © 2002 by Molly Peacock. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

If you are anything like I am
and I have faith that you are
then you have already stepped
out of your body
and been irrevocably wounded

I was born in 1969
Chances are you were born
during a different year
It doesn’t matter if you were born
three thousand years ago

or if you are born
three thousand years from now
we share what it means to live

Maybe you have gone
back into your body

and found words
the only guide
into the known dark

We are both the living and the dead
the stuff beyond theory

Sometimes it is too much
and other times not enough

We wake to a morning fog
We wake to morning sun
We sit in a cold evening
thinking of the death of a parent

A different evening
has us thinking of our eyes
and how they crawled
out of our minds

at some point
in the evolution of the self

It is the evening of the first day
of a new year
I ask myself What have you done
The list is remarkable

From Birches. Copyright © 2019 by Carl Adamshick. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Four Way Books. 

Sometimes I wish I were still out 
on the back porch, drinking jet fuel 
with the boys, getting louder and louder 
as the empty cans drop out of our paws 
like booster rockets falling back to Earth

and we soar up into the summer stars. 
Summer. The big sky river rushes overhead, 
bearing asteroids and mist, blind fish 
and old space suits with skeletons inside. 
On Earth, men celebrate their hairiness,

and it is good, a way of letting life 
out of the box, uncapping the bottle 
to let the effervescence gush 
through the narrow, usually constricted neck.

And now the crickets plug in their appliances 
in unison, and then the fireflies flash 
dots and dashes in the grass, like punctuation 
for the labyrinthine, untrue tales of sex 
someone is telling in the dark, though

no one really hears. We gaze into the night 
as if remembering the bright unbroken planet 
we once came from, 
to which we will never 
be permitted to return. 
We are amazed how hurt we are. 
We would give anything for what we have.

© Copyright 1998 by Tony Hoagland. Used from Donkey Gospel with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota. All rights reserved. www.graywolfpress.org

Out of the night that covers me,   
  Black as the Pit from pole to pole,   
I thank whatever gods may be   
  For my unconquerable soul.   

In the fell clutch of circumstance 
  I have not winced nor cried aloud.   
Under the bludgeonings of chance   
  My head is bloody, but unbowed.   

Beyond this place of wrath and tears   
  Looms but the Horror of the shade, 
And yet the menace of the years   
  Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.   

It matters not how strait the gate,   
  How charged with punishments the scroll,   
I am the master of my fate:
  I am the captain of my soul.

This poem is in the public domain.

Isn't it funny
when suddenly after all these decades
you notice a new part of your body.
 

Maybe the hamstrings—
entirely unused when lifting weights,
back used instead
which then pains for years.
 

Maybe the slight shoulder raise
that tightens those muscles
maybe for good.
 

I notice my body
slide through time.
It is odd and peculiar,
genius of no one,
a perfect clock
making clocks
look simple.
 

Newness comes naturally.
Resisting it causes the past
to present memories on yellow
platters.
 

My age is a number.
Bones getting ready to play poker.
I will remain a small book
hidden away deep
in the library.
 

I love my body and this world!
Such a declaration
five years ago
would've driven me insane.
 

But now an appreciation arrives
with a fine taste of sulfur
and anywhere I look is born
a rose.

Copyright © 2019 by Zubair Ahmed. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 20, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

                 Why I love thee?
     Ask why the seawind wanders,
Why the shore is aflush with the tide,
Why the moon through heaven meanders;
Like seafaring ships that ride
On a sullen, motionless deep;
      Why the seabirds are fluttering the strand
       Where the waves sing themselves to sleep
         And starshine lives in the curves of the sand!

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on April 20, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

The stars hang thick in the apple tree,
The south wind smells of the pungent sea,
Gold tulip cups are heavy with dew.
The night’s for you, Sweetheart, for you!
Starfire rains from the vaulted blue.

Listen! The dancing of unseen leaves.
A drowsy swallow stirs in the eaves.
Only a maiden is sorrowing.
’T is night and spring, Sweetheart, and spring!
Starfire lights your heart’s blossoming.

In the intimate dark there’s never an ear,
Though the tulips stand on tiptoe to hear,
So give; ripe fruit must shrivel or fall.
As you are mine, Sweetheart, give all!
Starfire sparkles, your coronal.

This poem is in the public domain. 

before sleep
and carry a box cutter
for protection
you are an animal that is all loins
and no dexterity
you are the loneliness
and non-loneliness of a planet with a flag in it
and something ugly raccoon-paws
the inner lining of your throat
but you swallow it
and you smash a snow globe in a parking lot
and you leave the door open
to the tea factory’s peppermint room
contaminating everything
the sleepytime blend
the almond sunset and genmaicha
the hibiscus broth your parents made you drink
to prevent recurrent UTIs
and outside the palm trees
in need of treatment for exotic diseases
keep dying
slowly like a woman circling a parking lot
and if you had to name what you think you are
you would say bogwolf
and the thing clawing your throat
draws blood
but you swallow it
and you live for the ways people in love penetrate
each other
for the sweetness of lichens
for the return of normal hand smell
after wearing latex gloves
you thank the bones that made your soup
and all the brake pedals that aren’t broken

Copyright © 2019 by Ruth Madievsky. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 28, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

There will be no stars—the poem has had enough of them. I think we can agree
we no longer believe there is anyone in any poem who is just now realizing

they are dead, so let’s stop talking about it. The skies of this poem
are teeming with winged things, and not a single innominate bird.

You’re welcome. Here, no monarchs, no moths, no cicadas doing whatever
they do in the trees. If this poem is in summer, punctuating the blue—forgive me,

I forgot, there is no blue in this poem—you’ll find the occasional
pelecinid wasp, proposals vaporized and exorbitant, angels looking

as they should. If winter, unsentimental sleet. This poem does not take place
at dawn or dusk or noon or the witching hour or the crescendoing moment

of our own remarkable birth, it is 2:53 in this poem, a Tuesday, and everyone in it is still
at work. This poem has no children; it is trying

to be taken seriously. This poem has no shards, no kittens, no myths or fairy tales,
no pomegranates or rainbows, no ex-boyfriends or manifest lovers, no mothers—God,

no mothers—no God, about which the poem must admit
it’s relieved, there is no heart in this poem, no bodily secretions, no body

referred to as the body, no one
dies or is dead in this poem, everyone in this poem is alive and pretty

okay with it. This poem will not use the word beautiful for it resists
calling a thing what it is. So what

if I’d like to tell you how I walked last night, glad, truly glad, for the first time
in a year, to be breathing, in the cold dark, to see them. The stars, I mean. Oh hell, before

something stops me—I nearly wept on the sidewalk at the sight of them all.

Copyright © 2019 by Leila Chatti. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 29, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.