Dusk in August—
which means nearly
nine o’clock here, deep
in the heart of central
Jersey—and the deer
step out to graze
the backyards. They tear
each yellowy red
tulip cup, munch up
rhododendrons
and azaleas. Fifty
years of new houses
have eaten into
their woodland, leaving
only this narrow strip
of trees along the trickly
stream that zigzags
between Route 9
and Lily’s mom’s
backyard. The deer rise
from the mist, hooves
clicking on asphalt, a doe
and a buck, his antlers
like a chandelier.
Sometimes a doe and two
fawns. Or else we see
just the white flags
of their tails bobbing away
into the dark. In theory
the DNR should come
catch them, let them go
where it’s still
forest, still possible to live
as they were meant to.
But these days
there’s no money
for that. And people keep
leaving out old bread,
rice, stale cookies, or else
plant more delicious flowers.
“Mei banfa,”
my mother-in-law says:
Nothing can be done.
Seeing them in
the distance—that distance
we can’t close
without them shying
and turning and skittering
down Dickinson Lane
or bounding
over a backyard fence—
I try to imagine
they’re messengers
come back to tell us
their stories, any news
of the lost or what
comes next, though
if they could say
anything, they would
probably say, Go away.

Copyright © 2016 by Matthew Thorburn. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 1, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

I felt perfected along the rectangle 
By its ragged side

Fences trees and mist dropping
Some space for the flowers

I set an image in my head where
Bushes in their out of focus

Made a green dearth about the door
I wanted to do a book on

Pages left in the heat or rain
But my desire seemingly disappeared

Picked up by a car in the middle of
A pack of cigarettes

This trip into the forest
The trees trading with memory to

Frame the various breaks
The pleasures of small laws cut

Behind the mower with my eyes
Running the grass blades

We don’t really get any older
I can see what that means
 

Copyright © 2016 by Samuel Amadon. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 29, 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.

More than a hundred dollars of them.

It was pure folly. I had to find more glass things to stuff them          
       in.

Now a white and purple cloud is breathing in each corner

of the room I love. Now a mass of flowers spills down my                  
      dining table—

each fresh-faced, extending its delicately veined leaves

into the crush. Didn’t I watch

children shuffle strictly in line, cradle

candles that dribbled hot white on their fingers,

chanting Latin—just to fashion Sevilla’s Easter? Wasn’t I sad?          
      Didn’t I use to

go mucking through streambeds with the skunk cabbage raising

bursting violet spears?  —Look, the afternoon dies

as night begins in the heart of the lilies and smokes up

their fluted throats until it fills the room

and my lights have to be not switched on.

And in close darkness the aroma grows so sweet,

so strong, that it could slice me open. It does.

I know I’m not the only one whose life is a conditional clause

hanging from something to do with spring and one tall room          
      and the tremble of my phone.

I’m not the only one that love makes feel like a dozen

flapping bedsheets being ripped to prayer flags by the wind.

When I stand in full sun I feel I have been falling headfirst for          
      decades.

God, I am so transparent.

So light. 

Copyright © 2016 Noah Warren. Used with permission of the author.

Days been dark
don’t say “in these dark days”
done changed my cones and rods

Sometimes I’m the country
other times the countryside

I put my clothes back on
to take them off again

Copyright © 2017 by Fady Joudah. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 17, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Today I woke up in my body
and wasn’t that body anymore.

It’s more like my dog—
for the most part obedient,
warming to me
when I slip it goldfish or toast,

but it sheds.
Can’t get past a simple sit,
stay, turn over. House-trained, but not entirely.

This doesn’t mean it’s time to say goodbye.

I’ve realized the estrangement
is temporary, and for my own good:

My body’s work to break the world
into bricks and sticks
has turned inward.

As all the doors in the world
grow heavy
a big white bed is being put up in my heart.

Copyright © 2017 by Max Ritvo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 19, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

I turn on the radio and hear horses, girls becoming women after tragedy. Talk about dreams! His heart was covered in a thin shell the color of the moon, and when touched, I’d grow old. The best movies have a philosophy, Dorothy, after being subjected to witch-on-girl violence, is rescued. Someone hung himself on that set, a man, who loved, but couldn’t have a certain woman. Management said it was a bird. The best movies begin with an encounter and end with someone setting someone free. In Coppola’s version of Dracula my favorite scene is when the camera chases two women through a garden and watches them kiss. I made love to a man who asked, after many years, for me to choke him, so that later, cleaning a kitchen cabinet, I read a recipe he’d written into wood, and I had a hard time believing him.

Copyright © 2017 by Diana Marie Delgado. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 23, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

The children were asking
a thousand questions about why
the sky was blue and grass was green
when suddenly their tongues
were stilled by an answer they
never saw. Now silence rings
in their place so loud a stone
can hear it in Arkansas.
So why not the men inside
the sky who only hear the roar
beneath their wings that rip
the clouds? Who believe the distance
is theirs for the way it turns
the heavens into a high of feeling
nothing at all? In which
they have everywhere to turn
as excellent pilots—really
superb—with nowhere to go.

Copyright © 2017 by Chard deNiord. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 25, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

our Father I do love to walk
down to the shore at dawn
while the ground is cold
and there sprinkle my cells
to smashed ocean radios
I dream that I was born
with no tongue and that
I can neither ask nor
answer nor understand
questions about where
I come from that the waves
are my clapping sisters
so many dark swallowed
ships my deleted thoughts
cannon and coin pulp
my new body and that any
one of a million canyons
trembling with the psalms
of stones is my easily
remembered mother who
easily remembers me

Copyright © 2016 by Nathan Parker. Used with permission of the author.

scurried around a classroom papered with poems.
Even the ceiling, pink and orange quilts of phrase…
they introduced one another, perched on a tiny stage
to read their work, blessed their teacher who
encouraged them to stretch, wouldn’t let their parents
attend the reading because parents might criticize,
believed in the third and fourth eyes, the eyes in
the undersides of leaves, the polar bears a thousand miles north,
and sprouts of grass under the snow. They knew their poems
were glorious, that second-graders could write better
than third or fourth, because of what happened
on down the road, the measuring sticks
that came out of nowhere, poking and channeling
the view, the way fences broke up winter,
or driveways separated the smooth white sheets
birds wrote on with their feet.

From Transfer (BOA Editions, 2011). Copyright © 2011 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Used with permission of the author. 

Say Stop.

Keep your lips pressed together
after you say the p:

(soon they’ll try
and pry

your breath out—)

Whisper it
three times in a row:

Stop Stop Stop

In a hospital bed
like a curled up fish, someone’s

gulping at air—

How should you apply
your breath?

List all of the people
you would like
to stop.

Who offers love,
who terror—

Write Stop.
Put a period at the end.

Decide if it’s a kiss
or a bullet.

Copyright © 2017 by Dana Levin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 6, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

for DMK

When I thought it was right to name my desires,
what I wanted of life, they seemed to turn
like bleating sheep, not to me, who could have been
a caring, if unskilled, shepherd, but to the boxed-in hills
beyond which the blue mountains sloped down
with poppies orange as crayfish all the way to the Pacific seas
in which the hulls of whales steered them
in search of a mate for whom they bellowed
in a new, highly particular song
we might call the most ardent articulation of love,
the pin at the tip of evolution,
modestly shining.
                                    In the middle of my life
it was right to say my desires
but they went away. I couldn’t even make them out,
not even as dots
now in the distance.  
                                         Yet I see the small lights
of winter campfires in the hills—
teenagers in love often go there
for their first nights—and each yellow-white glow
tells me what I can know and admit to knowing,
that all I ever wanted
was to sit by a fire with someone
who wanted me in measure the same to my wanting.
To want to make a fire with someone,
with you,
was all.

Copyright © 2017 by Katie Ford. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 15, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Sewing patterns are designed for imaginary
people, based on average measurements
taken in the 1930s by the WPA

and adjusted over the decades by the Industry.

I sew a Misses 14, designed for a woman
5’5” to 5’6”, 36/28/38,

which is to say no one,

so I alter the pattern to fit a phantom of me
instead of a phantom of her.

She doesn’t need any more dresses.
 

Copyright © 2017 by Chase Twichell. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 19, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

I was an apostle to the group of you, strangers
who had known me since I was born. I ate
of your flesh. I drank of your blood. Sipped
the elixir of your moods. Put the remainders
in the tabernacle, wiped the goblet clean with
a cloth. The crosses branded into the wafers
were your voices branded onto my heart.
I heard you live forever. I heard you rise.
The bones of you yield to the memory of flesh,
and we count our blessings and also bless.
We are bright in anticipation of death,
we are living like fissures and set against waste,
and the taste is bitter, left in our mouths.
I am dying, I am dead, lord of the losses, lord
of the faith. I take each breath and my chest
expands. Now I stand knee deep in the muck
unable to move, and if I dip my hands in,
they will fill with bracken and all the thickness
of each formless face, kicking up stones,
until you are gone, mythic lisp the lips
shape. One day, you vanish like a flash.
Confessions in a dark room. Firmaments to read
and spin like dice. I genuflect twice at the edge
of your pews. I kiss the book for you. This is what
the word of family can do. Sit at the round table.
Break bread. In the beginning, the loveless
made the world and saw that it was good.

Copyright © 2017 by Jennifer Militello. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 14, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

This is just a place:
we go around, distanced, 
yearly in a star's

atmosphere, turning 
daily into and out of 
direct light and

slanting through the 
quadrant seasons: deep 
space begins at our

heels, nearly rousing 
us loose: we look up 
or out so high, sight's

silk almost draws us away:
this is just a place:
currents worry themselves

coiled and free in airs 
and oceans: water picks 
up mineral shadow and

plasm into billions of 
designs, frames: trees, 
grains, bacteria: but

is love a reality we 
made here ourselves--
and grief--did we design
 
that--or do these, 
like currents, whine 
in and out among us merely

as we arrive and go:
this is just a place:
the reality we agree with,

that agrees with us, 
outbounding this, arrives 
to touch, joining with

us from far away:
our home which defines 
us is elsewhere but not

so far away we have 
forgotten it:
this is just a place.

From A Coast of Trees by A. R. Ammons, published by W. W. Norton & Company. Copyright © 1981 by the estate of A. R. Ammons. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

To everything, there is a season of parrots. Instead of feathers, we searched the sky for meteors on our last night.  Salamanders use the stars to find their way home. Who knew they could see that far, fix the tiny beads of their eyes on distant arrangements of lights so as to return to wet and wild nests? Our heads tilt up and up and we are careful to never look at each other. You were born on a day of peaches splitting from so much rain and the slick smell of fresh tar and asphalt pushed over a cracked parking lot. You were strong enough—even as a baby—to clutch a fistful of thistle and the sun himself was proud to light up your teeth when they first swelled and pushed up from your gums. And this is how I will always remember you when we are covered up again: by the pale mica flecks on your shoulders. Some thrown there from your own smile. Some from my own teeth. There are not enough jam jars to can this summer sky at night. I want to spread those little meteors on a hunk of still-warm bread this winter. Any trace left on the knife will make a kitchen sink like that evening air

the cool night before
star showers: so sticky so
warm so full of light
 

Copyright © 2017 by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 7, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Phones were ringing

in the pockets of the living
and the dead

the living stepped carefully among.
The whole still room

was lit with sound—like a switchboard—
and those who could answer

said hello. Then
it was just the dead, the living

trapped inside their bloody clothes
ringing and ringing them—

and this was
the best image we had

of what made us a nation.
 

Copyright © 2017 by Wayne Miller. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 9, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

That the deepest wound is the least unique
surprises nobody but the living.
Secretly, and with what feels like good reason,
we’re the pain the people we love
put the people they no longer love in.

Copyright © 2017 by Graham Foust. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 5, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.