The lake was (all along) a reservoir.        

                                My third grade trip was to a dam. 

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

                               I grow at the mercy of my mother. 

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

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

It will be game over.

                               My third grade self played squash.

My third grade self could have continued playing squash.

                               A child is an investment to a future.

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

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

Do you know what a country smells like?

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

Smells like teen spirit.

                                Smells like sweat moustache.

Smells like mercy lighting up a dam.

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

I don’t hate it here.

                                I don’t hate it anywhere.

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

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

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

                                All along, it was just me.

But did I even know?

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

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

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

I only know ill.

                               I only know mercy.


                               Have mercy.

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

                               I spend my day resting halved in warmth and shade.

I know what it will take to not burn me.

                               But I do not step out of the house.

And the house never steps out of me.

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

On a dusty rooftop in Giza, I tell Imam,
in another life, he and Hugh would have been
the best of friends. I picture Hugh, taking him
by the arm down the corniche
or the Cape, the cool night air refusing
silence. I hear their strings and tubes cutting through
beaming crowds in Imbaba and Soweto. Miriam
is serenading an open sea, clicking to the wind
by El Montaza. I see Biko
and Negm, side by side, in a crowded auditorium,
a whole generation huddled
around their voices. This is to say, in another
life revolution would be but
abstract. Biko would be a doctor,
perhaps in Durban. There would be no trains
for Hugh to sing of, save for those
that would bring him back to his loved
ones, safely. Negm would only be known
for love poems. What more
could one ask for? Let us not cheer
for those who would rather die
as soldiers when there is no
war. My whole life I have envied
the kind of thirst for music
that can be quenched by
Elvis and Sinatra. I have prayed
nightly for those I have idolized
to find a good night’s sleep
before deadly fame. What good is poetry
if it kills the poet? In another life, what must be said
here is but fairytale, ghost stories
for the rowdy children. Kanafani would live
in Acre, Baldwin would die
in Harlem, neither knowing the taste
of exile. I would write of bees
and clocks. I would not need men’s solemn
crooning to put me
to sleep. I would not mourn
the dead.

Copyright © 2021 by Hazem Fahmy. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 10, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

I was waiting for something
to arrive. I didn’t know what.
Something buoyed, something
sun knocked. I placed my palms
up, little pads of butter, expecting.
All day, nothing. Longer than
that. My hair grew, fell out,
grew. Outside my window, I felt
the flick of a tail in September
wind. A bobcat sauntered across
the grass before me, the black tip
of its tail a pencil I’d like to sharpen.
I immediately hushed, crouched,
became a crumpled shock of
joy to see something this wild,
not myself. It turned to look
at me, its body muscular in
the turning. In its mouth was
the tail of a mouse drained of
blood, dangling diorama of death.
Sharp eyes looking at me and then,
not. Its lack of fear, its slow stroll
across the stream’s bridge, fur
lacquering its teeth. Sometimes
what comes to us, we never called
for. How long had I been crouched
like that? I stood up, blood rush
trumpeting. My arms wrapped
themselves around myself, lifted.
It was as if a bank vault had
opened and I was just standing
there, stealing nothing.

Copyright © 2021 by Jane Wong. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 17, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

Deep inside the quiet deep parting of private seas
to leagues of muscular chants, there is a love
to be lost and broken    rearranged like blocks—
whose name we spell is not the issue—it is us not willing
to pay attention to architecture, its integrity, whether
it will last the shake    we go story after story
thinking the roof will know nothing of the ground.

from A Penny Saved (Willow Books, 2012) by Arisa White. Copyright © 2012 by Arisa White. Used with permission of the author.