because my mother named me after a child borne still
to a godmother I’ve never met I took another way to be
known—something easier to remember inevitable
to forget something that rolls over the surface of thrush
because I grew tired of saying
no it’s pronounced… now I’m tired of not
conjuring that ghost I honor say it with me: Airea
rhymes with sarah
sarah from the latin meaning a “woman of high rank”
which also means whenever I ask anyone to hold me
in their mouth I sound like what I almost am
hear me out: I’m not a dee or a river
charging through working-class towns where union folk
cogwedge for plots & barely any house at all
where bosses mangle ethnic phonemes & nobody says one
word because checks in the mail so let’s end this
classist pretend where names don’t matter
& language is too heavy a lift my “e” is silent
like most people should be the consonant is sonorant
is a Black woman or one might say the spine
I translate to ‘wind’ in a country known for its iron
imply “lioness of God” in Jesus’ tongue
mean “apex predator” free of known enemy
fierce enough to harm or fast enough to run
all I’m saying is this:
the tongue has no wings to flee what syllables it fears
the mouth is no womb has no right to swallow up
what it did not make
Copyright © 2019 Airea D. Matthews. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 17, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
One ought not to have to care
So much as you and I
Care when the birds come round the house
To seem to say good-bye;
Or care so much when they come back
With whatever it is they sing;
The truth being we are as much
Too glad for the one thing
As we are too sad for the other here—
With birds that fill their breasts
But with each other and themselves
And their built or driven nests.
Always—I tell you this they learned—
Always at night when they returned
To the lonely house from far away
To lamps unlighted and fire gone gray,
They learned to rattle the lock and key
To give whatever might chance to be
Warning and time to be off in flight:
And preferring the out- to the in-door night,
They learned to leave the house-door wide
Until they had lit the lamp inside.
I didn’t like the way he went away.
That smile! It never came of being gay.
Still he smiled—did you see him?—I was sure!
Perhaps because we gave him only bread
And the wretch knew from that that we were poor.
Perhaps because he let us give instead
Of seizing from us as he might have seized.
Perhaps he mocked at us for being wed,
Or being very young (and he was pleased
To have a vision of us old and dead).
I wonder how far down the road he’s got.
He’s watching from the woods as like as not.
THE OFT-REPEATED DREAM
She had no saying dark enough
For the dark pine that kept
Forever trying the window-latch
Of the room where they slept.
The tireless but ineffectual hands
That with every futile pass
Made the great tree seem as a little bird
Before the mystery of glass!
It never had been inside the room,
And only one of the two
Was afraid in an oft-repeated dream
Of what the tree might do.
It was too lonely for her there,
And too wild,
And since there were but two of them,
And no child,
And work was little in the house,
She was free,
And followed where he furrowed field,
Or felled tree.
She rested on a log and tossed
The fresh chips,
With a song only to herself
On her lips.
And once she went to break a bough
Of black alder.
She strayed so far she scarcely heard
When he called her—
And didn’t answer—didn’t speak—
She stood, and then she ran and hid
In the fern.
He never found her, though he looked
And he asked at her mother’s house
Was she there.
Sudden and swift and light as that
The ties gave,
And he learned of finalities
Besides the grave.
This poem is in the public domain.
Lie to yourself about this and you will
forever lie about everything.
Everybody already knows everything
so you can
lie to them. That's what they want.
But lie to yourself, what you will
lose is yourself. Then you
turn into them.
For each gay kid whose adolescence
was America in the forties or fifties
the primary, the crucial
forever is coming out—
or not. Or not. Or not. Or not. Or not.
Involuted velleities of self-erasure.
Quickly after my parents
died, I came out. Foundational narrative
designed to confer existence.
If I had managed to come out to my
mother, she would have blamed not
me, but herself.
The door through which you were shoved out
into the light
was self-loathing and terror.
Thank you, terror!
You learned early that adults' genteel
fantasies about human life
were not, for you, life. You think sex
is a knife
driven into you to teach you that.
Copyright © 2012 by Frank Bidart. Used with permission of the author.
i wish them cramps.
i wish them a strange town
and the last tampon.
I wish them no 7-11.
i wish them one week early
and wearing a white skirt.
i wish them one week late.
later i wish them hot flashes
and clots like you
wouldn't believe. let the
flashes come when they
meet someone special.
let the clots come
when they want to.
let them think they have accepted
arrogance in the universe,
then bring them to gynecologists
not unlike themselves.
Copyright ©1991 by Lucille Clifton. Reprinted from Quilting: Poems 1987-1990 with the permission of BOA Editions, Ltd., 260 East Ave., Rochester, NY 14604.
They sing their dearest songs— He, she, all of them—yea, Treble and tenor and bass. And one to play; With the candles mooning each face... Ah, no; the years O! How the sick leaves reel down in throngs! They clear the creeping moss— Elders and juniors-—aye, Making the pathways neat And the garden gay; And they build a shady seat... Ah, no; the years, the years; See, the white storm-birds wing across! They are blithely breakfasting all— Men and maidens—yea, Under the summer tree, With a glimpse of the bay, While pet fowl come to the knee... Ah, no; the years O! And the rotten rose is ripped from the wall. They change to a high new house, He, she, all of them—aye, Clocks and carpets and chairs On the lawn all day, And brightest things that are theirs... Ah, no; the years, the years; Down their carved names the raindrop plows.
This poem is in the public domain.
How fresh, O Lord, how sweet and clean Are Thy returns! ev’n as the flow’rs in Spring, To which, besides their own demean The late-past frosts tributes of pleasure bring; Grief melts away Like snow in May, As if there were no such cold thing. Who would have thought my shrivel’d heart Could have recover’d greennesse? It was gone Quite under ground; as flow’rs depart To see their mother-root, when they have blown, Where they together All the hard weather, Dead to the world, keep house unknown. These are Thy wonders, Lord of power, Killing and quickning, bringing down to Hell And up to Heaven in an houre; Making a chiming of a passing-bell. We say amisse This or that is; Thy word is all, if we could spell. O that I once past changing were, Fast in Thy Paradise, where no flower can wither; Many a Spring I shoot up fair, Offring at Heav’n, growing and groning thither, Nor doth my flower Want a Spring-showre, My sinnes and I joyning together. But while I grow in a straight line, Still upwards bent, as if Heav’n were mine own, Thy anger comes, and I decline: What frost to that? what pole is not the zone Where all things burn, When Thou dost turn, And the least frown of Thine is shown? And now in age I bud again, After so many deaths I live and write; I once more smell the dew and rain, And relish versing: O, my onely Light, It cannot be That I am he On whom Thy tempests fell all night. These are Thy wonders, Lord of love, To make us see we are but flow’rs that glide; Which when we once can find and prove, Thou hast a garden for us where to bide. Who would be more, Swelling through store, Forfeit their Paradise by their pride.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on September 8, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.