She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling place.
And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!
Written June 12, 1814. This poem is in the public domain.
—after a photograph by Alvin Baltrop
He looks through the wound of my life like it’s light. So I let him. The last cube of ice. Outside the tray. Where I found him. My lover. Melts atop this brick, as if it’s our last whiskey together. His brown, more fragrant, more dangerous than whiskey. You couldn’t miss him. Nothing lasts. Of promise. Such is the promise of light. Not even day breaks between us. Black joy, cresting over and over the summer sun. Kept a spiral of his hair, in a box, like a favour. His favourite pair of trainers. The taste of his lips where we first kissed. Where we first blissed. I couldn’t— though I tried. To keep him. Wouldn’t keep. Still. Nor true. Keep up. How could he keep me, when he refused to keep time? Didn’t keep me in compliments. Was I supposed to keep sweet? Look. We discovered day like it was fire. Flesh, like empire. Touch like bloodlight. Yes. Count me down like a missile. As of tomorrow and the day after. As of this darkening gelatin and silver. As of the moon and the monsoon rain. As of these piers. As of America and all its splendour. As of the alleyway and the archive. As of this F-stop. And this fuck. And the next. As of this click and shutter. As of the daffodil and every queer thing that obliterates winter.
Copyright © 2021 by Omotara James. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 4, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
From And Still I Rise by Maya Angelou. Copyright © 1978 by Maya Angelou. Reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc.
I chewed into the wreck of the world,
into the neckbone of the past that pursued me.
All the while, I moved toward extinction,
bearing the burden of damage, language of the protector.
A great apocalyptic wheeze adorned me with sand.
I foraged, first to find light dappling the leaves,
then breathed into an infinite power, feminine rust,
a coppery taste of salvage, leading me into a canopy
of the future. My mother was a mother of mothers,
modern before she was ancestral.
She was a woman who morphed into feline, back
to her human self before I woke each morning.
I lived not to sate my appetite but to crush it.
On my haunches, I craved what could not be seen.
I am desire. I am survival.
I sit under the tree waiting for hunger.
Copyright © 2022 by Tina Chang. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 30, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
This poem is in the public domain.