Between Hanoi and Sapa there are clean slabs of rice fields
and no two brick houses in a row.
I mean, no three—
See, counting’s hard in half-sleep, and the rain pulls a sheet
over the sugar palms and their untroubled leaves.
Hours ago, I crossed a motorbike with a hog strapped to its seat,
the size of a date pit from a distance.
Can this solitude be rootless, unhooked from the ground?
No matter. The mind resides both inside and out.
It can think itself and think itself into existence.
I sponge off the eyes, no worse for wear.
My frugal mouth spends the only foreign words it owns.
At present, on this sleeper train, there’s nowhere to arrive.
Me? I’m just here in my traveler’s clothes, trying on each passing town for size.
From Eye Level (Graywolf Press, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Jenny Xie. Used with the permission of Graywolf Press.
Sometimes the mythologies of a city are true—
like when I see a blond man bob for red apples
in the street selling records side by side with a black cat
wound in a cushion, deep in dream. Josh says
he does not want to go see Anne Frank, that this kind of tourism
depresses him, the one where the demonstration of grief
is like a voyeuristic tug at suffering
that is not yours to possess. How do you eat after that,
he seems sad today. How do you stay alive.
When he was young, he visited Auschwitz and told
me not to go because it had a gift shop and that
made him angry and nobody knows how to grieve
in public, how to make public space for loss
unless you can make money off of it but really
there is something else to his anger, the child
abandoned, the residue of a young girl’s life turned
into a petting zoo—this he cannot take.
I have become like my mother where I don’t
need sleep in a new city anymore, immune to
time shifts, I just wander and buy fruit
and almonds and a good loaf
of bread and today, some fresh juice, skipping museums
though I want to go back to see Anne Frank’s
house this time, because this time,
I am a woman and last time, I was a girl
and when you are a girl, all you see is another girl
and when you are a woman, all you see is history
careening towards a girl who you cannot protect.
In my Amsterdam apartment, I find a ceramic plate
with its rim edge folded in five places where a violet petal
has been painted at its compression. In it, I pour
some olive oil and a little bit of salt and sit
on the white couch overlooking the new
neon green blooms gathering on a branch
outside the large window directly facing an apartment
of a bookish couple, the kind who forget
they have bodies and think they are better
than those who are bodily which is most everyone else
in the world but the girl in the couple is lying
and misses the small animal inside her
crying for her breakfast.
What she needs is food, not Yeats.
What she needs is your fingers.
The apartment has tulips and pink depression glass
and cacti of all heights like reptilian skyscrapers.
I am thinking of Harlem in Amsterdam.
Sometimes I go there to hide.
I go there to eat at a bistro owned by a lady
named Fay. Fay is older with light eyes and her whole
family works this place and her grandson
is behind the bar and he’s just seventeen and a soccer
player and this week got into Dartmouth and I ask
her if she thinks he’ll be happy, being a black
kid at Dartmouth, but Fey is Queen Fey
and knows better than to answer questions
about race at dinner time especially in front
of all these nice people.
In Amsterdam, the cold sunlight of April
grows the dandelions in the gutter and when
you get to 263 to see Anne Frank’s house (only
from the outside) the building is not as tall
as you remember and you wonder what the ceilings
were like for a young girl and you imagine
her face, I imagine her face and think
maybe something bad happened to Josh
when he was a kid and you see her
face in the window, her face lit up in story,
her face in love and in fear, and you are in Amsterdam
when the American president bombs Syria.
You say American president as if you are not
an American and as if he is not your president.
You promised that he would not make his way
into any poem, but here he is bombing
Syria and here is he is in your poem
and here is her face spreading all over
Europe and here is your face, Anne,
spreading all over Europe and
here is your face, your face, your face.
Copyright © 2018 by Megan Fernandes. “Amsteradm” originally appeared in the Bennington Review. Reprinted with permission of the author.
You’re used to it, the way,
in the first wide-eyed
minutes, climbing from parking lot
to fire trail, or rifling through
cupboards in a rented kitchen,
I can’t help but tell you
we should visit here again,
my reverie inserting
a variation in the season,
or giving friends the room
next door, in stubborn panic
to fix this happiness in place
by escaping from it.
“We’re here now,” you say,
holding out the book I bought
with its dog-eared maps and lists
and, on the cover, a waterfall,
white flecks frozen, very close.
Copyright © 2017 by Nate Klug. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 23, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
The earth expanding right hand and left hand,
The picture alive, every part in its best light,
The music falling in where it is wanted, and stopping where it is not wanted,
The cheerful voice of the public road, the gay fresh sentiment of the road.
O highway I travel, do you say to me Do not leave me?
Do you say Venture not—if you leave me you are lost?
Do you say I am already prepared, I am well-beaten and undenied, adhere to me?
O public road, I say back I am not afraid to leave you, yet I love you,
You express me better than I can express myself,
You shall be more to me than my poem.
I think heroic deeds were all conceiv’d in the open air, and all free poems also,
I think I could stop here myself and do miracles,
I think whatever I shall meet on the road I shall like, and whoever beholds me shall like me,
I think whoever I see must be happy.
This poem is in the public domain.
Christopher and Helen, our new expatriate friends,
meet us at their favorite winery
where they fill their plastic jerry cans from hoses
exactly like the ones at gas stations,
as though they were planning to go back home to Aix
and treat their lawnmower to a nice red.
Instead, they take us in their forest green Peugeot
to the home of their old friend Brigitte
in a village at the foot of Mont Ventoux—
actually, not a village, Brigitte corrects me,
but “un hameau,” a hamlet. The French
are exacting about such distinctions, but Brigitte
has a kind, mischievous smile. Back in the car,
we tear along a series of rutted, stony roads
that web the mountainside, with Brigitte
directing Christopher, “à droite, à gauche, encore à gauche,”
until we come to a grove of pines, cedars, and oaks,
where she says the mushrooms are hidden.
We fan out under the trees, searching the slope,
while Brigitte, looking elfin in her orange hoodie,
waves a stick like a wand, pokes at the dried pine needles
or the dead leaves under the wild boxwood bushes,
and sings, “I think there are some over here,”
like a mother leading her toddlers toward the Easter eggs.
We laugh and follow after her, cutting the stems
with a tarnished knife she lends us, warning
“Faites attention,” because the blade is sharp.
And gradually we fill our plastic shopping bags
with gnarled orange caps, stained green,
which, much later, back in the States, I learn
are called Lactarius deliciosus or
orange-latex milky, like a shade of paint,
the field guide commenting “edible, although
not as good as the name deliciosus suggests”—
but we already suspect that (they look awful),
and we will later unload most of ours on
Christopher and Helen who clearly think of them
as a delicacy… but right now we’re
having fun just hunting for them
among the sunspots on the forest floor,
filling our bags, and shouting through the trees
to one another, the whole afternoon gathering
into the giddy moment that Brigitte keeps
calling us back to—and it’s delicious.
Copyright © 2017 by Jeffrey Harrison. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 3, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
There was a road ran past our house
Too lovely to explore.
I asked my mother once—she said
That if you followed where it led
It brought you to the milk-man’s door.
(That’s why I have not traveled more.)
“The Unexplorer” was published in A Few Figs From Thistles (Harper & Brothers, 1922). This poem is in the public domain.
I took the night train there,
To cross the straits
my boxcar crept onto a barge—there was screeching,
several tremendous thuds,
then with a growl
I was already half-awake,
anxious for a volcano, neolithic shrines,
islands to explore
off the main island…
At my stop,
early morning’s tarnish
fell on a shuttered newspaper stand
and torn campaign posters.
A child playing near a livestock car
sang about a weapon
detonated in another nation,
From the station
and the song,
I walked up the mountain road
to a garden where grizzly men with camera phones
greeted me, sleep still
in the corners of their eyes,
bougainvillea around their tents.
I was to be eternalized
and therefore loved.
They waxed my nose
and powdered my nether regions.
After oatmeal and coffee,
I was Jupiter’s—
his bardash, his
Ganymede, ningle, ingle,
against a Doric column.
I felt numb a night later as rosemary blew through the lava
Copyright © 2015 by Greg Wrenn. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 13, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
What new name will you bear in a world governed by code and calculation
What program will reveal the ratio between communal identities and the loss of the body
You are not known or pronounced
Your nonce nonchalance does not convince
Your scores are neither high enough to qualify, nor deep enough to be legible, nor detailed enough to play from
Custodian of nothing, childless, rude and startled
So many scintillating shards or conversations when things shatter
Savagely unbodied by the microscopic architecture of psalmless palm
Drawn means tired or created or a naked sword or tied up and torn asunder
It’s not loving someone who can’t love you back, but the end of loving them that’s the saddest
Now emotional intimacy has tech, yoga has tech, sex has tech, even tech has tech
You don’t even know what day it is, what the weather is like or where you’re supposed to be next
Let yourself be found like water through rocks, you are what’s lost, you are the pool collecting in the ground
Speak now speak always speak in the long undrawn colloquy of night
Copyright © 2018 Kazim Ali. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Kenyon Review, September/October 2018.
translated by Natascha Bruce
1. Two Worlds this city I come from when I come here its deep recesses wield twilight like a knife slicing the world in two the world begins with a slot machine but its end is nowhere to be found within the world someone detonates the night knocks at the gates of ruin a flash of fortune and the night is purgatory hot in the city's heart people and fire are as one “Save me! Oh, save me!” the flash bulbs no longer neutral no longer recording no longer capturing “Save me! Oh, save me!” chroniclers become victims history can be like that unclear whom to blame beyond this world unclear who belongs where we remember only after-dinner drinks nighttime within the world chatting at a harbor-view bar perfume fancy clothes hair spray and English-Chinese-Portuguese mixing like makeup melted on a face hard spirits at Opiarium vodkas at Casablanca ice cubes leaching color then spilling over with it wave after wave of neon faces mixed up like melted makeup cologne-scented men raising glasses to toast the slow procession of headlights merry christmas and a happy new year welcome back, happy reunion happy twenty-first century happy happy down this drink and we're happy amid the happy sounds people sing raucously in Kun Iam’s bay urinate beneath her lotus dais, a drunken stream toss glasses in the water, an arc of laughter at the harbor-view bar, our laughter drowns the song atop her lotus dais beautiful as a mermaid out of place as concessions and colonies history can be like that while gods can switch their faces we remain the same 2. The Last Night of Hotel Bela Vista this city I come from when I come here at its high points in an old sea-view building Westerners are reminiscing Chinese are disputing with foreigners reunification or handover we raise half-glasses of red wine to mourn Bela Vista thinking of a hundred-year-old hotel on this new page of history kept chaste as a young maiden for a single representative of a single country the jazz musician can't help but play a sad postcolonial tune waiters in starched white uniforms approach the walkway’s pale-yellow pillars to water oleanders redder than wine the blossoms count lamp shadows that come with the falling mist misty recesses obscure the lanterns at the end of the walkway and high above a white ceiling fan sheds no color still as days not yet begun there is no today, no tomorrow no need to weep or say good-bye but the days will start with this sad farewell song before the tune is over secret lovers drain their cups dry, red-eyed glances saying let’s keep hold of this night let’s linger beneath the oleanders like a clichéd war romance history can be like that a constant cycle of invasion and retreat thinking of tomorrow they return to the long table forget that intoxicating floral scent and with the red-jacketed musician in the background sit as wooden as colonial ladies among the glint of glasses a silver knife traces scar after scar men and women are careful, gracious meat juices on snow-white porcelain are slick, crimson we clink glasses drink up the scenery we cannot fall in love with 3. That’s how it goes this city I come from when I come here across its wide expanses the century says good-bye to the insatiable desire of flash bulbs and zoom lenses for shot after shot of wiped-away tears gone then here again, here again then gone the lone eye of the lighthouse must stay silent he long since saw through all this it's nothing but the money-making game of the chroniclers and chronicled when the lone eye blinks once again beneath the flash bulbs and the zoom lenses the Chinese Westerners Macanese will be as one no disputes chroniclers and chronicled as one reunification, yes, reunification across the wide expanses within the century night mists whip darkness across the sky the glimmer in the lone eye dims like God's glory it can only rally, never meet where the black mists settle the night is as heavy as history weighing on my eyes it aches, how it aches and I'm sleepy thinking of before the mists of the flash bulbs and zoom lenses and the city they sought but we the chroniclers and the chronicled in a flash, a few fleeting moments forget that era forget that city's name to forget, oh, to forget the chroniclers and the chronicled this city I come from has no name that’s how it goes neither do I that’s how it goes
Originally published in the August 2018 issue of Words Without Borders. Copyright © Agnes Lam. Used with permission of the author. Translation © 2018 by Natascha Bruce. All rights reserved.
she says & it’s the first time
the word doesn’t hurt. I respond
by citing something age-inappropriate
from Aristotle, drawing mostly
from his idea that hands are what make us
human, every gesture the embodiment
of our desire for invention or care & I’m not
sure about that last part but it seemed
like a polite response at the time
& I’m not accustomed to not needing
to fight. If my hands speak with conviction
then blame my stupid mouth for its lack
of weaponry or sweetness. I clap when I’m angry
because it’s the best way to get the heat out.
Pop says that my words are bigger
than my mouth but these hands
can block a punch, build a bookcase,
feed a child & when’s the last time
you saw a song do that?
Copyright © 2014 Joshua Bennett. “You Are So Articulate With Your Hands” was originally published in Smartish Pace. Used with permission of the author.
My mother used to say the heart makes music, but I've never found the keys. Maybe it's the way I was brought into the world: dragged across a river in the night's quiet breathing, trampling through trash and tired runaways as if tearing a window's curtains. We were barred from entry but repeatedly returned, each time becoming a darker part of a tunnel or a truck bed. The sky was so still the stars flickered like carbide lamps. We told time through the landmarks of the dead like cataphiles—the warren of a little girl’s murder, the wolf’s irrigation pipe. When you see enough unwinding, beating is replaced by the safety of wings. This isn't goodness. The voiceless are never neutral. Bones sway to elegy. Ebony burrows into the earth as a refugee. I grew up, eventually, but the sun was like a cliff with a false bottom: you'd drop and come out the top again. Enough carcasses draped over the dry brush. Enough water towers empty as busted rattles. When you're a child, the heart has a stiff neck and demands to be played. Later, it limps. Before my knees could begin to ache, I crawled to the levee looking for a broken string. Some wayward zil. I stretched my heart over a manhole and drummed it with broken pliers. It wouldn’t even quaver. It snapped back into a seed, dry and shriveled and blank.
Copyright © 2018 by Rodney Gomez. This poem originally appeared in Citizens of the Mausoleum (Sundress Publications, 2018). Used with permission of the author.
This is not how it begins but how you understand it. I walk many kilometers and find myself to be the same— the same moon hovering over the same, bleached sky, and when the officer calls me it is a name I do not recognize, a self I do not recognize. We are asked to kneel, or stand still, depending on which land we embroider our feet with— this one is copious with black blood or so I am told. Someone calls me by the skin I did not know I had and to this I think—language, there must be a language that contains us all that contains all of this. How to disassemble the sorrow of beginnings, how to let go, and not, how to crouch beneath other bodies how to stop breathing, how not to. Our fathers are not elders here; they are long-bearded men shoving taxi cabs and sprawled in small valet parking lots— at their sight, my body dims its light (a desiccated grape) and murmur, Igziabher Yistilign— our pride, raw-purple again. We begin like this: all of us walking in solitude walking a desert earth and unforgiving bodies. We cross lines we dare not speak of; we learn and unlearn things quickly, or intentionally slow (because, that, we can control) and give ourselves new names because these selves must be new to forget the old blue. But, sometimes, we also begin like this: on a cold, cold night memorizing escape routes kissing the foreheads of small children hiding accat in our pockets, a rosary for safekeeping. Or, married off to men thirty years our elders big house, big job, big, striking hands. Or, thinking of the mouths to feed. At times we begin in silence; water making its way into our bodies— rain, or tears, or black and red seas until we are ripe with longing.
Copyright © 2018 by Mahtem Shiferraw. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 16, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets
You might say fear is a predictable emotion & I might agree. Whenever my husband leaves for his graveyard shift, when he prepares to walk out into the abyss of black sky, I am afraid tonight will be the night I become a widow. I don't want to love like this. But here we are: walking hand in hand in our parkas down the avenues & he pulls away from me. I might be in some dreamy place, thinking of the roast chicken we just had, the coconut peas & rice he just cooked, & how the food has filled our bellies with delight. How many times can I speak about black men & an officer enters the scene? I don't want to love like this. But there is a gun in the holster & a hand on the gun in the holster & my husband's hands are no longer in his pockets because it is night & we are just trying to breathe in some fresh evening air, trying to be unpredictable, to forget fear for a moment & live in love & love.
Copyright © 2018 by DéLana R. A. Dameron. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 25, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Famous people have been dying all week, and the Christmas tree just stopped drinking. Talk about omens. It's impossible to get the venetian blinds to stay level anymore. Everywhere I look, people are running the errands they won't remember by this time tomorrow. I remember how, years ago, I had to cut the fishing line caught in the high branches beside the Mullica River, sacrificing the lure that put a kink in my neck as I hunched over my own lap to tie it. I fear my wife will decide to spend my last decade on earth with a better man. I fear I'll be a footnote to somebody else's grandeur. I fear I'll die as painfully as I deserve. One by one, the bulbs of the chandelier go dead above our dining room table. I wish I could say the coming dark was taking me by surprise.
Copyright © 2017 Charles Rafferty. “Forecast” originally appeared in The Smoke of Horses (BOA Editions, 2017). Reprinted with permission by the author.
The hastily assembled angel saw One thing was like another thing and that Thing like another everything depend- ed on how high it was the place you saw Things from and he had seen the Earth from where A human couldn’t see the Earth and could- n’t tell most human things apart and though He hadn’t ever really understood His job he knew it had to do with seeing And what he saw was everything would come Together at the same time everything Would fall apart and that was humans thinking The world was meant for them and other things Were accidental or were decora- tions meant for them and therefore purposeful That humans thought that God had told them so And what the hastily assembled angel Thought was that probably God had said the same thing To every living thing on Earth and on- ly stopped when one said Really back but then Again the hastily assembled angel Couldn’t tell human things apart and maybe That Really mattered what would he have heard Holy or maybe Folly or maybe Kill me
Copyright © 2018 by Shane McCrae. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 21, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Lake Michigan dreamed me, I think,
in the winter of 1969, its long currents
combing shipwrecks and where
was my mama, then? (She was wearing
a red muumuu.) And where was my father,
then? (He was fishing for steelhead.)
No one dreamed you, stupid girl, the seagull
said — you came straight from the belly
of your granddad’s school mascot.
You wore plaid skirts and bruised your knees
and lived across the street from the motorcycle shop.
I remember dropping dimes in the jukebox;
I remember embers in the sand. Once I saw God
himself — a small boy running across the RV park
with a toy sword in his hand. I dreamed
we all lay down on the beach and the dunes
moved over our bodies. It took
ten thousand years of whispering,
but we finally slept. And before that?
the seagull asked. Before that I found comfort
in the fur of animals and the movement
of a boat on the water. I was warm
in my mother’s arms. Before that I was
a sonic boom over Wisconsin, and before that, fire.
Copyright © 2018 Karin Gottshall. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Kenyon Review, September/October 2018.
I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don't tell! they'd advertise – you know!
How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!
Poetry used by permission of the publishers and the Trustees of Amherst College from The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Ralph W. Franklin ed., Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Copyright © 1998 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © 1951, 1955, 1979 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.
Pretension has it
what’s gone by.
Yet I don’t believe it.
in this place
and the sun
comes, or goes
and comes again,
on the same day.
We live in a circle,
older or younger,
we go round
and around on this earth.
I was trying to remember
at your age.
From The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley, 1945–1975, by Robert Creeley, © 2006 by the Regents of the University of California. Published by the University of California Press. Used with permission of the University of California Press and the Estate of Robert Creeley.
I said a thoughtless word one day,
A loved one heard and went away;
I cried: “Forgive me, I was blind;
I would not wound or be unkind.”
I waited long, but all in vain,
To win my loved one back again.
Too late, alas! to weep and pray,
Death came; my loved one passed away.
Then, what a bitter fate was mine;
No language could my grief define;
Tears of deep regret could not unsay
The thoughtless word I spoke that day.
This poem is in the public domain.
I’ve seen the beauty of the rose,
I’ve heard the music of the bird,
And given voice to my delight;
I’ve sought the shapes that come in dreams,
I’ve reached my hands in eager quest,
To fold them empty to my breast;
While you, the whole of all I’ve sought—
The love, the beauty, and the dreams—
Have stood, thro’ weal and woe, true at
My side, silent at my neglect.
From The Poems of Alexander Lawrence Posey (Crane & Co., 1910). This poem is in the public domain.