Consider the palms. They are faces, eyes closed, their five spread fingers soft exclamations, sadness or surprise. They have smile lines, sorrow lines, like faces. Like faces, they are hard to read. Somehow the palms, though they have held my life piece by piece, seem young and pale. So much has touched them, nothing has remained. They are innocent, maybe, though they guess they have a darker side that they cannot grasp. The backs of my hands, indeed, are so different that sometimes I think they are not mine, shadowy from the sun, all bones and strain, but time on my hands, blood on my hands— for such things I have never blamed my hands. One hand writes. Sometimes it writes a reminder on the other hand, which knows it will never write, though it has learned, in secret, how to type. That is sad, perhaps, but the dominant hand is sadder, with its fear that it will never, not really, be written on. They are like an old couple at home. All day, each knows exactly where the other is. They must speak, though how is a mystery, so rarely do they touch, so briefly come together, now and then to wash, maybe in prayer. I consider my hands, palms up. Empty, I say, though it is exactly then that they are weighing not a particular stone or loaf I have chosen but everything, everything, the whole tall world, finding it light, finding it light as air.
Copyright © 2018 by James Richardson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 13, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Peonies, heavy and pink as ’80s bridesmaid dresses
and scented just the same. Sweet pea,
because I like clashing smells and the car
I drove in college was named that: a pea-green
Datsun with a tendency to backfire.
Sugar snap peas, which I might as well
call memory bites for how they taste like
being fourteen and still mourning the horse farm
I had been uprooted from at ten.
Also: sage, mint, and thyme—the clocks
of summer—and watermelon and blue lobelia.
Lavender for the bees and because I hate
all fake lavender smells. Tomatoes to cut
and place on toasted bread for BLTs, with or without
the b and the l. I’d like, too, to plant
the sweet alyssum that smells like honey and peace,
and for it to bloom even when it’s hot,
and also lilies, so I have something left
to look at when the rabbits come.
They always come. They are
always hungry. And I think I am done
protecting one sweet thing from another.
Copyright © 2018 Katherine Riegel. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Spring 2018.
Although it is midsummer, the great blue heron
holds darkest winter in his hunched shoulders,
those blue-turning-gray clouds
rising over him like a storm from the Pacific.
He stands in the black marsh
more monument than bird, a wizened prophet
returned from a vanished mythology.
He watches the hearts of things
and does not move or speak. But when
at last he flies, his great wings
cover the darkening sky, and slowly,
as though praying, he lifts, almost motionless,
as he pushes the world away.
From A Dragon in the Clouds (Broken Moon Press, 1989). Copyright © 1989 by Sam Hamill. Used with the permission of Eron Hamill.
for Wolf Kahn
If trees fall in a wood and no one hears them,
Do they exist except as a page of lines
That words of rapture or grief are written on?
They are lines too while alive, pointing away
From the primer of damped air and leafmold
That underlie, or would if certain of them
Were not melon or maize, solferino or smoke,
Colors into which a sunset will collapse
On a high branch of broken promises.
Or they nail the late summer’s shingles of noon
Back onto the horizon’s overlap, reflecting
An emptiness visible on leaves that come and go.
How does a life flash before one’s eyes
At the end? How is there time for so much time?
You pick up the book and hold it, knowing
Long since the failed romance, the strained
Marriage, the messenger, the mistake,
Knowing it all at once, as if looking through
A lighted dormer on the dark crest of a barn.
You know who is inside, and who has always been
At the other edge of the wood. She is waiting
For no one in particular. It could be you.
If you can discover which tree she has become,
You will know whether it has all been true.
From Plundered Hearts: New and Selected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014). Copyright © 2014 by J. D. McClatchy. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.
dew grass a fire shine mountain a lung pine cone the bone tsunami rock hawk jaw gravity a fall all consuming a song chirp for sunlight spine daggers cracking the sky an ocean paused in its crashing creature shake trip whistle rustle nut squirrel swish stump thunder or thump thump a swallowing you beautiful urchin you rot mound of moss.
Copyright © 2018 by Susan Landers. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 27, 2017. by the Academy of American Poets.