But you can have the fig tree and its fat leaves like clown hands
gloved with green. You can have the touch of a single eleven-year-old finger
on your cheek, waking you at one a.m. to say the hamster is back.
You can have the purr of the cat and the soulful look
of the black dog, the look that says, If I could I would bite
every sorrow until it fled, and when it is August,
you can have it August and abundantly so. You can have love,
though often it will be mysterious, like the white foam
that bubbles up at the top of the bean pot over the red kidneys
until you realize foam's twin is blood.
You can have the skin at the center between a man's legs,
so solid, so doll-like. You can have the life of the mind,
glowing occasionally in priestly vestments, never admitting pettiness,
never stooping to bribe the sullen guard who'll tell you
all roads narrow at the border.
You can speak a foreign language, sometimes,
and it can mean something. You can visit the marker on the grave
where your father wept openly. You can't bring back the dead,
but you can have the words forgive and forget hold hands
as if they meant to spend a lifetime together. And you can be grateful
for makeup, the way it kisses your face, half spice, half amnesia, grateful
for Mozart, his many notes racing one another towards joy, for towels
sucking up the drops on your clean skin, and for deeper thirsts,
for passion fruit, for saliva. You can have the dream,
the dream of Egypt, the horses of Egypt and you riding in the hot sand.
You can have your grandfather sitting on the side of your bed,
at least for a while, you can have clouds and letters, the leaping
of distances, and Indian food with yellow sauce like sunrise.
You can't count on grace to pick you out of a crowd
but here is your friend to teach you how to high jump,
how to throw yourself over the bar, backwards,
until you learn about love, about sweet surrender,
and here are periwinkles, buses that kneel, farms in the mind
as real as Africa. And when adulthood fails you,
you can still summon the memory of the black swan on the pond
of your childhood, the rye bread with peanut butter and bananas
your grandmother gave you while the rest of the family slept.
There is the voice you can still summon at will, like your mother's,
it will always whisper, you can't have it all,
but there is this.
From Bite Every Sorrow by Barbara Ras, published by Louisiana State University Press, 1998. Copyright © 1997 by Barbara Ras. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Mahalia Jackson is a genius. Or Mahalia Jackson has genius. The man I am with is trying to make a distinction. I am uncomfortable with his need to make this distinction because his inquiry begins to approach subtle shades of racism, classism, or sexism. It is hard to know which. Mahalia Jackson never finished the eighth grade, or Mahalia’s genius is based on the collision of her voice with her spirituality. True spirituality is its own force. I am not sure how to respond to all this. I change the subject instead.
We have just seen George Wein’s documentary, Louis Armstrong at Newport, 1971. In the auditorium a room full of strangers listened to Mahalia Jackson sing “Let There Be Peace on Earth” and stood up and gave a standing ovation to a movie screen. Her clarity of vision crosses thirty years to address intimately each of us. It is as if her voice has always been dormant within us, waiting to be awakened, even though “it had to go through its own lack of answers, through terrifying silence, (and) through the thousand darknesses of murderous speech.”
Perhaps Mahalia, like Paul Celan, has already lived all our lives for us. Perhaps that is the definition of genius. Hegel says, “Each man hopes and believes he is better than the world which is his, but the man who is better merely expresses this same world better than the others.” Mahalia Jackson sings as if it is the last thing she intends to do. And even though the lyrics of the song are, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me,” I am hearing, Let it begin in me.
Copyright © 2004 by Claudia Rankine. From Don’t Let Me Be Lonely (Graywolf Press, 2004). Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.
To have been told “I love you” by you could well be, for me,
the highlight of my life, the best feeling, the best peak
on my feeling graph, in the way that the Chrysler building
might not be the tallest building in the NY sky but is
the best, the most exquisitely spired, or the way that
Hank Aaron’s career home-run total is not the highest
but the best, the one that signifies the purest greatness.
So improbable! To have met you at all and then
to have been told in your soft young voice so soon
after meeting you: "I love you." And I felt the mystery
of being that you, of being a you and being
loved, and what I was, instantly, was someone
who could be told "I love you" by someone like you.
I was, in that moment, new; you were 19; I was 22;
you were impulsive; I was there in front of you, with a future
that hadn't yet been burned for fuel; I had energy;
you had beauty; and your eyes were a pale blue,
and they backed what you said with all they hadn't seen,
and they were the least ambitious eyes I'd known,
the least calculating, and when you spoke and when
they shone, perhaps you saw the feeling you caused.
Perhaps you saw too that the feeling would stay.
Copyright © 2016 by Matthew Yeager. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 31, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
our Father I do love to walk
down to the shore at dawn
while the ground is cold
and there sprinkle my cells
to smashed ocean radios
I dream that I was born
with no tongue and that
I can neither ask nor
answer nor understand
questions about where
I come from that the waves
are my clapping sisters
so many dark swallowed
ships my deleted thoughts
cannon and coin pulp
my new body and that any
one of a million canyons
trembling with the psalms
of stones is my easily
remembered mother who
easily remembers me
Copyright © 2016 by Nathan Parker. Used with permission of the author.
There are days I believe there ain' nothing to fear
I perk up for green lights, my engine on call
But it could be the zombies are already near
That sleep that we feed every day of the year
What's up with your friends when they circle the mall?
There are nights when I think I have no one to fear
My Mom watches Oprah to brighten the drear
You can keep your eyes open, see nothing at all
But it might be the zombies are already near
You think life is s'posed to be lived in this gear?
I been askin' that question till my brain has gone raw
Certain days I believed I had nothing to fear
I have dreams that I'm driving with no way to steer
You can growl like a cello; you can chat like a doll
Don't it seem like the zombies are already here?
I think fear itself is a whole lot to fear
I have watched CNN till it made my skin crawl
I might be a zombie that's already here
I been pounding this door but don' nobody hear
You can drink till you think that you're seven feet tall
There were midnights I danced without nothin' to fear
You can fly through your days until time is a smear
Maybe blaze up the bong or blog out a blog
There'll be days when it feels like there's nothing to fear
But you could be a zombie that's already here.
Copyright © 2014 by Tim Seibles. Originally published in Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.
if it doesn't come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don't do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don't do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don't do it.
if you're doing it for money or
don't do it.
if you're doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don't do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don't do it.
if it's hard work just thinking about doing it,
don't do it.
if you're trying to write like somebody
forget about it.
if you have to wait for it to roar out of
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.
if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you're not ready.
don't be like so many writers,
don't be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don't be dull and boring and
pretentious, don't be consumed with self-
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
don't add to that.
don't do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don't do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don't do it.
when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.
there is no other way.
and there never was.
From sifting through the madness for the Word, the line, the way by Charles Bukowski. Copyright © 2003 by the Estate of Charles Bukowski. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins. All rights reserved.
As virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say,
"The breath goes now," and some say, "No,"
So let us melt, and make no noise,
No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move;
'Twere profanation of our joys
To tell the laity our love.
Moving of the earth brings harms and fears,
Men reckon what it did and meant;
But trepidation of the spheres,
Though greater far, is innocent.
Dull sublunary lovers' love
(Whose soul is sense) cannot admit
Absence, because it doth remove
Those things which elemented it.
But we, by a love so much refined
That our selves know not what it is,
Inter-assured of the mind,
Care less, eyes, lips, and hands to miss.
Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion.
Like gold to airy thinness beat.
If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two:
Thy soul, the fixed foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if the other do;
And though it in the center sit,
Yet when the other far doth roam,
It leans, and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home.
Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
Like the other foot, obliquely run;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end where I begun.
This poem is in the public domain.
translated from the German by Edward Snow
Again and again, even though we know love’s landscape
and the little churchyard with its lamenting names
and the terrible reticent gorge in which the others
end: again and again the two of us walk out together
under the ancient trees, lay ourselves down again and again
among the flowers, and look up into the sky.
“Again and again, even though we know love’s landscape” from Uncollected Poems by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Edward Snow. Translation copyright © 1996 by Edward Snow.
Well, a great many things have been said
in the oven of hours. We have not been
shaken out of the magnolias. Today was another
hard day. And tomorrow will be harder. Well,
that sounds like our gong. But we’ll have
the boy’s birthday and we will have
music and cake. Well, I will think only
good thoughts and go up and talk to the rock.
C. D. Wright, "Poem without Angel Food" from ShallCross. Copyright © 2016 by C. D. Wright. Used with permission of The Permissions Company, Inc. on behalf of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org.