I have gazed the black flower blooming
her animal eye. Gacela oscura. Negra llorona.
Along the clayen banks I follow her-astonished,
gathering grief’s petals she lets fall like horns.
Why not now go toward the things I love?
Like Jacob’s angel, I touched the garnet of her wrist,
and she knew my name. And I knew hers—
it was Auxocromo, it was Cromóforo, it was Eliza.
It hurtled through me like honeyed-rum.
When the eyes and lips are touched with honey
what is seen and said will never be the same.
Eve took the apple in that ache-opened mouth,
on fire and in pieces, from the knife’s sharp edge.
In the photo her fist presses against the red-gold
geometry of her thigh. Black nylon, black garter,
unsolvable mysterium—I have to close my eyes to see.
Achilles chasing Hektor round the walls of Ilium
three times. How long must I circle
the high gate above her knees?
Again the gods put their large hands in me,
move me, break my heart like a clay jar of wine,
loosen a beast from some darklong depth—
my melancholy is hoofed. I, the terrible beautiful
Lampon, a shining devour-horse tethered
at the bronze manger of her collarbones.
I do my grief work with her body—labor
to make the emerald tigers in her hips leap,
lead them burning green
to drink from the violet jetting her.
We go where there is love, to the river,
on our knees beneath the sweet water.
I pull her under four times
until we are rivered. We are rearranged.
I wash the silk and silt of her from my hands—
now who I come to, I come clean to, I come good to.
Copyright © 2015 by Natalie Diaz. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 21, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
My river was once unseparated. Was Colorado. Red-
fast flood. Able to take
anything it could wet—in a wild rush—
all the way to Mexico.
Now it is shattered by fifteen dams
over one-thousand four-hundred and fifty miles,
pipes and pumps filling
swimming pools and sprinklers
in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
To save our fish, we lifted them from our skeletoned river beds,
loosed them in our heavens, set them aster —
‘Achii ‘ahan, Mojave salmon,
Up there they glide, gilled with stars.
You see them now—
god-large, gold-green sides,
moon-white belly and breast—
making their great speeded way across the darkest hours,
rippling the sapphired sky-water into a galaxy road.
The blurred wake they drag as they make their path
through the night sky is called
‘Achii ‘ahan nyuunye—
our words for Milky Way.
Coyote too is up there, crouched in the moon,
after his failed attempt to leap it, fishing net wet
and empty, slung over his back—
a prisoner blue and dreaming
of unzipping the salmon’s silked skins with his teeth.
O, the weakness of any mouth
as it gives itself away to the universe
of a sweet-milk body.
Just as my own mouth is dreamed to thirst
the long desire-ways, the hundred-thousand light year roads
of your throat and thighs.
Copyright © 2015 by Natalie Diaz. Used with permission of the author.
Say despite all the churches with their unlocked doors and outstretched strangers’ palmskin, I hungered still —squandered when, fell through like a crumb, I sat waiting for discovery or disintegration—something marvelous teething at the surface—a crumb, devotional, religious ecstatic closer to being worthy Desire me ruthless and naked but still in my Sunday dress you opened the window—we humid and slept open into dreaming, yes, conduit. Conduit or nothing. Conduit or bust. Nothing or busted. Hug the breakwater’s edge more the grit, my fingers—whorl, the inches of all concrete make miles of this low, walled city. Pretend expansive with me like ocean. River. Lake. Bodies.
Copyright © 2018 by Jerika Marchan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 14, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Before this day I loved like an animal loves a human, with no way to articulate how my bones felt in bed or how a telephone felt so strange in my paw. O papa— I called out to no one— but no one understood. I didn’t even. I wanted to be caught. Like let me walk beside you on my favorite leash, let my hair grow long and wild so you can comb it in the off-hours, be tender to me. Also let me eat the meals you do not finish so I can acclimate, climb into the way you claim this world. Once, I followed married men: eager for shelter, my fur curled, my lust freshly showered. I called out, Grief. They heard, Beauty. I called out, Why? They said, Because I can and will. One smile could sustain me for a week. I was that hungry. Lithe and giddy, my skin carried the ether of a so-so self-esteem. I felt fine. I was fine, but I was also looking for scraps; I wanted them all to pet me. You think because I am a woman, I cannot call myself a dog? Look at my sweet canine mind, my long, black tongue. I know what I’m doing. When you’re with the wrong person, you start barking. But with you, I am looking out this car window with a heightened sense I’ve always owned. Oh every animal knows when something is wrong. Of this sweet, tender feeling, I was wrong, and I was right, and I was wrong.
Copyright © 2018 by Analicia Sotelo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 5, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
A woman has a window in her face: that is the truth. I look like my mother: that is the truth. I want to tell you I am not like her: that is the truth. I am ashamed walking in a woman’s body: that is the truth. I wish to take back everything I say: that is the truth. A window can be a mirror. It can also be a door: that is the truth. As a girl, my mother slept in a shack with no windows and one door: that is the truth. My grandma would slam windows: truth. A mother’s hands are stronger than God: truth. We often use fruit to describe a bruise, like plum or blackberry: truth. My mother’s window blackberried: truth. My mother’s door peached: truth. She loves peaches: that is the truth. My father could not stand them in our house: that is the truth. We had three doors and nine windows in our house: that is the truth. A woman has a face in her window: truth. A father has a window but I don’t know where it is: truth. What burrows is the peach fuzz, he said: that is the truth. I have never been close enough to a peach to eat one: truth. The worst things last on the skin: truth. I don’t like not having things: truth. My father has one door but I can’t find it: truth. Not all windows open: that is the truth. One night I see my father crying in the yard, head in his hands: that is the truth. I make things up that I want for myself: that is the truth.
Copyright © 2018 by Sara Borjas. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 26, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
imagine your heart is just a ball you learned to dribble up
and down the length of your driveway back home. slow down
control it. plant your feet in the soft blue of your mat and release
it is hard but slowly you are unlearning the shallow pant
of your childhood. extend your body—do not reach
for someone but something fixed and fleshless and certain—
fold flatten then lift your head like a cobra sure of the sun
waiting and ready to caress the chill
from its scales. inhale—try not to remember how desperate
you’ve been for touch—yes ignore it—that hitch of your heart
you got from mornings you woke to find momma hysterical
or gone. try to give up the certainty she’d never return
recall only the return and not its coldness. imagine her arms
wide to receive you imagine you are not a thing that needs
escaping. it is hard and though at times you are sure
you will always be the abandoned girl trying to abandon herself
push up arch deep into your back exhale and remember—
when it is too late to pray the end of the flood
we pray instead to survive it.
Copyright © 2018 by Brionne Janae. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 22, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
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.
Are atoms made of lots of circles? is the first thing my small son says when he wakes up. My mind swims around, trying to remember if molecules are bigger than atoms. In models of atoms, when they show what they look like, there are lots of circles, I say. The new chair of women’s studies at my alma mater is a man. He writes me without using my professional title to ask what I’ve been up to since graduation. His work, the letter says, has been mentioned on NPR. Quarks? I think, imagining electrons swimming in circles around neutrons. Before bed, I tell my son a story about when he was a small bear living with his bear family in a remote part of the forest. I describe the white snow, the black branches, the brightness of the cardinal on a top branch who greets him when he leaves his cottage. This is meant to be lulling. Bears hibernate in winter, he says. Do you want to be hibernating? I say. No! he is seized by a narrative impulse, his little body trembles with it. Tell how I could turn into a polar bear when I was cold and into a fearsome desert bear when I got hot! Tell how surprised everyone was. I tell all about it, the fearsomeness and the changing fur. How he once sat there half-polar and half-desert bear, sipping hot cocoa with marshmallows by the cozy fire. In the morning, I leave my son at school. I am dissatisfied with how they greet him. The teachers do not know of his powers. His fearsome magic. Have a good day, I say, kissing his crown. Have a good Friday at home, he says, following me to the door. Have a good shopping trip. At home I straighten my bed, turn it down, and slip back in. I lie very still, with pillow levees on either side of my body. My son is safe at school... I think. Most likely safe at school… I try not to think about what the ER doctor said, what machine guns do to human organs. I only tremble a little bit. A molecule, an atom, a particle, a quark, I think. A mourning dove calls, and it is lulling. Particle was the word that I forgot. This is what I’ve been up to since graduation.
Copyright © 2018 by Joanna Penn Cooper. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 5, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
In the mercy of the more hollow sister A serene fog of moons sprinkled with plum the vexed haint of Quasimoto is patient her tongue leaps from her mouth like a tombstone three times Smooth as ash her favorite word is ‘apothecary’ the bliss in me like the interior of a melting fear as she moves time with an even glance the boorish anvil of rain as she leads me into a gully farther into the hollow sister’s carny lungs teaching me to hear in silence as hearts do
Copyright © 2019 by manuel arturo abreu. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 1, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Which is to say that like a good theoretical objectified body, my identity was created not by me but by the various desires and beliefs of those around me. – Daniel Borzutzky My body is a small cave door it’s a slick whale a jubilant sea of tall grass that sways & makes its way across countries & lovers I love love-making I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in touch I have these breasts & some would want to come on hands & knees to worship them call me flower or desert Maybe I was only supposed to be stone or a baby eel long & layered a nun? I don’t remember ever saying yes just no I am searching for my own body not the one I was told is so I want to be always open like a canyon Maybe I was only supposed to be tree or temple In some circles I am just an open gate a sinful bauble Once someone said you are this & I never questioned it I am searching my own body for God or someone like her—
Copyright © 2018 by Yesenia Montilla. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 12, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Out of albumen and blood, out of amniotic brine, placental sea-swell, trough, salt-spume and foam, you came to us infinitely far, little traveler, from the other world— skull-keel and heel-hull socketed to pelvic cradle, rib-rigging, bowsprit-spine, driftwood-bone, the ship of you scudding wave after wave of what-might-never-have-been. Memory, stay faithful to this moment, which will never return: may I never forget when we first saw you, there on the other side, still fish-gilled, water-lunged, your eelgrass-hair and seahorse-skeleton floating in the sonogram screen like a ghost from tomorrow, moth-breath quicksilver in snowy pixels, fists in sleep-twitch, not yet alive but not not, you who were and were not, a thunder of bloodbeats sutured in green jags on the ultrasound machine like hooves galloping from eternity to time, feet kicking bone-creel and womb-wall, while we waited, never to waken in that world again, the world without the shadow of your death, with no you or not-you, no is or was or might-have-been or never-were. May I never forget when we first saw you in your afterlife which was life, soaked otter-pelt and swan-down crowning, face cauled in blood and mucus-mud, eyes soldered shut, wet birth-cord rooting you from one world to the next, you who might not have lived, might never have been born, like all the others, as we looked at every pock and crook of your skull, every clotted hair, seal-slick on your blue-black scalp, every lash, every nail, every pore, every breath, with so much wonder that wonder is not the word—
Copyright © 2018 by Suji Kwock Kim. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 4, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
On TV, someone is selling the idea of buying by way of a happy family by way of a cleaning product. I want—, I say. Then your mouth on my mouth. Your mouth on my belly. And then. I was never good at being a girl. All those hands made dirty work. Once, my grandmother scooped the Tennessee soil, put it in my mouth. It tasted true. I wanted more. In my steepled city steeped in song, I pitied that christian god his labor. He made marrow and astonishment of us. We made bludgeon of him, bland bread of his son. My neighbor used to be a missionary. Now he spends days painting a bird pecking at the eyeballs of a dead girl. In the painting, you can only see the bird. See how the artist probes the light so the feathers shimmer. Beautiful, the TV mother says to each guest as the house burns down. She sashays through the parlor, stopping to nibble on a stuffed mushroom, dab sweat from the brow of a dignitary. Everything is a metaphor until the body abuts it. Even then. Metaphor with blood. Metaphor with teeth. Metaphor with epinephrine. I name each blow desire. Look how your hand revises my form. Extraordinary ability. Prodigal child. You leave and take your weather with you. I take your language to polish my wound, but rarely do I dare to mean anything at all. A poem is evidence of nothing. You cannot prosecute with a poem. I thought your violence made me good. I thought your desire made me beautiful though the signs chirping wanted all had your face. Maybe you’ve named me innocent after living so long in my mouth. I, for one, always fall in love with the person holding the pen. What will you bring me when I tell you what I’ve done? Lobster, slant of light, doilied petition, blond girl playing scales on the violin? Oh, I will reach right through her. I will extract her best music.
Copyright © 2018 by Claire Schwartz. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 10, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Let them come for what’s left: a chorus of bone, river and soot. Worthy enough. Holy enough. Like all the others, singular—or not. Wanting only for your name to blue my lips and call it miracle. Our love double-knotted, saddle-stitched held the world together. Until it didn’t— all the words you placed in me flushed and faltered. From memory, I recited their worn prattle—cut them clean with my bite. The jungle we made in blame grew and grew, fed on our melancholy. Not even the birds knew to change their songs.
Copyright © 2018 by Vandana Khanna. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 24, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Every day I am born like this—
No chingues. Nothing happens
for the first time. Not the neon
sign that says vacant, not the men
nor the jackals who resemble them.
I take my bones inscribed by those
who came before, and learn
to court myself under a violence
of stars. I prefer to become demon,
what their eyes cannot. Half of me
is beautiful, half of me is a promise
filled with the quietest places.
Every day I pray like a dog
in the mirror and relish the crux
of my hurt. We know Lilith ate
the bones of her enemies. We know
a bitch learns to love her own ghost.
Copyright © 2018 by Erika L. Sánchez. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 27, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
I don’t call it sleep anymore.
I’ll risk losing something new instead—
like you lost your rosen moon, shook it loose.
But sometimes when I get my horns in a thing—
a wonder, a grief or a line of her—it is a sticky and ruined
fruit to unfasten from,
despite my trembling.
Let me call my anxiety, desire, then.
Let me call it, a garden.
Maybe this is what Lorca meant
when he said, verde que te quiero verde—
because when the shade of night comes,
I am a field of it, of any worry ready to flower in my chest.
My mind in the dark is una bestia, unfocused,
hot. And if not yoked to exhaustion
beneath the hip and plow of my lover,
then I am another night wandering the desire field—
bewildered in its low green glow,
belling the meadow between midnight and morning.
Insomnia is like Spring that way—surprising
and many petaled,
the kick and leap of gold grasshoppers at my brow.
I am struck in the witched hours of want—
I want her green life. Her inside me
in a green hour I can’t stop.
Green vein in her throat green wing in my mouth
green thorn in my eye. I want her like a river goes, bending.
Green moving green, moving.
Fast as that, this is how it happens—
soy una sonámbula.
And even though you said today you felt better,
and it is so late in this poem, is it okay to be clear,
to say, I don’t feel good,
to ask you to tell me a story
about the sweet grass you planted—and tell it again
until I can smell its sweet smoke,
leave this thrashed field, and be smooth.
Copyright © 2017 by Natalie Diaz. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 5, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
my roommate one year in college would say of my smallness that any man who found me attractive had a trace of the pedophilic & i would shrink newly girled twenty-one with my eyebrows plucked to grownup arches sprouting back every three weeks in sharp little shoots already men have tried to steal me in their taxis corral me into alleyways of the new city already the demand for my name though no one ever asks how old i am though no one ever did i feel creaking & ancient in the repetition of it all i feel my girlhood gone for generations my entire line of blood crowded with exhausted women their unlined faces frozen in time with only a thickness about the waist a small shoot of gray to belie the years i make up names to hand to strangers at parties i trim years from my age & share without being asked that i am fifteen seventeen & no one blinks no one stops wanting i am disappeared like all the girls before me around me all the girls to come everyone thinks i am a little girl & still they hunt me still they show their teeth i am so tired i am one thousand years old one thousand years older when touched
Copyright © 2019 by Safia Elhillo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 13, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
after a bottle of chianti Don’t mistake me, I’ve pondered this before. But tonight I’m serious. One bottle and the end is certain. Tomorrow: Lawyer. Boxes. Road map. More wine. while walking the dog Paris won’t even notice. I’ll feed the pup, pack a quick bag, take out the trash, and slip away into the night. Home to Sparta. Or Santa Monica. An island off the southernmost tip of Peru. Disappear. Like fog from a mirror. while paying the bills Guess I’ll have to give up that whole new career plan. Academic dreams. House-and-yard dreams. Stay on like this a few more years. Or forever. Face the bottomless nights in solitude. Wither. Drink. Write poems about dead ends. Drink more. Work. Pay rent. End. when Paris comes home drunk Call Clytemnestra. Make a plan. Move a few things into Clym’s spare room, storage for the rest. Set up arbitration. File what needs to be filed. Head to Athens. Or back to Crown Heights. Maybe find a roommate in Fort Greene. All I know is out out out. Sure, I can blame the past or the scotch or my own smartmouth or my worst rage, but blame is a word. I need a weapon. when Menelaus writes a letter As if. from the ocean floor Bathtub. Ocean. Whichever. All this water. Yes, Paris pulled me from the ruby tub. Menelaus fed me to the river a year before that. Metaphorical, and not at all. O, a girl and her water. Such romance. Gaudy. And gauche. How do I leave what cared enough to keep me? What of those goddamn ships? That ridiculous horse? All those men? Now, wretched little me. All this dizzy sadness. How many kings to tame one woman? Silence her? How many to put her under?
Copyright © 2019 by Jeanann Verlee. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 26, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.