The Harvey Girls invaded Kansas that spring of the famine
nudged by sweet memories of cornfields in the snow.
       Okie weeders. Stranded in the orchards. Huts. Silos.

 

       Ah, the times they had—huts—racing down avenues
of rattly stalks, droopy and sere, oooo-eeee! roughhousing
       in jeans and poke bonnets until the laundry basin

 

       announced supper (thwacked) beans and jello (thwacked)
followed by coupling in the sheds. Alas that winter of the famine
       there were no sheds, and still they stayed, sullen

 

       girls of the south, squinting at yellow skies
out of verboten shacks. Alas that summer of the famine
       they breakfasted on leaves from gullies

 

       and the air tasted of acorns, ah, the meadows smelled of vanilla.
Alas that winter of the famine, their men lay down on the highways,
       and their women lay down with them, and felt the hot truck wind.

 

       Alas ladies in the cities, clutching their scalloped hankies,
oiled up the icy sidewalks in the violet dusk
       and hitching up their leather garments, fell and sued.

 

       Taxes. Caverns. Cereal. Vegetate. Simple gestures
(entering attics, bikes wobbling, dogs sunning)
       lurched into something checkerboard, with every piece

 

       outsized, gummed to attract the police.
The Harvey Girls slept until came the spring of the glut.
       Thrumming, the weed machines released an ebony menace.

 

       That summer of the glut, the fields were like monsters in heat,
and the Harvey Girls, freckled and worn, smiled at the northern mistral,
       and headed on mules for the mountains, that autumn of the glut.

Poems by Kenward Elmslie are used by permission of The Estate of Kenward Elmslie.

Watts Riot, 1965

They had waited so long, they had given up too soon.
So much smog, smoke, haze the clearest blue was grey.
They had waited so long, they had given up too soon.
As if three hundred years had fallen to one day.

So much smog, smoke, haze the clearest blue was grey.
It was running away from him even then, the problem.
As if three hundred years had fallen to one day.
Haze, aqua, white, the coast, the beach, peach, slate.

It was running away from him even then, the problem.
Riding in a convertible through the mythic streets.
Haze, aqua, white, the coast, the beach, peach, slate.
Sunlight, palm trees, every boulevard ends at the beach.

Riding in a convertible through the mythic streets,
The rhythm of perfect days illuminating his disarray.
Sunlight, palm trees, every boulevard ends at the beach.
Following Sunset into the future, or tomorrow, at least.

The rhythm of perfect days illuminating his disarray.
As the sphinx that is the sun stares, nods, riddles.
Following Sunset into the future, or tomorrow, at least.
Slate blue, green, blue palms, lime, lavender, white, haze.

As the sphinx that is the sun stares, nods, riddles.
If a black man couldn’t be happy here, where could he?
Slate blue, green, blue palms, lime, lavender, white, haze.
Dreams of light, blossoms falling, pink and white.

If a black man couldn’t be happy here, where could he?
Shabby and pastel horizons, rolling brown paradise on fire.
Dreams of light, blossoms falling, pink and white.
As sunlight fans across the mirror of the bay.

Shabby and pastel horizons, rolling brown paradise on fire.
Pacifist mired in violence, staring at the Pacific—
As sunlight fans across the mirror of the bay.
He stared at the ocean before turning back into history.

Pacifist mired in violence, staring at the Pacific—
They had waited so long, they had given up too soon.
He stared at the ocean before turning back into history.
They had waited too long, they had given up too soon.

Copyright © 2015 by Anthony Walton. This poem was first printed in Black Renaissance Noire, Vol. 15, Issue 1 (Spring–Summer 2015). Used with the permission of the author.

and the boy
 
                          played
 
             with
the   mother’s

 
 
                                                    fluvial hair

           
 
                                     black

 
 
             her
 
     mosaic-frame

 
 
                                                    burnt umber

 

the daughter                   just

 

 
 
                        out of
 
                                       arms reach

 
 
                                                gone already

 

 

they found the boy in time to save him. many years
from  now  someone will tell him the awful truth of
all that was lost.               the bruises on their  backs.
shoulders. waists. how two women. mother.  sister.
carried him.   gave him their water.   on that day he
will learn   all there is  to  know  of brown  and gold

 

 

of

 

 

                          flesh

 

 

                                                                 and

 

             sand

Copyright © 2022 by Joaquín Zihuatanejo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 1, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

In the beginning, the ending was beautiful.
Early spring everywhere, the trees furred
pink and white, lawns the sharp green
that meant new. The sky so blue it looked
manufactured. Robins. We’d heard
the cherry blossoms wouldn't blossom
this year, but what was one epic blooming
when even the desert was an explosion
of verbena? When bobcats slinked through
primroses. When coyotes slept deep in orange
poppies. One New Year’s Day we woke
to daffodils, wisteria, onion grass wafting
through the open windows. Near the end,
we were eyeletted. We were cottoned.
We were sundressed and barefoot. At least
it’s starting gentle, we said. An absurd comfort,
we knew, a placebo. But we were built like that.
Built to say at least. Built to reach for the heat
of skin on skin even when we were already hot,
built to love the purpling desert in the twilight,
built to marvel over the pink bursting dogwoods,
to hold tight to every pleasure even as we
rocked together toward the graying, even as
we held each other, warmth to warmth,
and said sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry while petals
sifted softly to the ground all around us.

Copyright © 2020 by Catherine Pierce. From Danger Days (Saturnalia, 2020). Used with the permission of the poet.

Surely there was a river, once, but there is no river here. Only a sound of drowning in the dark between the trees. The sound of wet, and only that. Surely there was a country that I called my country, once. Before the thief who would be king made other countries of us all. Before the bright screens everywhere in which another country lives. But what is it, anyway, to live—to breathe, to act, to love, to eat? Surely there was a real earth, wild and green, here, blossoming. Land of milk and honey, once. Land of wind-swept plains and blood, then of shackles and of iron. And then the black smoke of its cities and the laying down of laws. Under which some flourished—if you call that flourishing—and from which others would have fled had there been anywhere to flee. My country, which is cruel, and which is beautiful and lost. Surely, there were notes that made a song, a pledge of birds. And not a child in any cage, no man or woman in a ditch. Surely, what we meant was to anoint some other god. One made of wind and starlight, pulsing, heart that matched the human heart. Surely that god watches us, now, one eye in the river, one eye where the river was.

 

Copyright © 2024 by Cecilia Woloch. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 4, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets.

I was leaving a country of rain for a country of apples. I hadn’t much time. I told my beloved to wear his bathrobe, his cowboy boots, a black patch like a pirate might wear over his sharpest eye. My own bags were full of salt, which made them shifty, hard to lift. Houses had fallen, face first, into the mud at the edge of the sea. Hurry, I thought, and my hands were like birds. They could hold nothing. A feathery breeze. Then a white tree blossomed over the bed, all white blossoms, a painted tree. “Oh,” I said, or my love said to me. We want to be human, always, again, so we knelt like children at prayer while our lost mothers hushed us. A halo of bees. I was dreaming as hard as I could dream. It was fast—how the apples fattened and fell. The country that rose up to meet me was steep as a mirror; the gold hook gleamed.

From Carpathia by Cecilia Woloch. Copyright © 2010 by Cecilia Woloch. Used by permission of BOA Editions, Ltd. All rights reserved.

Almost December.   Indifferent 
to seasons     the marigolds
persist. I am surprised by their pluck
and lack of propriety
their ability to ignore 
the inappropriate: 
a rusted leaking window box
a shaky fire escape
leading to a cemented street
below. They do not mourn
that all good things must 
come to an end     and accept 
that end as fate or destiny. 
Instead      without struggle 
or assessment of soil
moisture    heat     air    they continue
blooming      in chilling winter light
exactly as they did all summer. 

 

"Winter Light" from Her Birth and Later Years: New and Collected Poems1971-2021 © 2022 by Irena Klepfisz. Published by Wesleyan University Press. Used by permission.

If you are a child of a refugee, you do not
sleep easily when they are crossing the sea
on small rafts and you know they can’t swim.
My father couldn’t swim either. He swam through
sorrow, though, and made it to the other side
on a ship, pitching his old clothes overboard
at landing, then tried to be happy, make a new life.
But something inside him was always paddling home,
clinging to anything that floated—a story, a food, or face.
They are the bravest people on earth right now,
don’t dare look down on them. Each mind a universe
swirling as many details as yours, as much love
for a humble place. Now the shirt is torn,
the sea too wide for comfort, and nowhere
to receive a letter for a very long time.

And if we can reach out a hand, we better.

From The Tiny Journalist. Copyright © 2019 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd.