Of the Harlem night
Drop one by one into stillness.
The last player-piano is closed.
The last victrola ceases with the
“Jazz Boy Blues.”
The last crying baby sleeps
And the night becomes
Still as a whispering heartbeat.
Without rest in the darkness,
Weary as the tired night,
Empty as the silence,
Empty with a vague,
I toss without rest
In the darkness
Until the new dawn,
Wan and pale,
Descends like a white mist
Into the court-yard.
From The Weary Blues (Alfred A. Knopf, 1926) by Langston Hughes. This poem is in the public domain.
Imagine them in black, the morning heat losing within this day that floats. And always there is the being, and the not-seeing on their way to—
The days they approach and their sharpest aches will wrap experience until knowledge is translucent, the frost on which they find themselves slipping. Never mind the loose mindless grip of their forms reflected in the eye-watering hues of the surface, these two will survive in their capacity to meet, to hold the other beneath the plummeting, in the depths below each step full of avoidance. What they create will be held up, will resume: the appetite is bigger than joy. indestructible. for never was it independent from who they are. who will be.
Were we ever to arrive at knowing the other as the same pulsing compassion would break the most orthodox heart.
Excerpt from Plot, copyright © 2001 by Claudia Rankine. Used by permission of Grove/Atlantic, Inc. Any third party use of this material, outside of this publication, is prohibited.
When my eyes are weeds,
And my lips are petals, spinning
Down the wind that has beginning
Where the crumpled beeches start
In a fringe of salty reeds;
When my arms are elder-bushes,
And the rangy lilac pushes
Upward, upward through my heart;
Summer, do your worst!
Light your tinsel moon, and call on
Your performing stars to fall on
Headlong through your paper sky;
Nevermore shall I be cursed
By a flushed and amorous slattern,
With her dusty laces’ pattern
Trailing, as she straggles by.
From Enough Rope (Boni & Liveright, 1926) by Dorothy Parker. This poem is in the public domain.
there must be one thing you can’t have in order to be alive
watching flowers open on youtube
I mean, my life is wasted on my life
requirement is simple
it takes a wound to
return to yourself
the new sky
is the same as the old one
its achy maw
its barbwire grip
people are whatever they are next to
that won’t remember them
a dumb desert
a broken open sign
whatever I love best
reminds me of something else
Copyright © 2021 by Jon-Michael Frank. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 11, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets
when the pink sliver of sky swims in
through the window and you hear
the high notes from the opera singer
one story below. Angel of wishing,
angel of fortune, the cart overturned,
the small animals from the back
of the truck flooding the highway.
The keys keep making the piano be.
I have only ever wanted the red sky
to turn blue. It’s so beautiful
when it sinks in. Hold me, closeness
says. As long as I have sight, I’ll see.
The walls of time dissolve whenever
the lights are turned off. The lights
that made the day so easy to be with.
I fold myself away. No mirage
of sirens hammering the glass front
of the hospital down the block.
Stars guide the eye across the sky.
It will be like that. Again, and again.
and I’d like to get naked and into bed and be hot radiating heat from the inside these sweaters and fleeceys do nothing to keep out the out or keep my vitals in—some drafty body I’ve got leaking in and out in all directions I’d like to get naked into bed but hot on this early winter afternoon already dusky grim and not think of all the ways I’ve gone about the world and shown myself a fool, shame poking holes in my thinned carapace practically lacy and woefully feminine I’d like to get naked into bed and feel if not hot then weightless as I once was in the sensory deprivation tank in Madison, Wisconsin circa 1992 I paid money for that perfectly body-temperatured silent pitch dark tank to do what? play dead and not die? that was before email before children before I knew anything more than the deaths of a few loved ones which were poisoned nuts of swallowed grief but nothing of life of life giving which cuts open the self bursting busted unsolvable I’d like to get naked into the bed of my life but hot hot my little flicker-self trumped up somehow blind and deaf to all the dampening misery of my friends’ woe-oh-ohs and I’d like a little flashlight to write poems with this lousy day not this poem I’m writing under the mostly flat blaze of bulb but a poem written with the light itself a tiny fleeting love poem to life hot hot hot a poem that would say “oh look here a bright spot of life, oh look another!”
Copyright © 2011 by Rachel Zucker. Used with permission of the author.
Above a pond, I sit on a wooden bench
and throw pebbles into the willows.
A rush of sunlight and wind creates a path in a channel of water, dances
between the melting ice and brown islands of bulrush.
The resident osprey, its eyes the color of yellow grass,
follows my tossing hand.
Love is a diorama of inner life in an outer world.
I look down and find a chunk of fossilized rock
with an entire Paleozoic shell sticking out.
I am not afraid of love, but terrified of how it is my steady guide.
Once, when tired, I wandered off the trail and crawled under a tree to rest.
I woke to a young brown bear licking my boot.
Nothing had ever felt that good.
When I say I love you, what I mean is I wouldn’t leave you.
Even if love is not loved back it doesn’t go away,
although it may become a black hole.
Could this be what it’s like for trees to lose the green from their leaves?
At noon the light shifts and the pond turns
into a mosaic of opaque green ice.
Orange carp rise in these cold watery chambers to breathe at the surface.
Always I am in love. Face to face with the sun. Face to face with the moon.
From Not into the Blossoms and Not into the Air (Parlor Press, 2019).
Copyright © 2019 by Parlor Press. parlorpress.com. Used with permission.
Hatred is the new love. Rage is right. Touch
is touch. The collars of the coat, turned down,
point up. The corners of our hearts are smoothed
with rough. Our glass breaks slick, our teeth
rip soft. The mollusk of me, shell-less.
If the future once was, the past predicted
us. The street gives off rhythm. The sun
gives off dusk. When we walk, we
pour backward. When we have nothing,
it’s enough. The hunger leaves us satisfied,
the fullness leaves us wrung. The sum of all
its parts is whole, the reap of it has roots, not
took or plucked. Far apart, we move inside
our clothes: open is old, young is closed. The fangs
we used to bare are milk teeth grown from gums.
The fire we used to be scathed by numbs. We
run on the track of our consumption, done.
We’ve been ice when liquid is our natural state.
We’ve worn our husks, we’ve clenched our fists.
We scold and punish, scrape, pay a price.
We dole out in slanders what has no weight.
We pay in cringing for the moments. We open
injuries in one another. We lacerate places
that flex like knuckles, crack and grow. We are
sipping from the water’s thirst. We were lost
at first. From the finish, begun. We undergo
the pain the other knows. We are cartoon yards
where dogs dig for lost bones. Esoteric,
we are full of holes. That need to be filled.
That need to be dug. We are under-loved.
We are under-known. Give to us and we are
downcast and uplifted and sift like water
and sand like stone. We are greedy, we are
gone. We are helpless, we are prone. Drain us
or fill us and we’ll ache a vast installment.
Let us empty. Let us alone. Madness
is our happiness. Sadness is our home.
Copyright © 2015 by Jennifer Militello. “Oxymoronic Love” was originally published in The Kenyon Review. Used with permission of the author.