I am much too alone in this world, yet not alone
    enough
to truly consecrate the hour.
I am much too small in this world, yet not small
    enough
to be to you just object and thing,
dark and smart.
I want my free will and want it accompanying
the path which leads to action;
and want during times that beg questions,
where something is up,
to be among those in the know,
or else be alone.

I want to mirror your image to its fullest perfection,
never be blind or too old
to uphold your weighty wavering reflection.
I want to unfold.
Nowhere I wish to stay crooked, bent;
for there I would be dishonest, untrue.
I want my conscience to be
true before you;
want to describe myself like a picture I observed
for a long time, one close up,
like a new word I learned and embraced,
like the everday jug,
like my mother's face,
like a ship that carried me along
through the deadliest storm.

English translation, translator's introduction, and translator's notes copyright © 2001 by Annemarie S. Kidder. Published 2001. All rights reserved.

Nothing was remembered, nothing forgotten.
When we awoke, wagons were passing on the warm summer pavements,
The window-sills were wet from rain in the night,
Birds scattered and settled over chimneypots
As among grotesque trees.

Nothing was accepted, nothing looked beyond.
Slight-voiced bells separated hour from hour,
The afternoon sifted coolness
And people drew together in streets becoming deserted.
There was a moon, and light in a shop-front,
And dusk falling like precipitous water.

Hand clasped hand,
Forehead still bowed to forehead—
Nothing was lost, nothing possessed,
There was no gift nor denial.

2.

I have remembered you.
You were not the town visited once,
Nor the road falling behind running feet.

You were as awkward as flesh
And lighter than frost or ashes.

You were the rind,
And the white-juiced apple,
The song, and the words waiting for music.

3.

You have learned the beginning;
Go from mine to the other.

Be together; eat, dance, despair,
Sleep, be threatened, endure.
You will know the way of that.

But at the end, be insolent;
Be absurd—strike the thing short off;
Be mad—only do not let talk
Wear the bloom from silence.

And go away without fire or lantern.
Let there be some uncertainty about your departure.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 29, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets. 

Dressed all in plastic,
which means oil,

we’re bright-eyed, scrambling
for the colored cubes

spilled
on the rug’s polymer.

Inside each 
is a tiny car.

When we can’t unscrew the tops
we cry for help.

We’re optimists.

            *

To sleep is to fall
into belief.

Airing even
our worst suspicions
may be pleasurable;

we are carried,
buoyed.

In sleep,
the body can heal,
grow larger.

Creatures that never wake
can sprout a whole new
limb,

a tail.

This may be wrong.

Copyright © 2020 by Rae Armantrout. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 8, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

Lark of my house,
keep laughing.
Miguel Hernández

this little lark says hi
to the rain—she calls
river as she slaps
the air with both wings—
she doesn’t know pine
from ash or cedar
from linden—she greets
drizzle & downpour
alike—she doesn’t
know iceberg from melt—
can’t say sea level
rise—glacial retreat—
doesn’t know wildfire—
greenhouse gas—carbon
tax or emission—
does not legislate
a fear she can’t yet
feel—only knows cats
& birds & small dogs
& the sway of some
tall trees make her squeal
with delight—it shakes
her tiny body—
this thrill of the live
electric sudden—
the taste of wild blue-
berries on her tongue—
the ache of thorn-prick
from blackberry bush—
oh dear girl—look here—
there’s so much to save—
moments—lady bugs—
laughter—trillium—
blue jays—arias—
horizon’s pink hue—
we gather lifetimes
on one small petal—
the river’s our friend—
the world: an atom—
daughter: another
name for: hope—rain—change
begins when you hail
the sky sun & wind
the verdure inside
your heart’s four chambers
even garter snakes
and unnamed insects
in the underbrush
as you would a love
that rivers: hi—hi

Copyright © 2020 by Dante Di Stefano. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 9, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

You, selling roses out of a silver grocery cart

You, in the park, feeding the pigeons
You cheering for the bees

You with cats in your voice in the morning, feeding cats

You protecting the river   You are who I love
delivering babies, nursing the sick

You with henna on your feet and a gold star in your nose

You taking your medicine, reading the magazines

You looking into the faces of young people as they pass, smiling and saying, Alright! which, they know it, means I see you, Family. I love you. Keep on.

You dancing in the kitchen, on the sidewalk, in the subway waiting for the train because Stevie Wonder, Héctor Lavoe, La Lupe

You stirring the pot of beans, you, washing your father’s feet

You are who I love, you
reciting Darwish, then June

Feeding your heart, teaching your parents how to do The Dougie, counting to 10, reading your patients’ charts

You are who I love, changing policies, standing in line for water, stocking the food pantries, making a meal

You are who I love, writing letters, calling the senators, you who, with the seconds of your body (with your time here), arrive on buses, on trains, in cars, by foot to stand in the January streets against the cool and brutal offices, saying: YOUR CRUELTY DOES NOT SPEAK FOR ME

You are who I love, you struggling to see

You struggling to love or find a question

You better than me, you kinder and so blistering with anger, you are who I love, standing in the wind, salvaging the umbrellas, graduating from school, wearing holes in your shoes

You are who I love
weeping or touching the faces of the weeping

You, Violeta Parra, grateful for the alphabet, for sound, singing toward us in the dream

You carrying your brother home
You noticing the butterflies

Sharing your water, sharing your potatoes and greens

You who did and did not survive
You who cleaned the kitchens
You who built the railroad tracks and roads
You who replanted the trees, listening to the work of squirrels and birds, you are who I love
You whose blood was taken, whose hands and lives were taken, with or without your saying
Yes, I mean to give. You are who I love.

You who the borders crossed
You whose fires
You decent with rage, so in love with the earth
You writing poems alongside children

You cactus, water, sparrow, crow      You, my elder
You are who I love,
summoning the courage, making the cobbler,

getting the blood drawn, sharing the difficult news, you always planting the marigolds, learning to walk wherever you are, learning to read wherever you are, you baking the bread, you come to me in dreams, you kissing the faces of your dead wherever you are, speaking to your children in your mother’s languages, tootsing the birds

You are who I love, behind the library desk, leaving who might kill you, crying with the love songs, polishing your shoes, lighting the candles, getting through the first day despite the whisperers sniping fail fail fail

You are who I love, you who beat and did not beat the odds, you who knows that any good thing you have is the result of someone else’s sacrifice, work, you who fights for reparations

You are who I love, you who stands at the courthouse with the sign that reads NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE

You are who I love, singing Leonard Cohen to the snow, you with glitter on your face, wearing a kilt and violet lipstick

You are who I love, sighing in your sleep

You, playing drums in the procession, you feeding the chickens and humming as you hem the skirt, you sharpening the pencil, you writing the poem about the loneliness of the astronaut

You wanting to listen, you trying to be so still

You are who I love, mothering the dogs, standing with horses

You in brightness and in darkness, throwing your head back as you laugh, kissing your hand

You carrying the berbere from the mill, and the jug of oil pressed from the olives of the trees you belong to

You studying stars, you are who I love
braiding your child’s hair

You are who I love, crossing the desert and trying to cross the desert

You are who I love, working the shifts to buy books, rice, tomatoes,

bathing your children as you listen to the lecture, heating the kitchen with the oven, up early, up late

You are who I love, learning English, learning Spanish, drawing flowers on your hand with a ballpoint pen, taking the bus home

You are who I love, speaking plainly about your pain, sucking your teeth at the airport terminal television every time the politicians say something that offends your sense of decency, of thought, which is often

You are who I love, throwing your hands up in agony or disbelief, shaking your head, arguing back, out loud or inside of yourself, holding close your incredulity which, yes, too, I love    I love

your working heart, how each of its gestures, tiny or big, stand beside my own agony, building a forest there

How “Fuck you” becomes a love song

You are who I love, carrying the signs, packing the lunches, with the rain on your face

You at the edges and shores, in the rooms of quiet, in the rooms of shouting, in the airport terminal, at the bus depot saying “No!” and each of us looking out from the gorgeous unlikelihood of our lives at all, finding ourselves here, witnesses to each other’s tenderness, which, this moment, is fury, is rage, which, this moment, is another way of saying: You are who I love   You are who I love  You and you and you are who

Copyright © 2017 by Aracelis Girmay. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database

Last night, I visited a captivity story. 
I was sitting in a lean-to made of bark 
with Ella Ruth, both of us teenagers— 

her ebony skin, her black hair touching 
her tailbone. I looked at her hard, & 
she came back to sit beside the fire. 

From a slit in the rawhide doorway 
I could see my tribe in surgical masks, 
& as dogs began to howl I woke up.

Strange how the mind finds tenderness  
even in captivity. Or how amidst 
this being held in isolation we dream 

of masks. I see my ancestors, too,  
at the Carnival of Venice, a bouquet 
of myrrh, viper flesh, & honey 

in the plague doctor’s long beak— 
the face of death meant to ward off death. 
They look back through the silver mirror. 

Remember traveling to Siena, 
& we entered that semi-dark room? 
Those strange garments—the garb 

worn by a secret society of men— 
men who wore what we thought 
were pale KKK robes & masks. 

But they had cared for the contagious 
sick, & escorted them to the here 
& after, their faces always hidden. 

Yes, we descended the Ospedale’s 
winding stairs stories underground,  
through a long hall to a hidden room  

where a small medieval oil painting hung, 
the Confraternity of the Night Oratory
St. Catherine of Siena holds the brothers, 

their faces coved in hoods & white robes,  
under her cloak. They worked shifts  
on behalf of the many struck with plague. 

The hooded prisoners were led behind 
medieval-thick walls, into their tiny cells 
where solitary penitence was paid twenty- 

three hours a day. No one dared to speak 
at the Eastern State Penitentiary, eyes 
staring always at the cold stone floors. 

Beans, flourless bread, shad, lobster, 
corn, peppers, & a few grains of salt. 
Now, Al Capone had a rug & a radio. 

On a poor man’s cell block, uncle Gussie, 
who robbed a bank, spent years  
in the prison built like a wagon wheel. 

The low cell door forced him to bow  
when entering; the skylight above— 
the Eye of God—a reminder he was watched.  

When his mother died, two brothers,  
a priest & a cop, left sepia photographs  
of the funeral. Now, cats & ghosts roam. 

Lord, this big country. Land of plentitude 
ravaged, heart & gut torn out in the name 
of civilization & progress, & just plain old 

unsung unction, low-down skullduggery 
& theurgy. Nature ripped out by thew 
toned in old world prisons. Horsepower.    

Even with hard times here, hug the moon 
devastatingly close, & beat down the door 
with true love. Wherever you are, bless us. 

Yeah, we’ve both known a few in the joint,  
robbing Peter to pay Paul, or caught  
blowing time with this one or that one.  

Some excuse to keep rats on a wheel, or in a cage.  
Look, time moves at least twice at once now— 
back & forth, slow & fast. I held my palm 

 on my father’s back when he bent to whisper  
in the ear of the dead, & two men in black  
draped a white handkerchief over a face. 

Copyright © 2020 by Yusef Komunyakaa and Laren McClung. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 12, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.