Ignoring the doctor’s red call
                    I swam in the molasses-thick swamp
          of my indulgence, allowed the sugar to ruin

the picnic. The lawn beneath me humming
                    with little invaders.
          There are conditions if one insists

on knowing the secrets of my blood.
                    I know it’s hard to gaze at the night sky
          speckled white & not wish upon

the dead light, but I ask only for your laughter.
                    I ask for all the ways I can remain
          whole & not a vision with missing limbs.

Look at the trees blistering with sap. Goddamnit
                    look at me! Look at me in the old way
          in this new light.

Once I loved a boy, who feared, so much
                    his own sickness
          I never confessed to him my own.

Afraid he would turn, with his worry, my smile
                    into a knife—into a scythe
          covered in ants.

From Not Here (Coffee House Press, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Hieu Minh Nguyen. Used with the permission of Coffee House Press.

Even in California
all of my friends require touch    

to get through winter.                
It’s true, I am waiting to be in love          

in front of the people I love.       
He says, I’m glad you’re here                       

& I want to cover his mouth
to warm my hands.        

Of course I understand              
how one would mistake

that earthquake for a passing train
but what do we do with the stillness                    

when after great change             
nothing moves, but his hand      

sliding a glass of wine
across the table

instructing me to drink              
with a single nod.

I bring the glass to my face                     
but don’t let a drop pass my lips.

Beside him, I am almost somewhere        
I’d like to be for a while.

To make him smile        
I tell him I am bad at sex.

To make him kiss me
I tell him when I’m happy

I go looking for things
I haven’t lost yet.

Copyright © 2022 by Hieu Minh Nguyen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 3, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

My whole life I have obeyed it—

            its every hunting. I move beneath it
            as a jaguar moves, in the dark-
                          liquid blading of shoulder.

The opened-gold field and glide of the hand,

            light-fruited, and scythe-lit.

I have come to this god-made place—

           Teotlachco, the ball court—
           because the light called: lightwards!
                        and dwells here, Lamp-land.    
          
           We touch the ball of light
           to one another—split bodies stroked bright—
                        desire-knocked.
                                    Light reshapes my lover’s elbow, 
  
           a brass whistle.

I put my mouth there—mercy-luxed, and come, we both,

           to light. It streams me.
           A rush of scorpions—
                        fast-light. A lash of breath—
                                    god-maker.
      
           Light horizons her hip—springs an ocelot
           cut of chalcedony and magnetite.
                       Hip, limestone and cliffed,

slopes like light into her thigh—light-box, skin-bound.

           Wind shakes the calabash,
           disrupts the light to ripple—light-struck,
                       then scatter.
 
This is the war I was born toward, her skin,

           its lake-glint. I desire—I thirst—
           to be filled—light-well.
 
The light throbs everything, and songs

           against her body, girdling the knee bone.
           Our bodies—light-harnessed, light-thrashed.
                       The bruising: bilirubin bloom,
                                    violet.

A work of all good yokes—blood-light—

           to make us think the pain is ours
           to keep, light-trapped, lanterned.
                       I asked for it. I own it—
                                    lightmonger.

I am light now, or on the side of light—

           light-head, light-trophied.
           Light-wracked and light-gone.

           Still, the sweet maize—an eruption
           of light, or its feast,
                       from the stalk
                                    of my lover’s throat.

And I, light-eater, light-loving.

Copyright © 2018 by Natalie Diaz. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 4, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Let me draw a sonnet at this godless hour,
in one sitting, at the sudden taste of you.

#SelfEvidentTruth: reality forms from the verge
of chance—particles not seen but tongued.

Another you wafts in as soon as the other
you leaves, my random turnstile of thirst.

But suddenly, alone. Just a memory of taste:
Poached eggs, pancakes, tenderness, knowing

that I have eaten not only what I made but what all
of you served in return, quenched only if swallowed.

Taste has always been a second-rate sense,
unlike our sight, unlike Euler’s Equation that

sees light in chaos. All works of nature evolve
from one moment of coincidence. An absence,

a rebellion, the fifteenth line of a sonnet.

Copyright © 2022 by Bino A. Realuyo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 25, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

“Pain blesses the body back to its sinner”
            —Ocean Vuong

Handcuffs around my wrists 
lined with synthetic fur, my arms bound 

& hoisted, heavenward, as if in praise.
Once, bodies like mine were seen as a symptom

of sin, something to be prayed away;
how once, priests beat themselves to sanctify

the flesh. To put their sins to death. Now,
my clothes scatter across the floor like petals

lanced by hail. Motion stretches objects 
in the eye. A drop of rain remade, 

a needle, a blade. Mark how muscle fiber 
& piano strings both, when struck, ring. 

No music without violence or wind. 

I’ve been searching the backs of lover’s hands
for a kinder score, a pain that makes 

my pain a stranger tune. Still, my body aches 
an ugly psalm. All my bones refuse to harm

-onize. Percussion is our oldest form of song, 
wind bruised into melody. Let me say this plainly:

I want you to beat me 

into a pain that’s unfamiliar. How convenient 
this word, beat, that lives in both the kingdoms 

of brutality & song. The singer’s voice: a cry, 
a moan, god’s name broken across a blade 

of teeth. The riding crop & flog & scourge—
a wicked faith. A blood-loud devotion.  

There is no prayer to save me from my flesh. 
You can’t have the bible without the belt.

Copyright © 2021 by torrin a. greathouse. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 11, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

the leaves below the shredded cup of the Aster’s
face need to be before it changes species
from Showy Aster to Willow to Rush—Aster Radula
being the name of what I thought I was
seeing—fingers first—reading the neck through
touch—a kindness of soft needles—much like the shot I give
myself once a week now—having increased the gauge exponentially
which has the inverse effect on the amount of skin I am
required to surrender in order to wake up in a body I was
told could not live in this world and be loved—
                                                                                             small
is not a fair synonym for soft—naming you I
have found another way to send my body back
in time to claim how she wants to be
touched—it’s been over three weeks and I still can’t
find the face of the bird that threatens music—silence— 
whatever you want to call it when a well of metal triangles
is rung underwater and poured from the familiar
little mouth of a ghost—
                                                      every morning I want
to know without drama really how many things I will kill
today—a question of attention—an experiment of turning
god into my body—learning to live in the could-
mean of pine-broken light—
                                                    when I hid you,
Melissa, I became every man
who tells a woman she would be more safe
if only she would keep herself inside—a hive
of mercies we were backhanded into—unknowingly
praying we wanted to unlearn how to pray—
                                                                               I am
almost ashamed I could not name it—how little
pleasure I feel when I touch things only
because I am afraid to be touched—

Copyright © 2021 by TC Tolbert. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 1, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

I shall never have any fear of love, 
Not of its depth nor its uttermost height,
Its exquisite pain and its terrible delight.
I shall never have any fear of love.

I shall never hesitate to go down
Into the fastness of its abyss
Nor shrink from the cruelty of its awful kiss.
I shall never have any fear of love.

Never shall I dread love’s strength
Nor any pain it might give.
Through all the years I may live
I shall never have any fear of love.

I shall never draw back from love
Through fear of its vast pain
But build joy of it and count it again.
I shall never have any fear of love.

I shall never tremble nor flinch
From love’s moulding touch:
I have loved too terribly and too much
Ever to have any fear of love.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 20, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

not back, let’s not come back, let’s go by the speed of 
queer zest & stay up 
there & get ourselves a little 
moon cottage (so pretty), then start a moon garden 

with lots of moon veggies (so healthy), i mean 
i was already moonlighting 
as an online moonologist 
most weekends, so this is the immensely 

logical next step, are you 
packing your bags yet, don’t forget your 
sailor moon jean jacket, let’s wear 
our sailor moon jean jackets while twirling in that lighter, 

queerer moon gravity, let’s love each other 
(so good) on the moon, let’s love 
the moon        
on the moon

Copyright © 2021 by Chen Chen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 31, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

When did you first know you were bisexual?

I will never know how the pleasure I give feels as a body receives it. 

I fear strangers, Naomi, even the ones I love. I count their turned backs on the subway.

Some nights I fear even the subway itself—or is it my reflection in the yellowed glass, how I cannot see the city moving beyond me?

I want each round mirror to open as a window might.

Perhaps I always knew, but I mistrusted my knowing. I once stacked my journals to the height of a beloved and embraced them.

Every poem I’ve read to you has been written in this direction. Each word a line on the map I haven’t yet finished that leads me to you.

In college, I got ready for a party with two women I loved who loved each other.

I watched Diana flip Jean’s hair from her freckled shoulders before zipping her into her dress: 

the same gesture I’d made in the mirror, alone, before I arrived at their apartment.

I watched them pass Jean’s mascara wand fluently between them, one’s licked fingers curling the other’s lashes, and a question split me at my spine—

like a hand gently cracking a new book’s cover, ready to understand.

Copyright © 2021 by Rachel Mennies. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 28, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

I ask the new migrant if he regrets leaving Russia.
We have dispensed already with my ancestry.
He says no. For a time, he was depressed. He found
with every return he missed what he left behind.
A constant state of this. Better to love by far
where you are. He taps the steering wheel of his car,
the hum of the engine an imperceptible tremble
in us. When he isn’t driving, he works tending
to new trees. I’ve seen these saplings popping
up all over the suburbs, tickling the bellies
of bridges, the new rooted darlings of the State.
The council spent a quarter mil on them &
someone, he—Lilian—must ensure the dirt
holds. Gentrification is climate-friendly now.
I laugh and he laughs, and we eat the distance
between histories. He checks on his buds daily.
Are they okay? They are okay. They do not need
him, but he speaks, and they listen or at least
shake a leaf. What a world where you can live off
land by loving it. If only we cared for each other
this way. The council cares for their investment.
The late greenery, that is, not Lilian, who shares
his ride on the side. I wonder what it would cost 
to have men be tender to me regularly, 
to be folded into his burly, to be left on the side
of the road as he drove away, exhausted. Even
my dreams of tenderness involve being used
& I’m not sure who to blame: colonialism,
capitalism, patriarchy, queerness or poetry?
Sorry, this is a commercial for the Kia Sportage
now. This is a commercial for Lilian’s thighs.
He didn’t ask for this and neither did I—how
language drapes us together, how stories tongue
each other in the back seat and the sky blurs
out of frame. There are too many agonies
to discuss here, and I am nearly returned.
He has taken me all the way back, around
the future flowering, back to where I am not,
to the homes I keep investing in as harms.
I should fill them with trees. Let the boughs
cover the remembered boy, cowering
under a mother, her raised weapon
not the cane but the shattering within,
let the green tear through the wall
paper, let life replace memory. Lilian, I left
you that day, and in the leaving, a love
followed. Isn’t that a wonder and a wound?
Tell me which it is, I confess I mistake the two.
I walk up the stairs to my old brick apartment
where the peach tree reaches for the railing,
a few blushing fruits poking through the bars,
eager to brush my leg, to say linger, halt.
I want to stop, to hold it for real, just once
but I must wait until I am safe.

Copyright © 2019 by Omar Sakr. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 4, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

In some other life, I can hear you
breathing: a pale sound like running
fingers through tangled hair. I dreamt
again of swimming in the quarry
& surfaced here when you called for me
in a voice only my sleeping self could
know. Now the dapple of the aspen
respires on the wall & the shades cut
its song a staff of light. Leave me—
that me—in bed with the woman
who said all the sounds for pleasure
were made with vowels I couldn’t
hear. Keep me instead with this small sun
that sips at the sky blue hem of our sheets
then dips & reappears: a drowsy penny
in the belt of Venus, your aureole nodding
slow & copper as it bobs against cotton
in cornflower or clay. What a waste
the groan of the mattress must be
when you backstroke into me & pull
the night up over our heads. Your eyes
are two moons I float beneath & my lungs
fill with a wet hum your hips return.
It’s Sunday—or so you say with both hands
on my chest—& hot breath is the only hymn
whose refrain we can recall. And then you
reach for me like I could’ve been another
man. You make me sing without a sound.

Copyright © 2019 by Meg Day. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 1, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

My mother said this to me
long before Beyoncé lifted the lyrics
from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs,

and what my mother meant by
Don’t stray was that she knew
all about it—the way it feels to need

someone to love you, someone
not your kind, someone white,
some one some many who live

because so many of mine
have not, and further, live on top of
those of ours who don’t.

I’ll say, say, say,
I’ll say, say, say,
What is the United States if not a clot

of clouds? If not spilled milk? Or blood?
If not the place we once were
in the millions? America is Maps

Maps are ghosts: white and 
layered with people and places I see through.
My mother has always known best,

knew that I’d been begging for them,
to lay my face against their white
laps, to be held in something more

than the loud light of their projectors
of themselves they flicker—sepia
or blue—all over my body.

All this time,
I thought my mother said, Wait,
as in, Give them a little more time

to know your worth,
when really, she said, Weight,
meaning heft, preparing me

for the yoke of myself,
the beast of my country’s burdens,
which is less worse than

my country’s plow. Yes,
when my mother said,
They don’t love you like I love you,

she meant,
Natalie, that doesn’t mean
you aren’t good.

 

 

*The italicized words, with the exception of the final stanza, come from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs song "Maps."

Copyright © 2019 by Natalie Diaz. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 20, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

//

When my partner asks me for a self-
portrait, I tell them:

            Just out of high school
            I worked as a statue

           of liberty. I wore blue velvet
           and danced along an off-

           shoot of route 6. Mascot
           for freedom—I advertised

           a tax agency. I had come
           out that year.

           Passersby rolled
           down their windows,

           threw lit cigarettes, trash, pennies.
           I have always been one for retaliation.

           So I threw the torch.

\\

 

//

My partner and I research the back-
yard tree with purple droppings

until we discover
she’s a true princess.

Royal green blood with roots
the size of bodies.

This princess is invasive.
She garden-snakes under

our home and upheaves
what we thought we knew

of ourselves. And god,
isn’t it terrible to gender

even a tree. Isn’t it terrible
that she reminds us of what

we’ve named our bodies’
shortcomings. A flower

concaved as cunt
seems, right now, like a betrayal

we will never forgive.

But soon

\\

 

//

I dream that my partner leaves me
for eight years in the Coast Guard,

a kraken stings the surface
of this dark blue nightmare.

Split this dream in half and it becomes
four years and I still don’t know

how to swim. None of this is real.
But god, my partner loves the water,

enough even, for me to get in. 

\\ 

 

//

When my partner turns their hands
into window blinds, they smooth

my aging forehead with this new
type of shade, they call my skin

into perfect order with their skin.

I tell my partner I will be polite
to windows

only when I like what I see
through them. They understand

that this world is hell
bent beyond repair.

But inside
              one another
              there is a peace.

Inside one another
neither of us remembers gender—the meaning
of her or hers. She is lost

                                      to space. He was never
                                      that great to begin with.

We even misplaced the meaning of girl.

If we knew where it had been left,
we still wouldn’t go get it.

\\

 

//

Today I am the age
of an arsenal
                   of letters. 

Between my partner’s legs
I speak the whole

alphabet. They stop me

when I’m close
to what feels right.

At the end of the day
all we have is this ritual

of love, and that, I think,
will be enough

to live forever. 

\\ 

 

Copyright © 2018 Kayleb Rae Candrilli. This poem originally appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review. Used with permission of the author.

 

                                  Caliche. Great bird, woodsmoke, needle. Snake, owl. Nopal vibration.

Almost every day 
	     of my life 
I have wanted 

to be filled. 

By something: 
a great bird, woodsmoke, 
	    wild laughters, 

an untethered

tongue. 
When I’m on my back, 
		          any yell 
can be a needle, 

any breath 
	   works as thread. 

On asphalt 
	    or caliche, 

in dirt, 
my feet bare their crooked 
		        hymns: 

hoping to be entered. 

I don’t own words 
		         for every sound 

I feel. 
I don’t own words 
for breath 

I stuff back into my body 

after loving 
	     & not being loved. 

but Who isn’t
in love with at least one
seam, a sound:
	   one vibration

of this world?

Ask any bolus of owls,
	    ask víboras.

Ask the nopales
	     of certainty
& joy.	

But who owns 
	     any certainty, really?
Any word?

& who still speaks
	     the languages

of víboras & caliche,

& who will reteach my body
that language

	     of great birds & nopal?

Copyright © 2018 by Joe Jiménez. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 4, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

         after Obergefell v. Hodges, summer 2015

I still have a question to ask—
what I don’t know is which words might compose it.

I know it lives, but where it might begin—
I have to squint like I do as it downpours

in the mountains; I cannot read the road.
Driving after dark, we feel the way, the last two

who don’t roam where others seem to—
I have told at least that many I would marry you

but neither sees our names before the code.
We seek no coverage, lower tax,

don’t imagine asking those we love
to stand for something we’d keep privately. I already

swear a dress each day we wake together,
use present tense verbs as often as

they tell the present truth. What I want to ask
is daily. I want to ask it in our houses, in our tent.

I want to find our roads however long they are
as we go, for you to realize my stories

and the details of their slower telling.
Would I say what I say in front of others,

yes. I want to say it all the time
in moments equal to one another, and for time

to unfold continuously, arrive continuously
from each measure as it’s made.

We’ll find a motel tonight if we have to, or sleep
in the car that smells of our bodies unshowered,

fueled by coffee and cheese eaten off the atlas,
nuts shaken in cinnamon—what matters most

is that I might still kill your sense of what is
every time I move into your body

the force it makes me. I want the question
live as it sounds: do you yet want

beyond a promise of anything.
I do not wish to turn from hunger. I could not

marry you absent the jagged world
that multiplies, complicates—may we marry

all grief, all longing, all shapeless dissatisfaction,
all long walks distance from our origins.

Do not leave. Walk as long as you can alone,
push back hard when you object to my position.

Divorce me every moment you decide
who you are and where you should

next be. Make your way. Make it
through me, some days, pushing through my body,

through our ties. Come through yourself
as though you have all the time in the world

even as it’s always subtracting
something from itself. For music, let’s sing

absently—I don’t want to translate even once
what we mean when we stand across

from one another speaking. No symbol
assigning something else. I feel

the dress—I feel its excellence
gelling, multiplying, becoming voluminous

for me and us; I feel it peeling back
transparence as it releases.

Appear, my love, so I can step out of myself.
Make me undressable, make it impossible

for me to clothe myself, make the garments
the lies they are—attend this living

as blatantly as anyone living must, awake
to meanings carried from meaningless things.

That is all I ask. There is no moment
we could exchange our words. We will

repeat nothing, just pray we provoke
each dark as we go, go with all that begs

to marry itself to some ever-casting horizon,
to marry itself to the furthest away thing.

Horizons always move, make an argument
about time, pray something.

Would I too? Is that how I find myself?
Would I bend to recognize

the curve I make around my center, keep
a center, bend toward it equally at every point?

Bend, love, I imagine myself saying,
to where you find me, wherever I may be,

wherever you find that bending becoming
your will and your innate way. I bend and pray

you’ll marry my unfixing, as I will always be,
or draw back from what you believe of me—

that you might bend harder than law allows,
that we might never marry civilly.

Copyright © 2017 by Rae Gouirand. “Not Marrying” originally appeared in the winter/spring 2017 issue of diode poetry journal. Used with permission of the author.

 

Yet I was, in peculiar truth, a very lucky boy.
            —James Baldwin

In any case, the story begins
with darkness. A classroom. 

A broom closet. A bowl of bruised 
light held over a city. Or, the story 

begins with a child playing
the role of an ashy plum—

how it rises to meet the man's teeth
or doesn't. How the skin is broken 

or breaks because the body just wants
what it wants: to be a hallway 

where men hang their photos
on the wall. Does that make sense?

To want to own the image of the man
but not the man? To bask in that memory

of what first nailed you to the dark? 

From Sympathetic Little Monster (Ricochet Editions, 2016). Copyright © 2016 by Cameron Awkward-Rich. Used with permission of the author.

In the invitation, I tell them for the seventeenth time
(the fourth in writing), that I am gay.

In the invitation, I include a picture of my boyfriend
& write, You’ve met him two times. But this time,

you will ask him things other than can you pass the
whatever. You will ask him

about him. You will enjoy dinner. You will be
enjoyable. Please RSVP.

They RSVP. They come.
They sit at the table & ask my boyfriend

the first of the conversation starters I slip them
upon arrival: How is work going?

I’m like the kid in Home Alone, orchestrating
every movement of a proper family, as if a pair

of scary yet deeply incompetent burglars
is watching from the outside.

My boyfriend responds in his chipper way.
I pass my father a bowl of fish ball soup—So comforting,

isn’t it? My mother smiles her best
Sitting with Her Son’s Boyfriend

Who Is a Boy Smile. I smile my Hurray for Doing
a Little Better Smile.

Everyone eats soup.
Then, my mother turns

to me, whispers in Mandarin, Is he coming with you
for Thanksgiving? My good friend is & she wouldn’t like

this. I’m like the kid in Home Alone, pulling
on the string that makes my cardboard mother

more motherly, except she is
not cardboard, she is

already, exceedingly my mother. Waiting
for my answer.

While my father opens up
a Boston Globe, when the invitation

clearly stated: No security
blankets. I’m like the kid

in Home Alone, except the home
is my apartment, & I’m much older, & not alone,

& not the one who needs
to learn, has to—Remind me

what’s in that recipe again, my boyfriend says
to my mother, as though they have always, easily

talked. As though no one has told him
many times, what a nonlinear slapstick meets

slasher flick meets psychological
pit he is now co-starring in.

Remind me, he says
to our family.

Copyright © 2018 by Chen Chen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 19, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

This is like a life. This is lifelike.
I climb inside a mistake
and remake myself in the shape
of a better mistake—
a nice pair of glasses
without any lenses,
shoes that don’t quite fit,
a chest that always hurts.
There is a checklist of things
you need to do to be a person.
I don’t want to be a person
but there isn’t a choice,
so I work my way down and
kiss the feet.
I work my way up and lick
the knee.
I give you my skull
to do with whatever you please.
You grow flowers from my head
and trim them too short.
I paint my nails nice and pretty
and who cares. Who gives a shit.
I’m trying not to give a shit
but it doesn’t fit well on me.
I wear my clothes. I wear my body.
I walk out in the grass and turn red
at the sight of everything.

Copyright © 2015 by Joshua Jennifer Espinoza. Used with the permission of the author.

1.
             In the first place—I wanted him and said so
when I had only meant to say. His eyes
opened beyond open as if such force would unlock me
to the other side where daylight gave reason
for him to redress.

                                          When he put on his shirt,
after I asked him to keep it off, to keep putting off
the night’s usual end, his face changed beneath
the shirt: surprise to grin, to how even the body
of another’s desire can be a cloak behind which
to change one’s power, to find it.

2.
                                                                 In the first place
he slept, he opened the tight heat of me that had been
the only haven he thought to give a name:

Is-it-mine? Why-you-running? Don’t-run-from-it—as though
through questions doubt would find its way away from me,
as though telling me what to do told me who I was.

Copyright © 2018 by Phillip B. Williams. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 2, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

I never thought I’d keep a record of my pain
or happiness
like candles lighting the entire soft lace
of the air
around the full length of your hair/a shower
organized by God
in brown and auburn
undulations luminous like particles
of flame
But now I do
retrieve an afternoon of apricots
and water interspersed with cigarettes
and sand and rocks
we walked across:
                        How easily you held
my hand
beside the low tide
of the world

Now I do
relive an evening of retreat
a bridge I left behind
where all the solid heat
of lust and tender trembling
lay as cruel and as kind
as passion spins its infinite
tergiversations in between the bitter
and the sweet

Alone and longing for you
now I do

Copyright © 2017 by the June M. Jordan Literary Estate. Used with the permission of the June M. Jordan Literary Estate, www.junejordan.com.

I am taken with the hot animal
of my skin, grateful to swing my limbs

and have them move as I intend, though
my knee, though my shoulder, though something
is torn or tearing. Today, a dozen squid, dead

on the harbor beach: one mostly buried,
one with skin empty as a shell and hollow

feeling, and, though the tentacles look soft,
I do not touch them. I imagine they
were startled to find themselves in the sun.

I imagine the tide simply went out
without them. I imagine they cannot

feel the black flies charting the raised hills
of their eyes. I write my name in the sand:
Donika Kelly. I watch eighteen seagulls

skim the sandbar and lift low in the sky.
I pick up a pebble that looks like a green egg.

To the ditch lily I say I am in love.
To the Jeep parked haphazardly on the narrow
street I am in love. To the roses, white

petals rimmed brown, to the yellow lined
pavement, to the house trimmed in gold I am

in love. I shout with the rough calculus
of walking. Just let me find my way back,
let me move like a tide come in.

Copyright © 2017 by Donika Kelly. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 20, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Whatever happens with us, your body
will haunt mine—tender, delicate
your lovemaking, like the half-curled frond
of the fiddlehead fern in forests
just washed by sun. Your traveled, generous thighs
between which my whole face has come and come—
the innocence and wisdom of the place my tongue has found there—
the live, insatiate dance of your nipples in my mouth—
your touch on me, firm, protective, searching
me out, your strong tongue and slender fingers
reaching where I had been waiting years for you
in my rose-wet cave—whatever happens, this is.

“Floating Poem, Unnumbered” from “Twenty-One Love Poems,” from The Dream of a Common Language: Poems 1974–1977 by Adrienne Rich. Copyright © 1978 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

I.

my lover is a woman
& when i hold her
feel her warmth
     i feel good
     feel safe

then—i never think of
my family’s voices
never hear my sisters say
bulldaggers, queers, funny
     come see us, but don’t
     bring your friends
          it’s ok with us,
          but don’t tell mama
          it’d break her heart
never feel my father
turn in his grave
never hear my mother cry
Lord, what kind of child is this?

 

II.

my lover’s hair is blonde
& when it rubs across my face
it feels soft
     feels like a thousand fingers
     touch my skin & hold me
          and i feel good

then—i never think of the little boy
who spat & called me nigger
never think of the policemen
who kicked my body & said crawl
never think of Black bodies
hanging in trees or filled
with bullet holes
never hear my sisters say
white folks hair stinks
don’t trust any of them
never feel my father
turn in his grave
never hear my mother talk
of her backache after scrubbing floors
never hear her cry
Lord, what kind of child is this?

 

III. 

my lover's eyes are blue
& when she looks at me
i float in a warm lake
     feel my muscles go weak with want
          feel good
          feel safe

then—i never think of the blue
eyes that have glared at me
moved three stools away from me
in a bar
never hear my sisters rage
of syphilitic Black men as
guinea pigs
     rage of sterilized children
          watch them just stop in an
          intersection to scare the old
          white bitch
never feel my father turn
in his grave
never remember my mother
teaching me the yes sirs & ma'ams
to keep me alive
never hear my mother cry
Lord, what kind of child is this?

 

IV.

& when we go to a gay bar
& my people shun me because i crossed
the line
& her people look to see what's
wrong with her
     what defect
     drove her to me

& when we walk the streets
of this city
     forget and touch
     or hold hands
          & the people
          stare, glare, frown, & taunt
               at those queers

i remember
     every word taught me
     every word said to me
     every deed done to me
          & then i hate
i look at my lover
& for an instant
     doubt

then—i hold her hand tighter
     & i can hear my mother cry.
     Lord, what kind of child is this?

"My Lover Is a Woman" by Pat Parker © Anastasia Dunham-Parker-Brady, used with permission.

Driving the highway from Atlanta to Phoenix
means swapping one type of heat for another.
A bead of sweat rolls over my chest,
around my belly and evaporates
so quickly I forget I’m sweating. 
Body chemistry changes like the color
of my skin: from yellow to sienna.
My sister says, it’s a dry heat. 

        At dusk, lightning storms over the mesas. 
        Violets and grays lie down together.
        Mountains are the color of father’s hands,
        layers of dark—then light. 
        People move west to die, retire in a life
        of dust, trade the pollen of the south
        for a thin coat of grit, the Arizona desert—
        promesas, promesas

We stop on the outskirts of town
and think about being reborn.
When he places his mouth near my mouth
because he’s so obviously thirsty,
when he moves to the well
where my tongue spouts out
because we’re mostly made of water
two-thirds of me is certain:
este infierno vale la pena.
         This hell is worth the risk.

Copyright © 2015 by Sjohnna McCray. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 5, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

Lie to yourself about this and you will
forever lie about everything.

Everybody already knows everything

so you can
lie to them. That's what they want.

But lie to yourself, what you will

lose is yourself. Then you
turn into them.

                 *

For each gay kid whose adolescence

was America in the forties or fifties
the primary, the crucial

scenario

forever is coming out—
or not. Or not. Or not. Or not. Or not.

                 *

Involuted velleities of self-erasure.

                 *

Quickly after my parents
died, I came out. Foundational narrative

designed to confer existence.

If I had managed to come out to my
mother, she would have blamed not

me, but herself.

The door through which you were shoved out
into the light

was self-loathing and terror.

                 *

Thank you, terror!

You learned early that adults' genteel
fantasies about human life

were not, for you, life. You think sex

is a knife
driven into you to teach you that.

Copyright © 2012 by Frank Bidart. Used with permission of the author.

It was your birthday, we had drunk and dined
    Half of the night with our old friend
        Who'd showed us in the end
    To a bed I reached in one drunk stride.
        Already I lay snug,
And drowsy with the wine dozed on one side.

I dozed, I slept. My sleep broke on a hug, 
        Suddenly, from behind, 
In which the full lengths of our bodies pressed:
        Your instep to my heel,
    My shoulder-blades against your chest.
    It was not sex, but I could feel
    The whole strength of your body set,
           Or braced, to mine,
        And locking me to you
    As if we were still twenty-two
    When our grand passion had not yet
        Become familial.
    My quick sleep had deleted all 
    Of intervening time and place.
        I only knew
The stay of your secure firm dry embrace.

From Selected Poems by Thom Gunn. Copyright © 2009 by Thom Gunn. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC, www.fsgbooks.com. All rights reserved.

You did say, need me less and I'll want you more.
I'm still shellshocked at needing anyone,
used to being used to it on my own.
It won't be me out on the tiles till four-
thirty, while you're in bed, willing the door
open with your need. You wanted her then,
more. Because you need to, I woke alone
in what's not yet our room, strewn, though, with your
guitar, shoes, notebook, socks, trousers enjambed
with mine. Half the world was sleeping it off
in every other bed under my roof.
I wish I had a roof over my bed
to pull down on my head when I feel damned
by wanting you so much it looks like need.

From Love, Death, and the Changing of the Seasons (New York: Arbor House, 1986). Copyright © 1986 by Marilyn Hacker. Reprinted with the permission of Frances Collin Literary Agency. All rights reserved.

and if
I were to say

I love you and
I do love you

and I say it
now and again

and again
would you say

parataxis
would you see

the world revolves
anew

its axis
you

From Same Life by Maureen McLane. Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2008 by Maureen McLane. All rights reserved.