I wouldn’t even know what to do with a third chance,
another halo to shake loose galloping into the crossfire.
     Should I be apologizing? Supposedly, what’s inside my

     body is more or less the same as what’s inside yours—
here, the river girl clutching her toy whistle. There,
the black snake covered in scabs. Follow my neckline,

the beginning will start beginning again. I swear on my
head and eyes, there are moments in every day when
     if you asked me to leave, I would. Heaven is mostly

     preposition—up, above, around—and you can live
any place that’s a place. A failure of courage is still
a victory of safety. Bravery pitches its refugee tent

at the base of my brain and slowly starves, chipping into
darkness like a clay bird bouncing down a well. All night
     I eat yogurt and eggplant and garlic, water my dead

     orchids. In what world would any of me seem credible?
God’s word is a melody, and melody requires repetition.
God’s word is a melody I sang once then forgot.

Copyright © 2018 Kaveh Akbar. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Spring 2018.

When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy's been swinging them.
But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay
As ice-storms do. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun's warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust--
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows--
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father's trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It's when I'm weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig's having lashed across it open.
I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

From The Poetry of Robert Frost by Robert Frost, edited by Edward Connery Lathem. Copyright 1916, 1923, 1928, 1930, 1934, 1939, 1947, 1949, © 1969 by Holt Rinehart and Winston, Inc. Copyright 1936, 1942, 1944, 1945, 1947, 1948, 1951, 1953, 1954, © 1956, 1958, 1959, 1961, 1962 by Robert Frost. Copyright © 1962, 1967, 1970 by Leslie Frost Ballantine.

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
"I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,"
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

From Another Time by W. H. Auden, published by Random House. Copyright © 1940 W. H. Auden, renewed by the Estate of W. H. Auden. Used by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

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.

Forgive me, distant wars, for bringing
flowers home.
         —
Wisława Szymborska

In the Kashmir mountains,
my brother shot many men,
blew skulls from brown skins,
dyed white desert sand crimson.

What is there to say to a man
who has traversed such a world,
whose hands and eyes have
betrayed him?

Were there flowers there? I asked.

This is what he told me:

In a village, many men
wrapped a woman in a sheet.
She didn't struggle.
Her bare feet dragged in the dirt.

They laid her in the road
and stoned her.

The first man was her father.
He threw two stones in a row.
Her brother had filled his pockets
with stones on the way there.

The crowd was a hive
of disturbed bees. The volley
of stones against her body
drowned out her moans.

Blood burst through the sheet
like a patch of violets,
a hundred roses in bloom.

Copyright © 2012 by Natalie Diaz. From When My Brother Was an Aztec (Copper Canyon Press, 2012). Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.


A black river flows down the center
of each page

& on either side the banks
are wrapped in snow. My father is ink falling

in tiny blossoms, a bottle
wrapped in a paperbag. I want to believe
that if I get the story right

we will rise, newly formed,

that I will stand over him again
as he sleeps outside under the church halogen
only this time I will know

what to say. It is night &
it's snowing & starlings
fill the trees above us, so many it seems

the leaves sing. I can't see them
until they rise together at some hidden signal

& hold the shape of the tree for a moment
before scattering. I wait for his breath
to lift his blanket

so I know he's alive, letting the story settle

into the shape of this city. Three girls in the park
begin to sing something holy, a song
with a lost room inside it

as their prayerbook comes unglued

& scatters. I'll bend
each finger back, until the bottle

falls, until the bone snaps, save him

by destroying his hands. With the thaw
the river will rise & he will be forced
to higher ground. No one

will have to tell him. From my roof I can see
the East River, it looks blackened with oil

but it's only the light. Even now
my father is asleep somewhere. If I followed

the river north I could still reach him.

Copyright © Nick Flynn and Josh Neufeld. Poem and illustration first published in The Common Review, Fall 2004. Used with permission.

More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.

Copyright © 2017 by Ada Limón. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 15, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

I like the lady horses best,
how they make it all look easy,
like running 40 miles per hour
is as fun as taking a nap, or grass.
I like their lady horse swagger,
after winning. Ears up, girls, ears up!
But mainly, let's be honest, I like
that they're ladies. As if this big
dangerous animal is also a part of me,
that somewhere inside the delicate
skin of my body, there pumps
an 8-pound female horse heart,
giant with power, heavy with blood.
Don't you want to believe it?
Don't you want to lift my shirt and see
the huge beating genius machine
that thinks, no, it knows,
it's going to come in first.

From Bright Dead Things (Milkweed Editions, 2015). Copyright © 2015 by Ada Limón. Used with permission from Milkweed Editions, milkweed.org.

Tumbling through the
city in my
mind without once
looking up
the racket in
the lugwork probably
rehearsing some
stupid thing I
said or did
some crime or
other the city they
say is a lonely
place until yes
the sound of sweeping
and a woman
yes with a
broom beneath
which you are now
too the canopy
of a fig its
arms pulling the
September sun to it
and she
has a hose too
and so works hard
rinsing and scrubbing
the walk
lest some poor sod
slip on the
silk of a fig
and break his hip
and not probably
reach over to gobble up
the perpetrator
the light catches
the veins in her hands
when I ask about
the tree they
flutter in the air and
she says take
as much as
you can
help me
so I load my
pockets and mouth
and she points
to the step-ladder against
the wall to
mean more but
I was without a
sack so my meager
plunder would have to
suffice and an old woman
whom gravity
was pulling into
the earth loosed one
from a low slung
branch and its eye
wept like hers
which she dabbed
with a kerchief as she
cleaved the fig with
what remained of her
teeth and soon there were
eight or nine
people gathered beneath
the tree looking into
it like a
constellation pointing
do you see it
and I am tall and so
good for these things
and a bald man even
told me so
when I grabbed three
or four for
him reaching into the
giddy throngs of
yellow-jackets sugar
stoned which he only
pointed to smiling and
rubbing his stomach
I mean he was really rubbing his stomach
like there was a baby
in there
it was hot his
head shone while he
offered recipes to the
group using words which
I couldn’t understand and besides
I was a little
tipsy on the dance
of the velvety heart rolling
in my mouth
pulling me down and
down into the
oldest countries of my
body where I ate my first fig
from the hand of a man who escaped his country
by swimming through the night
and maybe
never said more than
five words to me
at once but gave me
figs and a man on his way
to work hops twice
to reach at last his
fig which he smiles at and calls
baby, c’mere baby,
he says and blows a kiss
to the tree which everyone knows
cannot grow this far north
being Mediterranean
and favoring the rocky, sun-baked soils
of Jordan and Sicily
but no one told the fig tree
or the immigrants
there is a way
the fig tree grows
in groves it wants,
it seems, to hold us,
yes I am anthropomorphizing
goddammit I have twice
in the last thirty seconds
rubbed my sweaty
forearm into someone else’s
sweaty shoulder
gleeful eating out of each other’s hands
on Christian St.
in Philadelphia a city like most
which has murdered its own
people
this is true
we are feeding each other
from a tree
at the corner of Christian and 9th
strangers maybe
never again.

Copyright © 2013 by Ross Gay. Originally published in the May-June 2013 issue of American Poetry Review. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.

Is that Eric Garner worked
for some time for the Parks and Rec.
Horticultural Department, which means,
perhaps, that with his very large hands,
perhaps, in all likelihood,
he put gently into the earth
some plants which, most likely,
some of them, in all likelihood,
continue to grow, continue
to do what such plants do, like house
and feed small and necessary creatures,
like being pleasant to touch and smell,
like converting sunlight
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe.

Copyright © 2015 by Ross Gay. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.

Today, November 28th, 2005, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,
I am staring at my hands in the common pose
of the hungry and penitent. I am studying again
the emptiness of my clasped hands, wherein I see
my sister-in-law days from birthing 
the small thing which will erase,
in some sense, the mystery of my father's departure;
their child will emerge with ten fingers,
and toes, howling, and his mother will hold
his gummy mouth to her breast and the stars
will hang above them and not one bomb
will be heard through that night. And my brother will stir,
waking with his wife the first few days, and he will run
his long fingers along the soft terrain of his child's skull
and not once will he cover the child's ears
or throw the two to the ground and cover them
from the blasts. And this child will gaze
into a night which is black and quiet.
She will pull herself up to her feet
standing like a buoy in wind-grooved waters,
falling, and rising again, never shaken
by an explosion. And her grandmother
will watch her stumble through a park or playground,
will watch her sail through the air on swings,
howling with joy, and never once
will she snatch her from the swing and run
for shelter because again, the bombs are falling.
The two will drink cocoa, the beautiful lines 
in my mother's face growing deeper as she smiles
at the beautiful boy flipping the pages of a book
with pictures of dinosaurs, and no bomb
will blast glass into this child's face, leaving
the one eye useless. No bomb will loosen the roof,
crushing my mother while this child sees
plaster and wood and blood where once his Nana sat.
This child will not sit with his Nana, killed by a bomb,
for hours. I will never drive across two states
to help my brother bury my mother this way. To pray
and weep and beg this child to speak again.
She will go to school with other children,
and some of them will have more food than others,
and some will be the witnesses of great crimes,
and some will describe flavors with colors, and some
will have seizures, and some will read two grade
levels ahead, but none of them will tip their desks
and shield their faces, nor watch as their teacher
falls out of her shoes, clinging to the nearest child. 
This child will bleed 
and cry and curse his living parents
and slam doors and be hurt and hurt again. And she will feel
clover on her bare feet. Will swim in frigid waters.
Will climb trees and spy cardinal chicks blind
and peeping. And no bomb will kill this child's parents. 
No bomb will kill this child's grandparents. No bomb
will kill this child's uncles. And no bomb will kill
this child, who will raise to his mouth
some small morsel of food of which there is more
while bombs fall from the sky like dust
brushed from the hands of a stupid god and children
whose parents named them will become dust 
and their parents will drape themselves in black
and dream of the tiny mouths which once reared
to suckle or gasp at some bird sailing by
and their tears will make a mud which will heal nothing, 
and today I will speak no word
except the name of that child whose absence
makes the hands of her parents shiver. A name
which had a meaning. 

As will yours. 

                                                  —for Mikayla Grace

Copyright © 2011 by Ross Gay. Reprinted from Bringing the Shovel Down with the permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

the bullet is his whole life.
his mother named him & the bullet

was on its way. in another life
the bullet was a girl & his skin

was a boy with a sad laugh.
they say he asked for it— 

must I define they? they are not
monsters, or hooded or hands black

with cross smoke.
they teachers, they pay tithes

they like rap, they police—good folks
gather around a boy’s body

to take a picture, share a prayer.
oh da horror, oh what a shame

why’d he do that to himself?
they really should stop
getting themselves killed

Copyright © 2015 by Danez Smith. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 3, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets

My mother is taking 
me to the store 
because it’s hot out and I’m sick and want a popsicle. All the other kids
are at school sitting 
in rows of small desks, looking 
out the window. 
She is wearing one of those pantsuits 

with shoulder pads 
and carrying a purse with a checkbook. We are holding hands, standing in 
front of the big automatic doors 
which silently swing open 
so we can 
walk in together, so we can 
step out of the heat and step 

into a world of fluorescent light and cool, cool air. 
Then, as if a part of the heat 
had suddenly broken off, 
had become its own power, a man 
places his arm around her 
shoulders but also around her neck 
and she lets go of my hand and pushes me 
away. Pushes me toward 

the safety of the checkout line. Then the man begins to yell. 
And then the man begins to cry. 
The pyramid 
of canned beans in front of me 
is so perfect 
I can’t imagine anyone needing beans 
bad enough 
to destroy it. The man is walking my mother 

down one aisle and then another aisle 
and then another 
like a father dragging
his daughter toward a wedding he cannot find. 
Everyone is 
standing so still. All you can hear
is my mom pleading
and the sound of the air conditioner like Shhhhhhhhhh.

Copyright © 2018 by Matthew Dickman. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 16, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.

Copyright © 2005 James Wright. From Selected Poems. Reprinted with permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

To be a good
ex/current friend for R. To be one last

inspired way to get back at R. To be relationship
advice for L. To be advice

for my mother. To be a more comfortable
hospital bed for my mother. To be

no more hospital beds. To be, in my spare time,
America for my uncle, who wants to be China

for me. To be a country of trafficless roads
& a sports car for my aunt, who likes to go

fast. To be a cyclone
of laughter when my parents say

their new coworker is like that, they can tell
because he wears pink socks, see, you don’t, so you can’t,

can’t be one of them. To be the one
my parents raised me to be—

a season from the planet
of planet-sized storms.

To be a backpack of PB&J & every
thing I know, for my brothers, who are becoming

their own storms. To be, for me, nobody,
homebody, body in bed watching TV. To go 2D

& be a painting, an amateur’s hilltop & stars,
simple decoration for the new apartment

with you. To be close, J.,
to everything that is close to you—

blue blanket, red cup, green shoes
with pink laces.

To be the blue & the red.
The green, the hot pink.

From When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities. Copyright © 2016 by Chen Chen. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.

When I saw you ahead I ran two blocks
shouting your name then realizing it wasn’t
you but some alarmed pretender, I went on
running, shouting now into the sky,
continuing your fame and luster. Since I've
been incinerated, I've oft returned to this thought,
that all things loved are pursued and never caught,
even as you slept beside me you were flying off.
At least what's never had can’t be lost, the sieve
of self stuck with just some larger chunks, jawbone,
wedding ring, a single repeated dream,
a lullaby in every elegy, descriptions
of the sea written in the desert, your broken
umbrella, me claiming I could fix it.

From Primitive Mentor by Dean Young. Copyright © 2008 by Dean Young. Published by University of Pittsburgh Press. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

If a human body has two-hundred-and-six bones
and thirty trillion cells, and each cell
has one hundred trillion atoms, if the spine
has thirty-three vertebrae—
                   if each atom
has a shadow—then the lilacs across the yard
are nebulae beginning to star.
If the fruit flies that settle on the orange
on the table rise
like the photons
                     from a bomb fire miles away,
my thoughts at the moment of explosion
are nails suspended
in a jar of honey.
                              I peel the orange
for you, spread the honey on your toast.
When our skin touches
our atoms touch, their shadows
merging into a shadow galaxy.
And if echoes are shadows
of sounds, if each hexagonal cell in the body
is a dark pool of jelly,
if within each cell
drones another cell—
                        The moment the bomb explodes
the man’s spine bends like its shadow
across the road.
The moment he loses his hearing
I think you are calling me
from across the house
because my ears start to ring.
From the kitchen window
                     I see the lilacs crackling like static
as if erasing, teleporting,
thousands of bees rising from the blossoms:
tiny flames in the sun.
I lick the knife   
and the honey pierces my tongue:
                       a nail made of light.
My body is wrapped in honey. When I step outside
                                  I become fire.

Copyright © 2014 by Sara Eliza Johnson. Used with permission of the author.

It’s interesting to me there’s a minimum
but no maximum wage. One without the other
seems like pants without legs or love
without someone to love. So what
are the groups? People
who want no minimum or maximum wage;
people who want a minimum
but no maximum wage; people
who want a minimum
and maximum wage; and people
who want to eat. A minimum wage
of twenty bucks an hour
is roughly eight hundred a week,
or forty grand a year,
or 1.6 million in a life. There’s
your maximum wage—1.6 million a year.
If you earn in a year
what I earn my entire life,
you deserve the right
to be happy about it
in a gated community
where you don’t have to be ashamed
of the dance of your joy.
I deserve the right
to put heirloom tomatoes
in the salad now and then.
Such as when my kid
got her cast off
and her hand looked fine,
like it intended to go on waving
at moonlight and birds.
And I never thought about it
but slipped the insurance card
out of my wallet and slid it over.
And the car started
the first time
for the drive home
to our little bungalow
that needs a new paint job,
but that’ll happen this summer,
right before we go to a lake
for a few days and I open a beer
one night and think, I have a place
in whatever this is.
Then listen to the stars
saying nothing in peace,
though what passes for peace
is a mystery to me,
not unlike who’s behind
the universe or why so many people
in unions voted for people
who wanted to kill unions, but we did
and they died, unions died.
Now where on earth
am I supposed to send the flowers?

Copyright © 2017 Bob Hicok. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Summer 2017.

Prospero

Assume, just for a moment, 
I am denied a job
in the factory of my dreams
under the fluorescent lights
of a porcelain white foreman.

It’s orderly and neat.
I feed my family.
No one questions my face.
I raised my son in my likeness,
so he would never go unseen,

bobbing on a wave of expectation,
I set in motion with my back
put into my work, praying
for my country, blessed 
with more of me, never worrying

about those who might die,
or those who did, trying
to stir a storm, trying
to stand where I’m standing.

Copyright © 2018 by A. Van Jordan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 16, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

I began to die, then. I think
I was asleep. Dreaming
of an afterlife that revised
my flesh into what
I had wanted. Why do
I think of Ronald Reagan
the way one recalls
vague nightmare:
the sick heart and terror
which is percussive.
Was this the year
I saw him at the airport.
Men grimly tested
my body for hidden death,
waving a wand up
and down. My left arm
healed wrongly
and it was surgery
that put it right. Look,
if you want, at
the pale stippling of scar,
there. Some nights I wake
and everything hurts
a little. It is
amazing how long
a ruined thing
will burn. In the night,
there are words,
though often I've denied
their shape. Their sound.
My soul: whatever
it sings it is singing.

Copyright © 2018 by Paul Guest. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 10, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

[For Petra]

Scientists say the average human
life gets three months longer every year.
By this math, death will be optional. Like a tie
or dessert or suffering. My mother asks
whether I’d want to live forever.
“I’d get bored,” I tell her. “But,” she says,
“there’s so much to do,” meaning
she believes there’s much she hasn’t done.
Thirty years ago she was the age I am now
but, unlike me, too industrious to think about
birds disappeared by rain. If only we had more
time or enough money to be kept on ice
until such a time science could bring us back.
Of late my mother has begun to think life
short-lived. I’m too young to convince her
otherwise. The one and only occasion
I was in the same room as the Mona Lisa,
it was encased in glass behind what I imagine
were velvet ropes. There’s far less between
ourselves and oblivion—skin that often defeats
its very purpose. Or maybe its purpose
isn’t protection at all, but rather to provide
a place, similar to a doctor’s waiting room,
in which to sit until our names are called.
Hold your questions until the end.
Mother, measure my wide-open arms—
we still have this much time to kill.

Copyright © 2017 by Nicole Sealey. Originally published in The Village Voice. Used with permission of the author.

Really nice meeting you sorry
I have to hurry off there’s this thing
happening this thing I must do
you too yes dying is the thing
everyone is not talking about it
why ruin karaoke night why discolor
the air between you and the bartender
hello what can I get for you
it’s miraculous we’re here and then
the world is yanked from us and then
time dismantles our bodies to dust
okay um can I help the next customer
see it would be awkward
let’s not bring it up mum’s the word
come on now we’ve still got
some living to do pick up that trumpet
I’ve got mine already never mind
we can’t play any instruments
the point is to make a sound
any sound in this endless parade
shimmering toward silence.

Copyright © 2018 David Hernandez. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Winter 2018.

The library is dangerous—
Don’t go in. If you do

You know what will happen.
It’s like a pet store or a bakery—

Every single time you’ll come out of there
Holding something in your arms.

Those novels with their big eyes.
And those no-nonsense, all muscle

Greyhounds and Dobermans,
All non-fiction and business,

Cuddly when they’re young,
But then the first page is turned.

The doughnut scent of it all, knowledge,
The aroma of coffee being made

In all those books, something for everyone,
The deli offerings of civilization itself.

The library is the book of books,
Its concrete and wood and glass covers

Keeping within them the very big,
Very long story of everything.

The library is dangerous, full
Of answers. If you go inside,

You may not come out
The same person who went in.

Copyright © 2017 by Alberto Ríos. Used with the permission of the author.

The border is a line that birds cannot see.
The border is a beautiful piece of paper folded carelessly in half.
The border is where flint first met steel, starting a century of fires.
The border is a belt that is too tight, holding things up but making it hard to breathe.
The border is a rusted hinge that does not bend.
The border is the blood clot in the river’s vein.
The border says stop to the wind, but the wind speaks another language, and keeps going.
The border is a brand, the “Double-X” of barbed wire scarred into the skin of so many.
The border has always been a welcome stopping place but is now a stop sign, always red.
The border is a jump rope still there even after the game is finished.
The border is a real crack in an imaginary dam.
The border used to be an actual place, but now, it is the act of a thousand imaginations.
The border, the word border, sounds like order, but in this place they do not rhyme.
The border is a handshake that becomes a squeezing contest.

The border smells like cars at noon and wood smoke in the evening.
The border is the place between the two pages in a book where the spine is bent too far.
The border is two men in love with the same woman.
The border is an equation in search of an equals sign.
The border is the location of the factory where lightning and thunder are made.
The border is “NoNo” The Clown, who can’t make anyone laugh.
The border is a locked door that has been promoted.
The border is a moat but without a castle on either side.
The border has become Checkpoint Chale.
The border is a place of plans constantly broken and repaired and broken.
The border is mighty, but even the parting of the seas created a path, not a barrier.
The border is a big, neat, clean, clear black line on a map that does not exist.
The border is the line in new bifocals: below, small things get bigger; above, nothing changes.
The border is a skunk with a white line down its back.

Copyright © 2015 by Alberto Ríos. Used with permission of the author. 

when he knew nothing.  A leaf
looks like this, doesn’t it? No one
to ask. So came the invention
of the question too, the way all 
at heart are rhetorical, each leaf
suddenly wedded to its shade. When God 

knew nothing, it was better, wasn't it? 
Not the color blue yet, its deep 
unto black.  No color at all really, 
not yet one thing leading to another, sperm 
to egg endlessly, thus cities, thus 
the green countryside lying down 
piecemeal, the meticulous and the trash, 
between lake and woods 
the dotted swiss of towns along 
any state road. Was God

sleeping when he knew nothing?  As opposed 
to up all night (before there was night) 
or alert all day  (before day)?  As opposed to that,
little engine starting up by itself, history, 
a thing that keeps beginning
and goes past its end. Will it end, this
looking back?  From here, it's one shiny 
ravaged century after another, 
but back there, in a house or two: a stillness, 
a blue cup, a spoon, one silly flower raised up 
from seed.  I think so fondly of the day 
someone got lucky 
and dodged the tragedy meant for him. It spilled 
like sound from a faulty speaker
over an open field. He listened from
a distance. God-like, any one of us
could say.

From Grace, Fallen From by Marianne Boruch. Copyright © 2008 by Marianne Boruch. Published by Wesleyan University Press. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

we let our hair down.  It wasn't so much that we 
worried about what people thought or about keeping it real 
but that we knew this was our moment. We knew we'd blow our cool
 
sooner or later.  Probably sooner.  Probably even before we 
got too far out of Westmont High and had kids of our own who left
home wearing clothes we didn't think belonged in school.

Like Mrs. C. whose nearly unrecognizably pretty senior photo we  
passed every day on the way to Gym, we'd get old.   Or like Mr. Lurk 
who told us all the time how it's never too late

to throw a Hail Mary like he did his junior year and how we
could win everything for the team and hear the band strike 
up a tune so the cheer squad could sing our name, too. Straight

out of a Hallmark movie, Mr. Lurk's hero turned teacher story.  We
had heard it a million times. Sometimes he'd ask us to sing
with him, T-O-N-Y-L-U-R-K Tony Tony Lurk Lurk Lurk. Sin

ironia, con sentimiento, por favor, and then we
would get back to our Spanish lessons, opening our thin
textbooks, until the bell rang and we went on to the cotton gin

in History. Really, this had nothing to do with being cool. We
only wanted to have a moment to ourselves, a moment before Jazz
Band and after Gym when we could look in the mirror and like it. June

and Tiffany and Janet all told me I looked pretty. We
took turns saying nice things, though we might just as likely say, Die
and go to hell.  Beauty or hell. No difference. The bell would ring soon.





With thanks to "We Real Cool" by Gwendolyn Brooks

Copyright © 2014 by Camille Dungy. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on January 14, 2014. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

REASON                /               UNREASON

 

the brain is                 

           an unlit synagogue 

easily charted               

           in dark waters

using machines            

           it can baffle faith

& therapy        

           it can asphyxiate

don’t worry                 

           the drowning dogs

your pretty head          

           painted for the gods

it’s simple                    

           to rage & riot & rot

to manage                    

           the vacant parking lot

with the appropriate     

           knives   do what some

medicines                    

           can not

Copyright © 2017 by sam sax. “Post-Diagnosis” originally appeared in Madness (Penguin, 2017). Reprinted with permission of the author.

The screens plant bulbs
of tension inward, but hit no nerves.

River of speechless current.
My gaze faces the screen, laps up

blue-eyed policemen in bloom
and a fat fog fanning out by the inch

across cities in eastern China.
Refresh for a politician yawning

wolfish monosyllables.
In the bed of pixels, I can make out

truth and fiction taking turns,
one imitating the other.

My window faces stone and glass.
My screen faces my face.

The clean square cells of this city
contain so many faces.

Each brightened by a fear
which makes them commonplace.

Copyright © 2017 by Jenny Xie. Used with permission of the author.

boats used by African emigrants to reach Spanish islands

A girl asleep beneath a fishing net

Sandals the color of tangerines

Off the coast of Morocco

A moonlit downpour, God's skeleton

Bark, dory, punt, skiff

"Each with a soul full of scents"

Day after day spent shaping

A ball of wax into a canary

Little lamp, little lamp

The word "contraband" arrived

In English in the 16th century via Spanish

Throw your shadow overboard

Proverbs, blessings scratched into wood

The tar of my country better than the honey of others

Copyright © 2012 by Eduardo Corral. From Slow Lightning (Yale University Press, 2012). Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.

A species of tiny human has been discovered, which lived on the remote Indonesian island of Flores just 18,000 years ago. . . . Researchers have so far unearthed remains from eight individuals who were just one metre tall, with grapefruit-sized skulls. These astonishing little people . . . made tools, hunted tiny elephants and lived at the same time as modern humans who were colonizing the area.

—Nature, October 2004

Light: lifted, I stretch my brief body.
Color: blaze of day behind blank eyes.

Sound: birds stab greedy beaks
Into trunk and seed, spill husk

Onto the heap where my dreaming
And my loving live.

Every day I wake to this.

Tracks follow the heavy beasts
Back to where they huddle, herd.

Hunt: a dance against hunger.
Music: feast and fear.

This island becomes us.

Trees cap our sky. It rustles with delight
In a voice green as lust. Reptiles

Drag night from their tails,
Live by the dark. A rage of waves

Protects the horizon, which we would devour.
One day I want to dive in and drift,

Legs and arms wracked with danger.
Like a dark star. I want to last.

Copyright © 2007 by Tracy K. Smith. Reprinted from Duende with the permission of the author and Graywolf Press. All rights reserved. www.graywolfpress.org

i know we exist because of what we make. my dad works at a steel mill. he worked at a steel mill my whole life. at the party, the liberal white woman tells me she voted for hillary & wishes bernie won the nomination. i stare in the mirror if i get too lonely. thirsty to see myself i once walked into the lake until i almost drowned. the white woman at the party who might be liberal but might have voted for trump smiles when she tells me how lucky i am. how many automotive components do you think my dad has made. you might drive a car that goes and stops because of something my dad makes. when i watch the news i hear my name, but never see my face. every other commercial is for taco bell. all my people fold into a $2 crunchwrap supreme. the white woman means lucky to be here and not mexico. my dad sings por tu maldito amor & i’m sure he sings to america. y yo caí en tu trampa ilusionado. the white woman at the party who may or may not have voted for trump tells me she doesn't meet too many mexicans in this part of new york city. my mouth makes an oh, but i don't make a sound. a waiter pushes his brown self through the kitchen door carrying hors d’oeuvres. a song escapes through the swinging door. selena sings pero ay como me duele & the good white woman waits for me to thank her.  

Copyright © 2017 by José Olivarez. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 1, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

No matter where we go, there’s a history
of white men describing a landscape

so they can claim it. I look out the window
& I don’t see a sunset, I see a man’s

pink tongue razing the horizon.
I once heard a man describe the village

in Vietnam where my family comes from.
It was beautiful

a poem I would gift my mother
but somewhere in the pastoral I am reminded

a child (recently) was blown apart
after stepping on a mine, a bulb, I guess

blooming forty years later—
maybe it was how the poet said dirt

or maybe it was how he used fire
to describe the trees.

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