A stream of tender gladness,
Of filmy sun, and opal tinted skies;
Of warm midsummer air that lightly lies
In mystic rings,
Where softly swings
The music of a thousand wings
That almost tones to sadness.

Midway ’twixt earth and heaven,
A bubble in the pearly air, I seem
To float upon the sapphire floor, a dream
Of clouds of snow,
Above, below,
Drift with my drifting, dim and slow,
As twilight drifts to even.

The little fern-leaf, bending
Upon the brink, its green reflection greets,
And kisses soft the shadow that it meets
With touch so fine,
The border line
The keenest vision can’t define;
So perfect is the blending.

The far, fir trees that cover
The brownish hills with needles green and gold,
The arching elms o’erhead, vinegrown and old,
Repictured are
Beneath me far,
Where not a ripple moves to mar
Shades underneath, or over.

Mine is the undertone;
The beauty, strength, and power of the land
Will never stir or bend at my command;
But all the shade
Is marred or made,
If I but dip my paddle blade;
And it is mine alone.

O! pathless world of seeming!
O! pathless life of mine whose deep ideal
Is more my own than ever was the real.
For others Fame
And Love’s red flame,
And yellow gold: I only claim
The shadows and the dreaming.

From Flint and Feather: The Complete Poems of E. Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake) (The Musson Book Co., Limited, 1917) by Emily Pauline Johnson. This poem is in the public domain.

The play room’s alphabet pattern padding could be pulled apart, then
repositioned; after snack, the older, all-day boys—who tore off,
one by one, the turtles’ shells, a hippo’s quiet heft, and fed
the bashful ones their heads—huddled around their stockpile of
letters and laid out a dirty word that made the other kids
giggle or gasp and Miss Margaret tap the backs of their hands with
the yellow wooden yardstick. I couldn’t read yet.
I wouldn’t talk, either;
                              my language was the felt
flowers in the clear plastic tub, at the back table by the window, which
looked out at the slide, glistening like a tongue in
the brash noon light. An older boy stole
my poppy, so I assembled a pansy, pre-cut
by Miss Margaret at her house after school. I imagined her
pouring over a private abundance 
of patterned scissors for the jaggedness of a lily’s leaf, then the sturdy
kitchen shears for a pile of rose petals. Years later, she’d return beneath
the tangled top sheet of dreams, and before I could smooth
the intrusion in me, a muscle-drenched arm—veins like a textbook’s
anatomical orchid, dense hair
like my father had—guided her two fingers farther
into the scissor’s doubled gape—
                                                  Blistering then in the fully-bloomed heat,
the swings seemed to rock, but within themselves, the way
a lightbulb, untouched for years, holds a spasm
in its tungsten, a self-possessed momentum, awaiting fingers
on the switch. A group of girls, that day, trudged over, 
at Miss Margaret’s insistence, barrettes wincing above their ears, 
the button I’d cut from my best Sunday dress a makeshift bud 
atop a glue glob smear. They asked me if I wanted
to play house. I set my pink felt down.
                                              I didn’t know I could be the father, so
I said I’d be the dog. They named me Princess. One girl put on
an apron, white plastic pearls. Two others, fabric dolls in hand,
the daughters. One adhered
                                    a costume mustache and a voice
absurdly low. We arranged the mats by color for the rooms in our
make-believe home. I played my part; I laid in the yard, 
on the green pieces, the letters, an F, an A. My job, I’d decided, was not
to bound into the room, pretend-panting at my family’s feet,
with the whimper
                         dogs give when they want to be loved, but—
watching Miss Margaret tend to the bullies, our tiny table set, 
the family complete, curled up in
my own constant obstinate heat—to guard my made-up post,
on the bladeless lawn, alone, even if anyone called my name.

Copyright © 2021 by Noah Baldino. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 24, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

The snake is 
a sleeve the deer 

puts on, its mouth 
a beaded cuff 

in the haze men 
make of morning 

with each release 
of their fist-gripped 

guns. Is this a dream 
of shame? Is this 

a dream of potential
unmet, of possibility 

undone? School, 
no pants. Brush, 

no teeth. Podium, 
no poems. Open

door, all wall. 
Dear Monster,

none of the guests 
we disinvited arrive. 

In the darkness 
no lion comes.

Copyright © 2019 by Lisa Olstein. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 7, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

What is beheld through glass seems glass.

The quality of what I am
Encases what I am not,
Smooths the strange world.
I perceive it slowly
In my time,
In my material,
As my pride,
As my possession:
The vision is love.

When life crashes like a cracked pane,
Still shall I love
Even the slight grass and the patient dust.
Death also sees, though darkly,
And I must trust then as now
Only another kind of prism
Through which I may not put my hands to touch.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 18, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.

It was not fate which overtook me,
Rather a wayward, wilful wind
That blew hot for awhile
And then, as the even shadows came, blew cold.
What pity it is that a man grown old in life’s dreaming
Should stop, e’en for a moment, to look into a woman’s eyes.
And I forgot!
Forgot that one’s heart must be steeled against the east wind.
Life and death alike come out of the East:
Life as tender as young grass,
Death as dreadful as the sight of clotted blood.
I shall go back into the darkness,
Not to dream but to seek the light again.
I shall go by paths, mayhap,
On roads that wind around the foothills
Where the plains are bare and wild
And the passers-by come few and far between.
I want the night to be long, the moon blind.
The hills thick with moving memories,
And my heart beating a breathless requiem
For all the dead days I have lived.
When the Dawn comes—Dawn, deathless, dreaming—
I shall will that my soul must be cleansed of hate,
I shall pray for strength to hold children close to my heart,
I shall desire to build houses where the poor will know
       shelter, comfort, beauty.

And then may I look into a woman’s eyes
And find holiness, love and the peace which passeth understanding.

From The Book of American Negro Poetry (Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1922), edited by James Weldon Johnson. This poem is in the public domain.

A tree is more than a shadow
Blurred against the sky,
More than ink spilled on the fringe
Of white clouds floating by.
A tree is more than an April design
Or a blighted winter bough
Where love and music used to be.
A tree is something in me,
Very still and lonely now.

From Caroling Dusk (Harper & Brothers, 1927), edited by Countee Cullen. This poem is in the public domain.

The war was all over my hands.
I held the war and I watched them
die in high-definition. I could watch

anyone die, but I looked away. Still,
I wore the war on my back. I put it
on every morning. I walked the dogs

and they too wore the war. The sky
overhead was clear or it was cloudy
or it rained or it snowed, and I was rarely

afraid of what would fall from it. I worried
about what to do with my car, or how
much I could send my great-aunt this month

and the next. I ate my hamburger, I ate
my pizza, I ate a salad or lentil soup,
and this too was the war.

At times I was able to forget that I
was on the wrong side of the war,
my money and my typing and sleeping

sound at night. I never learned how
to get free. I never learned how
not to have anyone’s blood

on my own soft hands.

Copyright © 2019 by Donika Kelly. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 25, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

I sniff the blooming tiger lily,
two tongues sprung open
from one mouth.

I poison the river unintentionally.
I walk on the designated paths.

I splice the mountain, its body and mouth gaping.
I collect rainwater in a wheelbarrow.

I line the whale’s belly with gifts until
they rupture its stomach.
I water the strawberries.

Again I fill my gas tank with dead things,
generations spun together until shiny.
I feed the ducks fresh lettuce.

I maneuver the dead squirrel
on the road, mark the moment
when creature becomes meat.

I accept that my love is a
poisonous flower, routinely fatal.

I calculate the force of
loving in each glittering death.

All day on this land, in the
deep forest, the electric greens and
still-wet mud writhe with life.

The pond gurgles and whispers.
Everyone here knows to shudder
when they see me coming.

The mangos arrive unbruised
at the grocery store.
The wolves should start running.

Copyright © 2022 by Nisha Atalie. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 7, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

Beat the drums of tragedy for me.
Beat the drums of tragedy and death.
And let the choir sing a stormy song
To drown the rattle of my dying breath.

Beat the drums of tragedy for me,
And let the white violins whir thin and slow,
But blow one blaring trumpet note of sun
To go with me
                       to the darkness
                                                where I go.

From The Book of American Negro Poetry (Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1922), edited by James Weldon Johnson. This poem is in the public domain.

In this version, the valley
lime green after rain
rolls its tides before us.

A coyote bush shivers with seed.

We hold out our palms as if catching snow—
our villages of circular tracts
overcast with stars.

We have been moving together in sequence
for thousands of years, paralyzed
only by the question of time.

But now it is autumn under bishop pines—
the young blown down by wind feed
their lichens to the understory.

We follow the deer-path
past the ferns, to the flooded
upper reaches of the estuary.

The channel snakes through horsetails
and hemlock as the forest deepens, rises
behind us and the blue heron,
frozen in the shallows.

The shadow of her long neck ripples.

Somewhere in the rustling tulle reeds
spider is casting her threads to the light

and we spot a crimson-hooded fly agaric,
her toadstool’s gills white
as teeth as the sun
                bleeds into the Pacific.

We will walk the trail
until it turns to sand
and wait at the spit’s edge, listening
to the breakers, the seagulls
as they chatter their twilight preparations.

What we won’t understand
about the sound of the sea is no different
than the origin of planets

or the wind’s crystalline structures
irreversibly changing.

The albatross drags her parachute
over the earth’s gaping mouth.

We turn back only for the instant
the four dimensions fold
into a sandcastle—before its towers
are collapsed by waves.

The face that turns
toward the end of its world
dissolves into space—

despite us, the continuum

Copyright © 2022 by Jennifer Elise Foerster. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 20, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.