Always in relation
Is what any one is
& change happens
Only in relations
Limited by what
Structures
Life
What naturalizes
Time & makes it
So important
Money
What racializes
Through institutions
Policing
Borders
The work you do
Without regard
For what’s legal
What regulates
The state
That isn’t above
Criminalizing
The work you do
For the sake
Of a jobs program

Copyright © 2023 by Wendy Trevino. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 16, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets. 

A bed should be a tender slab, devoid of insects.

A tired woman should be able to lie across diagonally,
headache to hag feet.

A bed should exist in crystalline silence.

It should have a sleepy blue view.
A nearby window not close to voyeurs.

A bed should have a special pillow to shush the head,
to coddle and safety the amygdala.

If established on the ground, a bed should have
a bioluminescent quilt to redirect the gaze: the prey
is over there.

If established in a tree, the quilt may allow for free feet
or a tossback with luxuriant abandon.

Among other things, do not build your bed on dictionaries
or books of any kind.

A bed is best made from a wood frame, or metal, or dark matter.

A bed should be free of lye, lime, and liars.

One should be able to enter the bed and think
I could fly far away in this. I could die; I could just die.

Copyright © 2023 by Jill Khoury. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 14, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets. 

Confinement is part of confinement.
As it is part of worms
to go through the surface
(like death and roots),
confinement starts
at the very moment of impairment.
They say that a few inches underground
it is possible to hear all
the rumors of the world.
That they are just heartbeats, almost imperceptible
that become from one moment to the next
like a desperate pounding.
They say humidity 
is part of the charm,
and that it sometimes suffocates,
like the measured sadness
that comes from the impossibility
of seeing one’s own face
in the mirror.

Copyright © 2023 by Carlos Soto-Román. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 17, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets. 

It takes a heap o’ livin’ in a house t’ make it home,
A heap o’ sun an’ shadder, an’ ye sometimes have t’ roam
Afore ye really ’preciate the things ye lef’ behind,
An’ hunger fer ’em somehow, with ’em allus on yer mind.
It don’t make any differunce how rich ye get t’ be,
How much yer chairs an’ tables cost, how great yer luxury;
It ain’t home t’ ye, though it be the palace of a king,
Until somehow yer soul is sort o’ wrapped round everything.

Home ain’t a place that gold can buy or get up in a minute;
Afore it’s home there’s got t’ be a heap o’ livin’ in it;
Within the walls there’s got t’ be some babies born, and then
Right there ye’ve got t’ bring ‘em up t’ women good, an’ men;
And gradjerly, as time goes on, ye find ye wouldn’t part
With anything they ever used—they’ve grown into yer heart:
The old high chairs, the playthings, too, the little shoes they wore
Ye hoard; an’ if ye could ye’d keep the thumbmarks on the door.

Ye’ve got t’ weep t’ make it home, ye’ve got t’ sit an’ sigh
An’ watch beside a loved one’s bed, an’ know that Death is nigh;
An’ in the stillness o’ the night t’ see Death’s angel come,
An’ close the eyes o’ her that smiled, an’ leave her sweet voice dumb.
Fer these are scenes that grip the heart, an’ when yer tears are dried,
Ye find the home is dearer than it was, an’ sanctified;
An’ tuggin’ at ye always are the pleasant memories
O’ her that was an’ is no more—ye can’t escape from these.

Ye’ve got t’ sing an’ dance fer years, ye’ve got t’ romp an’ play,
An’ learn t’ love the things ye have by usin’ ’em each day;
Even the roses ’round the porch must blossom year by year
Afore they ’come a part o’ ye, suggestin’ someone dear
Who used t’ love ’em long ago, an’ trained ’em jes’ t’ run
The way they do, so’s they would get the early mornin’ sun;
Ye’ve got t’ love each brick an’ stone from cellar up t’ dome:
It takes a heap o’ livin’ in a house t’ make it home.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on September 2, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.

Saturday mornings were science fiction—
That is, on that day anything was possible.

We didn’t have to go to the movies for that,
Though when we did, we were introduced to ourselves

More than anything. Ourselves in rockets,
Ourselves taking chances, ourselves speaking to the universe.

Outside of the movies, we were still in them—
Our bikes were our rockets, our submarines, our jets.

But mostly, and first, our bikes were our horses 
In this childhood West, a loyal, red Western Flyer

Taking me everywhere, up and down, fast and slow.
Only later did I understand it was my own legs

That did it all. My own legs and my arms to steer,
My own small, mighty lungs to shout—

A shout that would later become a song.
When they weren’t horses, when my legs were tired,

When the shouts calmed down into just talking,
We bike-riders would sit, and find in that talking 

The gold we had been looking for, though we didn’t know it.
The gold was made of plans for Saturdays still to come—

We each had different ideas, but we all had them,
Speaking them confidently as if we were lions,

Deep-voiced and sure even in that quietude.
What would happen next was far away,

But even as we rested, something in us knew
We would catch the future no matter how fast it ran.

Copyright © 2023 by Alberto Ríos. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 27, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets. 

I once beheld the end of time!
   Its stream had ceased to be.
The drifting years, all soiled with crime,
   Lay in a filthy sea.

The prospect o’er the reeking waste
   Was plain from where I stood.
From shore to shore the wreckage faced
   The surface of the flood.

There all that men were wont to prize
   When time was flowing on,
Seemed here to sink and there to rise
   In formless ruin blown.

In slimy undulations roiled
   The glory of the brave;
The scholar’s fame, the rich man’s gold,
   Alike were on the wave.

There government, a monstrous form
   (The sea groaned ’neath the load),
A helpless mass blown by the storm,
   On grimy billows rode.

The bodies of great syndicates
   And corporations, trusts,
Proud combinations, and e’en states,
   All beasts of savage lusts,

With all the monsters ever bred
   In civilization’s womb,
Lay scattered, floating, dead,
   Throughout that liquid tomb.

It was the reign of general death,
   Wide as the sweep of eye,
Save two vile ghosts that still drew breath
   Because they could not die.

Ambition climbed above the waves
   From wreck to wreck he strove.
And as they sank to watery waves,
   He on to glory rode.

And there was Greed—immortal Greed—
   Just from the shores of time.
Of all hell’s hosts he took the lead,
   A monarch of the slime.

He neither sank below nor rose
   Above the brewing flood;
But swam full length, down to his nose,
   And steered where’er he would.

Whatever wreckage met his snout
   He swallowed promptly down—
Or floating empire, or redoubt,
   Or drifting heathen town.

And yet, it seemed in all that streaming waste
There nothing so much gratified his taste
As foetid oil in subterranean tanks,
And cliffs of coal untouched in nature’s banks,
Or bits of land where cities might be built,
As foraging plats for vileness and guilt;
Or fields of asphalt, soft as fluent salve
Or anything the Indian asked to have.

I once beheld the end of time!
   Its stream had run away;
The years all drifted down in slime,
   In filth dishonored lay.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on November 19, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.

And what, in fact, is dignity? In those
Who have it pure, it is the soul’s repose, 
The base of character—no mere reserve 
That springs from pride, or want of mental nerve.
The dignity that wealth, or station, breeds, 
Or in the breast on base emotion feeds, 
Is easy weighed, and easy to be sized—A bastard virtue, much to be despised.

True dignity is like a summer tree. 
Beneath whose shade both beast, and bird, and bee,
When by the heated skies oppressed, may come,
And feel, in its magnificence, at home; 
Or rather like a mountain which forgets
Itself in its own greatness, and so lets 
Vast armies fuss and fight upon its sides,
While high in clouds its peaceful summit hides,
And from the voiceless crest of glistening snow, 
Pours trickling fatness on the fields below;
Repellant force, that daunts obtrusive wrong,
And woos the timid steps of right along;
And hence a garb which magistrates prepare,
When called to judge, and really seem to wear. 
In framing character on whate’er plan, 
‘Tis always needed to complete the man, 
The job quite done, and Dignity without, 
Is like an apple pie, the fruit left out. 

 

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on November 3, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets. 

These, fast asleep in such a little room,
The tawdry grave-wreaths crackling over them,
Might have been men who would have moved the world,
Might have been women, mothers of a race
More great than we can know. The could not live:
We have to build great armaments to fight
Forests of things half man, half animal,
Far in the islands that our trading needs:
We have to build high palaces to keep
White childless women merry and content:
We have no money left to save for these,
These, only little children, only poor,
Life in the heats; we have no place to spare
That they could play in …. Yet we need not grieve,
Not more than they, asleep. We need not grieve
Even for those of them who have not died,
For they, made warped and blind by circumstance
Shall live their round from stupid day to day,
Too dull to know a need; and they shall bear
Dull, blinded folk to rule this world of ours
We shall have died from. Do not mourn for these:
Mourn for that sorry world that still shall be,
Made by our careless hands that make today
These little children so to live or die. 

This poem is in the public domain. 

O water, voice of my heart, crying in the sand,
All night long crying with a mournful cry,
As I lie and listen, and cannot understand
The voice of my heart in my side or the voice of the sea,
O water, crying for rest, is it I, is it I?
All night long the water is crying to me.

Unresting water, there shall never be rest
Till the last moon droop and the last tide fail,
And the fire of the end begin to burn in the west;
And the heart shall be weary and wonder and cry like the sea,
All life long crying without avail,
As the water all night long is crying to me.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on December 10, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.

                                             they are hurrying along, panting
these of the sort that for three thousand years have not imagined Isis Floating on a Stillstream, Isis in her exhaustion and despair, Isis deep in the seasons, regathering the pieces, mending, loving. Only a few years ago they spoke so often of what is still to come from “man,” “becomingly to be going to become”— 
                                                           watch this space
as if they had as yet no prescience of their doom. Behind them now are seas in tears, seas in flame. Barren ground belching gas. Rat droppings on a strawberry bedspread in a house with one wall. Not a soul in sight in any direction. No wonder they weep,
                                                 there falls some feel on them 
remembering the lethal smugness of being a corporatized subject before the punk opening of disaster, before they became wayweeds
                                                         objects before death 
with rictus smiles, viral hatreds, larvae on their tongues, phantom limbs climbing the rotten ladders of old hierarchies. They pass now, the open-carry let-freedom-hang-a-leftie swaggerers among them, rags of the Logos pulled down over their heads, having sawed through the green of the Islands of Breath,
                                        Dawn squatting to urinate on the grass
Listen, they are calling to God to save their souls, screaming for His intervention, weeping. But no ideal being of ardor order grace fairness would miss their species were it to vanish—and, for all its obscene clinging to itself, it will vanish. Like Agamemnon, these minuses—always at war and jealous of their property—“eat ruin.” Perhaps after a chastening apocalypse like this one, someone brandishing an LED torch (lol) may lead them to a spiritual disarmament. A spark, a rain cloud approaching, suspicions, theories—no, it wouldn’t last.

Copyright © 2023 by Cal Bedient. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 29, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets. 

i have diver’s lungs from holding my
breath for so long. i promise you
i am not trying to break a record
sometimes i just forget to
exhale. my shoulders held tightly
near my neck, i am a ball of tense
living, a tumbleweed with steel-toed
boots. i can’t remember the last time
i felt light as dandelion. i can’t remember
the last time i took the sweetness in
& my diaphragm expanded into song.
they tell me breathing is everything,
meaning if i breathe right i can live to be
ancient. i’ll grow a soft furry tail or be
telekinetic something powerful enough
to heal the world. i swear i thought
the last time i’d think of death with breath
was that balmy day in july when the cops
became a raging fire & sucked the breath
out of Garner; but yesterday i walked
38 blocks to my father’s house with a mask
over my nose & mouth, the sweat dripping
off my chin only to get caught in fabric & pool up
like rain. & i inhaled small spurts of me, little
particles of my dna. i took into body my own self
& thought i’d die from so much exposure
to my own bereavement—they’re saying
this virus takes your breath away, not
like a mother’s love or like a good kiss
from your lover’s soft mouth but like the police
it can kill you fast or slow; dealer’s choice.
a pallbearer carrying your body without a casket.
they say it’s so contagious it could be quite
breathtaking. so persistent it might as well
be breathing                        down your neck—

Copyright © 2020 by Yesenia Montilla. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 21, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

I got the Covid blues
Hazmat outfit to read the news
I gots that damn viral blues
Mystifying perspiring invisible shit
Blowing through the wind like

Yesterday’s news blues
I can’t think breathe or snooze
I gots the rumble rumble chest-rattly 
Bubble gut blues 
I’ve been sanitized ostracized hydrogen peroxide

Cleaner than hospital sheet blues
My tears are sterilized 
My fears capsized spilling
Out over my broke bedtime blues
So much so I’m afraid 

To read the news
I got the Covid-19 stockpile
Body bag blues
Them refrigerated truck blues
Them Roto-Rooter blues

Them hack and wheeze double-
Sneeze Vicks VapoRub Robitussin
Preparation H body ache earthquake 
Ha-cha-cha-cha-cha-cha blues
I’ve got them we wear the mask blues

Them hand sanitizer hydroxychloroquine booze blues
Them broke heel hole in the sole blues
Squeaky wheel lungs like shredded wheat blues
I got them lockdown shutdown god awful blues
Them loveless touchless cold sheet blues

I got it real bad, them blues
My head is heavy as a brick
I can’t sleep I’m scared to get sick
I’m so paranoid I can’t stop my eye twitch 
Wake up in a hyperventilating sweat blues

I gots them Hail Mary, full of grace
Garlic string around my neck 
Get thee behind me, Satan blues 
Them TB smallpox blanket diphtheria Typhoid Mary
Love in the time of cholera blues blues

Them Brueghel Triumph of Death
Black lungs matter Black Orpheus
Peach Schnapps Doctor Schnabel von Rom
Beak-nosed bleary-eyed cloak and swagger
Death, with occasional smiling blues

I gots them backwater fever swamp 
Florida Water espíritu santos Tuskegee 
What had happened was anti-vax
Death be not proud snot-nosed 
Sitting shiva novena reincarnation

Take it all back blues

Copyright © 2022 by Tony Medina. Originally published in Poem-a-Day September 8, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

I would not tarry if I could be gone 
    Adown the path where calls my eager mind. 
    That fate which knows naught but to grip and bind 
Holds me within its grasp, a helpless pawn, 
And checks my steps when I would travel on. 
    Forever shall my body lag behind, 
    And in this valley with the moaning wind 
Must I abide with never a glimpse of dawn? 

Though bends my body towards the yawning sod, 
    I can endure the pain, the sorrows rife, 
That hold me fast beneath their chastening rod, 
    If from this turmoil and this endless strife, 
Comes there a light to lead man nearer God, 
    And guide his footsteps toward the Larger Life.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on February 25, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets.

I love you but I don’t know you
               —Mennonite Woman

When I was seven, I walked home
with Dereck DeLarge, my arm
 
slung over his skinny shoulders,
after-school sun buffing our lunch boxes.
 
So easy, that gesture, so light— 
the kind of love that lands like a leaf.
 
It was 1963.  
We were two black boys
 
whose snaggle-toothed grins 
held a thousand giggles.
 
Remember? Remember
wanting to play
 
every minute, as if that 
was why we were born?
 
Those hands that bring us
shouting into this life
 
must open like a fanfare 
of big band horns.
 
Though this world is nothing
 
like where we’d been, 
we come anyway, astonished
 
as if to Mardi Gras in full swing.
There must be a time
 
when a child’s heart builds 
a chocolate sunflower
 
while katydids burnish the day
with their busy wings.
 
This itching fury that 
holds me now—this knowing
 
the early welcome
that once lived inside me
 
was somehow sent away:
how I talk myself back
 
into all the regular disguises
but still walk these streets
 
believing in the weather
of the unruined heart.
 
My friends, with crow’s feet
edging their eyes,
 
keep looking for a kinder
city, though they don’t
 
want to seem naïve.
When was the last time
 
you wrapped your arm
around someone’s shoulder
 
and walked him home?

Copyright © 2024 by Tim Seibles. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 19, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets. 

the unholy trinity of suburban late-night salvation
barring seemingly endless options of worship

bean burrito breadsticks and mashed potatoes
or a soft taco pan pizza and a buttered biscuit

an unimaginable combination of food flavors
for people not ready to go home to their parents

and yet none of the options feel quite right
so maybe I should call it Self-Portrait as idling

in a drive-thru with your friends crammed
across the sunken bench seats avoiding

the glow of the check engine light with black tape
pressed with a precision unseen anywhere else

in their lives as a fractured voice says don’t worry
take your time and order whenever you’re ready

from behind a menu backlit like the window
inside of a confessional booth as the hands

of the driver open up like a collection basket
for the wadded-up bills and loose change

that slowly stack up as the years go by
and I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be

in this analogy but I know about masking
warning signs and hearing out of tune

voices scream WE’RE THE KIDS WHO FEEL
LIKE DEAD ENDS so instead I’ll call it Self-

Portrait as From Under the Cork Tree
or maybe even Self-Portrait as whatever

album people listen to when they love
their friends and still want to feel connected

to the grass walls of a teenage wasteland
that they can’t help but run away from

Copyright © 2024 by Aaron Tyler Hand. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 22, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets.