Maru Mori brought me
a pair
of socks
which she knitted herself
with her sheepherder’s hands,
two socks as soft
as rabbits.
I slipped my feet
into them
as though into
two
cases
knitted
with threads of
twilight
and goatskin.
Violent socks,
my feet were
two fish made
of wool,
two long sharks
sea-blue, shot
through
by one golden thread,
two immense blackbirds,
two cannons:
my feet
were honored
in this way
by
these
heavenly
socks.
They were
so handsome
for the first time
my feet seemed to me
unacceptable
like two decrepit
firemen, firemen
unworthy
of that woven
fire,
of those glowing
socks.

Nevertheless
I resisted
the sharp temptation
to save them somewhere
as schoolboys
keep
fireflies,
as learned men
collect
sacred texts,
I resisted
the mad impulse
to put them
into a golden
cage
and each day give them
birdseed
and pieces of pink melon.
Like explorers
in the jungle who hand
over the very rare
green deer
to the spit
and eat it
with remorse,
I stretched out
my feet
and pulled on
the magnificent
socks
and then my shoes.

The moral
of my ode is this:
beauty is twice
beauty
and what is good is doubly
good
when it is a matter of two socks
made of wool
in winter.

"Ode to My Socks" from Neruda & Vallejo: Selected Poems, by Pablo Neruda and translated by Robert Bly (Boston: Beacon Press, 1993). Used with permission of Robert Bly.

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

This poem originally appeared in Waxwing, Issue 10, in June 2016. Used with permission of the author.

Out here, there’s a bowing even the trees are doing.
                 Winter’s icy hand at the back of all of us.
Black bark, slick yellow leaves, a kind of stillness that feels
so mute it’s almost in another year.

I am a hearth of spiders these days: a nest of trying.

We point out the stars that make Orion as we take out
       the trash, the rolling containers a song of suburban thunder.

It’s almost romantic as we adjust the waxy blue
       recycling bin until you say, Man, we should really learn
some new constellations.

And it’s true. We keep forgetting about Antlia, Centaurus,
       Draco, Lacerta, Hydra, Lyra, Lynx.

But mostly we’re forgetting we’re dead stars too, my mouth is full
       of dust and I wish to reclaim the rising—

to lean in the spotlight of streetlight with you, toward
       what’s larger within us, toward how we were born.

Look, we are not unspectacular things.
       We’ve come this far, survived this much. What

would happen if we decided to survive more? To love harder?

What if we stood up with our synapses and flesh and said, No.
     No, to the rising tides.

Stood for the many mute mouths of the sea, of the land?

What would happen if we used our bodies to bargain

for the safety of others, for earth,
                 if we declared a clean night, if we stopped being terrified,

if we launched our demands into the sky, made ourselves so big
people could point to us with the arrows they make in their minds,

rolling their trash bins out, after all of this is over?

From The Carrying (Milkweed Editions, 2018) by Ada Limón. Copyright © 2018 by Ada Limón. Used with the permission of Milkweed Editions. milkweed.org.

When she was fenced off even from herself, she had that strangled feeling
as if the alphabet forgot her lips.

How did she mend thoughts that snapped like strained violin strings?
Sometimes, her mind was a turnip she buried in the ground.

Licked by wind, old chairs were left scattered on her ghetto street,
abandoned by Jews rounded up for transport.

But to where?
And she watched grief sit on the shoulders of women

whose legs were knitting-needle thin,
women who covered their eyes with their hands

and still recited blessings over candles lit to honor the Sabbath.
Once, she overheard someone say, “My heart was a sparrow—

now it’s caught in a vice.” Reading Dostoevsky, she was shocked
to learn he spent four whole years in a Siberian prison

with only the Bible as his friend. This gave her hope, so she could still fall in love
with a certain kind of star bright as a glowing złoty, a shiny coin

in the sky, even when she thought the moon was inside out.
Soldering bits of life together like scraps of steel, she and her sister Chana

believed it would be a sin to ever laugh again. But, they laughed, Lord,
they laughed and their hearts were brown wings.

From Aunt Bird (Four Way Press, 2024) by Yerra Sugarman. Copyright © 2024 by Yerra Sugarman. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Come, let us be friends, you and I,
     E’en though the world doth hate at this hour;
Let’s bask in the sunlight of a love so high 
     That war cannot dim it with all its armed power. 

Come, let us be friends, you and I,
     The world hath her surplus of hatred today; 
She needeth more love, see, she droops with a sigh,
     Where her axis doth slant in the sky far away. 

Come, let us be friends, you and I, 
     And love each other so deep and so well, 
That the world may grow steady and forward fly,
     Lest she wander towards chaos and drop into hell. 

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 17, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets.

I look at the world
From awakening eyes in a black face —
And this is what I see:
This fenced-off narrow space
Assigned to me.

I look then at the silly walls
Through dark eyes in a dark face —
And this is what I know:
That all these walls oppression builds
Will have to go!

I look at my own body
With eyes no longer blind —
And I see that my own hands can make
The world that’s in my mind.
Then let us hurry, comrades,
The road to find.

“I Look at the World” by Langston Hughes, copyright © 2009 by The Estate of Langston Hughes. Reprinted by permission of the Estate of Langston Hughes and International Literary Properties LLC.

My heart leaps up when I behold 
   A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began; 
So is it now I am a man; 
So be it when I shall grow old, 
   Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.
 

This poem is in the public domain.

The will to see oneself as 
fragile, fallible, 
liable to fail. 

To consider a stranger and 
hear, in the mind’s ear, 
one’s true voice

insisting: I must change.
Ordinary people do this
Patient urgent work

alone and together
day upon day upon day.
Like my mother, once,

leading her ailing mother 
back through the maze 
of our suburban scrawl,

past ache, past haze, 
past confusion and rage
toward a neat room

where waited prayer,
fear, forgiveness, 
grief, grace. This

is a poem about kin 
and neighbors and nations 
adrift, in error, under siege. 

This is a ceasefire poem. 

Copyright © 2023 by Tracy K. Smith. Reprinted with the permission of the poet.

                The world is a beautiful place 
                                                           to be born into 
if you don’t mind happiness 
                                             not always being 
                                                                        so very much fun 
       if you don’t mind a touch of hell
                                                       now and then
                just when everything is fine
                                                             because even in heaven
                                they don’t sing 
                                                        all the time

             The world is a beautiful place
                                                           to be born into
       if you don’t mind some people dying
                                                                  all the time
                        or maybe only starving
                                                           some of the time
                 which isn’t half so bad
                                                      if it isn’t you

      Oh the world is a beautiful place
                                                          to be born into
               if you don’t much mind
                                                   a few dead minds
                    in the higher places
                                                    or a bomb or two
                            now and then
                                                  in your upturned faces
         or such other improprieties
                                                    as our Name Brand society
                                  is prey to
                                              with its men of distinction
             and its men of extinction
                                                   and its priests
                         and other patrolmen
                                                         and its various segregations
         and congressional investigations
                                                             and other constipations
                        that our fool flesh
                                                     is heir to

Yes the world is the best place of all
                                                           for a lot of such things as
         making the fun scene
                                                and making the love scene
and making the sad scene
                                         and singing low songs of having 
                                                                                      inspirations
and walking around 
                                looking at everything
                                                                  and smelling flowers
and goosing statues
                              and even thinking 
                                                         and kissing people and
     making babies and wearing pants
                                                         and waving hats and
                                     dancing
                                                and going swimming in rivers
                              on picnics
                                       in the middle of the summer
and just generally
                            ‘living it up’

Yes
   but then right in the middle of it
                                                    comes the smiling
                                                                                 mortician

                                           

From A Coney Island of the Mind, copyright ©1955 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.

Lady, my lady, come from out the garden,
Clayfingered, dirtysmocked, and in my time
I too shall learn the quietness of Arden,
Knowledge so long a stranger to my rhyme.

What were more fitting than your springtime task?
Here, close engirdled by your vines and flowers
Surely there is no other grace to ask,
No better cloister from the bickering hours.

A step beyond, the dingy streets begin
With all their farce, and silly tragedy—
But here, unmindful of the futile din
You grow your flowers, far wiser certainly,

You and your garden sum the same to me,
A sense of strange and momentary pleasure,
And beauty snatched—oh, fragmentarily
Perhaps, yet who can boast of other seizure?

Oh, you have somehow robbed, I know not how
The secret of the loveliness of these
Whom you have served so long. Oh, shameless, now
You flaunt the winnings of your thieveries.

Thus, I exclaim against you, profiteer. . . .
For purpled evenings spent in pleasing toil,
Should you have gained so easily the dear
Capricious largesse of the miser soil?

Colorful living in a world grown dull,
Quiet sufficiency in weakling days,
Delicate happiness, more beautiful
For lighting up belittered, grimy ways—

Surely I think I shall remember this,
You in your old, rough dress, bedaubed with clay,
Your smudgy face parading happiness,
Life’s puzzle solved. Perhaps, in turn, you may.

One time, while clipping bushes, tending vines,
(Making your brave, sly mock at dastard days,)
Laugh gently at these trivial, truthful lines—
And that will be sufficient for my praise.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on February 10, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets.

for the young who ask, “How did you learn to like yourself?”

There are glaciers, imposing, yet shrinking.
There is the iris, violet sky cradling shards of sun.
The white Bengal tiger, snow and black ink.
Infinite reasons I could give for gladness,

though none may salve the wound from which
your question arises, how to be glad to be alive?
Stitch your heart’s fissure: recall family, friends,
a slap, cigarette burn, the rod, something smashed 

down, or welled up in your darkened pupil.
Turn outward: two A.M. streets, the creeps in cars,
the chaos of human folly delivered by calm,
coiffed news anchors. The wound is within you

and not. The answer within you and not.
Want, comfort, desire, love ought not be wounds.
We pine for them from our first wail,
what you must give and take, till no voice is left.

Copyright © 2023 by Johnson Cheu. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 21, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets. 

Lying, thinking
Last night
How to find my soul a home
Where water is not thirsty
And bread loaf is not stone
I came up with one thing
And I don’t believe I’m wrong
That nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

There are some millionaires
With money they can’t use
Their wives run round like banshees
Their children sing the blues
They’ve got expensive doctors
To cure their hearts of stone.
But nobody
No, nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Now if you listen closely
I’ll tell you what I know
Storm clouds are gathering
The wind is gonna blow
The race of man is suffering
And I can hear the moan,
’Cause nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

From Oh Pray My Wings Are Gonna Fit Me Well By Maya Angelou. Copyright © 1975 by Maya Angelou. Reprinted with permission of Random House, Inc. For online information about other Random House, Inc. books and authors, visit the website at www.randomhouse.com.

I have a red onion in a green bowl on my kitchen counter
sprouting a green stalk that began as a little green haystack

bump, a knobby cyst, really, that broke surface, felt like what
I imagine I’m feeling for when I rub my breasts in the shower,

my eyes closed as if water is a blindfold allowing me to feel
within that dark any small homicide growing within me. I can’t

bring myself to use the onion, to gnash its skin, to whack off
its hard-on-gooseneck like I’m suddenly death’s

scythe, death’s brindled pet, death’s dappled good-girl. Maybe,
the onion believes in something, imagines itself still wild,

or holds in its layers the delusion of lilacs or iris or
goldenrod or blueberry or some other rambling growth

redacting my sense of abandon, here, in this too-large house,
a-lone-ly, not like a battle with silence way-of-alone-ness but

a passage. Quiet. Sometimes bright, sometimes dim, so, foreign. 
I am a theft waiting to happen, a rotten spell visioning

the onion’s end. Salt. Oil. Softly seared particulate
endings. Oh, onion, circular cycle, joy-halo. Grow.

Copyright © 2023 by Ruth Ellen Kocher. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 24, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets. 

I

Living is no laughing matter:
	you must live with great seriousness
		like a squirrel, for example—
   I mean without looking for something beyond and above living,
		I mean living must be your whole occupation.
Living is no laughing matter:
	you must take it seriously,
	so much so and to such a degree
   that, for example, your hands tied behind your back,
                                            your back to the wall,
   or else in a laboratory
	in your white coat and safety glasses,
	you can die for people—
   even for people whose faces you’ve never seen,
   even though you know living
	is the most real, the most beautiful thing.
I mean, you must take living so seriously
   that even at seventy, for example, you’ll plant olive trees—
   and not for your children, either,
   but because although you fear death you don’t believe it,
   because living, I mean, weighs heavier.

II

Let’s say we’re seriously ill, need surgery—
which is to say we might not get up
			from the white table.
Even though it’s impossible not to feel sad
			about going a little too soon,
we’ll still laugh at the jokes being told,
we’ll look out the window to see if it’s raining,
or still wait anxiously
		for the latest newscast. . . 
Let’s say we’re at the front—
	for something worth fighting for, say.
There, in the first offensive, on that very day,
	we might fall on our face, dead.
We’ll know this with a curious anger,
        but we’ll still worry ourselves to death
        about the outcome of the war, which could last years.
Let’s say we’re in prison
and close to fifty,
and we have eighteen more years, say,
                        before the iron doors will open.
We’ll still live with the outside,
with its people and animals, struggle and wind—
                                I  mean with the outside beyond the walls.
I mean, however and wherever we are,
        we must live as if we will never die.

III

This earth will grow cold,
a star among stars
               and one of the smallest,
a gilded mote on blue velvet—
	  I mean this, our great earth.
This earth will grow cold one day,
not like a block of ice
or a dead cloud even 
but like an empty walnut it will roll along
	  in pitch-black space . . . 
You must grieve for this right now
—you have to feel this sorrow now—
for the world must be loved this much
                               if you’re going to say “I lived”. . .

From Poems of Nazim Hikmet, translated by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk, published by Persea Books. Copyright © 1994 by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk. Used with the permission of Persea Books. All rights reserved.

 

for Maya

We meet at a coffee shop. So much time has passed and who is time? Who is waiting by the windowsill? We make plans to go to a museum but we go to a bookshop instead. We’re leaning in, learning how to talk to each other again. I say, I’m obsessed with my grief and she says, I’m always in mourning. She laughs and it’s an extension of her body. She laughs and it moves the whole room. I say, My home is an extension of my body and she says, Most days are better with a long walk. The world moves without us—so we tend to a garden, a graveyard, a pot on the windowsill. Death is a comfort because it says, Transform but don’t hurry. There is a tenderness to growing older and we are listening for it. Steadier ways to move through the world and we are learning them. A way to touch your own body. A touch that says, Dig deeper. There, in the ground, there is our memory. I am near enough my roots. Time is my friend. Tomorrow is a place we are together.

Copyright © 2021 by Sanna Wani. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 15, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.