Within this black hive to-night
There swarm a million bees;
Bees passing in and out the moon,
Bees escaping out the moon,
Bees returning through the moon,
Silver bees intently buzzing,
Silver honey dripping from the swarm of bees
Earth is a waxen cell of the world comb,
And I, a drone,
Lying on my back,
Lipping honey,
Getting drunk with silver honey,
Wish that I might fly out past the moon
And curl forever in some far-off farmyard flower.

This poem is in the public domain. 

A fifth of animals without backbones could be at risk of extinction, say scientists.
—BBC Nature News

Ask me if I speak for the snail and I will tell you
I speak for the snail.
                          speak of underneathedness
and the welcome of mosses,
                                        of life that springs up,
little lives that pull back and wait for a moment.

I speak for the damselfly, water skeet, mollusk,
the caterpillar, the beetle, the spider, the ant.
                                                        I speak
from the time before spinelessness was frowned upon.

Ask me if I speak for the moon jelly. I will tell you
                        one thing today and another tomorrow
        and I will be as consistent as anything alive
on this earth.

                        I move as the currents move, with the breezes.
What part of your nature drives you? You, in your cubicle
ought to understand me. I filter and filter and filter all day.

Ask me if I speak for the nautilus and I will be silent
as the nautilus shell on a shelf. I can be beautiful
and useless if that's all you know to ask of me.

Ask me what I know of longing and I will speak of distances
        between meadows of night-blooming flowers.
                                                        I will speak
                        the impossible hope of the firefly.

                                                You with the candle
burning and only one chair at your table must understand
        such wordless desire.

                                To say it is mindless is missing the point.

Copyright © 2012 by Camille Dungy. Used with permission of the author.

He winds through the party like wind, one of the just 
who live alone in black and white, bewildered

by the eden of his body. (You, you talk like winter 
rain.) He's the meaning of almost-morning walking home 

at five A.M., the difference a night makes 
turning over into day, simple birds staking claims 

on no sleep. Whatever they call those particular birds. 
He's the age of sensibility at seventeen, he isn't worth

the time of afternoon it takes to write this down. 
He's the friend that lightning makes, raking 

the naked tree, thunder that waits for weeks to arrive; 
he's the certainty of torrents in September, harvest time 

and powerlines down for miles. He doesn't even know 
his name. In his body he's one with air, white as a sky

rinsed with rain. It's cold there, it's hard to breathe, 
and drowning is somewhere to be after a month of drought. 

"A Muse" from Some Are Drowning, by Reginald Shepherd. Copyright © 1995. Reprinted by permission of University of Pittsburgh Press.

The wound on her lip goes white
before returning red.

The virus erupts the lines between chin and
lip, between lip and philtrum.

A sore across two continents of skin, a
bridge of lava.

She will feel healed when the flesh
color returns. The variation

is the aberration. Blood courses to
deliver a clot. Vessels

bouquet under the scalp or in the
womb, in places where we

heal fastest. Cells scramble
a lean-to scab, a mortar of new skin.

The body wants to draw its
seams together.

But Jesus hangs before the
convert eternally

wounded, eternally weeping
from his gashes.

How to open hers without nails or
thorns? How to measure

heartbeats without seeing blood
heave out its rhythms?

A gush slows under pressure
even as the pulse

goes on. Our lesions take air, our
infections seek sunlight. How to

resist our unwilled mechanisms to
staunch?

We push through the same tear in the
world and leave it sore.

When we come, we come open.

Pick a wound slow to bleed and 
slower to seal. We cream

the scar to fade our atlas of living—what
itched its way to a silver road,

what shadow constellation of pox. The
convert counts Jesus’ wounds.

If you count both hands and both feet, all
lashes and piercings

and the forsaken cry, the number is
higher and lower than anyone’s.

Copyright © 2019 by Melody S. Gee. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 5, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

The cow swings her head in a deep drowsy half-circle to and over
Flank and shoulder, lunging
At flies; then fragrantly plunging
Down at the web-washed grass and the golden clover,
Wrenching sideways to get the full tingle; with one warm nudge,
One somnolent wide smudge
Sacred to kine,
Crushing a murmurous of late lush August to wine!

The sky is even water-tone behind suave poplar trees—
Color of glass; the cows
Occasionally arouse
That color, disturb the pellucid cool poplar frieze
With beauty of motion slow and succinct like some grave privilege
Fulfilled. They taste the edge
Of August, they need
No more: they have rose vapors, flushed silence, pulpy milkweed.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on September 8, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

I could not stop my hands clapping. I clapped
And clapped. I clapped as in the dirt the bird collapsed,
As worms grew wings, I clapped.

A man stood in a river balancing
A grape on his lips. His tears fell in the current
Swept them away. He kept performing

His trick: grape hovering over the hole
Of his open mouth and never dropping in. 
I clapped and I could not stop

My hands from wanting to cover my mouth
But they would not. They clapped
And I listened to them clap—a noise

That if there were woods would echo in
The woods. But there were no woods
I could see. Only a man. Twigs in his hair.

Bent over the water where the water stood
Most still. A tree fell in the woods
He kept speaking to his own face—

Is true if and only if a tree fell in the
Woods is true if and only if
He kept speaking to his face in the water

As I clapped, applauding the logic
That needed no belief. Like the shadows
Of bird’s wings, the shadows of my hands

On the ground. If there were birds
I could believe in
the birds so I let myself look up.

One bird kept exploding in the sky.
One flower kept dying. Isn’t it happy? a child asked,
Everything eating the sun? Isn’t it

Happy? Isn’t it—she asked, laying down
On her back in the grass—happy?
Everything eating the sun? Isn’t it—

Copyright © 2011 by Dan Beachy-Quick. “Arcadian” originally appeared in Circle’s Apprentice (Tupelo Press, 2011). Reprinted with permission from the author.

Only one grass whistles out the tooth of my horse
And the moon drops fast behind the fences
And the wheat lolls back
And waits for death

I could see the sea from where I was
My mesh hat shone blue

The jagged cheek of Gibraltar
Solid, sucked in the mouth and never melting
Where my dog’s warm underleg soothes the whetstone
I speak of it thusly
I say it thusly
I lisp its name into the curl of wall stained dark in the impression of my mouth

Only one grass whistles out the tooth of my horse
And the moon bends back
And the wheat lolls back
And opens its stomach
And waits for death

I soak it in my black water
It seethes in bags I have hung up among the rafters
It seethes in bags of amber and jasper transfusions
Flower liquids in cellophane pouches
Streaked with goo clots of plastic soldier sun

When the pitcher is poured out the length of my tongue
And ten vats of grease ignite in unison

Only one grass whistles out the tooth of my horse
A too-tight phylactory
The moon bending back
The wheat lolling back
Scrollboxes clattering on the stone
Jugs of gasoline and jugs of sand

I threw my coat on the sea
The velvet sea
My coat spread
My coat spread
It was the blue of the top of the column of milk
Its soaked embroidery
It was the ditty two winds whined into the anus of night
Skating along the floor of the brook
Are leaves and ice. Devolving on the brook floor
It is only one little one. One blue shard of pale Palestine.
The wineskins are pricked
Goats’ udders banged sore
Where mica lodges in the mucus house

Where my velvet is sucked down
Where the cheek blows thick with sleep to be brushed by the sea
Blue Palestine
Wrung swan neck in oil
Tasseling dirty day with rocks that fly and fly and fall and fall and fall.

The moon bends back
And the wheat lolls back

A cracker whitens on the tongue of the hanged man
My velvet is sucked down the sea
The sea wall is chipped blue
The clock of Palestine
Gulls’ salt beaks
Iron drums soldered shut and stuffed with salt cod
An anvil of rammed earth in the form of a baby belly button
Hair raised on the hat of the imperatrix
Embossed forever in her brass annal

No grass screams against the foot of my horse
No rock whinnies down the side of the sea
No scroll staves off the reeds quivering in my rib wall
And no algaes quiver
And no frogs belch out the tablet over the song of my purchase of night
Blue Palestine
Red sucker bloody on the bib of the world
Blue Palestine
Ice tray soaked in solid sun

14 February 2012

Copyright © 2012 by Ariana Reines. Used with permission of the author.

Wouldbelove, do not think of me as a whetstone
until you hear the whole story:

In it, I’m not the hero, but I’m not the villain either
so let’s say, in the story, I was human

and made of human-things: fear
and hands, underbelly and blade. Let me

say it plain: I loved someone

and I failed at it. Let me say it
another way: I like to call myself wound

but I will answer to knife. Sometimes
I think we have the same name, Notquitelove. I want

to be soft, to say here is my underbelly and I want you
to hold the knife, but I don’t know what I want you to do:

plunge or mercy. I deserve both. I want to hold and be held.  

Let me say it again, Possiblelove: I’m not sure
you should. The truth is: If you don’t, I won’t

die of want or lonely, just time. And not now, not even
soon. But that’s how every story ends eventually.

Here is how one might start: Before. The truth?
I’m not a liar but I close my eyes a lot, Couldbelove.

Before, I let a blade slide itself sharp against me. Look
at where I once bloomed red and pulsing. A keloid

history. I have not forgotten the knife or that I loved
it or what it was like before: my unscarred body

visits me in dreams and photographs. Maybelove,
I barely recognize it without the armor of its scars.

I am trying to tell the truth: the dreams are how
I haunt myself. Maybe I’m not telling the whole story:

I loved someone and now I don’t. I can’t promise
to leave you unscarred. The truth: I am a map

of every blade I ever held. This is not a dream.
Look at us now: all grit and density. What, Wouldbelove

do you know of knives? Do you think you are a soft thing?
I don’t. Maybe the truth is: Both. Blade and guard.

My truth is: blade. My hands

on the blade; my hands, the blade; my hands
carving and re-carving every overzealous fibrous

memory. The truth is: I want to hold your hands
because they are like mine. Holding a knife

by the blade and sharpening it. In your dreams, how much invitation
to pierce are you? Perhapslove, the truth is: I am afraid

we are both knives, both stones, both scarred. Or we will be.

The truth is: I have made fire
before: stone against stone. Mightbelove, I have sharpened

this knife before: blade against blade. I have hurt and hungered
before: flesh

against flesh. I won’t make a dull promise.

Copyright © 2019 by Nicole Homer. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 25, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

I know why I fell hard for Hecuba—
shins skinned and lips split to blooming lupine
on her throat’s rough coat, hurled down the whole length
of disaster—I’m sure I’d grown to know
by then to slacken as a sail against
the current and squall of a woman’s woe.
What could I do but chorus my ruddered
howl to hers? When you’re a brown girl raised up
near the river, there’s always a woman
bereft and bank-wrecked, bloodied and bleating
her insistent lament. Ay Llorona—
every crossing is a tomb and a tune,
a wolf-wail and the moon that turns me to
scratch at the tracks of every mud-dirged girl.

Copyright © 2019 by Deborah Paredez. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 4, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Then came Oscar, the time of the guns, 
And there was no land for a man, no land for a country,
      Unless guns sprang up
      And spoke their language.
The how of running the world was all in guns.

The law of a God keeping sea and land apart,
The law of a child sucking milk,
The law of stars held together,
      They slept and worked in the heads of men
      Making twenty-mile guns, sixty-mile guns,
      Speaking their language
      Of no land for a man, no land for a country
      Unless… guns… unless… guns.

There was a child wanted the moon shot off the sky,
      asking a long gun to get the moon,
      to conquer the insults of the moon,
      to conquer something, anything,
      to put it over and run up the flag,
To show them the running of the world was all in guns.

There was a child wanted the moon shot off the day.
They dreamed… in the time of the guns… of guns.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on October 5, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

If you often find yourself at a loss for words
or don’t know what to say to those you love,
just extract poetry out of poverty, this dystopia
                            of civilization rendered fragrant,
             blossoming onto star-blue fields of loosestrife,
heady spools of spike lavender, of edible clover
                            beckoning to say without bruising
a jot of dog’s tooth violet, a nib of larkspur notes,
                        or the day’s perfumed reports of indigo
                                in the gloaming—
              what to say to those
                           whom you love in this world?
Use floriography, or as the flower-sellers put it,
Say it with flowers.
—Indigo, larkspur, star-blue, my dear.

Writing poems about writing poems
is like rolling bales of hay in Texas.
Nothing but the horizon to stop you.

But consider the railroad's edge of metal trash;
bird perches, miles of telephone wires.
What is so innocent as grazing cattle?
If you think about it, it turns into words.

Trash is so cheerful; flying up
like grasshoppers in front of the reaper.
The dust devil whirls it aloft; bronze candy wrappers,
squares of clear plastic—windows on a house of air.

Below the weedy edge in last year's mat,
red and silver beer cans.
In bits blown equally everywhere,
the gaiety of flying paper
and the black high flung patterns of flocking birds.

From This Art: Poems on Poetry edited by Michael Wiegers. Copyright © 2003 by Ruth Stone. Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press. All right reserved.

A zombie is a head
with a hole in it.

Layers of plastic,
putty, and crust.

The mindless
must be sated.

Mottled men who will
always return

          mouthing wet                          
          promises.                                  

You rise already
harmed and follow

          my sad circle

as if dancing
on shattered legs.

Shoeless, toeless,
such tender absences.

You come to me
ripped

          in linens and reds,

eternal, autumnal
with rust and wonder.

My servant, sublimate
and I am yours

(the hot death
we would give each other).

My dark ardor,
my dark augur.

Love to the very open-
mouthed end.

We are made of
so much hunger.

Copyright © 2017 by Hadara Bar-Nadav. “Zombie” was published in The New Nudity (Saturnalia Books, 2017). Used with permission of the author.

 

All houses wherein men have lived and died
Are haunted houses. Through the open doors
The harmless phantoms on their errands glide,
With feet that make no sound upon the floors.

We meet them at the door-way, on the stair,
Along the passages they come and go,
Impalpable impressions on the air,
A sense of something moving to and fro.

There are more guests at table than the hosts
Invited; the illuminated hall
Is thronged with quiet, inoffensive ghosts,
As silent as the pictures on the wall.

The stranger at my fireside cannot see
The forms I see, nor hear the sounds I hear;
He but perceives what is; while unto me
All that has been is visible and clear.

We have no title-deeds to house or lands;
Owners and occupants of earlier dates
From graves forgotten stretch their dusty hands,
And hold in mortmain still their old estates.

The spirit-world around this world of sense
Floats like an atmosphere, and everywhere
Wafts through these earthly mists and vapours dense
A vital breath of more ethereal air.

Our little lives are kept in equipoise
By opposite attractions and desires;
The struggle of the instinct that enjoys,
And the more noble instinct that aspires.

These perturbations, this perpetual jar
Of earthly wants and aspirations high,
Come from the influence of an unseen star
An undiscovered planet in our sky.

And as the moon from some dark gate of cloud
Throws o’er the sea a floating bridge of light,
Across whose trembling planks our fancies crowd
Into the realm of mystery and night,—

So from the world of spirits there descends
A bridge of light, connecting it with this,
O'er whose unsteady floor, that sways and bends,
Wander our thoughts above the dark abyss.

This poem is in the public domain.

The spirit world the negative of this one,
soft outlines of soft whites against soft darks,
someone crossing Broadway at Cathedral, walking
toward the god taking the picture, but now,
inside the camera, suddenly still. Or the spirit
world the detail through the window, manifest
if stared at long enough, the shapes of this
or that, the lights left on, the lights turned off,
the spirits under arcs of sycamores the gray-gold
mists of migratory birds and spotted leaves recognize.

Autumnal evening chill, knife-edges of the avenues,
wind kicking up newspaper off the street,
those ghost peripheral moments you catch yourself
beside yourself going down a stair or through
a door—the spirit world surprising: those birds,
for instance, bursting from the trees and turning
into shadow, then nothing, like spirit birds
called back to life from memory or a book,
those shadows in my hands I held, surprised.
I found them interspersed among the posthumous pages

of a friend, some hundreds of saved poems: dun
sparrows and a few lyrical wrens in photocopied
profile perched in air, focused on an abstract
abrupt edge. Blurred, their natural color bled,
they'd passed from one world to another: the poems,
too, sung in the twilit middle of the night, loved,
half-typed, half-written-over, flawed, images 
of images. He'd kept them to forget them.
And every twenty pages, in xerox ash-and-frost,
Gray Eastern, Gold Western, ranging across borders.

From Old Heart by Stanley Plumly. Copyright © 2008 by Stanley Plumly. Reprinted by permission of W.W. Norton. All rights reserved.

In the cloud-grey mornings
I heard the herons flying;
And when I came into my garden,
My silken outer-garment
Trailed over withered leaves.
A dried leaf crumbles at a touch,
But I have seen many Autumns
With herons blowing like smoke
Across the sky.

This poem is in the public domain.

The moon will shine for God
knows how long.
As if it still matters. As if someone

is trying to recall a dream.
Believe the brain is a cage of light
& rage. When it shuts off,

something else switches on.
There’s no better reason than now
to lock the doors, the windows.

Turn off the sprinklers
& porch light. Save the books
for fire. In darkness,

we learn to read
what moves along the horizon,
across the periphery of a gun scope—

the flicker of shadows,
the rustling of trash in the body
of cities long emptied.

Not a soul lives
in this house &
this house & this

house. Go on, stiffen
the heart, quicken
the blood. To live

in a world of flesh
& teeth, you must
learn to kill

what you love,
& love what can die.
 

Copyright © 2016 by Burlee Vang. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 20, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

unveil themselves in dark.
They hang, each a jagged,

silken sleeve, from moonlit rafters bright
as polished knives. They swim

the muddled air and keen
like supersonic babies, the sound

we imagine empty wombs might make
in women who can’t fill them up.

A clasp, a scratch, a sigh.
They drink fruit dry.

And wheel, against feverish light flung hard
upon their faces,

in circles that nauseate.
Imagine one at breast or neck,

Patterning a name in driblets of iodine
that spatter your skin stars.

They flutter, shake like mystics.
They materialize. Revelatory

as a stranger’s underthings found tossed
upon the marital bed, you tremble

even at the thought. Asleep,
you tear your fingers

and search the sheets all night.

From The Invention of the Kaleidoscope by Paisley Rekdal, © 2007. Reprinted by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

A ghost, though invisible, still is like a place
your sight can knock on, echoing; but here
within this thick black pelt, your strongest gaze
will be absorbed and utterly disappear:

just as a raving madman, when nothing else
can ease him, charges into his dark night
howling, pounds on the padded wall, and feels
the rage being taken in and pacified.

She seems to hide all looks that have ever fallen
into her, so that, like an audience,
she can look them over, menacing and sullen,
and curl to sleep with them. But all at once

as if awakened, she turns her face to yours;
and with a shock, you see yourself, tiny,
inside the golden amber of her eyeballs
suspended, like a prehistoric fly.

 

Translated by Stephen Mitchell.

Haven’t taken it to the head for a minute on another
three day bender. Slept past sunrise. And then another. 

The bed has softened over the years, the stoop steps chipped.
Shanties clog memory: was it your most recent love, or another? 

Bangladesh is continually interrogated by floods, you tell me. 
Your reflection a mist; the mist a shadow; the shadow some other. 

Cracked clay riverbeds sound like a cross between square and
sawtooth waves. Always, we want the frequency to be another.

Late last night the house made a drawing of itself: bones, skin, 
and a hat. It preferred famine over feast. Liar. It consumed another. 

Dear Sound Wave, while sobriety arpeggiates, is reshaped by blurring
filters don’t think too much of any of us. This dissonance becomes another. 

Copyright © 2019 by Bojan Louis. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 7, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

              (For Edward J. Wheeler)

Within the Jersey City shed
The engine coughs and shakes its head.
The smoke, a plume of red and white,
Waves madly in the face of night.
And now the grave incurious stars
Gleam on the groaning hurrying cars.
Against the kind and awful reign
Of darkness, this our angry train,
A noisy little rebel, pouts
Its brief defiance, flames and shouts—
And passes on, and leaves no trace.
For darkness holds its ancient place,
Serene and absolute, the king
Unchanged, of every living thing.
The houses lie obscure and still
In Rutherford and Carlton Hill.
Our lamps intensity the dark
Of slumbering Passaic Park.
And quiet holds the weary feet
That daily tramp through Prospect Street.
What though we clang and clank and roar
Through all Passaic’s streets? No door
Will open, not an eye will see
Who this loud vagabond may be.
Upon my crimson cushioned seat,
In manufactured light and heat,
I feel unnatural and mean.
Outside the towns are cool and clean;
Curtained awhile from sound and sight
They take God’s gracious gift of night.
The stars are watchful over them.
On Clifton as on Bethlehem
The angels, leaning down the sky,
Shed peace and gentle dreams. And I—
I ride, I blasphemously ride
Through all the silent countryside.
The engine’s shriek, the headlight’s glare,
Pollute the still nocturnal air.
The cottages of Lake View sigh
And sleeping, frown as we pass by.
Why, even strident Paterson
Rests quietly as any nun.
Her foolish warring children keep
The grateful armistice of sleep.
For what tremendous errand’s sake
Are we so blatantly awake?
What precious secret is our freight?
What king must be abroad so late?
Perhaps Death roams the hills to-night
And we rush forth to give him fight.
Or else, perhaps, we speed his way
To come remote unthinking prey.
Perhaps a woman writhes in pain
And listens—listens for the train!
The train, with healing on its wings.
Now “Hawthorne!” the conductor cries.
My neighbor starts and rubs his eyes.
He hurries yawning through the car
And steps out where the houses are.
This is the reason of our quest!
Not wantonly we break the rest
Of town and village, nor do we
Lightly profane night’s sanctity.
What Love commands the train fulfills,
And beautiful upon the hills
Are these our feet of burnished steel.
Subtly and certainly I feel
That Glen Rock welcomes us to her
And silent Ridgewood seems to stir
And smile, because she knows the train
Has brought her children back again.
We carry people home—and so 
God speeds us, wheresoe’er we go.
Hohokus, Waldwick, Allendale
Lift sleepy heads to give us hail.
In Ramsey, Mahwah, Suffern stand
Houses that wistfully demand
A father—son—some human thing
That this, the midnight train, may bring.
The trains that travel in the day
They hurry folks to work or play.
The midnight train is slow and old,
But of it let this thing be told,
To its high honor be it said,
It carries people home to bed.
My cottage lamp shines white and clear.
God bless the train that brought me here.

This poem is in the Public Domain.

Evening and the flat land,
Rich and sombre and always silent;
The miles of fresh-plowed soil,
Heavy and black, full of strength and harshness;
The growing wheat, the growing weeds,
The toiling horses, the tired men;
The long empty roads,
Sullen fires of sunset, fading,
The eternal, unresponsive sky.
Against all this, Youth,
Flaming like the wild roses,
Singing like the larks over the plowed fields,
Flashing like a star out of the twilight;
Youth with its insupportable sweetness,
Its fierce necessity,
Its sharp desire,
Singing and singing,
Out of the lips of silence,
Out of the earthy dusk.

This poem is in the public domain.

It should be a letter
To the man inside
I could not become

Dressed in yellow
And green, the colors of spring
So I could leave death

In its chamber veined
With deep ore
I’ve no more to tell you

Last winter I climbed
The mountains of Musoorie
To hear frozen peals of bell and wire

A silver thread of sound
Sky to navel
Draws me

like the black strip
in a flower’s throat
meant to guide you in

I lie now in the winter
open-petaled beneath Sirius
I cereus bloom

Copyright © 2013 by Kazim Ali. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on April 24, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

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.

The squall sweeps gray-winged across the obliterated hills,
And the startled lake seems to run before it;
From the wood comes a clamor of leaves,
Tugging at the twigs,
Pouring from the branches,
And suddenly the birds are still.

Thunder crumples the sky,
Lightning tears at it.

And now the rain!
The rain—thudding—implacable—
The wind, reveling in the confusion of great pines!

And a silver sifting of light,
A coolness;
A sense of summer anger passing,
Of summer gentleness creeping nearer—
Penitent, tearful,
Forgiven!
 

This poem is in the public domain.

Before I watched you die, I watched the dying
falter, their hearts curled and purring in them

like kitfoxes asleep
beside their shadows, their eyes pawed out by the trouble

of their hunger. I was
humbling, Lord, like the taxidermist’s

apprentice. I said
yes, and amen, like the monk brushing

the barley from the vealcalf’s
withers, the heft of it

as it leans against his cilice. 
Winter, I have watched the lost

lie down among their bodies, clarified
as the birdsong

they have hymned of.
I have heard the earth sing longer than the song.

Come, I said, come
summer, come

after: you were the bull-elk in the moonlight
of my threshold, knocking off the mosses from its antlers

before it backed away, bewildered, into foliage.
You were thin-ribbed, were hawk-

scarred, were few. 
Yes, amen, before I heard you giving up

your singing, you were something stumbling hunted
to my open door; you were thinning with the milkweed

of the river. Winter, Wintering, listen: I think of you
long gone now

through the valley, scissoring
your ancient way

through the pitch pines. Not waiting, but the great elk
in the dark door. Not ravens

where they stay, awhile, in furor,
but the lost thing backing out

among the saplings, dancing off the madness
of its antlers. Not stone, not cold

stone, but fire. The wild thing, musk-blooded, at my open
door, wakening and wakening and

wakening, migrations
in the blindness of its wild eyes,

saying Look at them, look at how they have to. 
Do something with the wildness that confounds you.

Copyright © 2017 by Joseph Fasano. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 26, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

My mother would be a falconress,
And I, her gay falcon treading her wrist,
would fly to bring back
from the blue of the sky to her, bleeding, a prize, 
where I dream in my little hood with many bells 
jangling when I'd turn my head.

My mother would be a falconress, 
and she sends me as far as her will goes. 
She lets me ride to the end of her curb 
where I fall back in anguish.
I dread that she will cast me away, 
for I fall, I mis-take, I fail in her mission.

She would bring down the little birds. 
And I would bring down the little birds. 
When will she let me bring down the little birds, 
pierced from their flight with their necks broken, 
their heads like flowers limp from the stem?

I tread my mother's wrist and would draw blood.
Behind the little hood my eyes are hooded.
I have gone back into my hooded silence,
talking to myself and dropping off to sleep.

For she has muffled my dreams in the hood she has made me, 
sewn round with bells, jangling when I move.
She rides with her little falcon upon her wrist. 
She uses a barb that brings me to cower. 
She sends me abroad to try my wings 
and I come back to her. I would bring down 
the little birds to her
I may not tear into, I must bring back perfectly.

I tear at her wrist with my beak to draw blood, 
and her eye holds me, anguisht, terrifying. 
She draws a limit to my flight.
Never beyond my sight, she says.
She trains me to fetch and to limit myself in fetching.
She rewards me with meat for my dinner.
But I must never eat what she sends me to bring her.

Yet it would have been beautiful, if she would have carried me, 
always, in a little hood with the bells ringing,
at her wrist, and her riding 
to the great falcon hunt, and me
flying up to the curb of my heart from her heart 
to bring down the skylark from the blue to her feet, 
straining, and then released for the flight.

My mother would be a falconress, 
and I her gerfalcon raised at her will, 
from her wrist sent flying, as if I were her own 
pride, as if her pride
knew no limits, as if her mind 
sought in me flight beyond the horizon.

Ah, but high, high in the air I flew. 
And far, far beyond the curb of her will, 
were the blue hills where the falcons nest. 
And then I saw west to the dying sun--
it seemd my human soul went down in flames.

I tore at her wrist, at the hold she had for me,
until the blood ran hot and I heard her cry out,
far, far beyond the curb of her will

to horizons of stars beyond the ringing hills of the world where
   the falcons nest
I saw, and I tore at her wrist with my savage beak.
I flew, as if sight flew from the anguish in her eye beyond her sight,
sent from my striking loose, from the cruel strike at her wrist,
striking out from the blood to be free of her.

My mother would be a falconress,
and even now, years after this,
when the wounds I left her had surely heald,
and the woman is dead,
her fierce eyes closed, and if her heart 
were broken, it is stilld

I would be a falcon and go free.
I tread her wrist and wear the hood,
talking to myself, and would draw blood.

From Bending the Bow, published by New Directions, 1968. Copyright © 1968 by Robert Duncan. Reprinted with permission.

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me; so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

Copyright © 1953 by Theodore Roethke. From Collected Poems by Theodore Roethke. Used by permission of Doubleday, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

Someday beneath some hard
Capricious star—
Spreading its light a little
Over far,
We'll know you for the woman
That you are.

For though one took you, hurled you
Out of space,
With your legs half strangled
In your lace,
You'd lip the world to madness
On your face.

We'd see your body in the grass
With cool pale eyes.
We'd strain to touch those lang'rous
Length of thighs,
And hear your short sharp modern
Babylonic cries.

It wouldn't go. We'd feel you
Coil in fear
Leaning across the fertile
Fields to leer
As you urged some bitter secret
Through the ear.

We see your arms grow humid
In the heat;
We see your damp chemise lie
Pulsing in the beat
Of the over-hearts left oozing
At your feet.

See you sagging down with bulging
Hair to sip,
The dappled damp from some vague
Under lip,
Your soft saliva, loosed
With orgy, drip.

Once we'd not have called this
Woman you—
When leaning above your mother's
Spleen you drew
Your mouth across her breast as
Trick musicians do.

Plunging grandly out to fall
Upon your face.
Naked—female—baby
In grimace,
With your belly bulging stately
Into space.

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

When the grapevine had thinned
but not broken & the worst was yet to come
of winter snow, I tracked my treed heart
to the high boughs of a quaking
aspen & shot it down.
                                           If love comes fast,
let her be a bullet & not a barking dog;
let my heart say, as that trigger’s pulled,
Are all wonders small? Otherwise, let love
be a woman of gunpowder
                                                   & lead; let her
arrive a brass angel, a dark powdered comet
whose mercy is dense as the fishing sinker
that pulleys the moon, even when it is heavy
with milk. I shot my heart
                                                 & turned myself in
to wild kindness, left the road to my coffin
that seemed also to include my carrying it & walked
back along the trampled brush I remembered
only as a blur of hot breath & a howling in my chest.

From Last Psalm at Sea Level (Barrow Street, 2014). Copyright © 2014 by Meg Day. Used with the permission of the author.

Four tickets left, I let her go—
Firstborn into a hurricane.

I thought she escaped
The floodwaters. No—but her

Head is empty of the drowned
For now—though she took

Her first breath below sea level.
Ahhh       awe       &       aw
Mama, let me go—she speaks

What every smart child knows—
To get grown you unlatch

Your hands from the grown
& up & up & up & up
She turns—latched in the seat

Of a hurricane. You let
Your girl what? You let

Your girl what?
I did so she do I did
so she do so—

Girl, you can ride
A hurricane & she do
& she do & she do & she do

She do make my river
An ocean. Memorial,
Baptist, Protestant birth—my girl

Walked away from a hurricane.
& she do & she do & she do & she do
She do take my hand a while longer.

The haunts in my pocket
I’ll keep to a hum: Katrina was
a woman I knew. When you were

an infant she rained on you & she

do & she do & she do & she do

From Hemming the Water. Copyright © 2013 by Yona Harvey. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc. on behalf of Four Way Books, www.fourwaybooks.com.

I have carried in my coat, black wet 
with rain. I stand. I clear my throat.

My coat drips. The carved door closes
on its slow brass hinge. City noises— 

car horns, bicycle bells, the respiration
truck engines, the whimpering 

steel in midtown taxi brakes—bend
in through the doorjamb with the wind 

then drop away. The door shuts plumb: it seals
the world out like a coffin lid. A chill, 

dampened and dense with the spent breath
of old Hail Marys, lifts from the smoothed

stone of the nave. I am here to pay
my own respects, but I will wait: 

my eyes must grow accustomed
to church light, watery and dim.

I step in. Dark forms hunch forward
in the pews. Whispering, their heads 

are bowed, their mouths pressed
to the hollows of clasped hands. 

High overhead, a gathering of shades
glows in stained glass: the resurrected 

mingle with the dead and martyred
in panes of blue, green, yellow, red. 

Beneath them lies the golden holy 
altar, holding its silence like a bell,

and there, brightly skeletal beside it,
the organ pipes: cold, chrome, quiet 

but alive with a vibration tolling
out from the incarnate 

source of holy sound. I turn, shivering
back into my coat. The vaulted ceiling 

bends above me like an ear. It waits:
I hold my tongue. My body is my prayer.

Copyright © 2020 by Malachi Black. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 3, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

As a girl I held the hind
legs of the small and terrified, wanted
the short-fur and the wet meat furrowing.

Wanted the soft cry of the quavering
boy at primary school, rockstone

mashed up against his tender head,
the sick milk of us poor ones sucked
clean from a Government-issued plastic bag.

At lunchtime children were lethal
and precise, a horde hurling “Ben-foot”
at she who was helpless and I

waking too-surprised to hear my own
cruel mouth taunting. Her smile some
handsome forgery of myself.

Grateful, even now,
they cannot see the bald-wire
patois of my shamdom—

Makeshift, dreaming the warmth
spent in the muscle of the living,
the girl I grew inside my head dreaming

of a real girl, dreaming.
I wanted a pearled purse so I stole it.
I wanted a real friend so I let him. Let her.

Let him. Let him. Let him.

This beauty I am eager to hoard
comes slippery on ordinary days,

comes not at all, comes never.

Yet I am a pure shelled-thing. Glistening
manmade against the wall where one
then two fingers entered

the first time,
terror dazzling the uncertainty
of pleasure. Its God as real as girlhood. 

Copyright © 2020 by Safiya Sinclair. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 4, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Up until this sore minute, you could turn the key, pivot away.

But mine is the only medicine now

wherever you go or follow.

The past is so far away, but it flickers,

then cleaves the night. The bones

of the past splinter between our teeth.

This is our life, love. Why did I think

it would be anything less than too much

of everything? I know you remember that cheap motel

on the coast where we drank red wine,

the sea flashing its gold scales as sun

soaked our skin. You said, This must be

what people mean when they say

I could die now. Now

we’re so much closer

to death than we were then. Who isn’t crushed,

stubbed out beneath a clumsy heel?

Who hasn’t stood at the open window,

sleepless, for the solace of the damp air?

I had to get old to carry both buckets

yoked on my shoulders. Sweet

and bitter waters I drink from.

Let me know you, ox you.

I want your scent in my hair.

I want your jokes.

Hang your kisses on all my branches, please.

Sink your fingers into the darkness of my fur.

 

Copyright © 2020 by Ellen Bass. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 13, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Sparrows were feeding in a freezing drizzle
That while you watched turned to pieces of snow
Riding a gradient invisible
From silver aslant to random, white, and slow.

There came a moment that you couldn’t tell.
And then they clearly flew instead of fell.

From Sentences by Howard Nemerov, published by the University of Chicago Press. Copyright © 1980 by Howard Nemerov. Reprinted with the permission of Margaret Nemerov. All rights reserved.

They are walking in the woods along the coast
and in a grassy meadow, wasting, they come upon
two old neglected apple trees. Moss thickened
every bough and the wood of the limbs looked rotten
but the trees were wild with blossom and a green fire
of small new leaves flickered even on the deadest branches.
Blue-eyes, poppies, a scattering of lupine
flecked the meadow, and an intricate, leopard-spotted
leaf-green flower whose name they didn't know.
Trout lily, he said; she said, adder's-tongue.
She is shaken by the raw, white, backlit flaring
of the apple blossoms. He is exultant,
as if some thing he felt were verified,
and looks to her to mirror his response.
If it is afternoon, a thin moon of my own dismay
fades like a scar in the sky to the east of them.
He could be knocking wildly at a closed door
in a dream. She thinks, meanwhile, that moss
resembles seaweed drying lightly on a dock.
Torn flesh, it was the repetitive torn flesh
of appetite in the cold white blossoms
that had startled her. Now they seem tender
and where she was repelled she takes the measure
of the trees and lets them in. But he no longer
has the apple trees. This is as sad or happy
as the tide, going out or coming in, at sunset.
The light catching in the spray that spumes up
on the reef is the color of the lesser finch
they notice now flashing dull gold in the light
above the field. They admire the bird together,
it draws them closer, and they start to walk again.
A small boy wanders corridors of a hotel that way.
Behind one door, a maid. Behind another one, a man
in striped pajamas shaving. He holds the number
of his room close to the center of his mind
gravely and delicately, as if it were the key,
and then he wanders among strangers all he wants. 

From The Apple Trees at Olema by Robert Hass. Copyright © 2010 by Robert Hass. Used by permission of Ecco/HarperCollins. All rights reserved.

To forgive one’s life love for dying, pick the long, feather-like, crimson flowers in early spring, when the desert is in bloom. Boil in river water only. Let cool. Drink at once. Drink when waking, at noon, and at bedtime each day for three full weeks thereafter. If resentment persists, go to your beloved’s grave daily and pray for forgiveness until sound sleep and appetite return.

◊◊◊

My last days
May they pass

slow as black smoke
goes father’s

only prayer
of late

No
No I’m certain

that he stole it
from Adam I’m sure

who first
uttered it

just outside
the Garden

the first night he
spent alone

Copyright © 2020 by Tommy Archuleta. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 2, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

A long-gone hand behind this scrap of map
dips the brush into red lead again
and lifts the wet tip up to fly across
an ocean and touch down in the unknown
where it emblazons its best guesses, draws
ornate conclusions in the far shore's sand.

Now, as ever, dawn illuminates
the landscape's manuscript, over which
the day must pass, peripatetic, before
sunset can rubricate the hour's red letter.

There are still shapes and patterns we are taught
truth takes, contested borders unexpressed,
pretty pictures in complimentary
colors, nations nestled purple against
yellow, crimson cradling blue. What hand
wants to smudge the fine lines and express
the messiness of lives lived liminal?

The globe at least attempts to hold a kind
of truth, dimensionality, orb
born of glued gores narrowing their finer
points poleward, but when the spinning stops,
it's still a toy that tumbles into the same
traps of empire and HIC SVNT LEONES.

I'm not immune to putting the crypt- before
the cart- in all my -ography. In my
heart of hearts, I call my aorta
regina viarum, the Appian Way,
beg each ornery orrery to orbit
me.

       Rubbing my closed eyes in the dark,
I might think that I see lights, when in fact
I feel pressure and cells activate
phosphene's entoptic phenomenon, bright
blurs like what a satellite might capture,
whole galaxies or our metropolises'
light pollution, depending where the camera
sets its sights.

                      Deep beneath the ocean's
swells, bioluminescent creatures
travel currents as predators and prey,
and a black box flight recorder pings its signal
outside the range of human hearing.
 
                                                        I've heard
the box is actually painted orange. 

I've heard we have thirty days before
the batteries die and it falls silent.

If we were to trust our actual ears,
we’d think it had been silent all along.

Originally printed in Modern Language Studies. Copyright © 2017 by Dora Malech. Used with the permission of the author.

        for Jericho, with thanks to Carl Phillips

I like men who are cruel to me;
men who know how I will end;
men who, when they touch me,
fasten their shadows to my neck
then get out my face when certain
they haven’t much use for being seen.
I like men to be cruel to me.
Any men who build their bodies into
widths of doors I only walk through
once will do. There’s a difference
between entrances and exits I don’t
have much use for now. I’ve seen
what’s left behind after a hawk
has seized a smaller bird midair.
The feathers lay circled in prattle
with rotting crab apples, grasses passing
between the entrances and exits
of clover. The raptor, somewhere
over it, over it. Cruelty where?
The hell would grief go in a goshawk?
It’s enough to risk the open field,
its rotten crab apples, grasses passing
out like lock-kneed mourners in sun.
There I was, scoping, scavenging
the damage to drag mystery out of
a simple read: two animals wanted
life enough to risk the open field
and one of them took what it hunted.
Each one tells me he wants me
vulnerable. I already wrote that book.
The body text cleaved to the spine,
simple to read as two animals wanting
to see inside each other and one
pulling back a wing to offer—See?
Here—the fastest way in or out
and you knew how it would end.
You cleaved the body text to the spine
cause you read closely. You clock damage.
It was a door you walked through once
before pivoting toward a newer image of risk.

Copyright © 2020 by Justin Phillip Reed. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 10, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

I do think of them
from time to time—
just now sucking the pulp

of a tangerine
the taste of which
is mostly texture,

in this spin-drunk season
that seems to forget
—us. —itself.

At the job I lost,
their husk carcasses
with the locust bean’s

cracked brown pods
rustled on the brick steps
leading into the white-walled

hours of computer screen;
their compressed toil
missing from the hives

they left agape in the backyard
of the next-door neighbor
who, recently divorced,

had brought us the jars
of honey I spooned into teas
I sipped in the break room

and watched at the window
as he continued to tend
the needle palm and hydrangea.

In the age of loss there is
the dream of loss
in which, of course, I

am alive at the center—
immobile but no one’s queen—
enveloped (beloved) in bees,

swathed in their wings’
wistful enterprise. They pry
the evolved thin eyelids

behind which I replay
the landscape as last I knew it
(crow feathers netting redder suns),

their empire’s droning edge
mindless in the spirals of
my obsolescing ears.

Beneath my feet
what kind of earth
I’m terrified to break

into sprint across to free
myself, to free them
from the myth they make

of me and then bury
below their dance
of manufactory;

what kind of future
they could die for if
punching into me their stings—

what future without risking
the same; and while, in either body
the buzzards of hunger conspire,

what kind of new
dread animal,
this shape we take?

Copyright © 2018 by Justin Phillip Reed. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 1, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

leaning on a rounded hill
waving to buzzards
what’s left of an old red
a-frame barn soars upward,
a cathedral of loss, a
shelter for mice and
possums and maybe
a rare tawny-eyed bobcat
whose kittens are tucked
under the rotting manger.
witness the gaping hayloft,
sweep your eyes down
to slovenly underbrush—
here is a thing like a jar
that makes the world
rise up and call out—
a skeletal frame to rein-in
undulating miles of sky
which would otherwise be
more than we could bear.

From What I Learned at the War (West End Press, 2016). Copyright © 2016 by Jeanetta Calhoun Mish. Published with the permission of the author. 

Let us praise the ghost gardens
of Gary, Detroit, Toledo—abandoned

lots where perennials wake
in competent dirt and frame the absence

of a house. You can hear
the sound of wind, which isn’t

wind at all, but leaves touching.
Wind itself can’t speak. It needs another

to chime against, knock around.
Again and again the wind finds its tongue,

but its tongue lives outside
of its rusted mouth. Forget the wind.

Let us instead praise meadow and ruin,
weeds and wildflowers seeding

years later. Let us praise the girl
who lives in what they call

a transitional neighborhood—
another way of saying not dead?

Or risen from it? Before running
full speed through the sprinkler’s arc,

she tells her mother, who kneels
in the garden: Pretend I’m racing

someone else. Pretend I’m winning.

Copyright © 2018 Maggie Smith. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Summer 2018.

2

Fairies begin their day by coming together a moment and sharing joy.

They love the feeling, which dew on the leaves draws from grass, lilacs and the response of meadow and flowers to the dawn.

Diminutive green sylphs now run in the grass, whose growth seems intimately associated with theirs, a single line of concentration.

They talk to themselves, constantly repeating, with an intensity causing their etheric doubles, grass, to vibrate as they pass, vivifying growth.

To rabbits and young children they’re visible, but I see points of light, tiny clouds of color and gleams of movement.

The lawn is covered with these flashes.

In low alyssums along a border, one exquisite, tiny being plays around stems, passing in and out of each bud.

She’s happy and feels much affection for the plants, which she regards as her own body.

The material of her actual body is loosely knit as steam or a colored gas, bright apple-green or yellow, and is very close to emotion.

Tenderness for plants shows as rose; sympathy for their growth and adaptability as flashes of emerald.

When she feels joy, her body responds all-over with a desire to be somewhere or do something for plants.

Hers is not a world of surfaces--skin, husks, bark with definite edges and identities.

Trees appear as columns of light melting into surroundings where form is discerned, but is glowing, transparent, mingling like breath.

She tends to a plant by maintaining fusion between the plant’s form and life-vitality contained within.

She works as part of nature’s massed intelligence to express the involution of awareness or consciousness into a form.

And she includes vitality, because one element of form is action.

Sprouting, branching, leafing, blossoming, crumbling to humus are all form to a fairy.

Copyright © 2013 by Mei-mei Berssenbrugge. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on September 17, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

The photograph. On this particular March day
in 1961, Theodore Facepaint, who was nine
years old, agreed to do a parody. With hand
balanced on hip and the left leg slightly
in front of the right, my newly found friend
positioned himself on Sand Hill before turning
to face the hazy afternoon sun. This was a pose
we had become familiar with:
                                           the caricature
of a proud American Indian, looking out
toward the vast prairie expanse, with one hand
shielding the bronze eyes. When I projected
the image of the color 35 mm slide onto
the wall last week I remembered the sense
of mirth in which it was taken. Yet somewhere
slightly north of where we were clowning around,
Grandmother was uprooting medicinal roots
                              from the sandy soil
and placing them inside her flower-patterned
apron pockets to thaw out.

Twenty-nine years later, if I look long enough,
existential symbols are almost detectable.
The direction of the fiery sun in descent, for example,
is considered the Black Eagle Child Hereafter.
Could I be seeing too much? Past the west
and into the Grandfather World? Twice
                              I’ve caught myself asking:
Was Ted’s pose portentous? When I look
closely at the background of the Indian Dam
below—the horizontal line of water that runs
through the trees and behind Ted—I also know
that Liquid Lake with its boxcar-hopping
                              light is nearby.
For Ted and his Well-Off Man Church,
the comets landed on the crescent-shaped
beach and lined themselves up for a ritualistic
presentation. For Jane Ribbon, a mute healer,
a seal haunted this area. But further upriver
is where the ancient deer hunter was offered
immortality by three goddesses. While
the latter story of our geographic genesis
is fragmented, obscuring and revealing
itself as a verisimilitude, it is important.
Ted and I often debated what we would
have done had we been whisked through
a mystical doorway to a subterranean enclave.
Ted, unlike the ancient hunter who turned
down paradise, would have accepted—
and the tribe never would have flexed
its newborn spotted wings. In the hunter’s
denial we were thus assigned as Keepers
of Importance. But the question being asked
today is, Have we kept anything?

Our history, like the earth with its
abundant medicines, Grandmother used
to say, is unfused with ethereality. Yet in
the same breath she’d openly exclaim
that with modernity comes a cultural toll.

            In me, in Ted, and everyone.
Stories then, like people, are subject to change.
More so under adverse conditions. They
are also indicators of our faithfulness. Since
the goddesses’ doorway was sealed shut by
                      our own transgressions,
Grandmother espoused that unbounded
youth would render tribal language
and religion inept, that each lavish
novelty brought into our homes would
make us weaker until there was nothing.
                      No lexicon. No tenets.
Zero divine intervention. She was also
attuned to the fact that for generations
our grandparents had wept unexpectedly
for those of us caught in the blinding
stars of the future.

Mythology, in any tribal-oriented society,
is a crucial element. Without it, all else
is jeopardized with becoming untrue. While
the acreages beneath Ted’s feet and mine
offered relative comfort back then,
we are probably more accountable now
                      to ourselves—and others.
Prophecy decrees it. Most fabled among
the warnings is the one that forecasts
the advent of our land-keeping failures.
Many felt this began last summer when
a whirlwind abruptly ended a tribal
celebration. From the north in the shape
of an angry seagull it swept up dust.
corn leaves, and assorted debris,
as it headed toward the audacious
“income-generating architecture,”
the gambling hall. At the last second
the whirlwind changed direction, going
toward the tribal recreation complex.
Imperiled, the people within the circus tent-
like structure could only watch as the panels
flapped crazily. A week later, my family said
the destruction was attributable to the gambling
hall, which was the actual point of weakness
of the tribe itself.

Which is to say the hill where a bronze-eyed
Ted once stood is under threat of impermanence.
By allowing people who were not created
by the Holy Grandfather to lead us we may
cease to own what Ted saw on the long-ago day.
From Rolling Head Valley to Runner’s Bluff
                      and over the two rivers
our hold is gradually being unfastened by
false leaders. They have forgotten that their
own grandparents arrived here under a Sacred
Chieftain. This geography is theirs nonetheless.
and it shall be as long as the first gifts given
are intact. In spite of everything that we are
not, this crown of hills resembles lone islands
amid an ocean of corn, soybean fields,
and low-lying fog. Invisibly clustered on
the Black Eagle Child Settlement’s slopes
are the remaining Earthlodge clans.
                      The western edge of this
woodland terrain overlooks the southern
lowlands of the Iowa and Swanroot Rivers,
while the eastern edge splits widely into several
valleys, where the Settlement’s main road winds
through. It is on this road where Ted and I walked.
It is on this road where Ted met a pack
of predators.

Along the color slide’s paper edge the year
1961 is imprinted. Ted and I were fourth
graders at Weeping Willow Elementary.
Nine years later, in 1970, a passenger train
took us to Southern California for college.
It proved to be a lonely place where winter
                              appeared high atop
the San Gabriel Mountains on clear days.
Spanish-influenced building styles, upper-middle-
class proclivities, and the arid climate had a subtle
asphyxiating effect. Instead of chopping firewood
            for father’s nonexistent blizzard,
I began my evenings in Frary Dining Hall
where Orozco’s giant mural with erased privates
called Prometheus loomed above. My supper
would consist of tamales and cold shrimp salad
instead of boiled squirrel with flour dumplings.
Through  mountain forest fires the Santa Ana
winds showered the campus with sparks and ashes.
In a wide valley where a smoke- and smog-darkened
night came early, the family album possessed its
own shimmery light. Pages were turned. A visual
record of family and childhood friends. Time.
                            Ted and I transforming,
separating. During the first Christmas break
in which we headed back to the Black Eagle
Child Settlement, Ted froze me in celluloid:
against a backdrop of snow-laden pine trees
a former self wears a windswept topcoat,
Levi bell-bottoms, cowboy boots, and tinted
glasses. Ted and I, like statues, are held
captive in photographic moments.
                As the earth spins, however,
the concrete mold disintegrates,
exposing the vulnerable wire
foundation of who we are not.

From Remnants of the First Earth (Grove Press, 1996). Copyright © 1996 by Ray A. Young Bear. Used with the permission of the author.

who would believe them winged
who would believe they could be

beautiful    who would believe
they could fall so in love with mortals

that they would attach themselves
as scars attach and ride the skin

sometimes we hear them in our dreams
rattling their skulls    clicking

their bony fingers
they have heard me beseeching

as i whispered into my own
cupped hands    enough    not me again

but who can distinguish
one human voice

amid such choruses
of desire

From Voices by Lucille Clifton. Copyright © 2009 by Lucille Clifton. Used by permission of BOA Editions, Ltd, www.boaeditions.org. All rights reserved.

I call for you cultivation of strength in the dark.
Dark gardening
in the vertigo cold.
in the hot paralysis.
Under the wolves and coyotes of particular silences.
Where it is dry.
Where it is dry.
I call for you
cultivation of victory Over
long blows that you want to give and blows you are going to get.

Over
what wants to crumble you down, to sicken
you. I call for you
cultivation of strength to heal and enhance
in the non-cheering dark,
in the many many mornings-after;
in the chalk and choke.

From To Disembark (Third World Press, 1981). Copyright © 1981 by Gwendolyn Brooks. Reprinted by consent of Brooks Permissions.

The hills my brothers & I created
Never balanced, & it took years
To discover how the world worked.
We could look at a tree of blackbirds
& tell you how many were there,
But with the scrap dealer
Our math was always off.
Weeks of lifting & grunting
Never added up to much,
But we couldn't stop
Believing in iron.
Abandoned trucks & cars
Were held to the ground
By thick, nostalgic fingers of vines
Strong as a dozen sharecroppers.
We'd return with our wheelbarrow
Groaning under a new load, 
Yet tiger lilies lived better
In their languid, August domain.
Among paper & Coke bottles
Foundry smoke erased sunsets,
& we couldn't believe iron
Left men bent so close to the earth
As if the ore under their breath
Weighed down the gray sky.
Sometimes I dreamt how our hills
Washed into a sea of metal,
How it all became an anchor
For a warship or bomber
Out over trees with blooms
Too red to look at.

From Magic City by Yusef Komunyakaa, published by Wesleyan University Press. Copyright © 1992 by Yusef Komunyakaa. Reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press. All rights reserved.

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

"Forgetfulness" from Questions About Angels, by Billy Collins, © 1999. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

I saw the civil sun drying earth’s tears —
Her tears of joy that only faster flowed,

Fain would I stretch me by the highway side,
To thaw and trickle with the melting snow,
That mingled soul and body with the tide,
I too may through the pores of nature flow.

But I alas nor tinkle can nor fume,
One jot to forward the great work of Time,
‘Tis mine to hearken while these ply the loom,
So shall my silence with their music chime.

This poem is in the public domain. 

Give me hunger,
O you gods that sit and give
The world its orders.
Give me hunger, pain and want,
Shut me out with shame and failure
From your doors of gold and fame,
Give me your shabbiest, weariest hunger!

But leave me a little love,
A voice to speak to me in the day end,
A hand to touch me in the dark room
Breaking the long loneliness.
In the dusk of day-shapes
Blurring the sunset,
One little wandering, western star
Thrust out from the changing shores of shadow.
Let me go to the window,
Watch there the day-shapes of dusk
And wait and know the coming
Of a little love.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on November 10, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

When lilacs last in the door-yard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d—and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

O ever-returning spring! trinity sure to me you bring;
Lilac blooming perennial, and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.
 

2

O powerful, western, fallen star!
O shades of night! O moody, tearful night!
O great star disappear’d! O the black murk that hides the star!
O cruel hands that hold me powerless! O helpless soul of me!
O harsh surrounding cloud, that will not free my soul!
 

3

In the door-yard fronting an old farm-house, near the white-wash’d palings,
Stands the lilac bush, tall-growing, with heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
With many a pointed blossom, rising, delicate, with the perfume strong I love,
With every leaf a miracle......and from this bush in the door-yard,
With delicate-color’d blossoms, and heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
A sprig, with its flower, I break.


4

In the swamp, in secluded recesses,
A shy and hidden bird is warbling a song.

Solitary, the thrush,
The hermit, withdrawn to himself, avoiding the settlements,
Sings by himself a song.

Song of the bleeding throat!
Death’s outlet song of life—(for well, dear brother, I know
If thou wast not gifted to sing, thou would’st surely die.)
 

5

Over the breast of the spring, the land, amid cities,
Amid lanes, and through old woods, (where lately the violets peep’d from the ground, spotting the gray debris;)
Amid the grass in the fields each side of the lanes—passing the endless grass;
Passing the yellow-spear’d wheat, every grain from its shroud in the dark-brown fields uprising;
Passing the apple-tree blows of white and pink in the orchards;
Carrying a corpse to where it shall rest in the grave,
Night and day journeys a coffin.
 

6

Coffin that passes through lanes and streets,
Through day and night, with the great cloud darkening the land,
With the pomp of the inloop’d flags, with the cities draped in black,
With the show of the States themselves, as of crape-veil’d women, standing,
With processions long and winding, and the flambeaus of the night,
With the countless torches lit—with the silent sea of faces, and the unbared heads,
With the waiting depot, the arriving coffin, and the sombre faces,
With dirges through the night, with the thousand voices rising strong and solemn;
With all the mournful voices of the dirges, pour’d around the coffin,
The dim-lit churches and the shuddering organs—Where amid these you journey,
With the tolling, tolling bells’ perpetual clang;
Here! coffin that slowly passes,
I give you my sprig of lilac.
 

7

(Nor for you, for one, alone;
Blossoms and branches green to coffins all I bring:
For fresh as the morning—thus would I carol a song for you, O sane and sacred death.

All over bouquets of roses,
O death! I cover you over with roses and early lilies;
But mostly and now the lilac that blooms the first,
Copious, I break, I break the sprigs from the bushes;
With loaded arms I come, pouring for you,
For you, and the coffins all of you, O death.)
 

8

O western orb, sailing the heaven!
Now I know what you must have meant, as a month since we walk’d,
As we walk’d up and down in the dark blue so mystic,
As we walk’d in silence the transparent shadowy night,
As I saw you had something to tell, as you bent to me night after night,
As you droop’d from the sky low down, as if to my side, (while the other stars all look’d on;)
As we wander’d together the solemn night, (for something, I know not what, kept me from sleep;)
As the night advanced, and I saw on the rim of the west, ere you went, how full you were of woe;
As I stood on the rising ground in the breeze, in the cold transparent night,
As I watch’d where you pass’d and was lost in the netherward black of the night,
As my soul, in its trouble, dissatisfied, sank, as where you, sad orb,
Concluded, dropt in the night, and was gone.
 

9

Sing on, there in the swamp!
O singer bashful and tender! I hear your notes—I hear your call;
I hear—I come presently—I understand you;
But a moment I linger—for the lustrous star has detain’d me;
The star, my departing comrade, holds and detains me.
 

10

O how shall I warble myself for the dead one there I loved?
And how shall I deck my song for the large sweet soul that has gone?
And what shall my perfume be, for the grave of him I love?

Sea-winds, blown from east and west,
Blown from the eastern sea, and blown from the western sea, till there on the prairies meeting:
These, and with these, and the breath of my chant,
I perfume the grave of him I love.
 

11

O what shall I hang on the chamber walls?
And what shall the pictures be that I hang on the walls,
To adorn the burial-house of him I love?

Pictures of growing spring, and farms, and homes,
With the Fourth-month eve at sundown, and the gray smoke lucid and bright,
With floods of the yellow gold of the gorgeous, indolent, sinking sun, burning, expanding the air;
With the fresh sweet herbage under foot, and the pale green leaves of the trees prolific;
In the distance the flowing glaze, the breast of the river, with a wind-dapple here and there;
With ranging hills on the banks, with many a line against the sky, and shadows;
And the city at hand, with dwellings so dense, and stacks of chimneys,
And all the scenes of life, and the workshops, and the workmen homeward returning.
 

12

Lo! body and soul! this land!
Mighty Manhattan, with spires, and the sparkling and hurrying tides, and the ships;
The varied and ample land—the South and the North in the light—Ohio’s shores, and flashing Missouri,
And ever the far-spreading prairies, cover’d with grass and corn.

Lo! the most excellent sun, so calm and haughty;
The violet and purple morn, with just-felt breezes;
The gentle, soft-born, measureless light;
The miracle, spreading, bathing all—the fulfill’d noon;
The coming eve, delicious—the welcome night, and the stars,
Over my cities shining all, enveloping man and land.
 

13

Sing on! sing on, you gray-brown bird!
Sing from the swamps, the recesses—pour your chant from the bushes;
Limitless out of the dusk, out of the cedars and pines.

Sing on, dearest brother—warble your reedy song;
Loud human song, with voice of uttermost woe.

O liquid, and free, and tender!
O wild and loose to my soul! O wondrous singer!
You only I hear......yet the star holds me, (but will soon depart;)
Yet the lilac, with mastering odor, holds me.
 

14

Now while I sat in the day, and look’d forth,
In the close of the day, with its light, and the fields of spring, and the farmer preparing his crops,
In the large unconscious scenery of my land, with its lakes and forests,
In the heavenly aerial beauty, (after the perturb’d winds, and the storms;)
Under the arching heavens of the afternoon swift passing, and the voices of children and women,
The many-moving sea-tides,—and I saw the ships how they sail’d,
And the summer approaching with richness, and the fields all busy with labor,
And the infinite separate houses, how they all went on, each with its meals and minutia of daily usages;
And the streets, how their throbbings throbb’d, and the cities pent—lo! then and there,
Falling upon them all, and among them all, enveloping me with the rest,
Appear’d the cloud, appear’d the long black trail;
And I knew Death, its thought, and the sacred knowledge of death.
 

15

Then with the knowledge of death as walking one side of me,
And the thought of death close-walking the other side of me,
And I in the middle, as with companions, and as holding the hands of companions,
I fled forth to the hiding receiving night, that talks not,
Down to the shores of the water, the path by the swamp in the dimness,
To the solemn shadowy cedars, and ghostly pines so still.

And the singer so shy to the rest receiv’d me;
The gray-brown bird I know, receiv’d us comrades three;
And he sang what seem’d the carol of death, and a verse for him I love.

From deep secluded recesses,
From the fragrant cedars, and the ghostly pines so still,
Came the carol of the bird.

And the charm of the carol rapt me,
As I held, as if by their hands, my comrades in the night;
And the voice of my spirit tallied the song of the bird.
 

16

DEATH CAROL.

Come, lovely and soothing Death,
Undulate round the world, serenely arriving, arriving,
In the day, in the night, to all, to each,
Sooner or later, delicate Death.

Prais’d be the fathomless universe,
For life and joy, and for objects and knowledge curious;
And for love, sweet love—But praise! praise! praise!
For the sure-enwinding arms of cool-enfolding Death.

Dark Mother, always gliding near, with soft feet,
Have none chanted for thee a chant of fullest welcome?

Then I chant it for thee—I glorify thee above all;
I bring thee a song that when thou must indeed come, come unfalteringly.

Approach, strong Deliveress!
When it is so—when thou hast taken them, I joyously sing the dead,
Lost in the loving, floating ocean of thee,
Laved in the flood of thy bliss, O Death.

From me to thee glad serenades,
Dances for thee I propose, saluting thee—adornments and feastings for thee;
And the sights of the open landscape, and the high-spread sky, are fitting,
And life and the fields, and the huge and thoughtful night.

The night, in silence, under many a star;
The ocean shore, and the husky whispering wave, whose voice I know;
And the soul turning to thee, O vast and well-veil’d Death,
And the body gratefully nestling close to thee.

Over the tree-tops I float thee a song!
Over the rising and sinking waves—over the myriad fields, and the prairies wide;
Over the dense-pack’d cities all, and the teeming wharves and ways,
I float this carol with joy, with joy to thee, O Death!

 

17

To the tally of my soul,
Loud and strong kept up the gray-brown bird,
With pure, deliberate notes, spreading, filling the night.

Loud in the pines and cedars dim,
Clear in the freshness moist, and the swamp-perfume;
And I with my comrades there in the night.

While my sight that was bound in my eyes unclosed,
As to long panoramas of visions.


18

I saw askant the armies;
And I saw, as in noiseless dreams, hundreds of battle-flags;
Borne through the smoke of the battles, and pierc’d with missiles, I saw them,
And carried hither and yon through the smoke, and torn and bloody;
And at last but a few shreds left on the staffs, (and all in silence,)
And the staffs all splinter’d and broken.

I saw battle-corpses, myriads of them,
And the white skeletons of young men—I saw them;
I saw the debris and debris of all the dead soldiers of the war;
But I saw they were not as was thought;
They themselves were fully at rest—they suffer’d not;
The living remain’d and suffer’d—the mother suffer’d,
And the wife and the child, and the musing comrade suffer’d,
And the armies that remain’d suffer’d.


19

Passing the visions, passing the night;
Passing, unloosing the hold of my comrades’ hands;
Passing the song of the hermit bird, and the tallying song of my soul,
(Victorious song, death’s outlet song, yet varying, ever-altering song,
As low and wailing, yet clear the notes, rising and falling, flooding the night,
Sadly sinking and fainting, as warning and warning, and yet again bursting with joy,
Covering the earth, and filling the spread of the heaven,
As that powerful psalm in the night I heard from recesses,)
Passing, I leave thee, lilac with heart-shaped leaves;
I leave thee there in the door-yard, blooming, returning with spring,
I cease from my song for thee;
From my gaze on thee in the west, fronting the west, communing with thee,
O comrade lustrous, with silver face in the night.


20

Yet each I keep, and all, retrievements out of the night;
The song, the wondrous chant of the gray-brown bird,
And the tallying chant, the echo arous’d in my soul,
With the lustrous and drooping star, with the countenance full of woe,
With the lilac tall, and its blossoms of mastering odor;
With the holders holding my hand, nearing the call of the bird,
Comrades mine, and I in the midst, and their memory ever I keep—for the dead I loved so well;
For the sweetest, wisest soul of all my days and lands...and this for his dear sake;
Lilac and star and bird, twined with the chant of my soul,
There in the fragrant pines, and the cedars dusk and dim.

This poem is in the public domain.

I

By the road to the contagious hospital
under the surge of the blue
mottled clouds driven from the
northeast-a cold wind. Beyond, the
waste of broad, muddy fields
brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

patches of standing water
the scattering of tall trees

All along the road the reddish
purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
stuff of bushes and small trees
with dead, brown leaves under them
leafless vines—

Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches—

They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind—

Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf
One by one objects are defined—
It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf

But now the stark dignity of
entrance—Still, the profound change
has come upon them: rooted, they
grip down and begin to awaken

Copyright © 1962 by William Carlos Williams. Used with permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved. No part of this poem may be reproduced in any form without the written consent of the publisher.

My shoes are unpolished, my words smudged.
I come to you undressed (the lord, he whispers
Smut; that man, he whispers such). I bend
My thoughts, I submit, but a bird 
Keeps flying from my mind, it slippers
My feet and sings—barren world, 
I have been a little minx in it, not at all
Domestic, not at all clean, not at all blinking
At my lies. First he thought he had a wife, then 
(of course) he thought he had a whore. All
I wanted (if I may speak for myself) was: more.
If only one of you had said, I hold 
Your craven breaking soul, I see the pieces,
I feel them in my hands, idle silver, idle gold...
You see I cannot speak without telling what I am.
I disobey the death you gave me, love.
If you must be, then be not with me.

Copyright © 2010 by Meghan O'Rourke. Used by permission of the author.

Listen. The wind is still,
And far away in the night—
See!  The uplands fill 
With a running light. 

Open the doors.  It is warm;
And where the sky was clear —
Look!  The head of a storm
That marches here!

Come under the trembling hedge—
Fast, although you fumble. . . . 
There!  Did you hear the edge
Of winter crumble?

This poem is in the public domain. 

The moths in the orchard squeal
with each pass of the mistral wind.
Yet the reapers and their scythes,
out beyond the pear trees, slay wheat
in sure columns. Christ
must have been made of shocks
of wheat. When they lashed him,
four bundles of fine yellow burst forth
from each welt. And the women,
tarrying as they do now behind the swing
and chuff of the reapers’ blades,
gathered and plaited the stray pieces
of wheat falling from his hips into braids,
long braids that would bind a tattered sail-
cloth over his yellow mouth, yellow feet.
Oh to be bound by one’s own blood
like a burlap sack cinched around the neck
with a leather belt. Father forgive me
for the moths shrieking in the orchard
of my mouth. Forgive the rattle and clatter
of wings inside the blue of my brain.
Even if these iron bars queer a field,
queer a woman standing too close to a reaper’s blade,
a half-moon hung and wholly harsh,
even if this woman, burdened like a spine
carrying a head and a basket of rocks,
forgets the flaw of a well-sharpened tool,
let her not mistake my whimper and warning
for the honk of a goose in heat. Father,
she is not made like our savior,
of straw, of a coarse tender. Nothing will stop
when her blood runs along a furrow.
The sun will not sag with a red scowl.
The field will not refuse water. Father,
I am unsure of what I am—
a fragrant mistral wind or a pile of moths’ heads
at the foot of a pear tree. Father,
give me a scythe. Father, let me decide.

Copyright © 2013 by Roger Reeves. From King Me (Copper Canyon Press, 2013). Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.

I pick you up
& you are a child made of longing
clasped to my neck. Iridescent,
lovely, your inestimable tantrums,
I carry you back & forth
from the famine in your mind.

Your alphabet wraps itself
like a tourniquet
around my tongue.

Speak now, the static says.

A half-dressed woman named Truth
tells me she is a radio.

I'm going to ignore happiness
& victory.
I'm going to undo myself
with music.

I pick you up
& the naked trees lean
into the ocean where you arrived,
shaking chains & freedom
from your head.

No metaphor would pull you
out of your cage.

Light keens from the dead.
& I'm troubled
by my own blind touch.

Did the ocean release
my neck? Did the opal waves
blow our cries to shore?

You don't feel anything
in the middle of the night.

From Lighting the Shadow. Copyright © 2015 by Rachel Eliza Griffiths. Appears with permission of Four Way Books. All rights reserved.

I choose Rhythm,
the beginning as motion,
black Funk shaping itself
in the time before time,
dark, glorious and nimble as a sperm
sparkling its way into the greatest of grooves,
conjuring worlds from dust and storm and primordial soup.

I accept the Funk as my holy savior,
Funk so high you can’t get over it,
so wide you can’t get around it,
ubiquitous Funk that envelopes all creatures great and small,
quickens nerve endings and the white-hot
hearts of stars.

I believe in Rhythm rippling each feather on a sparrow’s back
and glittering in every grain of sand,
I am faithful to Funk as irresistible twitch, heart skip
and backbone slip,
the whole Funk and nothing but the Funk
sliding electrically into exuberant noise.
I hear the cosmos swinging
in the startled whines of newborns,
the husky blare of tenor horns,
lambs bleating and lions roaring,
a fanfare of tambourines and glory.

This is what I know:
Rhythm resounds as a blessing of the body,
the wonder and hurt of being:
the wet delight of a tongue on a thigh
fear inching icily along a spine
the sudden surging urge to holler
the twinge that tells your knees it’s going to rain
the throb of centuries behind and before us

I embrace Rhythm as color and chorus,
the bright orange bloom of connection,
the mahogany lure of succulent loins
the black-and-tan rhapsody of our clasping hands.

I whirl to the beat of the omnipotent Hum;
diastole, systole, automatic,
borderless. Bigger and bigger still:
Bigger than love,
Bigger than desire or adoration.
Bigger than begging and contemplation.
Bigger than wailing and chanting and the slit throats of roosters.
For which praise is useless.
For which gratitude might as well be whispered.
For which motion is meaning enough.

Funk lives in us, begetting light as bright as music
unfolding into dear lovely day
and bushes ablaze in
Rhythm. Until it begins again.

Copyright © 2020 by Jabari Asim. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 6, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

I

You are clear
O rose, cut in rock,
hard as the descent of hail.

I could scrape the colour
from the petals
like spilt dye from a rock.

If I could break you
I could break a tree.

If I could stir
I could break a tree—
I could break you.


II

O wind, rend open the heat,
cut apart the heat,
rend it to tatters.

Fruit cannot drop
through this thick air—
fruit cannot fall into heat
that presses up and blunts
the points of pears
and rounds the grapes.

Cut the heat—
plough through it,
turning it on either side
of your path.

This poem is in the public domain.

Washing the floors to send you to college
Staying at home so you can feel safe
What do you think is the soul of her knowledge
What do you think that makes her feel safe

Biting her lips and lowering her eyes
To make sure there's food on the table
What do you think would be her surprise
If the world was as willing as she's able

Hugging herself in an old kitchen chair
She listens to your hurt and your rage
What do you think she knows of despair
What is the aching of age

The fathers, the children, the brothers
Turn to her and everybody white turns to her
What about her turning around
Alone in the everyday light

There oughta be a woman can break
Down, sit down, break down, sit down
Like everybody else call it quits on Mondays
Blues on Tuesdays, sleep until Sunday
Down, sit down, break down, sit down

A way outa no way is flesh outa flesh
Courage that cries out at night
A way outa no way is flesh outa flesh
Bravery kept outa sight
A way outa no way is too much to ask
Too much of a task for any one woman

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

sour heat of the taxicab                   my thighs stuck by sweat to the leather
in the aperture of the sunless hours                         i sit scarved in the quiet
that i think will protect me                    i’ve spent days inside & untouched
by human noise                            & i forget the lesson in the old hurts
that mark my kneaded body                   & sometimes i do not even register
the hands that steer the vehicle                       the man from which they protrude

until his eyes in the mirror hook the light     & i see his want thrusting
into the backseat                   a leer scraping like a fingernail along my skin
dumb prey shut in the cage with its wolf                    while his looking catalogs
my edible parts             gleaming in stripes by the streetlights & hushed
in brief sanctuary by the dark                    & the silence i’ve gathered will throb
when he asks is this where you live & i work to keep my face unchanged

& maybe sometime in the dimming past                       i was still unmarked
my girlhood body unoccupied by warning      its curiosity still free to extend
to a strange or recognized hand                       engineering an unfamiliar ache
before my shame became my native tongue        became the sovereign of my flesh
i had my milkteeth    smiled green as a seedling in photographs      in their silence
i was pure & cloistered      & i did not yet need to take inventory

for my body to feel like mine       the driver’s eyes displace me & leave behind a list
of ways i can be hurt            of all the places i am a door                 its use unaltered
by my yes or no     outside the streetlights change to a bridge’s trusses & i say nothing
the car points into a borough not my own                while i watch the distance swell
between my watching   & the slab of girl fastened to the backseat     useless little carcass
so faraway in her smallness    & already going missing   already bored by pain

& sometimes even those whose touch i choose      who mean me only tenderness
will with their smell or voice or a trick of the light      or the faintest touch of an index
finger    trip the latch that lets me out to the space      above my peeled & emptied rind
when i return i tell this to my lover       who braids himself to me & makes me new
who takes into his mouth my broken name       & in an exhale of smoke it emerges
weathered but complete & still mine             until i remake myself from stillness

& drape myself in the life of a different girl      rupture smoothed over like the noiseless
surface of a lake             & in the taxi i look out to the evening’s copper bruising
i give directions                   i push away his looking & feel my body reinflate
i dial my lover’s voice     the car points homeward & my old panic melts back into its archive
when he fills the backseat with sound                   & maybe i can be reborn
as a girl who does not go missing     a girl someone will look for    no longer the decorative husk

men make me with their want               the quiet shrinks & i come unstuck from the leather
i come unstuck from my hurts           pay my fare & debark the car untouched
my home protrudes like a lighthouse from the night        i settle the body      mine to register

Originally published in FUSION. Copyright © 2018 by Safia Elhillo. Used with the permission of the author.

 

I

 

O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,

 

Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou,
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed

The wingèd seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave, until
Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow

Her clarion o’er the dreaming earth, and fill
(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)
With living hues and odours plain and hill:

Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and Preserver; hear, O hear!

 

II

 

Thou on whose stream, ‘mid the steep sky’s commotion,
Loose clouds like Earth’s decaying leaves are shed,
Shook from the tangled boughs of Heaven and Ocean,

 

Angels of rain and lightning: there are spread
On the blue surface of thine airy surge,
Like the bright hair uplifted from the head

Of some fierce Maenad, even from the dim verge
Of the horizon to the zenith’s height,
The locks of the approaching storm. Thou dirge

Of the dying year, to which this closing night
Will be the dome of a vast sepulchre
Vaulted with all thy congregated might

Of vapours, from whose solid atmosphere
Black rain, and fire, and hail will burst: O hear!

 

III

 

Thou who didst waken from his summer dreams
The blue Mediterranean, where he lay,
Lulled by the coil of his crystalline streams,

 

Beside a pumice isle in Baiae’s bay,
And saw in sleep old palaces and towers
Quivering within the wave's intenser day,

All overgrown with azure moss and flowers
So sweet, the sense faints picturing them! Thou
For whose path the Atlantic’s level powers

Cleave themselves into chasms, while far below
The sea-blooms and the oozy woods which wear
The sapless foliage of the ocean, know
Thy voice, and suddenly grow grey with fear,
And tremble and despoil themselves: O hear!

 

IV

 

If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear;
If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee;
A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share

 

The impulse of thy strength, only less free
Than thou, O Uncontrollable! If even
I were as in my boyhood, and could be

The comrade of thy wanderings over Heaven,
As then, when to outstrip thy skiey speed
Scarce seemed a vision; I would ne’er have striven

As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need.
Oh! lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!

A heavy weight of hours has chained and bowed
One too like thee: tameless, and swift, and proud.

 

V

 

Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies

 

Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth!
And, by the incantation of this verse,

Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawakened Earth

The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

This poem is in the public domain.

Haven’t they moved like rivers—
like Glory, like light—
over the seven days of your body?

And wasn’t that good?
Them at your hips—

isn’t this what God felt when he pressed together
the first Beloved: Everything.
Fever. Vapor. Atman. Pulsus. Finally,
a sin worth hurting for. Finally, a sweet, a
You are mine.

It is hard not to have faith in this:
from the blue-brown clay of night
these two potters crushed and smoothed you
into being—grind, then curve—built your form up—

atlas of bone, fields of muscle,
one breast a fig tree, the other a nightingale,
both Morning and Evening.

O, the beautiful making they do—
of trigger and carve, suffering and stars—

Aren’t they, too, the dark carpenters
of your small church? Have they not burned
on the altar of your belly, eaten the bread
of your thighs, broke you to wine, to ichor,
to nectareous feast?

Haven’t they riveted your wrists, haven’t they
had you at your knees?

And when these hands touched your throat,
showed you how to take the apple and the rib,
how to slip a thumb into your mouth and taste it all,
didn’t you sing out their ninety-nine names—

Zahir, Aleph, Hands-time-seven,
Sphinx, Leonids, locomotura,
Rubidium, August, and September—
And when you cried out, O, Prometheans,
didn’t they bring fire?

These hands, if not gods, then why
when you have come to me, and I have returned you
to that from which you came—bright mud, mineral-salt—
why then do you whisper O, my Hecatonchire. My Centimani.
My hundred-handed one?

Copyright © 2013 by Natalie Diaz. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on August 9, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

He winds through the party like wind, one of the just 
who live alone in black and white, bewildered

by the eden of his body. (You, you talk like winter 
rain.) He's the meaning of almost-morning walking home 

at five A.M., the difference a night makes 
turning over into day, simple birds staking claims 

on no sleep. Whatever they call those particular birds. 
He's the age of sensibility at seventeen, he isn't worth

the time of afternoon it takes to write this down. 
He's the friend that lightning makes, raking 

the naked tree, thunder that waits for weeks to arrive; 
he's the certainty of torrents in September, harvest time 

and powerlines down for miles. He doesn't even know 
his name. In his body he's one with air, white as a sky

rinsed with rain. It's cold there, it's hard to breathe, 
and drowning is somewhere to be after a month of drought. 

"A Muse" from Some Are Drowning, by Reginald Shepherd. Copyright © 1995. Reprinted by permission of University of Pittsburgh Press.

All Greece hates
the still eyes in the white face,
the lustre as of olives
where she stands,
and the white hands.

All Greece reviles
the wan face when she smiles,
hating it deeper still
when it grows wan and white,
remembering past enchantments
and past ills.

Greece sees, unmoved,
God's daughter, born of love,
the beauty of cool feet
and slenderest knees,
could love indeed the maid,
only if she were laid,
white ash amid funereal cypresses.

Copyright © 1982 by the Estate of Hilda Doolittle. Used with permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved. No part of this poem may be reproduced in any form without the written consent of the publisher.

translated by Bryan Mendoza

It’s a spacious chamber.
Well lit.
A light that refracts the distant woodland.

Over the table lies
the body and the wings
outspread
like sails of a shipwreck.

They’ve stitched together the carnage
with no other motive
than something comparable to mercy.

Soon the volunteers will arrive
and they’ll take the body,
including the wings
to the landfill.

 


Disección del cadáver de Pegaso

 

Es una sala espaciosa.
Muy clara.
Es luz que refracta el bosque lejano.
Sobre la mesa yacen
el cuerpo y las alas
extendidas
como velas de bajeles deshechos.
Han hilvanado el despojo
sin otro motivo
que algo semejante a la caridad.
Pronto llegarán los voluntarios
y se llevarán el cuerpo,
incluidas las alas,
al basural.

© 2020 Julio Pazos Barrera and Bryan Mendoza. Published in Poem-a-Day in partnership with Words Without Borders (wordswithoutborders.org) on September 19, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

I thought by now my reverence would have waned,
matured to the tempered silence of the bookish or revealed
how blasé I’ve grown with age, but the unrestrained
joy I feel when a black skein of geese voyages like a dropped
string from God, slowly shifting and soaring, when the decayed
apples of an orchard amass beneath its trees like Eve’s
first party, when driving and the road Vanna-Whites its crops
of corn whose stalks will soon give way to a harvester’s blade
and turn the land to a man’s unruly face, makes me believe
I will never soothe the pagan in me, nor exhibit the propriety
of the polite. After a few moons, I’m loud this time of year,
unseemly as a chevron of honking. I’m fire in the leaves,
obstreperous as a New England farmer. I see fear
in the eyes of his children. They walk home from school,
as evening falls like an advancing trickle of bats, the sky
pungent as bounty in chimney smoke. I read the scowl
below the smiles of parents at my son’s soccer game, their agitation,
the figure of wind yellow leaves make of quaking aspens.

Copyright © 2019 by Major Jackson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 15, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

In the worst hour of the worst season
    of the worst year of a whole people
a man set out from the workhouse with his wife.
He was walking—they were both walking—north.

She was sick with famine fever and could not keep up.
     He lifted her and put her on his back.
He walked like that west and west and north.
Until at nightfall under freezing stars they arrived.

In the morning they were both found dead.
    Of cold. Of hunger. Of the toxins of a whole history.
But her feet were held against his breastbone.
The last heat of his flesh was his last gift to her.

Let no love poem ever come to this threshold.
     There is no place here for the inexact
praise of the easy graces and sensuality of the body.
There is only time for this merciless inventory:

Their death together in the winter of 1847.
      Also what they suffered. How they lived.
And what there is between a man and woman.
And in which darkness it can best be proved.

From New Collected Poems by Eavan Boland. Copyright © 2008 by Eavan Boland. Reprinted by permission of W.W. Norton. All rights reserved.

In the first version, Persephone
is taken from her mother
and the goddess of the earth
punishes the earth—this is
consistent with what we know of human behavior,

that human beings take profound satisfaction
in doing harm, particularly
unconscious harm:

we may call this
negative creation.

Persephone's initial
sojourn in hell continues to be
pawed over by scholars who dispute
the sensations of the virgin:

did she cooperate in her rape,
or was she drugged, violated against her will,
as happens so often now to modern girls.

As is well known, the return of the beloved
does not correct
the loss of the beloved: Persephone

returns home
stained with red juice like
a character in Hawthorne—

I am not certain I will
keep this word: is earth
"home" to Persephone? Is she at home, conceivably,
in the bed of the god? Is she
at home nowhere? Is she
a born wanderer, in other words
an existential
replica of her own mother, less
hamstrung by ideas of causality?

You are allowed to like
no one, you know. The characters
are not people.
They are aspects of a dilemma or conflict.

Three parts: just as the soul is divided,
ego, superego, id. Likewise

the three levels of the known world,
a kind of diagram that separates
heaven from earth from hell.

You must ask yourself:
where is it snowing?

White of forgetfulness,
of desecration—

It is snowing on earth; the cold wind says

Persephone is having sex in hell.
Unlike the rest of us, she doesn't know
what winter is, only that
she is what causes it.

She is lying in the bed of Hades.
What is in her mind?
Is she afraid? Has something
blotted out the idea
of mind?

She does know the earth
is run by mothers, this much
is certain. She also knows
she is not what is called
a girl any longer. Regarding
incarceration, she believes

she has been a prisoner since she has been a daughter.

The terrible reunions in store for her
will take up the rest of her life.
When the passion for expiation
is chronic, fierce, you do not choose
the way you live. You do not live;
you are not allowed to die.

You drift between earth and death
which seem, finally,
strangely alike. Scholars tell us

that there is no point in knowing what you want
when the forces contending over you
could kill you.

White of forgetfulness,
white of safety—

They say
there is a rift in the human soul
which was not constructed to belong
entirely to life. Earth

asks us to deny this rift, a threat
disguised as suggestion—
as we have seen
in the tale of Persephone
which should be read

as an argument between the mother and the lover—
the daughter is just meat.

When death confronts her, she has never seen
the meadow without the daisies.
Suddenly she is no longer
singing her maidenly songs
about her mother's
beauty and fecundity. Where
the rift is, the break is.

Song of the earth,
song of the mythic vision of eternal life—

My soul
shattered with the strain
of trying to belong to earth—

What will you do,
when it is your turn in the field with the god?

"Persephone the Wanderer" from Averno by Louise Glück. Copyright © 2006 by Louise Glück. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

translated by Esther Allen

     Times of gorge and rush are these:
Voices fly like light: lightning,
like a ship hurled upon dread quicksand,
plunges down the high rod, and in delicate craft
man, as if winged, cleaves the air.
And love, without splendor or mystery,
dies when newly born, of glut.
The city is a cage of dead doves
and avid hunters! If men’s bosoms
were to open and their torn flesh
fall to the earth, inside would be
nothing but a scatter of small, crushed fruit!

     Love happens in the street, standing in the dust
of saloons and public squares: the flower
dies the day it’s born. The trembling
virgin who would rather death
have her than some unknown youth;
the joy of trepidation; that feeling of heart
set free from chest; the ineffable
pleasure of deserving; the sweet alarm
of walking quick and straight
from your love’s home and breaking
into tears like a happy child;—
and that gazing of our love at the fire,
as roses slowly blush a deeper color,—
Bah, it’s all a sham! Who has the time
to be noble? Though like a golden
bowl or sumptuous painting
a genteel lady sits in the magnate’s home!

     But if you’re thirsty, reach out your arm,
and drain some passing cup!
The dirtied cup rolls to the dust, then,
and the expert taster—breast blotted
with invisible blood—goes happily,
crowned with myrtle, on his way!
Bodies are nothing now but trash,
pits and tatters! And souls
are not the tree’s lush fruit
down whose tender skin runs
sweet juice in time of ripeness,—
but fruit of the marketplace, ripened
by the hardened laborer’s brutal blows!

     It is an age of dry lips!
Of undreaming nights! Of life
crushed unripe! What is it that we lack,
without which there is no gladness? Like a startled
hare in the wild thicket of our breast,
fleeing, tremulous, from a gleeful hunter,
the spirit takes cover;
and Desire, on Fever’s arm,
beats the thicket, like the rich hunter.

     The city appals me! Full
of cups to be emptied, and empty cups!
I fear—ah me!—that this wine
may be poison, and sink its teeth,
vengeful imp, in my veins!
I thirst—but for a wine that none on earth
knows how to drink! I have not yet
endured enough to break through the wall
that keeps me, ah grief!, from my vineyard!
Take, oh squalid tasters
of humble human wines, these cups
from which, with no fear or pity,
you swill the lily’s juice!
Take them! I am honorable, and I am afraid!

 


Amor de Cuidad Grande

     De gorja son y rapidez los tiempos.
Corre cual luz la voz; en alta aguja,
Cual nave despeñada en sirte horrenda,
Húndese el rayo, y en ligera barca
El hombre, como alado, el aire hiende.
¡Así el amor, sin pompa ni misterio
Muere, apenas nacido, de saciado!
Jaula es la villa de palomas muertas
Y ávidos cazadores! Si los pechos
Se rompen de los hombres, y las carnes
Rotas por tierra ruedan, ¡no han de verse
Dentro más que frutillas estrujadas!

     Se ama de pie, en las calles, entre el polvo
De los salones y las plazas; muere
La flor que nace. Aquella virgen
Trémula que antes a la muerte daba
La mano pura que a ignorado mozo;
El goce de temer; aquel salirse
Del pecho el corazón; el inefable
Placer de merecer; el grato susto
De caminar de prisa en derechura
Del hogar de la amada, y a sus puertas
Como un niño feliz romper en llanto;—
Y aquel mirar, de nuestro amor al fuego,
Irse tiñendo de color las rosas,—
Ea, que son patrañas! Pues ¿quién tiene
tiempo de ser hidalgo? Bien que sienta,
Cual áureo vaso o lienzo suntuoso,
Dama gentil en casa de magnate!

     O si se tiene sed, se alarga el brazo
Y a la copa que pasa se la apura!
Luego, la copa turbia al polvo rueda,
Y el hábil catador—manchado el pecho
De una sangre invisible—sigue alegre
Coronado de mirtos, su camino!
No son los cuerpos ya sino desechos,
Y fosas, y jirones! Y las almas
No son como en el árbol fruta rica
En cuya blanda piel la almíbar dulce
En su sazón de madurez rebosa,—
Sino fruta de plaza que a brutales
Golpes el rudo labrador madura!

     ¡La edad es ésta de los labios secos!
De las noches sin sueño! ¡De la vida
Estrujada en agraz! Qué es lo que falta
Que la ventura falta? Como liebre
Azorada, el espíritu se esconde,
Trémulo huyendo al cazador que ríe,
Cual en soto selvoso, en nuestro pecho;
Y el deseo, de brazo de la fiebre,
Cual rico cazador recorre el soto.

     ¡Me espanta la ciudad! ¡Toda está llena
De copas por vaciar, o huecas copas!
¡Tengo miedo ¡ay de mí! de que este vino
Tósigo sea, y en mis venas luego
Cual duende vengador los dientes clave!
¡Tengo sed,—mas de un vino que en la tierra
No se sabe beber! ¡No he padecido
Bastante aún, para romper el muro
Que me aparta ¡oh dolor! de mi viñedo!
¡Tomad vosotros, catadores ruines
De vinillos humanos, esos vasos
Donde el jugo de lirio a grandes sorbos
Sin compasión y sin temor se bebe!
Tomad! Yo soy honrado, y tengo miedo!

From Selected Writings by José Martí, published by Penguin Classics, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Translation copyright and selection © 2002 by Esther Allen. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on October 11, 2020. 

the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls
are unbeautiful and have comfortable minds
(also,with the church's protestant blessings
daughters,unscented shapeless spirited)
they believe in Christ and Longfellow,both dead,
are invariably interested in so many things—
at the present writing one still finds
delighted fingers knitting for the is it Poles?
perhaps. While permanent faces coyly bandy
scandal of Mrs. N and Professor D
....the Cambridge ladies do not care,above
Cambridge if sometimes in its box of
sky lavender and cornerless,the
moon rattles like a fragment of angry candy

This poem is in the public domain.

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
Under the windings of the sea
They lying long shall not die windily;
Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
And the unicorn evils run them through;
Split all ends up they shan't crack;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
Or waves break loud on the seashores;
Where blew a flower may a flower no more
Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
Though they be mad and dead as nails,
Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
And death shall have no dominion.

from The Poems of Dylan Thomas. Copyright © 1943 by New Directions Publishing Corporation. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.

Light breaks where no sun shines;
Where no sea runs, the waters of the heart
Push in their tides;
And, broken ghosts with glow-worms in their heads,
The things of light
File through the flesh where no flesh decks the bones.

A candle in the thighs
Warms youth and seed and burns the seeds of age;
Where no seed stirs,
The fruit of man unwrinkles in the stars,
Bright as a fig;
Where no wax is, the candle shows its hairs.

Dawn breaks behind the eyes;
From poles of skull and toe the windy blood
Slides like a sea;
Nor fenced, nor staked, the gushers of the sky
Spout to the rod
Divining in a smile the oil of tears.

Night in the sockets rounds,
Like some pitch moon, the limit of the globes;
Day lights the bone;
Where no cold is, the skinning gales unpin
The winter's robes;
The film of spring is hanging from the lids.

Light breaks on secret lots,
On tips of thought where thoughts smell in the rain;
When logics dies,
The secret of the soil grows through the eye,
And blood jumps in the sun;
Above the waste allotments the dawn halts.

From The Poems of Dylan Thomas, published by New Directions. Copyright © 1952, 1953 Dylan Thomas. Copyright © 1937, 1945, 1955, 1962, 1966, 1967 the Trustees for the Copyrights of Dylan Thomas. Copyright © 1938, 1939, 1943, 1946, 1971 New Directions Publishing Corp. Used with permission.

The dead bird, color of a bruise,
and smaller than an eye
swollen shut,
is king among omens.

Who can blame the ants for feasting?

Let him cast the first crumb.

~

We once tended the oracles.

Now we rely on a photograph

a fingerprint
a hand we never saw

coming.

~

A man draws a chalk outline
first in his mind

around nothing

then around the body
of another man.

He does this without thinking.

~

What can I do about the white room I left
behind? What can I do about the great stones

I walk among now? What can I do

but sing.

Even a small cut can sing all day.

~

There are entire nights

                                I would take back.

Nostalgia is a thin moon,
                                                              disappearing

into a sky like cold,
                                          unfeeling iron.

~

I dreamed

you were a drowned man, crown
of phosphorescent, seaweed in your hair,

water in your shoes. I woke up desperate

for air.

~

In another dream, I was a field

and you combed through me
searching for something

you only thought you had lost.

~

What have we left at the altar of sorrow?

What blessed thing will we leave tomorrow?

Copyright © 2016 by Cecilia Llompart. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 26, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

She rose among us where we lay.
She wept, we put our work away.
She chilled our laughter, stilled our play;
And spread a silence there.
And darkness shot across the sky,
And once, and twice, we heard her cry;
And saw her lift white hands on high
And toss her troubled hair.

What shape was this who came to us,
With basilisk eyes so ominous,
With mouth so sweet, so poisonous,
And tortured hands so pale?
We saw her wavering to and fro,
Through dark and wind we saw her go;
Yet what her name was did not know;
And felt our spirits fail.

We tried to turn away; but still
Above we heard her sorrow thrill;
And those that slept, they dreamed of ill
And dreadful things:
Of skies grown red with rending flames
And shuddering hills that cracked their frames;
Of twilights foul with wings;

And skeletons dancing to a tune;
And cries of children stifled soon;
And over all a blood-red moon
A dull and nightmare size.
They woke, and sought to go their ways,
Yet everywhere they met her gaze,
Her fixed and burning eyes.

Who are you now, —we cried to her—
Spirit so strange, so sinister?
We felt dead winds above us stir;
And in the darkness heard
A voice fall, singing, cloying sweet,
Heavily dropping, though that heat,
Heavy as honeyed pulses beat,
Slow word by anguished word.

And through the night strange music went
With voice and cry so darkly blent
We could not fathom what they meant;
Save only that they seemed
To thin the blood along our veins,
Foretelling vile, delirious pains,
And clouds divulging blood-red rains
Upon a hill undreamed.

And this we heard:  "Who dies for me,
He shall possess me secretly,
My terrible beauty he shall see,
And slake my body's flame.
But who denies me cursed shall be,
And slain, and buried loathsomely,
And slimed upon with shame."

And darkness fell.  And like a sea
Of stumbling deaths we followed, we
Who dared not stay behind.
There all night long beneath a cloud
We rose and fell, we struck and bowed,
We were the ploughman and the ploughed,
Our eyes were red and blind.

And some, they said, had touched her side,
Before she fled us there;
And some had taken her to bride;
And some lain down for her and died;
Who had not touched her hair,
Ran to and fro and cursed and cried
And sought her everywhere.

"Her eyes have feasted on the dead,
And small and shapely is her head,
And dark and small her mouth," they said,
"And beautiful to kiss;
Her mouth is sinister and red
As blood in moonlight is."

Then poets forgot their jeweled words
And cut the sky with glittering swords;
And innocent souls turned carrion birds
To perch upon the dead.
Sweet daisy fields were drenched with death,
The air became a charnel breath,
Pale stones were splashed with red.

Green leaves were dappled bright with blood
And fruit trees murdered in the bud;
And when at length the dawn
Came green as twilight from the east,
And all that heaving horror ceased,
Silent was every bird and beast,
And that dark voice was gone.

No word was there, no song, no bell,
No furious tongue that dream to tell;
Only the dead, who rose and fell
Above the wounded men;
And whisperings and wails of pain
Blown slowly from the wounded grain,
Blown slowly from the smoking plain;
And silence fallen again.

Until at dusk, from God knows where,
Beneath dark birds that filled the air,    
Like one who did not hear or care,
Under a blood-red cloud,
An aged ploughman came alone      
And drove his share through flesh and bone,
And turned them under to mould and stone;
All night long he ploughed.

This poem is in the public domain.

after René Auberjonois

Wet, where all I had longed for             
was the determined touch of softness. Wet, 

             I watched the solids come and go. 
             I counted feet, that ache

and echo of planets, became 
the prosecutor and defense 

             of my own heart, that red-tailed escape 
             from the struggle to represent 

the shapes required of love. 
A rose bud, briefcase 

             or snarling mutt, pea soup, 
             blood blister—I knew hate most

not as these but in my 
formlessness, poured into a coffee cup

            my keeper mimicked to sip. 
             I could not honey my clay. 

The shape of our star days, 
a hum in the rookery of birds 

             I’d know, and never be.
             And when I found my people—

when my people meddled 
with me—they opened a hole 

             to home in the punch-clock 
             of deep space I was destined 

to fall through.

Copyright © 2020 by Halee Kirkwood. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 9, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

translated by Pierre Joris

Autumn eats its leaf out of my hand: we are friends.
We shell time from the nuts and teach it to walk:
time returns to the shell.

In the mirror is Sunday,
in the dream we sleep,
the mouth speaks true.

My eye goes down to my lover’s sex:
we gaze at each other,
we speak of dark things,

we love each other like poppy and memory,
we sleep like wine in the seashells,
like the sea in the moon’s blood-beam.

We stand and embrace at the window, they watch us from the street:
it is time, for this to be known!
It is time that the stone took the trouble to bloom,
that unrest’s heart started to beat.
It’s time for it to be time.

It is time.

 


Corona

Aus der Hand frißt der Herbst mir sein Blatt: wir sind Freunde.
Wir schälen die Zeit aus den Nüssen und lehren sie gehn:
die Zeit kehrt zurück in die Schale.

Im Spiegel ist Sonntag,
im Traum wird geschlafen,
der Mund redet wahr.

Mein Aug steigt hinab zum Geschlecht der Geliebten:
wir sehen uns an,
wir sagen uns Dunkles,

wir lieben einander wie Mohn und Gedächtnis,
wir schlafen wie Wein in den Muscheln,
wie das Meer im Blutstrahl des Mondes.

Wir stehen umschlungen im Fenster, sie sehen uns zu von der Straße:
es ist Zeit, daß man weiß!
Es ist Zeit, daß der Stein sich zu blühen bequemt,
daß der Unrast ein Herz schlägt.
Es ist Zeit, daß es Zeit wird.

Es ist Zeit.

Copyright © 2020 by Pierre Joris. From Memory Rose into Threshold Speech: The Collected Earlier Poetry (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2020) by Paul Celan, translated by Pierre Joris. Used with the permission of the translator.

Ask me about the time
my brother ran towards the sun
arms outstretched. His shadow chased him
from corner store to church
where he offered himself in pieces.

Ask me about the time
my brother disappeared. At 16,
tossed his heartstrings over telephone wire,
dangling for all the rez dogs to feed on.
Bit by bit. The world took chunks of
my brother’s flesh.

Ask me about the first time
we drowned in history. 8 years old
during communion we ate the body of Christ
with palms wide open, not expecting wine to be
poured into our mouths. The bitterness
buried itself in my tongue and my brother
never quite lost his thirst for blood or vanishing
for more days than a shadow could hold.

Ask me if I’ve ever had to use
bottle caps as breadcrumbs to help
my brother find his way back home.
He never could tell the taste between
a scar and its wounding, an angel or demon.

Ask me if I can still hear his
exhaled prayers: I am still waiting to be found.
To be found, tell me why there is nothing
more holy than becoming a ghost.

Copyright © 2020 by Tanaya Winder. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 17, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

In the burned house I am eating breakfast.
You understand: there is no house, there is no breakfast,
yet here I am.

The spoon which was melted scrapes against
the bowl which was melted also.
No one else is around.

Where have they gone to, brother and sister,
mother and father? Off along the shore,
perhaps. Their clothes are still on the hangers,

their dishes piled beside the sink,
which is beside the woodstove
with its grate and sooty kettle,

every detail clear,
tin cup and rippled mirror.
The day is bright and songless,

the lake is blue, the forest watchful.
In the east a bank of cloud
rises up silently like dark bread.

I can see the swirls in the oilcloth,
I can see the flaws in the glass,
those flares where the sun hits them.

I can't see my own arms and legs
or know if this is a trap or blessing,
finding myself back here, where everything

in this house has long been over,
kettle and mirror, spoon and bowl,
including my own body,

including the body I had then,
including the body I have now
as I sit at this morning table, alone and happy,

bare child's feet on the scorched floorboards
(I can almost see)
in my burning clothes, the thin green shorts

and grubby yellow T-shirt
holding my cindery, non-existent,
radiant flesh. Incandescent.

From Morning in the Burned House by Margaret Atwood. Copyright © 1995 by Margaret Atwood. Published in the United States by Houghton Mifflin Co., published in Canada by McClelland and Stewart, Inc. All rights reserved.

translated by Pierre Joris

Black milk of morning we drink you evenings
we drink you at noon and mornings we drink you at night
we drink and we drink
A man lives in the house he plays with the snakes he writes
he writes when it darkens to Deutschland your golden hair Margarete
he writes and steps in front of his house and the stars glisten and he whistles his dogs to come
he whistles his jews to appear let a grave be dug in the earth
he commands us play up for the dance

Black milk of dawn we drink you at night
we drink you mornings and noontime we drink you evenings
we drink and we drink
A man lives in the house he plays with the snakes he writes
he writes when it turns dark to Deutschland your golden hair Margarete
Your ashen hair Shulamit we dig a grave in the air there one lies at ease

He calls jab deeper into the earth you there and you other men sing and play
he grabs the gun in his belt he draws it his eyes are blue
jab deeper your spades you there and you other men continue to play for the dance

Black milk of dawn we drink you at night
we drink you at noon we drink you evenings
we drink you and drink
a man lives in the house your golden hair Margarete
your ashen hair Shulamit he plays with the snakes

He calls out play death more sweetly death is a master from Deutschland
he calls scrape those fiddles more darkly then as smoke you’ll rise in the air
then you’ll have a grave in the clouds there you’ll lie at ease

Black milk of dawn we drink you at night
we drink you at noon death is a master from Deutschland
we drink you evenings and mornings we drink and drink
death is a master from Deutschland his eye is blue
he strikes you with lead bullets his aim is true
a man lives in the house your golden hair Margarete
he sets his dogs on us he gifts us a grave in the air
he plays with the snakes and dreams death is a master from Deutschland

your golden hair Margarete
your ashen hair Shulamit


Todesfuge

Schwarze Milch der Frühe wir trinken sie abends
wir trinken sie mittags und morgens wir trinken sie nachts
wir trinken und trinken
wir schaufeln ein Grab in den Lüften da liegt man nicht eng
Ein Mann wohnt im Haus der spielt mit den Schlangen der schreibt
der schreibt wenn es dunkelt nach Deutschland dein goldenes Haar Margarete
er schreibt es und tritt vor das Haus und es blitzen die Sterne er pfeift seine Rüden herbei
er pfeift seine Juden hervor läßt schaufeln ein Grab in der Erde

Schwarze Milch der Frühe wir trinken dich nachts
wir trinken dich morgens und mittags wir trinken dich abends
wir trinken und trinken
Ein Mann wohnt im Haus der spielt mit den Schlangen der schreibt
der schreibt wenn es dunkelt nach Deutschland dein goldenes Haar Margarete
Dein aschenes Haar Sulamith wir schaufeln ein Grab in den Lüften da liegt man nicht eng

Er ruft stecht tiefer ins Erdreich ihr einen ihr andern singet und spielt
er greift nach dem Eisen im Gurt er schwingts seine Augen sind blau
stecht tiefer die Spaten ihr einen ihr andern spielt weiter zum Tanz auf

Schwarze Milch der Frühe wir trinken dich nachts
wir trinken dich mittags und morgens wir trinken dich abends
wir trinken und trinken
ein Mann wohnt im Haus dein goldenes Haar Margarete
dein aschenes Haar Sulamith er spielt mit den Schlangen

Er ruft spielt süßer den Tod der Tod ist ein Meister aus Deutschland
er ruft streicht dunkler die Geigen dann steigt ihr als Rauch in die Luft
dann habt ihr ein Grab in den Wolken da liegt man nicht eng

Schwarze Milch der Frühe wir trinken dich nachts
wir trinken dich mittags der Tod ist ein Meister aus Deutschland
wir trinken dich abends und morgens wir trinken und trinken
er Tod ist ein Meister aus Deutschland sein Auge ist blau
er trifft dich mit bleierner Kugel er trifft dich genau
ein Mann wohnt im Haus dein goldenes Haar Margarete

er hetzt seine Rüden auf uns er schenkt uns ein Grab in der Luft
er spielt mit den Schlangen und träumet der Tod ist ein Meister aus Deutschland

dein goldenes Haar Margarete
dein aschenes Haar Sulamith

Copyright © 2020 by Pierre Joris. From Memory Rose into Threshold Speech: The Collected Earlier Poetry (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2020) by Paul Celan, translated by Pierre Joris. Used with the permission of the translator.

Let us be apart then like the panoptical chambers in IC
patient X and patient Y, our names magic markered hurriedly on cardboard
and taped pell-mell to the sliding glass doors, "Mary", "Donald", "Tory";
an indication that our presence there would prove beyond temporary, like snow flurry.
Our health might be regained if aggressive medical action were taken, or despite
these best efforts, lost like missing children in the brambles of poor fortune. 
The suffering of another's I can only envision through the mimesis of my own,
the alarming monitor next door in lieu of a heartbeat signifying cardiac arrest, 
prompts a scurry of interns and nurses, their urgent footsteps to which
I listen, inert and prostrate, as if subject to the ground tremors of 
a herd of buffalo or horses, just a blur in the parched and post-nuclear distance.
I listen, perhaps the way the wounded will listen to the continuing war, 
so different sounding than before, the assault of noise now deflected against
consciousness rather than serving as motivation for patriotism and targets. 
Like fistfuls of dirt loaded with pebbles and rocks thrown at my front door,
I knew that the footsteps would soon be running to me also.
The blood pressure cuff swaddled around my arm pumped in its diastolic state
independently like an iced organ ready for transplant
as I witnessed with one circular rove of my eyes my body now dissected
into television sets, like one of those asymmetrical structures 
that serves as a model for a molecular unity in elementary science classes.
And the plastic bags of IV fluids that hung above me, a Miró-like mobile or iconic toy 
for an infant's amusement, measured the passing of time by virtue of their depletion. 
Sometimes I could count almost five and then seven swinging vaguely above me at 4 am.
I remember the first, hand-held high above me when I arrived via ambulance at the ER,
the gurney accelerating as a voice exclaims on the color of my hands "they're blue!". 
Another voice (deeper) virtually yells out into the chaos that she can't get a pulse.
Several pairs of scissors begin simultaneously to cut off my clothes, their shears
working their way upward like army ants from pant cuff and shirt-sleeve, 
a formulaic move for the ER staff which, despite its routine, still retains
a sense of impromptu in the hurriedness of the cutting both deft and crude,
in the sound of their increased breathing, of their efforts intensified by my blood 
pressure dropping, the numbers shouted out as if into night fog and ocean.
It's not a lack of professionalism but the wager of emotional investment that I feel.
One attendant, losing her aplomb for a moment, can't contain herself from remarking 
(as if I'm already post-mortem) on what a great bra I have;
"Stretch lace demi-cup, Victoria's Secret," I respond politely in my head.
In turn, when they put the oxygen tube into my nose I thought immediately
of Ali McGraw on her death bed in Love Story and how good she looked in one.
And then the catheter where I pissed continually into a bottle like a paraplegic
let me in on the male fear of castration 
my focus centered entirely on that tube, its vulnerable rigging
which I held onto tenderly throughout the night like something dying 
against my thigh or something birthing. I held on though the IV in my forearm 
overextended with a kind of pleading, the needle hooked deep into a mainstream vein 
the way in deep sea fishing lines are cast into the darkest water,
my body thrashing about in the riverweed of its fluids.
The translucent infrastructure of IVs and oxygen tubes superimposed itself upon me
like a body double, more virulent and cold, like Leda pinned and broken by her swan, 
like the abandoned and organ-failed regarding its superior soul ascend.
So completely and successfully reconfigured within its technological construct
my body proper no longer existed, my vital signs highlighted in neon 
preceded the spiraling vortex of my interiority,
the part of me people will say later that that's what they loved
when they roam about in the cramped rare book library of their memory
for a couple of minutes and think of "Tory". 
Movement can only be accounted in shadows, Virilio informs us,
the reconciliation of oneself in one's disappearance.
An anachronistic sundial, I turn my profile
and the fluorescence falls unfractured, unmediated onto the postmodern tenebrism
of absence against absence, my quickened inhalations against my backless gown.
My love for you, my love, for my friends, untethers and floats, 
snaps apart and off me like the I.V. tubes and monitor wires
the flailed arms of an octopus unfolding without gravity,
as I reach up in a Frankensteinian effort to shut off my monitors,
the constant alarming of the human prototype my own body keeps rejecting,
while death moves closer, a benign presence.
It stands respectfully just outside the perimeters of my life
and adjusts itself the way the supervising nurse did the monitor perimeters 
to suit my declining vital signs so I could get some sleep.
I felt a relationship with death, a communication, it was more familiar
than I ever imagined, what I had always returned to as the sign of me, the self
we attribute to the mysterious and perfectly ordered Romantic notion of origin.
What I'm trying to say is that it was not foreign. It was not foreign,
but it was not a homecoming either.
There was no god, no other land, no beyond;
no amber, no amethyst, no avatar.
But there was a suspension, there was an adieu to recognition
to the shoes of those I love, like Van Gogh's, a pair but alone
the voices of loved ones, their tones, their intonations, like circulation,
closed-circuited but effective.
There was a listless but clear-thinking comfort that into my own eyes
I would go, although not "into" in the Bachelardian sense
which implies diminishment; there was none of that.
It was just the opposite: expansion but without a pioneer's vision.
What we regard as the "self" extended itself, but I wouldn't say in a winged way,
over the Bosch-like landscape of brutal interactions
and physical pain and car alarms and the eternal drilling of disappointment
the exigent descendence of everyday that everyday you peer down or up
its daunting staircase, nauseous with vertigo
gathering like straw the rudimentary characteristics of courage, gumption, innovation
and faking it to the hilt like a hilarious onslaught of sham orgasms.
Transcendence might be the term Emerson would lend it.
What I'm trying to say is that it wasn't lonely.

From HIV, Mon Amour by Tory Dent, copyright © 1999 by Tory Dent. Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Sheep Meadow Press.

the day after the mulberry tree fell on its belly, the army bombed a truck
full of black umbrellas sent from russia against the tyranny of rain. they
said, the black umbrellas are no longer allowed in the mountains. hats
are. guns are. gods are. the trees are offensive to the sky. then
they called our language mountain, then they pronounced it dead.

we are in a dream, you said. undo the pain before you speak
against the gods with mouths full of rain. a tongue cut in half
becomes sharper, you said. date your wound.

Copyright © 2020 by Öykü Tekten. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 21, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

In my dream, a blue mare loping,
Pewter on a porcelain field, away.
There are bursts of soft commotion
Where her hooves drive in the drifts,
And as dusk ebbs on the plane of night,
She shears the web of winter,
And on the far, blind side
She is no more. I behold nothing,
Wherein the mare dissolves in memory,
Beyond the burden of being.
 

Used with the permission of the poet. 

Suddenly I saw the cold and rook-delighting heaven
That seemed as though ice burned and was but the more ice,
And thereupon imagination and heart were driven
So wild that every casual thought of that and this
Vanished, and left but memories, that should be out of season
With the hot blood of youth, of love crossed long ago;
And I took all the blame out of all sense and reason,
Until I cried and trembled and rocked to and fro,
Riddled with light. Ah! when the ghost begins to quicken,
Confusion of the death-bed over, is it sent
Out naked on the roads, as the books say, and stricken
By the injustice of the skies for punishment?

This poem is in the public domain. 

Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
are you.
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.
Remember.

“Remember.” Copyright © 1983 by Joy Harjo from She Had Some Horses by Joy Harjo. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

How desire is a thing I might die for. Longing a well,
a long dark throat. Enter any body

of water and you give yourself up
to be swallowed. Even the stones

know that. I have writhed
against you as if against the black

bottom of a deep pool. I have emerged
from your grip breathless

and slicked. How easily
I could forget you

as separate, so essential
you feel to me now. You

beneath me like my own
blue shadow. You silent as the moon

drifts like a petal
across your skin, my mouth

to your lip—you a spring
I return to, unquenchable, and drink.

Copyright © 2021 by Leila Chatti. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 14, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

I first tasted under Apollo's lips,
love and love sweetness,
I, Evadne;
my hair is made of crisp violets
or hyacinth which the wind combs back
across some rock shelf;
I, Evadne,
was mate of the god of light.

His hair was crisp to my mouth,
as the flower of the crocus,
across my cheek,
cool as the silver-cress
on Erotos bank;
between my chin and throat,
his mouth slipped over and over.

Still between my arm and shoulder,
I feel the brush of his hair,
and my hands keep the gold they took,
as they wandered over and over,
that great arm-full of yellow flowers.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on January 16, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

Fall, falling, fallen. That's the way the season 
Changes its tense in the long-haired maples 
That dot the road; the veiny hand-shaped leaves 
Redden on their branches (in a fiery competition 
With the final remaining cardinals) and then 
Begin to sidle and float through the air, at last 
Settling into colorful layers carpeting the ground. 
At twilight the light, too, is layered in the trees 
In a season of odd, dusky congruences—a scarlet tanager
And the odor of burning leaves, a golden retriever 
Loping down the center of a wide street and the sun 
Setting behind smoke-filled trees in the distance, 
A gap opening up in the treetops and a bruised cloud 
Blamelessly filling the space with purples. Everything 
Changes and moves in the split second between summer's 
Sprawling past and winter's hard revision, one moment 
Pulling out of the station according to schedule, 
Another moment arriving on the next platform. It 
Happens almost like clockwork: the leaves drift away 
From their branches and gather slowly at our feet, 
Sliding over our ankles, and the season begins moving 
Around us even as its colorful weather moves us, 
Even as it pulls us into its dusty, twilit pockets. 
And every year there is a brief, startling moment 
When we pause in the middle of a long walk home and 
Suddenly feel something invisible and weightless 
Touching our shoulders, sweeping down from the air: 
It is the autumn wind pressing against our bodies; 
It is the changing light of fall falling on us. 

From Wild Gratitude by Edward Hirsch Copyright © 1986 by Edward Hirsch. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

What good are notebooks?
—Talking Heads, "Life During Wartime"

 

I crave them as if craving something carnal,
blankness of pages erotic, clean with sensual
possibilities and ready to be dampened
by my insistent ink, swirls of language

made plain on thin blue lines taut
as tightrope. I collect them like other women
collect shoes or boyfriends, fingering pristine
pages while standing hushed in aisles

of bookstores and stationery shops,
stroking plush-covered ones with a single
finger, loving floral-print ones more
than actual flowers, needing another and

another until my house is overrun
with them, and they start arranging
cocktail hours and support groups—
for the ones I have not written in

grow lonely, and the ones managing
the burden of my desperate handwriting
need someone to talk to, peers to confide in
about these dog-eared secrets and semi-scribbled

imaginings, covert half-truths, outright lies.
How they congregate around my bed,
waiting for me to pick one up, start
another hazy page of scrawls and arrows,

cross-outs and restarts, confessions
that will never be confessions until
I judge them fit for judgment. Sometimes
when fate has flattened me with its one

hard fist, only the black-and-white
composition notebooks of childhood
will do, marbled covers unchanged
from when I first learned cursive—

one letter reaching for the next
in the crazy tilting of my untested hand.
Only those wide-ruled lines will do,
those patient beginnings.


Originally published in River Styx and reprinted in The Best American Poetry 2011 (Scribner, 2011). Copyright © 2011 by Allison Joseph. Used with permission of the author.

When sun, light handed, sows this Indian water
With a crop of cockles,
The vines arrange their tender shadows
In the sweet leafage of an artificial France.

Awake, in the frames of windows, innocent children,
Loving the blue, sprayed leaves of childish life,
Applaud the bearded corn, the bleeding grape,
And cry:
"Here is the hay-colored sun, our marvelous cousin,
Walking in the barley,
Turning the harrowed earth to growing bread,
And splicing the sweet, wounded vine.
Lift up your hitch-hiking heads
And no more fear the fever,
You fugitives, and sleepers in the fields,
Here is the hay-colored sun!"

And when their shining voices, clean as summer,
Play, like churchbells over the field,
A hundred dusty Luthers rise from the dead, unheeding,
Search the horizon for the gap-toothed grin of factories,
And grope, in the green wheat,
Toward the wood winds of the western freight.

From In the Dark Before Dawn: New Selected Poems ©2005. Reprinted with permission of New Directions Publishing.

They mouth love’s language. Gnash
The thirteen teeth
Your lean jaws grin with. Lash
Your itch and quailing, nude greed of the flesh.
Love’s breath in you is stale, worded or sung,
As sour as cat’s breath,
Harsh of tongue.

This grey that stares
Lies not, stark skin and bone.
Leave greasy lips their kissing. None
Will choose her what you see to mouth upon.
Dire hunger holds his hour.
Pluck forth your heart, saltblood, a fruit of tears:
Pluck and devour!

This poem is in the public domain.

Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.

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.

Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.

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.

Out of the bosom of the Air,
    Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
    Over the harvest-fields forsaken,
      Silent, and soft, and slow
      Descends the snow.

Even as our cloudy fancies take
    Suddenly shape in some divine expression,
Even as the troubled heart doth make
In the white countenance confession,
      The troubled sky reveals
      The grief it feels.

This is the poem of the air,
    Slowly in silent syllables recorded;
This is the secret of despair,
    Long in its cloudy bosom hoarded,
      Now whispered and revealed
      To wood and field.

This poem is in the public domain.

Call me lagahoo, soucouyant. Call me other.
I came ravenous: mongoose consuming
fresh landscapes until I made myself

new species of the Indies.
Christen me how you wish, my muzzle
matted with blood of fresh invertebrates.

I disappear your problems
without thought to consequence.
Call me Obeah. Watch me cut

through cane, chase
sugar-hungry rats. Giggling
at mating season, I grow fat

multiples, litters thick as tropic air.
Don’t you find me beautiful? My soft animal
features, this body streamlined ruthless,

claws that won’t retract. You desire them.
You never ask me what I want. I take
your chickens, your iguana,

you watch me and wonder
when you will be outnumbered.
My offspring stalking your village,

ecosystems uprooted, roosts
swallowed whole.
I am not native. Not domesticated.

I am naturalized, resistant
to snake venoms, your colony’s toxins—
everything you brought me to,

this land. I chew and spit back
reptile and bird bone
prophecy strewn across stones.

Copyright © 2020 by Daria-Ann Martineau. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 2, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

     This afternoon it is raining, as never before; and I 
have no desire to live, my heart. 

     This afternoon is sweet. Why should it not be? 
Dressed in grace and pain; dressed like a woman. 

     This afternoon in Lima it is raining. And I recall 
the cruel caverns of my ingratitude; 
my block of ice over her poppy, 
stronger than her “Don’t be this way!”

     My violent black flowers; and the barbaric  
and terrible stoning; and the glacial distance. 
And the silence of her dignity 
with burning holy oils will put all end to it. 

     So this afternoon, as never before, I am 
with this owl, with this heart. 

     Other women go by; and seeing me so sad, 
they take on a bit of you 
in the abrupt wrinkle of my deep remorse. 

     This afternoon it is raining, raining hard. And I
have no desire to live, my heart!

From The Complete Poetry: A Bilingual Edition, by César Vallejo, Clayton Eshleman (trans.), © 2007 by The Regents of the University of California. Published by the University of California Press.

Even the gods misuse the unfolding blue. Even the gods misread the windflower’s nod toward sunlight as consent to consume. Still, you envy the horse that draws their chariot. Bone of their bone. The wilting mash of air alone keeps you from scaling Olympus with gifts of dead or dying things dangling from your mouth—your breath, like the sea, inching away. It is rumored gods grow where the blood of a hanged man drips. You insist on being this man. The gods abuse your grace. Still, you’d rather live among   the clear, cloudless white, enjoying what is left of their ambrosia. Who  should  be  happy  this  time?  Who  brings  cake  to whom? Pray  the  gods  do  not  misquote  your  covetous pulse for chaos, the black from which they were conceived. Even the eyes of gods must adjust to light. Even gods have gods.

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

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

Li-Young Lee, “From Blossoms” from Rose. Copyright © 1986 by Li-Young Lee. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., boaeditions.org.

The scent of hyacinths, like a pale mist, lies 

   between me and my book;	
And the South Wind, washing through the room,	
Makes the candles quiver.	
My nerves sting at a spatter of rain on the shutter,	
And I am uneasy with the thrusting of green shoots	        
Outside, in the night.	
 
Why are you not here to overpower me with your 

   tense and urgent love?

This poem is in the public domain.

Morning, and light seams
through Juárez, its homes like pearls, El Paso

rippling in the dark. Today I understand 
the fact of my separate body, how it tides

to its own center, my skin crumbling from thirst 
and touch. The sun hangs

like a bulb in corridor: one city opening 
to another. When did my heart

become a boat, this desert the moving
chart of my palm? And when did pain invert

the sky to glaucous sea, each home on each hill 
rocking? I would give my lips

to a soldier if only he would take them 
as sextant, our mouths an arc, my tongue

the telescoping sight between. Below 
such light, the measure of boys

swimming cobbles, their stomachs 
dripping wild stamen. See

how they are clutching to their guns
like lovers, as if the metal could bear them.

Morning, and still in umbra, my dog
and I walk, her tongue a swinging rudder.

From For Want of Water (Beacon Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Sasha Pimentel. Used with permission from Beacon Press.

Am I to become profligate as if I were a blonde? Or religious as if I were French?

Each time my heart is broken it makes me feel more adventurous (and how the same names keep recurring on that interminable list!), but one of these days there'll be nothing left with which to venture forth.

Why should I share you? Why don't you get rid of someone else for a change?

I am the least difficult of men. All I want is boundless love.

Even trees understand me! Good heavens, I lie under them, too, don't I? I'm just like a pile of leaves.

However, I have never clogged myself with the praises of pastoral life, nor with nostalgia for an innocent past of perverted acts in pastures. No. One need never leave the confines of New York to get all the greenery one wishes—I can't even enjoy a blade of grass unless I know there's a subway handy, or a record store or some other sign that people do not totally regret life. It is more important to affirm the least sincere; the clouds get enough attention as it is and even they continue to pass. Do they know what they're missing? Uh huh.

My eyes are vague blue, like the sky, and change all the time; they are indiscriminate but fleeting, entirely specific and disloyal, so that no one trusts me. I am always looking away. Or again at something after it has given me up. It makes me restless and that makes me unhappy, but I cannot keep them still. If only i had grey, green, black, brown, yellow eyes; I would stay at home and do something. It's not that I'm curious. On the contrary, I am bored but it's my duty to be attentive, I am needed by things as the sky must be above the earth. And lately, so great has their anxiety become, I can spare myself little sleep.

Now there is only one man I like to kiss when he is unshaven. Heterosexuality! you are inexorably approaching. (How best discourage her?)

St. Serapion, I wrap myself in the robes of your whiteness which is like midnight in Dostoevsky. How I am to become a legend, my dear? I've tried love, but that hides you in the bosom of another and I am always springing forth from it like the lotus—the ecstasy of always bursting forth! (but one must not be distracted by it!) or like a hyacinth, "to keep the filth of life away," yes, there, even in the heart, where the filth is pumped in and slanders and pollutes and determines. I will my will, though I may become famous for a mysterious vacancy in that department, that greenhouse.

Destroy yourself, if you don't know!

It is easy to be beautiful; it is difficult to appear so. I admire you, beloved, for the trap you've set. It's like a final chapter no one reads because the plot is over.

"Fanny Brown is run away—scampered off with a Cornet of Horse; I do love that little Minx, & hope She may be happy, tho' She has vexed me by this Exploit a little too.—Poor silly Cecchina! or F:B: as we used to call her.—I wish She had a good Whipping and 10,000 pounds."—Mrs. Thrale.

I've got to get out of here. I choose a piece of shawl and my dirtiest suntans. I'll be back, I'll re-emerge, defeated, from the valley; you don't want me to go where you go, so I go where you don't want me to. It's only afternoon, there's a lot ahead. There won't be any mail downstairs. Turning, I spit in the lock and the knob turns.

From Meditations in an Emergency by Frank O'Hara. Copyright © 1957 by Frank O'Hara. Used by permission of Grove Press. All rights reserved.

When the doctor suggested surgery
and a brace for all my youngest years,
my parents scrambled to take me
to massage therapy, deep tissue work,
osteopathy, and soon my crooked spine
unspooled a bit, I could breathe again,
and move more in a body unclouded
by pain. My mom would tell me to sing
songs to her the whole forty-five minute
drive to Middle Two Rock Road and forty-
five minutes back from physical therapy.
She’d say, even my voice sounded unfettered
by my spine afterward. So I sang and sang,
because I thought she liked it. I never
asked her what she gave up to drive me,
or how her day was before this chore. Today,
at her age, I was driving myself home from yet
another spine appointment, singing along
to some maudlin but solid song on the radio,
and I saw a mom take her raincoat off
and give it to her young daughter when
a storm took over the afternoon. My god,
I thought, my whole life I’ve been under her
raincoat thinking it was somehow a marvel
that I never got wet.

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

After the birthing of bombs of forks and fear,
the frantic automatic weapons unleashed,
the spray of bullets into a crowd holding hands,
that brute sky opening in a slate metal maw
that swallows only the unsayable in each of us, what’s
left? Even the hidden nowhere river is poisoned
orange and acidic by a coal mine. How can
you not fear humanity, want to lick the creek
bottom dry to suck the deadly water up into
your own lungs, like venom? Reader, I want to
say, Don’t die. Even when silvery fish after fish
comes back belly up, and the country plummets
into a crepitating crater of hatred, isn’t there still
something singing? The truth is: I don't know.
But sometimes, I swear I hear it, the wound closing
like a rusted-over garage door, and I can still move
my living limbs into the world without too much
pain, can still marvel at how the dog runs straight
toward the pickup trucks break-necking down
the road, because she thinks she loves them,
because she’s sure, without a doubt, that the loud
roaring things will love her back, her soft small self
alive with desire to share her goddamn enthusiasm,
until I yank the leash back to save her because
I want her to survive forever. Don’t die, I say,
and we decide to walk for a bit longer, starlings
high and fevered above us, winter coming to lay
her cold corpse down upon this little plot of earth.
Perhaps, we are always hurtling our body towards
the thing that will obliterate us, begging for love
from the speeding passage of time, and so maybe
like the dog obedient at my heels, we can walk together
peacefully, at least until the next truck comes.

Copyright © 2016 by Ada Limón. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 1, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

We’ve lived the life of an unbridled boy 
Mastering the higgledy-piggledy metro, 

Tapping the fast-moving window,
Loving the a cappella names 

Of the heralded stations:
Saint-Paul, Bastille, Gare de Lyon—

*

The life of a downtrodden clochard,  
Sly, indigent alley crone, 

Still wrestling to recover 
A long-deterred tune:  

Chevalier, dauphin, Parisian charmer,
Don’t you know I’m blue without your wink?

*

The life of a pendant, park-facing willow, 
Oh sweet, avuncular life—

*

Incarnation of a curling swan—

*

The life of an insouciant schoolgirl 
Boulevard-prancing then skipping

In the candle-pale voile of her lark-
Light Corpus Christi dress—

*

Life of a heartfelt nun whispering novenas
And bidding God’s blessèd day adieu—

*

The taciturn, time-and-again life 
Of a ringlet-haired racehorse

On a raucous kids’ carousel:
Its red-gold, undignified Sundays—  

*

Fat life of a tantalized basilica tomcat
Chasing a fly-by-night sparrow in the pews—

*

The jubilant life of a sweetheart, answering 
Yes, oh yes, I will,

Mon amour, trésor,
You can toss your hat now into the air—

Copyright © 2021 by Cyrus Cassells. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 29, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

  At times poetry is the vertigo of bodies and the vertigo of speech and the vertigo of death;
  the walk with eyes closed along the edge of the cliff, and the verbena in submarine gardens;
  the laughter that sets on fire the rules and the holy commandments;
  the descent of parachuting words onto the sands of the page;
  the despair that boards a paper boat and crosses,
  for forty nights and forty days, the night-sorrow sea and the day-sorrow desert;
  the idolatry of the self and the desecration of the self and the dissipation of the self;
  the beheading of epithets, the burial of mirrors; the recollection of pronouns freshly cut in the garden of Epicurus, and the garden of Netzahualcoyotl;
  the flute solo on the terrace of memory and the dance of flames in the cave of thought;
  the migrations of millions of verbs, wings and claws, seeds and hands;
  the nouns, bony and full of roots, planted on the waves of language;
  the love unseen and the love unheard and the love unsaid: the love in love.


Syllables seeds.

From The Collected Poems 1957-1987. Copyright © 1986 by Octavio Paz and Eliot Weinberger. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.

 

—Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, 2016

 

1.

Just off of Highway 12, Sandburg’s signature
of time & eternity: the muggy marshes

& thick forests of the mind, sand that sings
its memory of glaciers & the glaciers before

them. 14,000 years of them. After
the Potawatomi got marched away & before

the steel makers’ smokestacks & the abandoned
Bailly Nuclear Plant cupped this lakeshore

like hands around a beach party’s last
dry match: Lake Michigan’s wide-brimmed

posture as close to an ocean as the scrub
brush, gulls, & rocks around here will get.  

 

2.

Every town around here
has a Central Avenue, complete
with blustery flags & home-
cooked meals. Blank storefronts
& churches next to other churches—
lake light filtering through
their stained glass windows
most sunny afternoons after 3pm.
Steeples, one after another,
like the Great Lakes’ waves
trying to blink constant sand
out of wet eyes. & at night, all  
of the avenue lights up. No street
lights, but stars & moon blinking
in agitated water while the industrial
lights on the fringes dim like blank
faces traced in constellations.

 

3.

Listen to the Sand
     Hill Cranes folding
into the dim fringes

of themselves
     like prayer hands.
Listen to the yellow

warblers clustered
     up in the middle
of knotted branches

like a hungry chorus
     in these perfectly
paused trees. Even

at night, the birds
     grab sand-swirled air
with nonchalant wings.

 

4.

In the day or at night, central is centrālis in Latin & means exactly
what the warblers, trees, & restless dunes think it means: ruffles
of sand between the angry human fist & the equally angry
human face of industry, deregulations & pollutants as uninvited
as the sea lamprey wiggling through the locks & canals.

 

5.

After the canals & their creaking locks
     & the oxidized ships & their bleary horns,

the sun edges the blue between cuffed waves
     & unrepentant shore. After gravity’s

insoluble gears pull all of this water away
     from Central Avenue & back to the center

& the fish swim away from shore through
     the gills of noises & sediment in that sideways

way fish do. In a lake this big, it’s possible
     to swim in circles all day & get no further

from the moon than this parade of whitecaps
     on the edges of the dunes. The same

frustrated tendencies of circle, these waves.
     The same cornered ingenuity, this great lake.

These dunes, always on the mainline’s wet
     cusp—polished, brocaded & fabulous.

Copyright © 2016 by Adrian Matejka. This poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.