There is no fixed place and by that I mean
take a look at things that are. Split by the
turn of year, its newness and all it brings,
which of its possibilities can we trust?
Elsa is involved in a clandestine
love affair which, let’s be honest, should be
all love affairs until they’re over. She finds
herself dreaming of children and many
other delicacies. Sugared eggs. A
lost palace. But night brings a great expanse
and it’s much too quiet in these hallways.
On her back, Elsa holds her breath, her hands
beneath her, resisting, resisting. That
temptation can be such a dirty rat.

Copyright © 2017 by Angela Veronica Wong. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 2, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.

I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.

I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.

From The Complete Poems by Anne Sexton, published by Houghton Mifflin Company. Copyright © 1981 by Linda Gray Sexton. Used with permission.

The Arabs used to say,
When a stranger appears at your door,
feed him for three days
before asking who he is,
where he’s come from,
where he’s headed.
That way, he’ll have strength
enough to answer.
Or, by then you’ll be
such good friends
you don’t care.
 
Let’s go back to that.
Rice? Pine nuts?
Here, take the red brocade pillow.
My child will serve water
to your horse.
 
No, I was not busy when you came!
I was not preparing to be busy.
That’s the armor everyone put on
to pretend they had a purpose
in the world.
 
I refuse to be claimed.
Your plate is waiting.
We will snip fresh mint
into your tea.

Copyright © by Naomi Shihab Nye. Used with the permission of the author.

a curve billed thrasher
is cleaning its beak on the ground—
we are closer now than ever—sitting
in shadow—I never want to scare
anyone—not really—I have a friend
who loves people who come out
suddenly—in the dark—
                                    pleasure
is the same distance as pain from here—
that’s my skin on your sweater—both hands
stripped now—I know I am someone
to you I am entirely—practicing
Spanish on the computer—gesturing to
the neighbor instead of speaking—
                                    to sharpen
the body is never an accident—someone
I know I am not—letters are inseparable
from loss—moving what can be still
moved—one is sweeping the mouth—
what ever isn’t skin—take it off—

Copyright © 2016 by TC Tolbert. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 6, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

I want a red dress. 
I want it flimsy and cheap, 
I want it too tight, I want to wear it 
until someone tears it off me. 
I want it sleeveless and backless, 
this dress, so no one has to guess 
what's underneath. I want to walk down
the street past Thrifty's and the hardware store 
with all those keys glittering in the window, 
past Mr. and Mrs. Wong selling day-old 
donuts in their café, past the Guerra brothers 
slinging pigs from the truck and onto the dolly, 
hoisting the slick snouts over their shoulders. 
I want to walk like I'm the only 
woman on earth and I can have my pick. 
I want that red dress bad.
I want it to confirm 
your worst fears about me, 
to show you how little I care about you 
or anything except what 
I want. When I find it, I'll pull that garment 
from its hanger like I'm choosing a body 
to carry me into this world, through 
the birth-cries and the love-cries too, 
and I'll wear it like bones, like skin, 
it'll be the goddamned 
dress they bury me in.

From Tell Me by Kim Addonizio. Copyright © 2000 by Kim Addonizio. Reprinted by permission of BOA Editions, Ltd. All rights reserved.

Drunk and weeping. It’s another night
at the live-in opera, and I figure
it’s going to turn out badly for me.
The dead next door accept their salutations,
their salted notes, the drawn-out wailing.
It’s we the living who must run for cover,
meaning me. Mortality’s the ABC of it,
and after that comes lechery and lying.
And, oh, how to piece together a life
from this scandal and confusion, as if
the gods were inhabiting us or cohabiting
with us, just for the music’s sake.

Harvey Shapiro, "Nights," from The Sights Along the Harbor, © 2006 by Harvey Shapiro. Used by permission of Wesleyan University Press.

Scrambled eggs and whiskey
in the false-dawn light. Chicago,
a sweet town, bleak, God knows,
but sweet. Sometimes. And
weren't we fine tonight?
When Hank set up that limping
treble roll behind me
my horn just growled and I 
thought my heart would burst.
And Brad M. pressing with the
soft stick and Joe-Anne
singing low. Here we are now
in the White Tower, leaning
on one another, too tired
to go home. But don't say a word,
don't tell a soul, they wouldn't
understand, they couldn't, never
in a million years, how fine,
how magnificent we were
in that old club tonight.

From Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey, Poems 1991-1995, published by Copper Canyon Press, 1996. Copyright © 1996 by Hayden Carruth. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press, P.O. Box 271, Port Townsend, WA 98368.

lately, when asked how are you, i
respond with a name no longer living

Rekia, Jamar, Sandra

i am alive by luck at this point. i wonder
often: if the gun that will unmake me
is yet made, what white birth

will bury me, how many bullets, like a
flock of blue jays, will come carry my black
to its final bed, which photo will be used

to water down my blood. today i did
not die and there is no god or law to
thank. the bullet missed my head

and landed in another. today, i passed
a mirror and did not see a body, instead
a suggestion, a debate, a blank

post-it note there looking back. i
haven't enough room to both rage and
weep. i go to cry and each tear turns

to steam. I say I matter and a ghost
white hand appears over my mouth

"what the dead know by heart" by Donte Collins. Copyright © 2016 by Donte Collins. Used with permission of the author.

Turns out my inner clown is full of hope.
She wants a gavel.
She wants to stencil her name on a wooden gavel:
Esperanza's Gavel.
Clowns are clichés and they aren't afraid of clichés.
Mine just sleeps when she's tired.
But she can't shake the hopes.
She's got a bad case of it, something congenital perhaps.
Maybe it was sexually transmitted,
something to do with oxytocin or contractions or nipple stimulation,
maybe that's it, a little goes a long way.
Hope is also the name of a bakery in Queens.
And there's a lake in Ohio called Hope Lake where you can get nachos.
I'm so stuffed with it the comedians in the Cellar never call on me,
even when I'm sitting right there in the front row with a dumb look of hope on my face.
Look at these books: hope.
Look at this face: hope.
When I was young I studied with Richard Rorty, that was lucky,
I stared out the window and couldn't understand a word he said,
he drew a long flat line after the C he gave me,
the class was called metaphysics and epistemology,
that's eleven syllables, that's
hope hope hope hope hope hope hope hope hope hope hope.
Just before he died, Rorty said his sense of the holy was bound up with the hope
that some day our remote descendants will live in a global civilization
in which love is pretty much the only law.

Copyright © 2015 by Catherine Barnett. Originally published in the Summer 2015 issue of Tin House and reprinted in Best American Poetry 2016 (Simon & Schuster, 2016). Used with permission of the author.

Today I flew over the Midwest
filling out a questionnaire
on the emotional life of the brain
and personal capacity for resilience
against despair. I was making
a sculpture of my limbic systems
in a huge conceptual neurosis.
Under the simulated
middleclass environment
of the fuselage
the snow was falling.
And in everyone’s skulls
complex régimes went on and on and on.
I seek forever the right way to know this.
That there are bridges
not built in me. That there are areas
that do not light up—
You are at a party having a conversation
with an interesting stranger.
You are in a restaurant and the service is bad.
You have experienced profound grief—
how do you react to this?
Down on the ground your family
writhes. Down on the ground
you are surrounded at Starbucks
with a terrible glow.
And you have seen someone you love,
with a colossal
complex vehemence, die.
And it is pinned under glass
in perfect condition.
It is wrapped around you
like old fur. You’ve looked at the sky
until your eyes touched
zodiacal fantasies—right there in the void.
You know this. That the body lays down
while the mind bloats
on intellectual chaos.
And you have just eaten
a bag of cinnamon-flavored chips
and assessed that if you met
a wonderful new person
who ran from you in horror
you would fill their space
with calculated desolation.
Thus, you are waking up
having traveled through time.
You are looking down
at the Statue of Liberty
garden gnome with her arm in the air,
her head full of strangers—
And you hear crickets. Lined up.
Playing their creepy violins.
And you want to be good.
And you want to be liked.
And you want to recover.

From Someone Else's Wedding Vows (Tin House/Octopus Books, 2014) by Bianca Stone. Copyright © 2014 by Bianca Stone. Used with permission of the author.

I’d smoke cigars all day and into the night
while I wrote and wrote without
any hope or slightest assurance
that anything I’d written actually mattered
or rose to a standard of literary merit.
I’d languish in the smoke that did me in
and call it the cloud of my unknowing,
so sweet in its taste, such as it was,
of Cuban soil. That would be paradise
in heaven that’s so overrated as endless
bliss it kills to imagine as a place for living
forever, no less, with nothing to do
or lips to kiss. I’d curse, therefore,
with the best of them—the legion
of Saved—as I sharpened my pencils
and smoked my Punches in the simple room
that I’d be given with a desk for writing
and bed for remembering the things
I’d forgotten. And reading too, I almost
forgot. I’d read and read since I’d be done
with sleeping, but dreaming, no, still dreaming
a lot. I’d live to live again with moments
of dying to see how “lucky” I was. I’d use
my body as an eidolon with invisible wings
that fluttered in the void as if it were air
and hummed in the dark in which I could see.

Copyright © 2015 by Chard deNiord. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 27, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

You have to be always drunk. That's all there is to it—it's the only way. So as not to feel the horrible burden of time that breaks your back and bends you to the earth, you have to be continually drunk.

But on what? Wine, poetry or virtue, as you wish. But be drunk.

And if sometimes, on the steps of a palace or the green grass of a ditch, in the mournful solitude of your room, you wake again, drunkenness already diminishing or gone, ask the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock, everything that is flying, everything that is groaning, everything that is rolling, everything that is singing, everything that is speaking. . .ask what time it is and wind, wave, star, bird, clock will answer you: "It is time to be drunk! So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be continually drunk! On wine, on poetry or on virtue as you wish."

From Modern Poets of France: A Bilingual Anthology, translated and edited by Louis Simpson, published by Story Line Press, Inc. Copyright © 1997 by Louis Simpson. Reprinted by permission of the author and Story Line Press, Inc. All rights reserved.

I went down to the river,
I set down on the bank.
I tried to think but couldn't,
So I jumped in and sank.

I came up once and hollered!
I came up twice and cried!
If that water hadn't a-been so cold
I might've sunk and died.

     But it was      Cold in that water!      It was cold!

I took the elevator
Sixteen floors above the ground.
I thought about my baby
And thought I would jump down.

I stood there and I hollered!
I stood there and I cried!
If it hadn't a-been so high
I might've jumped and died.

     But it was      High up there!      It was high!

So since I'm still here livin',
I guess I will live on.
I could've died for love—
But for livin' I was born

Though you may hear me holler,
And you may see me cry—
I'll be dogged, sweet baby,
If you gonna see me die.

     Life is fine!      Fine as wine!      Life is fine!

From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Copyright © 1994 the Estate of Langston Hughes. Used with permission.

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.

Besides,
They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Knopf and Vintage Books. Copyright © 1994 by the Estate of Langston Hughes. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated.

Your mind and you are our Sargasso Sea,
London has swept about you this score years
And bright ships left you this or that in fee:
Ideas, old gossip, oddments of all things,
Strange spars of knowledge and dimmed wares of price.
Great minds have sought you—lacking someone else.
You have been second always. Tragical?
No. You preferred it to the usual thing:
One dull man, dulling and uxorious,
One average mind—with one thought less, each year.
Oh, you are patient, I have seen you sit
Hours, where something might have floated up.
And now you pay one. Yes, you richly pay.
You are a person of some interest, one comes to you
And takes strange gain away:
Trophies fished up; some curious suggestion:
Fact that leads nowhere; and a tale or two,
Pregnant with mandrakes, or with something else
That might prove useful and yet never proves,
That never fits a corner or shows use,
Or finds its hour upon the loom of days:
The tarnished, gaudy, wonderful old work;
Idols and ambergris and rare inlays,
These are your riches, your great store; and yet
For all this sea-hoard of deciduous things,
Strange woods half sodden, and new brighter stuff:
In the slow float of differing light and deep,
No! there is nothing! In the whole and all,
Nothing that's quite your own.
                     Yet this is you.

From Ripostes (1912), by Ezra Pound.

If you should tire of loving me
Some one of our far days,
Oh, never start to hide your heart
Or cover thought with praise.

For every word you would not say
Be sure my heart has heard,
So go from me all silently
Without a kiss or word;

For God must give you happiness…
And oh, it may befall
In listening long to Heaven-song
I may not care at all!

This poem is in the public domain. 

A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”

This poem is in the public domain. 

A campesino looked at the air
And told me:
With hurricanes it's not the wind
or the noise or the water.
I'll tell you he said:
it's the mangoes, avocados
Green plantains and bananas
flying into town like projectiles.

How would your family
feel if they had to tell
The generations that you
got killed by a flying
Banana.

Death by drowning has honor
If the wind picked you up
and slammed you
Against a mountain boulder
This would not carry shame
But
to suffer a mango smashing
Your skull
or a plantain hitting your
Temple at 70 miles per hour
is the ultimate disgrace.

The campesino takes off his hat—
As a sign of respect
toward the fury of the wind
And says:
Don't worry about the noise
Don't worry about the water
Don't worry about the wind—
If you are going out
beware of mangoes
And all such beautiful
sweet things.

From Maraca: New and Selected Poems 1965-2000 by Victor Hernández Cruz. Copyright © 2001 by Victor Hernández Cruz. Published by Coffee House Press. Used by permission of the publisher.

I do not look for love that is a dream—
    I only seek for courage to be still;
    To bear my grief with an unbending will,
And when I am a-weary not to seem.
Let the round world roll on; let the sun beam;
    Let the wind blow, and let the rivers fill
    The everlasting sea, and on the hill
The palms almost touch heaven, as children deem.
And, though young spring and summer pass away,
    And autumn and cold winter come again,
    And though my soul, being tired of its pain,
Pass from the ancient earth, and though my clay
    Return to dust, my tongue shall not complain;—
No man shall mock me after this my day.

This poem is in the public domain. 

When night drifts along the streets of the city,
And sifts down between the uneven roofs,
My mind begins to peek and peer.
It plays at ball in odd, blue Chinese gardens,
And shakes wrought dice-cups in Pagan temples
Amid the broken flutings of white pillars.
It dances with purple and yellow crocuses in its hair,
And its feet shine as they flutter over drenched grasses.
How light and laughing my mind is,
When all the good folk have put out their bedroom candles,
And the city is still.

This poem is in the public domain.

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

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

What I’m looking for
is an unmarked door
we’ll walk through
and there: whatever
we’d wished for
beyond the door.

What I’m looking for
is a golden bowl
carefully repaired
a complete world sealed
along cracked lines.

What I’m looking for
may not be there.
What you’re looking for
may or may not
be me. I’m listening for

the return of that sound
I heard in the woods
just now, that silvery sound
that seemed to call
not only to me.

Copyright © 2012 by Maureen N. McLane. Used with permission of the author.

Bad things are going to happen.
Your tomatoes will grow a fungus
and your cat will get run over.
Someone will leave the bag with the ice cream
melting in the car and throw
your blue cashmere sweater in the drier.
Your husband will sleep
with a girl your daughter’s age, her breasts spilling
out of her blouse. Or your wife
will remember she’s a lesbian
and leave you for the woman next door. The other cat—
the one you never really liked—will contract a disease
that requires you to pry open its feverish mouth
every four hours. Your parents will die.
No matter how many vitamins you take,
how much Pilates, you’ll lose your keys,
your hair and your memory. If your daughter
doesn’t plug her heart
into every live socket she passes,
you’ll come home to find your son has emptied
the refrigerator, dragged it to the curb,
and called the used appliance store for a pick up—drug money.
There’s a Buddhist story of a woman chased by a tiger.
When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine
and climbs half way down. But there’s also a tiger below.
And two mice—one white, one black—scurry out
and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point
she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.
She looks up, down, at the mice.
Then she eats the strawberry.
So here’s the view, the breeze, the pulse
in your throat. Your wallet will be stolen, you’ll get fat,
slip on the bathroom tiles of a foreign hotel
and crack your hip. You’ll be lonely.
Oh taste how sweet and tart
the red juice is, how the tiny seeds
crunch between your teeth.

"Relax" from Like a Beggar. Copyright © 2014 by Ellen Bass. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc. on behalf of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org.

won’t you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.

Lucille Clifton, “won’t you celebrate with me” from Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton. Copyright © 1991 by Lucille Clifton. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., boaeditions.org.