Outside, an abandoned mattress sags with rain
and the driveway turns all sludge when I remember
I could’ve died eight years ago, in a bed
smaller than the one I share with a new lover
who just this morning found another grey hair in my afro,
and before resettling the wiry curl with the others,
kissed the freckle on my forehead.
I admit, I don’t know a love that doesn’t
destroy. Last night while we slept,
a mouse drowned in the rice pot
I left soaking in the sink. I tried
to make a metaphor out of this, the way
he took the mouse to the edge of the lake in the yard,
released it to a deeper grave. It was
an anniversary, just my lover
taking a dead thing away, taking it
somewhere I couldn’t see.
Copyright © 2020 by Diannely Antigua. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 28, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
No shoes and a glossy
red helmet, I rode
on the back of my dad’s
Harley at seven years old.
Before the divorce.
Before the new apartment.
Before the new marriage.
Before the apple tree.
Before the ceramics in the garbage.
Before the dog’s chain.
Before the koi were all eaten
by the crane. Before the road
between us, there was the road
beneath us, and I was just
big enough not to let go:
Henno Road, creek just below,
rough wind, chicken legs,
and I never knew survival
was like that. If you live,
you look back and beg
for it again, the hazardous
bliss before you know
what you would miss.
Copyright © 2015 by Ada Limón. Used with permission of the author.
No shade of waxy red
or soft white mealy flesh;
nothing simple—as what tempted Eve.
I crave a rarer kind:
small and bitter and hard to get—
not crab, neither gala, nor golden
but those of wild occasion:
musky ones in bloom of spring
or cool as autumn dew;
those that rise and fall the swallow,
not duds fell to the ground.
Seething with speech to defy the tree,
I want the fruit with singing taste,
grown in the throats of men.
From Amorous Shepherd (Sheep Meadow Press, 2010) by Dante Micheaux. Copyright © 2010 by Dante Micheaux. Used with the permission of the author.
On the day when the lotus bloomed, alas, my mind was straying, and I knew it not. My basket was empty and the flower remained unheeded.
Only now and again a sadness fell upon me, and I started up from my dream and felt a sweet trace of a strange fragrance in the south wind.
That vague sweetness made my heart ache with longing and it seemed to me that it was the eager breath of the summer seeking for its completion.
I knew not then that it was so near, that it was mine, and that this perfect sweetness had blossomed in the depth of my own heart.
From Gitanjali (Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1913) by Rabindranath Tagore. This poem is in the public domain.
The cog in the eye turns
Until there is nothing left
To discern. I sip tea
Steeped in a kind of lust—
If I say I am, you are, he/she/it is . . .
We don’t have to agree
But it requires, to mean,
A common rubric.
The clock reads the time
Because we set it. I mean,
How else? Who is anyone
Who is anyone?
The grass edges outline the grave:
Get to living!
Copyright © 2023 by Charif Shanahan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 27, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.
Dear friends, reproach me not for what I do, Nor counsel me, nor pity me; nor say That I am wearing half my life away For bubble-work that only fools pursue. And if my bubbles be too small for you, Blow bigger then your own: the games we play To fill the frittered minutes of a day, Good glasses are to read the spirit through. And whoso reads may get him some shrewd skill; And some unprofitable scorn resign, To praise the very thing that he deplores; So, friends (dear friends), remember, if you will, The shame I win for singing is all mine, The gold I miss for dreaming is all yours.
This poem is in the public domain.
In a field near the lake
stands the ghost of a dead oak.
The ghost is black and very tall.
It never speaks or moves.
The sky wants to take it.
The earth wants to eat it.
But the ghost is strong, it does not want to move.
So it argues half its tongues into the dirt,
and grips hard against the sky’s glutton lung.
It whispers the other half into air,
and weathers the white earth’s thirst.
Like a frayed black suture it binds earth and sky together.
In this way the ghost stills its universe:
the sky can never rise nor the earth fall
out of their coupling’s grave jurisdiction.
The lake will breathe its atoms to the clouds.
The constellations will pageant
the lucky patterns of their composition
until they break and fade.
But the ghost will stand
contented with the silence.
With the snowfall.
With the stalemate of its own device.
From The Last Map (Unsolicited Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Art Zilleruelo. Used with the permission of the author.
It was like this:
you were happy, then you were sad,
then happy again, then not.
It went on.
You were innocent or you were guilty.
Actions were taken, or not.
At times you spoke, at other times you were silent.
Mostly, it seems you were silent—what could you say?
Now it is almost over.
Like a lover, your life bends down and kisses your life.
It does this not in forgiveness—
between you, there is nothing to forgive—
but with the simple nod of a baker at the moment
he sees the bread is finished with transformation.
Eating, too, is a thing now only for others.
It doesn’t matter what they will make of you
or your days: they will be wrong,
they will miss the wrong woman, miss the wrong man,
all the stories they tell will be tales of their own invention.
Your story was this: you were happy, then you were sad,
you slept, you awakened.
Sometimes you ate roasted chestnuts, sometimes persimmons.
Originally published in After (HarperCollins, 2006); all rights reserved. Copyright © by Jane Hirshfield. Reprinted with the permission of the author.
The agonies of disillusionment are the growing-pains of Truth
Now I am done with ineffectual dreams,
Kindly play-toys of the unsure years,
And unencumbered, proud and free and light,
With even pulses and a lifting heart,
I mount the future’s twisting stairs.
A week ago I thought that I must die,
Or hang forever, bitter as frost-killed fruit,
Scarred and broken from the Tree of Life —
Because I suddenly came into my sight
And men walked as trees; and dreams went mute.
’T is no small thing, to lose a dear, sure world,
To stumble, desolate, through hideous space,
Down unfamiliar and unfriendly roads
That bruise your feet. And then to suddenly feel
A great light newly shining in your face.
From On a Grey Thread (Will Ransom, 1923) by Elsa Gidlow. This poem is in the public domain.
Every day I am born like this—
No chingues. Nothing happens
for the first time. Not the neon
sign that says vacant, not the men
nor the jackals who resemble them.
I take my bones inscribed by those
who came before, and learn
to court myself under a violence
of stars. I prefer to become demon,
what their eyes cannot. Half of me
is beautiful, half of me is a promise
filled with the quietest places.
Every day I pray like a dog
in the mirror and relish the crux
of my hurt. We know Lilith ate
the bones of her enemies. We know
a bitch learns to love her own ghost.
Copyright © 2018 by Erika L. Sánchez. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 27, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Long ago, I built a self outside myself.
I ate what my family ate, answered
to my name, but when they said let us pray,
I kept my eyes open. There is a price
to be paid for resistance. Whatever
you call me, I have called myself
worse, invented words made up
of letters from my own name.
Now the backs of my hands, all bone
and strain, I think cannot be mine.
Who hasn’t killed herself at least once,
only to grow into someone needier?
Who hasn’t bent with her wounds
to a mutinous patch, weeds
shooting up like false rhubarb,
every wisp, stem, and sodden pith
a testament? Who hasn’t scratched
at the question of what it means to be here?
Copyright © 2018 by Kari Gunter-Seymour. This poem originally appeared in Still: The Journal, Fall 2018. Used with permission of the author.
Four be the things I am wiser to know:
Idleness, sorrow, a friend, and a foe.
Four be the things I’d been better without:
Love, curiosity, freckles, and doubt.
Three be the things I shall never attain:
Envy, content, and sufficient champagne.
Three be the things I shall have till I die:
Laughter and hope and a sock in the eye.
From Enough Rope (Boni & Liveright, 1926) by Dorothy Parker. This poem is in the public domain.
The ladies men admire, I’ve heard,
Would shudder at a wicked word.
Their candle gives a single light;
They’d rather stay at home at night.
They do not keep awake till three,
Nor read erotic poetry,
They never sanction the impure,
Nor recognize an overture.
They shrink from powders and from paints . . .
So far, I’ve had no complaints.
From Enough Rope (Boni & Liveright, 1926) by Dorothy Parker. This poem is in the public domain.
The world is a beautiful place to be born into if you don’t mind happiness not always being so very much fun if you don’t mind a touch of hell now and then just when everything is fine because even in heaven they don’t sing all the time The world is a beautiful place to be born into if you don’t mind some people dying all the time or maybe only starving some of the time which isn’t half so bad if it isn’t you Oh the world is a beautiful place to be born into if you don’t much mind a few dead minds in the higher places or a bomb or two now and then in your upturned faces or such other improprieties as our Name Brand society is prey to with its men of distinction and its men of extinction and its priests and other patrolmen and its various segregations and congressional investigations and other constipations that our fool flesh is heir to Yes the world is the best place of all for a lot of such things as making the fun scene and making the love scene and making the sad scene and singing low songs of having inspirations and walking around looking at everything and smelling flowers and goosing statues and even thinking and kissing people and making babies and wearing pants and waving hats and dancing and going swimming in rivers on picnics in the middle of the summer and just generally ‘living it up’ Yes but then right in the middle of it comes the smiling mortician
From A Coney Island of the Mind, copyright ©1955 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.
Sundays I spend feeling sorry for myself I’ve got a
knack for it I’m morbid, make the worst of any season
exclamation point yet levity’s a liquor of sorts,
lowers us through life toward the terminus soon
extinguished darling, the comfort is slight,
tucked in bed we search each other for some alternative—
oh let’s marvel at the world, the stroke and colors of it
now, while breathing.
From Skeletons by Deborah Landau. Copyright © 2023 by Deborah Landau. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC, on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.