When I get the call about my brother, I'm on a stopped train leaving town & the news packs into me—freight— though it's him on the other end now, saying finefine— Forfeit my eyes, I want to turn away from the hair on the floor of his house & how it got there Monday, but my one heart falls like a sad, fat persimmon dropped by the hand of the Turczyn's old tree. I want to sleep. I do not want to sleep. See, one day, not today, not now, we will be gone from this earth where we know the gladiolas. My brother, this noise, some love [you] I loved with all my brain, & breath, will be gone; I've been told, today, to consider this as I ride the long tracks out & dream so good I see a plant in the window of the house my brother shares with his love, their shoes. & there he is, asleep in bed with this same woman whose long skin covers all of her bones, in a city called Oakland, & their dreams hang above them a little like a chandelier, & their teeth flash in the night, oh, body. Oh, body, be held now by whom you love. Whole years will be spent, underneath these impossible stars, when dirt's the only animal who will sleep with you & touch you with its mouth.
From Kingdom Animalia by Aracelis Girmay. Copyright © 2012 by Aracelis Girmay. Reprinted with permission of BOA Editions. All rights reserved.
The beauty of one sister
who loved them so
she smuggled the woodlice
into her pockets & then into
the house, after a day’s work
of digging in the yard,
& after the older ones of us
had fed her & washed,
she carried them into
the bed with her, to mother
them, so that they would have
two blankets & be warm, for
this is what she knew of love,
& the beloveds emerged one
by one from their defenses, unfolding
themselves across the bed’s white sheet
like they did over 400 years ago, carried
from that other moonlight,
accidentally, or by children, into
the ship’s dark hold, slowly
adapting to the new rooms
of cloths, then fields, & we,
the elders to that sister,
we, having seen strangers
in our house before, we, being
older, being more ugly & afraid,
we began, then, to teach her the lessons
of dirt & fear.
Copyright © 2015 by Aracelis Girmay. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 28, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
after Marina Wilson Consider the hands that write this letter. The left palm pressed flat against the paper, as it has done before, over my heart, in peace or reverence to the sea or some beautiful thing I saw once, felt once: snow falling like rice flung from the giants' wedding, or the strangest birds. & consider, then, the right hand, & how it is a fist, within which a sharpened utensil, similar to the way I've held a spade, match to the wick, the horse's reins, loping, the very fists I've seen from the roads to Limay & Estelí. For years, I have come to sit this way: one hand open, one hand closed, like a farmer who puts down seeds & gathers up the food that comes from that farming. Or, yes, it is like the way I've danced with my left hand opened around a shoulder & my right hand closed inside of another hand. & how I pray, I pray for this to be my way: sweet work alluded to in the body's position to its paper: left hand, right hand like an open eye, an eye closed: one hand flat against the trapdoor, the other hand knocking, knocking.
From Teeth by Aracelis Girmay. Copyright © 2007 by Aracelis Girmay. Used by permission of Curbstone Press.
October where three we-horses mark ground, turn snake our necks inside the guayla circle. My aranci, —etan, childfox out my fourth mouth, you drank then the year went dark & our own flowers & fires & what we thought we were though, still, our faces opened to the whooping of coyotes at the canyon rim, how they throw their voices out, falling, starless veils of lace over our still, black heads. Awake I sit sentried with all my Sight & the purple fennel musting after rain. This hour Become my canyon, become my bottom of the world listening for your breaths—to ward off nonbreath. Parent, my son—My son, a flicker barely born. Already withstand the blanched eye of our grief One morning with our faces crying into the arroyo it answers: Once there were no doors. No doors on earth, not a single one. —so when I listen I still hear you still kicking the ball, laughing as you say the story of endurance. & the women flutter their flickering tongues a flock of sound suddenly aflight to be, for you, both here & further they throw their voicebirds over the births so we are three & simultaneous earths inside your coil of fatherhair to which I press my ear to hear the histories, then the bell Then the whirl The whir of doctors above your beds, your noiseless struggle to be. Stay. Say. You are my Heres & Furthers Daddy, now I join the mothers Remember, when you were a little boy I used to hold you?
Copyright © 2018 by Aracelis Girmay. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 12, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.
The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,—
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
Edna St. Vincent Millay, "Dirge Without Music" from The Buck in the Snow and Other Poems. Copyright © 1928 Edna St. Vincent Millay. Used with permission of The Millay Society.
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In the Shreve High football stadium, I think of Polacks nursing long beers in Tiltonsville, And gray faces of Negroes in the blast furnace at Benwood, And the ruptured night watchman of Wheeling Steel, Dreaming of heroes. All the proud fathers are ashamed to go home. Their women cluck like starved pullets, Dying for love. Therefore, Their sons grow suicidally beautiful At the beginning of October, And gallop terribly against each other's bodies.
From The Branch Will Not Break by James Wright, published by Wesleyan University Press. Copyright © 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963 James Wright. Used with permission.