In silence the heart raves.  It utters words
Meaningless, that never had
A meaning.  I was ten, skinny, red-headed,

Freckled.  In a big black Buick,
Driven by a big grown boy, with a necktie, she sat
In front of the drugstore, sipping something

Through a straw. There is nothing like
Beauty. It stops your heart.  It
Thickens your blood.  It stops your breath.  It

Makes you feel dirty.  You need a hot bath.  
I leaned against a telephone pole, and watched.
I thought I would die if she saw me.

How could I exist in the same world with that brightness?
Two years later she smiled at me.  She
Named my name. I thought I would wake up dead.

Her grown brothers walked with the bent-knee
Swagger of horsemen.  They were slick-faced.
Told jokes in the barbershop. Did no work.

Their father was what is called a drunkard.
Whatever he was he stayed on the third floor
Of the big white farmhouse under the maples for twenty-five years.

He never came down.  They brought everything up to him.
I did not know what a mortgage was.
His wife was a good, Christian woman, and prayed.

When the daughter got married, the old man came down wearing
An old tail coat, the pleated shirt yellowing.
The sons propped him.  I saw the wedding.  There were

Engraved invitations, it was so fashionable.  I thought
I would cry.  I lay in bed that night
And wondered if she would cry when something was done to her.

The mortgage was foreclosed. That last word was whispered. 
She never came back.  The family
Sort of drifted off.  Nobody wears shiny boots like that now.

But I know she is beautiful forever, and lives
In a beautiful house, far away.
She called my name once.  I didn't even know she knew it.

From New and Selected Poems 1923-1985 by Robert Penn Warren, published by Random House. Copyright © 1985 by Robert Penn Warren. Used by permission of William Morris Agency, Inc., on behalf of the author.

Oh let me go I’m weary here
And fevers scorch my brain,
I long to feel my native air
Breathe o’er each burning vein.

I long once more to see
My home among the distant hills,
To breathe amid the melody
Of murmering brooks and rills.

My home is where eternal snow
Round threat’ning craters sleep,
Where streamlets murmer soft and low
And playful cascades leap.

Tis where glad scenes shall meet
My weary, longing eye;
Where rocks and Alpine forests greet
The bright cerulean sky.

Your scenes are bright I know,
But there my mother pray’d,
Her cot is lowly, but I go
To die beneath its shade.

For, Oh I know she’ll cling
‘Round me her treasur’d long,
My sisters too will sing
Each lov’d familiar song.

They’ll soothe my fever’d brow,
As in departed hours,
And spread around my dying couch
The brightest, fairest flowers.

Then let me go I’m weary here
And fevers scorch my brain,
I long to feel my native air,
Breathe o’er each burning vein.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on December 15, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

My mother said this to me
long before Beyoncé lifted the lyrics
from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs,

and what my mother meant by
Don’t stray was that she knew
all about it—the way it feels to need

someone to love you, someone
not your kind, someone white,
some one some many who live

because so many of mine
have not, and further, live on top of
those of ours who don’t.

I’ll say, say, say,
I’ll say, say, say,
What is the United States if not a clot

of clouds? If not spilled milk? Or blood?
If not the place we once were
in the millions? America is Maps

Maps are ghosts: white and 
layered with people and places I see through.
My mother has always known best,

knew that I’d been begging for them,
to lay my face against their white
laps, to be held in something more

than the loud light of their projectors
of themselves they flicker—sepia
or blue—all over my body.

All this time,
I thought my mother said, Wait,
as in, Give them a little more time

to know your worth,
when really, she said, Weight,
meaning heft, preparing me

for the yoke of myself,
the beast of my country’s burdens,
which is less worse than

my country’s plow. Yes,
when my mother said,
They don’t love you like I love you,

she meant,
Natalie, that doesn’t mean
you aren’t good.

 

 

*The italicized words, with the exception of the final stanza, come from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs song "Maps."

Copyright © 2019 by Natalie Diaz. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 20, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

So if you love me you will tolerant
Be of the nature that is with me sent.
  I cannot be a different thing although
  For your sake, to win you, I would grow 
       Wings and shed thorns,
       Be weed, or newly born,
    Anything so to please you,
    But I'm myself and cannot ease you.

Come kindly to me then, forgiveness use, 
Do not heap on my patent-wrongs abuse,
  For your sake I'd be different but am not, 
  For your sake I'd have other needs forgot,
       But I am one
       And they are of the sum
    Of me, and will not set me free
    From my desires, which still follow me.

Oh choose, and choose me wholly, so we be 
All of imperfectness, but summary.
  Be sum, no fraction, though a fraction may 
  Marvelous wonder easily convey,
       Yet it's but part
       And may not be the heart,
    The whole is all of us, if we use not 
    All strata, love's geology's forgot.

From Nature & Love Poems, published by Eakins Press, 1969. Copyright © 1969 by Ruth Herschberger. Used by permission of the author.