Bring me your pain, love. Spread 
it out like fine rugs, silk sashes, 
warm eggs, cinnamon
and cloves in burlap sacks. Show me

the detail, the intricate embroidery 
on the collar, tiny shell buttons, 
the hem stitched the way you were taught,
pricking just a thread, almost invisible.

Unclasp it like jewels, the gold 
still hot from your body. Empty 
your basket of figs. Spill your wine.

That hard nugget of pain, I would suck it, 
cradling it on my tongue like the slick 
seed of pomegranate. I would lift it

tenderly, as a great animal might 
carry a small one in the private 
cave of the mouth.

Reprinted from Mules of Love by Ellen Bass, with the permission of BOA Editions, Ltd. Copyright © 2002 by Ellen Bass. All rights reserved.

’T is but a score of hours when he didst swear
My sorrow and my joy to share.
    Despite the fates, fore’er ;
But now he’s gone to cash again his lie ;
    Others his shame with me will wear,
                  Why should I die?

Last night his lips my very feet didst burn ;
His kisses dropt, my love to earn,
    Whichever way he’d turn ;
But now he’s gone another soul to rob,
    Another heart to lure and spurn,
                   Why should I sob?

He did not kiss me when he said good-bye ;
I let him go, not asking why,
    Nor do I for him sigh ;
He’s gone another virgin breast to tear.
    He’s gone on other lips to die,
                    Why should I care?

From Myrtle and Myrrh (The Gorham Press, 1905) by Ameen Rihani. This poem is in the public domain.

When first your glory shone upon my face
   My body kindled to a mighty flame,
And burnt you yielding in my hot embrace
   Until you swooned to love, breathing my name.

And wonder came and filled our night of sleep,
   Like a new comet crimsoning the sky;
And stillness like the stillness of the deep
   Suspended lay as an unuttered sigh.

I never again shall feel your warm heart flushed,
   Panting with passion, naked unto mine,
Until the throbbing world around is hushed
   To quiet worship at our scented shrine.

Nor will your glory seek my swarthy face,
   To kindle and to change my jaded frame
Into a miracle of godlike grace,
   Transfigured, bathed in your immortal flame.

From The Book of American Negro Poetry (Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1922), edited by James Weldon Johnson. This poem is in the public domain.

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.