—for a sixty-seven-pound nugget of Lake Superior copper
found in an Iowa cornfield
Before the earliest flute
was carved from a vulture’s wing,
before we—what few we were—
bowed to the moon,
the balmy, secular night,
you were coming.
Snug in the great throat of a glacier.
Still as a wish, until its sighing end.
I like to think you waited years
for us, one shoulder greening in the damp,
the other burnished by long leaves
of wheat, before we called it wheat.
Or was it loess, the wind’s fine veil,
polished you so bright we would know you at first sight?
What have you seen in the ice and the earth?
Is hell cold, or hot?
Do you pray, too? And to what god?
Or whale, or bigger rock?
Copyright © 2017 by Megan Levad. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 15, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
For my daughter
When the tigers come, you might drive and drive, inhaling hits of smoke from the mouths of homeless men, pulling long muumuus from garbage cans, rolling your own cigarettes from tobacco tins. When the tigers come, you might crush all your Simon & Garfunkel albums and stop taking showers. You might throw away your fun girl who used to sing at dinner. When the tigers come, you might believe they stretch their long tiger-bodies across every patio over hang. You might look for them over your shoulder. You might hold your breath as you try to pass. When the tigers come, you might run naked, believing that if you’ve rid yourself of every last rem nant, they’ll have nothing to take from you anymore. Once the tigers have come, everything will begin to look like tiger: the class room, your dope, the small way you believe you can go to Reed College, your love of whales—the total. I want to tell you that when the tigers come, meet tiger with tiger. I want you to learn the tiger-growl, the tiger-smell. I want to teach you to stalk like a tiger. I want to make a tiger mask for the back of your head so the tigers won’t attack from behind. I want to tell you that the tigers will be come gentle. But the tigers aren’t gentle. You can only open your tiny broken life. You can crack open the back door when the rain starts. You can come down into the wild fennel, into this long stretch of time—these days like little pieces, the smell of sage, the way wind moves through anyone’s hair. When the tigers come, you can only meet them as you meet every single morning. You start so early. You look like tiger looks, eyes fixed on each moment— you’ve always called me back here, to the sound of your own singing, your hand pulling me into the yard, back from all the ways I teach you to run from tiger, but tiger is right here, all along, with tiger-breath, tiger-whiskers, and up close the sound is not a growl, the sound is all animal and the tiger can sense us, and you’re ready, I can see that now, you always have been.
Copyright © 2017 Kim Young. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Fall 2017.
Scientists say the average human
life gets three months longer every year.
By this math, death will be optional. Like a tie
or dessert or suffering. My mother asks
whether I’d want to live forever.
“I’d get bored,” I tell her. “But,” she says,
“there’s so much to do,” meaning
she believes there’s much she hasn’t done.
Thirty years ago she was the age I am now
but, unlike me, too industrious to think about
birds disappeared by rain. If only we had more
time or enough money to be kept on ice
until such a time science could bring us back.
Of late my mother has begun to think life
short-lived. I’m too young to convince her
otherwise. The one and only occasion
I was in the same room as the Mona Lisa,
it was encased in glass behind what I imagine
were velvet ropes. There’s far less between
ourselves and oblivion—skin that often defeats
its very purpose. Or maybe its purpose
isn’t protection at all, but rather to provide
a place, similar to a doctor’s waiting room,
in which to sit until our names are called.
Hold your questions until the end.
Mother, measure my wide-open arms—
we still have this much time to kill.
Copyright © 2017 by Nicole Sealey. Originally published in The Village Voice. Used with permission of the author.
Maybe you’re not the featherweight champ
of all the cutthroat combat sports
(fifteen and pregnant
but you’d convert your ring corner
into a slaughterhouse
before you’d inquire after human kindness.
In the humdrum flare outside the clinic
you wait for a ride, feel the spill at the tipping point
trickle down your inner thigh
as you bask in the post-industrial particulate
on your skin, ash
into a jasmine pot’s bituminous anchorage
so tacky it glows in a habitat that spent your body
long before it finished growing.
Lynn! they lied to you
don’t you know?
Your womb will be the first thing to heal.
What you smell is pleasure, not the rot of the thing
amid the waste.
You will have babies.
You will write poems about flowers that turn on in darkness.
Copyright © 2016 by Lynn Melnick. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 22, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
It’s neither red
It doesn’t melt
or turn over,
break or harden,
so it can’t feel
It doesn’t have
a tip to spin on,
it isn’t even
just a thick clutch
I feel it inside
its cage sounding
a dull tattoo:
I want, I want—
but I can’t open it:
there’s no key.
I can’t wear it
on my sleeve,
or tell you from
the bottom of it
how I feel. Here,
it’s all yours, now—
but you’ll have
to take me,
Copyright © 2017 Rita Dove. Used with permission of the author.
One narcissus among the ordinary beautiful flowers, one unlike all the others! She pulled, stooped to pull harder— when, sprung out of the earth on his glittering terrible carriage, he claimed his due. It is finished. No one heard her. No one! She had strayed from the herd. (Remember: go straight to school. This is important, stop fooling around! Don't answer to strangers. Stick with your playmates. Keep your eyes down.) This is how easily the pit opens. This is how one foot sinks into the ground.
“Persephone, Falling,” from Mother Love by Rita Dove. Copyright © 1995 by Rita Dove. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
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.
I’m climbing out of this season, fingernails ragged, belly soft. I tuck a stem of dried mint behind my ear to remind myself.
Once, I bared my shoulders. The bottom of my feet roughed up the dirt with their hard calluses. When I harvested arugula, it smelled of green spice—alchemical veins pulsing sun and dirt and water. I do remember this. I pinned summer light up in my hair and made no apologies for the space I took up—barely clothed and sun-bound.
Now, a ball of twine in the grey sky. The sun rolls low on the horizon. Hangs. Then dips back down again, wind howling us into night.
Inside the erratic rhythm of this wavering flame, I conjure the potent sky of the longest day. Seeds with a whole galaxy inside them. Cicadas vibrating in the alders.
But the sensation of joy slips too quickly into simulacra. Song on repeat. I never meant to find myself in such a cold place, my hair thinning against winter.
Once, red clover grew thick where today’s rabbit tracks pattern the snow. Clover said flow, clover said nourish, clover said we’ve got this.
I reel the memory out, let it linger on the horizon, then reel it back in. I play it out and reel it back in. Some kind of fishing, some kind of flying—again and again. I loosen the buckles of my mind. I take up space in the precision of my breath. I call us all back in.
Copyright © 2022 by Tamiko Beyer. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 31, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.
i stand before you to say
that today i walked home
& caught the light through
the fence & it was so golden
i wanted to cry & i lifted
my right hand to say thank
you god for the sun thank
you god for a chain link fence
& all the shoes that fit into
the chain link fence so that
we might get lifted god thank
you & i just wanted to dance
& it feels good to have food
in your belly & it feels good
to be home even when home
is the space between metal
shapes & still we are golden
& a man who wore the walk
of hard grounds & lost days
came toward me in the street
& said ‘girl what a beautiful
day’ & i said yes, testify
& i walked on & from some
place a horn rose, an organ,
a voice, a chorus, here to tell
you that we are not dead
we are not dead we are not
dead we are not dead we are
not dead we are not dead
we are not dead we are not
Copyright © 2022 by Eve L. Ewing. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 28, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.