Lake Michigan dreamed me, I think,
in the winter of 1969, its long currents
combing shipwrecks and where
was my mama, then? (She was wearing
a red muumuu.) And where was my father,
then? (He was fishing for steelhead.)
No one dreamed you, stupid girl, the seagull
said — you came straight from the belly
of your granddad’s school mascot.
You wore plaid skirts and bruised your knees
and lived across the street from the motorcycle shop.
I remember dropping dimes in the jukebox;
I remember embers in the sand. Once I saw God
himself — a small boy running across the RV park
with a toy sword in his hand. I dreamed
we all lay down on the beach and the dunes
moved over our bodies. It took
ten thousand years of whispering,
but we finally slept. And before that?
the seagull asked. Before that I found comfort
in the fur of animals and the movement
of a boat on the water. I was warm
in my mother’s arms. Before that I was
a sonic boom over Wisconsin, and before that, fire.
Copyright © 2018 Karin Gottshall. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Kenyon Review, September/October 2018.
You ask me how I became a madman. It happened thus: One day, long before many gods were born, I woke from a deep sleep and found all my masks were stolen,—the seven masks I have fashioned and worn in seven lives,—I ran maskless through the crowded streets shouting, “Thieves, thieves, the cursed thieves.”
Men and women laughed at me and some ran to their houses in fear of me.
And when I reached the market place, a youth standing on a house-top cried, “He is a madman.” I looked up to behold him; the sun kissed my own naked face for the first time. For the first time the sun kissed my own naked face and my soul was inflamed with love for the sun, and I wanted my masks no more. And as if in a trance I cried, “Blessed, blessed are the thieves who stole my masks.”
Thus I became a madman.
And I have found both freedom and safety in my madness; the freedom of loneliness and the safety from being understood, for those who understand us enslave something in us.
But let me not be too proud of my safety. Even a Thief in a jail is safe from another thief.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on December 21, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
You do know, right,
that between the no-
longer & the still-
you are being continually
with the skulls of
you’ve ever loved—the you
& the you
& the you & the you—you don’t
sit in a chair, thumb
through a binder, pick a
design, it simply
happens each time you
bring your fingers to your face
to inhale him back into you . . .
tiny skulls, some of us are
covered. You, love, could
simply tattoo an open
pouring in from somewhere
could make your body a door
so it appears you
(let her fill you) are made
Copyright © 2016 by Nick Flynn. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 15, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
Whoever you are, I fear you are walking the walks of dreams,
I fear these supposed realities are to melt from under your feet and hands
Even now your features, joys, speech, house, trade, manners, troubles, follies, costume, crimes, dissipate away from you,
Your true soul and body appear before me,
They stand forth out of affairs, out of commerce, shops, work, farms, clothes, the house, buying, selling, eating, drinking, suffering, dying.
Whoever you are, now I place my hand upon you, that you be my poem,
I whisper with my lips close to your ear,
I have loved many women and men, but I love none better than you.
O I have been dilatory and dumb,
I should have made my way straight to you long ago,
I should have blabb'd nothing but you, I should have chanted nothing but you.
I will leave all and come and make the hymns of you,
None has understood you, but I understand you,
None has done justice to you, you have not done justice to yourself
None but has found you imperfect, I only find no imperfection in you,
None but would subordinate you, I only am he who will never consent to subordinate you,
I only am he who places over you no master, owner, better, God, beyond what waits intrinsically in yourself.
Painters have painted their swarming groups and the centre-figure of all,
From the head of the centre-figure spreading a nimbus of gold-color'd light,
But I paint myriads of heads, but paint no head without its nimbus of gold-color'd light,
From my hand from the brain of every man and woman it streams, effulgently flowing forever.
O I could sing such grandeurs and glories about you!
You have not known what you are, you have slumber'd upon yourself all your life,
Your eyelids have been the same as closed most of the time,
What you have done returns already in mockeries,
Your thrift, knowledge, prayers, if they do not return in mockeries, what is their return?)
The mockeries are not you,
Underneath them and within them I see you lurk,
I pursue you where none else has pursued you,
Silence, the desk, the flippant expression, the night, the accustom'd routine, if these conceal you from others or from yourself, they do not conceal you from me,
The shaved face, the unsteady eye, the impure complexion, if these balk others they do not balk me,
The pert apparel, the deform'd attitude, drunkenness, greed, premature death, all these I part aside
There is no endowment in man or woman that is not tallied in you,
There is no virtue, no beauty in man or woman, but as good is in you,
No pluck, no endurance in others, but as good is in you,
No pleasure waiting for others, but an equal pleasure waits for you.
As for me, I give nothing to any one except I give the like carefully to you,
I sing the songs of the glory of none, not God, sooner than I sing the songs of the glory of you.
Whoever you are! claim your own at any hazard!
These shows of the East and West are tame compared to you,
These immense meadows, these interminable rivers, you are immense and interminable as they,
These furies, elements, storms, motions of Nature, throes of apparent dissolution, you are he or she who is master or mistress over them,
Master or mistress in your own right over Nature, elements, pain, passion, dissolution.
The hopples fall from your ankles, you find an unfailing sufficiency,
Old or young, male or female, rude, low, rejected by the rest, whatever you are promulges itself,
Through birth, life, death, burial, the means are provided, nothing is scanted,
Through angers, losses, ambition, ignorance, ennui, what you are picks its way.
This poem is in the public domain.