You were forever finding some new play.
So when I saw you down on hands and knees
In the meadow, busy with the new-cut hay,
Trying, I thought, to set it up on end,
I went to show you how to make it stay,
If that was your idea, against the breeze,
And, if you asked me, even help pretend
To make it root again and grow afresh.
But 'twas no make-believe with you to-day,
Nor was the grass itself your real concern,
Though I found your hand full of wilted fern,
Steel-bright June-grass, and blackening heads of clover.
'Twas a nest full of young birds on the ground
The cutter-bar had just gone champing over
(Miraculously without tasting flesh)
And left defenseless to the heat and light.
You wanted to restore them to their right
Of something interposed between their sight
And too much world at once—could means be found.
The way the nest-full every time we stirred
Stood up to us as to a mother-bird
Whose coming home has been too long deferred,
Made me ask would the mother-bird return
And care for them in such a change of scene
And might our meddling make her more afraid.
That was a thing we could not wait to learn.
We saw the risk we took in doing good,
But dared not spare to do the best we could
Though harm should come of it; so built the screen
You had begun, and gave them back their shade.
All this to prove we cared. Why is there then
No more to tell? We turned to other things.
I haven't any memory—have you?—
Of ever coming to the place again
To see if the birds lived the first night through,
And so at last to learn to use their wings.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 25, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
It’s not the wind I hear driving south through the Catskills—it’s just bad news from the radio and then a hailstorm morphs into sunlight —look up and there’s— an archipelago of starlings trailing some clouds— But how does the wind come through you primordial hollow—unflattened double reed— so even now when bad news comes with the evening report— I can press a button on the dashboard and hear your breath implode the way wind blows through the slit windows of a church in Dilijan, then a space in my head fills with a sound that rises from red clay dust roads and slides through your raspy apricot wood— Hiss of tires, wet tarmac, stray white lines night coming like wet dissolve to pixilation— Praise to the glottal stop of every hoarse whisper, every sodden tree which speaks through your hollow carved wood— so we can hear the air flow over starlings rising and dipping as the mountains glaze the sun— so we can hear the bad news kiss the wind through your whetted reed—
Copyright © 2018 by Peter Balakian. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 21, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
For this you’ve striven Daring, to fail: Your sky is riven Like a tearing veil. For this, you’ve wasted Wings of your youth; Divined, and tasted Bitter springs of truth. From sand unslakèd Twisted strong cords, And wandered naked Among trysted swords. There’s a word unspoken, A knot untied. Whatever is broken The earth may hide. The road was jagged Over sharp stones: Your body’s too ragged To cover your bones. The wind scatters Tears upon dust; Your soul’s in tatters Where the spears thrust. Your race is ended— See, it is run: Nothing is mended Under the sun. Straight as an arrow You fall to a sleep Not too narrow And not too deep.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on May 20, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
This is not how it begins but how you understand it. I walk many kilometers and find myself to be the same— the same moon hovering over the same, bleached sky, and when the officer calls me it is a name I do not recognize, a self I do not recognize. We are asked to kneel, or stand still, depending on which land we embroider our feet with— this one is copious with black blood or so I am told. Someone calls me by the skin I did not know I had and to this I think—language, there must be a language that contains us all that contains all of this. How to disassemble the sorrow of beginnings, how to let go, and not, how to crouch beneath other bodies how to stop breathing, how not to. Our fathers are not elders here; they are long-bearded men shoving taxi cabs and sprawled in small valet parking lots— at their sight, my body dims its light (a desiccated grape) and murmur, Igziabher Yistilign— our pride, raw-purple again. We begin like this: all of us walking in solitude walking a desert earth and unforgiving bodies. We cross lines we dare not speak of; we learn and unlearn things quickly, or intentionally slow (because, that, we can control) and give ourselves new names because these selves must be new to forget the old blue. But, sometimes, we also begin like this: on a cold, cold night memorizing escape routes kissing the foreheads of small children hiding accat in our pockets, a rosary for safekeeping. Or, married off to men thirty years our elders big house, big job, big, striking hands. Or, thinking of the mouths to feed. At times we begin in silence; water making its way into our bodies— rain, or tears, or black and red seas until we are ripe with longing.
Copyright © 2018 by Mahtem Shiferraw. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 16, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets
See how she lists. The body is bent as light, as wind will it. And so you must tread light. Mind the rocks under foot. You must tread slow. There has been drought; see where water has long ago troughed, has carved her. See how she branches, twisting, her many hands reaching. Her roots also reach, sweetened from reaching. When fire arrives, she toughens. She will slough away the thick. She will be slick, and dark beneath the rough. She will mimic the fire her bones remember. Know her bones glisten. See how she rests. The body will fall, as time wills it. See how it hollows, how her pieces return to earth. And from her thick trunk, mushrooms cluster— Her belly a nest of moss and poison. When broken open, see what of her mother she has kept, what of her father, what of the stars.
Copyright © 2018 by Barbara Jane Reyes. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 29, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
I saw in Louisiana a live-oak growing, All alone stood it and the moss hung down from the branches, Without any companion it grew there uttering joyous leaves of dark green, And its look, rude, unbending, lusty, made me think of myself, But I wonder’d how it could utter joyous leaves standing alone there without its friend near, for I knew I could not, And I broke off a twig with a certain number of leaves upon it, and twined around it a little moss, And brought it away, and I have placed it in sight in my room, It is not needed to remind me as of my own dear friends, (For I believe lately I think of little else than of them,) Yet it remains to me a curious token, it makes me think of manly love; For all that, and though the live-oak glistens there in Louisiana solitary in a wide flat space, Uttering joyous leaves all its life without a friend a lover near, I know very well I could not.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 10, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.