we have given up on knocking.
Incoming! we say, with our eyes lowered for modesty,
or, Hello! or sometimes, Sorry, sorry!
You have to pass through everyone’s bedroom
to get to the kitchen. We only have two bathrooms.
As a courtesy, nobody will poop while you are showering,
but they might have to do their makeup or shave
if they are in a rush, if we have somewhere to be,
so you can recognize every person by their whistle
through a wet shower curtain, you haven’t seen your own face
on an unfogged mirror in weeks. It doesn’t matter,
self-consciousness has no currency here.
If you were nosy, I suppose the little bathroom trashcans
would spill their secrets to you, but why bother,
privacy is a language we don’t speak.
Someone is always awake before you,
the smell of coffee easing you into a today
they have already entered,
a bridge you will never need to cross first,
and no matter how latenight your owl,
there is always someone still awake
to eat popcorn with, to whisper your daily report to,
to compare notes on what good news you each caught in your nets.
In bed, you say, Goodnight! in one direction
and someone says it back, then turns and passes it,
so you fall asleep to the echo of goodnights down the long hallway
’til it donuts its way back around to your pillow.
Someone is doing a load of laundry,
if anyone wants to add some extra socks?
Someone is clearing the dishes,
someone has started singing Gershwin in the backyard
and you can’t help but harmonize,
and for a moment what you always hoped was true
finally is: loneliness has forgotten your address,
french toast browning on the stovetop,
the sound of everyone you love
clear as the sun giggling through the window,
not even a doorknob between you.
Copyright © 2023 by Sarah Kay. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 2, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.
Bowed by the weight of centuries he leans
Upon his hoe and gazes on the ground,
The emptiness of ages in his face,
And on his back the burden of the world.
Who made him dead to rapture and despair,
A thing that grieves not and that never hopes.
Stolid and stunned, a brother to the ox?
Who loosened and let down this brutal jaw?
Whose was the hand that slanted back this brow?
Whose breath blew out the light within this brain?
Is this the Thing the Lord God made and gave
To have dominion over sea and land;
To trace the stars and search the heavens for power;
To feel the passion of Eternity?
Is this the Dream He dreamed who shaped the suns
And marked their ways upon the ancient deep?
Down all the stretch of Hell to its last gulf
There is no shape more terrible than this —
More tongued with censure of the world's blind greed —
More filled with signs and portents for the soul —
More fraught with menace to the universe.
What gulfs between him and the seraphim!
Slave of the wheel of labor, what to him
Are Plato and the swing of Pleiades?
What the long reaches of the peaks of song,
The rift of dawn, the reddening of the rose?
Through this dread shape the suffering ages look;
Time's tragedy is in the aching stoop;
Through this dread shape humanity betrayed,
Plundered, profaned, and disinherited,
Cries protest to the Powers that made the world.
A protest that is also a prophecy.
O masters, lords and rulers in all lands,
Is this the handiwork you give to God,
This monstrous thing distorted and soul-quenched?
How will you ever straighten up this shape;
Touch it again with immortality;
Give back the upward looking and the light;
Rebuild in it the music and the dream,
Make right the immemorial infamies,
Perfidious wrongs, immedicable woes?
O masters, lords and rulers in all lands
How will the Future reckon with this Man?
How answer his brute question in that hour
When whirlwinds of rebellion shake all shores?
How will it be with kingdoms and with kings —
With those who shaped him to the thing he is —
When this dumb Terror shall rise to judge the world.
After the silence of the centuries?
Inspired by the painting L'homme à la houe by Jean-François Millet. This poem is in the public domain.
after Jenny Xie
Concentric ripple of the canals, little apartment
at the center point. All June I’ve been in Amsterdam,
vowels softening to liquid in my mouth. Long walks
over the cobblestones in the warmest part
of the afternoon, narrow houses along the water arranged
like crooked teeth. My steps lead me over a ballet
of bridges, precarious choreography of bicycles
and other bodies, the rare car vulgar and roaring
along the too-small street. I count the faces around
that could be my faces, features and shades
from a much older world than this. City I may never
see again, and still my old need to belong. To daughter
the possibly Sudanese man at the Chipsy King,
his kind assurance that the dish contains no pork.
My nails soften and split in the cool dry air. An ashen
gray patch on my calf and I am ashamed for hours after,
wetting a finger with saliva to correct it.
Copyright © 2023 by Safia Elhillo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 8, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.
some days you seem
so disappointed, love but you knew
what it was.
i am your dread wife.
you will not throw me out
of eden i walk myself to the door.
there is no snake i plant the tree.
i pluck the apple i bite.
the pomegranate the passion fruit
whatever the fuck.
i am feast unto myself.
in this wilderness the feral things name me.
& i was raised to one day wash
my husband’s feet at night.
of course i molted made myself a woman
who unmakes home.
refused to be whittled to a fine point
but you like me piercing.
beloved i will not
only writhe when coming.
my vow: break through this shell fully impossible.
your vow: lap every slick of the yolk.
Copyright © 2023 by Elizabeth Acevedo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 5, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.
According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell
it was spring
a farmer was ploughing
the whole pageantry
of the year was
the edge of the sea
sweating in the sun
the wings' wax
off the coast
a splash quite unnoticed
From Collected Poems: 1939-1962, Volume II by William Carlos Williams, published by New Directions Publishing Corp. © 1962 by William Carlos Williams. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.