Brightness appears showing us everything
it reveals the splendors it calls everything
but shows it to each of us alone
and only once and only to look at
not to touch or hold in our shadows
what we see is never what we touch
what we take turns out to be something else
what we see that one time departs untouched
while other shadows gather around us
the world’s shadows mingle with our own
we had forgotten them but they know us
they remember us as we always were
they were at home here before the first came
everything will leave us except the shadows
but the shadows carry the whole story
at first daybreak they open their long wings
W. S. Merwin, “The Wings of Daylight” from Garden Time. Copyright © 2016 by W. S. Merwin. Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org.
Everyone knows that the moon started out as a renegade fragment of the sun, a solar flare that fled that hellish furnace and congealed into a flat frozen pond suspended between the planets. But did you know that anger began as music, played too often and too loudly by drunken performers at weddings and garden parties? Or that turtles evolved from knuckles, ice from tears, and darkness from misunderstanding? As for the dominant thesis regarding the origin of love, I abstain from comment, nor will I allow myself to address the idea that dance began as a kiss, that happiness was an accidental import from Spain, that the ancient game of jump-the-fire gave rise to politics. But I will confess that I began as an astronomer—a liking for bright flashes, vast distances, unreachable things, a hand stretched always toward the furthest limit— and that my longing for you has not taken me very far from that original desire to inscribe a comet's orbit around the walls of our city, to gently stroke the surface of the stars.
Copyright © 2011 by Troy Jollimore. Used with permission of the author.
It is difficult to know what to do with so much happiness.
With sadness there is something to rub against,
a wound to tend with lotion and cloth.
When the world falls in around you, you have pieces to pick up,
something to hold in your hands, like ticket stubs or change.
But happiness floats.
It doesn’t need you to hold it down.
It doesn’t need anything.
Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing,
and disappears when it wants to.
You are happy either way.
Even the fact that you once lived in a peaceful tree house
and now live over a quarry of noise and dust
cannot make you unhappy.
Everything has a life of its own,
it too could wake up filled with possibilities
of coffee cake and ripe peaches,
and love even the floor which needs to be swept,
the soiled linens and scratched records . . .
Since there is no place large enough
to contain so much happiness,
you shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you
into everything you touch. You are not responsible.
You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit
for the moon, but continues to hold it, and share it,
and in that way, be known.
"So Much Happiness" from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye, copyright © 1995. Reprinted with the permission of Far Corner Books.
I could complain. I’ve done it before.
I could explain. I could say, for instance, that
I’m sick of being slaughtered in my life’s mountain passes,
covering my own long retreat,
the rear guard of my own brutal defeat—
dysentery and frostbite and snipers,
the mules freezing to death,
blizzards whipping the famished fires until they expire,
the pathetic mosquito notes of my horn . . .
But, instead, for once, I’m keeping quiet, and maybe tomorrow
or maybe the day after or maybe the day after that
I’m just going to drive away down the coast
and not come back.
I haven’t told anyone, and I won’t.
I won’t dim with words the radiance of my gesture.
And besides, the ones who care have guessed already.
Looking at them looking at me, I know they know
when they turn their backs I’ll go.
The secrets I was planning to floor them with?
They’re already packed in my trunk, in straw,
in a reinforced casket.
The bitter but herbal and medicinal truths I concocted
to revive them with?
Tomorrow or the day after or the day after that,
on the volcano beaches fringed with black sand
and heaped with tangled beds of kelp,
by the obsidian tide pools that cradle the ribbed limpet
and the rockbound star,
I’ll scatter those truths to the sea breezes,
and float the secrets on the waters that the moon
reels in and plays out,
reels in and plays out,
with a little votive candle burning on their casket,
and then I’ll just be there, in the sunset’s coppery sheen,
in the dawn pearled by discrete, oblong, intimate clouds
that move without desire or motive.
Look at the clouds. Look how close they are.
Copyright © 2016 by Vijay Seshadri. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 14, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
Taking a photo of you taking a photo of me, I see
the black snout of the camera framed by hair, where
your face should be. I see your arms and one hand
on the shutter button, the hedge behind you and
beyond, below, overexposed water and sky wiped white.
Some flecks out of focus are supposed to be boats.
Your back toward what light is left, you’re not
recognizable except by those cutoff jeans that I
gave you by shooting from above, forgetting your
legs. So, if I didn’t know, I wouldn’t know who
you are, you know. I do know who, but you, you know,
could be anybody. My mistake. It was because I
wanted to trip the shutter at the exact moment you
did. I did when you did, and you did when I did.
I can’t wait to see yours of me. It’s got to be
even more awful. A face, facing the light, pulled up
into a squint behind the lens, which must reflect
the muggy setting sun. Some sort of fright mask
or Mardi Gras monster, a big glass Cyclopean eye
superimposed on a flattened nose, that print,
the one you took of me as I took one of you. Who,
or what, will it be—will I be, I wonder? Can’t wait.
© May Swenson. From May Swenson: Collected Poems (Library of America, 2013). Used with permission of The Literary Estate of May Swenson. All rights reserved.