translated by Cola Franzen

A woman sleeps on an island
and from her hair is born the dwelling place
of memories and wild birds.
Her body is a figurehead,
and they say that since
she fell asleep on the island
she seems to have been touched by the rains
of madness, that her hair blossoms each evening
next to the music of the sea. Others say
her eyelids trace maps of strange geographies,
savage tattoos kept only in the tenuous
circle of her dreams.

A woman sleeps on an island
and stops being herself,
free now of the land.
She sails and drinks
the vastness of the sea.
Seeds fill her floating hair;
she is an island
surrounded by stars.


 

Una mujer duerme en una isla
y del cabello nacen las moradas
de memorias y pájaros salvajes.
Su cuerpo es un mascarón de proa
y dicen que desde
que durmió en la isla
pareciera haber sido tocada por las lluvias
de la demencia, que su pelo florece en los atardeceres
junto a la música del mar. Otros dicen
que sus párpados dibujan mapas de extrañas geografías,
tatuajes salvajes que ella guarda sólo
en la redondez tenue del sueño.

Una mujer duerme en una isla
y deja de ser ella misma
libre ahora de la tierra.
Navega y bebe
la inmensidad del mar.
Las semillas llenan su pelo que flota
y ella es una isla
rodeada de estrellas.

Marjorie Agosín, “Un mujer duerme en una isla / A Woman Sleeps on an Island,” translated by Cola Franzen, from Sargasso. Copyright © 1993 by Marjorie Agosin. Translation copyright © 1993 by Cola Franzen. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of White Pine Press, www.whitepine.org.

translated by Cola Franzen

A woman sleeps on an island
and from her hair is born the dwelling place
of memories and wild birds.
Her body is a figurehead,
and they say that since
she fell asleep on the island
she seems to have been touched by the rains
of madness, that her hair blossoms each evening
next to the music of the sea. Others say
her eyelids trace maps of strange geographies,
savage tattoos kept only in the tenuous
circle of her dreams.

A woman sleeps on an island
and stops being herself,
free now of the land.
She sails and drinks
the vastness of the sea.
Seeds fill her floating hair;
she is an island
surrounded by stars.


 

Una mujer duerme en una isla
y del cabello nacen las moradas
de memorias y pájaros salvajes.
Su cuerpo es un mascarón de proa
y dicen que desde
que durmió en la isla
pareciera haber sido tocada por las lluvias
de la demencia, que su pelo florece en los atardeceres
junto a la música del mar. Otros dicen
que sus párpados dibujan mapas de extrañas geografías,
tatuajes salvajes que ella guarda sólo
en la redondez tenue del sueño.

Una mujer duerme en una isla
y deja de ser ella misma
libre ahora de la tierra.
Navega y bebe
la inmensidad del mar.
Las semillas llenan su pelo que flota
y ella es una isla
rodeada de estrellas.

Marjorie Agosín, “Un mujer duerme en una isla / A Woman Sleeps on an Island,” translated by Cola Franzen, from Sargasso. Copyright © 1993 by Marjorie Agosin. Translation copyright © 1993 by Cola Franzen. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of White Pine Press, www.whitepine.org.

Whirl up, sea—
Whirl your pointed pines.
Splash your great pines
On our rocks.
Hurl your green over us—
Cover us with your pools of fir.

This poem is in the public domain.

It was easy enough
to bend them to my wish,
it was easy enough
to alter them with a touch,
but you
adrift on the great sea,
how shall I call you back?

Cedar and white ash,
rock-cedar and sand plants
and tamarisk
red cedar and white cedar
and black cedar from the inmost forest,
fragrance upon fragrance
and all of my sea-magic is for nought.

It was easy enough—
a thought called them
from the sharp edges of the earth;
they prayed for a touch,
they cried for the sight of my face,
they entreated me
till in pity
I turned each to his own self.

Panther and panther,
then a black leopard
follows close—
black panther and red
and a great hound,
a god-like beast,
cut the sand in a clear ring
and shut me from the earth,
and cover the sea-sound
with their throats,
and the sea-roar with their own barks
and bellowing and snarls,
and the sea-stars
and the swirl of the sand,
and the rock-tamarisk
and the wind resonance—
but not your voice.

It is easy enough to call men
from the edges of the earth.
It is easy enough to summon them to my feet
with a thought—
it is beautiful to see the tall panther
and the sleek deer-hounds
circle in the dark.

It is easy enough
to make cedar and white ash fumes
into palaces
and to cover the sea-caves
with ivory and onyx.

But I would give up
rock-fringes of coral
and the inmost chamber
of my island palace
and my own gifts
and the whole region
of my power and magic
for your glance.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 3, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

O wind, rend open the heat,
cut apart the heat,
rend it to tatters.

Fruit cannot drop
through this thick air—
fruit cannot fall into heat
that presses up and blunts
the points of pears
and rounds the grapes.

Cut the heat—
plough through it,
turning it on either side
of your path.

Copyright © 1982 by the Estate of Hilda Doolittle. Used with permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved. No part of this poem may be reproduced in any form without the written consent of the publisher.

It was easy enough
to bend them to my wish,
it was easy enough
to alter them with a touch,
but you
adrift on the great sea,
how shall I call you back?

Cedar and white ash,
rock-cedar and sand plants
and tamarisk
red cedar and white cedar
and black cedar from the inmost forest,
fragrance upon fragrance
and all of my sea-magic is for nought.

It was easy enough—
a thought called them
from the sharp edges of the earth;
they prayed for a touch,
they cried for the sight of my face,
they entreated me
till in pity
I turned each to his own self.

Panther and panther,
then a black leopard
follows close—
black panther and red
and a great hound,
a god-like beast,
cut the sand in a clear ring
and shut me from the earth,
and cover the sea-sound
with their throats,
and the sea-roar with their own barks
and bellowing and snarls,
and the sea-stars
and the swirl of the sand,
and the rock-tamarisk
and the wind resonance—
but not your voice.

It is easy enough to call men
from the edges of the earth.
It is easy enough to summon them to my feet
with a thought—
it is beautiful to see the tall panther
and the sleek deer-hounds
circle in the dark.

It is easy enough
to make cedar and white ash fumes
into palaces
and to cover the sea-caves
with ivory and onyx.

But I would give up
rock-fringes of coral
and the inmost chamber
of my island palace
and my own gifts
and the whole region
of my power and magic
for your glance.

This poem is in the public domain.

The night has cut
each from each
and curled the petals
back from the stalk
and under it in crisp rows;

under at an unfaltering pace,
under till the rinds break,
back till each bent leaf
is parted from its stalk;

under at a grave pace,
under till the leaves
are bent back
till they drop upon earth,
back till they are all broken.

O night,
you take the petals
of the roses in your hand,
but leave the stark core
of the rose
to perish on the branch.

This poem is in the public domain.

I

You are clear
O rose, cut in rock,
hard as the descent of hail.

I could scrape the colour
from the petals
like spilt dye from a rock.

If I could break you
I could break a tree.

If I could stir
I could break a tree—
I could break you.


II

O wind, rend open the heat,
cut apart the heat,
rend it to tatters.

Fruit cannot drop
through this thick air—
fruit cannot fall into heat
that presses up and blunts
the points of pears
and rounds the grapes.

Cut the heat—
plough through it,
turning it on either side
of your path.

This poem is in the public domain.

Reed,
slashed and torn
but doubly rich—
such great heads as yours
drift upon temple-steps,
but you are shattered
in the wind.

Myrtle-bark
is flecked from you,
scales are dashed
from your stem,
sand cuts your petal,
furrows it with hard edge,
like flint
on a bright stone.

Yet though the whole wind
slash at your bark,
you are lifted up,
aye—though it hiss
to cover you with froth.

This poem is in the public domain. 

The light passes
from ridge to ridge,
from flower to flower—
the hepaticas, wide-spread
under the light
grow faint—
the petals reach inward,
the blue tips bend
toward the bluer heart
and the flowers are lost.

The cornel-buds are still white,
but shadows dart
from the cornel-roots—
black creeps from root to root,
each leaf
cuts another leaf on the grass,
shadow seeks shadow,
then both leaf
and leaf-shadow are lost.
 

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on September 13, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

What do I care
that the stream is trampled,
the sand on the stream-bank
still holds the print of your foot:
the heel is cut deep.
I see another mark
on the grass ridge of the bank—
it points toward the wood-path.
I have lost the third
in the packed earth.

But here
a wild-hyacinth stalk is snapped:
the purple buds—half ripe—
show deep purple
where your heel pressed.

A patch of flowering grass,
low, trailing—
you brushed this:
the green stems show yellow-green
where you lifted—turned the earth-side
to the light:
this and a dead leaf-spine,
split across,
show where you passed.

You were swift, swift!
here the forest ledge slopes—
rain has furrowed the roots.
Your hand caught at this;
the root snapped under your weight.

I can almost follow the note
where it touched this slender tree
and the next answered—
and the next.

And you climbed yet further!
you stopped by the dwarf-cornel—
whirled on your heels,
doubled on your track.

This is clear—
you fell on the downward slope,
you dragged a bruised thigh—you limped—
you clutched this larch.

Did your head, bent back,
search further—
clear through the green leaf-moss
of the larch branches?

Did you clutch,
stammer with short breath and gasp:
wood-daemons grant life—
give life—I am almost lost.

For some wood-daemon
has lightened your steps.
I can find no trace of you
in the larch-cones and the underbrush.
 

This poem is in the public domain.

Will you glimmer on the sea?	
Will you fling your spear-head	
On the shore?	
What note shall we pitch?	
 
We have a song,	        
On the bank we share our arrows—	
The loosed string tells our note:	
 
O flight,	
Bring her swiftly to our song.	
She is great,	        
We measure her by the pine-trees.

This poem is in the public domain.

Rose, harsh rose,
marred and with stint of petals,
meagre flower, thin,
sparse of leaf,

more precious
than a wet rose
single on a stem—
you are caught in the drift.

Stunted, with small leaf,
you are flung on the sand,
you are lifted
in the crisp sand
that drives in the wind.

Can the spice-rose
drip such acrid fragrance
hardened in a leaf?

This poem is in the public domain.

Are you alive?
I touch you.
You quiver like a sea-fish.
I cover you with my net.
What are you—banded one?

This poem is in the public domain.

Do you still remember: falling stars,
how they leapt slantwise through the sky
like horses over suddenly held-out hurdles
of our wishes—did we have so many?—
for stars, innumerable, leapt everywhere;
almost every gaze upward became
wedded to the swift hazard of their play,
and our heart felt like a single thing
beneath that vast disintegration of their brilliance—
and was whole, as if it would survive them!

“Do you still remember: falling stars,” from Uncollected Poems by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Edward Snow. Translation copyright © 1996 by Edward Snow.

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.

Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.

From Homage to Clio by W. H. Auden, published by Random House. Copyright © 1960 W. H. Auden, renewed by the Estate of W. H. Auden. Used by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

From Personae by Ezra Pound, copyright © 1926 by Ezra Pound. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved. No part of this poem may be reproduced in any form without the written consent of the publisher.

I looked and saw a sea
                               roofed over with rainbows,
In the midst of each
                               two lovers met and departed;
Then the sky was full of faces
                               with gold glories behind them.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on August 16, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

       Not a mere blowing flame—
       A clinking ash, I feel—with shame,
          At malendeavor in your service.

But as Jehoshaphat said on that occasion in
              Old Testament history,

       "The battle is not mine,"
       And strategy laid down—in fine
          Surrender, may be conquest.

This poem is in the public domain.

With an elephant to ride upon—"with rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,"
   she shall outdistance calamity anywhere she goes.
Speed is not in her mind inseparable from carpets. Locomotion arose
   in the shape of an elephant; she clambered up and chose
to travel laboriously. So far as magic carpets are concerned, she knows
   that although the semblance of speed may attach to scarecrows
of aesthetic procedure, the substance of it is embodied in such of those
   tough-grained animals as have outstripped man’s whim to suppose
them ephemera, and I have earned that fruit of their ability to endure blows
   which dubs them prosaic necessities—not curios.

This poem is in the public domain.

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

From Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens by Wallace Stevens. Copyright © 1954 by Wallace Stevens. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

The houses are haunted
By white night-gowns.
None are green,
Or purple with green rings,
Or green with yellow rings,
Or yellow with blue rings.
None of them are strange,
With socks of lace
And beaded ceintures.
People are not going
To dream of baboons and periwinkles.
Only, here and there, an old sailor,
Drunk and asleep in his boots,
Catches tigers
In red weather.

This poem is in the public domain.

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

From Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens by Wallace Stevens. Copyright © 1954 by Wallace Stevens. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

She sang beyond the genius of the sea.
The water never formed to mind or voice,
Like a body wholly body, fluttering
Its empty sleeves; and yet its mimic motion
Made constant cry, caused constantly a cry,
That was not ours although we understood,
Inhuman, of the veritable ocean.

The sea was not a mask.  No more was she.
The song and water were not medleyed sound
Even if what she sang was what she heard.
Since what she sang was uttered word by word.
It may be that in all her phrases stirred
The grinding water and the gasping wind;
But it was she and not the sea we heard.

For she was the maker of the song she sang.
The ever-hooded, tragic-gestured sea
Was merely a place by which she walked to sing.
Whose spirit is this?  we said, because we knew
It was the spirit that we sought and knew
That we should ask this often as she sang.

If it was only the dark voice of the sea
That rose, or even colored by many waves;
If it was only the outer voice of sky
And cloud, of the sunken coral water-walled,
However clear, it would have been deep air,
The heaving speech of air, a summer sound
Repeated in a summer without end
And sound alone.  But it was more than that,
More even than her voice, and ours, among
The meaningless plungings of water and the wind,
Theatrical distances, bronze shadows heaped
On high horizons, mountainous atmospheres
Of sky and sea.
                      It was her voice that made
The sky acutest at its vanishing.
She measured to the hour its solitude.
She was the single artificer of the world
In which she sang.  And when she sang, the sea,
Whatever self it had, became the self
That was her song, for she was the maker.  Then we,
As we beheld her striding there alone,
Knew that there never was a world for her
Except the one she sang and, singing, made.

Ramon Fernandez, tell me, if you know,
Why, when the singing ended and we turned
Toward the town, tell why the glassy lights,
The lights in the fishing boats at anchor there,
As night descended, tilting in the air,
Mastered the night and portioned out the sea,
Fixing emblazoned zones and fiery poles,
Arranging, deepening, enchanting night.

Oh!  Blessed rage for order, pale Ramon,
The maker's rage to order words of the sea,
Words of the fragrant portals, dimly-starred,
And of ourselves and of our origins,
In ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds.

From Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens by Wallace Stevens. Copyright © 1954 by Wallace Stevens. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

Twelve o'clock.	
Along the reaches of the street	
Held in a lunar synthesis,	
Whispering lunar incantations	
Dissolve the floors of memory	        
And all its clear relations,	
Its divisions and precisions.	
Every street lamp that I pass	
Beats like a fatalistic drum,	
And through the spaces of the dark	        
Midnight shakes the memory	
As a madman shakes a dead geranium.	
 
   Half-past one,	
The street-lamp sputtered,	
The street-lamp muttered,	        
The street-lamp said, "Regard that woman	
Who hesitates toward you in the light of the door	
Which opens on her like a grin.	
You see the border of her dress	
Is torn and stained with sand,	        
And you see the corner of her eye	
Twists like a crooked pin."	
 
   The memory throws up high and dry	
A crowd of twisted things;	
A twisted branch upon the beach	        
Eaten smooth, and polished	
As if the world gave up	
The secret of its skeleton,	
Stiff and white.	
A broken spring in a factory yard,	        
Rust that clings to the form that the strength has left	
Hard and curled and ready to snap.	
 
   Half-past two,	
The street-lamp said,	
"Remark the cat which flattens itself in the gutter,	        
Slips out its tongue	
And devours a morsel of rancid butter."	
So the hand of the child, automatic,	
Slipped out and pocketed a toy that was running along the quay.	
I could see nothing behind that child's eye.	        
I have seen eyes in the street	
Trying to peer through lighted shutters,	
And a crab one afternoon in a pool,	
An old crab with barnacles on his back,	
Gripped the end of a stick which I held him.	        
 
   Half-past three,	
The lamp sputtered,	
The lamp muttered in the dark.	
The lamp hummed:	
"Regard the moon,	        
La lune ne garde aucune rancune,	
She winks a feeble eye,	
She smiles into corners.	
She smooths the hair of the grass.	
The moon has lost her memory.	        
A washed-out smallpox cracks her face,	
Her hand twists a paper rose,	
That smells of dust and eau de Cologne,	
She is alone	
With all the old nocturnal smells	        
That cross and cross across her brain."	
The reminiscence comes	
Of sunless dry geraniums	
And dust in crevices,	
Smells of chestnuts in the streets,	        
And female smells in shuttered rooms,	
And cigarettes in corridors	
And cocktail smells in bars.	
 
   The lamp said,	
"Four o'clock,	        
Here is the number on the door.	
Memory!	
You have the key,	
The little lamp spreads a ring on the stair.	
Mount.	        
The bed is open; the tooth-brush hangs on the wall,	
Put your shoes at the door, sleep, prepare for life."	
 
   The last twist of the knife.

This poem is in the public domain.

     S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
     A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
     Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
     Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
     Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
     Senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question…
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—
[They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”]
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
[They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”]
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all—
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
     So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
     And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all—
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
[But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!]
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
     And should I then presume?
     And how should I begin?

          . . . . .

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? …

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

          . . . . .

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep… tired… or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head [grown slightly bald] brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
     Should say: “That is not what I meant at all.
     That is not it, at all.”

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
     “That is not it at all,
     That is not what I meant, at all.”

          . . . . .

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old… I grow old…
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

Published in 1915. This poem is in the public domain.

As she laughed I was aware of becoming involved in her laughter and being part of it, until her teeth were only accidental stars with a talent for squad-drill. I was drawn in by short gasps, inhaled at each momentary recovery, lost finally in the dark caverns of her throat, bruised by the ripple of unseen muscles. An elderly waiter with trembling hands was hurriedly spreading a pink and white checked cloth over the rusty green iron table, saying: "If the lady and gentleman wish to take their tea in the garden, if the lady and gentleman wish to take their tea in the garden..." I decided that if the shaking of her breasts could be stopped, some of the fragments of the afternoon might be collected, and I concentrated my attention with careful subtlety to this end.

This poem is in the public domain.

The moon has a face like the clock in the hall;
She shines on thieves on the garden wall,
On streets and fields and harbour quays,
And birdies asleep in the forks of the trees.

The squalling cat and the squeaking mouse,
The howling dog by the door of the house,
The bat that lies in bed at noon,
All love to be out by the light of the moon.

But all of the things that belong to the day
Cuddle to sleep to be out of her way;
And flowers and children close their eyes
Till up in the morning the sun shall arise.

This poem is in the public domain.

The night has cut
each from each
and curled the petals
back from the stalk
and under it in crisp rows;

under at an unfaltering pace,
under till the rinds break,
back till each bent leaf
is parted from its stalk;

under at a grave pace,
under till the leaves
are bent back
till they drop upon earth,
back till they are all broken.

O night,
you take the petals
of the roses in your hand,
but leave the stark core
of the rose
to perish on the branch.

This poem is in the public domain.

Just as I move to sound the word
I start again, fall between the place

my mouth begins and the place
it makes something: the sudden here

synonymous with place and loss,
the dark world holding my body

differently. Every night I wake
at the point I try to speak

because I am trying to speak.
Because a sound breaks out.

There is no way to try a word
when silenced by it. The dark

outside will never show the inside
of my mouth back to me.

Losing that word over and over
is the same trouble as what

I carry. Maybe all lost things are
meanings beyond here and now.

Maybe there are no metaphors,
just what is true and what is true.

Copyright © 2013 by Rae Gouirand. “Language” originally appeared in The Brooklyner. Used with permission of the author.

 

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

From And Still I Rise by Maya Angelou. Copyright © 1978 by Maya Angelou. Reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc.

We travel carrying our words.
We arrive at the ocean.
With our words we are able to speak
of the sounds of thunderous waves.
We speak of how majestic it is,
of the ocean power that gifts us songs.
We sing of our respect
and call it our relative.

 

Translated into English from O’odham by the poet.

 

’U’a g T-ñi’okı˘


T-ñi’okı˘ ’att ’an o ’u’akc o hihi
Am ka:ck wui dada.
S-ap ‘am o ’a: mo has ma:s g kiod.
mat ’am ’ed.a betank ’i-gei.
’Am o ’a: mo he’es ’i-ge’ej,
mo hascu wud.  i:da gewkdagaj
mac ’ab amjed.  behě g ñe’i.
Hemhoa s-ap ‘am o ’a: mac si has elid, mo d.  ’i:mig.

Used with the permission of the author.

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away; 
Lengthen night and shorten day; 
Every leaf speaks bliss to me, 
Fluttering from the autumn tree. 
I shall smile when wreaths of snow 
Blossom where the rose should grow; 
I shall sing when night’s decay 
Ushers in a drearier day.
 

This poem is in the public domain.

You are someone with a penchant for dark
beers and pasts, walk-in closets and porch-step

smokes, who liked to ride it out to the depths 
of the middle of Lake Hopatcong, spark

the flint of your lighter, take longing drags
and talk about hipster coffee and sex

with whipped cream designs—and sometimes, your next
lover—and dive in to put out the fag,

swim to the deck to peel off your cotton
boxers and wring them in your fighter’s fist.

It’s too cold in the fall on the water
we fall in, too naked for falling in

naked and docking unanchored like this.
I remember. You’d kiss me and shiver.

Copyright © 2020 by Billie R. Tadros. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 2, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

I’m sorry, could you repeat that. I’m hard of hearing.
To the cashier
To the receptionist
To the insistent man asking directions on the street

I’m sorry, I’m hard of hearing. Could you repeat that?
At the business meeting
In the writing workshop
On the phone to make a doctor’s appointment

I’m-sorry-I’m-sorry-I’m-so-sorry-I’m-hard-for-the-hearing

Repeat.

           Repeat.

Hello, my name is Sorry
To full rooms of strangers
I’m hard to hear

I vomit apologies everywhere
They fly on bat wings
towards whatever sound beckons

I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I am so, so sorry
           and repeating
                       and not hearing

Dear (again)
I regret to inform you

I       am

here

 

Copyright © 2020 by Camisha L. Jones. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 3, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

When I rise up above the earth,
And look down on the things that fetter me,
I beat my wings upon the air,
Or tranquil lie,
Surge after surge of potent strength
Like incense comes to me
When I rise up above the earth
And look down upon the things that fetter me.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on February 10, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Even this late it happens:
the coming of love, the coming of light. 
You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves, 
stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows, 
sending up warm bouquets of air.
Even this late the bones of the body shine 
and tomorrow’s dust flares into breath.

Excerpted from The Late Hour by Mark Strand. Copyright © 2002 by Mark Strand. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

I have a dream
to fill the golden sheath
of a remembered day . . . .
(Air
heavy and massed and blue
as the vapor of opium . . .
domes
fired in sulphurous mist . . .
sea
quiescent as a gray seal . . .
and the emerging sun
spurting up gold
over Sydney, smoke-pale, rising out of the bay . . . . )
But the day is an up-turned cup
and its sun a junk of red iron
guttering in sluggish-green water
where shall I pour my dream?

 

This poem is in the public domain. 

But it's really fear you want to talk about
and cannot find the words
so you jeer at yourself

you call yourself a coward
you wake at 2 a.m. thinking failure,
fool, unable to sleep, unable to sleep

buzzing away on your mattress with two pillows
and a quilt, they call them comforters,
which implies that comfort can be bought

and paid for, to help with the fear, the failure
your two walnut chests of drawers snicker, the bookshelves mourn
the art on the walls pities you, the man himself beside you

asleep smelling like mushrooms and moss is a comfort
but never enough, never, the ceiling fixture lightless
velvet drapes hiding the window

traffic noise like a vicious animal
on the loose somewhere out there—
you brag to friends you won't mind death only dying

what a liar you are—
all the other fears, of rejection, of physical pain,
of losing your mind, of losing your eyes,

they are all part of this!
Pawprints of this! Hair snarls in your comb
this glowing clock the single light in the room

From The Book of Seventy by Alicia Ostriker. Copyright © 2009 by Alicia Ostriker. Used by permission of University of Pittsburgh Press.

You are not fifteen, or twelve, or seventeen—
You are a hundred wild centuries

And fifteen, bringing with you
In every breath and in every step

Everyone who has come before you,
All the yous that you have been,

The mothers of your mother,
The fathers of your father.

If someone in your family tree was trouble,
A hundred were not:

The bad do not win—not finally,
No matter how loud they are.

We simply would not be here
If that were so.

You are made, fundamentally, from the good.
With this knowledge, you never march alone.

You are the breaking news of the century.
You are the good who has come forward

Through it all, even if so many days
Feel otherwise.  But think:

When you as a child learned to speak,
It’s not that you didn’t know words—

It’s that, from the centuries, you knew so many,
And it’s hard to choose the words that will be your own.

From those centuries we human beings bring with us
The simple solutions and songs,

The river bridges and star charts and song harmonies
All in service to a simple idea:

That we can make a house called tomorrow.
What we bring, finally, into the new day, every day,

Is ourselves.  And that’s all we need
To start.  That’s everything we require to keep going. 

Look back only for as long as you must,
Then go forward into the history you will make.

Be good, then better.  Write books.  Cure disease.
Make us proud.  Make yourself proud.

And those who came before you?  When you hear thunder,
Hear it as their applause.

Copyright © 2018 by Alberto Ríos. Used with the permission of the author.

We live in secret cities
And we travel unmapped roads.

We speak words between us that we recognize
But which cannot be looked up.

They are our words.
They come from very far inside our mouths.

You and I, we are the secret citizens of the city
Inside us, and inside us

There go all the cars we have driven
And seen, there are all the people

We know and have known, there
Are all the places that are

But which used to be as well. This is where
They went. They did not disappear.

We each take a piece 
Through the eye and through the ear.

It's loud inside us, in there, and when we speak
In the outside world

We have to hope that some of that sound
Does not come out, that an arm

Not reach out
In place of the tongue.

Copyright © 1998 by Alberto Rios. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

I awake to you.  A burning building.  
The alarm is my own.  Internal alarm, clock alarm, 
then coming through your very walls.  The alarm 
is of you.  I call first with my mouth.  Then with my phone.
No one.  Then maybe someone.  Then yes, a fire fighter, or two, is coming.  
Outside, the children gather and gawk.  Cover their ears from the blare.
They are clothed in their footed pajamas.  We are all awake now. Even you,
the burning building.  
I’m leaving, I say.  I look them each in the eyes, the mouths, the chests.  
I look at their footed feet.
I’m leaving you burning.   The children can walk.  The children can follow.
The building burns now behind me.  You burn, 
behind me.  The alarm
Screams.  No. No.
Not screaming. 
There is a field between us.  
Now you are calling. 
And now beseeching.
Behind me the children are a trail of children.  Some following.  Some clinging.
And now you, my home, my building, burn and burn.
There is a mountain between us.
And now you are ringing.  
And now you are singing.
I look back.  Back to you, burning building.
You are a glowing dancer, you are a façade on sparkling display.
Now a child.  Or two.  Or three.  Pilgrim children. Between me 
And you.  

Copyright © 2020 by Tiphanie Yanique. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 12, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

                              (for my sisters)

I still don’t know how he knew
I was running. My mouth was open,
or those boys were barking that loud;
not that I hadn’t been chased
by dogs. There’s a moment when
you can’t tell from which angle
it’s coming, and the air is a red drum,
and the trees lean away from you,
and the ground is wet.     Lonnie drove
truck nights, and grew strawberries
in our backyard, which were small,
but sweet. You could taste his hands
in the dirt, which the mouth learns
to read as green and sweet. My mother
made him liver and onions; we ate fish
Fridays and I wasn’t allowed milk. He’s why
I like my eggs runny. I still don’t understand
anything about engines. I can’t remember
why those boys were after me. Maybe
it makes sense why a Rottweiler
would break a fence.      Lonnie stood
with his shotgun out front. Sometimes
he wouldn’t come home, or he’d walk
into the house with his shirt bloody.
When we left, my mother didn’t want
money. Not that we would have gone,
but that other woman didn’t even invite us
to the funeral. Man, I bet Yvette’s children
have children. Lord knows what’s happened
to Chrissy now that she’s too old to dance.

Copyright © 2020 by Amaud Jamaul Johnson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 24, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

you have since swallowed
so much blood, the sailboats
rap violently about the docks,
and how heavy the gulls’ wings
have grown, how sour, sourly
beloved, and what shall we then
call it, this consternation, a blue
funk, some pestilence, which hangs
or blooms or paints itself silently
within the many courtyards
of the body, or across that high
court of the skull, what looms
like another steamrolled peony,
or some pink paper moon.

Copyright © 2018 Amaud Jamaul Johnson. This poem originally appeared in Kenyon Review, November/December 2018. Used with permission of the author.

me and you be sisters.
we be the same.

me and you
coming from the same place.

me and you
be greasing our legs
touching up our edges.

me and you
be scared of rats
be stepping on roaches.

me and you
come running high down purdy street one time
and mama laugh and shake her head at
me and you.

me and you
got babies
got thirty-five
got black
let our hair go back
be loving ourselves
be loving ourselves
be sisters.

only where you sing,
I poet.

From Next: New Poems by Lucille Clifton. Copyright © 1989 by Lucille Clifton. Reprinted with permission of BOA Editions Ltd. All rights reserved.

The way that the sea fails

to drown itself everyday. And entendre alludes all those not listening.

The way unfertilized chicken eggs fail to have imagination,
           dozened out in their cardboard trays,

by which I mean they will never break
           open

from the inside. The way my imagination (née anxiety) has
           bad brakes and a need

to stop sometimes. The way I didn’t believe

it when he told me we were going to crash into the car idling
           at a red light

ahead of us. To know our future like that seemed unlikely.
           But to have time to tell me?

—Nearly impossible. I may have broken
           several ribs that day

but I will never know for sure. I’m okay,

I guessed aloud to the paramedic. It doesn’t matter
           if you’re broken if you’re broke,

I moaned in bed that night, after several glasses
           of cheap red. I thought it would make a good blues

refrain. I made myself
           laugh and so I made myself hurt—

MEMOIRS BY EMILIA PHILLIPS, goes the joke.

A friend of mine competes in beard and mustache tournaments,
           even though she can’t grow one herself—

Once, she donned a Santa Claus made entirely out of hot-glued tampons.

It was as white as the spots in memories I doubt.

           The first woman
I kissed who had never kissed a woman before

couldn’t get over how soft my face is,
           even the scar. Once,

a famous poet said what’s this and touched my face
           without asking—

his thumb like a cat’s tongue on the old wound.

He must have thought he was giving
me a blessing.

Copyright © 2020 by Emilia Phillips. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 11, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

We see a little farther now and a little farther still
—C. D. Wright

                                  *

I ask the rain to remit, but not because I am ungrateful
A raincheck for the rain—is such a thing possible?

In Florida, even the cold is warm by comparison
We sit at the ocean’s lip as it licks the sand from our toes

Consider instead—the terrifying beauty of alternative

                                  *
I ask the sun to pumice our faces, blind us humble and good
Incumbent sun, so long accustomed to winning the stars’ wars

Consider although—like trying to whistle with a mouth full of             Saltines

We only know what we know
We only see what we see

                                  *
I ask the space to persist after the hyphen that separates
Birth from death, to leave the parenthesis like a gap tooth

Then to no one in particular, I say: What age is not a tender                 age?

                                  *

This hapless haptic misses her Blackberry
Such tender buttons, were they not?
The tiny Underwood slick inside her pocket

                                  *

I ask the lifeguard not to hang the purple flag
For jellyfish and sting rays and the floating terror

Imagine if that were your name!

Also answers to: bluebottle, Physalia physalis, man-of-war


                                  *
Consider except—Luminara of a word—bag of sand with a light            inside

Synonym for human perhaps?

                                  *
I am not opposed to the idea of being lost—
like the red balloon, Mylar with a silver underside—
buoyed along these stubby waves


Consider forever—which is a trick command

A seagull tugs the string of the beached balloon
You see it more clearly now: a webbed design, the visage of                     Spiderman

                                  *

When the rain comes, it is warm kisses, little white beads

Grown-ups stick their tongues out like children do
It’s not over till it’s over—and then, too soon
 

Copyright © 2016 by Julie Marie Wade. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 28, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you.
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.
Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I.
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.

This poem is in the public domain.

    The monotone of the rain is beautiful,
And the sudden rise and slow relapse
Of the long multitudinous rain.

    The sun on the hills is beautiful,
Or a captured sunset sea-flung,
Bannered with fire and gold.

    A face I know is beautiful—
With fire and gold of sky and sea,
And the peace of long warm rain.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on April 12, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets. 

(for Ntozake Shange)

I used to be a roller coaster girl
7 times in a row
No vertigo in these skinny legs
My lipstick bubblegum pink 
                          As my panther 10 speed.

never kissed

Nappy pigtails, no-brand gym shoes 
White lined yellow short-shorts

Scratched up legs pedaling past borders of 
humus and baba ganoush 
Masjids and liquor stores 
City chicken, pepperoni bread 
and superman ice cream 
                                    Cones.

Yellow black blending with bits of Arabic
Islam and Catholicism. 

My daddy was Jesus 
My mother was quiet
Jayne Kennedy was worshipped 
by my brother Mark

I don’t remember having my own bed before 12. 
Me and my sister Lisa                                shared. 

Sometimes all three Moore girls slept in the Queen.

You grow up so close 
never close enough.

I used to be a roller coaster girl 
Wild child full of flowers and ideas
Useless crushes on        polish boys 
in a school full of         white girls. 

Future black swan singing 
Zeppelin, U2 and Rick Springfield

Hoping to be Jessie’s Girl 

I could outrun my brothers and 
Everybody else to that 

reoccurring line

I used to be a roller coaster girl
Till you told me I was moving too fast
Said my rush made your head spin 
My laughter hurt your ears

A scream of happiness 
A whisper of freedom 
Pouring out my armpits 
Sweating up my neck 

You were always the scared one
I kept my eyes open for the entire trip
Right before the drop I would brace myself
And let that force push my head back into 

That hard iron seat

My arms nearly fell off a few times
Still, I kept running back to the line  
When I was done
Same way I kept running back to you

I used to be a roller coaster girl
I wasn’t scared of mountains or falling  
Hell, I looked forward to flying and dropping
Off this earth and coming back to life 

every once in a while

I found some peace in being out of control 
allowing my blood to race
through my veins for 180 seconds 

I earned my sometime nicotine pull 
I buy my own damn drinks & the ocean
Still calls my name when it feels my toes 
Near its shore. 

I still love roller coasters 
& you grew up to be 
Afraid 
of all girls who cld  
                                          ride 

Fearlessly

like 
me. 

Copyright © 2019 by jessica Care moore. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 4, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

I’m a rock woman
I’m a horse woman
I’m a monkey woman
I’m a chipmunk woman
I’m a mountain woman
I’m a blue mountain woman
I’m a marsh woman
I’m a jungle woman
I’m a tundra woman
I’m the lady in the lake
I’m the lady in the sand
 

            water that cleans
            flowers that clean
            water that cleans as I go
 

I’m a bird woman
I’m a book woman
I’m a devilish clown woman
I’m a holy-clown woman
I’m a whirling-dervish woman
I’m a whirling-foam woman
I’m a playful-light woman
I’m a tidal-pool woman
I’m a fast speaking woman

Copyright © 1996 by Anne Waldman. Used with permission of the author.

Marriage marriage is like you say everything everything in stereo stereo fall fall on the bed bed at dawn dawn because you work work all night. Night is an apartment. Meant to be marriage. Marriage is an apartment & meant people people come in in because when when you marry marry chances are there will be edibles edibles to eat at tables tables in the house. House will be the apartment which is night night. There there will be a bed bed & an extra bed bed a clean sheet sheet sheet or two two for guests guests one extra towel. Extra towel. How will you be welcomed? There will be drinks drinks galore galore brought by armies of guests guests casks casks of liquors liquors & brandies brandies elixirs sweet & bitter bitter bottle of Merlot Merlot Bustelo coffee. Will you have some when I offer. When you are married married there will be handsome gifts for the kitchen kitchen sometimes two of every thing. Everything is brand brand new new. Espresso coffee cups, a Finnish plate, a clock, a doormat, pieces of Art. And books of astonishing Medical Science with pictures. Even richer lexicons. When you are married married there will be more sheets sheets & towels towels arriving arriving & often often a pet pet or two two. You definitely need a telephone & a cellphone when you are married married. Two two two two lines lines lines lines. You need need separate separate electronic mail electronic mail accounts accounts. When you are married married you will have sets sets of things things, of more sheets & towels matching, you will have duplicates of things, you will have just one tablecloth. When you are married married you will be responsible when neighbors neighbors greet you. You will smile smile in unison unison or you might say he is fine, she is fine, o she is just down with a cold, o he is consoling a weary traveler just now, arrived from across the Plains. She my husband is due home soon, he my wife is busy at the moment, my husband he is very very busy busy at the moment moment this very moment. Meant good-bye, good-bye. When you are married married sex sex will happen happen without delay delay. You will have a mailbox mailbox & a doorbell doorbell. Bell bell ring ring it rings rings again a double time. You do not have to answer. That's sure for when you are married people people understand understand you do not not have to answer answer a doorbell doorbell because sex sex may happen happen without delay delay. You will hear everything twice, through your ears & the ears of the other. Her or him as a case case may be be. He & he & she & she as a case case may be may be. When you are married married you can play play with names names & rename yourself if you like. You can add a name, have a double name with a hyphen if you like. You can open joint accounts when you are married. Marriage is no guarantee against depression. A shun is no guarantee against anything. Marriage is no guarantee against resolution. Revolution is a tricky word word. Here, you hear here? Marriage is sweeter sweeter than you think. Think.

"Stereo," from Marriage: A Sentence by Anne Waldman, copyright © 2000 by Anne Waldman. Used by permission of Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.

Thank you my life long afternoon
late in this spring that has no age
my window above the river
for the woman you led me to
when it was time at last the words
coming to me out of mid-air
that carried me through the clear day
and come even now to find me
for old friends and echoes of them
those mistakes only I could make
homesickness that guides the plovers
from somewhere they had loved before
they knew they loved it to somewhere
they had loved before they saw it
thank you good body hand and eye
and the places and moments known
only to me revisiting
once more complete just as they are
and the morning stars I have seen
and the dogs who are guiding me

From Collected Poems 1996–2011 by W.S. Merwin. Copyright © 2013 by W. S. Merwin. Reprinted by permission of The Library of America.

On the fifth day
the scientists who studied the rivers
were forbidden to speak
or to study the rivers.

The scientists who studied the air
were told not to speak of the air,
and the ones who worked for the farmers
were silenced,
and the ones who worked for the bees.

Someone, from deep in the Badlands,
began posting facts.

The facts were told not to speak
and were taken away.
The facts, surprised to be taken, were silent.

Now it was only the rivers
that spoke of the rivers,
and only the wind that spoke of its bees,

while the unpausing factual buds of the fruit trees
continued to move toward their fruit.

The silence spoke loudly of silence,
and the rivers kept speaking
of rivers, of boulders and air.

Bound to gravity, earless and tongueless,
the untested rivers kept speaking.

Bus drivers, shelf stockers,
code writers, machinists, accountants,
lab techs, cellists kept speaking.

They spoke, the fifth day,
of silence.

—2017

from Ledger (Knopf, 2020); first appeared in The Washington Post. Used by permission of the author, all rights reserved.

It’s neither red
nor sweet.
It doesn’t melt
or turn over,
break or harden,
so it can’t feel
pain,
yearning,
regret.

It doesn’t have 
a tip to spin on,
it isn’t even
shapely—
just a thick clutch
of muscle,
lopsided,
mute. Still,
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,
too.

Copyright © 2017 Rita Dove. Used with permission of the author.

i need to know their names
those women i would have walked with
jauntily the way men go in groups
swinging their arms, and the ones
those sweating women whom i would have joined
after a hard game to chew the fat
what would we have called each other laughing
joking into our beer? where are my gangs,
my teams, my mislaid sisters?
all the women who could have known me,
where in the world are their names?

From Next: New Poems by Lucille Clifton. Copyright © 1989 by Lucille Clifton. Reprinted with permission of BOA Editions Ltd.. All rights reserved.

to Ken Kesey & Ken Babbs

Clumsy at first, fitting together
the years we have been apart,
and the ways.

But as the night
passed and the day came, the first
fine morning of April,

it came clear:
the world that has tried us
and showed us its joy

was our bond
when we said nothing.
And we allowed it to be

with us, the new green
shining.

          *

Our lives, half gone,
stay full of laughter.

Free-hearted men
have the world for words.

Though we have been
apart, we have been together.

          *

Trying to sleep, I cannot
take my mind away.
The bright day

shines in my head
like a coin
on the bed of a stream.

          *

You left
your welcome.
 

From Collected Poems: 1957-1982 by Wendell Berry. Copyright © 1985 by Wendell Berry. Used by permission of Counterpoint Press. All rights reserved.

Skin remembers how long the years grow
when skin is not touched, a gray tunnel
of singleness, feather lost from the tail
of a bird, swirling onto a step,
swept away by someone who never saw
it was a feather. Skin ate, walked,
slept by itself, knew how to raise a 
see-you-later hand. But skin felt
it was never seen, never known as
a land on the map, nose like a city,
hip like a city, gleaming dome of the mosque
and the hundred corridors of cinnamon and rope.

Skin had hope, that's what skin does.
Heals over the scarred place, makes a road.
Love means you breathe in two countries.
And skin remembers--silk, spiny grass,
deep in the pocket that is skin's secret own.
Even now, when skin is not alone,
it remembers being alone and thanks something larger
that there are travelers, that people go places
larger than themselves.

From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye. Published by Far Corner. Reprinted with permission of the author. Copyright © 1995 Naomi Shihab Nye.

A man leaves the world
and the streets he lived on
grow a little shorter.

One more window dark
in this city, the figs on his branches
will soften for birds.

If we stand quietly enough evenings
there grows a whole company of us
standing quietly together.
overhead loud grackles are claiming their trees  
and the sky which sews and sews, tirelessly sewing,
drops her purple hem.
Each thing in its time, in its place,
it would be nice to think the same about people.

Some people do. They sleep completely,
waking refreshed. Others live in two worlds,
the lost and remembered.
They sleep twice, once for the one who is gone,
once for themselves. They dream thickly,
dream double, they wake from a dream
into another one, they walk the short streets
calling out names, and then they answer.

From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye. Published by Far Corner. Reprinted with permission of the author. Copyright © 1995 Naomi Shihab Nye.

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems. Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
"Live in the layers,
not on the litter."
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

From The Collected Poems by Stanley Kunitz (W. W. Norton, 2000). Copyright © 1978 by Stanley Kunitz. Used by permission of W. W. Norton. All rights reserved. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on July 29, 2014.

Unknown to you, I walk the cheerless shore. 
   The cutting blast, the hurl of biting brine, 
May freeze, and still, and bind the waves at war, 
   Ere you will ever know, O! Heart of mine, 
That I have sought, reflected in the blue 
    Of these sea depths, some shadow of your eyes; 
Have hoped the laughing waves would sing of you, 
   But this is all my starving sight descries—

I.
Far out at sea a sail 
    Bends to the freshening breeze, 
Yields to the rising gale, 
    That sweeps the seas; 

II. 
Yields, as a bird wind-tossed, 
    To saltish waves that fling 
Their spray, whose rime and frost
    Like crystals cling

III. 
To canvas, mast and spar, 
   Till, gleaming like a gem, 
She sinks beyond the far
   Horizon’s hem. 

IV. 
Lost to my longing sight, 
    And nothing left to me
Save an oncoming night,—
    An empty sea.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on May 30, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.