when she came on the stage, this Ella
there were rumors of hurricanes and
over the rooftops of concert stages
the moon turned red in the sky,
it was Ella, Ella.
queen Ella had come
and words spilled out
leaving a trail of witnesses smiling
amen—amen—a woman—a woman.
this three agèd woman
nightingales in her throat
and squads of horns came out
to greet her.
streams of violins and pianos
splashed their welcome
and our stained glass silences
our braided spaces
said who's that coming?
who's that knocking at the door?
whose voice lingers on
that stage gone mad with
perdido. perdido. perdido.
i lost my heart in toledooooooo.
whose voice is climbing
up this morning chimney
smoking with life
carrying her basket of words
a tisket a tasket
my little yellow
basket—i wrote a
letter to my mom and
on the way i dropped it—
was it red...no no no no
was it green...no no no no
was it blue...no no no no
just a little yellow
voice rescuing razor thin lyrics
from hopscotching dreams.
we first watched her navigating
an apollo stage amid high-stepping
we watched her watching us
shiny and pure woman
sugar and spice woman
her voice a nun's whisper
her voice pouring out
guitar thickened blues,
her voice a faraway horn
questioning the wind,
and she became Ella,
first lady of tongues
Ella cruising our veins
voice walking on water
crossed in prayer,
she became holy
a thousand sermons
concealed in her bones
as she raised them in a
carrying our sighs into
this voice, chasing the
this Ella-tonian voice soft
like four layers of lace.
when i die Ella
tell the whole joint
please, please don't talk
about me when i'm gone...
i remember waiting one nite for her appearance
audience impatient at the lateness
i remember it was april
and the flowers ran yellow
the sun downpoured yellow butterflies
and the day was yellow and silent
all of spring held us
in a single drop of blood.
when she appeared on stage
she became Nut arching over us
feet and hands placed on the stage
music flowing from her breasts
she swallowed the sun
sang confessions from the evening stars
made earth divulge her secrets
gave birth to skies in her song
remade the insistent air
and we became anointed found
inside her bop
bop bop dowa
bop bop doowaaa
bop bop dooooowaaaa
Lady. Lady. Lady.
be good. be good
to you. to us all
cuz we just some lonesome babes
in the woods
hey lady. sweetellalady
Lady. Lady. Lady. be gooooood
ELLA ELLA ELLALADY
From Like the Singing Coming Off the Drums. Copyright © 1998 by Sonia Sanchez. Used with the permission of Beacon Press.
for Michael Brown (1996–2014)
Officer, for hours I lay there.
The sun at my back.
My blood running a country
mile between the pavement
and the crown of my head.
No ambulance ever came.
It took a long time to cover my body.
There are politics to death
and here politics performs
its own autopsies. My aunties
say things like, Boy big and black as you.
Then, the prosecution rests.
My neighbors never do. They lose
sleep as the National Guard parades
down Canfield. I heard my blood
was barely dry. I heard there were soldiers
beating their shields like war cries,
my boys holding hands to hold on
through your tear gas. Heard my mother
wandered the streets,
her body trembling
between a sign of a cross
and a fist. I heard a rumor
about riots got started.
Officer, I heard that after so much blood,
the ground develops
a taste for it.
Copyright 2017 © Hafizah Geter. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Fall 2017.
Napoleon's hat is an obvious choice I guess to list as a famous hat, but that's not the hat I have in mind. That was his hat for show. I am thinking of his private bathing cap, which in all honesty wasn't much different than the one any jerk might buy at a corner drugstore now, except for two minor eccentricities. The first one isn't even funny: Simply it was a white rubber bathing cap, but too small. Napoleon led such a hectic life ever since his childhood, even farther back than that, that he never had a chance to buy a new bathing cap and still as a grown-up--well, he didn't really grow that much, but his head did: He was a pinhead at birth, and he used, until his death really, the same little tiny bathing cap that he was born in, and this meant that later it was very painful to him and gave him many headaches, as if he needed more. So, he had to vaseline his skull like crazy to even get the thing on. The second eccentricity was that it was a tricorn bathing cap. Scholars like to make a lot out of this, and it would be easy to do. My theory is simple-minded to be sure: that beneath his public head there was another head and it was a pyramid or something.
From Reckoner, published by Wesleyan University Press, 1986. Copyright © 1986 by James Tate. Reprinted with permission.
For the Poet David Henderson
Hi there. My name is George
If you bear with me
for a few minutes I
will share with you
of the 30,117 uses to which
the lowly peanut has been put
since yesterday afternoon.
If you will look at my feet you will notice
my sensible shoelaces made from unadulterated
peanut leaf composition that is biodegradable
in the extreme.
To your left you can observe the lovely Renoir
masterpiece reproduction that I have cleverly
pieced together from several million peanut
shell chips painted painstakingly so as to
accurately represent the colors of the original!
Overhead you will spot a squadron of Peanut B-52
Bombers flying due west.
I would extend my hands to greet you
at this time
except for the fact that I am holding a reserve
supply of high energy dry roasted peanuts
guaranteed to accelerate protein assimilation
precisely documented by my pocket peanut calculator;
May I ask when did you last contemplate the relationship
between the expanding peanut products industry
and the development of post-Marxian economic theory
which (Let me emphasize) need not exclude moral attrition
prehensile skills within the population age sectors
of 8 to 15?
I hope you will excuse me if I appear to be staring at you
through these functional yet high fashion and prescriptive
peanut contact lenses providing for the most
minute observation of your physical response to all of this
ultimately nutritional information.
Peanut butter peanut soap peanut margarine peanut
brick houses and house and field peanut per se well
illustrate the diversified
potential of this lowly leguminous plant
to which you may correctly refer
as the goober the pindar the groundnut
and the ground pea/let me
interrupt to take your name down on my
pocket peanut writing pad complete with matching
peanut pencil that only 3 or 4
chewing motions of the jaws will sharpen
into pyrotechnical utility
and no sweat.
Speak right into the peanut!
Copyright © 2017 by the June M. Jordan Literary Estate. Used with the permission of the June M. Jordan Literary Estate, www.junejordan.com.
Bob: Can I be your lazy eye, your wander- lust, your grave without a headstone, your bleeding gums, your buck teeth and your walk bowlegged at the knee? Can I be your fortune hunter, your glimpse of wild geese, your red russet shoes that poison the feet? Reckon this is the best of my seed. Been stripping cane and blind robbing the bees. Reckon you’ve thought of swimming the creek. Last night they came on horseback, white hoods like phantoms scanning the trees, burning torches, shattering sleep. I dragged the shotgun from the door and stepped squinting onto the porch.
Copyright © 2018 by Lauren Russell. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 7, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
translated from the Spanish by Mary Crow
My most beautiful hiding places,
places that best fit my soul’s deepest colors,
are made of all that others forgot.
They are solitary sites hollowed out in the grass’s caress,
in a shadow of wings, in a passing song;
regions whose limits swirl with the ghostly carriages
that transport the mist in the dawn,
and in whose skies names are sketched, ancient words of love,
vows burning like constellations of drunken fireflies.
Sometimes earthly villages pass, hoarse trains make camp,
a couple piles marvelous oranges at the edge of the sea,
a single relic is spread through all space.
My places would look like broken mirages,
clippings of photographs torn from an album to orient nostalgia,
but they have roots deeper than this sinking ground,
these fleeing doors, these vanishing walls.
They are enchanted islands where only I can be the magician.
And who else, if not I, is climbing the stairs towards those attics in the clouds
where the light, aflame, used to hum in the siesta’s honey,
who else will open again the big chest where the remains of an unhappy story lie,
sacrificed a thousand times only to fantasy, only to foam,
and try on the rags again
like those costumes of invincible heroes,
circle of fire that inflamed time’s scorpion?
Who cleans the windowpane with her breath and stirs the fire of the afternoon
in those rooms where the table was an altar of idolatry,
each chair, a landscape folded up after every trip,
and the bed, a stormy short cut to the other shore of dreams,
rooms deep as nets hung from the sky,
like endless embraces I slid down till I brushed the feathers of death,
until I overturned the laws of knowledge and the fall of man?
Who goes into the parks with the golden breath of each Christmas
and washes the foliage with a little gray rag that was the handkerchief for waving goodbye,
and reweaves the garlands with a thread of tears,
repeating a fantastic ritual among smashed wine glasses and guests lost in thought,
while she savors the twelve green grapes of redemption—
one for each month, one for each year, one for each century of empty indulgence—
a taste acid but not as sharp as the bread of forgetfulness?
Because who but I changes the water for all the memories?
Who inserts the present like a slash into the dreams of the past?
Who switches my ancient lamps for new ones?
My most beautiful hiding places are solitary sites where no one goes,
and where there are shadows that only come to life when I am the magician.
Mis refugios más bellos,
los lugares que se adaptan mejor a los colores últimos de mi alma,
están hechos de todo lo que los otros olvidaron.
Son sitios solitarios excavados en la caricia de la hierba,
en una sombra de alas; en una canción que pasa;
regiones cuyos límites giran con los carruajes fantasmales
que transportan la niebla en el amanecer
y en cuyos cielos se dibujan nombres, viejas frases de amor,
juramentos ardientes como constelaciones de luciérnagas ebrias.
Algunas veces pasan poblaciones terrosas, acampan roncos trenes,
una pareja junta naranjas prodigiosas en el borde del mar,
una sola reliquia se propaga por toda la extensión.
Parecerían espejismos rotos,
recortes de fotografías arrancados de un álbum para orientar a la nostalgia,
pero tienen raíces más profundas que este suelo que se hunde,
estas puertas que huyen, estas paredes que se borran.
Son islas encantadas en las que sólo yo puedo ser la hechicera.
¿Y quién si no, sube las escaleras hacia aquellos desvanes entre nubes
donde la luz zumbaba enardecida en la miel de la siesta,
vuelve a abrir el arcón donde yacen los restos de una historia inclemente,
mil veces inmolada nada más que a delirios, nada más que a espumas,
y se prueba de nuevo los pedazos
como aquellos disfraces de las protagonistas invencibles,
el círculo de fuego con el que encandilaba al escorpión del tiempo?
¿Quién limpia con su aliento los cristales y remueve la lumbre del atardecer
en aquellas habitaciones donde la mesa era un altar de idolatría,
cada silla, un paisaje replegado después de cada viaje,
y el lecho, un tormentoso atajo hacia la otra orilla de los sueños;
aposentos profundos como redes suspendidas del cielo,
como los abrazos sin fin donde me deslizaba hasta rozar las plumas de la muerte,
hasta invertir las leyes del conocimiento y la caída?
¿Quién se interna en los parques con el soplo dorado de cada Navidad
y lava los follajes con un trapito gris que fue el pañuelo de las despedidas,
y entrelaza de nuevo los guirnaldas con un hilo de lágrimas,
repitiendo un fantástico ritual entre copas trizadas y absortos comensales,
mientras paleada en las doce uvas verdes de la redención—
una por cada mes, una por cada año, una por cada siglo de vacía indulgencia—
un ácido sabor menos mordiente que el del pan del olvido?
¿Por qué quién sino yo les cambia el agua a todos los recuerdos?
¿Quién incrusta el presente como un tajo ante las proyecciones del pasado?
¿Alguien trueca mis lámparas antiguas por sus lámparas nuevas?
Mis refugios más bellos son sitios solitarios a los que nadie va
y en los que sólo hay sombras que se animan cuando soy la hechicera.
Olga Orozco, “Ballad of Forgotten Places / Balada de los lugares olvidados" from Engravings Torn from Insomnia. Copyright © 2002 by The Estate of Olga Orozco. Translation copyright © 2002 by Mary Crow. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.
Now is the time of year when bees are wild
and eccentric. They fly fast and in cramped
loop-de-loops, dive-bomb clusters of conversants
in the bright, late-September out-of-doors.
I have found their dried husks in my clothes.
They are dervishes because they are dying,
one last sting, a warm place to squeeze
a drop of venom or of honey.
After the stroke we thought would be her last
my grandmother came back, reared back and slapped
a nurse across the face. Then she stood up,
walked outside, and lay down in the snow.
Two years later there is no other way
to say, we are waiting. She is silent, light
as an empty hive, and she is breathing.
From Crave Radiance: New and Selected Poems 1990–2010. Copyright © 2010 by Elizabeth Alexander. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc. for Graywolf Press, www.graywolfpress.org.
For the community of Newtown, Connecticut,
where twenty students and six educators lost their
lives to a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary
School, December 14, 2012
Now the bells speak with their tongues of bronze. Now the bells open their mouths of bronze to say: Listen to the bells a world away. Listen to the bell in the ruins of a city where children gathered copper shells like beach glass, and the copper boiled in the foundry, and the bell born in the foundry says: I was born of bullets, but now I sing of a world where bullets melt into bells. Listen to the bell in a city where cannons from the armies of the Great War sank into molten metal bubbling like a vat of chocolate, and the many mouths that once spoke the tongue of smoke form the one mouth of a bell that says: I was born of cannons, but now I sing of a world where cannons melt into bells. Listen to the bells in a town with a flagpole on Main Street, a rooster weathervane keeping watch atop the Meeting House, the congregation gathering to sing in times of great silence. Here the bells rock their heads of bronze as if to say: Melt the bullets into bells, melt the bullets into bells. Here the bells raise their heavy heads as if to say: Melt the cannons into bells, melt the cannons into bells. Here the bells sing of a world where weapons crumble deep in the earth, and no one remembers where they were buried. Now the bells pass the word at midnight in the ancient language of bronze, from bell to bell, like ships smuggling news of liberation from island to island, the song rippling through the clouds. Now the bells chime like the muscle beating in every chest, heal the cracks in the bell of every face listening to the bells. The chimes heal the cracks in the bell of the moon. The chimes heal the cracks in the bell of the world.
From Bullets Into Bells: Poets and Citizens Respond to Gun Violence (Beacon Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Martín Espada. Used with permission of the author and Beacon Press.