—Bjöm Håkansson

The cry I bring down from the hills
belongs to a girl still burning
inside my head. At daybreak
      she burns like a piece of paper.
She burns like foxfire
in a thigh-shaped valley.
A skirt of flames
dances around her
at dusk.
          We stand with our hands
hanging at our sides,
while she burns
          like a sack of dry ice.
She burns like oil on water.
She burns like a cattail torch
dipped in gasoline.
She glows like the fat tip
of a banker’s cigar,
      silent as quicksilver.
A tiger under a rainbow
   at nightfall.
She burns like a shot glass of vodka.
She burns like a field of poppies
at the edge of a rain forest.
She rises like dragonsmoke
    to my nostrils.
She burns like a burning bush
driven by a godawful wind.

Copyright © 1988 Yusef Komunyakaa. From Dien Cai Dau (Wesleyan Poetry Series, 1988). Used with permission of the publisher, Wesleyan University Press.

 to Tony Earley

Strange how I remember standing on a limb
that curved out over open space that fell
away down slopes I’d never climb back out of
had I fallen. And once, when I was six,
I almost left my mother’s car—outside a bar—
because I knew the nearby bottomlands
would reach the river, and I could disappear
from her and find another family—just
show up at some stranger’s door, be taken
in, and live a different life. That’s how
I thought back then—a determined little cuss,
I’m told, who hid my fossils in the snaky
roots of trees and sometimes climbed up
high inside a thick magnolia, where I
refused to answer when my name was
called. I think about the times I might have
died, my infant brother sliding from the seat
to slam against the floorboard, the car
stuck sideways down a ditch embankment,
the icy nights near swollen creeks and rivers,
the woods a child could lose his life in
trying to escape. I guess that’s why I
listen toward the farthest trees as if a prayer
were stirring only I can hear. Perhaps its
single word is mend, a word that all my
other words have felt a kinship with.
Evenings when I sit out back, I think my
thoughts have always been inclining toward
a self whose soul has found a place to be
alone, away from others I don’t trust,
content to watch the falling leaves. Dull
image—perhaps cliché—but I’ll take it
nonetheless. The truth is: here we are
inside these lives we sometimes do not
recognize, these lives we don’t deserve.
So many selves we almost came to be
never came to be. So many words too true
to whisper to ourselves we go on listening
toward. So many bridges never crossed,
others stepped back from. So much I’ll
never understand about the reasons
I survived when others didn’t. Years
ago I found a book, like a gift, fallen
between two shelves. Inside, someone
had penciled, Language isn’t sad but
meaning is. I’ve held those words as
close as any I have known, having felt
a pull toward nothingness, toward lack
of anyone or anything that might repair
my ruined thoughts, and just as often
I have stood in shallow creeks, waiting
on my world to end, assured I have no
place, no name, no face, no words to say
the source of what I’m always reaching
toward. I have followed driftwood,
imagined my own dead self assigned
to stir above the silt. I’ve watched
the motions course along through shadows,
soon to reach a bend and carry on unseen.
Still, I have a faith that what is next is what
the story most requires so that the shape
of time allotted, ordained to be, can then
reveal itself. Bend, mend—the echo isn’t
lost on me—and giving in to where I’m
being taken has been the way I’ve come
to know my life, to speak its mysteries.
My guess is such an explanation overlooks
as much as it imagines. I’m sure I’ve
simplified the coarser parts, smoothed
them over as a stream refines a stone
through centuries. I’ve left out what is
obvious to anyone who knows or cares
to know the fullness of my life. Even so,
once I hid beneath a car, half an hour,
refusing to be left somewhere I didn’t
want to be—knowing days would pass,
my mother drunk. I was caged and fierce
despite the gravel shards that scraped
my arms and face when finally she caught
my leg and jerked my body out. So many
times another story line became the thing
that almost did me in. My papaw
snatched me from a pigpen where I
tumbled in one morning while he milked
the cows. So many times I’ve wondered
what the reasons are for why my life
was spared. Curses were all around me—
guns, dynamite, darkening fields, coyotes,
waterfalls, snake dens, hard-driven men.
I stood on snowy hillsides and almost
turned to follow logging roads wherever
they might lead. I guess I’m saying that
I came to where I am by way of almost
going somewhere else. I hope you’ll see
how I have tried to find a word to hold
between our broken souls, a word no voice
has ever found that sounds like wind that
bends and mends the sage grass in its wake,
perhaps the Holy Spirit’s whispering
revealing countless mercies granted all
the times I didn’t see its presence leading
me to where I am, to who I am, this self
I never thought I’d be, who found a language
meaning can rejoice in—a kingdom I’m still
wandering,
                  the only home I call my own.

Copyright © 2017 Jeff Hardin. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Spring 2017.

Wind and rain, here
are the keys
to the house—
a missing door,
two broken windows.

Birds, for you a room
with a view—the bedroom,
which once held
the moon and stars
out of sight.

Ants and worms,
such sad witnesses,
the grass uncut,
the yard overgrown
are again yours to inherit.

And you, the leaves whirling
across buckled floors,
please take
my father’s voice
whispering

May you live forever,
may you bury me.

Copyright © 2020 by Hayan Charara. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 25, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

for Maya

We meet at a coffee shop. So much time has passed and who is time? Who is waiting by the windowsill? We make plans to go to a museum but we go to a bookshop instead. We’re leaning in, learning how to talk to each other again. I say, I’m obsessed with my grief and she says, I’m always in mourning. She laughs and it’s an extension of her body. She laughs and it moves the whole room. I say, My home is an extension of my body and she says, Most days are better with a long walk. The world moves without us—so we tend to a garden, a graveyard, a pot on the windowsill. Death is a comfort because it says, Transform but don’t hurry. There is a tenderness to growing older and we are listening for it. Steadier ways to move through the world and we are learning them. A way to touch your own body. A touch that says, Dig deeper. There, in the ground, there is our memory. I am near enough my roots. Time is my friend. Tomorrow is a place we are together.

Copyright © 2021 by Sanna Wani. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 15, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

the open living-room windows because the heat’s on too high in here and I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss—we want more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I'm gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you.

From What the Living Do, copyright © 1998 by Marie Howe. Used by permission of W. W. Norton. All rights reserved.

The Blue Dress—died on August 6,
2015, along with the little blue flowers,
all silent. Once the petals looked up.
Now small pieces of dust. I wonder
whether they burned the dress or just
the body? I wonder who lifted her up
into the fire? I wonder if her hair
brushed his cheek before it grew into a
bonfire? I wonder what sound the body
made as it burned? They dyed her hair
for the funeral, too black. She looked
like a comic character. I waited for the
next comic panel, to see the speech
bubble and what she might say. But her
words never came and we were left
with the stillness of blown glass. The
irreversibility of rain. And millions of
little blue flowers. Imagination is having
to live in a dead person’s future. Grief is
wearing a dead person’s dress forever.

Copyright © 2018 by Victoria Chang. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 15, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

What was unforeseen is now a bird orbiting this field.

What wasn’t a possibility is present in our arms.

It shall be and it begins with you.

Our often-misunderstood kind of love deems dangerous.
How it frightens and confounds and enrages.
How strange, unfamiliar.

Our love carries all those and the contrary.
It is most incandescent.

So, I vow to be brave.
Clear a path through jungles of shame and doubt and fear.
I’m done with silence. I proclaim.

It shall be and it sings from within.

Truly we are enraptured
With Whitmanesque urge and urgency.

I vow to love in all seasons.
When you’re summer, I’m watermelon balled up in a sky-blue bowl.
When I’m autumn, you’re foliage ablaze in New England.
When in winter, I am the tender scarf of warm mercies.
When in spring, you are the bourgeoning buds.

I vow to love you in all places.
High plains, prairies, hills and lowlands.
In our dream-laden bed,
Cradled in the nest
Of your neck.
Deep in the plum.

It shall be and it flows with you.

We’ll leap over the waters and barbaric rooftops.

You embrace my resilient metropolis.
I adore your nourishing wilderness.

I vow to love you in primal ways.
I vow to love you in infinite forms.

In our separateness and composites.
To dust and stars and the ever after.

Intrepid travelers, lovers, and family
We have arrived.

Look. The bird has come home to roost.

From Threshold (CavanKerry Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Joseph O. Legaspi. Used with the permission of the author.

 

Rusty chains coiled in the cardboard box
           I carry to the dumpster & all I am

Thinking is my face is falling off & is yours
           Under it & or is someone’s I don’t

Even know—further down, a stranger,
           A deadman, a saint, or just a sprawl

Of gravel & then I’m thinking this other thing—
           There’s a snake in this box, blacktailed

& then more: there’s a bottomless immensity
           Beneath my feet & what a sacrifice

It is each day just to get by, this alchemy,
           This fevered life: illness & love,

Lockjaw & slow motion kidnappings—it is what
           It always is—chronic dying, shivering with

Unbelievable joy & not knowing a damn thing
           About anything as lightning

Jigsaws the horizon. At the garbage pile, I pause—
           Take a deep breath & sit on the curb.

Like they’re being sucked into the sky,
           The trees’ limbs lift. No cars on

The street—so quiet. So hushed I can
           Hardly breathe. Thousands of lives

Are piled into all this dirt we walk
           On & I’m waiting, saving it all for you.

Copyright © 2014 Alex Lemon. “I Knew You Before You Were” originally appeared in The Wish Book (Milkweed Editions, 2014). Reprinted with permission of the author.

 

Today I woke up in my body
and wasn’t that body anymore.

It’s more like my dog—
for the most part obedient,
warming to me
when I slip it goldfish or toast,

but it sheds.
Can’t get past a simple sit,
stay, turn over. House-trained, but not entirely.

This doesn’t mean it’s time to say goodbye.

I’ve realized the estrangement
is temporary, and for my own good:

My body’s work to break the world
into bricks and sticks
has turned inward.

As all the doors in the world
grow heavy
a big white bed is being put up in my heart.

Copyright © 2017 by Max Ritvo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 19, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

I loved you before I was born.
It doesn't make sense, I know.

I saw your eyes before I had eyes to see.
And I've lived longing 
for your ever look ever since.
That longing entered time as this body. 
And the longing grew as this body waxed.
And the longing grows as the body wanes.
The longing will outlive this body.

I loved you before I was born.
It doesn't make sense, I know.

Long before eternity, I caught a glimpse
of your neck and shoulders, your ankles and toes.
And I've been lonely for you from that instant.
That loneliness appeared on earth as this body. 
And my share of time has been nothing 
but your name outrunning my ever saying it clearly. 
Your face fleeing my ever
kissing it firmly once on the mouth.

In longing, I am most myself, rapt,
my lamp mortal, my light 
hidden and singing. 

I give you my blank heart.
Please write on it
what you wish. 

From The Undressing: Poems by Li-Young Lee. Copyright © 2018 by Li-Young Lee. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

My mother used to say the heart makes music, but I've never found the keys. Maybe it's the way I was brought into the world: dragged across a river in the night's quiet breathing, trampling through trash and tired runaways as if tearing a window's curtains. We were barred from entry but repeatedly returned, each time becoming a darker part of a tunnel or a truck bed. The sky was so still the stars flickered like carbide lamps. We told time through the landmarks of the dead like cataphiles—the warren of a little girl’s murder, the wolf’s irrigation pipe. When you see enough unwinding, beating is replaced by the safety of wings. This isn't goodness. The voiceless are never neutral. Bones sway to elegy. Ebony burrows into the earth as a refugee. I grew up, eventually, but the sun was like a cliff with a false bottom: you'd drop and come out the top again. Enough carcasses draped over the dry brush. Enough water towers empty as busted rattles. When you're a child, the heart has a stiff neck and demands to be played. Later, it limps. Before my knees could begin to ache, I crawled to the levee looking for a broken string. Some wayward zil. I stretched my heart over a manhole and drummed it with broken pliers. It wouldn’t even quaver. It snapped back into a seed, dry and shriveled and blank.

Copyright © 2018 by Rodney Gomez. This poem originally appeared in Citizens of the Mausoleum (Sundress Publications, 2018). Used with permission of the author.

 

Consider these parallel histories: An emperor once declared war on the sea, sent his men drowning toward victory, & the Red Sea is named for the dead algae blooming within it. Can you tell me the difference? Maybe I too am red for all the slaughter carried within me, bastard child of water, lake swelled with rotting fish. What are you searching for when you drag me from you? Your vein a riverbed dredged of impossible children. Cells tested for the echo of your mother’s name. Once you were carried in your mother, her belly a lake. If the child before you & all those after sunk, are you the blood or the water? A boat or the first unfinished wolf, wrenching itself from the sea? A bridge too carries bodies & the water carries it. Does this make the bridge a mother or a child? Your mother once told you that if she gave you life she could take it back. Does this make her the bridge or its necklace of nooses? The river or its surface tension? Liquor is lighter than water & so is gasoline. Both burn. Both stained-glass a surface in the sun. Common language says we drown in liquor, perhaps this means your mother is a lake beneath another’s surface. What does that make me? A bridge or a glass? Your mother’s mother? Sometimes I worry that you’ve forgotten me. Dry & sober as a boat. Your survival a matter of surface tension. Maybe you believe that you are the bridge, suspended above all your dead. Don’t forget, everything erodes. A canyon is just a river’s bastard child. Bruise deep in the dirt. All of man’s inventions topple, each bridge’s arches bullied down to cliché rust. Another history blooming the water red.

Copyright © 2019 by torrin a. greathouse. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 6, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

I read a Korean poem
with the line “Today you are the youngest
you will ever be.” Today I am the oldest
I have been. Today we drink
buckwheat tea. Today I have heat
in my apartment. Today I think
about the word chada in Korean.
It means cold. It means to be filled with.
It means to kick. To wear. Today we’re worn.
Today you wear the cold. Your chilled skin.
My heart kicks on my skin. Someone said
winter has broken his windows. The heat inside
and the cold outside sent lightning across glass.
Today my heart wears you like curtains. Today
it fills with you. The window in my room
is full of leaves ready to fall. Chada, you say. It’s tea.
We drink. It is cold outside.

From A Cruelty Special to Our Species (Ecco, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Emily Jungmin Yoon. Used with the permission of Ecco.

I stood on one foot for three minutes & didn’t tilt
the scales. Do you remember how quickly
 
we scrambled up an oak leaning out over the creek,
how easy to trust the water to break
 
our glorious leaps? The body remembers
every wish one lives for or doesn’t, or even horror.
 
Our dance was a rally in sunny leaves, then quick
as anything, Johnny Dickson was up opening
 
his arms wide in the tallest oak, waving
to the sky, & in the flick of an eye
 
he was a buffalo fish gigged, pleading
for help, voiceless. Bigger & stronger,
 
he knew every turn in the creek past his back door,
but now he was cooing like a brown dove
 
in a trap of twigs. A water-honed spear
of kindling jutted up, as if it were the point
 
of our folly & humbug on a Sunday afternoon, right?
Five of us carried him home through the thicket,
 
our feet cutting a new path, running in sleep
years later. We were young as condom-balloons
 
flowering crabapple trees in double bloom
& had a world of baleful hope & breath.
 
Does Johnny run fingers over the thick welt
on his belly, days we were still invincible?
 
Sometimes I spend half a day feeling for bones
in my body, humming a half-forgotten
 
ballad on a park bench a long ways from home.
The body remembers the berry bushes
 
heavy with sweetness shivering in a lonely woods,
but I doubt it knows words live longer
 
than clay & spit of flesh, as rock-bottom love.
Is it easier to remember pleasure
 
or does hurt ease truest hunger?
That summer, rocking back & forth, uprooting
 
what’s to come, the shadow of the tree
weighed as much as a man.

Copyright © 2019 by Yusef Komunyakaa. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 1, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

You should never put the new antlers of a deer
to your nose and smell them. They have little
insects that crawl into the nose and devour the brain.
—Kenkō, Essays in Idleness
 
Consider that the insects might be metaphor.
That the antlers’ wet velvet scent
might be Proust’s madeleine dipped into a cup of tea
adorned with centrifugal patterns of azalea
and willow—those fleshing the hill behind this room,
walls wreathed in smoke and iron, musk
of the deer head above the mantle. He was nailed in place
before I was me. Through the floorboards,
a caterpillar, stripped from its chrysalis by red ants,
wakes, as if to a house aflame. Silk
frays like silver horns, like thoughts branching from a brain.
After the MRI, my father’s chosen father squinted
at the wormholes raveling the screen
and said, Be good to one another. Love, how inelegantly
we leave. How insistent we are to return in one form
or another. I wish all of this and none of it
for us: more sun, more tempest, more
fear and fearlessness—more of that which is tempered, carved,
and worn, creased into overlapping planes. The way
I feel the world’s aperture enlarge in each morning’s
patchwork blur of light and colour while I fumble
for my glasses beside the bed—lenses smudged
by both our hands. When they were alive,
those antlers held up the sky. Now what do they hold?

Copyright © 2018 by Michael Prior. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 18, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

It's not the first time
we've bitten into a peach.
But now at the same time
it splits--half for each.
Our "then" is inside its "now,"
its halved pit unfleshed--

what was refreshed.
Two happinesses unfold
from one joy, folioed.
In a hotel room
our moment lies
with its ode inside,
a red tinge,
with a hinge.

From Cornucopia by Molly Peacock. Copyright © 2002 by Molly Peacock. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

                                       (adore, verb from Latin, adorare,
                                       from ad- ‘to’ + orare- ‘speak, call pray’)

You lie asleep beside me,
one hand on the pillow and cupped
at your mouth, as if to tell a secret.

As if you might say in your sleep
what you could never find 
words for awake.

Or as if you called
across a din of other voices,
or the howl of empty space. Calling

because there are no bells 
to strike the hours where we live. And I must know
when to kneel and when to rise.
What to praise and what to curse.
I must know how to bless
and how to receive blessing. 

One hand on your pillow and cupped
at your mouth,
as if you spoke a word
you’d kept to yourself all day, waiting 
for your most unguarded moment
to say, a thought meant for me, meant to be
shared between us this way,
sealed this way, a secret
no voice can carry without destroying,
a word without carriage, except conveyed
in the peace of your body and face,

a word born out of your deepest rest, a word
which only my own deepest breathing
and happiest rest beside you,
face to face, free of thinking, can sustain.

Maybe you had to be asleep
to say what you knew to be true.
Or what you had to say
you might not could bear to hear,
and so you must say so softly
I must close my eyes, I must turn
inward, to where you’ve made a room
and a bed inside me, to receive it. 

You say:
We cannot look upon Love’s face without dying.
So we face each other to see Love’s look.
And thus third-person souls
suddenly stand at gaze
and the lover and the beloved,
second- and first-persons,
You and I, eye
to eye, are born. 
But such refraction, multiplying gazes, strews
Love’s eye upon the objects of the world,
as upon the objects of our room. 

My brush, hairpin, mirror, book,
your loving look finds each of these things
lovable, I can see. Things
by any other measure poor, your look crowns
to make them your heart’s royalty.
Face, blush, breath, eyes, evanescent,
pledged to death, nowhere stored,
Love’s look gathers within its fondling
to adore.

This strewing and gathering
of Love’s face, of Love’s gaze, and only this,
begun in death’s audience, is the founding
action, call it the fundamental
paradise…did I say paradise?
I meant paradox…the fundamental paradox
of the breaths we breathe,
the thoughts we witness,
the kisses we exchange,
and every poem you write.

From The Undressing: Poems by Li-Young Lee. Copyright © 2018 by Li-Young Lee. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

is even more fun than going to San Sebastian, Irún, Hendaye, Biarritz, Bayonne
or being sick to my stomach on the Travesera de Gracia in Barcelona
partly because in your orange shirt you look like a better happier St. Sebastian
partly because of my love for you, partly because of your love for yoghurt
partly because of the fluorescent orange tulips around the birches
partly because of the secrecy our smiles take on before people and statuary
it is hard to believe when I’m with you that there can be anything as still
as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front of it
in the warm New York 4 o’clock light we are drifting back and forth
between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles

and the portrait show seems to have no faces in it at all, just paint
you suddenly wonder why in the world anyone ever did them
                                                                                                              I look
at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world
except possibly for the Polish Rider occasionally and anyway it’s in the Frick
which thank heavens you haven’t gone to yet so we can go together for the first time
and the fact that you move so beautifully more or less takes care of Futurism
just as at home I never think of the Nude Descending a Staircase or
at a rehearsal a single drawing of Leonardo or Michelangelo that used to wow me
and what good does all the research of the Impressionists do them
when they never got the right person to stand near the tree when the sun sank
or for that matter Marino Marini when he didn’t pick the rider as carefully
as the horse
                               it seems they were all cheated of some marvelous experience
which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I’m telling you about it

From The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara by Frank O’Hara, copyright © 1971 by Maureen Granville-Smith, Administratrix of the Estate of Frank O’Hara, copyright renewed 1999 by Maureen O’Hara Granville-Smith and Donald Allen. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

We carry tears in our eyes: good-bye father, good-bye mother

We carry soil in small bags: may home never fade in our hearts

We carry names, stories, memories of our villages, fields, boats

We carry scars from proxy wars of greed

We carry carnage of mining, droughts, floods, genocides

We carry dust of our families and neighbors incinerated in mushroom clouds

We carry our islands sinking under the sea

We carry our hands, feet, bones, hearts and best minds for a new life

We carry diplomas: medicine, engineer, nurse, education, math, poetry, even if they mean nothing to the other shore

We carry railroads, plantations, laundromats, bodegas, taco trucks, farms, factories, nursing homes, hospitals, schools, temples…built on our ancestors’ backs

We carry old homes along the spine, new dreams in our chests

We carry yesterday, today and tomorrow

We’re orphans of the wars forced upon us

We’re refugees of the sea rising from industrial wastes

And we carry our mother tongues
(ai)حب  (hubb), ליבע (libe), amor, love
平安 (ping’an), سلام ( salaam), shalom, paz, peace
希望 (xi’wang), أمل (’amal), hofenung, esperanza, hope, hope, hope

As we drift…in our rubber boats…from shore…to shore…to shore…

Originally published in New American Poetry. Copyright © 2018 by Wang Ping. Used with the permission of the author.

Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
are you.
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.
Remember.

“Remember.” Copyright © 1983 by Joy Harjo from She Had Some Horses by Joy Harjo. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

I know I’m godless when
my thirst converts water                into wasps, my country a carpet
                                                            I finger for crumbs. A country
my grandmother breeds
dogs instead of daughters             because only one can be called
                                                            home. I am trained to lose accents,
to keep a pregnancy
or cancel it out with                       another man. My tongue is
                                                            a twin, one translating
the other’s silence. Here
is my lung’s list of needs:               how to hold water
                                                            like a woman & not
drown. I want men
to stop writing &                            become mothers. I promise this
                                                            is the last time I call my mother
to hear her voice
beside mine. I want                        the privilege of a history
                                                            to hand back unworn
to grow out of
my mother’s touch                         like a dress from
                                                            childhood. Every time
I flirt with girls, I say
I know my way around                   a wound. I say let’s bang
                                                            open like doors, answer to
god. I unpin from
my skin, leave it to                          age in my closet & swing
                                                            from the dark, a wrecking
ball gown. In the closet
urns of ashes:                                   we cremated my grandfather
                                                            on a stovetop, stirred
every nation we tried
to bury him in was                          a war past calling itself
                                                            one. I stay closeted with
him, his scent echoing
in the urn, weeks-old                     ginger & leeks, leaks
                                                            of light where his bones halved
& healed. With small
hands, I puzzled                              him back together. I hid from
                                                            his shadow in closets
his feet like a chicken’s,
jellied bone & meatless.                His favorite food was chicken
                                                            feet, bones shallow in the meat
When he got dementia,
he flirted with my mother              he mouthed for my breasts
                                                            like an infant
We poured milk
into his eyeholes                             until he saw everything
                                                            neck-deep in white
the Chinese color
of mourning, bad                             luck, though the doctor
                                                            says everything is
genetics. I lock myself in
the smallest rooms that fit             in my mind, my grandfather’s:
                                                            a house we hired back from
fire. So I’ll forever
have a mother, I become                a daughter who goes by god. I urn
                                                            my ghosts, know each by a name
my own.

Copyright © 2019 by K-Ming Chang. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 22, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

My father’s hopes travel with me

years after he died. Someday

we will learn how to live.  All of us

surviving without violence

never stop dreaming how to cure it.

What changes? Crossing a small street

in Doha Souk, nut shops shuttered,

a handkerchief lies crumpled in the street,

maroon and white, like one my father had,

from Jordan.  Perfectly placed

in his pocket under his smile, for years.

He would have given it to anyone.

How do we continue all these days?

Copyright © 2015 Naomi Shihab Nye. Used by permission of the author.

Love remains a kind of present tense. This is how we describe the scenes in photographs—as though the actions in them were still happening. My father is throwing a rock in this picture. My father keeps lions in his chest & they rip apart a gazelle in this picture.

A man throwing a rock; the image holds an old grammar. This rock has yet to leave the hand, to measure the horizontal span from A to B. Nor has it completed the vertical distance from first line to last line, riding a tangle of syntax. The photograph captures a skirmish in the West Bank town of Nablus; the man hurling the rock is my father insofar as Juliet is the sun.

From You Ask Me to Talk About the Interior. Copyright © 2016 by Carolina Ebeid. Used with the permission of the author.

Christmas Eve, 2016

Before everyone died – in my family – first definition I learned was – my mother’s maiden name, ULANDAY – which literally means – of the rain – and biology books remind us – the pouring has a pattern –  has purpose – namesake means release – for my mother meant, flee – meant leave – know exactly what parts of you – slip away – drained sediment of a body – is how a single mama feels – on the graveyard shift – only god is awake –  is where my – family banked itself – a life rooted in rosaries – like nuns in barricade – scream – People Power – one out of five – leave to a new country – the women in my family hone – in my heart – like checkpoints – which is what they know – which is like a halt  – not to be confused for – stop – which is what happened to my ma’s breath– when she went home – for the last time – I didn’t get to – hold her hand as she died – I said I tried – just translates to – I couldn’t make it – in time – I tell myself – ocean salt and tear salt – are one and the same – I press my eyes shut – cup ghost howl – cheeks splint wood worn – which is to say – learn to make myself a harbor – anyway – once I saw a pamphlet that said – what to do when your parent is dead –  I couldn’t finish reading – but I doubt it informs the audience – what will happen – which is to say – you will pour your face & hands – & smother your mother’s scream on everything – you touch – turn eyelids into oars – go, paddle to find her.

Copyright © 2019 by Kay Ulanday Barrett. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 8, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

for Maya

We meet at a coffee shop. So much time has passed and who is time? Who is waiting by the windowsill? We make plans to go to a museum but we go to a bookshop instead. We’re leaning in, learning how to talk to each other again. I say, I’m obsessed with my grief and she says, I’m always in mourning. She laughs and it’s an extension of her body. She laughs and it moves the whole room. I say, My home is an extension of my body and she says, Most days are better with a long walk. The world moves without us—so we tend to a garden, a graveyard, a pot on the windowsill. Death is a comfort because it says, Transform but don’t hurry. There is a tenderness to growing older and we are listening for it. Steadier ways to move through the world and we are learning them. A way to touch your own body. A touch that says, Dig deeper. There, in the ground, there is our memory. I am near enough my roots. Time is my friend. Tomorrow is a place we are together.

Copyright © 2021 by Sanna Wani. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 15, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

What had been treacherous the first time 
had become second nature, releasing 
the emergency brake, then rolling backwards 
in little bursts, braking the whole way down
the long steep drive. Back then 
we lived on the top of a hill.
 
I was leaving—the thing we both knew 
and didn’t speak of all summer. While you 
were at work, I built a brown skyline of boxes, 
sealed them with a roll of tape 
that made an incessant ripping sound.
We were cheerful at dinner and unusually kind.
At night we slept under a single sheet,
our bodies a furnace if curled together.
 
It was July. I could feel my pupils contract
when I went outside. Back then I thought only about 
how you wouldn’t come with me. 
Now I consider what it took for you to help me go. 
On that last day. When I stood
in a wrinkled dress with aching arms.
When there was only your mouth at my ear 
whispering to get in the truck, then wait 
until I was calm enough to turn the key. 
 
Only then did we know. How it felt 
to have loved to the end, and then past the very end.
 
What did you do, left up there in the empty house?
I don’t know why. I 
don’t know how we keep living 
in a world that never explains why. 
 

Copyright © 2017 by Jennifer Grotz. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 12, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

She is neither pink nor pale,
    And she never will be all mine;
She learned her hands in a fairy-tale,
    And her mouth on a valentine.

She has more hair than she needs;
    In the sun 'tis a woe to me!
And her voice is a string of colored beads,
    Or steps leading into the sea.

She loves me all that she can, 
    And her ways to my ways resign; 
But she was not made for any man, 
    And she never will be all mine.

From Collected Poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay, published by Harper & Brothers Publishers. Copyright © 1956 by Norma Millay Ellis.

Wanting to be that place where inner
and outer meet, this morning
I’m listening to the river inside—
also to the river out the window, river
of sun and branch shadow, muskrat
and mallard, heron, and the rattled cry
of the kingfisher. Out there is a tree
whose roots the river has washed so often
the tree stretches beyond itself, its spirit
like mine, leaning out over the water, held
only by the poised astonishment
of being here. This morning, listening
to the river inside, I’m sinking into a stillness
where what can’t be said stirs beneath
currents of image and memory, below strata
of muons and quarks, now rushes, now hushes
and pools, now casts a net of bright light
so loosely woven there’s a constellation
afloat on the surface of the river, so still
I can almost hear it weave in and out—
interstellar, intercellular—and isn’t it
truly all one, one world, no in or out, no here
or there, seamless, as a lily about to open
from just here into everywhere, is. Just is.
Restful lily. Lucky lily. To bloom must feel
like a river’s brightening at daybreak,
or a slow kiss, a throb in the elapse of time,
a shudder of heron shadow flying over
shallows that are merely the apparent
skim of a depth whose bottomless surface
seeps everywhere, bloom and retraction,
an anchored flow that upholds city
and cathedral, bridge and gate,
Orion, odd toad in the Amazon, blue dragonfly,
what it is to love... Spoil a river, you spoil all this.

From Not Hearing the Wood Thrush (LSU Press, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Margaret Gibson. Used with the permission of the author.

translated from the German by Edward Snow

Again and again, even though we know love’s landscape
and the little churchyard with its lamenting names
and the terrible reticent gorge in which the others
end: again and again the two of us walk out together
under the ancient trees, lay ourselves down again and again
among the flowers, and look up into the sky.

“Again and again, even though we know love’s landscape” from Uncollected Poems by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Edward Snow. Translation copyright © 1996 by Edward Snow.

These poems
they are things that I do
in the dark
reaching for you
whoever you are
and
are you ready?
 
These words
they are stones in the water
running away
 
These skeletal lines
they are desperate arms for my longing and love.
 
I am a stranger
learning to worship the strangers
around me
 
whoever you are
whoever I may become.
 

Copyright © 2017 June Jordan from We’re On: A June Jordan Reader (Alice James Books, 2017). Used with permission of the publisher.

the poem begins not where the knife enters
but where the blade twists.
Some wounds cannot be hushed
no matter the way one writes of blood
& what reflection arrives in its pooling.
The poem begins with pain as a mirror
inside of which I adjust a tie the way my father taught me
before my first funeral & so the poem begins
with old grief again at my neck. On the radio,
a singer born in a place where children watch the sky
for bombs is trying to sell me on love
as something akin to war.
I have no lie to offer as treacherous as this one.
I was most like the bullet when I viewed the body as a door.
I’m past that now. No one will bury their kin
when desire becomes a fugitive
between us. There will be no folded flag
at the doorstep. A person only gets to be called a widow once,
and then they are simply lonely. The bluest period.
Gratitude, not for love itself, but for the way it can end
without a house on fire.
This is how I plan to leave next.
Unceremonious as birth in a country overrun
by the ungrateful living. The poem begins with a chain
of well-meaning liars walking one by one
off the earth’s edge. That’s who died
and made me king. Who died and made you.

Copyright © 2019 by Hanif Abdurraqib. From A Fortune For Your Disaster (Tin House Books, 2019). Used with permission of the author and Tin House Books. 

To everything, there is a season of parrots. Instead of feathers, we searched the sky for meteors on our last night.  Salamanders use the stars to find their way home. Who knew they could see that far, fix the tiny beads of their eyes on distant arrangements of lights so as to return to wet and wild nests? Our heads tilt up and up and we are careful to never look at each other. You were born on a day of peaches splitting from so much rain and the slick smell of fresh tar and asphalt pushed over a cracked parking lot. You were strong enough—even as a baby—to clutch a fistful of thistle and the sun himself was proud to light up your teeth when they first swelled and pushed up from your gums. And this is how I will always remember you when we are covered up again: by the pale mica flecks on your shoulders. Some thrown there from your own smile. Some from my own teeth. There are not enough jam jars to can this summer sky at night. I want to spread those little meteors on a hunk of still-warm bread this winter. Any trace left on the knife will make a kitchen sink like that evening air

the cool night before
star showers: so sticky so
warm so full of light
 

Copyright © 2017 by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 7, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Out here, there’s a bowing even the trees are doing.
                 Winter’s icy hand at the back of all of us.
Black bark, slick yellow leaves, a kind of stillness that feels
so mute it’s almost in another year.

I am a hearth of spiders these days: a nest of trying.

We point out the stars that make Orion as we take out
       the trash, the rolling containers a song of suburban thunder.

It’s almost romantic as we adjust the waxy blue
       recycling bin until you say, Man, we should really learn
some new constellations.

And it’s true. We keep forgetting about Antlia, Centaurus,
       Draco, Lacerta, Hydra, Lyra, Lynx.

But mostly we’re forgetting we’re dead stars too, my mouth is full
       of dust and I wish to reclaim the rising—

to lean in the spotlight of streetlight with you, toward
       what’s larger within us, toward how we were born.

Look, we are not unspectacular things.
       We’ve come this far, survived this much. What

would happen if we decided to survive more? To love harder?

What if we stood up with our synapses and flesh and said, No.
     No, to the rising tides.

Stood for the many mute mouths of the sea, of the land?

What would happen if we used our bodies to bargain

for the safety of others, for earth,
                 if we declared a clean night, if we stopped being terrified,

if we launched our demands into the sky, made ourselves so big
people could point to us with the arrows they make in their minds,

rolling their trash bins out, after all of this is over?

From The Carrying (Milkweed Editions, 2018) by Ada Limón. Copyright © 2018 by Ada Limón. Used with the permission of Milkweed Editions. milkweed.org.

	haunted by
wholeness—
	bright debris sibilant
beneath skin tug-of-warring
	with gravity, we
harvest shine
	from the caves of
mouths & crevices
	of eyes incandescent
as we remember
	the most massive
flares among us,
	detonate inside
each other to hold
	tiny supernovae
in our arms. Crushed
	bodies craving fusion
keep us brimming
	with enough energy
to pass on,
	keep us lit & lying
to ourselves about
	the eventual & sudden
ways we black hole—
	it already happened, it’s happening
anyway, to happen soon,
           scattering all that we think
matters so much now
	for another radiant giant to gather
then fling across galaxies
	again—reconstituted
& scorched clean,
           new turmoil begging
from the inside out
           to burn.

From Starshine & Clay (Four Way Books, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Kamilah Aisha Moon. Used with the permission of Four Way Books.

                 “This is the only kingdom.
                 The kingdom of touching:
                 the touches of the disappearing, things.”
                                            —Aracelis Girmay

                                                           

When I see wax, I think of submission.

I think of afterlife. I think of the sky
& what it leaves behind. I used to think

myself a doe, then a hurricane. The muscle
inside the tongue. The prayer-sore. Again

& again, something foreign. Fugitive. So briefly

I was a girl. A young woman. A mule, mother, arm-
rest—the sky resting on a bridge overlooking

the river. That cold, cold water. I waded in,
three seconds to numb. & nothing. I can’t give in

to love. What will become of us

when it’s the child that is imagined?
Our gods: the fields under a haze

of mosquitoes. And lo, the stars’ white
fire. And lo, the splintered spines of spruce

trees. And lo, the disappearing hours.

I stretch my neck into the next life.
I breathe in the cherry blossoms & bomb-

scent of aftermath. I don’t care why
I didn’t want this. I lean into myself.

I take what is offered until I forget

I am what is offered. With the orchard
& the apple I didn’t name. There is

an hour that bears my grave already.
It’s late. I can’t help but wish I wasn’t

lonely. That I wasn’t made to disappear.

Originally published in Guernica. Copyright © 2018 by Chelsea Dingman. Used with the permission of the author.

When I come home they rush to me, the flies, & would take me, they would take me in their small arms if I were smaller, so fly this way, that way in joy, they welcome me. They kiss my face one two, they say, Come in, come in. Sit at this table. Sit. They hold one hand inside the other & say, Eat. They share the food, sit close to me, sit. As I chew they touch my hair, they touch their hands to my crumbs, joining me. The rim of my cup on which they perch. The milky lake above which. They ask for a story: How does it begin? Before, I was a child, & so on. My story goes on too long. I only want to look into their faces. The old one sits still, I sit with it, but the others busy themselves now with work & after the hour which maybe to them is a week, a month, I sleep in the room between the open window & the kitchen, dreaming though I were the Sierra, though I were their long lost sister, they understand that when I wake I will have to go. One helps me with my coat, another rides my shoulder to the train. Come with me, come, I say. No, no, it says, & waits with me there the rest whistling, touching my hair, though maybe these are its last seconds on earth in the light in the air is this love, though it is little, my errand, & for so little I left my house again.

Copyright © 2020 by Aracelis Girmay. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 2, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

the open living-room windows because the heat’s on too high in here and I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss—we want more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I'm gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you.

From What the Living Do, copyright © 1998 by Marie Howe. Used by permission of W. W. Norton. All rights reserved.

In March I drop an egg hoping a bird will fly out disbelieving
science. All the manuals tell me this is a logical contract.
You commit yourself to a shell & you end up flying. Fine.
Stone after stone, I’m defacing the river of being in love with you.
True, I don’t care how that sounds. I have a list
of cocoons to transform my body: Uncontrollable
Shaking. Sleep Paralysis. Dread of Eating. I’m guilty
of pretending the roads to your house are no longer roads
but deerpaths angled crooked through the marsh. Again the water
doesn’t stop; it rains even when the weather is overdue: a holy
parallel. My mouth is rotted & anonymous. The bed needs oars.
I’m interested in dust but only new dust arriving unmarked
after you leave. After you leave, you leave &
thicketed in sludge I’ve been glued open. Self as spectacle:
Yolk Marvel. Unbird. Emily as grave pillar as salt lick as dammed up
luminous in thread. I have read the whole moon
cycle; it doesn’t explain the cracks. Mercury for once
cannot be blamed. My dishes float in soap like little planets.
I drop my hands in the sink. They come up feathered.

From Brute by Emily Skaja. Copyright © 2019 by Emily Skaja. Used by permission of Graywolf Press. 

Holding your mother’s hand
while she is dying is like trying to love
the very thing that will kill you.

Loving the thing that can kill you
is like hating your fingers
because of how they can feel.

Hating your fingers
because of how they can feel
is like hating the pillowcase
because it smells like her hair.

Hating the pillowcase
is like hating the bed.

Hating the bed
is like hating things
that want to hold you
even as you sob into them.

Hating the things that want to hold you
is like sobering to the fact she will
never hold you again.

Sobering to the fact
she will never hold you again.
is like trying to keep loving
the things you know you can’t have.

Loving the things
you know you can’t have
is like saying Goodbye
and knowing you have to mean it.

Once a fortune cookie told me
that saying Goodbye is just a different
way of saying Hello.

Once I remembered reading
how Aloha is a word meaning
both hello and goodbye.

Once I remembered reading
how Aloha is also a word
which means peace.

Copyright © 2018 by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz. This poem originally appeared in How to Love the Empty Air (Write Bloody Publishing, 2018). Reprinted with permission of Write Bloody Publishing.

Hatred is the new love. Rage is right. Touch
is touch. The collars of the coat, turned down,
point up. The corners of our hearts are smoothed
with rough. Our glass breaks slick, our teeth
rip soft. The mollusk of me, shell-less.
If the future once was, the past predicted
us. The street gives off rhythm. The sun
gives off dusk. When we walk, we
pour backward. When we have nothing,
it’s enough. The hunger leaves us satisfied,
the fullness leaves us wrung. The sum of all
its parts is whole, the reap of it has roots, not
took or plucked. Far apart, we move inside
our clothes: open is old, young is closed. The fangs
we used to bare are milk teeth grown from gums.
The fire we used to be scathed by numbs. We
run on the track of our consumption, done.
We’ve been ice when liquid is our natural state.
We’ve worn our husks, we’ve clenched our fists.
We scold and punish, scrape, pay a price.
We dole out in slanders what has no weight.
We pay in cringing for the moments. We open
injuries in one another. We lacerate places
that flex like knuckles, crack and grow. We are
sipping from the water’s thirst. We were lost
at first. From the finish, begun. We undergo
the pain the other knows. We are cartoon yards
where dogs dig for lost bones. Esoteric,
we are full of holes. That need to be filled.
That need to be dug. We are under-loved.
We are under-known. Give to us and we are
downcast and uplifted and sift like water
and sand like stone. We are greedy, we are
gone. We are helpless, we are prone. Drain us
or fill us and we’ll ache a vast installment.
Let us empty. Let us alone. Madness
is our happiness. Sadness is our home.

Copyright © 2015 by Jennifer Militello. “Oxymoronic Love” was originally published in The Kenyon Review. Used with permission of the author.

My mother married a man who divorced her for money. Phyllis, he would say, If you don’t stop buying jewelry, I will have to divorce you to keep us out of the poorhouse. When he said this, she would stub out a cigarette, mutter something under her breath. Eventually, he was forced to divorce her. Then, he died. Then she did. The man was not my father. My father was buried down the road, in a box his other son selected, the ashes of his third wife in a brass urn that he will hold in the crook of his arm forever. At the reception, after his funeral, I got mean on four cups of Lime Sherbet Punch. When the man who was not my father divorced my mother, I stopped being related to him. These things are complicated, says the Talmud. When he died, I couldn’t prove it. I couldn’t get a death certificate. These things are complicated, says the Health Department. Their names remain on the deed to the house. It isn’t haunted, it’s owned by ghosts. When I die, I will come in fast and low. I will stick the landing. There will be no confusion. The dead will make room for me.

Copyright © 2020 by Richard Siken. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 4, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Throw scissors at it. 
Fill it with straw 
and set it on fire, or set it 
off for the colonies with only 
some books and dinner-
plates and a stuffed bear 
named Friend Bear for me 
to lose in New Jersey. 
Did I say me? Things 
have been getting
less and less hypothetical 
since I unhitched myself 
from your bedpost. Everyone 
I love is too modern 
to be caught
grieving. In order 
to be consumed 
first you need to be consumable, 
but there is not a single 
part of you I could fit 
in my mouth. In a dream
I pull back your foreskin
and reveal a fat vase 
stuffed with crow 
feathers. This seems a faithful
translation of the real thing. Another 
way to harm something is to 
melt its fusebox, 
make it learn to live
in the dark. I still want
to suck the bones out 
from your hands,
plant them like the seeds
we found in an antique 
textbook, though those 
never sprouted and may not 
have even been seeds. 
When I was a sailor I found 
a sunken ziggurat, spent 
weeks diving through room 
after room discovering
this or that sacred 
shroud. One way to bury
something is to bury it 
forever. When I was water
you poured me out
over the dirt.  

Copyright © 2017 by Kaveh Akbar. From Calling a Wolf a Wolf (Alice James Books, 2017). Used with permission of the author.

I know I’m godless when
my thirst converts water                into wasps, my country a carpet
                                                            I finger for crumbs. A country
my grandmother breeds
dogs instead of daughters             because only one can be called
                                                            home. I am trained to lose accents,
to keep a pregnancy
or cancel it out with                       another man. My tongue is
                                                            a twin, one translating
the other’s silence. Here
is my lung’s list of needs:               how to hold water
                                                            like a woman & not
drown. I want men
to stop writing &                            become mothers. I promise this
                                                            is the last time I call my mother
to hear her voice
beside mine. I want                        the privilege of a history
                                                            to hand back unworn
to grow out of
my mother’s touch                         like a dress from
                                                            childhood. Every time
I flirt with girls, I say
I know my way around                   a wound. I say let’s bang
                                                            open like doors, answer to
god. I unpin from
my skin, leave it to                          age in my closet & swing
                                                            from the dark, a wrecking
ball gown. In the closet
urns of ashes:                                   we cremated my grandfather
                                                            on a stovetop, stirred
every nation we tried
to bury him in was                          a war past calling itself
                                                            one. I stay closeted with
him, his scent echoing
in the urn, weeks-old                     ginger & leeks, leaks
                                                            of light where his bones halved
& healed. With small
hands, I puzzled                              him back together. I hid from
                                                            his shadow in closets
his feet like a chicken’s,
jellied bone & meatless.                His favorite food was chicken
                                                            feet, bones shallow in the meat
When he got dementia,
he flirted with my mother              he mouthed for my breasts
                                                            like an infant
We poured milk
into his eyeholes                             until he saw everything
                                                            neck-deep in white
the Chinese color
of mourning, bad                             luck, though the doctor
                                                            says everything is
genetics. I lock myself in
the smallest rooms that fit             in my mind, my grandfather’s:
                                                            a house we hired back from
fire. So I’ll forever
have a mother, I become                a daughter who goes by god. I urn
                                                            my ghosts, know each by a name
my own.

Copyright © 2019 by K-Ming Chang. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 22, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

I.

my lover is a woman
& when i hold her
feel her warmth
     i feel good
     feel safe

then—i never think of
my family’s voices
never hear my sisters say
bulldaggers, queers, funny
     come see us, but don’t
     bring your friends
          it’s ok with us,
          but don’t tell mama
          it’d break her heart
never feel my father
turn in his grave
never hear my mother cry
Lord, what kind of child is this?

 

II.

my lover’s hair is blonde
& when it rubs across my face
it feels soft
     feels like a thousand fingers
     touch my skin & hold me
          and i feel good

then—i never think of the little boy
who spat & called me nigger
never think of the policemen
who kicked my body & said crawl
never think of Black bodies
hanging in trees or filled
with bullet holes
never hear my sisters say
white folks hair stinks
don’t trust any of them
never feel my father
turn in his grave
never hear my mother talk
of her backache after scrubbing floors
never hear her cry
Lord, what kind of child is this?

 

III. 

my lover's eyes are blue
& when she looks at me
i float in a warm lake
     feel my muscles go weak with want
          feel good
          feel safe

then—i never think of the blue
eyes that have glared at me
moved three stools away from me
in a bar
never hear my sisters rage
of syphilitic Black men as
guinea pigs
     rage of sterilized children
          watch them just stop in an
          intersection to scare the old
          white bitch
never feel my father turn
in his grave
never remember my mother
teaching me the yes sirs & ma'ams
to keep me alive
never hear my mother cry
Lord, what kind of child is this?

 

IV.

& when we go to a gay bar
& my people shun me because i crossed
the line
& her people look to see what's
wrong with her
     what defect
     drove her to me

& when we walk the streets
of this city
     forget and touch
     or hold hands
          & the people
          stare, glare, frown, & taunt
               at those queers

i remember
     every word taught me
     every word said to me
     every deed done to me
          & then i hate
i look at my lover
& for an instant
     doubt

then—i hold her hand tighter
     & i can hear my mother cry.
     Lord, what kind of child is this?

"My Lover Is a Woman" by Pat Parker © Anastasia Dunham-Parker-Brady, used with permission.

In some other life, I can hear you
breathing: a pale sound like running
fingers through tangled hair. I dreamt
again of swimming in the quarry
& surfaced here when you called for me
in a voice only my sleeping self could
know. Now the dapple of the aspen
respires on the wall & the shades cut
its song a staff of light. Leave me—
that me—in bed with the woman
who said all the sounds for pleasure
were made with vowels I couldn’t
hear. Keep me instead with this small sun
that sips at the sky blue hem of our sheets
then dips & reappears: a drowsy penny
in the belt of Venus, your aureole nodding
slow & copper as it bobs against cotton
in cornflower or clay. What a waste
the groan of the mattress must be
when you backstroke into me & pull
the night up over our heads. Your eyes
are two moons I float beneath & my lungs
fill with a wet hum your hips return.
It’s Sunday—or so you say with both hands
on my chest—& hot breath is the only hymn
whose refrain we can recall. And then you
reach for me like I could’ve been another
man. You make me sing without a sound.

Copyright © 2019 by Meg Day. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 1, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

It is not good to think
of everything as a mistake. I asked
for bacon in my sandwich, and then

I asked for more. Mistake.
I told you the truth about my scar:

I did not use a knife. I lied
about what he did to my faith
in loneliness. Both mistakes.

That there is always a you. Mistake.
Faith in loneliness, my mother proclaimed,

is faith in self. My instinct, a poor polaris.
Not a mistake is the blue boredom
of a summer lake. O mud, sun, and algae!

We swim in glittering murk.
I tread, you tread. There are children

testing the deep end, shriek and stroke,
the lifeguard perilously close to diving.
I tried diving once. I dove like a brick.

It was a mistake to ask the $30 prophet
for a $20 prophecy. A mistake to believe.

I was young and broke. I swam
in a stolen reservoir then, not even a lake.
Her prophesy: from my vagrant exertion

I'll die at 42. Our dog totters across the lake,
kicks the ripple. I tread, you tread.

What does it even mean to write a poem?
It means today
I'm correcting my mistakes.

It means I don't want to be lonely.

Copyright © 2010 by Jennifer Chang. Used with permission of the author.

What you did wasn’t so bad.
You stood in a small room, waiting for the sun.
At least you told yourself that.
I know it was small,
but there was something, a kind of pulped lemon,
at the low edge of the sky.

No, you’re right, it was terrible.
Terrible to live without love
in small rooms with vinyl blinds
listening to music secretly,
the secret music of one’s head
which can’t be shared.

A dream is the only way to breathe.
But you must
find a more useful way to live.
I suppose you’re right
this was a failure: to stand there
so still, waiting for—what?

When I think about this life,
the life you led, I think of England,
of secret gardens that never open,
and novels sliding off the bed
at night where the small handkerchief
of darkness settles over
one’s face.

Reprinted from Sun in Days by Meghan O'Rourke. Copyright © 2017 by Meghan O'Rourke. Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

“Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven devils had been cast out”

Luke 8:2.

 

The first was that I was very busy.

The second—I was different from you: whatever happened to you could
not happen to me, not like that.

The third—I worried.

The fourth—envy, disguised as compassion.

The fifth was that I refused to consider the quality of life of the aphid,
The aphid disgusted me.  But I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
The mosquito too—its face.    And the ant—its bifurcated body.

Ok   the first was that I was so busy. 

The second that I might make the wrong choice,
because I had decided to take that plane that day,
that flight, before noon, so as to arrive early
and, I shouldn’t have wanted that.
The third was that if I walked past the certain place on the street
the house would blow up.   

The fourth was that I was made of guts and blood with a thin layer
of skin lightly thrown over the whole thing.

The fifth was that the dead seemed more alive to me than the living

The sixth—if I touched my right arm I had to touch my left arm, and if I
touched  the left arm a little harder than I’d first touched the right then I had
to retouch the left and then touch the right again so it would be even.  

The seventh—I knew I was breathing the expelled breath of everything that
was alive, and I couldn’t stand it.
I wanted a sieve, a mask, a, I hate this word—cheesecloth—
to breath through that would trap it—whatever was inside everyone else that
entered me when I breathed in.

No.  That was the first one.

The second was that I was so busy.  I had no time.   How had this happened?
How had our lives gotten like this?

The third was that I couldn’t eat food if I really saw it—distinct, separate
from me in a bowl or on a plate. 

Ok. The first was that. I could never get to the end of the list.
The second was that the laundry was never finally done.

The third was that no one knew me, although they thought they did.
And that if people thought of me as little as I thought of them then what was
love?  

The fourth was I didn’t belong to anyone. I wouldn’t allow myself to belong
to anyone.

The fifth was that I knew none of us could ever know what we didn’t know.

The sixth was that I projected onto others what I myself was feeling.

The seventh was the way my mother looked   when she was dying, 
the sound she made—her mouth wrenched to the right and cupped open
so as to take in as much air… the gurgling sound, so loud
we had to speak louder to hear each other over it.

And that I couldn’t stop hearing it—years later—grocery shopping, crossing the street—

No, not the sound—it was   her body’s hunger
finally evident—what our mother had hidden all her life.

For months I dreamt of knucklebones and roots,   
the slabs of sidewalk pushed up like crooked teeth by what grew underneath.

The underneath.  That was the first devil.   It was always with me
And that I didn’t think you—if I told you—would understand any of this—

Copyright © 2008 by Marie Howe. Originally published in American Poetry Review. Used with permission of the author.

for Maya

We meet at a coffee shop. So much time has passed and who is time? Who is waiting by the windowsill? We make plans to go to a museum but we go to a bookshop instead. We’re leaning in, learning how to talk to each other again. I say, I’m obsessed with my grief and she says, I’m always in mourning. She laughs and it’s an extension of her body. She laughs and it moves the whole room. I say, My home is an extension of my body and she says, Most days are better with a long walk. The world moves without us—so we tend to a garden, a graveyard, a pot on the windowsill. Death is a comfort because it says, Transform but don’t hurry. There is a tenderness to growing older and we are listening for it. Steadier ways to move through the world and we are learning them. A way to touch your own body. A touch that says, Dig deeper. There, in the ground, there is our memory. I am near enough my roots. Time is my friend. Tomorrow is a place we are together.

Copyright © 2021 by Sanna Wani. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 15, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

When Hades decided he loved this girl
he built for her a duplicate of earth,
everything the same, down to the meadow,
but with a bed added.

Everything the same, including sunlight,
because it would be hard on a young girl
to go so quickly from bright light to utter darkness

Gradually, he thought, he'd introduce the night,
first as the shadows of fluttering leaves.
Then moon, then stars. Then no moon, no stars.
Let Persephone get used to it slowly.
In the end, he thought, she'd find it comforting.

A replica of earth
except there was love here.
Doesn't everyone want love?

He waited many years,
building a world, watching
Persephone in the meadow.
Persephone, a smeller, a taster.
If you have one appetite, he thought,
you have them all.

Doesn't everyone want to feel in the night
the beloved body, compass, polestar,
to hear the quiet breathing that says
I am alive, that means also
you are alive, because you hear me,
you are here with me. And when one turns,
the other turns—

That's what he felt, the lord of darkness,
looking at the world he had
constructed for Persephone. It never crossed his mind
that there'd be no more smelling here,
certainly no more eating.

Guilt? Terror? The fear of love?
These things he couldn't imagine;
no lover ever imagines them.

He dreams, he wonders what to call this place.
First he thinks: The New Hell. Then: The Garden.
In the end, he decides to name it
Persephone's Girlhood.

A soft light rising above the level meadow,
behind the bed. He takes her in his arms.
He wants to say I love you, nothing can hurt you

but he thinks
this is a lie, so he says in the end
you're dead, nothing can hurt you
which seems to him
a more promising beginning, more true.

"A Myth of Devotion" from Averno by Louise Glück. Copyright © 2006 by Louise Glück. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

From The Complete Poems 1927-1979 by Elizabeth Bishop, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc. Copyright © 1979, 1983 by Alice Helen Methfessel. Used with permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.

Near the entrance, a patch of tall grass.
Near the tall grass, long-stemmed plants;

each bending an ear-shaped cone
to the pond’s surface. If you looked closely,

you could make out silvery koi
swishing toward the clouded pond’s edge

where a boy tugs at his mother’s shirt for a quarter.
To buy fish feed. And watching that boy,

as he knelt down to let the koi kiss his palms,
I missed what it was to be so dumb

as those koi. I like to think they’re pure,
that that’s why even after the boy’s palms were empty,

after he had nothing else to give, they still kissed
his hands. Because who hasn’t done that—

loved so intently even after everything
has gone? Loved something that has washed

its hands of you? I like to think I’m different now,
that I’m enlightened somehow,

but who am I kidding? I know I’m like those koi,
still, with their popping mouths, that would kiss

those hands again if given the chance. So dumb.

From Scale. Copyright © 2017 by Nathan McClain. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Four Way Books, www.fourwaybooks.com.

What had been treacherous the first time 
had become second nature, releasing 
the emergency brake, then rolling backwards 
in little bursts, braking the whole way down
the long steep drive. Back then 
we lived on the top of a hill.
 
I was leaving—the thing we both knew 
and didn’t speak of all summer. While you 
were at work, I built a brown skyline of boxes, 
sealed them with a roll of tape 
that made an incessant ripping sound.
We were cheerful at dinner and unusually kind.
At night we slept under a single sheet,
our bodies a furnace if curled together.
 
It was July. I could feel my pupils contract
when I went outside. Back then I thought only about 
how you wouldn’t come with me. 
Now I consider what it took for you to help me go. 
On that last day. When I stood
in a wrinkled dress with aching arms.
When there was only your mouth at my ear 
whispering to get in the truck, then wait 
until I was calm enough to turn the key. 
 
Only then did we know. How it felt 
to have loved to the end, and then past the very end.
 
What did you do, left up there in the empty house?
I don’t know why. I 
don’t know how we keep living 
in a world that never explains why. 
 

Copyright © 2017 by Jennifer Grotz. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 12, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

One winter I lived north, alone
and effortless, dreaming myself
into the past. Perhaps, I thought,
words could replenish privacy.
Outside, a red bicycle froze
into form, made the world falser
in its white austerity. So much
happens after harvest: the moon
performing novelty: slaughter,
snow. One hour the same
as the next, I held my hands
or held the snow. I was like sculpture,
forgetting or, perhaps, remembering
everything. Red wings in the snow,
red thoughts ablaze in the war
I was having with myself again.
Everything I hate about the world
I hate about myself, even now
writing as if this were a law
of nature. Say there were deer
fleet in the snow, walking out
the cold, and more gingkoes
bare in the beggar’s grove. Say
I was not the only one who saw
or heard the trees, their diffidence
greater than my noise. Perhaps
the future is a tiny flame
I’ll nick from a candle. First, I’m burning.
Then, numb. Why must every winter
grow colder, and more sure?
 

From Some Say the Lark (Alice James Books, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Jennifer Chang. Used with permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Alice James Books, www.alicejamesbooks.org.

This neighborhood was mine first. I walked each block twice:
drunk, then sober. I lived every day with legs and headphones.
It had snowed the night I ran down Lorimer and swore I’d stop
at nothing. My love, he had died. What was I supposed to do?
I regret nothing. Sometimes I feel washed up as paper. You’re
three years away. But then I dance down Graham and
the trees are the color of champagne and I remember—
There are things I like about heartbreak, too, how it needs
a good soundtrack. The way I catch a man’s gaze on the L
and don’t look away first. Losing something is just revising it.
After this love there will be more love. My body rising from a nest
of sheets to pick up a stranger’s MetroCard. I regret nothing.
Not the bar across the street from my apartment; I was still late.
Not the shared bathroom in Barcelona, not the red-eyes, not
the songs about black coats and Omaha. I lie about everything
but not this. You were every streetlamp that winter. You held
the crown of my head and for once I won’t show you what
I’ve made. I regret nothing. Your mother and your Maine.
Your wet hair in my lap after that first shower. The clinic
and how I cried for a week afterwards. How we never chose
the language we spoke. You wrote me a single poem and in it
you were the dog and I the fire. Remember the courthouse?
The anniversary song. Those goddamn Kmart towels. I loved them,
when did we throw them away? Tomorrow I’ll write down
everything we’ve done to each other and fill the bathtub
with water. I’ll burn each piece of paper down to silt.
And if it doesn’t work, I’ll do it again. And again and again and—

Copyright © 2021 by Hala Alyan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 8, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

We tell beginnings: for the flesh and the answer,
or the look, the lake in the eye that knows,
for the despair that flows down in widest rivers,
cloud of home; and also the green tree of grace,
all in the leaf, in the love that gives us ourselves.

The word of nourishment passes through the women,
soldiers and orchards rooted in constellations,
white towers, eyes of children: 
saying in time of war What shall we feed?
I cannot say the end.

Nourish beginnings, let us nourish beginnings.
Not all things are blest, but the
seeds of all things are blest.
The blessing is in the seed.

This moment, this seed, this wave of the sea, this look, this instant of love.
Years over wars and an imagining of peace. Or the expiation journey
toward peace which is many wishes flaming together,
fierce pure life, the many-living home.
Love that gives us ourselves, in the world known to all
new techniques for the healing of the wound,
and the unknown world. One life, or the faring stars.

From Birds, Beasts, and Seas, edited by Jeffrey Yang, published by New Directions. Copyright © 2011. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

She hangs onto sadness
the way somebody else treads water
waiting for the world
to see how much she hurts from family
madness pierced her rib cage
twenty years ago

And she’ll continue to compete as Victim
Absolute
until she finally receives a gold
medallion for her suffering
or a truly purple heart complete
with ribbons
so that she can hang that up

and then
move right along
perhaps/at last
to someplace

really new

Copyright © 2017 by the June M. Jordan Literary Estate. Used with the permission of the June M. Jordan Literary Estate, www.junejordan.com.

My family never stopped migrating. We fight
so hard. With each other and ourselves. Don’t
talk about that. Not now. There is never
a good time and I learn that songs are the only
moments that last forever. But my mother
always brings me the instant coffee my
dede drank before he died. She wraps it
so carefully in a plastic bag from the market
that we go to when Caddebostan feels unreachable.
We don’t talk about that. Or the grief.
Or my short hair. I want to know what
dede would have said. I want to know that he
can feel the warm wind too if he tried.
We fight so hard. We open the tops of
each other’s heads and watch the birds
fly out. We still don’t talk about my dede.

Copyright © 2021 by beyza ozer. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 6, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

When the grapevine had thinned
but not broken & the worst was yet to come
of winter snow, I tracked my treed heart
to the high boughs of a quaking
aspen & shot it down.
                                           If love comes fast,
let her be a bullet & not a barking dog;
let my heart say, as that trigger’s pulled,
Are all wonders small? Otherwise, let love
be a woman of gunpowder
                                                   & lead; let her
arrive a brass angel, a dark powdered comet
whose mercy is dense as the fishing sinker
that pulleys the moon, even when it is heavy
with milk. I shot my heart
                                                 & turned myself in
to wild kindness, left the road to my coffin
that seemed also to include my carrying it & walked
back along the trampled brush I remembered
only as a blur of hot breath & a howling in my chest.

From Last Psalm at Sea Level (Barrow Street, 2014). Copyright © 2014 by Meg Day. Used with the permission of the author.

I’m watching an old movie in one corner
of my laptop and in another the shadows
nesting in your neck, the flickering frequencies
of your sweater, and remember the Jack Nicholson
tagline in that movie we almost watched then decided
against fearing the little taser of misogyny:
You make me want to be a better person. Sometimes
the only thing I want is to say marry me
even though we both think marriage is archaic and weird
or at least for us. It’s not marry me I want to say
but rather weld with me like a net we also sit in.
Oh FaceTime face and shadow neck and the almost synced
sound of our shared watching. You have a list of things
that are going to be the death of you,
and so do I, which we cover in our debriefings.
All of this is to say that distance makes my heart go farther
into the terrain of heartfelt and I love it: how ordinarily
classifiable it is like feeling literal figurative butterflies
in your stomach. The good being fundamental.
Surprising love can happen at any part of one’s life
like the pixels deciding when to flicker into bursts.

Copyright © 2020 by Carmen Giménez Smith. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 30, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

                 “This is the only kingdom.
                 The kingdom of touching:
                 the touches of the disappearing, things.”
                                            —Aracelis Girmay

                                                           

When I see wax, I think of submission.

I think of afterlife. I think of the sky
& what it leaves behind. I used to think

myself a doe, then a hurricane. The muscle
inside the tongue. The prayer-sore. Again

& again, something foreign. Fugitive. So briefly

I was a girl. A young woman. A mule, mother, arm-
rest—the sky resting on a bridge overlooking

the river. That cold, cold water. I waded in,
three seconds to numb. & nothing. I can’t give in

to love. What will become of us

when it’s the child that is imagined?
Our gods: the fields under a haze

of mosquitoes. And lo, the stars’ white
fire. And lo, the splintered spines of spruce

trees. And lo, the disappearing hours.

I stretch my neck into the next life.
I breathe in the cherry blossoms & bomb-

scent of aftermath. I don’t care why
I didn’t want this. I lean into myself.

I take what is offered until I forget

I am what is offered. With the orchard
& the apple I didn’t name. There is

an hour that bears my grave already.
It’s late. I can’t help but wish I wasn’t

lonely. That I wasn’t made to disappear.

Originally published in Guernica. Copyright © 2018 by Chelsea Dingman. Used with the permission of the author.

And you remember, in the afternoon
The sea and the sky went grey, as if there had sunk
A flocculent dust on the floor of the world: the festoon
Of the sky sagged dusty as spider cloth,
And coldness clogged the sea, till it ceased to croon.

A dank, sickening scent came up from the grime
Of weed that blackened the shore, so that I recoiled
Feeling the raw cold dun me: and all the time
You leapt about on the slippery rocks, and threw
Me words that rang with a brassy, shallow chime.

And all day long, that raw and ancient cold
Deadened me through, till the grey downs dulled to sleep.
Then I longed for you with your mantle of love to fold
Me over, and drive from out of my body the deep
Cold that had sunk to my soul, and there kept hold.

But still to me all evening long you were cold,
And I was numb with a bitter, deathly ache;
Till old days drew me back into their fold,
And dim hopes crowded me warm with companionship,
And memories clustered me close, and sleep was cajoled.

And I slept till dawn at the window blew in like dust,
Like a linty, raw-cold dust disturbed from the floor
Of the unswept sea; a grey pale light like must
That settled upon my face and hands till it seemed
To flourish there, as pale mould blooms on a crust.

And I rose in fear, needing you fearfully.
For I thought you were warm as a sudden jet of blood.
I thought I could plunge in your living hotness, and be
Clean of the cold and the must. With my hand on the latch
I heard you in your sleep speak strangely to me.

And I dared not enter, feeling suddenly dismayed.
So I went and washed my deadened flesh in the sea
And came back tingling clean, but worn and frayed
With cold, like the shell of the moon; and strange it seems
That my love can dawn in warmth again, unafraid.

This poem is in the public domain. 

Admit it—
you wanted the end

with a serpentine
greed. How to negotiate

that strangling
mist, the fibrous

whisper?

To cease to exist
and to die

are two different things entirely.

But you knew this,
didn't you?

Some days you knelt on coins
in those yellow hours.

You lit a flame

to your shadow
and ate

scorpions with your naked fingers.

So touched by the sadness of hair
in a dirty sink.

The malevolent smell
of soap.

When instead of swallowing a fistful
of white pills,

you decided to shower,

the palm trees
nodded in agreement,

a choir
of crickets singing

behind your swollen eyes.

The masked bird
turned to you

with a shred of paper hanging
from its beak.

At dusk,
hair wet and fragrant,

you cupped a goat's face

and kissed
his trembling horns.

The ghost?

It fell prostrate,
passed through you

like a swift
and generous storm.

"Six Months After Contemplating Suicide" first appeared in the December 2015 issue of Poetry. Copyright © 2015 Erika L. Sánchez.

I wouldn’t even know what to do with a third chance,
another halo to shake loose galloping into the crossfire.
     Should I be apologizing? Supposedly, what’s inside my

     body is more or less the same as what’s inside yours—
here, the river girl clutching her toy whistle. There,
the black snake covered in scabs. Follow my neckline,

the beginning will start beginning again. I swear on my
head and eyes, there are moments in every day when
     if you asked me to leave, I would. Heaven is mostly

     preposition—up, above, around—and you can live
any place that’s a place. A failure of courage is still
a victory of safety. Bravery pitches its refugee tent

at the base of my brain and slowly starves, chipping into
darkness like a clay bird bouncing down a well. All night
     I eat yogurt and eggplant and garlic, water my dead

     orchids. In what world would any of me seem credible?
God’s word is a melody, and melody requires repetition.
God’s word is a melody I sang once then forgot.

Copyright © 2018 Kaveh Akbar. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Spring 2018.

One winter I lived north, alone
and effortless, dreaming myself
into the past. Perhaps, I thought,
words could replenish privacy.
Outside, a red bicycle froze
into form, made the world falser
in its white austerity. So much
happens after harvest: the moon
performing novelty: slaughter,
snow. One hour the same
as the next, I held my hands
or held the snow. I was like sculpture,
forgetting or, perhaps, remembering
everything. Red wings in the snow,
red thoughts ablaze in the war
I was having with myself again.
Everything I hate about the world
I hate about myself, even now
writing as if this were a law
of nature. Say there were deer
fleet in the snow, walking out
the cold, and more gingkoes
bare in the beggar’s grove. Say
I was not the only one who saw
or heard the trees, their diffidence
greater than my noise. Perhaps
the future is a tiny flame
I’ll nick from a candle. First, I’m burning.
Then, numb. Why must every winter
grow colder, and more sure?
 

From Some Say the Lark (Alice James Books, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Jennifer Chang. Used with permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Alice James Books, www.alicejamesbooks.org.

When Hades decided he loved this girl
he built for her a duplicate of earth,
everything the same, down to the meadow,
but with a bed added.

Everything the same, including sunlight,
because it would be hard on a young girl
to go so quickly from bright light to utter darkness

Gradually, he thought, he'd introduce the night,
first as the shadows of fluttering leaves.
Then moon, then stars. Then no moon, no stars.
Let Persephone get used to it slowly.
In the end, he thought, she'd find it comforting.

A replica of earth
except there was love here.
Doesn't everyone want love?

He waited many years,
building a world, watching
Persephone in the meadow.
Persephone, a smeller, a taster.
If you have one appetite, he thought,
you have them all.

Doesn't everyone want to feel in the night
the beloved body, compass, polestar,
to hear the quiet breathing that says
I am alive, that means also
you are alive, because you hear me,
you are here with me. And when one turns,
the other turns—

That's what he felt, the lord of darkness,
looking at the world he had
constructed for Persephone. It never crossed his mind
that there'd be no more smelling here,
certainly no more eating.

Guilt? Terror? The fear of love?
These things he couldn't imagine;
no lover ever imagines them.

He dreams, he wonders what to call this place.
First he thinks: The New Hell. Then: The Garden.
In the end, he decides to name it
Persephone's Girlhood.

A soft light rising above the level meadow,
behind the bed. He takes her in his arms.
He wants to say I love you, nothing can hurt you

but he thinks
this is a lie, so he says in the end
you're dead, nothing can hurt you
which seems to him
a more promising beginning, more true.

"A Myth of Devotion" from Averno by Louise Glück. Copyright © 2006 by Louise Glück. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

I love all films that start with rain:
rain, braiding a windowpane
or darkening a hung-out dress
or streaming down her upturned face;

one big thundering downpour
right through the empty script and score
before the act, before the blame, 
before the lens pulls through the frame

to where the woman sits alone
beside a silent telephone
or the dress lies ruined on the grass
or the girl walks off the overpass,

and all things flow out from that source
along their fatal watercourse.
However bad or overlong
such a film can do no wrong,

so when his native twang shows through
or when the boom dips into view
or when her speech starts to betray
its adaptation from the play, 

I think to when we opened cold
on a starlit gutter, running gold
with the neon drugstore sign
and I'd read into its blazing line: 

forget the ink, the milk, the blood—
all was washed clean with the flood
we rose up from the falling waters
the fallen rain's own sons and daughters

and none of this, none of this matters.

From Rain. Copyright © 2009 by Don Paterson. Used with permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Scrambled eggs and whiskey
in the false-dawn light. Chicago,
a sweet town, bleak, God knows,
but sweet. Sometimes. And
weren't we fine tonight?
When Hank set up that limping
treble roll behind me
my horn just growled and I 
thought my heart would burst.
And Brad M. pressing with the
soft stick and Joe-Anne
singing low. Here we are now
in the White Tower, leaning
on one another, too tired
to go home. But don't say a word,
don't tell a soul, they wouldn't
understand, they couldn't, never
in a million years, how fine,
how magnificent we were
in that old club tonight.

From Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey, Poems 1991-1995, published by Copper Canyon Press, 1996. Copyright © 1996 by Hayden Carruth. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press, P.O. Box 271, Port Townsend, WA 98368.

Out here, there’s a bowing even the trees are doing.
                 Winter’s icy hand at the back of all of us.
Black bark, slick yellow leaves, a kind of stillness that feels
so mute it’s almost in another year.

I am a hearth of spiders these days: a nest of trying.

We point out the stars that make Orion as we take out
       the trash, the rolling containers a song of suburban thunder.

It’s almost romantic as we adjust the waxy blue
       recycling bin until you say, Man, we should really learn
some new constellations.

And it’s true. We keep forgetting about Antlia, Centaurus,
       Draco, Lacerta, Hydra, Lyra, Lynx.

But mostly we’re forgetting we’re dead stars too, my mouth is full
       of dust and I wish to reclaim the rising—

to lean in the spotlight of streetlight with you, toward
       what’s larger within us, toward how we were born.

Look, we are not unspectacular things.
       We’ve come this far, survived this much. What

would happen if we decided to survive more? To love harder?

What if we stood up with our synapses and flesh and said, No.
     No, to the rising tides.

Stood for the many mute mouths of the sea, of the land?

What would happen if we used our bodies to bargain

for the safety of others, for earth,
                 if we declared a clean night, if we stopped being terrified,

if we launched our demands into the sky, made ourselves so big
people could point to us with the arrows they make in their minds,

rolling their trash bins out, after all of this is over?

From The Carrying (Milkweed Editions, 2018) by Ada Limón. Copyright © 2018 by Ada Limón. Used with the permission of Milkweed Editions. milkweed.org.

My white therapist calls it my edge, I hear
Angry Black Woman. She says, Strength
of Willful Negative Focus. She says, Acerbic
Intellectual Temperament. I copy her words
onto an index card. She wants
an origin story, a stranger with his hand
inside me, or worse. I’m without
linear narrative and cannot sate her. We
perform rituals on her living room floor. I burn
letters brimming with resentments, watch
the paper ember in the fireplace, admit
I don’t want to let this go. What if anger,
my armor, is embedded in the marrow
of who I am. Who can I learn to be
without it? Wherever you go,
there you are. She asks what I will lose
if I surrender, I imagine a gutted fish,
silvery skin gleaming, emptied of itself—

Copyright © 2019 by Rage Hezekiah. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 1, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

From The Complete Poems 1927-1979 by Elizabeth Bishop, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc. Copyright © 1979, 1983 by Alice Helen Methfessel. Used with permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.