“What is poetry which does not save nations or people?”
            – Czesław Milosz

Ask the question.
Not once but forty-nine times.
And, perhaps at the fiftieth,
you will make an answer.
Or perhaps not. Then
ask it again. This time
till seventy times seven. Ask
as you open the door
of every book of poems that you enter.
Ask it of every poem,
regardless of how beautiful,
that whispers: “Lie with me.”
Do not spare your newborn.
If the first cry, first line
is not a wailing for an answer,
abandon it. As for the stillborn,
turn the next blank white sheet over,
shroud it. Ask the clamouring procession
of all the poems of the ages –
each measured, white-haired epic,
every flouncing free verse debutante –
to state their names, where they have come from
and what their business is with you.
You live in the caesura of our times,
the sound of nations, persons, breaking around you.
If poetry can only save itself,
then who will hear it after it has fled
from the nations and the people that it could not save
even a remnant of for a remembering?

From Fault Lines. Copyright © 2012 by Kendel Hippolyte. Used with the permission of Peepal Tree Press.

            Wet Charles dropped by the homeboys
in his busted high-top burgundy Chucks, hand 

            out for a buck, or two, from us young bucks, 
also rocking Chucks, trying to cop a couple ends
for a few gallons of gas or diapers for his newborn
daughter. Wet Charles could spin into splits. Quick
to say

             he never begged, traded, or borrowed
anything he couldn’t first steal. The highest point
in many homes is the attic. The jester’s hat
            jingles. The dope fiend’s pipe rings.

Is it the fire or the smoke that makes a comedian?
Even when I mad-dogged Charles, telling him
            to kick rocks with them ashy-as-hell Chucks 
            I never actually looked into the stones

of his eyes. I had known him since childhood, 
we all had, before he began chasing a rock 
                                     up and down a hill.

Stoned every day. Think of addiction as never being
able to find your phone. We were not embarrassed

by Charles but by what we might one day become.
The way bigger sand tiger shark embryos
            feed on smaller embryos in the womb,

we served classmates we had joked with in gym.
Slanging dope smokes up your sense of humor.
We never understood why the police chuckled

“circumstances” as the reason for harassing us
when we stood in a circle smoking on the block.

            Charles didn’t dozen about dope, just surged
            in his circuit, looking for ways to get high.

            Biking from the trolley to the Four Corners 
of Death, the intersection of Euclid and Imperial:

Greene Cat Liquor, Réal taco shop, the gas station,
                                    what was Huffman’s BBQ,
            where the only constant were entrepreneurial
            young men setting up corners in front of constantly
changing businesses with hastily painted front windows,

            where the persistence of the C
            in “Chicken Shack”
            could still be seen on the glass door
            of the new no contract cell phone store.

Archetypes have a way of worming into beauty.
The flaw is the small writing of a hero.
            Through what crack did Orpheus
                        sneak a minute fire from hell?

The sweet chemical scent of someone smoking rock
in a broken light bulb is a plasticity I can’t forget.
I didn’t pay any mind to the moralism of Nancy Reagan’s 
eggs or D.A.R.E. commercials in the eighties.

As we went most of those dampened days lighting 
something, or other, listening to the mercurial philosophies  
                               of Ice Cube, Wu-Tang, Spice-1,

            or Sugar Free. We smoked water, or what a hip
                         toxicologist might nasally call angel dust.
            You can be full of agua and not well.
If you’re not careful, time will find you a fiend.

I’m told
that rappers name themselves
            now with Lil or Young followed
            by randomly chosen abstractions: Lil e.g.
                                                           Young i.e.

                         Back in the stone age of hip-hop,
                         in the early nineties,
late eighties, so the stories go, rappers

            went into the kitchen and whatever
                         they had milk and honey
            of, voila, they had their stage name.

I was just another empty, scattered wrapper
on a sidewalk in the city.

            That’s how I became Slim Jim.
Though, that was more about stealing
cars than beef. 

We would spend summer evenings at the wooden
roller coaster in Pacific Beach, never going
on the ride but circling the beautiful
boardwalk that was only slightly less majestic

                     than the older homie’s
            primer-painted Glasshouse

convertible with three tall
white walls and one ever altering spare.

Everything was so gorgeous in the back 
seat of that Impala.

The moon was so brilliant in the sky.  
                         It was quite the shiner.

I’d watch the women around my way 
rub petroleum jelly on their forehead,

then their cheekbones, before a fight. 
Taking off your golden earrings
             does not make hearing

the truth any easier, but that water 
made the bass and elasticated cadence
of “Pocket Full of Stones” even more

resonant as we waded the highways home
from the rollercoaster with a trunk full of

18” box speakers rattling our bodies:
six sixteen-year-olds in the cramped 
back seat of a Datsun Wagon trying 
to release our own trapped music.

Copyright © 2021 by David Tomas Martinez. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 10, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

My heart is like a singing bird   
  Whose nest is in a water'd shoot;   
My heart is like an apple-tree   
  Whose boughs are bent with thick-set fruit;   
My heart is like a rainbow shell 
  That paddles in a halcyon sea;   
My heart is gladder than all these,   
  Because my love is come to me.   
Raise me a daïs of silk and down;   
  Hang it with vair and purple dyes;
Carve it in doves and pomegranates,   
  And peacocks with a hundred eyes;   
Work it in gold and silver grapes,   
  In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;   
Because the birthday of my life
  Is come, my love is come to me.

This poem is in the public domain.

He piles her boxes in the courtyard under
a tarp, the bookshelves, microwave, spare phone,
and though his friends make clear they wonder
why he would help her move, he says, “It’s fine.
I want to save her money, help her out.”
And he does—helps her move out, feeling weight
tear at his muscles. Now he is without
her things. They are inside the truck, her freight,
then on the freeway, then in her new flat,
then gone. He’s glad to ache in shoulder blades
and arms. It means that though she’s left him flat,
left him behind like old footprints, he’s made 
a choice as well, to move her, remove her,
a choice to move past, not be moved by her.

From Sad Jazz: Sonnets (Sheep Meadow Press, 2005) by Tony Barnstone. Copyright © 2005 by Tony Barnstone. Used with the permission of the author. 

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door—
"'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door—
               Only this and nothing more."

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
               Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
"'Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—
               This it is and nothing more."

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
"Sir," said I, "or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you"—here I opened wide the door;—
               Darkness there and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, "Lenore?"
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, "Lenore!"—
               Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
"Surely," said I, "surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—
               'Tis the wind and nothing more!"

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—
               Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
"Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou," I said, "art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!"
               Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blest with seeing bird above his chamber door—
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
               With such name as "Nevermore."

But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—
Till I scarcely more than muttered "Other friends have flown before—
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before."
               Then the bird said "Nevermore."

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
"Doubtless," said I, "what it utters is its only stock and store
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
               Of 'Never—nevermore.'"

But the Raven still beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore
               Meant in croaking "Nevermore."

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o'er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o'er,
               She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
"Wretch," I cried, "thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite—respite and nepenthe, from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!"
               Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."

"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—
On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—
Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!"
               Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."

"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil—prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore."
               Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."

"Be that word our sign in parting, bird or fiend!" I shrieked, upstarting—
"Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!"
               Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
               Shall be lifted—nevermore!

This version appeared in the Richmond Semi-Weekly Examiner, September 25, 1849. For other versions, please visit the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore's site: http://www.eapoe.org/works/poems/index.htm#R.

How many scenes, O sun,
Hast thou not shone upon!
How many tears, O light,
Have dropped before thy sight!
How many heart-felt sighs,
How many piercing cries,
How many deeds of woe,
Dost thy bright light not know!
How many broken hearts,
That are pierced by sorrow’s darts
How many maddened brains,
That are wild with passion’s rains;
How many soul-sick lives,
Stabbed with despair’s sharp knives,
Hast thou above the skies,
Not seen with thy radiant eyes!
Shine on, majestic one!
Shine on, O glorious sun!
And never fail to cheer
My life so dark and drear.
Whene’er thou shinest bright,
And show thy brilliant light,
The cares I know each day
Silently steal away.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 5, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

O my luve's like a red, red rose,
That's newly sprung in June;
O my luve's like the melodie
That's sweetly played in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a' the seas gang dry.

Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi' the sun:
O I will love thee still, my dear,
While the sands o' life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only luve,
And fare thee weel awhile!
And I will come again, my luve,
Though it were ten thousand mile.