The world is a beautiful place 
                                                           to be born into 
if you don’t mind happiness 
                                             not always being 
                                                                        so very much fun 
       if you don’t mind a touch of hell
                                                       now and then
                just when everything is fine
                                                             because even in heaven
                                they don’t sing 
                                                        all the time

             The world is a beautiful place
                                                           to be born into
       if you don’t mind some people dying
                                                                  all the time
                        or maybe only starving
                                                           some of the time
                 which isn’t half so bad
                                                      if it isn’t you

      Oh the world is a beautiful place
                                                          to be born into
               if you don’t much mind
                                                   a few dead minds
                    in the higher places
                                                    or a bomb or two
                            now and then
                                                  in your upturned faces
         or such other improprieties
                                                    as our Name Brand society
                                  is prey to
                                              with its men of distinction
             and its men of extinction
                                                   and its priests
                         and other patrolmen
                                                         and its various segregations
         and congressional investigations
                                                             and other constipations
                        that our fool flesh
                                                     is heir to

Yes the world is the best place of all
                                                           for a lot of such things as
         making the fun scene
                                                and making the love scene
and making the sad scene
                                         and singing low songs of having 
and walking around 
                                looking at everything
                                                                  and smelling flowers
and goosing statues
                              and even thinking 
                                                         and kissing people and
     making babies and wearing pants
                                                         and waving hats and
                                                and going swimming in rivers
                              on picnics
                                       in the middle of the summer
and just generally
                            ‘living it up’

   but then right in the middle of it
                                                    comes the smiling


From A Coney Island of the Mind, copyright ©1955 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.

            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.

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”

They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Knopf and Vintage Books. Copyright © 1994 by the Estate of Langston Hughes. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

From The Poems of Dylan Thomas, published by New Directions. Copyright © 1952, 1953 Dylan Thomas. Copyright © 1937, 1945, 1955, 1962, 1966, 1967 the Trustees for the Copyrights of Dylan Thomas. Copyright © 1938, 1939, 1943, 1946, 1971 New Directions Publishing Corp. Used with permission.

My friends are dead who were

the arches    the pillars of my life 

the structural relief when

the world gave none.


My friends who knew me as I knew them

their bodies folded into the ground or burnt to ash.

If I got on my knees

might I lift my life as a turtle carries her home?  


Who if I cried out would hear me?

My friends—with whom I might have spoken of this—are gone.

Copyright © 2022 by Marie Howe. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 22, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.