From Cruel Futures. Copyright © 2018 by Carmen Giménez Smith. Used with the permission of City Lights Books.
(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.
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
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.
after George Jackson
Because something else must belong to him,
More than these chains, these cuffs, these cells—
Something more than Hard Rock’s hurt,
More than remembrances of where men
Go mad with craving—corpuscle, epidermis,
Flesh, men buried in the whale of it, all of it,
Because the so many of us mute ourselves,
Silent before the box, fascinated by the drama
Of confined bodies on prime-time television,
These prisons sanitized for entertainment &;
These indeterminate sentences hidden, because
We all lack this panther’s rage, the gift
Of Soledad &; geographies adorned with state numbers
&; names of the dead &; dying etched on skin,
This suffering, wild loss, under mass cuffs,
Those buried hours must be about more
Than adding to this surfeit of pain as history
As bars that once held him embrace us.
From Bastards of the Reagan Era (Four Way Books, 2015). Copyright © 2015 by Reginald Dwayne Betts. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 22, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets
it was clear they were hungry
with their carts empty the clothes inside their empty hands
they were hungry because their hands
were empty their hands in trashcans
the trashcans on the street
the asphalt street on the red dirt the dirt taxpayers pay for
up to that invisible line visible thick white paint
visible booths visible with the fence starting from the booths
booth road booth road booth road office building then the fence
fence fence fence
it started from a corner with an iron pole
always an iron pole at the beginning
those men those women could walk between booths
say hi to white or brown officers no problem
the problem I think were carts belts jackets
we didn’t have any
or maybe not the problem
our skin sunburned all of us spoke Spanish
we didn’t know how they had ended up that way
on that side
we didn’t know how we had ended up here
we didn’t know but we understood why they walk
the opposite direction to buy food on this side
this side we all know is hunger
From Unaccompanied (Copper Canyon Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Javier Zamora. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 20, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
translated from the Spanish by Jack Hirschman
Like you I
love love, life, the sweet smell
of things, the sky-blue
landscape of January days.
And my blood boils up
and I laugh through eyes
that have known the buds of tears.
I believe the world is beautiful
and that poetry, like bread, is for everyone.
And that my veins don’t end in me
but in the unanimous blood
of those who struggle for life,
landscape and bread,
the poetry of everyone.
Yo, como tú,
amo el amor, la vida, el dulce encanto
de las cosas, el paisaje
celeste de los días de enero.
También mi sangre bulle
y río por los ojos
que han conocido el brote de las lágrimas.
Creo que el mundo es bello,
que la poesía es como el pan, de todos.
Y que mis venas no terminan en mí
sino en la sangre unánime
de los que luchan por la vida,
el paisaje y el pan,
la poesía de todos.
From Poetry Like Bread: Poets of the Political Imagination (Curbstone Press, 2000), edited by Martín Espada. Used with the permission of Northwestern University Press.
I have oared and grieved, grieved and oared, treading a religion of fear. A frayed nerve. A train wreck tied to the train of an old idea. Now, Lord, reeling in violent times, I drag these tidal griefs to this gate. I am tired. Deliver me, whatever you are. Help me, you who are never near, hold what I love and grieve, reveal this green evening, myself, rain, drone, evil, greed, as temporary. Granted then gone. Let me rail, revolt, edge out, glove to the grate. I am done waiting like some invalid begging in the nave. Help me divine myself, beside me no Virgil urging me to shift gear, change lane, sing my dirge for the rent, torn world, and love your silence without veering into rage.
Copyright © 2018 by Donna Masini. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 5, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
The music stopped playing years ago
but we’re still dancing.
There’s your bright skirt scissoring
through the crowd—
our hips tipping the instruments over.
You open me up and walk inside
until you reach a river
where a child is washing her feet.
You aren’t sure
if I am the child
or if I am the river.
You throw a stone
and the child wades in to find it.
This is memory.
Let’s say the river is too deep
so you turn around and leave
the same way you entered—
spent and unwashed.
It’s ok. We are young, and
our gowns are as long as the room.
I told you I always wanted a silk train.
We can both be the bride,
we can both empty our lover.
And there’s nothing different about you—
about me—about any of this.
Only that we wish it still hurt, just once.
Like the belts our fathers whipped us with,
not to hurt us but just to make sure we remembered.
Like the cotton ball, dipped in alcohol,
rubbed gently on your arm
moments before the doctor asks you to breathe.
From Cenzontle (BOA Editions, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo. Used with the permission of BOA Editions.
He will surely take it out when you’re alone
And let it dangle between you like a locket on a chain.
Like any world, it will flicker with lights that mean dwellings,
Traffic, a constellation of need. Tiny clouds will drag shadows
Across the plane. He’ll grin watching you squint, deciphering
Rivers, borders, bridges arcing up from rock. He’ll recite
Its history. How one empire swallowed another. How one
Civilization lasted 3,000 years with no word for eternity.
He’ll guide your hand through the layers of atmosphere,
Teach you to tamper with the weather. Swinging it
Gently back and forth, he’ll swear he’s never shown it
To anyone else before.
From Wade in the Water (Graywolf Press, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Tracy K. Smith. Used with the permission of Graywolf Press.
Gear adrift I say—a phrasal anchor in me & here at the summit no one I know knows what it means. I stay neat & ask What did I imagine better before work before that last time breaking One Tuesday I volunteered & never again The drumbeat softens & I still decline to admit how cowardly & shipwrecked I feel so many miles from the equator How fast can I choose differently a presence I pretend In the darkest sweater I own I'm almost cold
Copyright © 2018 by Khadijah Queen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 3, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Did she know
there was more to life
than lions licking the furred
ears of lambs,
fruit trees dropping
their fat bounty,
the years droning on
Too much quiet
is never a good sign.
Isn’t there always
beneath the surface?
But what could she say?
The larder was full
and they were beautiful,
their bodies new
as the day they were made.
Each morning the same
flowers broke through
the rich soil, the birds sang,
again, in perfect pitch.
It was only at night,
when they lay together in the dark
that it was almost palpable—
the vague sadness, unnamed.
—call it what you will. What a relief
to feel the weight
fall into her palm. And after,
not to pretend anymore
that the terrible calm
Copyright © 2013 Danusha Laméris. “Eve, After” originally appeared in The Sun Magazine. Used with permission of the author.
Then I was a safe house
for the problem that chose me.
Like pure math, my results
were useless for industry:
not a clear constellation,
a scattered cluster, a bound
gap. When I looked I found
an explorer bent. Love
never dies a natural death.
It happens in a moment.
Everything hinges on
a delicate understanding.
Even the most trusted caregiver
is only trusted for so long.
From Late Empire (Copper Canyon Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Lisa Olstein. Used with the permission of the author.
The Lindt Easter bunny
you said was “solid”
chocolate turned out
to be hollow—its head
caved in when I peeled
back the gold foil
which was probably
better left wrapped,
every language having
its own version of “beer
I like your mouth best
when there’s nothing in it,
just two rows of teeth
surrounding a tongue
stunned into silence.
Copyright © 2018 Timothy Liu. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Spring 2018.