//

When my partner asks me for a self-
portrait, I tell them:

            Just out of high school
            I worked as a statue

           of liberty. I wore blue velvet
           and danced along an off-

           shoot of route 6. Mascot
           for freedom—I advertised

           a tax agency. I had come
           out that year.

           Passersby rolled
           down their windows,

           threw lit cigarettes, trash, pennies.
           I have always been one for retaliation.

           So I threw the torch.

\\

 

//

My partner and I research the back-
yard tree with purple droppings

until we discover
she’s a true princess.

Royal green blood with roots
the size of bodies.

This princess is invasive.
She garden-snakes under

our home and upheaves
what we thought we knew

of ourselves. And god,
isn’t it terrible to gender

even a tree. Isn’t it terrible
that she reminds us of what

we’ve named our bodies’
shortcomings. A flower

concaved as cunt
seems, right now, like a betrayal

we will never forgive.

But soon

\\

 

//

I dream that my partner leaves me
for eight years in the Coast Guard,

a kraken stings the surface
of this dark blue nightmare.

Split this dream in half and it becomes
four years and I still don’t know

how to swim. None of this is real.
But god, my partner loves the water,

enough even, for me to get in. 

\\ 

 

//

When my partner turns their hands
into window blinds, they smooth

my aging forehead with this new
type of shade, they call my skin

into perfect order with their skin.

I tell my partner I will be polite
to windows

only when I like what I see
through them. They understand

that this world is hell
bent beyond repair.

But inside
              one another
              there is a peace.

Inside one another
neither of us remembers gender—the meaning
of her or hers. She is lost

                                      to space. He was never
                                      that great to begin with.

We even misplaced the meaning of girl.

If we knew where it had been left,
we still wouldn’t go get it.

\\

 

//

Today I am the age
of an arsenal
                   of letters. 

Between my partner’s legs
I speak the whole

alphabet. They stop me

when I’m close
to what feels right.

At the end of the day
all we have is this ritual

of love, and that, I think,
will be enough

to live forever. 

\\ 

 

Copyright © 2018 Kayleb Rae Candrilli. This poem originally appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review. Used with permission of the author.

 

                             again, been trailing
behind my lace                

                                       again, been

telling all my suns they need to hold
a holy but even summer’s a slicker,
mama, a wash,
                           & another thing is

thunder, I may wish
                      for the sword but I’m soft
in the skirt when I see

 

                                     the girls soft
in theirs, I know, the unknown
                                                  parts

 

from them, & then it’s a fury in the
May my mind lost

                         as if the garden God
pruned His men out of
                                    fed the fire out
from under feeling

 

                          what I feel what I tell
myself to remember

                        sulfur, smoked between

 

her lips I heard
                                  the coming of
the Lord but couldn’t loose
                                myself, mama,
couldn’t burn my bad

 

                                old beauty down
to the cherry topping a tube of paper
rolled around then licked, livid,
                                                 was her
tongue dried
                       honey, burnt marvel,
the slats of a barn raised up
                                          hallelujah
the hands

                 said they feared a Lord with
ugly lips, I know

 

                       it’s not right but I
don’t

            know what my left is doing,
mama, under
                        the hunger I found my
self in half
                   a mine & half
                                             a her

 

bodied, cold as cut grocery
                                roses, a bloomed
sickness all pink smelling, mama, & I
don’t know if it’s my

 

                               self or your God
I should blame.

© Copyright 2018 by Emma Bolden. Used with the permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Quarterly West Issue 93.

             "Tell me whom you love, and I’ll tell you who you are." – Creole Proverb
 

The man whose throat blossoms with spicy chocolates
Tempers my ways of flurrying
Is my inner recesses surfacing
Paints the bedroom blue because he wants to carry me to the skies
Pear eater in the orchard
Possesses Whitmanesque urge & urgency
Boo Bear, the room turns orchestral
Crooked grin of ice cream persuasion
When I speak he bursts into seeds & religion
Poetry housed in a harmonica
Line dances with his awkward flair
Rare steaks, onion rings, Maker’s on the rocks
Once-a-boy pilfering grenadine
Nebraska, Nebraska, Nebraska
Wicked at the door of happiness
At a longed-for distance remains sharply crystalline
Fragments, but by day’s end assembled into joint narrative
Does not make me who I am, entirely
Heart like a fig, sliced
Peonies in a clear round vase, singing
A wisp, a gasp, sonorous stutter
Tuning fork deep in my belly, which is also a bell
Evening where there is no church but fire
Sparks, particles, chrysalis into memory
Moth, pod of enormous pleasure, fluttering about on a train
He knows I don’t need saving & rescues me anyhow
Our often-misunderstood kind of love is dangerous
Darling, fill my cup; the bird has come to roost

Copyright © 2013 by Joseph O. Legaspi. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on April 11, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

There is a holiness to exhaustion
is what I keep telling myself,
filling out the form so my TA gets paid
then making copies of it on the hot
and heaving machine, writing
Strong start! on a pretty bad poem.
And then the children: the baby’s
mouth opening, going for the breast,
the girl’s hair to wash tonight
and then comb so painstakingly
in the tub while conditioner drips
in slick globs onto her shoulders,
while her discipline chart flaps in the air
conditioner at school, taped
to a filing cabinet, longing for stickers.
My heart is so giant this evening,
like one of those moons so full
and beautiful and terrifying
if you see it when you’re getting out
of the car you have to go inside the house
and make someone else come out
and see it for themselves. I want every-
thing, I admit. I want yes of course
and I want it all the time. I want
a clean heart. I want the children
to sleep and the drought
to end. I want the rain to come
down—It’s supposed to monsoon
is what Naomi said, driving away
this morning, and she was right,
as usual. It’s monsooning. Still,
I want more. Even as the streets
are washed clean and then begin
to flood. Even though the man
came again today to check the rat traps
and said he bet we’d catch the rat
within 24 hours. We still haven’t caught
the rat, so I’m working at the table
with my legs folded up beneath me.
I want to know what is holy—
I do. But first I want the rat to die.
I am thirsty for that death
and will drink deeply of that victory,
the thwack of the trap’s hard plastic jaw,
I will rush to see the evidence no matter
how gruesome, leaning my body over
the washing machine to see the thing
crushed there, much smaller
than I’d imagined it’d be,
the strawberry large in its mouth.

Copyright © 2015 by Carrie Fountain. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 30, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

This is my first memory:
A big room with heavy wooden tables that sat on a creaky
       wood floor
A line of green shades—bankers’ lights—down the center
Heavy oak chairs that were too low or maybe I was simply
       too short
              For me to sit in and read
So my first book was always big

In the foyer up four steps a semi-circle desk presided
To the left side the card catalogue
On the right newspapers draped over what looked like
       a quilt rack
Magazines face out from the wall

The welcoming smile of my librarian
The anticipation in my heart
All those books—another world—just waiting
At my fingertips.

"My First Memory (of Librarians)" from Acolytes by Nikki Giovanni. Copyright © 2007 by Nikki Giovanni. Used by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.

Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.

From Homage to Clio by W. H. Auden, published by Random House. Copyright © 1960 W. H. Auden, renewed by the Estate of W. H. Auden. Used by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

Masons, when they start upon a building,
Are careful to test out the scaffolding;

Make sure that planks won’t slip at busy points,
Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints.

And yet all this comes down when the job’s done
Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.

So if, my dear, there sometimes seem to be
Old bridges breaking between you and me

Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall
Confident that we have built our wall.

“Scaffolding” from Opened Ground: Selected Poems 1966–1996​ by Seamus Heaney. Copyright © 1998 by Seamus Heaney.

for DMK

When I thought it was right to name my desires,
what I wanted of life, they seemed to turn
like bleating sheep, not to me, who could have been
a caring, if unskilled, shepherd, but to the boxed-in hills
beyond which the blue mountains sloped down
with poppies orange as crayfish all the way to the Pacific seas
in which the hulls of whales steered them
in search of a mate for whom they bellowed
in a new, highly particular song
we might call the most ardent articulation of love,
the pin at the tip of evolution,
modestly shining.
                                    In the middle of my life
it was right to say my desires
but they went away. I couldn’t even make them out,
not even as dots
now in the distance.  
                                         Yet I see the small lights
of winter campfires in the hills—
teenagers in love often go there
for their first nights—and each yellow-white glow
tells me what I can know and admit to knowing,
that all I ever wanted
was to sit by a fire with someone
who wanted me in measure the same to my wanting.
To want to make a fire with someone,
with you,
was all.

Copyright © 2017 by Katie Ford. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 15, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

You, rare as Georgia
snow. Falling

hard. Quick.
Candle shadow.

             The cold
spell that catches

us by surprise.
The too-early blooms,

tricked, gardenias blown about,
circling wind. Green figs.

     Nothing stays. I want
to watch you walk

the hall to the cold tile
bathroom—all

          night, a lifetime.

From Blue Laws: Selected & Uncollected Poems 1995–2015. Copyright © 2016 Kevin Young. Reprinted with the permission of Alfred A. Knopf.

The bleak fields are asleep,
My heart alone wakes;
The evening in the harbour
Down his red sails takes.

Night, guardian of dreams,
Now wanders through the land;
The moon, a lily white,
Blossoms within her hand.

This poem is in the public domain. From Poems (Tobias A. Wright, 1918), translated by Jessie Lamont. 

Is he native to this realm? No,
his wide nature grew out of both worlds.
They more adeptly bend the willow's branches
who have experience of the willow's roots.

When you go to bed, don't leave bread or milk
on the table: it attracts the dead—
But may he, this quiet conjurer, may he
beneath the mildness of the eyelid

mix their bright traces into every seen thing;
and may the magic of earthsmoke and rue
be as real for him as the clearest connection.

Nothing can mar for him the authentic image;
whether he wanders through houses or graves,
let him praise signet ring, gold necklace, jar.

From Sonnets to Orpheus by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Edward Snow. Copyright © 2004 by Edward Snow. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. All rights reserved.

Do you still remember: falling stars,
how they leapt slantwise through the sky
like horses over suddenly held-out hurdles
of our wishes—did we have so many?—
for stars, innumerable, leapt everywhere;
almost every gaze upward became
wedded to the swift hazard of their play,
and our heart felt like a single thing
beneath that vast disintegration of their brilliance—
and was whole, as if it would survive them!

“Do you still remember: falling stars,” from Uncollected Poems by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Edward Snow. Translation copyright © 1996 by Edward Snow.

Translated by B. Deutsch and A. Yarmolinsky

What will you do, God, when I die?
I am your jar (if cracked, I lie?)
Your well-spring (if the well go dry?)
I am your craft, your vesture I—
You lose your purport, losing me.

When I go, your cold house will be
Empty of words that made it sweet.
I am the sandals your bare feet
Will seek and long for, wearily.

Your cloak will fall from aching bones.
Your glance, that my warm cheeks have cheered
As with a cushion long endeared,
Will wonder at a loss so weird;
And, when the sun has disappeared,
Lie in the lap of alien stones.

What will you do, God? I am feared.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on May 18, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Were it possible, I would be naked. Of the nude philosophy:
consider the globalization of the expensive american sound. 

Should we worry? We should work. I believe you’re right.
I distrust the word “white.” It’s sanctified propaganda. 

Repetition is my language of origin, the highest technology. Anyway
the body is only mine provisionally. For reasons that I’m not sure of,
I am convinced that before becoming music, music was only a word. 

I prefer to destroy the composer, renew the concept.
Extraordinary limitation playing freedom.

Copyright © 2019 by Taylor Johnson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 26, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

This is my first memory:
A big room with heavy wooden tables that sat on a creaky
       wood floor
A line of green shades—bankers’ lights—down the center
Heavy oak chairs that were too low or maybe I was simply
       too short
              For me to sit in and read
So my first book was always big

In the foyer up four steps a semi-circle desk presided
To the left side the card catalogue
On the right newspapers draped over what looked like
       a quilt rack
Magazines face out from the wall

The welcoming smile of my librarian
The anticipation in my heart
All those books—another world—just waiting
At my fingertips.

"My First Memory (of Librarians)" from Acolytes by Nikki Giovanni. Copyright © 2007 by Nikki Giovanni. Used by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

The war was all over my hands.
I held the war and I watched them
die in high-definition. I could watch

anyone die, but I looked away. Still,
I wore the war on my back. I put it
on every morning. I walked the dogs

and they too wore the war. The sky
overhead was clear or it was cloudy
or it rained or it snowed, and I was rarely

afraid of what would fall from it. I worried
about what to do with my car, or how
much I could send my great-aunt this month

and the next. I ate my hamburger, I ate
my pizza, I ate a salad or lentil soup,
and this too was the war.

At times I was able to forget that I
was on the wrong side of the war,
my money and my typing and sleeping

sound at night. I never learned how
to get free. I never learned how
not to have anyone’s blood

on my own soft hands.

Copyright © 2019 by Donika Kelly. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 25, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

My Desire is round,
It is a great globe.
If my desire were no bigger than this world
It were no bigger than a pin’s head.
But this world is to the world I want
As a cinder to Sirius.

This poem is in the public domain.

        for Jericho, with thanks to Carl Phillips

I like men who are cruel to me;
men who know how I will end;
men who, when they touch me,
fasten their shadows to my neck
then get out my face when certain
they haven’t much use for being seen.
I like men to be cruel to me.
Any men who build their bodies into
widths of doors I only walk through
once will do. There’s a difference
between entrances and exits I don’t
have much use for now. I’ve seen
what’s left behind after a hawk
has seized a smaller bird midair.
The feathers lay circled in prattle
with rotting crab apples, grasses passing
between the entrances and exits
of clover. The raptor, somewhere
over it, over it. Cruelty where?
The hell would grief go in a goshawk?
It’s enough to risk the open field,
its rotten crab apples, grasses passing
out like lock-kneed mourners in sun.
There I was, scoping, scavenging
the damage to drag mystery out of
a simple read: two animals wanted
life enough to risk the open field
and one of them took what it hunted.
Each one tells me he wants me
vulnerable. I already wrote that book.
The body text cleaved to the spine,
simple to read as two animals wanting
to see inside each other and one
pulling back a wing to offer—See?
Here—the fastest way in or out
and you knew how it would end.
You cleaved the body text to the spine
cause you read closely. You clock damage.
It was a door you walked through once
before pivoting toward a newer image of risk.

Copyright © 2020 by Justin Phillip Reed. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 10, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

looking over the plums, one by one
lifting each to his eyes and
turning it slowly, a little earth,
checking the smooth skin for pockmarks
and rot, or signs of unkind days or people,
then sliding them gently into the plastic.
whistling softly, reaching with a slim, woolen arm
into the cart, he first balanced them over the wire
before realizing the danger of bruising
and lifting them back out, cradling them
in the crook of his elbow until
something harder could take that bottom space.
I knew him from his hat, one of those
fine porkpie numbers they used to sell
on Roosevelt Road. it had lost its feather but
he had carefully folded a dollar bill
and slid it between the ribbon and the felt
and it stood at attention. he wore his money.
upright and strong, he was already to the checkout
by the time I caught up with him. I called out his name
and he spun like a dancer, candy bar in hand,
looked at me quizzically for a moment before
remembering my face. he smiled. well
hello young lady
       hello, so chilly today
       should have worn my warm coat like you
yes so cool for August in Chicago
       how are things going for you
oh
he sighed and put the candy on the belt
it goes, it goes.

Copyright © 2018 Eve L. Ewing. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Spring 2018.

apricots & brown teeth in browner mouths nashing dates & a clementine’s underflesh under yellow nail & dates like auntie heads & the first time someone dried mango there was god & grandma’s Sunday only song & how the plums are better as plums dammit & i was wrong & a June’s worth of moons & the kiss stain of the berries & lord the prunes & the miracle of other people’s lives & none of my business & our hands sticky and a good empty & please please pass the bowl around again & the question of dried or ripe & the sex of grapes & too many dates & us us us us us & varied are the feast but so same the sound of love gorged & the women in the Y hijab a lily in the water & all of us who come from people who signed with x’s & yesterday made delicacy in the wrinkle of the fruit & at the end of my name begins the lot of us

Copyright © 2019 by Danez Smith. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 29, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

I am sick of writing this poem
but bring the boy. his new name

his same old body. ordinary, black
dead thing. bring him & we will mourn
until we forget what we are mourning

& isn’t that what being black is about?
not the joy of it, but the feeling

you get when you are looking
at your child, turn your head,
then, poof, no more child.

that feeling. that’s black.

\\

think: once, a white girl

was kidnapped & that’s the Trojan war.

later, up the block, Troy got shot
& that was Tuesday. are we not worthy

of a city of ash? of 1000 ships
launched because we are missed?

always, something deserves to be burned.
it’s never the right thing now a days.

I demand a war to bring the dead boy back
no matter what his name is this time.

I at least demand a song. a song will do just fine.

\\

look at what the lord has made.
above Missouri, sweet smoke.

Copyright © 2014 by Danez Smith. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database

My Mama moved among the days
like a dreamwalker in a field;
seemed like what she touched was hers
seemed like what touched her couldn’t hold,
she got us almost through the high grass
then seemed like she turned around and ran
right back in
right back on in

From The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton. Copyright © 1987 by Lucille Clifton. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.

tonight I'm cleaning baby portobellos
for you, my young activist

wiping the dirty tops with a damp cloth
as carefully as I used to rinse raspberries

for you to adorn your fingertips
before eating each blood-red prize

these days you rarely look me in the eye
& your long shagged hair hides your smile

I don’t expect you to remember or
understand the many ways I’ve kept you

alive or the life my love for you
has made me live

Copyright © 2017 by Rachel Zucker. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 23, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

When she looked down from the kitchen window
into the back yard and the brown wicker
baby carriage in which she had tucked me
three months old to lie out in the fresh air
of my first January the carriage
was shaking she said and went on shaking
and she saw I was lying there laughing
she told me about it later it was
something that reassured her in a life
in which she had lost everyone she loved
before I was born and she had just begun
to believe that she might be able to
keep me as I lay there in the winter
laughing it was what she was thinking of
later when she told me that I had been
a happy child and she must have kept that
through the gray cloud of all her days and now
out of the horn of dreams of my own life
I wake again into the laughing child

W. S. Merwin, “The Laughing Child” from Garden Time. Copyright © 2016 by W. S. Merwin. Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press,www.coppercanyonpress.org.

Moving from Cheer to Joy, from Joy to All,
I take a box
And add it to my wild rice, my Cornish game hens.
The slacked or shorted, basketed, identical
Food-gathering flocks
Are selves I overlook.  Wisdom, said William James,

Is learning what to overlook.  And I am wise
If that is wisdom.
Yet somehow, as I buy All from these shelves
And the boy takes it to my station wagon,
What I've become
Troubles me even if I shut my eyes.

When I was young and miserable and pretty
And poor, I'd wish
What all girls wish: to have a husband,
A house and children.  Now that I'm old, my wish
Is womanish:
That the boy putting groceries in my car

See me.  It bewilders me he doesn't see me.
For so many years
I was good enough to eat: the world looked at me
And its mouth watered.  How often they have undressed me,
The eyes of strangers!
And, holding their flesh within my flesh, their vile

Imaginings within my imagining,
I too have taken
The chance of life.  Now the boy pats my dog
And we start home.  Now I am good.
The last mistaken,
Ecstatic, accidental bliss, the blind

Happiness that, bursting, leaves upon the palm
Some soap and water--
It was so long ago, back in some Gay
Twenties, Nineties, I don't know . . . Today I miss
My lovely daughter
Away at school, my sons away at school,

My husband away at work--I wish for them.
The dog, the maid,
And I go through the sure unvarying days
At home in them.  As I look at my life,
I am afraid
Only that it will change, as I am changing:

I am afraid, this morning, of my face.
It looks at me
From the rear-view mirror, with the eyes I hate,
The smile I hate.  Its plain, lined look
Of gray discovery
Repeats to me: "You're old."  That's all, I'm old.

And yet I'm afraid, as I was at the funeral
I went to yesterday.
My friend's cold made-up face, granite among its flowers,
Her undressed, operated-on, dressed body
Were my face and body.
As I think of her I hear her telling me

How young I seem; I am exceptional;
I think of all I have.
But really no one is exceptional,
No one has anything, I'm anybody,
I stand beside my grave
Confused with my life, that is commonplace and solitary.

From The Complete Poems by Randall Jarrell, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc. Copyright © 1969, renewed 1997 by Mary von S. Jarrell. Reprinted with permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. All rights reserved.

California drought withering the basins,
the hills ready to ignite. Oh, stupid ways

I’ve loved and unraveled myself.
I, a parched field, and not a spit of rain.

I announced to a room of strangers,
I’ve never loved anyone more.

Now he and I no longer speak.

Outside: Manila, 40 years
after my parents’ first arrival.

I deplane where they debarked.
At customs, I am given a sheet warning of MERS—

in ’75, my parents received fishermen’s lunches,
a bottle of fish sauce. They couldn’t enter

until they were vaccinated. My mother, 22,
newly emptied of a stillborn daughter.

In Đà Nẵng, my cousin has become unrecognizable
after my four year absence. His teeth, at 21,

have begun to rot. His face swollen over.
I want to shield him from his terrible life.

Tazed at 15 by the cops until he pissed himself.
So beaten in the mental institution, that family had to

bring him home. His mother always near tears
when I ask, How are you doing?

You want to know what survivorhood looks like?
It’s not romantic. The corn drying huskless

in the front yard. The ducks chasing each other in the back.
The thick arms of a woman who will carry bricks

for the rest of her life. The plainness with which
she speaks of hardship. The bricks aren’t a metaphor

for the weight she carries. Ánh, which means light,
is sick, and cannot work,

but instead goes wandering the neighborhood,
eating other people’s food, bloating

his mother’s unpayable debts.
What pleasure can be found here,

even if the love is palpable?
My mother stopped crying years ago.

What’s the use, she says, of all this leaking.
Enough to fill a drainage ditch, a reservoir?

No, just enough to wet a pillow.
What a waste of time, me pining after

a man who no longer feels for me.
Today, I would give it up. Trade mine

for theirs. They tell me that they are not hungry.
Happy is their toil. My uncles and their

browned skins, not a pinch of fat anywhere.
They work the fields and swallow

beer after beer, getting sentimental.
Whose birds have come to roost, whose pigs in the muck?

Their dog has just birthed four new pups.
Despite ourselves, time moves on.

I walked lover’s lane with my cousin.

The heart-lights reflected on the river’s black.
The locks clustered and dangling.

I should have left our names on that bridge.
My name, the names of my family, written there.

Copyright © 2016 by Cathy Linh Che. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 21, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

What will suffice for a true-love knot? Even the rain?
But he has bought grief’s lottery, bought even the rain.

“Our glosses / wanting in this world”—“Can you remember?”
Anyone!—“when we thought / the poets taught” even the rain?

After we died—That was it!—God left us in the dark.
And as we forgot the dark, we forgot even the rain.

Drought was over. Where was I? Drinks were on the house.
For mixers, my love, you’d poured—what?—even the rain.

Of this pear-shaped orange’s perfumed twist, I will say:
Extract Vermouth from the bergamot, even the rain.

How did the Enemy love you—with earth? air? and fire?
He held just one thing back till he got even: the rain.

This is God’s site for a new house of executions?
You swear by the Bible, Despot, even the rain?

After the bones—those flowers—this was found in the urn:
The lost river, ashes from the ghat, even the rain.

What was I to prophesy if not the end of the world?
A salt pillar for the lonely lot, even the rain.

How the air raged, desperate, streaming the earth with flames—
To help burn down my house, Fire sought even the rain.

He would raze the mountains, he would level the waves;
he would, to smooth his epic plot, even the rain.

New York belongs at daybreak to only me, just me—
To make this claim Memory’s brought even the rain.

They’ve found the knife that killed you, but whose prints are these?
No one has such small hands, Shahid, not even the rain.

From Call Me Ishmael Tonight by Agha Shahid Ali. Copyright © 2003 by the Agha Shahid Ali Literary Trust. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

You deserve your beautiful life.

Its expectant icicles, the dread forest
that is not our forest.
And yet, we meet there.
The streams streaming through us.
The leaves leaving through us.

Once I was black-haired
and I sat in my country’s lap.

I was so sure she was asking me
what I wanted.

Invite at least 15 people. It’s okay if your apartment is small. Put 7 lb of cut up chicken in the biggest pot you own with 2 parts soy sauce 2 parts vinegar and 1 part water. Make sure to completely cover the chicken. Throw in a handful of black peppercorns, lots of bay leaves, and two fistfuls of garlic cloves. Bring to a rolling boil and simmer until chicken is almost falling off the bone (around 45 minutes to 1 hour.) Place chicken on a baking sheet and broil for 10 minutes until the skin is crispy and slightly charred. Boil remaining liquid for 15–20 minutes to reduce and add 1 can coconut milk to make a sauce. Plate chicken and pour sauce over. Serve with so much white rice.

From Loves You. Copyright © 2019 by Sarah Gambito. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Persea Books.

            —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.

If the water forms
the forms of the weeds, there—

a long life is not by that
a necessarily happy one.

My friend. We
reckon on a simple

agreement,
the fashion of a stone

underground.

From The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley (University of California Press, 2006). Copyright © 2006 by the Estate of Robert Creeley. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

Yesterday: me, a stone, the river,
a bottle of Jack, the clouds
with unusual speed crept by.

A man was in the middle of me.
I was humbled.
Not by him. The earth,

with its unusual speed,
went from dawn to dusk to dawn.
Just like that. The light

every shade of gold. Gold. I’m
greedy for it. Light is my currency.
I am big with dawn. So hot & so

pregnant with the fire I stole.
By pregnant I mean everything
you see is of me. Daylight

is my daughter. Dusk, my lover’s
post-pleasure face. And the night?
Well. Look up.

Are you ever really alone?

Copyright © 2020 by Katie Condon. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 7, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

is it a good thing to find
two empty pages between the day 
before yesterday & yesterday 
when trying to make room
for the blue opera afternoon 
of today a sunday like any sunday
in may?
            there is no one could tell 
or judge though my own
obsession with the in between 
should dictate the answer
& thus let me rejoice at being able 
to insert today between the
day before yesterday & yesterday 
as if it were the yeast of night 
allowed these spaces to open
(do not say holes to grow)
in the spongy tissue of this
my papery time-space discon- 
tinuum—
            leaven of earth leaven of writing 
of running writing to earth
in these in betweenesses that now 
please as much as the opera in ear 
that asks que dieu vous le rende dans
l’autre monde but the desire is to stay right 
here in this world this in between even as 
the sound changes the radio sings son 
vada o resti intanto non partirai
di qua

            exactly my feeling sheltered on these 
pages now filled and pushing up against 
yesterday

Copyright © 2014 by Pierre Joris. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on January 22, 2014. Browse the Poem-a-Day archive.

The best thing of all is to take the enemy’s country whole and intact.
My mother took my heart out. She banked it on top of her stove.
It glowed white. She put it back in my chest.

Tita knew that overseas workers often had affairs.
He licked me and I pretended it pinged through my body like a swift idea
That I wrote about and considered like a bell of good craftsmanship.
She also knew that their kids ate better

He said your belly is like a cat’s.
He said with his bowl up to his chin
More please.

At night the fireflies come out. They flock to my window.
I put my hands up against the screen.
I think how fragile it is to be inside a house.
They say I want permission

I paint my face. I say—just take it.
Easy. If equally matched, we can offer battle.
If unequal in any way, we can flee from him.

Deprived of their father while sustained by his wages.
I thought a lot about walking around at night.
By myself. Just to think. But I never did.
I thought I could just flick a switch.

When I was born, my mother and father gave me a gardenia like personal star.
Don't you hate it when someone apologizes all the time?
It's like they are not even sorry.

From Delivered by Sarah Gambito. Copyright © 2009 by Sarah Gambito. Reprinted by Persea Books. All rights reserved.

The way is written in the dark:

it has steel in it, something metallic, a gun,

a mallet, a piece of machinery—

something cold like the sea, something,

 

a nervous shudder. If it

were to go on, the next stanza

would snuff out sound.
 
It would stand in a forest

that cannot bring you faith and a woman

carrying a basket of glass jars gives one
 
to you. They carry dying fireflies. No,

they’re dried hands holding lit matches

and she tells you it’s your light, it’s your fucking light.

Copyright © 2015 by Oliver de la Paz. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.

I am not a painter, I am a poet.
Why? I think I would rather be
a painter, but I am not. Well,

for instance, Mike Goldberg
is starting a painting. I drop in.
“Sit down and have a drink” he
says. I drink; we drink. I look
up. “You have SARDINES in it.”
“Yes, it needed something there.”
“Oh.” I go and the days go by
and I drop in again. The painting
is going on, and I go, and the days
go by. I drop in. The painting is
finished. “Where’s SARDINES?”
All that’s left is just
letters, “It was too much,” Mike says.

But me? One day I am thinking of
a color: orange. I write a line
about orange. Pretty soon it is a
whole page of words, not lines.
Then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
and life. Days go by. It is even in
prose, I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven’t mentioned
orange yet. It’s twelve poems, I call
it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery
I see Mike’s painting, called SARDINES.

Why I Am Not a Painter, copyright © 2008 by Maureen Granville-Smith, from Selected Poems by Frank O’Hara, edited by Mark Ford. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.