For Akua

Walking, I drew my hand over the lumpy
bloom of a spray of purple; I stripped away
my fingers, stained purple; put it to my nose,

the minty honey, a perfume so aggressively
pleasant—I gave it to you to smell,
my daughter, and you pulled away as if

I was giving you a palm full of wasps,
deceptions: “Smell the way the air
changes because of purple and green.”

This is the promise I make to you:
I will never give you a fist full of wasps,
just the surprise of purple and the scent of rain.

Reproduced from Nebraska: Poems by Kwame Dawes by permission of the University of Nebraska Press. Copyright 2019 by the Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska.

A boy can wear a dress
    by cliff or by
creek, by God or by
   dark in the caul of the devil.

A boy can wear a dress
    bought with a tin-
can full of cherries on the
    day of his daddy’s dying.

A boy can weep in his dress—
    by boat or by plane, he
can sleep in his dress,
    dance in his dress, make

eyes in his dress at the
    flame at the hotel bar.
Goddamn it all to graceland,
    how stunning he looks

in his blue cotton dress,
    just stunning! Nothing can
keep him from
    losing our minds, sluicing

my heart in that way he does.
    Nothing can keep him.
On the walk to his daddy’s wake,
    persons of rank may

question his dress,
    raise their brows at his dress,
so he twirls and twirls
    till his dress is its own

    unaddressed question, un-
veiling the reasons he
    wakes every morning, like an
x-ray for colors beneath

    your colors, your
zygote soul, your naked twirl—


Copyright © 2018 by John Bosworth. Used with the permission of the author.

Translated from Portuguese by Dan Hanrahan

I know you
by your scent,

by your clothes,
by your cars,

by your rings and,
of course,

by your love
of money.

By your love
of money

that some
distant ancestor

left you
as inheritance.

I know you
by your scent.

I know you
by your scent

and by the dollar signs
that embellish

your eyes that
hardly blink

for your
love of money.

For your love
of money

and all that
negates life:

the asylum, the
cell, the border.

I know you
by your scent.

I know you
by the scent

of pestilence and horror
that spreads

wherever you go
—I know you

by your love
of money.

Under your love
of money,

God is a
father so cheap

he charges
for his miracles.

I know you
by your scent.

I know you
by the scent,

of sulfur,
which you can’t mask

which clings to
all that you touch

for the love
of money.

For your love
of money,

you respond
with loathing

to a smile, to pleasure,
to poetry.

I know you
by your scent.

I know you
by your scent.

Smell one of you and
I’ve smelled all

of you who
survive only

by your love
of money.

For the love
of money,

you turn even
your own daughters

to hard currency,
to pure gold.

I know you
by your scent.

I know you
by your scent.

I know you
by the stench

of your rotting
corpse that


for its love
of money.

Originally published in the December 2018 issue of Words Without Borders. © Ricardo Aleixo. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2018 by Dan Hanrahan. All rights reserved.

I dreamed a pronouncement
about poetry and peace.

“People are violent,”
I said through the megaphone

on the quintessentially
frigid Saturday

to the rabble stretching
all the way up First.

“People do violence
unto each other

and unto the earth
and unto its creatures.

Poetry,” I shouted, “Poetry,”
I screamed, “Poetry

changes none of that
by what it says

or how it says, none.
But a poem is a living thing

made by living creatures
(live voice in a small box)

and as life
it is all that can stand

up to violence.”
I put down the megaphone.

The first clap I heard
was my father’s,

then another, then more,
wishing for the same thing

in different vestments.
I never thought, why me?

I had spoken a truth
offered up by ancestral dreams

and my father understood
my declaration

as I understood the mighty man
still caught in the vapor

between this world and that
when he said, “The true intellectual

speaks truth to power.”
If I understand my father

as artist, I am free,
said my friend, of the acts

of her difficult father.
So often it comes down

to the father, his showbiz,
while the mother’s hand

shapes us, beckons us
to ethics, slaps our faces

when we err, soothes
the sting, smoothes the earth

we trample daily, in light
and in dreams. Rally

all your strength, rally
what mother and father

together have made:
us on this planet,

erecting, destroying.

From Crave Radiance: New and Selected Poems 1990-2010 (Graywolf Press, 2010). Copyright © 2010 by Elizabeth Alexander. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Graywolf Press.

“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.

("Died of Wounds")

Because you died, I shall not rest again,
     But wander ever through the lone world wide,
Seeking the shadow of a dream grown vain
               Because you died.

I shall spend brief and idle hours beside
     The many lesser loves that still remain,
But find in none my triumph and my pride;

And Disillusion's slow corroding stain
     Will creep upon each quest but newly tried,
For every striving now shall nothing gain
               Because you died.

          February 1918.

This poem is in the public domain.