I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don't tell! they'd advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!

Poetry used by permission of the publishers and the Trustees of Amherst College from The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Ralph W. Franklin ed., Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Copyright © 1998 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © 1951, 1955, 1979 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.


—after Louise Bourgeois, “What is the shape of this problem” (1999)

Anything can be a thread: fossil

of a seahorse entombed in an earring
box, safety pin festooned
with four wrinkled cords.

A friend tells me
her daughter once confided:
I want a life
different from yours.

I’ve been there,
and also been that wish.

What could one do
with the moon’s floodlights
burning a hole in the sky?

I wanted to stand
in the aperture and be
seen—

and what I’ve wanted
may have come true
or not. I lay down
and let a body

press into mine, undo
the chaste buttons of red silk.
Afterwards, even the rain

could feel oracular. But what if
it’s part of our nature
to want to leave
more than a trace?

Even the moon doesn’t want to return
the comb stuck in its cheek.

The metal teeth bend
toward the river swells. Small
white wings paper the sides of a lamp—
Beautiful and unerring, whatever fate
singes with fire.

Out of the cold current I lift
and stack stones. I rub sticks together.
There are some things I can do.
There are some things I can’t take back.

Copyright © 2018 by Luisa A. Igloria. This poem originally appeared in What is Left of Wings, I Ask, 2018. Used with permission of the author.

I went down to the river,
I set down on the bank.
I tried to think but couldn't,
So I jumped in and sank.

I came up once and hollered!
I came up twice and cried!
If that water hadn't a-been so cold
I might've sunk and died.

     But it was      Cold in that water!      It was cold!

I took the elevator
Sixteen floors above the ground.
I thought about my baby
And thought I would jump down.

I stood there and I hollered!
I stood there and I cried!
If it hadn't a-been so high
I might've jumped and died.

     But it was      High up there!      It was high!

So since I'm still here livin',
I guess I will live on.
I could've died for love—
But for livin' I was born

Though you may hear me holler,
And you may see me cry—
I'll be dogged, sweet baby,
If you gonna see me die.

     Life is fine!      Fine as wine!      Life is fine!

From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Copyright © 1994 the Estate of Langston Hughes. Used with permission.

To fling my arms wide
In some place of the sun,
To whirl and to dance
Till the white day is done.
Then rest at cool evening
Beneath a tall tree
While night comes on gently,
    Dark like me—
That is my dream!

To fling my arms wide
In the face of the sun,
Dance! Whirl! Whirl!
Till the quick day is done.
Rest at pale evening . . .
A tall, slim tree . . .
Night coming tenderly
    Black like me.

From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Copyright © 1994 the Estate of Langston Hughes. Used with permission.

The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
     It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all, there’s the name that the family use daily,
     Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo, or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey—
     All of them sensible everyday names.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
     Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter—
     But all of them sensible everyday names,
But I tell you, a cat needs a name that’s particular,
     A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
     Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,
     Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,
Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum—
     Names that never belong to more than one cat.
But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,
     And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover—
     But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
     The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
     Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
          His ineffable effable
          Effanineffable
Deep and inscrutable singular name.

From Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. Copyright © 1939 by T. S. Eliot, renewed © 1967 by Esme Valerie Eliot. Used with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

It is difficult to know what to do with so much happiness.
With sadness there is something to rub against,
a wound to tend with lotion and cloth.
When the world falls in around you, you have pieces to pick up,
something to hold in your hands, like ticket stubs or change.

But happiness floats.
It doesn’t need you to hold it down.
It doesn’t need anything.
Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing,
and disappears when it wants to.
You are happy either way.
Even the fact that you once lived in a peaceful tree house
and now live over a quarry of noise and dust
cannot make you unhappy.
Everything has a life of its own,
it too could wake up filled with possibilities
of coffee cake and ripe peaches,
and love even the floor which needs to be swept,
the soiled linens and scratched records . . .

Since there is no place large enough
to contain so much happiness,
you shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you
into everything you touch. You are not responsible.
You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit
for the moon, but continues to hold it, and share it,
and in that way, be known.

"So Much Happiness" from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye, copyright © 1995. Reprinted with the permission of Far Corner Books.

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

the open living-room windows because the heat’s on too high in here and I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss—we want more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I'm gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you.

From What the Living Do, copyright © 1998 by Marie Howe. Used by permission of W. W. Norton. All rights reserved.

after Etel Adnan

And there, 
between clean walls
you assume 
the position,
angled toward 
the red squares 
roiling
on her canvases.

Into the oils 
of a new tense
she herself
days before 
had dissolved.

There, impasto:
her mountain.

Trimmed down 
to the first 
seeing.

Tamalpais 
at every pitch,
pistachio 
patches scraping
against cobalt.
Edges opaque
until they refused.

Mountainous,
she, too—
which is to say 
surfacing,
color latching 
to the seasons 
where meaning
rushes.

Of this transition
the living are given 
no access.                                                                

You, turning 
away from 
the dry wall,
where nothing
tears through.

A red square
appears in your days
yet you know
not yet where.

Copyright © 2022 by Jenny Xie. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 23, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

And if I give up on consequences 
is that despair  
or passion? I can’t protect  
myself from either. The lantern swinging  
bearing down, pressing the dark  
to a sliver  
of shade at the edges of my field  
of vision. My body alight in  
the seat of this question and indecisive— 
if to be moved through,
                         de-throated,  
the groove in the thoroughfare.

I felt reduced waking up 

crumpled by the water, an amniotic curve 
along the shore. My only shape
was having been carried,
left at rest. And everything
I thought I could lose—
when I followed the rushes back, resurfaced.

Wings tucked just so or grasses threaded 
gently from ear to ear, rewiring their small 
skulls. I understood the first mercy  
             of diving is blindness, those parachutes blooming
                        the drag that yanked me back 
to my body, almost touching my lungs.

Copyright © 2022 by Tobi Kassim. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 10, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

And if I give up on consequences 
is that despair  
or passion? I can’t protect  
myself from either. The lantern swinging  
bearing down, pressing the dark  
to a sliver  
of shade at the edges of my field  
of vision. My body alight in  
the seat of this question and indecisive— 
if to be moved through,
                         de-throated,  
the groove in the thoroughfare.

I felt reduced waking up 

crumpled by the water, an amniotic curve 
along the shore. My only shape
was having been carried,
left at rest. And everything
I thought I could lose—
when I followed the rushes back, resurfaced.

Wings tucked just so or grasses threaded 
gently from ear to ear, rewiring their small 
skulls. I understood the first mercy  
             of diving is blindness, those parachutes blooming
                        the drag that yanked me back 
to my body, almost touching my lungs.

Copyright © 2022 by Tobi Kassim. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 10, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

for the cloak of despair thrown over our bright & precious
corners but tell that to the lone bird who did not get the memo
dizzy & shouting into the newly unfamiliar absence of morning
light from atop a sagging branch outside my window—a branch

which, too, was closer to the sky before falling into the chorus
line of winter’s relentless percussion all of us, victims to this flimsy math 
of hours I was told there was a cure for this. I was told the darkness
would surrender its weapons & retreat I know of no devils who evict themselves

to the point of permanence. and still, on the days I want
to be alive the sunlight leaves me stunned like a kiss
from someone who has already twirled away by the time my eyes open 
on the days I want to be alive I tell myself I deserve a marching band

or at least a string section to announce my arrival above
ground for another cluster of hours. if not a string section, at least one
drummer & a loud-voiced singer well versed in what might move me
to dance. what might push my hand through a crowded sidewalk

towards a woman who looks like a woman from my dreams
which means nothing if you dream as I do, everyone a hazy quilt
of features only familiar enough to lead me through a cavern of longing
upon my waking & so I declare on the days I want to be alive I might drag

my drummer & my singer to your doorstep & ask you to dance
yes, you, who also survived the groaning machinery of darkness
you who, despite this, do not want to be perceived in an empire
awash with light in the sinning hours & we will dance

until our joyful heaving flows into breathless crying, the two often pouring
out of the chest’s orchestra at the same tempo, siblings in their arrival & listen,
there will be no horns to in the marching band of my survival.

the preacher says there will be horns at the gates of the apocalypse & I believed even myself
the angel of death as a boy, when I held my lips to a metal mouthpiece & blew out a tune
about autumn & I am pressing your ear to my window & asking if you can hear the deep
moans of the anguished bird & how the wind bends them into what sounds like a child
clumsily pushing air into a trumpet for the first time & there’s the joke:

only a fool believes that the sound at the end of the world would be sweet.

Copyright © 2022 by Hanif Abdurraqib. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 23, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

for the cloak of despair thrown over our bright & precious
corners but tell that to the lone bird who did not get the memo
dizzy & shouting into the newly unfamiliar absence of morning
light from atop a sagging branch outside my window—a branch

which, too, was closer to the sky before falling into the chorus
line of winter’s relentless percussion all of us, victims to this flimsy math 
of hours I was told there was a cure for this. I was told the darkness
would surrender its weapons & retreat I know of no devils who evict themselves

to the point of permanence. and still, on the days I want
to be alive the sunlight leaves me stunned like a kiss
from someone who has already twirled away by the time my eyes open 
on the days I want to be alive I tell myself I deserve a marching band

or at least a string section to announce my arrival above
ground for another cluster of hours. if not a string section, at least one
drummer & a loud-voiced singer well versed in what might move me
to dance. what might push my hand through a crowded sidewalk

towards a woman who looks like a woman from my dreams
which means nothing if you dream as I do, everyone a hazy quilt
of features only familiar enough to lead me through a cavern of longing
upon my waking & so I declare on the days I want to be alive I might drag

my drummer & my singer to your doorstep & ask you to dance
yes, you, who also survived the groaning machinery of darkness
you who, despite this, do not want to be perceived in an empire
awash with light in the sinning hours & we will dance

until our joyful heaving flows into breathless crying, the two often pouring
out of the chest’s orchestra at the same tempo, siblings in their arrival & listen,
there will be no horns to in the marching band of my survival.

the preacher says there will be horns at the gates of the apocalypse & I believed even myself
the angel of death as a boy, when I held my lips to a metal mouthpiece & blew out a tune
about autumn & I am pressing your ear to my window & asking if you can hear the deep
moans of the anguished bird & how the wind bends them into what sounds like a child
clumsily pushing air into a trumpet for the first time & there’s the joke:

only a fool believes that the sound at the end of the world would be sweet.

Copyright © 2022 by Hanif Abdurraqib. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 23, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.