love between us is
speech and breath. loving you is
a long river running.

From Like the Singing Coming Off the Drums. Copyright © 1998 by Sonia Sanchez. Used with the permission of Beacon Press. 

Already, we'd be driving past
those trees, that part of the forest.
Even briefly, it refreshed you.
It was like mint in August
though that sting would be gone
with summer. The ground
tarnishing first, and soon the leaves.
I thought then, men don't stop.
They want so much to get on.
What we said, incidental
yet hammered into the mind.
Talk like a magnet, so it draws you
together or away. We made a line
around that part of the forest,
the exact shape of our attention.
Even after, I remember
how it was taken up and moved
along with us, into the dim
living room. Each holding a glass,
ice colliding in water. A tiny
mirrored sun caught in the trees.
The same sadness that darkened
our features. Later, bed
without making love, without
the chance of a reprieve.

"Mint" from Not To: New & Selected Poems, published by The Sheep Meadow Press. Copyright © 2006 by Elaine Terranova. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

I.

Winter?   Spring?   Who knows?
     White buds from the plumtrees wing
And mingle with the snows.
No blue skies these flowers bring,
Yet their fragrance augurs Spring.

II.

Oh, were the white waves,
     Far on the glimmering sea
That the moonshine laves,
Dream flowers drifting to me,—
I would cull them, love, for thee.

III.

Moon, somnolent, white,
     Mirrored in a waveless sea,
What fickle mood of night
Urged thee from heaven to flee
And live in the dawnlit sea?

IV.

Like mist on the leas,
     Fall gently, oh rain of Spring
On the orange trees
That to Ume’s casement cling—
Perchance, she’ll hear the love-bird sing.

V.

Though love has grown cold
     The woods are bright with flowers,
Why not as of old
Go to the wildwood bowers
And dream of—bygone hours!

VI.

Tell, what name beseems
     These vain and wandering days!
Like the bark of dreams
That from souls at daybreak strays
They are lost on trackless ways.

VII.

Oh, climb to my lips,
     Frail muse of the amber wine!
Joy to him who sips
Cups of fragrant sake wine
Flowing from some fount divine.

VII.

If pleasures be mine
     As aeons and aeons roll by,
Why should I repine
That under some future sky
I may live as butterfly?

IX.

Were we able to tell
     When old age would come our way,
We would muffle the bell,
Lock the door and go away—
Let him call some other day.

From Tanka and Haikai: Japanese Rhythms (1916) by Sadakichi Hartmann. These poems are in the public domain.

In the diorama’s replica world
Artificial light mimics storm glow
On the stage set of a prairie

Wet sheets slouch on a clothesline
A tornado touches down
On the curved horizon of the backdrop

Still miles away
Debris and wind have not yet
Reached the here and now

Through the unglazed window
Of the makeshift shelter
A lit lamp sits on the sill

Behind it realia in viscous shadow
An ambiguous space where we are asked
To imagine a life is lived

Copyright © 2018 Eric Pankey. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Winter 2018.

Where an ash bush grows in the lake
a ring of stones has broken cover
in this summer's drought.
Not high enough to be an island,
it holds a disc of stiller water
in the riffled lake.

Trees have reclaimed the railway line behind us;
behind that, the road goes east—
as two lines parallel in space and time run away from us
this discovered circle draws us in.
In drowned towns
bells toll only for sailors and for the credulous
but this necklace of wet stones,
remnant of a wattle Atlantis,
catches us all by the throat.

We don't know what beads or blades
are held in the bog lake's wet amber
but much of us longs to live in water
and we recognise this surfacing
of old homes of love and hurt.

A troubled bit of us is kin
to people who drew a circle in water,
loaded boats with stone,
and raised a dry island and a fort
with a whole lake for a moat.

From The Wake Forest Series of Irish Poetry, Volume Two, edited by Jefferson Holdridge. Copyright © 2010 by Moya Cannon. Used by permission of Wake Forest University Press. All rights reserved.

I have been thinking about the love-hat relationship.
It is the relationship based on love of one another's hats. 
The problem with the love-hat relationship is that it is superficial. 
You don't necessarily even know the other person. 
Also it is too dependent on whether the other person 
is even wearing the favored hat. We all enjoy hats,
but they're not something to build an entire relationship on.
My advice to young people is to like hats but not love them.
Try having like-hat relationships with one another. 
See if you can find something interesting about 
the personality of the person whose hat you like.

From Lovely, Raspberry by Aaron Belz. Copyright © 2010 by Aaron Belz. Used by permission of Persea Books.

The children race now here by the ivied fence,
gather squealing now there by the lily border.
The evening calms the quickened air, immense
and warm; its veil is pierced with fire. The order
of space discloses as pair by pair porch lights
carve shadows. Cool phosphors flare when dark
permits yearning to signal where, with spark
and pause and spark, the fireflies are, the sites
they spiral when they aspire, with carefree ardor
busy, to embrace a star that draws them thence.

Like children we stand and stare, watching the field
that twinkles where gold wisps fare to the end
of dusk, as the sudden sphere, ivory shield
aloft, of moon stands clear of the world's far bend.

From Shadow Box by Fred Chappell. Copyright © 2010 by Fred Chappell. Used by permission of Louisiana State University Press. All rights reserved.

Raven was in a deep sleep,
dreaming the world. He saw things
and they happened, He dreamed things
and they came to life. He hardly knew 
where to begin or what to do 

once the world was. At last He understood 
Fodder's dilemma. It troubled Him, 
made Him restless, disturbed His sleep. 
Then the terrible thing happened:
He had a thought.
 
Everything dream? He wonder.
Then the worst thing happened:
He had another thought, one thought
following the other.
Who dreaming Raven? He wonder and
 
this woke Him up.
He looked up, He looked down, He
looked all around.
Don't know, He say and
He couldn't get back to sleep.

From Raven's Paradise by Red Hawk. Copyright © 2010 by Red Hawk. Used by permission of Bright Hill Press. All rights reserved.

I love you
            because the Earth turns round the sun
            because the North wind blows north
                 sometimes
            because the Pope is Catholic
                 and most Rabbis Jewish
            because the winters flow into springs
                 and the air clears after a storm
            because only my love for you
                 despite the charms of gravity
                 keeps me from falling off this Earth
                 into another dimension
I love you
            because it is the natural order of things

I love you
            like the habit I picked up in college
                 of sleeping through lectures
                 or saying I’m sorry
                 when I get stopped for speeding
            because I drink a glass of water
                 in the morning
                 and chain-smoke cigarettes
                 all through the day
            because I take my coffee Black
                 and my milk with chocolate
            because you keep my feet warm
                 though my life a mess
I love you
            because I don’t want it
                 any other way

I am helpless
            in my love for you
It makes me so happy
            to hear you call my name
I am amazed you can resist
            locking me in an echo chamber
            where your voice reverberates
            through the four walls
            sending me into spasmatic ecstasy
I love you
            because it’s been so good
            for so long
            that if I didn’t love you
            I’d have to be born again
            and that is not a theological statement
I am pitiful in my love for you

The Dells tell me Love
            is so simple
            the thought though of you
            sends indescribably delicious multitudinous
            thrills throughout and through-in my body
I love you
            because no two snowflakes are alike
            and it is possible
            if you stand tippy-toe
            to walk between the raindrops
I love you
            because I am afraid of the dark
                 and can’t sleep in the light
            because I rub my eyes
                 when I wake up in the morning
                 and find you there
            because you with all your magic powers were
                 determined that
I should love you
            because there was nothing for you but that
I would love you

I love you
            because you made me
                 want to love you
            more than I love my privacy
                 my freedom          my commitments
                      and responsibilities
I love you ’cause I changed my life
            to love you
            because you saw me one Friday
                 afternoon and decided that I would
love you
I love you I love you I love you

“Resignation” from The Collected Poetry of Nikki Giovanni: 1968–1998 by Nikki Giovanni. Copyright compilation © 2003 by Nikki Giovanni. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

What can be said in New Year rhymes,
That's not been said a thousand times?

The new years come, the old years go,
We know we dream, we dream we know.

We rise up laughing with the light,
We lie down weeping with the night.

We hug the world until it stings,
We curse it then and sigh for wings.

We live, we love, we woo, we wed,
We wreathe our brides, we sheet our dead.

We laugh, we weep, we hope, we fear,
And that's the burden of the year.

This poem is in the public domain.

The porch swing hangs fixed in a morning sun
that bleaches its gray slats, its flowered cushion
whose flowers have faded, like those of summer,
and a small brown spider has hung out her web
on a line between porch post and chain
so that no one may swing without breaking it.
She is saying it’s time that the swinging were done with,
time that the creaking and pinging and popping
that sang through the ceiling were past,
time now for the soft vibrations of moths,
the wasp tapping each board for an entrance,
the cool dewdrops to brush from her work
every morning, one world at a time.

From Flying at Night: Poems 1965-1985, by Ted Kooser, © 2005. Reprinted with permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

Put down that bag of potato chips, that white bread, that bottle of pop.

Turn off that cellphone, computer, and remote control.

Open the door, then close it behind you.

Take a breath offered by friendly winds. They travel the earth gathering essences of plants to clean.

Give it back with gratitude.

If you sing it will give your spirit lift to fly to the stars’ ears and back.

Acknowledge this earth who has cared for you since you were a dream planting itself precisely within your parents’ desire.

Let your moccasin feet take you to the encampment of the guardians who have known you before time, who will be there after time. They sit before the fire that has been there without time.

Let the earth stabilize your postcolonial insecure jitters.

Be respectful of the small insects, birds and animal people who accompany you.
Ask their forgiveness for the harm we humans have brought down upon them.

Don’t worry.
The heart knows the way though there may be high-rises, interstates, checkpoints, armed soldiers, massacres, wars, and those who will despise you because they despise themselves.

The journey might take you a few hours, a day, a year, a few years, a hundred, a thousand or even more.

Watch your mind. Without training it might run away and leave your heart for the immense human feast set by the thieves of time.

Do not hold regrets.

When you find your way to the circle, to the fire kept burning by the keepers of your soul, you will be welcomed.

You must clean yourself with cedar, sage, or other healing plant.

Cut the ties you have to failure and shame.

Let go the pain you are holding in your mind, your shoulders, your heart, all the way to your feet. Let go the pain of your ancestors to make way for those who are heading in our direction.

Ask for forgiveness.

Call upon the help of those who love you. These helpers take many forms: animal, element, bird, angel, saint, stone, or ancestor.

Call your spirit back. It may be caught in corners and creases of shame, judgment, and human abuse.

You must call in a way that your spirit will want to return.

Speak to it as you would to a beloved child.

Welcome your spirit back from its wandering. It may return in pieces, in tatters. Gather them together. They will be happy to be found after being lost for so long.

Your spirit will need to sleep awhile after it is bathed and given clean clothes.

Now you can have a party. Invite everyone you know who loves and supports you. Keep room for those who have no place else to go.

Make a giveaway, and remember, keep the speeches short.

Then, you must do this: help the next person find their way through the dark. 

Reprinted from Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings by Joy Harjo. Copyright © 2015 by Joy Harjo.  Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

It’s a journey . . . that I propose . . . I am not the guide . . . nor technical assistant . . . I will be your fellow passenger . . .

Though the rail has been ridden . . . winter clouds cover . . . autumn’s exuberant quilt . . . we must provide our own guide-posts . . .

I have heard . . . from previous visitors . . . the road washes out sometimes . . . and passengers are compelled . . . to continue groping . . . or turn back . . . I am not afraid . . .

I am not afraid . . . of rough spots . . . or lonely times . . . I don’t fear . . . the success of this endeavor . . . I am Ra . . . in a space . . . not to be discovered . . . but invented . . .

I promise you nothing . . . I accept your promise . . . of the same we are simply riding . . . a wave . . . that may carry . . . or crash . . .

It’s a journey . . . and I want . . . to go . . .

“A Journey” from The Collected Poetry of Nikki Giovanni: 1968-1998 by Nikki Giovanni. Copyright compilation © 2003 by Nikki Giovanni. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

We were crossing a wide beach toward a blacktop parking lot.
I forget now who I was with or where we were going the year
The details of that particular beach vacation that summer break.
Morning not long after sunrise the day already hot.

In the parking lot six women wrestled a package of sorts
Emerged from the side door of an SUV onto the beach carrying
A small weight in a blanket like a sling or a makeshift stretcher.
Six women one at each corner of the blanket two at the middle.

I couldn’t see what was in the blanket when they passed.
No one looked at us their expressions solemn touched by grief.
They stopped at the water’s edge and a skeletal head rose up

Out of the blanket to look over the ocean as legs like sea straw
Fell gently to the gentle surf which washed over them.
To see the ocean one last time surrounded by friends.
August the Georgia coast sand dunes trees permanently twisted
Their crowns like long hair in a brisk endless wind blown back.

How many mornings have I walked barefoot along the beach?
Not enough. Never enough. Summer and heat and the ocean.
Dolphins threading waves terns pelicans gulls squawking

The salt smell of ocean and the shore stretching for miles
All the way back to the beginning and before as if the blue
Pool swelling out to the horizon licking wet at our feet is one
Body and the waves repeat a heartbeat that won’t cease

Unlike our own which will. Dying woman at the water’s edge
Carried by friends to be close one more time to the ocean
To sand under bare feet to the seashore on a summer morning.

Copyright © 2017 Ed Falco. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Summer 2017.

One flower
   on the cliffside
Nodding at the canyon

From Book of Haikus by Jack Kerouac, published by Penguin Poets. Copyright © 2003 by the Estate of Stella Kerouac, John Sampas, Literary Representative. All rights reserved.

Over the land freckled with snow half-thawed
The speculating rooks at their nests cawed
And saw from elm-tops, delicate as flowers of grass,
What we below could not see, Winter pass.

This poem is in the public domain.

A.k.a.

          the other gold.

                    Now that’s the stuff,

                               shredded or melted

                                         or powdered

                                                 or canned.

                                                             Behold

                                         the pinnacle of man

                     in a cheeto puff!

Now that’s the stuff

                      you’ve been primed for:

                                             fatty & salty & crunchy

          and poof—gone. There’s the proof.

Though your grandmother

                        never even had one. You can’t

                                    have just one. You

                                              inhale them puff—

                                                                     after puff—

                                                                after puff—

                               You’re a chain smoker. Tongue

                      coated & coaxed

but not saturated or satiated.

                       It’s like pure flavor,

                                   but sadder. Each pink ping

                                                       in your pinball-mouth

                                                                expertly played

                             by the makers who have studied you,

                               the human animal, and culled

                    from the rind

         your Eve in the shape

                                 of a cheese curl.

                                              Girl,

                                come curl in the dim light of the TV.

                           Veg out on the verge of no urge

                  of anything.

         Long ago we beached ourselves,

                                 climbed up the trees then

                                          down the trees,

                                                knuckled across the dirt

                               & grasses & thorns & Berber carpet.

                                           Now is the age of sitting,

                                   so sit.

           And I must say,

                       crouched on the couch like that,

                             you resemble no animal.

                                    Smug in your Snuggie and snug

                                                     in your sloth, you look

                                           nothing like a sloth.

           And you are not an anteater,

                                   an anteater eats ants

                                                   without fear

                                       of diabetes. Though breathing,

                 one could say, resembles a chronic disease. 

                                                                                            What’s real

                             cheese and what is cheese product?

                              It’s difficult to say

               but being alive today

                                      is real-

                                                real-

                                                       really

                                like a book you can’t put down, a stone

                       that plummets from a great height. Life’s

                      a “page-turner” alright.

               But don’t worry

                                      if you miss the finale

                                                of your favorite show, you can

                                                   catch in on queue. Make room

                                      for me and I’ll binge on this,

                                                            the final season with you.

Copyright © 2020 by Benjamin Garcia. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 27, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.

Copyright © 2017 by Ada Limón. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 15, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

It should be difficult,
always difficult, rising
from bed each morning,
against gravity, against

dreams, which weigh
like the forgotten names
of remembered faces.
But some days it’s

easy, nothing, to rise,
to feed, to work, to
commit the small graces
that add up to love,

to family, to memory,
finally to life, or
what one would choose
to remember of it, not

those other leaden
mornings when sleep
is so far preferable
to pulling over one’s

head the wet shirt
of one’s identity again,
the self one had been
honing or fleeing

all these years,
one’s fine, blessed
self, one’s only,
which another day fills.

From The Trembling Answers. Copyright © 2017 by Craig Morgan Teicher. Used with the permission of BOA Editions.

You tell me to live each day
as if it were my last. This is in the kitchen
where before coffee I complain
of the day ahead—that obstacle race
of minutes and hours,
grocery stores and doctors.

But why the last? I ask. Why not
live each day as if it were the first—
all raw astonishment, Eve rubbing
her eyes awake that first morning,
the sun coming up
like an ingénue in the east?

You grind the coffee
with the small roar of a mind
trying to clear itself. I set
the table, glance out the window
where dew has baptized every
living surface.

From Insomnia, published by W. W. Norton. Copyright © 2015 by Linda Pastan. Used with permission of Linda Pastan in care of the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency, Inc.

Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
are you.
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.
Remember.

“Remember.” Copyright © 1983 by Joy Harjo from She Had Some Horses by Joy Harjo. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Again the woods are odorous, the lark
Lifts on upsoaring wings the heaven gray
That hung above the tree-tops, veiled and dark,
Where branches bare disclosed the empty day.

After long rainy afternoons an hour
Comes with its shafts of golden light and flings
Them at the windows in a radiant shower,
And rain drops beat the panes like timorous wings.

Then all is still. The stones are crooned to sleep
By the soft sound of rain that slowly dies;
And cradled in the branches, hidden deep
In each bright bud, a slumbering silence lies.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on April 5, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

The universe breathed through my mouth
when I read the first chapter of patience.
I held the book away from my body
when the illustrations became life-like:

the kite flew over the grass, a child tumbled
down a hill and landed at the mouth of neon waters.
The fox curled into itself under the tree
and an eagle parted the sky like the last curtains.

I found myself wandering the forest, revising
the stories as I worked the heavens.
I lived inside the candied house
and hung the doors with sweetness.

I devoured the windows and I was greedy.
With all this sugar, I still felt trapped.
I sought to change the moral
so I filled my baskets daily with strawberry,

thorn, and vine, piled my home
with pastries and the charge of regret.
I placed those regrets inside the oven
and watched the pie rise. I wanted

everything in the pie and yearned
all the discarded ingredients.
I kept myself in the kitchen for years.
Everything up in smoke and yet my apron

was pristine, my hair done just right.
You can say it was perfection, a vision
from the past, waving a whisk through a bowl
as if it were a pitchfork. When I left the house

made of confection, that’s when I began to live,
for everything I gave up was in that house.
I remember you there. Your fingerprints vaguely
visible in the layer of flour on the table.

Copyright © 2020 Tina Chang. This poem was co-commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and the New York Philharmonic as part of the Project 19 initiative.

Stumble to silence, all you uneasy things, 
That pack the day with bluster and with fret.
For here is music at each window set;
Here is a cup which drips with all the springs
That ever bud a cowslip flower; a roof
To shelter till the argent weathers break;
A candle with enough of light to make
My courage bright against each dark reproof. 
A hand’s width of clear gold, unraveled out
The rosy sky, the little moon appears;
As they were splashed upon the paling red,
Vast, blurred, the village poplars lift about. 
I think of young, lost things: of lilacs; tears;
I think of an old neighbor, long since dead. 

I had the passion 
but not the stamina
nor the discipline, 
no one knew how
to discipline me so 
they just let me be,

Let me play along,
let me think I was
somebody, I could
be somebody, even
without the no-how.

Never cared one bit 
when my bow didn’t
match the rest of the 
orchestra, I could get 
their notes right but 
always a little beyond,

sawing my bow across
the strings, cuttin it up
even if I wasn’t valuable
even if I lacked respect
for rules of European
thought and composure.

A crescendo of trying
to be somebody,
a decrescendo of trying 
to belong, I played along
o yes, I play along. 

 

Copyright © 2020 by Nikki Wallschlaeger. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 28, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

One sentence held the echoes of a room without furniture. 
One narrowed like a corridor leading from the outside in. 

One sentence grew out of fashion with the disco-ball maker.
One was radial & wheeling, & the verb spun at the center. 

One forecasted an avalanche. One melted on the sand. 
One widened its plot for the burying of corpses. 

This one came zoo-tamed eating with other nocturnals. 
This one came caged like a hotel fire alarm. 

This one was a wound.  
This one a stitch.  
This a cicatrix.

Originally published in PEN America Poetry. Copyright © 2017 by Carolina Ebeid. Used with the permission of the author.

Painting is a person placed
between the light and a
canvas so that their shadow
is cast on the canvas and
then the person signs their
name on it whereas poetry
is the shadow writing its
name upon the person.

From I Am Flying into Myself: Selected Poems 1960-2014 by Bill Knott, edited by Thomas Lux. Copyright © 2017 by The Estate of Bill Knott.  Reprinted/Used by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

The history of revolutions is the history of vague ideas,
Shrugging shoulders, not shrugging shoulders,
Standing around, acting without thinking,
Acting with thinking, being penned or penning,

Being a woman or a girl standing around,
A woman or a girl with some flour in her pocket
    for tossing up a cloud of flour
           to obscure the martial men's sight.

That white cloud of whatever
Among the moving and unmoving bodies
Is that history-like unhistory
        of the ahistorical average,
That lovely inexact and provisional something—
                          weaponized or never. 

How totally under-theorized is breathing,
Walking and not walking,
Wanting to have a good time or just having it,
Like everybody is gunning toward Eden 
      and nobody is in school with their bodies anymore.

The history of revolutions is a history of the orthodox
     weeping over their faltering
                      orthodoxies:

Any precise thing—dumb these days:
The very idea imprinting nothing
        on the air between the general buildings.

No human space—a printer's paper.
Nothing exact—impressed.

Copyright © 2011 by Anne Boyer. Used with permission of the author.

as in purpose; the purple of the hillside
enrolled me in its misery, mysterious mist
emanating.

             When it was over the day
descended in the form of a star, ours,
which is to say the dark returned

which is to say a measure of darkness inter
posed between and among the sources
the lights twinkling against a moon.

This was a landscape longed for, lost.
Long as a verb—to increase in length
of days, of nights, of neither.

Still the purple stain, floral embellishment,
ingrains itself, inhabits banished gardens.

From Light Wind Light Light (Omnidawn, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Bin Ramke. Used with the permission of Omnidawn Publishing.

          after Robert Richardson

Warm summer sun,
    Shine kindly here,
Warm southern wind,
    Blow softly here.
Green sod above,
    Lie light, lie light.
Good night, dear heart,
    Good night, good night.

This poem is in the public domain.

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
"Live in the layers,
not on the litter."
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

From The Collected Poems by Stanley Kunitz (W. W. Norton, 2000). Copyright © 1978 by Stanley Kunitz. Used by permission of W. W. Norton. All rights reserved. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on July 29, 2014.

I walked to the end of the pier
and threw your name into the sea,
and when you flew back to me—
a silver fish—I devoured you,
cleaned you to the bone. I was through.
But then you came back again:
as sun on water. I reached for you,
skimmed my hands over the light of you.
And when the sky darkened,
again, I thought it was over, but then,
you became water. I closed my eyes
and lay on top of you, swallowed you,
let you swallow me too. And when
you carried my body back to shore—
as I trusted that you would do—
well, then, you became shore too,
and I knew, finally, I would never be through.

Copyright © 2016 by Nicole Callihan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 16, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

I had a beautiful dream I was dancing with a tree.

                                                                   —Sandra Cisneros

Some things on this earth are unspeakable:
Genealogy of the broken—
A shy wind threading leaves after a massacre,
Or the smell of coffee and no one there—

Some humans say trees are not sentient beings,
But they do not understand poetry—

Nor can they hear the singing of trees when they are fed by
Wind, or water music—
Or hear their cries of anguish when they are broken and bereft—

Now I am a woman longing to be a tree, planted in a moist, dark earth
Between sunrise and sunset—

I cannot walk through all realms—
I carry a yearning I cannot bear alone in the dark—

What shall I do with all this heartache?

The deepest-rooted dream of a tree is to walk
Even just a little ways, from the place next to the doorway—
To the edge of the river of life, and drink—

I have heard trees talking, long after the sun has gone down:

Imagine what would it be like to dance close together
In this land of water and knowledge . . .

To drink deep what is undrinkable.

From Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings by Joy Harjo. Copyright © 2015 by Joy Harjo. Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

It’s the closest thing to a cave. I have to resist
this wild urge to carve a name or word in it.

My favorite way to sit here is with cold vodka
& grapefruit juice & whatever bitter concoction

you’re sipping. Under the table I’ll nudge you
with my heels—a sign no stalactite or dripstone

will stop us. Bats do not require any energy
to claw-dangle upside down. All they need

is to relax & gravity & there’s plenty of both
swirling to go around. No matter how loud

this bar, within these three walls we can drop
straight into a very electric flight. We can

pretend we don’t answer to anyone–including
the waitress–& no one even knows where we are.

Copyright © 2021 by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 26, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

“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.

I chewed into the wreck of the world,
into the neckbone of the past that pursued me.
All the while, I moved toward extinction,
bearing the burden of damage, language of the protector.

A great apocalyptic wheeze adorned me with sand. 
I foraged, first to find light dappling the leaves,
then breathed into an infinite power, feminine rust,
a coppery taste of salvage, leading me into a canopy

of the future. My mother was a mother of mothers,
modern before she was ancestral.
She was a woman who morphed into feline, back
to her human self before I woke each morning.

I lived not to sate my appetite but to crush it.
On my haunches, I craved what could not be seen.
I am desire. I am survival.
I sit under the tree waiting for hunger.

Copyright © 2022 by Tina Chang. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 30, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

We dress my daughter in amarillo, not butter
or sunlight or mirasol, maybe an Easter yellow,
maybe a Dia de los muertos yellow, a baby chick
yellow, it doesn’t matter. She flickers
around the house all bare-foot.  She takes you
by the hand and makes you play
La Suavecita on repeat, her hair in brown
bouncy pig-tails. All day. She watches 
your mouth, the way you say tambores,
the way you say cumbia. She won’t stop smiling. 

When she laughs I hear my mother. I am 
back in her house, all bare-foot, dancing 
to the same song. 

My mother dresses in a teal bata, not Miami
or peacock or Tiffany Blue, maybe an Easter teal,
maybe a Dia de los muertos teal, a robin egg 
teal, it doesn’t matter. She flitters
around the house. She takes me
by the hand and teaches me how to spring
my arms, how to move my hips,
how to follow the beat already in my legs.
She tells me,
ay mijo, one day, las muchachas
will want to spend the night with you
on the dance floor. Find those feather feet. 

Carry a smile and laugh, mijo laugh. 
I ask to play the song again and run
to rewind the cassette tape. All day.
My mother is all baila, baila,
all brown curls of bobbing hair
abriendo sus brazos the moment
I learn how to spin her in
our shot-gun house.  She won’t stop smiling.

My mother loves the color yellow.
There is a sing, a flow around inside.
My daughter ooooos the color teal.

When they lay eyes on each other, they watch
each others’ mouths, see just who smiles first.
I’m just here, waiting to see who wants to dance
si no la invito, me invita ella.

Copyright © 2021 by Lupe Mendez. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 31, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.