Someone had laced the pot,
my date shape-shifting
in the car’s plush seat.
I rolled with it, his tongue,
not sexy or soft, but possibly
earnest. I must have bit him
on purpose to regain my breath,
redirect him away from my throat.
Get it on, bang a gong, get it on,
his favorite song on the mixtape.
I was a liar, called my parents
hours later from a distant Finger Lake
to say I was sleeping at Suzanne’s.
Is a hydra like the zebra mussel
taking hold here, forever altering
the ecology of Keuka and me, half-dressed
in his younger sister’s top bunk,
my bony hips against his,
the popcorn ceiling scraping my back
each time I was flipped over.
I’d foreseen this happening
the second we left the gymnasium
with its stupid decorations.
Through the bay window of a child’s room,
the black water licked the dock,
the huge lake a dream
into which I threw my still boyish body.
He wasn’t aware of me,
nor I of him. How inelegant and sad
our untangling was, how we’d misremember it.
Copyright © 2019 by Lindsay Bernal. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 25, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Write about walking into the building
as a new teacher. Write yourself hopeful.
Write a row of empty desks. Write the face
of a student you’ve almost forgotten;
he’s worn a Derek Jeter jersey all year.
Do not conjecture about the adults
he goes home to, or the place he calls home.
Write about how he came to you for help
each October morning his sophomore year.
Write about teaching Othello to him;
write Wherein of antres vast and deserts idle,
rough quarries, rocks and hills whose heads touch heaven.
Write about reading his obituary
five years after he graduated. Write
a poem containing the words “common”
“core,” “differentiate,” and “overdose.”
Write the names of the ones you will never
forget: “Jenna,” “Tiberious,” “Heaven,”
“Megan,” “Tanya,” “Kingsley” “Ashley,” “David.”
Write Mari with “Nobody’s Baby” tattooed
in cursive on her neck, spitting sixteen bars
in the backrow, as little white Mike beatboxed
“Candy Shop” and the whole class exploded.
Write about Zuly and Nely, sisters
from Guatemala, upon whom a thousand
strange new English words rained down on like hail
each period, and who wrote the story
of their long journey on la bestia
through Mexico, for you, in handwriting
made heavy by the aquís and ayers
ached in their knuckles, hidden by their smiles.
Write an ode to loose-leaf. Write elegies
on the nub nose of a pink eraser.
Carve your devotion from a no. 2
pencil. Write the uncounted hours you spent
fretting about the ones who cursed you out
for keeping order, who slammed classroom doors,
who screamed “you are not my father,” whose pain
unraveled and broke you, whose pain you knew.
Write how all this added up to a life.
Copyright © 2019 by Dante Di Stefano. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 4, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.
We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.
It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.
At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.
Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.
This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.
Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.
We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.
At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.
Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.
From The Woman Who Fell From the Sky (W. W. Norton, 1994) by Joy Harjo. Copyright © 1994 by Joy Harjo. Used with permission of the author.
for Audre Lorde
This city is made of stone, of blood, and fish.
There are Chugatch Mountains to the east
and whale and seal to the west.
It hasn't always been this way, because glaciers
who are ice ghosts create oceans, carve earth
and shape this city here, by the sound.
They swim backwards in time.
Once a storm of boiling earth cracked open
the streets, threw open the town.
It's quiet now, but underneath the concrete
is the cooking earth,
and above that, air
which is another ocean, where spirits we can't see
are dancing joking getting full
on roasted caribou, and the praying
goes on, extends out.
Nora and I go walking down 4th Avenue
and know it is all happening.
On a park bench we see someone's Athabascan
grandmother, folded up, smelling like 200 years
of blood and piss, her eyes closed against some
unimagined darkness, where she is buried in an ache
in which nothing makes
We keep on breathing, walking, but softer now,
the clouds whirling in the air above us.
What can we say that would make us understand
better than we do already?
Except to speak of her home and claim her
as our own history, and know that our dreams
don't end here, two blocks away from the ocean
where our hearts still batter away at the muddy shore.
And I think of the 6th Avenue jail, of mostly Native
and Black men, where Henry told about being shot at
eight times outside a liquor store in L.A., but when
the car sped away he was surprised he was alive,
no bullet holes, man, and eight cartridges strewn
on the sidewalk
all around him.
Everyone laughed at the impossibility of it,
but also the truth. Because who would believe
the fantastic and terrible story of all of our survival
those who were never meant
Copyright © 2008 by Joy Harjo. From She Had Some Horses (W. W. Norton, 2008). Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.
jaunse tu bhagela ii toke nighalayihe
je andar rahe tohar jahaaj ke nast karihe
The remnant of hind limbs puppets an origin
play that strings baleen to terrestrial
ancestors. Occasionally whales sport hind legs —
as in Vancouver in 1949,
a harpooned humpback bore eighteen inches
of femur breaching its body wall. Disconnected
from the spine, what is their function but to rend
the book of Genesis into two? Why regard
scripture and exegesis as legs and fluke,
sure to fall away, and not eat beef or pork? Why
do I need Hindi in Hawaii as a skeletal
structure, a myth to hook my leviathan jaw?
What you run from will swallow you,
what’s inside will splinter your boat
Copyright © 2019 Rajiv Mohabir. This poem originally appeared in Kenyon Review, January/February 2019. Used with permission of the author.
Until I find a name
I will not put it in the soul calculator
I will leave it free and open and unnamed
And not limit my expectations for the kind of person
That goes in one direction of the wind
I will keep all lines of the wind open
And place all my days free and empty
And re-envision what it means to be unencumbered
Not crying but the expanse of numbers
That go beyond the grave to what is left
And it may be true
I said it could be true
That the sunny days do stick to walls
And then enter you
It may be true that the purple bells do chime
Everyday you let them
It may be true that the sweet juice
I put across my lips would not be my last
But that the nights could get better and better
Until the evil is banished until the day
When the sun would crush it anyway
It was true without a set of things like letters
It was true the air was free and open
And I saw things as they were
For the first time
Copyright © 2016 by Dorothea Lasky. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 1, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.