Let me make the songs for the people,
Songs for the old and young;
Songs to stir like a battle-cry
Wherever they are sung.
Not for the clashing of sabres,
For carnage nor for strife;
But songs to thrill the hearts of men
With more abundant life.
Let me make the songs for the weary,
Amid life's fever and fret,
Till hearts shall relax their tension,
And careworn brows forget.
Let me sing for little children,
Before their footsteps stray,
Sweet anthems of love and duty,
To float o'er life's highway.
I would sing for the poor and aged,
When shadows dim their sight;
Of the bright and restful mansions,
Where there shall be no night.
Our world, so worn and weary,
Needs music, pure and strong,
To hush the jangle and discords
Of sorrow, pain, and wrong.
Music to soothe all its sorrow,
Till war and crime shall cease;
And the hearts of men grown tender
Girdle the world with peace.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on August 8, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems. Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Reprinted with the permission of the author.
It’s a long way the sea-winds blow
Over the sea-plains blue,—
But longer far has my heart to go
Before its dreams come true.
It’s work we must, and love we must,
And do the best we may,
And take the hope of dreams in trust
To keep us day by day.
It’s a long way the sea-winds blow—
But somewhere lies a shore—
Thus down the tide of Time shall flow
My dreams forevermore.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on August 22, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
after Wisława Szymborska
In my dreams,
I lasso a wild steer on the first try.
I chauffeur Picasso
To meet up with Dali—
None of us is happy about this summit.
After licking my fingertips,
I play guitar masterfully.
I use index cards to make sense
Of the universe.
I discover my childhood cat in the neighbor’s tree—
So that’s where you’ve been, you little rascal.
I beg the alligator, por favor,
To make a snap judgement,
Will it be my leg or my arm?
Picture me swimming with dolphins.
Picture me with these dolphins
Sitting in lawn chairs.
I’m full of gratitude—
The lightbulb comes on
When the refrigerator door is opened.
Yes, I’m the scientist who solved laryngitis—
Now all of us howl at our own pleasure.
I get to throw a trophy from a moving car.
When I park my car,
I’m awarded another trophy—
Someone above is giving me a second chance.
Copyright © 2020 by Gary Soto. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 29, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
Let us, instead, consider the pockets
Martin Rodriguez sewed onto the insides
of his jacket and pants.
This was 5th grade.
This isn’t about the fact that he got caught
jacking a bunch of shit from Market Spot.
All of us wished we’d thought of it first.
to stay focused on those extra pockets. How
big those caverns must have been—that fortune
of whispered temptation.
Boy-genius, we said.
Pockets for bags of apple-rings, beef jerky. A Pepsi
2-liter. Crunch bars. Cans of Cactus Cooler,
maybe. The lonely monster of desire bent us
away from boyhood, made it something small
that we wanted to toss rocks at.
Rolls of Oreos
in those pockets. Enough Doublemint gum
to anchor friends on a green recess field. A few
sheets of temporary tattoos to offer in class
while Mrs. Hawkins continued her lesson
on the Gold Rush.
I can see those pockets
pomegranate when pulled apart: a bloom
of endings across the Market Spot parking lot
as he tried to run. Bomb Pop ice cream bars,
or the cartoon kind with gumballs for eyes,
Look, I am talking about collapse.
As always. The rest of the poem wants to go
like this: I don’t know what happened
to Martin Rodriguez. He never came back
to school. But the truth is he returned to class
the next day.
We stood in a circle, laughing
about what he took until the day Manny
got caught smoking weed. Then we talked
about that until someone’s cousin got shot
after school by the computer lab. We played
Oregon Trail on Thursdays. None of us
could ever cross the river. I kept dying
of snake bite.
We got older and painted walls
for different crews. We became enemies, me
and Martin, drawing exes over each other. We
turned into no one, and then,
finally, we became
fathers. I saw him, years later, with his son.
We crossed each other on the street. Both of us
nodded and kept on moving toward the sidewalk.
So many years collapsing into each other,
Someone has changed the sign
in front of the store. But if I say Market Spot
today, the homie points to where we watched
the cashier jump the counter and snatch Martin
into the air, splicing it with sugar. The sharp kick
of a boy’s legs. A body jolted into enough quiet
that police were called. Officers with notepads,
the cashier waving flies away from his face.
Copyright © 2020 by Michael Torres. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 16, 2020, 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.
We meet at a coffee shop. So much time has passed and who is time? Who is waiting by the windowsill? We make plans to go to a museum but we go to a bookshop instead. We’re leaning in, learning how to talk to each other again. I say, I’m obsessed with my grief and she says, I’m always in mourning. She laughs and it’s an extension of her body. She laughs and it moves the whole room. I say, My home is an extension of my body and she says, Most days are better with a long walk. The world moves without us—so we tend to a garden, a graveyard, a pot on the windowsill. Death is a comfort because it says, Transform but don’t hurry. There is a tenderness to growing older and we are listening for it. Steadier ways to move through the world and we are learning them. A way to touch your own body. A touch that says, Dig deeper. There, in the ground, there is our memory. I am near enough my roots. Time is my friend. Tomorrow is a place we are together.
Copyright © 2021 by Sanna Wani. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 15, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
Why must I tell you this story, O little one
You’re just a bud-of-a-girl, who knows nothing
Now you are full-faced, bright as sun
Now you open your skirts pink, layered, brazen
Suffering is alchemy, change is God
Now you droop your head, heavy with rust
Sit, contemplate, what did Buddha say?
Old age, sickness, death, no one owns eternity
Detach, detach, look away from the sun
Let your petals fall aimlessly
Don’t despair, little one, we are done
Copyright © 2016 by Marilyn Chin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 19, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
Somebody said that it couldn’t be done,
But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.
Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that;
At least no one ever has done it”;
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat,
And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.
There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure;
There are thousands to point out to you one by one,
The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing
That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.
This poem is in the public domain.