10. Here on my knees I look for the single animal: you left
ravaged at the edge of a meadow
9. Is everything accounted for? The fingers dipped
beneath the torso—to keep this body bright
8. Every breath we are desperate to take
sounds as if a war lost against a country of promise
7. Discarded halos: the light you remember
in your head—you feed on what is crushed between the teeth
6. America declares these dreams I have every night be re-
dreamed & pressed into names
5. Upended petals of qém’es
abandoned like torn butterfly wings—we’é I pray
4. I pray that nobody
ever hears us
3. An eye gone
bloodshot: I tear through the crisp apple of your throat & find—
2. myself: this—a boy beside a boy. An eyelash
fallen at the base of a valley, our dark bones bursting in-
1. to bloom. I stare into your beloved face & enter: yes,
yes, this nation, under god, its black sky we lay our nightmares to
0. where I am your animal: my Lamb—now eat
Copyright © 2019 by Michael Wasson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 1, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
And what, in fact, is dignity? In those
Who have it pure, it is the soul’s repose,
The base of character—no mere reserve
That springs from pride, or want of mental nerve.
The dignity that wealth, or station, breeds,
Or in the breast on base emotion feeds,
Is easy weighed, and easy to be sized—A bastard virtue, much to be despised.
True dignity is like a summer tree.
Beneath whose shade both beast, and bird, and bee,
When by the heated skies oppressed, may come,
And feel, in its magnificence, at home;
Or rather like a mountain which forgets
Itself in its own greatness, and so lets
Vast armies fuss and fight upon its sides,
While high in clouds its peaceful summit hides,
And from the voiceless crest of glistening snow,
Pours trickling fatness on the fields below;
Repellant force, that daunts obtrusive wrong,
And woos the timid steps of right along;
And hence a garb which magistrates prepare,
When called to judge, and really seem to wear.
In framing character on whate’er plan,
‘Tis always needed to complete the man,
The job quite done, and Dignity without,
Is like an apple pie, the fruit left out.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on November 3, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
I'd like to be under the sea
In an octopus' garden in the shade.
The article called it “a spectacle.” More like a garden than a nursery:
hundreds of purple octopuses protecting clusters of eggs
while clinging to lava rocks off the Costa Rican coast.
I study the watery images: thousands of lavender tentacles
wrapped around their broods. Did you know there’s a female octopus
on record as guarding her clutch for 53 months? That’s four-and-a-half years
of sitting, waiting, dreaming of the day her babies hatch and float away.
I want to tell my son this. He sits on the couch next to me clutching his phone,
setting up a hangout with friends. The teenage shell is hard to crack.
Today, my heart sits with the brooding octomoms: not eating, always on call,
always defensive, living in stasis in waters too warm to sustain them.
No guarantees they will live beyond the hatching. Not a spectacle
but a miracle any of us survive.
Copyright © 2019 by January Gill O’Neil. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 7, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Deep in my biceps I know it’s a complement, just as
I know this is an all-black-people-look-alike moment.
So I use the minimal amount of muscles to crack a smile.
All night he catches sight of me, or someone like me, standing
next to deconstructed cannoli and empty bottles of Prosecco.
And in that moment, I understand how little right any of us have
to be whoever we are—the constant tension
of making our way in this world on hope and change.
You’re working your muscles to the point of failure,
Michelle Obama once said about her workout regimen,
but she knows we wear our history in our darkness, in our patience.
A compliment is a complement—this I know, just as the clock
will always strike midnight and history repeats. This is how
I can wake up the next morning and love the world again.
Copyright © 2016 by January Gill O'Neil. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 15, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
& there’s no taking it back now.
What comes next? Charcoal underbone,
darkroom for soliloquy & irises wide
at home. Some underside party popping
off & ending with me counting resignations
on a couch made from my last pennies—
copper profiles cushion deep, dull
with emancipation & worth almost me.
Button nicks instead of eyes. Green
patina instead of skin over presidential
profiles. How to separate these awkward
exhales from the marinating revivals?
The song in the park across the street
dials up something endless about love
& big sunflowers, but I can’t split
this primal reflection from its primary
leather. Sneakers & skeletons arrhythmic
in their leaving & squeaking: twisting
in somebody else’s garden in the middle
of a cracked city near a river so thick
with its own beat-up history, it’s already
eye level to the flocking blackbirds.
Copyright © 2019 by Adrian Matejka. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 2, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
I know why I fell hard for Hecuba—
shins skinned and lips split to blooming lupine
on her throat’s rough coat, hurled down the whole length
of disaster—I’m sure I’d grown to know
by then to slacken as a sail against
the current and squall of a woman’s woe.
What could I do but chorus my ruddered
howl to hers? When you’re a brown girl raised up
near the river, there’s always a woman
bereft and bank-wrecked, bloodied and bleating
her insistent lament. Ay Llorona—
every crossing is a tomb and a tune,
a wolf-wail and the moon that turns me to
scratch at the tracks of every mud-dirged girl.
Copyright © 2019 by Deborah Paredez. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 4, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Shhh, my grandmother is sleeping,
They doped her up with morphine for her last hours.
Her eyes are black and vacant like a deer’s.
She says she hears my grandfather calling.
A deerfly enters through a tear in the screen,
Must’ve escaped from those there sickly Douglas firs.
Flits from ankle to elbow, then lands on her ear.
Together, they listen to the ancient valley.
From A Portrait of the Self as Nation: New and Selected Poems (W. W. Norton, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Marilyn Chin. Used with the permission of the poet.