Pristine the ash no one has touched yet
before wind sweeps it along across the altar
dusting chrysanthemum and bees
before it is swept off again
the way the body burns
part by part
particle by particulate
its tiny cinders
of moth wings.
After sound there is no sound
a wolf sanctuary
void of howling
headlights on the winding road
picking up snow
a tuft falling on the heron
as her wingtips dip into water.
my hand shielding myself from light
as I adjust
frames along the wall
barefoot on the black bookcase
the heat of my footprint
disappearing though no hand wipes it.
In taking inventory of what’s left
what the dead have cleared in space
like the body of a boy
curled inside his dog’s bed
a boy filling his own rice bowl
until he doesn’t want to
I want to be beside him in the dark
to hear his voice again
to stop seeing him on the street
in the back row
of a classroom where I teach.
Is there no end to this need
mushrooms inching along
blades of grass after a field of rain
the heron fishing
wings spread to lure prey into her shade.
In war they say We’re not the top species because we’re nice
In life I say Let me come closer
even if it kills me.
Copyright © 2019 by Diana Khoi Nguyen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 31, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Th' expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action; and till action, lust
Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust;
Enjoyed no sooner but despisèd straight:
Past reason hunted; and no sooner had,
Past reason hated, as a swallowed bait,
On purpose laid to make the taker mad:
Mad in pursuit, and in possession so;
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe;
Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.
All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 1, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Executions have always been public spectacles. It is New Year’s 2009 in Austin and we are listening to Jaguares on the speakers. Alexa doesn’t exist yet so we cannot ask her any questions. It is nearly 3 AM, and we run out of champagne. At Fruitvale Station, a man on his way home on a train falls onto the platform, hands cuffed. Witnesses capture the assassination with a grainy video on a cell phone. I am too drunk, too in love, to react when I hear the news. I do not have Twitter to search for the truth. Rancière said looking is not the same as knowing. I watch protests on the television while I sit motionless in the apartment, long after she left me. Are we what he calls the emancipated spectator, in which spectatorship is “not passivity that’s turned into activity” but, instead, “our normal situation”? Police see their god in their batons, map stains and welts on the continents of bodies. To beat a body attempts to own it. And when the body cannot be owned, it must be extinguished.
Copyright © 2019 by mónica teresa ortiz. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 4, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
God washes clean the souls and hearts of you,
His favored ones, whose backs bend o’er the soil,
Which grudging gives to them requite for toil
In sober graces and in vision true.
God places in your hands the pow’r to do
A service sweet. Your gift supreme to foil
The bare-fanged wolves of hunger in the moil
Of Life’s activities. Yet all too few
Your glorious band, clean sprung from Nature’s heart;
The hope of hungry thousands, in whose breast
Dwells fear that you should fail. God placed no dart
Of war within your hands, but pow’r to start
Tears, praise, love, joy, enwoven in a crest
To crown you glorious, brave ones of the soil.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 9, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
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.
with the anemone zero.
Drink 12 oz. of coffee in Longmont.
Are you parched?
Is your name Pinky?
What color is the skin of your inner arm, creamy?
Valentine City rebate: a box of chocolates from Safeway.
Yours, yours, yours.
In its entirety.
Don't collude with your inability to give or receive love.
Collude, instead, with the lining of the universe.
Descent, rotation, silk water, brief periods of intense sunlight
striated with rose pink glitter.
The glitter can only get us.
Here we are at the part with the asphalt, airstream Tupperware,
veins, some nice light stretching.
This is a poem for a beloved.
Who never arrived.
Copyright © 2019 by Bhanu Kapil. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 17, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
(for a.g., you & yours)
the night is silver in its silence
moon-pop echoes of the day
raked up rubble of the hours spent
my, the children slumber
a thousand tomorrows bubbling at their lips
the dream projections lighting up
the clouds’ ample cotton relish the silence
as you’ll relish tomorrow
and the honesty of such raucous noise, thick
child feet of our unfeathered breasts, beasts we cherish
hallway run, sprints to smash the mash of food
tumbling, rolling right into these arms
charmed in their amnesia regarding where one
begins or ends
reminding us of the joy
of first step and the storm after the holler:
mama see, mama watch
thunder on a hardwood, heartbeat
this sole and counted rhythm
every generation a temporal fugitive
running from the death grip
every death ship’s watch, yesterdays
we weren’t meant to make it through
relish the memory ingrained in the sound
how these tiny, tiny feet
grip the floor, say
I make you
Copyright © 2019 by heidi andrea restrepo rhodes. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 21, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
For Darlene Wind and James Welch
I think of Wind and her wild ways the year we had nothing to lose and lost it anyway in the cursed country of the fox. We still talk about that winter, how the cold froze imaginary buffalo on the stuffed horizon of snowbanks. The haunting voices of the starved and mutilated broke fences, crashed our thermostat dreams, and we couldn't stand it one more time. So once again we lost a winter in stubborn memory, walked through cheap apartment walls, skated through fields of ghosts into a town that never wanted us, in the epic search for grace.
Like Coyote, like Rabbit, we could not contain our terror and clowned our way through a season of false midnights. We had to swallow that town with laughter, so it would go down easy as honey. And one morning as the sun struggled to break ice, and our dreams had found us with coffee and pancakes in a truck stop along Highway 80, we found grace.
I could say grace was a woman with time on her hands, or a white buffalo escaped from memory. But in that dingy light it was a promise of balance. We once again understood the talk of animals, and spring was lean and hungry with the hope of children and corn.
I would like to say, with grace, we picked ourselves up and walked into the spring thaw. We didn't; the next season was worse. You went home to Leech Lake to work with the tribe and I went south. And, Wind, I am still crazy. I know there is something larger than the memory of a dispossessed people. We have seen it.
From In Mad Love and War © 1990 by Joy Harjo. Reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.
Of course, I don’t know very much
About these politics,
But I think that some who run ’em
Do mighty ugly tricks.
I’ve seen ’em honey-fugle round,
And talk so awful sweet,
That you’d think them full of kindness,
As an egg is full of meat.
Now I don’t believe in looking
Honest people in the face,
And saying when you’re doing wrong,
That “I haven’t sold my race.”
When we want to school our children,
If the money isn’t there,
Whether black or white have took it,
The loss we all must share.
And this buying up each other
Is something worse than mean,
Though I thinks a heap of voting,
I go for voting clean.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 23, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
startling semiannual saccharine sensitivity to sentencing in a season of severing and severances to so called civil servants of streachery and separation i sense a series of spectators or investigators wont save us like stolen generators nothing speculative about spectacles we beasts spit and sputter spits and sputters splitting sutures of your occipital up your occidental skeptical of this spectacular softness of this plexus flex i choose the best for myself swearing the swivel of the stank of spangled smear with speared wet spirit spent to coalesce in this nonsense that’s the thing about your language is i make it sound so good it doesnt have to make sense they is all what you is where you from someone tell these oxymorons we is dual citizens former resident aliensss and we have only just begun counting down this society’s days with the efficiency of arabic numerals
Copyright © 2019 by Marwa Helal. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 24, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
like some 14 year old girl waiting for her crush to glance back i
keep waiting for capitalism to end
but it won’t end
my adult life lover states
on what will end:
Sprinting during recess
Starfish shaped like stars
Leopards, all kinds
(-------) Violence Prevention Programs
Might a few jellyfish survive—
counting till revelations becomes part of—
Copyright © 2019 by Eunsong Kim. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 28, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
To show the lab’ring bosom’s deep intent,
And thought in living characters to paint,
When first thy pencil did those beauties give,
And breathing figures learnt from thee to live,
How did those prospects give my soul delight,
A new creation rushing on my sight?
Still, wond’rous youth! each noble path pursue;
On deathless glories fix thine ardent view:
Still may the painter’s and the poet’s fire,
To aid thy pencil and thy verse conspire!
And may the charms of each seraphic theme
Conduct thy footsteps to immortal fame!
High to the blissful wonders of the skies
Elate thy soul, and raise thy wishful eyes.
Thrice happy, when exalted to survey
That splendid city, crown’d with endless day,
Whose twice six gates on radiant hinges ring:
Celestial Salem blooms in endless spring.
Calm and serene thy moments glide along,
And may the muse inspire each future song!
Still, with the sweets of contemplation bless’d,
May peace with balmy wings your soul invest!
But when these shades of time are chas’d away,
And darkness ends in everlasting day,
On what seraphic pinions shall we move,
And view the landscapes in the realms above?
There shall thy tongue in heav’nly murmurs flow,
And there my muse with heav'nly transport glow;
No more to tell of Damon’s tender sighs,
Or rising radiance of Aurora’s eyes;
For nobler themes demand a nobler strain,
And purer language on th’ ethereal plain.
Cease, gentle Muse! the solemn gloom of night
Now seals the fair creation from my sight.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 29, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
To a Brown Boy
’Tis a noble gift to be brown, all brown,
Like the strongest things that make up this earth,
Like the mountains grave and grand,
Even like the very land,
Even like the trunks of trees—
Even oaks, to be like these!
God builds His strength in bronze.
To be brown like thrush and lark!
Like the subtle wren so dark!
Nay, the king of beasts wears brown;
Eagles are of this same hue.
I thank God, then, I am brown.
Brown has mighty things to do.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 30, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
In some other life, I can hear you
breathing: a pale sound like running
fingers through tangled hair. I dreamt
again of swimming in the quarry
& surfaced here when you called for me
in a voice only my sleeping self could
know. Now the dapple of the aspen
respires on the wall & the shades cut
its song a staff of light. Leave me—
that me—in bed with the woman
who said all the sounds for pleasure
were made with vowels I couldn’t
hear. Keep me instead with this small sun
that sips at the sky blue hem of our sheets
then dips & reappears: a drowsy penny
in the belt of Venus, your aureole nodding
slow & copper as it bobs against cotton
in cornflower or clay. What a waste
the groan of the mattress must be
when you backstroke into me & pull
the night up over our heads. Your eyes
are two moons I float beneath & my lungs
fill with a wet hum your hips return.
It’s Sunday—or so you say with both hands
on my chest—& hot breath is the only hymn
whose refrain we can recall. And then you
reach for me like I could’ve been another
man. You make me sing without a sound.
Copyright © 2019 by Meg Day. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 1, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
It’s one thing to be hopeful and to be full
of feathers is another and it’s a third to
conflate the two and do fourth things
even survive being thought of?
Five fingers on fire close into a metaphor
about how we’ll never, never ever, never ever.
The smoke above the hospital is beautiful.
The smoke above the hospital was beautiful.
Above the hospital, the smoke looked
and seemed, its seams dissolved
into memory which is a terrible way
to tell time in the cold. I misread
the “Creve Coeur Camera” sign
of the shop beside the supermarket
as “Cri De Coeur Camera” like it is my job
to misread signs. Something beautiful arrived
in a helicopter, something beautiful left
forever. Here we go again, against,
aghast. Something in us floats, floated,
our feet dragging through future ruins.
I know, “something” is an ulcer
on any reaching, making intelligence
but the ulcer wants what it wants, to be
something after all. For an awful whale,
a moment tries to beach itself, it does,
I learn Tomaž has died
then it is a magnet of terrible power
when I know for certain Tomaž has died.
I convalesce, selfish as a branch punished
mildly by wind—Tomaž lived! and will,
but it’s only the kind of enough
nothing ever is. I feel I am being
ironed, and it all only burns. I feel
the subtraction machine subtracting
my maneuvers. I feel the abacus
in my brain, that accordion, finally.
Finally licked into char. Five. Now any chair
I steal into for any length of time
has three unsteady legs. Cri cri cri, etc.
It would be a swell time to have a handle on
any methodology for rising into the sky,
a really great time to turn into a bird.
What a time! the sun is out and it is snowing
and I am as close to being a plastic sword
as I ever have been. How I would love
some toddler coming into their tongues
or some beloved ancient to sentence me.
How I will love the sound
of my own final clatter, but
only if it comes when I am tossed aside
to signal the end of hostilities.
Copyright © 2019 by Marc McKee. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 4, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
The violence done to the mind by the weaponized
word or image is bad.
We can live with it, though
We can understand it. Or we can try. And we
can consider ourselves lucky, which we are.
Nothing can be understood
about the blunt-force trauma to the head.
The percussion grenade.
The helmet-to-helmet hit at an aggregate speed
of forty miles an hour.
No concussion protocol comprehends the self’s
delicate apparatus crumpled in the wide pan of the brain.
The roof collapsing in Aleppo.
The beam slamming the frontal lobe.
The drone, the terror by night and day.
He wanted to remember it all,
to fix the image cradled inside the image
of itself, itself, itself
down the facing mirrors of future and past,
and then he wanted to be left to die there,
in the ditch where he was cudgeled
down and under—
ground water seeping into his mouth,
himself becoming ground water.
But he felt a hand reach down and grab him
by the collar and yank him back up
and set him on his feet.
And as he steadied himself, he thought,
This compassion he feels for me as his
mirror enemy, image, brother in wrath,
and that I feel for him,
this compassion is the compassion that those
who see themselves in agony feel.
But there is the other compassion, the one
felt by those who see agony in themselves,
which the deaf master will feel
when he imagines us poised and ready to recapitulate
our thinking’s frozen violence—
the great deaf master,
living in the villa of the deaf,
where he will paint us in silent pastels.
Copyright © 2019 by Vijay Seshadri. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 9, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
That streetlight looks like the slicked backbone
of a dead tree in the rain, its green lamp blazing
like the first neon fig glowing in the first garden
on a continent that split away from Africa
from which floated away Brazil. Why are we not
more amazed by the constellations, all those flung
stars held together by the thinnest filaments
of our evolved, image making brains. For instance,
here we are in the middle of another Autumn,
plummeting through a universe that made us
from its shattering and dust, stooping
now to pluck an orange leaf from the sidewalk,
a small veined hand we hold in an open palm
as we walk through the park on a weekend we
invented so we would have time to spare. Time,
another idea we devised so the days would have
an epilogue, precise, unwavering, a pendulum
strung above our heads. When was the sun
enough? The moon with its diminishing face?
The sea with its nets of fish? The meadow’s
yellow baskets of grain? If I was in charge
I’d say leave them there on their backs
in the grass, wondering, eating berries
and rolling toward each other’s naked bodies
for warmth, for something we’ve yet to name,
when the leaves were turning colors in their dying
and we didn’t know why, or that they would return,
bud and green. One of a billion
small miracles. This planet will again be stone.
Copyright © 2019 by Dorianne Laux. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 10, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Propped against a tree on a sidewalk next
to the trash cans, shorn of sheets, its fabric
a casing for its coils, harborer of secretions
seeped and dried, its phosphorous surface
glitters abandoned skin flakes in moonlight,
shingles from roof sides of humans. Mucous
trails pearlescent from a snail crawled up
the trunk of the tree upon which this bed
formerly slept on now leans. Loved upon?
Perhaps. Dreamt on most definitely. Hands
on skin most definitely, the stains it harbors
are the trails of dreams, the shotguns aimed
at baby carriages, molars boring holes into
the palm upon which they are cast like dice,
and the mystery of love as scratchy and fine
smelling as the needle tree that carried you
off with its scent of resin: it’s a hideous thing.
Sheet marks on the face won’t disappear into
the water filling the basin. Under the eyes dark
lakes before the resinous reflection of window
cast into mirror by interior lights set against
the night. Do you wonder if I dream of your
shattering? Marks on the face don’t melt into
the water. It would be strange to dream that
hard for a stranger, even for you who became
strange within an hour. Yet, I am waking from
the press of your face against my face. Carried
off over the shoulder, hauled through doorways,
receiving your murder, once this mattress was
bent at its middle, sagged profuse as a gaping
blouse, and bore stains of which I was never
aware while asleep. You knew. You were there
too. You will dream of congress between us.
I withdraw my hand. I refuse. Haul me away.
Copyright © 2019 by Cate Marvin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 15, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
then i am sprawling in through me
then i am fastened into myself
into my points and my pulls
then i am spinning in rev, in stare
it is a stun and a shunning of this life
it is a slutting of this life
it is a spawning of this moment
i am a promise awake with knowing
a pull in a thread
a driving to the edge & waiting
a waiting for the edge to fall
an edging closer to the fall
a wanting the fall to crush
and now i am in the fall
i am the fall
i thank the desire
i kiss the desire
i hold the desire
i thumb the desire
i bite the desire
i thrust the desire
i grind the desire
i rub the desire
it is without oars
circling in a pond
it is the wind tracing
the feet of the kicking beneath that surface
the earth beneath sucking & sucking
that filling of the mouth
that shattering of time
i am bringing myself to a standstill
i am allowing the water to spread
i am afloat in the desire
the desire of me
i am pinning myself to the surface
waiting for the moon to fall
longing for the pierce of stars
tonguing the night
brushing away the darkness
til there is light
til my eyes
to the white
of the sky
Copyright © 2019 by Leah Umansky. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 17, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Mudslide in Rio de Janeiro state...: in the early hours of Saturday, following two days of heavy downpour. A boulder slid down a slope and hit a group of houses in the city of Niterói. Volunteers joined rescuers in silence so that any survivors could be heard.
—BBC News, November 11, 2018
It's as if the marrow of the earth mistook us
for part of itself, our limbs its own settling
form, like we have sunk into chairs and taken as us
our tight-tucked legs, our bellies. Or known the settling
head of our daughter to sternum as an uncleaved us,
one sleeping self inside a woken self. The settling
mud around, its heave, seems simple now: is softening us
into dense dark shape, and we are settling
our gauges too: voice from volume, sediment, shadow, us
from the spaces we lived. Silence settling
who we thought we were, was us,
into this all-consuming lack. Nothing settling
a choke around the circumference of light, drawing us
in. We no longer know if our eyes are open, only settling:
(where our daughter sank her pillow—her hair—and us
somewhere too), though we're yielding there to this, settling
aphotic loss, how we once lived what we could bear: us,
her, no more. Now there is weight so true, a settling
so whole, we could die in its lightness: it exiles us
to formless terror—no blanket, no bed, but settling.
If we could remember that once a throat was us
inside a body. Only: here, or here, inside this settling,
a hint of shade, almost like memory: the sound of us.
If we could just know again our mouths. We
could part the earth with our voices, ask to be heard.
Copyright © 2019 by Sasha Pimentel. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 19, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
And the weaver said, Speak to us of Clothes.
And he answered:
Your clothes conceal much of your beauty, yet they hide not the unbeautiful.
And though you seek in garments the freedom of privacy you may find in them a harness and a chain.
Would that you could meet the sun and the wind with more of your skin and less of your raiment,
For the breath of life is in the sunlight and the hand of life is in the wind.
Some of you say, “It is the north wind who has woven the clothes we wear.”
And I say, Ay, it was the north wind,
But shame was his loom, and the softening of the sinews was his thread.
And when his work was done he laughed in the forest.
Forget not that modesty is for a shield against the eye of the unclean.
And when the unclean shall be no more, what were modesty but a fetter and a fouling of the mind?
And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on July 20, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Because the cathedral leaked yellow light
onto cobblestones like a slit carton of milk.
Because boxes of red wine emptied
down the throat’s swiveling street.
Because the music of my footsteps
like notes of ash.
Because he curved like a question mark
puncturing a flap of heaven.
Because litros tucked in brown paper bags,
two packs of Chesterfields a day,
at the breakfast table,
on the lip of a balcony.
Because I woke in a shrine
of my own stickiness.
Because his lips were aperitif.
Because my father kissed his forehead
outside the mosque,
the taste of rum and rose petals.
Because oranges bulging in coat pockets.
Because the condom held against the light,
swirling cities of children we would never conceive.
Because it broke,
the cartography of longing pulsed onto soft thigh.
Because the long walk home chaperoned by stray dogs,
the drunk’s grief of the Guadalquivir,
blue cough and jasmine rotting in my hair.
Because I passed out in the bar bathroom
and mistook the toilet for my mother’s legs.
Because the shard of glass in the singer’s throat.
Because he cried when he was happy.
Because the thief looked me in the eyes and didn’t take the purse.
Because the petroglyphs of our hands wounded the white walls,
how we made the world small,
siphoning god’s breath
to sweeten the blood-flavored noon.
Copyright © 2019 by Kendra DeColo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 30, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
My two hunting dogs have names, but I rarely use them. As
I go, they go: I lead; they follow, the blue-eyed one first, then
the one whose coloring—her coat, not her eyes—I sometimes
call never-again-o-never-this-way-henceforth. Hope, ambition:
these are not their names, though the way they run might suggest
otherwise. Like steam off night-soaked wooden fencing when
the sun first hits it, they rise each morning at my command. Late
in the Iliad, Priam the king of Troy predicts his own murder—
correctly, except it won’t be by spear, as he imagines, but by
sword thrust. He can see his corpse, sees the dogs he’s fed and
trained so patiently pulling the corpse apart. After that, he says,
When they’re full, they’ll lie in the doorway, they’ll lap my blood.
I say: Why shouldn’t they? Everywhere, the same people who
mistake obedience for loyalty think somehow loyalty weighs more
than hunger, when it doesn’t. At night, when it’s time for bed,
we sleep together, the three of us: muscled animal, muscled animal,
muscled animal. The dogs settle to either side of me as if each
were the slightly folded wing of a beast from fable, part power, part
recognition. We breathe in a loose kind of unison. Our breathing
ripples the way oblivion does—routinely, across history’s face.
Copyright © 2019 by Carl Phillips. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 31, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
they work their fingers
to the soul their bones
to their marrow
they toil in blankness
inside the dead yellow
rectangle of warehouse
windows work fingers
to knots of fires
the young the ancients
the boneless the broken
the warehouse does too
to the bone of the good
bones of the building
every splinter spoken for
she works to the centrifuge
of time the calendar a thorn
into the sole dollar of working
without pause work their mortal
coils into frayed threads until
just tatter they worked their bones
to the soul until there was no
soul left to send worked until
they were dead gone
to heaven or back home
for the dream to have USA
without USA to export
USA to the parts under
the leather sole of the boss
they work in dreams of working
under less than ideal conditions
instead of just not ideal
conditions work for the
shrinking pension and never
dental for the illusion
of the doctor medicating them
for work-related disease
until they die leaving no empire
only more dreams that their babies
should work less who instead
work more for less
so they continue to work
for them and their kin
they workballoon payment
in the form of a heart attack
if only that’ll be me someday
the hopeless worker said on
the thirteenth of never
hollering into the canyon
of perpetual time
four bankruptcies later
three-fifths into a life
that she had planned
on expecting happiness
in any form it took
excluding the knock-off
cubed life she lived in debt
working to the millionth
of the cent her body cost
the machine’s owner
Yolanda Berta Zoila
Chavela Lucia Esperanza
Naya Carmela Celia Rocio
once worked here
their work disappearing
into dream-emptied pockets
into the landfill of work
the work to make their bodies
into love for our own
Copyright © 2019 by Carmen Giménez Smith. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 1, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
your shape is in the robe worn or not
a roominess of you folds into its cloth
a sachet in the drawer from which the air
of the place was taken fixed of you’re here
the smell has temperature and space
the wider warmth that buttered popcorn tastes
and not you it folds into a time’s clot
a sachet in a drawer personage of its own still you
I have to wear a bus to Rikers Island with
opaque tears up to my neck to get in to see you
in your two inch thick glass robe I have to imagine
you naked under to place my hand saying
I miss you against you where I can’t touch and love
has to break across insulating space still warm
I have to stand my day in the folding up put away
given you as time with you. I smell I need you on my clothes
I smell gunfire folded in to every turn
the city’s track laps into its hands on race
then files away not guilty I smell the drawers
of the records they keep folded away from stands taken
away distance doesn’t dissipate
the space between the bullet holes in you in me folded
you are the map I have to sleep with in my pocket to be sure
I know how to get out of here
your shape is in the robe the sharp creases
of its fold when you wore it blocked into
the counterpoint around you that even
folded stood you out to me that they couldn’t
see you that one day they would shoot
always folded into the robe you wore
gun or not phone mistaken or empty handed innocent
or not there is this fold on itself we sleep in
in the fabric
of this country’s culture
Copyright © 2019 by Ed Roberson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 6, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Your ride home complains the grocery store is freezing
they’d rather wait outside the burly guy
with the walrus stache asks whether you want your Italian
with the works You’re not sure what that means
So you ask and he tells you laboriously surprised
and also do you want tomato thanks
you lean on the counter and focus on condensation
the chill on your palm and forearm and under the glass
the meats in trays and butcher paper beds
some sausages sad stacked-up tongue
a leathery souse or loaf so out of it
that when he wants to know if that’s your order
and calls out loud Is that your order ma’am
you startle and then apologize for taking up his time
but he called you ma’am so you don’t mind
Copyright © 2019 by Stephanie Burt. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 9, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
My old lover was Catholic and lied to me about the smallest things. Now he's dying and I'm trying to forgive everyone standing in line ahead of me at the grocery store. I keep painting objects intuitively. I keep saying I've never been in love. It's not quite true but I keep describing the same things differently, as sailboats through the locks of reversed rivers or as streaks of red across the sky, visible only in one eye. The sensation of decision-making won't stay put. I forget who I am and wake up exhausted. I had a teacher once who died, it was as if she removed herself into the forest. I scatter leaves to read them like pages as if she's speaking. She was in love. I don't know if I'm worried I will or won't ever give up my fictional autonomy. I'm choosing between two trees with two hollows. One begins breaking as I step inside, as I try to sleep. The other is already inhabited by a rooster. I pluck a feather and run to the pawn shop. How much is this worth? Can I buy it back for my Sunday best, for the suit I never wear? Maybe if I go to the church I don't believe in I'll meet a man I can. I'll wear my Jewish star and pray for his belief to convince me that I too want someone to hold my stare.
Copyright © 2019 by S. Brook Corfman. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 16, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
when the training dedicated
to what lines my eyes cast
braids me to that skein
then I know I’m a thing
that can take itself away
maybe etched with the man
on a horse leaping
into the lithographed
German windmill’s open bay
refined, involutely resolved
to curving inward
while touching the outside,
screaming isn’t looking
like when my mother died
of being a woman,
poor and eventually
American, the nerve I had
to fold time
in my mouth as if to call
back an escape line
from a life
and who would think
to hide in a windmill
and the horse
I really was
looking at that print
thinking without rancor
of what fraction of hateable men
who work so hard
at fleeing into private chambers
only to find
some uninvited thought of me
eyes closed, whispering
exactly there, spectral
and unwanted as I am,
It’s just easier for me
if you’re not around
Copyright © 2019 by Farid Matuk. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 19, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Brother on the threshing floor, body like wheat,
and the red dirt that binds us, that nothing will release us
from. The fig tree, the date palm, the treacherous murder
unleashed into us now, the call blazing from vanity’s lungs,
jutting us to a future of mindless rain, wayward blizzards
of sand and snow. We were born to ward off this desolation
that grinds mountains into floss, bores into our books
for a whim that ordains blood, our blood
and others, our sisters, mothers. Without such fear
who will we be? What will we do without
this aching chord, without the bright morning that tore
the silver’s towers? Fire and the parched red dirt
that binds, the water stolen from our wells,
a black magic dredging the lower rungs of earth.
We dream of clover. The soft scent of young lambs
is the first letter of our alphabet, and the prophets
who tighten ropes around their waists to stifle hunger's
pangs, supplicant brows seeking light from earth’s core.
What will we do without the angel’s voice, a tide
sending us heavenward, a harmattan ushering us into the hell
of its lows. How can we live without such turbulent hope?
How can we accept the certainty of our quiet graves?
How can we stop waiting to witness the Lord’s face?
And what will we do without the hardened gaze?
The girls walk past, hair fluttering like commas
between poems of musk, a dream of touch like water
gently falling on smooth, warm stone.
What will we do without the anemones’ mournful dirge
stroking the dagger’s spine and the gelding’s nightmares.
Our hatred for our scoured hands, our love of the moment
when the sun drops only for our eyes? Who else will hear
birdsong as prayer, who will cleanse himself with the stroke
of sand? Who keeps the earth rotating with praise
of your name? And what will this spinning,
hurtling mean without our voices shouldering it
toward some ripe, sweetened pause?
What will you do, dear God, without us? How
will you fare, alone again in the empty vast, in the dark
of your creation, without us giving you your name?
Copyright © 2019 by Khaled Mattawa. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 20, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
When I get to where I’m going
I want the death of my children explained to me.
They meet over tea and potato chips.
Brown and buttermilk women,
hipped and hardened,
legs uncrossed but proper
still in their smiles;
smiles that carry a sadness in faint creases.
A sadness they will never be without.
One asks the other,
“What do they call a woman who has lost a child?”
The other sighs between sips of lukewarm tea.
There is no name for us.
“No name? But there has to be a name for us.
We must have something to call ourselves.”
Surely, history by now and all the women
who carry their babies’ ghosts on their backs,
mothers who wake up screaming,
women wide awake in their nightmares,
mothers still expected to be mothers and human,
women who stand under hot showers weeping,
mothers who wish they could drown standing up,
women who can still smell them—hear them,
the scent and symphony of their children,
deep down in the good earth.
“Surely, history has not forgotten to name us?”
No woman wants to bear
whatever could be the name for this grief.
Even if she must bear the grief for all her days,
it would be far too painful to be called by that name.
“I’ve lost two, you know.”
“I was angry at God, you know.”
“I stopped praying but only for a little while,
and then I had no choice. I had to pray again.
I had to call out to something that was no longer there.
I had to believe God knew where it was.”
“I fear death no longer. It has taken everything.
But should I be? Should I be afraid of what death has taken?
That it took and left no name?”
The other who sighs between sips of lukewarm tea
leans over and kisses the cheek of the one still with questions.
No, you don’t have to be afraid.
Death is no more scary than the lives we have lived
without our babies, bound to this grief
with no name.
Copyright © 2019 by Parneshia Jones. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 22, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
“There’s a lot of waiting in the drama of experience.”
Lyn Hejinian, Oxota
No signal from the interface except for a frozen half-bitten fruit.
Other than that, no logos. An hour is spent explaining
to the group what I’ve forgotten, to do with the mistranslation
of a verb that means driftingbut can imply deviance.
The next hour goes by trying to remember, in the back of my mind,
the name of the artist who makes paintings on inkjets.
Why I’d think of him escapes me. Now my gaze circles the yoga bun
of the tall woman in front of me. I didn’t pay $20 to contemplate
the back of her head. It’s killing me. The pillars and plaster
saints with their tonsures floating amid electronic sound waves.
At such volume they could crumble. The virgin safe in a dimly lit
niche as the tapping on my skull and the clamor of bones or killer
bees assaults the repurposed church. This is what I sought, while
in another recess I keep hearing Violeta’s “Volver a los diecisiete”
and seventeen-year-olds marching against the nonsense of arming
teachers. If I were an instrument. A bassoon. In the source language
we don’t say “spread the word.” Pasa la voz is our idiom, easily
mistaken for a fleeting voice. From the back row all I see is fingers
gliding in sync with her vocalizations. How fitting a last name
like halo. Lucky for us here time is measure and inexplicable
substance. That’s when I decide to stop fighting the city. Use it in my
favor. Speak to strangers. Demolish the construct in the performance.
Copyright © 2019 by Mónica de la Torre. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 23, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
I ask the new migrant if he regrets leaving Russia.
We have dispensed already with my ancestry.
He says no. For a time, he was depressed. He found
with every return he missed what he left behind.
A constant state of this. Better to love by far
where you are. He taps the steering wheel of his car,
the hum of the engine an imperceptible tremble
in us. When he isn’t driving, he works tending
to new trees. I’ve seen these saplings popping
up all over the suburbs, tickling the bellies
of bridges, the new rooted darlings of the State.
The council spent a quarter mil on them &
someone, he—Lilian—must ensure the dirt
holds. Gentrification is climate-friendly now.
I laugh and he laughs, and we eat the distance
between histories. He checks on his buds daily.
Are they okay? They are okay. They do not need
him, but he speaks, and they listen or at least
shake a leaf. What a world where you can live off
land by loving it. If only we cared for each other
this way. The council cares for their investment.
The late greenery, that is, not Lilian, who shares
his ride on the side. I wonder what it would cost
to have men be tender to me regularly,
to be folded into his burly, to be left on the side
of the road as he drove away, exhausted. Even
my dreams of tenderness involve being used
& I’m not sure who to blame: colonialism,
capitalism, patriarchy, queerness or poetry?
Sorry, this is a commercial for the Kia Sportage
now. This is a commercial for Lilian’s thighs.
He didn’t ask for this and neither did I—how
language drapes us together, how stories tongue
each other in the back seat and the sky blurs
out of frame. There are too many agonies
to discuss here, and I am nearly returned.
He has taken me all the way back, around
the future flowering, back to where I am not,
to the homes I keep investing in as harms.
I should fill them with trees. Let the boughs
cover the remembered boy, cowering
under a mother, her raised weapon
not the cane but the shattering within,
let the green tear through the wall
paper, let life replace memory. Lilian, I left
you that day, and in the leaving, a love
followed. Isn’t that a wonder and a wound?
Tell me which it is, I confess I mistake the two.
I walk up the stairs to my old brick apartment
where the peach tree reaches for the railing,
a few blushing fruits poking through the bars,
eager to brush my leg, to say linger, halt.
I want to stop, to hold it for real, just once
but I must wait until I am safe.
Copyright © 2019 by Omar Sakr. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 4, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Translated by Natascha Bruce
There's no cloth hawker in the bazaar
willing to make dirty deals
with the health inspector
neither will they confess the link
between those bolts of flyaway fabric
and ancient birds
(lo a sage appeared
drilled fire from sticks
transformed the stinking food
and the people were happy)
after the ban on cooking smoke
glug glug swallow
the secret of seawater and its fish
tile cities built up and pulled down
at four in the afternoon
a routine inspection
into the cleanliness of laughter
a hand spread wide in the dark is
splattered with light
a carambola tree sprouts branches from stumps
its remaining fruits sour and shrivelled to stardust
swaying in the void
the sky so dull
and the city official
at the newly-sterilized entrance
a spy hole onto the blankness
（有聖人作 鑽燧取火 以化腥臊 而民悅之）
Copyright © 2019 by Dorothy Tse and Natascha Bruce. Published in Poem-a-Day in partnership with Words Without Borders on September 7, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
The cow swings her head in a deep drowsy half-circle to and over
Flank and shoulder, lunging
At flies; then fragrantly plunging
Down at the web-washed grass and the golden clover,
Wrenching sideways to get the full tingle; with one warm nudge,
One somnolent wide smudge
Sacred to kine,
Crushing a murmurous of late lush August to wine!
The sky is even water-tone behind suave poplar trees—
Color of glass; the cows
That color, disturb the pellucid cool poplar frieze
With beauty of motion slow and succinct like some grave privilege
Fulfilled. They taste the edge
Of August, they need
No more: they have rose vapors, flushed silence, pulpy milkweed.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on September 8, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Shame forces what we denied into luminosity.
In dream my father tells me my mother’s grieving
He’s projecting thoughts to a screen for me to read.
I’m at his private film of captivity.
He’s watching us. We’re hunched over heaving the sorrow vomit.
Father stands before me
time without fear suspended and apart
unafraid of anything one way or another.
“When did they cut it?” he wants to know
pushing the thought into space between my eyes.
Raising his pant leg where the mortician
smoothed and stretched the salvage skin Father used for padding
his below-knee amputation
hovering inches above the ground glints in his eyes.
He doesn’t remember the amputation
in the bending.
Father shows me his whole leg. Scars
mended and smooth.
He is an uncut body again. Like before the bending place.
Only the graft scars on his thighs remain.
He projects: “I feel my leg here Margo my foot still itches here” Father
points: “in this empty space” he twirls his fingers a slow spiral.
I nod to him: “I see. I’ll remember this for you.”
Copyright © 2019 by Margo Tamez. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 10, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
for Daniel; after Pablo
It was five o’clock when paper handkerchiefs descended
over the ocean’s surge—
one ocean varnished by oil in the morning, fish under the surge’s blades.
My country, you whimpered under fog. I awoke to the tender
sound of seashells on the radio.
I knelt by myself and listened. Your flat skeleton, large skeleton,
would group at your back.
Come, you murmured over canned goods. Come. I will tell you
clay seeps onto roots, roots drawn by salt, roots crowned
by trees. The cords unravel from the flesh of trees, unravel
by the storm shutters. Come.
See the roads brim with red poppy, roads tracked
by green serpents
((a la víbora, víbora / de la mar, de la mar))
I tendered nine eggs before the ignorant lion
of exile, who nodded.
At five in the morning, everything seemed to be made of lime—
one torso shrouded by magnolia, one torso under vulgar peal
of grey morgues, and the fish.
Copyright © 2019 Ricardo Maldonado. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 11, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
light that day | bright | & the air hot | & meeting bones
of those I would never know en the panteón
speaking Sinaloan Spanish | which has always
been the accent I’ve understood most
despite hearing it least in my life
sígueme he sd | follow me
we must walk | roads unpaved lined
with stones & dust | so much dust
| polvo | of airborne bones &
saguaro ancestors watching us
their shadows trailing us |
as sr Nalo led us past a dried
creek & just over a small hill
& there | a house with no doors
& there attached to this home
the walls of another | walls covered
in hot black plastic | secured with rope
there | the walls of Francisco’s home
what was left of Francisco’s home
now a storage space for another family’s home
aquí el vivió | sr Nalo sd | he lived here |
Rosario after decades of waiting | left this home
& lived with her children | Francisco’s children
from his first family | closer to the center
of el rancho Tetaroba | how los Alvarez
of Arizona dwindled to less people
over one hundred years &
how los Alvarez of Tetaroba
increased & lived in all parts of Mexico
touch these walls | de color colorado
they were the same yr grandfather felt
you feel the heat | they breathe hot
touch these walls | paredes en la frente y la mente
they were the same yr grandfather felt
you feel the heat | they breathe hot
I pocketed a piece of this wall
& later when drunk | way drunk after
getting to know mis primos better
over chelas | I stumbled into the hotel
hot tears in my eyes | dad I sd |
I kept this for you | for all of us
but always for you to keep him
& to remember | always remember
what he did |
| climbing down the drainage of red
rock | sweet minted plants |
Robert | my father | father of five
all born in Arizona | Robert
stops to catch his breath then rips
bamboo from root | clouded
red dust clumps dropping |
this is where he was born
& now we know why | now
we know why & now we can see why
Copyright © 2019 by Steven Alvarez. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 13, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Translated by Jacob Rogers
I, wearing heron symmetrically opposed over my chest,
swore to the five emperors that there was no such thing as balance, that if herons upheld
the rivers on all Chinese porcelain it was
simply due to
a locking mechanism in their joints.
they awarded me for risking everything in my defense.
I wrote to you a few years later. I said:
Rostock, sixth of July,
it’s awful of me to interrupt, but I just
need you to understand how certain kinds of wounds can be useful.
I’m finishing up an essay
on pre-modern explanations for bird migration,
and all the species seen since Aristotle’s time as either moon travelers
or sailors that very rarely return.
I even studied a pamphlet from 1703
that argues for the communion of swallows,
that they gather in wetlands
and follow a specific choreography to perch on top of the rushes
until they sink.
they spend winters underwater, in the hypnotic calm of the muck,
and that’s why they emerge so klein damp in spring.
but in 1822 (I carefully attached the photograph),
an arrow pierced the neck of a stork in central Africa
and the bird began its flight bearing both weapon and wound.
when it reached Germany, someone identified the origin of the projectile,
and went on to form a scientific hypothesis.
I don’t remember much more of the letter, except:
pain and brightness are distributed in equal parts,
and lightness only exists because of past excess.
Since it’s the migratory season (I concluded)
I hope you don’t mind if I bypass the formula for farewells—
Atlantic in between us,
every anemone is fluttering along with the currents.
"Historia apócrifa do descubrimento das migracións ou O sacrificio das Pfeilstörchen"
eu, que levo garzas simetricamente opostas sobre o peito,
xurei ante os cinco emperadores que o equilibrio non existía, que se as garzas sostiñan
os ríos de toda a porcelana chinesa era
por un mecanismo de bloqueo na articulación.
premiáronme por arriscar todo na defensa.
uns anos despois escribinche. dicía:
Rostock, seis de xullo,
que atroz interromperte; verás,
necesito que entendas a utilidade de certo tipo de feridas.
estou rematando un ensaio
sobre as explicacións pre-modernas da migración das aves,
e as especies tratadas, desde Aristóteles, como viaxeiras á lúa
ou mariñeiras que raramente volven.
estudei incluso un panfleto de 1703
que defende a comuñón das andoriñas,
a súa reunión en pantanos
e a coreografía que respectan para pousarse nos xuncos
invernan baixo as augas, na calma hipnótica dos lameiros,
e por iso emerxen tan klein mollado en primavera.
pero en 1822 (adxuntei coidadosamente a fotografía),
unha frecha atravesa o pescozo dunha cegoña en África central
e a ave emprende o voo cargado coa arma e coa ferida.
cando chega a Alemaña, alguén identifica a orixe do proxectil
e confirma, así, unha hipótese científica.
pouco máis lembro da carta, salvo:
a partes iguais se distribúe a dor e a luz,
e ao final, a lixeireza existe porque existiu o exceso.
Sendo o tempo das migracións (concluía)
permíteme evitar a fórmula de despedida,
Atlántico por medio,
ondean coas correntes todas as anemones.
© 2019 Alba Cid and Jacob Rogers. Published in Poem-a-Day in partnership with Words Without Borders on September 14, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
small victories small wars
a famous person
played chess in the woods
whatever repeats whatever
input we have a disappearing
that knows how to proceed
local realities made up
exclusively of their own grammar
but only if their grammar
victorious feelings without victory
sam calls our teams are playing
we are getting older can only hope
for a beautiful result
is a truth that conveys
no information a local
threat a distant
tabs on tabs on tabs
I buy the hat that my bitmoji had
in a threat of forests a savant
of anger a savant of nothing
to be angry about
a hierarchy of satisfactions
the next activity
the best distraction
it’s never too late to stay the same
very few things
the body reacts
to what reacts
a sort of
Copyright © 2019 by Chris Tonelli. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 16, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
I have that precious and irreplaceable luxury of failure, of risk, of surrender
If something happens to me, then you’ll be free!
And I want you to be free: how does that Presley
Song go? I want to be free, free, free, yeah
Free—I want to be free… like a bird in a tree.
And here by the river alone, by the Mississippi,
There’s one last song I’m gonna wade into. See,
I was raised to sing wherever I was in a house
And now, it seems, I have no house. How does
That Tom Waits song go? Wherever I lay my
Head, that’s where I call home. I say
I have no house, but that’s really a big lie.
I’m renting down here. I can sing in this place,
So maybe I’ll buy. That is, if I don’t die
First. Why so grim, you ask? There’s joy,
I suppose, in my voice somewhere. So they say.
I don’t hear it, myself. And that’s because
I get myself all hung up in the blue, or weigh
Myself down in the freighted churn, heavy currents
That I hope to God will carry me to our unchained redeemer,
My last thought is... that I had no last thought.
I’m just singing along. Whole lotta love! But… But…
The Hallelujah is what you can’t put into a poem.
Now I have no house but the waves (the river has waves).
I’ve left no notes: only some sketches for an album
Of tunes that was, I guess, intended to save
Me from going down, or out, or into the hurling rain—
From the pain that I worked so hard to earn.
Where it came from, where I come from, doesn’t concern
You, but please listen to these wild thoughts I’ve hung
On staves, that are fit to garland the graves
Nobody thinks to visit, in places I confess I never
Went to except in a nightmare, and in the posthumous release
Of this song.
Copyright © 2019 by Don Share. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 18, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
with gratitude to Wanda Coleman & Terrance Hayes
We have the same ankles, hips, nipples, knees—
our bodies bore the forks/tenedors
we use to eat. What do we eat? Darkness
from cathedral floors,
the heart’s woe in abundance. Please let us
go through the world touching what we want,
knock things over. Slap & kick & punch
until we get something right. ¿Verdad?
Isn’t it true, my father always asks.
Your father is the ghost of mine & vice
versa. & when did our pasts
stop recognizing themselves? It was always like
us to first person: yo. To disrupt a hurricane’s
path with our own inwardness.
C’mon huracán, you watery migraine,
prove us wrong for once. This sadness
lasts/esta tristeza perdura. Say it both ways
so language doesn’t bite back, but stays.
Copyright © 2019 by Iliana Rocha. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 19, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Breakfast rained on again,
and I’m lifted up the stairs
on the breath of what
the dark of the day
might promise in its
perfect silence. The light
in my daughter’s room
has been on all night
like every night,
but the sun shifting
changes the shape
of the space from
a square into an unfolding
universe. I had always
imagined a different type
of fatherhood before
fatherhood found me, but if you
asked me to describe it now,
I don’t think I could
find the words. Try to find
a way to describe living
a few different ways at once.
For a while I imagined
there would be more attempts
at trying out what I’m still
trying to see in the room
that’s gone power out,
but the weeds in the yard
grow too quickly to be left
alone for long. I had forgotten
the strangeness of a humid
February. I had forgotten
all that makes up the memories
that need me to exist. It was
easier to carve out a place
before I had words to describe
it. Now looking back feels
like looking forward. I am
drawing a self-portrait
and trying to remove the self.
Copyright © 2019 Adam Clay. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 20, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
One for tree, two for woods,
I-Goo wrote the characters
out for me. Dehiscent & reminiscent:
what wood made
Ng Ng’s hope-chest
that she immigrated with
—cargo from Guangzho
to Phoenix? In Spanish, Nana tells me
hope & waiting are one word.
In her own hand, she keeps
a list of dichos—for your poems, she says.
Estan mas cerca los dientes
que los parentes, she recites her mother
& mother’s mother. It rhymes, she says.
Dee-say—the verb with its sound turned
down looks like dice
to throw & dice, to cut. Shift after shift,
she inspected the die of integrated circuits
beneath an assembly line of microscopes—
the connections over time
getting smaller & smaller.
To enter words in order to see
In the classroom, we learn iambic words
that leaf on the board with diacritics—
about, aloft, aggrieved. What over years
accrues within one’s words? What immanent
sprung with what rhythm?
Agave—a lie in the lion, the maenad made mad
by Dionysus awoke to find her son
dead by her hand. The figure is gaslit
even if anachronistic. Data & river banks—
memory’s figure is often riparian. I hear Llorona’s agony
echo in the succulent. What’s the circuit in cerca to short
or rewire the far & close—to map
Ng Ng & I-Goo to Nana’s carpool?
I read a sprig of evergreen, a symbol
of everlasting, is sometimes packed
with a new bride’s trousseau. It was thirteen years
before Yeh Yeh could bring
Ng Ng & I-Goo over. Evergreen
& Empire were names of corner-stores
where they first worked—
stores on corners of Nana’s barrio.
Chinito, Chinito! Toca la malaca—
she might have sung in ’49
after hearing Don Tosti’s
recording—an l where the r would be
in the Spanish rattle filled with beans or seed or as
the song suggests
change in the laundryman’s till.
I have read diviners
use stems of yarrow when consulting
What happens to the woods in a maiden name?
Two hyphens make a dash—
the long signal in the binary code.
Attentive antennae: a monocot
—seed to single leaf—the agave store years
for the stalk. My two grandmothers:
one’s name keeps a pasture,
the other a forest. If they spoke to one another,
it was with short, forced words
like first strokes when sawing—
trying to set the teeth into the grain.
Copyright © 2019 by Brandon Som. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 26, 2019, 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.
Vain to fish
with unbaited hook,
the proverb says. I fished that way,
at 9, after Sunday School at Trinity Presbyterian, as God said
(my schizophrenic, periodically
catatonic uncle and preacher said)
thou shalt not kill, so I would kill
neither lake bass nor earthworm, thought the Lord
was watching that rowboat and testing
me, like Job or Abraham, to see if I’d break
some covenant we’d made
I couldn’t remember making,
dreaded that like Joan of Arc I’d be summoned
someday in my backyard, under the pecan tree’s
velvet greenfuzzed litter, to leave
Alexander III 3rd grade to go
and raise an Army
to end the napalm flamethrow jungleburn
Walter Cronkite told me about
so for hours in the rowboat with my father
who’d left his own war without ever going to combat
to Travel Mental Troop to psychiatric
discharge after six months and told his family
he’d been the sole survivor
of a kamikaze-bombed carrier,
my unbaited hook would twitch along the lake bottom’s
algae slime, my earthworm snuck back into bucket-writhe.
He couldn’t know I was deceiving him for the Lord,
humiliated on my behalf
that hour after hour I got
not even a line-tug. It
humiliated me to disappoint that Pacific hero.
And this is how we did it, outings
of Father and Son; fishing
for each other, with unbaited hooks.
Copyright © 2019 by Bruce Beasley. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 3, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Then came Oscar, the time of the guns,
And there was no land for a man, no land for a country,
Unless guns sprang up
And spoke their language.
The how of running the world was all in guns.
The law of a God keeping sea and land apart,
The law of a child sucking milk,
The law of stars held together,
They slept and worked in the heads of men
Making twenty-mile guns, sixty-mile guns,
Speaking their language
Of no land for a man, no land for a country
Unless… guns… unless… guns.
There was a child wanted the moon shot off the sky,
asking a long gun to get the moon,
to conquer the insults of the moon,
to conquer something, anything,
to put it over and run up the flag,
To show them the running of the world was all in guns.
There was a child wanted the moon shot off the day.
They dreamed… in the time of the guns… of guns.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on October 5, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
The hard edge of historical light, it waits up for us
all night. Here’s one brutal but apparently
necessary historical bargain: I said that the energy
between you and the person next
to you is truer than it is real. This is not a randomly
existing fact. It’s a collectively and intelligently and menacingly
cultivated feature of our lives. Fugitive fact.
This puts you both—puts
us all—in peril, yes, but protects that energy between us.
If it were the other way, if that living thing between
us had become more—even as—real as it is
true we’d be more protected than we are
but that thing, that sacred being
-between would be endangered. The intelligence
of collective action knows, somehow, that that
kind of security is far more dangerous—the kind of danger
people become to themselves, then to each other,
the kind they become to each other, then to themselves—
than the peril in which we stand now. That’s a hard
historical edge to stand near, real talk, that’s the broken
back of a mother—black—skipped across a wit-quick crack in the sidewalk.
Copyright © 2019 by Ed Pavlić. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 8, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
We drank coffee and got ready,
listened to 93.3 during our commute
to take our mind off how
every day we die on tv. Every day
down the block, kids in surgical masks
spraypaint Magneto was Right on street signs
and new storefronts waiting to redeem
spa resort passes and avocado toast dreams
until they, too, are forced out of business.
Or not. People can surprise you
like beating cancer or criminal charges,
the 2016 election, the high cost
of middle shelf liquor with a decent view.
If you want to succeed, let them see you
coming, our mothers once said before asking
if we wanted the switch or the belt.
But a whooping beats sitting
at the rooftop bar looking over the steepled skyline
and feeling the pang of worlds we’d rather be,
with two empty seats right beside us
that stay empty for the next two hours
surrounded by people drinking & eating
standing up—the wind threatening
to blow their hats off their sunburned heads.
Somewhere right now
there are two people looking for those seats.
We keep hoping they’ll find them—
find us. Let’s have another drink,
watch the muted news above
a row of decent bourbon,
wait to hear, to see
if they make it to us or turn up on tv.
Copyright © 2019 by Gary Jackson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 9, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
To be able to see every side of every question;
To be on every side, to be everything, to be nothing long;
To pervert truth, to ride it for a purpose,
To use great feelings and passions of the human family
For base designs, for cunning ends,
To wear a mask like the Greek actors—
Your eight-page paper—behind which you huddle,
Bawling through the megaphone of big type:
“This is I, the giant.”
Thereby also living the life of a sneak-thief,
Poisoned with the anonymous words
Of your clandestine soul.
To scratch dirt over scandal for money,
And exhume it to the winds for revenge,
Or to sell papers,
Crushing reputations, or bodies, if need be,
To win at any cost, save your own life.
To glory in demoniac power, ditching civilization,
As a paranoiac boy puts a log on the track
And derails the express train.
To be an editor, as I was.
Then to lie here close by the river over the place
Where the sewage flows from the village,
And the empty cans and garbage are dumped,
And abortions are hidden.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on October 13, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
When I told them it must be like dropping your kid
off at school their first day, all my parent friends
nodded and smiled uncomfortably, meaning
what would I know. I won’t be taking solace
in the many firsts ahead. Here among the gray,
spotted and brown heads of the seniors,
their soft flesh and angles, their obedience as they
sit as uprightly as they are able at white, parallel
tables, nobody cries, and very few speak.
When I seat dad beside her, one senior tells me
she’s ninety-four, presenting one hand, four
fingers in the air, just as she might have ninety
years ago with a stranger like me, now long gone.
Dad never liked me to talk:
Lower your voice, he’d say. If I was louder:
Put on your boxing gloves. Or: You’ll catch
more flies with honey than vinegar, as if some day
I’d need the flies. I stopped talking, started writing
instead. I work full-time and dad wants to die,
so I dropped him at the Champion Avenue
Low-income Senior & Child Care Services Center,
a newish building, municipal and nondescript,
in a neighborhood that’s been razed and rebuilt so often
it’s got no discernible character left. There was bingo,
men playing poker in a corner. Red sauce and cheese
on white bread pizza for lunch. Dad, a big talker,
was an instant hit, but refused to return. What
is the name of that animal, someone asked me.
Where is Philip, asked someone else, over and over.
As if firsts and lasts were one and the same.
Copyright © 2019 by Kathy Fagan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 15, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
after Tina Takemoto
I will paint us together
in lemon and burnt shoyu.
I will squeeze us out of
flour, water, yeast
while you dress
behind the thin curtain
while you flatten
lapel, collar, slacks
in our tightly ironed
tar paper life.
Your tie clip, carved from
ancient wood and not
the real topaz you deserve.
Outside, we shuffle in dust
from between our feathers.
I used to be a swamp.
In this government aviary
dust storms can’t be predicted
unlike the government
which splits atoms
the way it did your chest.
on the ancient sea bed.
The mountains blow
their alien breath in you
while sleek muscle men
cactus across my humid eyes.
They don’t stop
to light my cigarette
or palm a slice of
fresh, warm bread.
Now bluebirds trill
from my cuffs
and it’s time to clock out.
Beyond the perfect
frame of this prison city
desert peaks buzz
the rich, rich song
of my hunger.
Copyright © 2019 by Kenji C. Liu. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 17, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
People always tell me, “Don’t put the cart
before the horse,” which is curious
because I don’t have a horse.
Is this some new advancement in public shaming—
repeatedly drawing one’s attention
to that which one is currently not, and never
has been, in possession of?
If ever, I happen to obtain a Clydesdale,
then I’ll align, absolutely, it to its proper position
in relation to the cart, but I can’t
do that because all I have is the cart.
One solitary cart—a little grief wagon that goes
precisely nowhere—along with, apparently, one
invisible horse, which does not pull,
does not haul, does not in any fashion
budge, impel or tow my disaster buggy
up the hill or down the road.
I’m not asking for much. A more tender world
with less hatred strutting the streets.
Perhaps a downtick in state-sanctioned violence
against civilians. Wind through the trees.
Water under the bridge. Kindness.
LOL, says the world. These things take time, says
the Office of Disappointment. Change cannot
be rushed, says the roundtable of my smartest friends.
Then, together, they say, The cart!
They say, The horse!
They say, Haven’t we told you already?
So my invisible horse remains
standing where it previously stood:
between hotdog stands and hallelujahs,
between the Nasdaq and the moon’s adumbral visage,
between the status quo and The Great Filter,
and I can see that it’s not his fault—being
invisible and not existing—
how he’s the product of both my imagination
and society’s failure of imagination.
Watch how I press my hand against his translucent flank.
How I hold two sugar cubes to his hypothetical mouth.
How I say I want to believe in him,
speaking softly into his missing ear.
Copyright © 2019 by Matthew Olzmann. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 22, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
More than anything, I need this boy
so close to my ears, his questions
electric as honeybees in an acreage
of goldenrod and aster. And time where
we are, slow sugar in the veins
of white pine, rubbery mushrooms
cloistered at their feet. His tawny
listening at the water’s edge, shy
antlers in pooling green light, while
we consider fox prints etched in clay.
I need little black boys to be able to be
little black boys, whole salt water galaxies
in cotton and loudness—not fixed
in stunned suspension, episodes on hot
asphalt, waiting in the dazzling absence
of apology. I need this kid to stay mighty
and coltish, thundering alongside
other black kids, their wrestle and whoop,
the brightness of it—I need for the world
to bear it. And until it will, may the trees
kneel closer, while we sit in mineral hush,
together. May the boy whose dark eyes
are an echo of my father’s dark eyes,
and his father’s dark eyes, reach
with cupped hands into the braided
current. The boy, restless and lanky, the boy
for whom each moment endlessly opens,
for the attention he invests in the beetle’s
lacquered armor, each furrowed seed
or heartbeat, the boy who once told me
the world gives you second chances, the boy
tugging my arm, saying look, saying now.
Copyright © 2019 by Nicole Terez Dutton. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 25, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
for Yehuda Amichai
You threw off your exile
by clothing yourself in praise,
Yehuda, saying, my nation
is alive, Amichai, in me,
inhabiting your own body,
your mother-beloved skin.
I’m hairy like you, and afraid,
like you, I’m half-animal
and half-angel, uncertain
where my tenderness ends
and cruelty begins. We
did what we had to do,
you wrote, which in translation
Yehuda, I want your clarity—
to love you, not close the gates
of my heart like a nation
trying to make itself a home
but winding up with a state.
Psalmist, you spoke so tenderly
of peace, but the war persists.
All I have for you is this poem:
a man photographs the sudden
undulating hills. Behind him,
a woman he loves now dreams
that their bed’s legs grow roots
beneath, overnight, and spreads
a canopy of branches that shoot
pink blooms open and open,
now green with shushing leaves
that shelter and shadow the rucked
bedsheets, the branches burdened
with red apples, apples like eyes
ready to be praised
Copyright © 2019 by Philip Metres. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 28, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
After Kabir Carter, Bard College, 26 June 2018
Feeling knives the microphone to cauterize flesh it amplifies
Crackles the abrasive metal fabric
Blowtorches feedback hold and heel
Throttles and pauses the cord-pull
Lulls to lunge in transmission back seat pocket
Alones the sound crowd
Accumulates the solitary intention of hooded jacket front punch
Zippers the match stick ignite
Handcuffs the thick slide probe with plastic tie
Zones between foot and huddle
Shrills the retreat from acted upon or was it repeat
Tools the self animation
Insomuch as the metal scrim
On denim is able to inhale
Skin-howl blister swipe
Caresses and so abrogates as to grip therefore
Larynxes stride and light step
Dry touch enveloping to self anoint
Tag identify anatomy pulse
Whether pleasure or pain it collapses
Second human shell the cosmos
Automaton guest or X
Feeling that ligaments today in predation
It houses it afflicts it encircles
Copyright © 2019 by Roberto Tejada. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 6, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Haven’t taken it to the head for a minute on another
three day bender. Slept past sunrise. And then another.
The bed has softened over the years, the stoop steps chipped.
Shanties clog memory: was it your most recent love, or another?
Bangladesh is continually interrogated by floods, you tell me.
Your reflection a mist; the mist a shadow; the shadow some other.
Cracked clay riverbeds sound like a cross between square and
sawtooth waves. Always, we want the frequency to be another.
Late last night the house made a drawing of itself: bones, skin,
and a hat. It preferred famine over feast. Liar. It consumed another.
Dear Sound Wave, while sobriety arpeggiates, is reshaped by blurring
filters don’t think too much of any of us. This dissonance becomes another.
Copyright © 2019 by Bojan Louis. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 7, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Strict and bound
as an analog watch,
calls for a probable
It is suicide season.
The calendar taunts
with year three’s death dance.
in my abdomen.
Long arrows of surgery
nudge under my ribs
trace my hipbones
garland my navel.
Along my lower back
divots of biopsy
freckle into sickles
when I bend over.
Driving over the city bridge
quirk or quark humming
I might be spared.
My grandmother loved
singing O What a Beautiful City
as she sorted her pills.
The anesthetic mask
shatters linear discipline:
Trotting the deep path by mosslight,
son is a dark-haired universe
in the crook of my right arm.
Five pound blood-hum
prayer and verse ripping
my skull pure off.
Time has me scalped
kissing the whorls of my brain
with frank red lips.
Rolling up from surgery
I look down to my wrist
where someone has clasped
my watch on loosely.
Copyright © 2019 by Laura Da'. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 14, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
I didn’t want to break my own heart
oh no you didn’t exist as a point on a plane
in a modern philosophy of time my new thing
nope not today in a world where transcendent
incompetence is easy to spot if that’s what you want to see
and efficiency is still the enemy of poetry and of love
oh no you didn’t write poems on forgetting fearsome leave-taking
or crypto-amnesia that act of forgetting to cite fierce attachment
nope today is a day to be free to transcend pedestrian realities
O ethical imperative dire as plagiarism nope
O emotional appropriation not today
one form of redress is if you write me a letter
I will write you back give and take means
no hearts broken if we concede to exist
as a sudden broken thing not fearful enemies of love
we grow fierce as yes transcendence yes
on a plane in the sky or in my mind
no you didn’t forget nor did I nope not today
Copyright © 2019 by Tina Cane. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 15, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
The train axle still rests on the railway tracks
its solid metal wheels lodged in the dirt,
the dandelions and yellow weeds the color
of a yellow sweatshirt, push through the gravel
with the persistence of something not planted,
unplanned. I am trailed by the detritus,
the reminders in mute things,
by the needle oak and the green benches at Weaver,
and the railway car, now a bar, and the parking lot
where once I stopped you, and here I sit in silence.
Love gone, empties the world of brightness,
the trees are paper cut-outs propped on stands,
the green fields of Pessoa are dead and brown,
the flowery hue of a buttercup shirt, the squirrels,
in quiet industry, remind me of your hands.
I want to lie down in a field in North Carolina
and let the June bugs carry me,
let the stiff grass grow through me
let the weeds and dandelions feed from this sadness
and grow tall again, uncut, like the ones that still live
by this steel axle, the one left anchored
in the red earth and creosote of Carrboro Station.
Copyright © 2019 by Stephanos Papadopoulos. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 19, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
What if the submarine
is praying for a way
it can poison the air,
in which some of them have
leaped for a few seconds,
felt its suffocating
Something floats above their
known world leading a wake
of uncountable death.
What if they organized
into a rebellion?
Now scientists have found
a group of octopuses
who seem to have a sense
of community, who
live in dwellings made of
gathered pebbles and shells,
who cooperate, who
defend an apparent
border. Perhaps they’ll have
a plan for the planet
in a millennium
or two. After we’re gone.
Copyright © 2019 by Marilyn Nelson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 20, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Copyright © 2019 by Orlando White. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 21, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Desire is never one way. Black
snakes crawl through your throat. The divine longs
for human proximity to divinity. The divine longs
for touch. You have not wanted
a body. And you have
wanted. A careless
tongue can make chatter
but unrequited love
can make an avalanche.
Your teeth chatter and you know
somewhere a funeral parade is moving, one ant
after another marching. Your snake shed its skins as the curve of a pilgrimage
awaiting dawn. Heaven is too much a metaphor
to be of use to a lover weeping for
a false love. Every shaman needs a healer
and every God a devotee they can admire.
When God comes back from the pilgrimage, you are more
plump. Everyone can see your wisdoms
sprouting. This time — dangerous. Even women
will cast stones. Watch the people’s hands: they carry
shards of their half-spoken dreams. But you have
invented an embrace. In the first worship,
you make the one devoted to devotion devoted to you.
You bring the mountain
into your lips. Without
prayer, your mouth blooms.
Copyright © 2019 by Purvi Shah. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 22, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
The morning is clouded and the birds are hunched,
More cold than hungry, more numb than loud,
This crisp, Arizona shore, where desert meets
The coming edge of the winter world.
It is a cold news in stark announcement,
The myriad stars making bright the black,
As if the sky itself had been snowed upon.
But the stars—all those stars,
Where does the sure noise of their hard work go?
These plugs sparking the motor of an otherwise quiet sky,
Their flickering work everywhere in a white vastness:
We should hear the stars as a great roar
Gathered from the moving of their billion parts, this great
Hot rod skid of the Milky Way across the asphalt night,
The assembled, moving glints and far-floating embers
Risen from the hearth-fires of so many other worlds.
Where does the noise of it all go
If not into the ears, then hearts of the birds all around us,
Their hearts beating so fast and their equally fast
Wings and high songs,
And the bees, too, with their lumbering hum,
And the wasps and moths, the bats, and the dragonflies—
None of them sure if any of this is going to work,
This universe—we humans oblivious,
Drinking coffee, not quite awake, calm and moving
Into the slippers of our Monday mornings,
Shivering because, we think,
It’s a little cold out there.
Copyright © 2019 by Alberto Ríos. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 2, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
By which a strip of land became a hole in time
Grandfather I cannot find,
flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone,
what country do you belong to:
where is your body buried,
where did your soul go
when the road led nowhere?
Grandfather I’ll never know,
the moment father last saw you
rips open a wormhole
that has no end: the hours
became years, the years
forever: and on the other side
lies a memory of a memory
or a dream of a dream of a dream
of another life, where what happened
never happened, what cannot come true
comes true: and neither erases
the other, or the other others,
world after world, to infinity—
If only I could cross the border
and find you there,
find you anywhere,
as if you could tell me who he is, or was,
or might have become:
no bloodshot eyes, or broken
bottles, or praying with cracked lips
because the past is past and was is not is—
give me back my father—
or not back, not back, give me the father
I might have had:
there, in the country that no longer exists,
on the other side of the war—
Copyright © 2019 by Suji Kwock Kim. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 6, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
I’m wondering about you, chevra kadisha,
the “holy society,” who will prepare my body,
once I’m no longer in it, for the earth.
Will you know me already, or see me for the first time
as you wash and shroud me, as my father was washed
and dressed in simple white tachrichim, for those
about to stand before God. Perhaps by then I’ll know
if I believe in God. I like the democratic
nature of the shroud, an equalizing garment. You
may see a body that surprises you. You may not have seen
a man’s body like this one before you, which I hope is very old,
wrinkled, and (since I’m wishing) fit, muscled
as much as an old man can be. You’ll see scars.
Ragged dog bit forearm, elbow my father picked gravel
from over the sink, then flushed with foaming iodine,
and the long double horizons on my chest, which trunked my body
like a tree. If I am unexpected, let me not seem
grotesque to you, as I have to many people, perhaps
even my own parents, and others whose highest
kindness was to say nothing. Please let me return to dust
in peace, as the others did, and recite those beautiful psalms,
remembering, as you go about your holy ritual,
how frightening it is to be naked before another,
at the mercy of a stranger’s eyes, without even any breath.
Copyright © 2019 by Miller Oberman. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 10, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
No more the scarlet maples flash and burn
Their beacon-fires from hilltop and from plain;
The meadow-grasses and the woodland fern
In the bleak woods lie withered once again.
The trees stand bare, and bare each stony scar
Upon the cliffs; half frozen glide the rills;
The steel-blue river like a scimitar
Lies cold and curved between the dusky hills.
Over the upland farm I take my walk,
And miss the flaunting flocks of golden-rod;
Each autumn flower a dry and leafless stalk,
Each mossy field a track of frozen sod.
I hear no more the robin's summer song
Through the gray network of the wintry woods;
Only the cawing crows that all day long
Clamor about the windy solitudes.
Like agate stones upon earth's frozen breast,
The little pools of ice lie round and still;
While sullen clouds shut downward east and west
In marble ridges stretched from hill to hill.
Come once again, O southern wind,—once more
Come with thy wet wings flapping at my pane;
Ere snow-drifts pile their mounds about my door,
One parting dream of summer bring again.
Ah, no! I hear the windows rattle fast;
I see the first flakes of the gathering snow,
That dance and whirl before the northern blast.
No countermand the march of days can know.
December drops no weak, relenting tear,
By our fond summer sympathies ensnared;
Nor from the perfect circle of the year
Can even winter's crystal gems be spared.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on December 14, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Oh let me go I’m weary here
And fevers scorch my brain,
I long to feel my native air
Breathe o’er each burning vein.
I long once more to see
My home among the distant hills,
To breathe amid the melody
Of murmering brooks and rills.
My home is where eternal snow
Round threat’ning craters sleep,
Where streamlets murmer soft and low
And playful cascades leap.
Tis where glad scenes shall meet
My weary, longing eye;
Where rocks and Alpine forests greet
The bright cerulean sky.
Your scenes are bright I know,
But there my mother pray’d,
Her cot is lowly, but I go
To die beneath its shade.
For, Oh I know she’ll cling
‘Round me her treasur’d long,
My sisters too will sing
Each lov’d familiar song.
They’ll soothe my fever’d brow,
As in departed hours,
And spread around my dying couch
The brightest, fairest flowers.
Then let me go I’m weary here
And fevers scorch my brain,
I long to feel my native air,
Breathe o’er each burning vein.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on December 15, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
A knock at the door: it’s the boundary technician—
Dr. Transducer glides out of the blue
and into your pulse, come
to recalibrate your peaks and valleys.
Gloved in hiss, he unfolds the bolts
of your voltage, fiddles
your knobs and bones, bones
your spectral entrails—and deduces your output’s
plagued with fits of hysteretic
backlash. Whatever you utter
is noise shaped, a dizzy signal. The doctor’s
got the fix, and it’s a doozy:
he cleaves you to a graven
waveform erasure. He tunes you to a frequency
that lacks you out
then blows. The door swings
and bangs you shut, clouds pressed to the roof
of your mouth.
Copyright © 2019 by Joanie Mackowski. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 23, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
In a strait, some things are useful.
Others, true, she turns to ash.
her head thick with arrogance,
infection and futility.
It could be how a young wife went,
strewn with net-veined willow
and mountain aven—
trespass, and wreckage.
She could write about the year
she turned to heat and haze,
to laze: immurmurat-,
imauraaqtuŋa. Of cannula
and silver nitrate. Of petiolus
and achene, about to begin again.
Of greens as they green. Of a man
aged, eskered. Of a confined gleam—
to hereby dissolve and hold for naught
the soil / gravel / silt groaning
as the tools of our penultimate glacier,
a glacier I might pronounce like grief.
One does wish for words to thaw
in the mouth, but find instead a tongue,
welt. Erosional or depositional, raised
& visible, rift into language & grit—
Copyright © 2019 by Joan Naviyuk Kane. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 26, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
They were calm because it had never happened before,
because they thought it had, it must have, when designed,
a tunnel to fit the child but not the adult. Then how
if a child crawled there and curled and closed her mouth,
how to get the child out? Send another in. Send in
someone small. They were calm because everyone
finds reasons to be calm when there is wind or sun or
this coat at the base of the slide, it must be the child’s,
Come out. It’s fine. Come on, now. Come out.
They were wrong. All of them were wrong. Some thought:
a saw! Some thought: calm down! They were getting
somewhere with their thoughts. Part of the crowd grew
angry with the other part for making a crowd,
so one crawled up into the tube until his chest stopped
like his breath and he saw something wrong:
the sun made blue in the tube. Something about the sun
and black streaks from shoes. The crowd saw the half of him
left out kick then kick wild, so they pulled the other
half out. They sat him up and someone groaned,
someone said Enough, now, come on. Sweetheart, enough.
Come out. Then another crawled inside, left her coat
by the slide, passed the streaks, saw the blue, smelled the plastic
in her mouth that comes from plastic having caught
the sun at noon, the burning soon night-cooled,
a thousand black-streak tallies to mark the cycle of shoes then
wider shoes of older children pressed inside by two
to touch and make the space between them small—
this one heard a sound. Someone’s calling me she thought.
I’m found. So she crawled back. Remembered all.
Moved aside. Another tried. Lost. Another tried.
Copyright © 2019 by Mario Chard. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 27, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Old Time has turned another page
Of eternity and truth;
He reads with a warning voice to age,
And whispers a lesson to youth.
A year has fled o’er heart and head
Since last the yule log burnt;
And we have a task to closely ask,
What the bosom and brain have learnt?
Oh! let us hope that our sands have run
With wisdom’s precious grains;
Oh! may we find that our hands have done
Some work of glorious pains.
Then a welcome and cheer to the merry new year,
While the holly gleams above us;
With a pardon for the foes who hate,
And a prayer for those who love us.
We may have seen some loved ones pass
To the land of hallow’d rest;
We may miss the glow of an honest brow
And the warmth of a friendly breast:
But if we nursed them while on earth,
With hearts all true and kind,
Will their spirits blame the sinless mirth
Of those true hearts left behind?
No, no! it were not well or wise
To mourn with endless pain;
There’s a better world beyond the skies,
Where the good shall meet again.
Then a welcome and cheer to the merry new year,
While the holly gleams above us;
With a pardon for the foes who hate,
And a prayer for those who love us.
Have our days rolled on serenely free
From sorrow’s dim alloy?
Do we still possess the gifts that bless
And fill our souls with joy?
Are the creatures dear still clinging near?
Do we hear loved voices come?
Do we gaze on eyes whose glances shed
A halo round our home?
Oh, if we do, let thanks be pour’d
To Him who hath spared and given,
And forget not o’er the festive board
The mercies held from heaven.
Then a welcome and cheer to the merry new year,
While the holly gleams above us;
With a pardon for the foes who hate,
And a prayer for those who love us.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on December 29, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
You crawled back into your motel in a border town near the demarcation line between the nation-state of the living and the underworld. Sleepless, you peered out the window. You could see the neon lights garlanding the Gates of Horn and Ivory. The lights spelled out “OPEN 24 HOURS A DAY” in blinking red cursive. You laughed. Of course, death is the only border crossing still open to all. You watched the illumination from the street pour onto the wall above your bed: a red lasso that looped on the wall, as if the wall had begun to bleed extravagantly. Below, traffic packed the road in both directions. From the two open gates, dreams sailed into the living world from over the deserts. Some dreams true, some false. You recognized some of these dreams (Race, Nation, Gender) and could not tell from which gate they had emerged. Sleepless, you saw the line of pilgrims queued up to enter the underworld. The line seems longer lately, new refugees to the afterlife.
Copyright © 2019 by Ken Chen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 31, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Oh with gratitude, friends, I’m alive and thinking
about this dated metaphor. 36 and doing it again,
feeling new when I’m not. Forgive it, revise it. Oh I
felt less closeted than doored, an “or,” embellished
at the teeth on either end with an outcome. Factual,
I have decorated each door from the other side and
never just gathering the knob in my hand. Flattened
diadems collaged, I thought, cosmic radar for all our
later gazing, museum tablet on and on, behind glass,
canonic laser algebra, deathbed shooting star. Who’s
to say? That seemed like the magic a secret believer
could ask from it. Oh seems. And how it follows you
out. Come on get in I’m in this junker again and
writing “FOR SALE” in backwards letters onto the
window and adding whatever still makes noise from
inside its own made up case: dated doored gazing
deathbed window. Oh and pursing my lips wherever
your eye falls! Oh and oh and, I’m alive! Soon enough
the lethal hand of god reaches into all of us to pull out
something, a heart a rib. Come outpace me if you
can—already I have unlearned the name Adam,
unrehearsed any story of man and woman. Decorated
my body from the other side of that outcome.
Copyright © 2020 by Atom Atkinson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 1, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
Missing one hundred.
for many leagues, i slept under
surface. couldn’t learn enough
to stay, couldn’t hurt along
midriff, scrum and scrub. see myself
rushing into tomorrow’s wet
world. thin trees almost ferns with quiet mouth
desire. took to cold high plain, only wind and a murdered boy.
started running at the first sign
of breath but there’s only
three yesterday heads speak in these fields.
so much to circle. always asking
to let me repair small chord between us.
you started lagging each step, dragging
the water, stirring up dirt. he still
refuses all nourishment, says everything bad.
an odd man rushes past, asking if
near swamp, still looking for signs
we’ve seen two girls on horseback.
not tired, he says, refusing to go to sleep.
we’ve seen very little all day, close to the whistling ground.
in this family, we don’t count sheep because we eat them.
we shake our heads no
under black light, we’re all deep stream, counting down cows.
as the man points to the tracks, they couldn’t have gone far.
Still fresh, still fresh.
Copyright © 2020 by Ching-In Chen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 6, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
After Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith Beheading Holofernes (Uffizi, 1620)
Because I know what rough work it is to fight off
a man. And though, yes, I learned tenebroso from
Caravaggio, I found the dark on my own. Know too
well if Judith was alone, she’d never be able to claw
her way free. How she and Abra would have to muster
all their strength to keep him still long enough
to labor through muscle and bone. Look at the old
masters try their best to imagine a woman wielding
a sword. Plaited hair just so. She’s disinterested
or dainty, no heft or sweat. As if she were serving
tea—all model and pose. No, my Judith knows
to roll her sleeves up outside the tent. Clenches
a fistful of hair as anchor for what must be done.
Watch the blood arc its way to wrist and breast.
I have thought it all through, you see. The folds
of flesh gathered at each woman’s wrist, the shadows
on his left arm betraying the sword’s cold hilt.
To defeat a man, he must be removed from his body
by the candlelight he meant as seduction. She’s been
to his bed before and takes no pleasure in this.
Some say they know her thoughts by the meat of her
brow. Let them think what they want. I have but one job:
to keep you looking, though I’ve snatched the breath
from your throat. Even the lead white sheets want
to recoil. Forget the blood, forget poor dead Caravaggio.
He only signed one canvas. Lost himself in his own
carbon black backdrop. To call my work imperfect
would simply be a lie. So I drench my brush in
a palette of bone black—femur and horn transformed
by their own long burning—and make one last
insistence. Between this violence and the sleeping
enemies outside, my name rises. Some darknesses
refuse to fade. Ego Artemitia. I made this—I.
Copyright © 2020 by Danielle DeTiberus. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 7, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
Hushed whispers in an undisclosed room
Take it out of the girl
a child, boyish in nature their smallness magnified.
Outcasted—the soft bodied animal you are
determined unruly animalia,
what survives inflation & inertia?
The body is a set of complex feedback systems
nothing is as it appears
the coexistence of a beard & breasts
evidence of the body’s willfully defiant nature
The body’s resilience amid the promise of perish:
somehow the child survives their own hand
the day’s weary edge inverted toward grace
A child, boyish in their nature & barrel shaped
survives sedimented against the residue
of dunes, soil, leaf litter, & the bodies of a lesser
What couldn’t be excised
your boyish nature
your untamed phylum, your small heart pulsing loud
notes against the night.
Copyright © 2020 by Jari Bradley. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 8, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
When my daughter whines I tell her to say what you want in a nice voice.
My nice voice is reserved for meetings with a view, my palm outstretched saying here. Are our problems. Legacies rolling out like multicolored marbles. Don’t focus so much on the ‘doom and gloom’ they keep saying. We don’t want to depress. Everyone. This is only our survival. We rely heavily on foreign aid I am instructed to say. I am instructed to point out the need for funds to build islands, move families from weto after weto, my mouth a shovel to spade the concrete with but I am just pointing out neediness. So needy. These small. Underdeveloped countries. I feel myself shrinking in the back of the taxi when a diplomat compliments me. How brave for admitting it so openly. The allure of global negotiations dulls. Like the back of a worn spoon.
I lose myself easily in a kemem. Kemem defined as feast. As celebration. A baby’s breath endures their first year so we pack hundreds of close bodies under tents, lined up for plates I pass to my cousin, assembly line style. Our gloved hands pluck out barbeque chicken, fried fish, scoop potato salad, dew-like droplets of bōb and mā. Someone yells for another container of jajimi. The speaker warbles a keyboarded song. A child inevitably cries. Mine dances in the middle of the party. A pair elbow each other to rip hanging beach balls from their strings. The MC shouts Boke ajiri ne nejim jen maan. The children are obstructing our view. Someone wheels a grandma onto the dance floor. The dances begin here
is a nice
Copyright © 2020 by Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 14, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
I clean its latex length three times a day
With kindliest touch,
Swipe an alcohol swatch
From the tender skin at the tip of him
Down the lumen
To the drainage bag I change
Each day and flush with vinegar.
When I vowed for worse
Unwitting did I wed this
Of exposed plumbing
And euphemism. Fumble
I through my nurse’s functions, upended
From the spare bed
By his every midnight sound.
Unsought inside our grand romantic
Opens—ruthless and indecent, consuming
All our hiddenmosts.
In a body, immodest
Such hunger we sometimes call tumor;
In a marriage
It’s cherish. From the Latin for cost.
Copyright © 2020 by Kimberly Johnson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 15, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
Brown love is getting the pat down but not the secondary screening
and waiting after you clear to make sure the Sikh man or
the Black woman or the hijabis behind you get through
Brown love is asking the Punjabi guy working at the starbucks knockoff
if all the tea sizes are still the same price
and he says no,
it hasn’t been like that for at least four years,
but he slips you an extra tea bag without talking about it.
Brown love is the unsmiling aunty
at the disabled immigration line
anything to declare? No? No? Have a good day.
and your rice, semolina, kari karo seeds and jaggary all get through
even though they are definitely from countries
where there are insects that could eat america to the ground
Brown love is texting your cousin on whatsapp asking
if she’s ever had a hard time bringing weed tincture in her carry on
brown love is a balm
in this airport of life
where, if we can scrape up enough money
we all end up
because we all came from somewhere
and we want to go there
or we can’t go to there but we want to go to the place we went after that
where our mom still lives even though we fight
or our chosen sis is still in her rent controlled perfect apartment
where we get the luxury of things being like how we remember
we want to go to the place we used to live
and even if gentrification snatched the bakery
with the 75 cent coffee where everyone hung out all night
we can still walk the block where it was
and the thing about brown love is, nobody smiles.
nobody is friendly. nobody winks. nobody can get away with that
they’re all silently working their terrible 9 dollar an hour
food service jobs where tip jars aren’t allowed
or TSA sucks but it’s the job you can get out of the military
and nobody can get away with being outwardly loving
but we do what we can
brown love is the woman who lets your 1 pound over the 50 pound limit bag go
the angry woman who looks like your cousin
who is so tired on the american airlines customer service line
she tags your bag for checked luggage
and doesn’t say anything about a credit card, she just yells Next!
Brown love is your tired cousin who prays you all the way home
from when you get on the subway to when you land and get on another.
This is what we have
we do what we can.
Copyright © 2020 by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 16, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
Yesterday, at Shepherd and Gray, the parking lot was
filled with birds, black birds, actually grackles. It was a grackle
lot; instead of a bumper on a car, there were ten grackles, instead
of a sunroof, fifty grackles sat high, their bodies shimmers
under cheap strip mall lights as shoppers delayed their spending
to pull out phones and take shots, such spectators we were,
like that summer in July, when I was left again
to wonder who was the child and who the adult,
that Sunday evening that hung in the air like bug spray
when my father, the one who fed me and gave me his last name,
stood two stories on our family porch, every neighbor,
in all manner of dress, drawn from their homes, in the street watching.
Let me tell you how he spread his arms wide, like the man
he was before Vietnam, or before the schizophrenia.
Let me tell you how a child learns the alphabet by counting,
how she learns only 2 letters separate the words hero and heroin,
how he stood high on the ledge of a porch the child never much
liked because there was a crack in its wooden center as if the world
was waiting to open its jaws to swallow her body whole.
Let me tell you how that July evening didn’t hold death,
but instead was the preface to death. The point being he jumped.
Some will say there are worse songs to sing, others might believe it
a tragedy, but who are we to question the Gods when a man
unconcerned with the inconvenience of his presence shows up
in a parking lot winged as an army of himself? Eventually, lights
went dark in the shops and each watcher retraced their steps back home
to find their families, to rejoice over food, to laugh and settle the night;
and the birds, steadfast they stood, not quite ready for flight—
Copyright © 2020 by Niki Herd. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 20, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
The exoskeleton dries by the radiator. What is the usefulness of shells, as in putting them up to one’s ear to detect the poem? Isn’t it infringeable that we carry our mating rituals into teleology? Isn’t it lately that our mates don’t often insert parts? The problem, as if splashed onto canvas in a never-drying medium, isn’t it that we can be hurt from without as if by wifi, by rumor? By cell tower? By stork? Thanks for caring. The storks along the beach stand on one leg, and then slowly generously fly away, including me, like a teacher who warns against trying to make absent things present. What do all these little knobs on the console do? This one flies us straight into battle with a petroleum coating. This one parodies the last erotic feeling. This one entices us to have babies with the reader, sitting lax on a conveyor belt that suddenly falls off at the end into someplace decent. In your guest room, draped with necklaces, we feel thinner than a Mobius strip, real wolf fur rug inside and out, real antler chandelier. In your guest room we peel an alien tangerine.
Copyright © 2020 by Trace Peterson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 27, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
Before the wick rejects
the flame; before the glass salts
the waters, or the rental en route
to your funeral stalls, I worry
the dog isn’t getting enough sun,
& it is midnight but we step out
anyway onto summer’s chow
tongue. Clouds extend the glare
of lightning far off. Before phlox
heads drop, the dog sinks
the anthill gathered full & quick
at the ceiba’s trunk. Nothing swarms
his leg or the river he pisses
into the heart like a god, no arthropod
island, no insect bridge of grappled
spurs. Before sunrise, I turn
a burner high in anticipation, olive oil
dollop ready to smother the pan,
when a moth plummets to the blushing
element. Wings immediately
charred. Let me tell you,
more than once in a parked car
I’ve held the searing buckle
to my chest—before drivethrus,
before driveways, drivel down
philtrum; before the beach, crushing
in bare feet, a horse conch’s crown
tearing skin. Even anaphora
can’t coax the future. You said, Ay mija,
are you crying again? before dusk
revealed the hook in the pelican’s beak.
Copyright © 2020 by Jessica Guzman. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 29, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
for CJ Rosenquist
In the current, secretly intentional, house
there is: cope
with condition itself (cannot be
underestimated). There is
Barrier. There is encountering
Barrier. There is struggle
to negotiate Barrier, while being
watched. There is kindly-meant offer
to help (almost always
appreciated). There is kindly-meant, but
no-asking first “help”
that often involves non-consensual
touch. There is hyper-visibility of Body
and in-visibility of person-
hood (a neat paradox
conjured by inaccessibility). There
is: don’t observably feel anything,
about any piece, which equals choke
down snake of shame, muscle
grown in the jungle of un-
intentionality. There is, during all:
cheerfully, patiently, what is apparently un-
fruitfully educate, while “performing”
Disability in public.
Go ten clicks, repeat. But
when the roof, walls, windows,
when the floor, floorboards, foundation,
when the cup of land
that holds house is
love, is welcome, when the nakedly
is access, for body,
disability, and/or Black, Brown,
Queer, Muslim, fat,
elder, child, carbon-based
and breathing, valued simply
for being, and never demand
for government document,
there is no Barrier,
no encounter of
it, no being watched,
only aid, consent,
no shame, never blame.
Visibility, right-sized, equals
neighbor, not snake,
repeat of this life is clean
skate on frozen lake.
Imagine, the beloved who needs
assistance vacuuming saliva
from her mouth always
has a willing hand
holding hose, back-up
heart, whose intention is
set on weatherproof
This is the house,
the land, the world
of access, of welcome,
of here, you belong here.
Copyright © 2020 by Tara Hardy. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 31, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
We are marching, truly marching
Can’t you hear the sound of feet?
We are fearing no impediment
We have never known defeat.
Like Job of old we have had patience,
Like Joshua, dangerous roads we’ve trod
Like Solomon we have built out temples.
Like Abraham we’ve had faith in God.
Up the streets of wealth and commerce,
We are marching one by one
We are marching, making history,
For ourselves and those to come.
We have planted schools and churches,
We have answered duty’s call.
We have marched from slavery’s cabin
To the legislative hall.
Brethren can’t you catch the spirit?
You who are out just get in line
Because we are marching, yes we are marching
To the music of the time.
We are marching, steady marching
Bridging chasms, crossing streams
Marching up the hill of progress
Realizing our fondest dreams.
We are marching, truly marching
Can’t you hear the sound of feet?
We are fearing no impediment
We shall never know defeat.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on February 1, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
I awake to you. A burning building.
The alarm is my own. Internal alarm, clock alarm,
then coming through your very walls. The alarm
is of you. I call first with my mouth. Then with my phone.
No one. Then maybe someone. Then yes, a fire fighter, or two, is coming.
Outside, the children gather and gawk. Cover their ears from the blare.
They are clothed in their footed pajamas. We are all awake now. Even you,
the burning building.
I’m leaving, I say. I look them each in the eyes, the mouths, the chests.
I look at their footed feet.
I’m leaving you burning. The children can walk. The children can follow.
The building burns now behind me. You burn,
behind me. The alarm
Screams. No. No.
There is a field between us.
Now you are calling.
And now beseeching.
Behind me the children are a trail of children. Some following. Some clinging.
And now you, my home, my building, burn and burn.
There is a mountain between us.
And now you are ringing.
And now you are singing.
I look back. Back to you, burning building.
You are a glowing dancer, you are a façade on sparkling display.
Now a child. Or two. Or three. Pilgrim children. Between me
Copyright © 2020 by Tiphanie Yanique. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 12, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
Up until this sore minute, you could turn the key, pivot away.
But mine is the only medicine now
wherever you go or follow.
The past is so far away, but it flickers,
then cleaves the night. The bones
of the past splinter between our teeth.
This is our life, love. Why did I think
it would be anything less than too much
of everything? I know you remember that cheap motel
on the coast where we drank red wine,
the sea flashing its gold scales as sun
soaked our skin. You said, This must be
what people mean when they say
I could die now. Now
we’re so much closer
to death than we were then. Who isn’t crushed,
stubbed out beneath a clumsy heel?
Who hasn’t stood at the open window,
sleepless, for the solace of the damp air?
I had to get old to carry both buckets
yoked on my shoulders. Sweet
and bitter waters I drink from.
Let me know you, ox you.
I want your scent in my hair.
I want your jokes.
Hang your kisses on all my branches, please.
Sink your fingers into the darkness of my fur.
Copyright © 2020 by Ellen Bass. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 13, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
“...because in the dying world it was set burning.”
We are not making love but
all night long we hug each other.
Your face under my chin is two brown
thoughts with no right name, but opens to
eyes when my beard is brushing you.
The last line of the album playing
is Joan Armatrading’s existential stuff,
we had fun while it lasted.
You inch your head up toward mine
where your eyes brighten, intense,
as though I were observer and you
a doppled source. In the blue light
in the air we suddenly leave our selves
and watch two salt-starved bodies
lick the sweat from each others’ lips.
When the one mosquito in the night
comes toward our breathing, the pitch
of its buzz turns higher
till it’s fat like this blue room
and burning on both of us;
now it dies like a siren passing
down a street, the color of blood.
I pull the blanket over our heads
about to despair because I think
everything intense is dying, but you,
you, even asleep, hold onto all
you think I am, more than I think,
so intensely you can feel me
hugging back where I have gone.
From Across the Mutual Landscape (Graywolf Press, 1984). Copyright © 1984 by Christopher GIlbert. Published in Poem-a-Day on February 14, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets with permission of The Permissions Company inc. on behalf of Graywolf Press.
Ask me why I love you, dear,
And I will ask the rose
Why it loves the dews of Spring
At the Winter’s close;
Why the blossoms’ nectared sweets
Loved by questing bee,—
I will gladly answer you,
If they answer me.
Ask me why I love you, dear,
And I will ask the flower
Why it loves the Summer sun,
Or the Summer shower;
I will ask the lover’s heart
Why it loves the moon,
Or the star-besprinkled skies
In a night in June.
Ask me why I love you, dear,
I will ask the vine
Why its tendrils trustingly
Round the oak entwine;
Why you love the mignonette
Better than the rue,—
If you will but answer me,
I will answer you.
Ask me why I love you, dear,
Let the lark reply,
Why his heart is full of song
When the twilight’s nigh;
Why the lover heaves a sigh
When her heart is true;
If you will but answer me,
I will answer you.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on February 15, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
Snow glints and softens
a pig's slaughter.
Mama refuses another
agrees to another drink.
On the wall—a carpet with peonies,
their purple mouths
suck me into sleep.
I've been bedded.
from across the wall,
Mama says no-no-no
to more drink.
My bed smells of valenky.
Without taking its eyes off me
licks its grey paw as if sharpening a knife.
Mama yells yes to another drink.
Mama's breasts are too big to fit into packed morning buses.
I would grow into a real person.
But on a certain day
is slaughtered, mama whispers yes
yes yes yes
to more drink,
I'm vanishing into the peonies’ throats,
peonies smell of valenky,
of pig’s blood
on the snow.
Clock’s hands leave a strange ski track.
Copyright © 2020 by Valzhyna Mort. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 17, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
When the pickup truck, with its side mirror,
almost took out my arm, the driver’s grin
reflected back; it was just a horror
show that was never going to happen,
don’t protest, don’t bother with the police
for my benefit, he gave me a smile—
he too was startled, redness in his face—
when I thought I was going, a short while,
to get myself killed: it wasn’t anger
when he bared his teeth, as if to caution
calm down, all good, no one died, ni[ght, neighbor]—
no sense getting all pissed, the commotion
of the past is the past; I was so dim,
he never saw me—of course, I saw him.
Copyright © 2020 by Tommye Blount. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 19, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
to the memory of Denis Johnson
The stranger bites into an orange
and places the rind between us
on the park bench.
It becomes a small raft of fire.
I came here to admire
the iron-lit indifference
of the geese on the pond.
The summers here
are a circuit in parallel
with everything I cannot say,
wrote the inventor
before he was hanged
from the bridge
this park is named after.
His entire life devoted
to capturing inextinguishable light
in a teardrop of enamel.
He was hanged for touching
the forehead of another man
in the wrong century.
The only thing invented
by the man I lost yesterday
was his last step into a final
set of parenthesis.
I came here to watch the geese
and think of him.
The stranger and I
share the orange rind
as an ashtray.
He lights my cigarette
and the shadows of our hands
touch on the ground.
His left leg is amputated
below the knee
and the bell tower rings
above the town.
I tell him my name
and he says nothing.
With the charred end of a stick
something shaped like a child
on the other side of the pond
draws a door on a concrete wall
and I wonder where the dead
wait in line to be born.
Copyright © 2020 by Michael McGriff. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 21, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
(for my sisters)
I still don’t know how he knew
I was running. My mouth was open,
or those boys were barking that loud;
not that I hadn’t been chased
by dogs. There’s a moment when
you can’t tell from which angle
it’s coming, and the air is a red drum,
and the trees lean away from you,
and the ground is wet. Lonnie drove
truck nights, and grew strawberries
in our backyard, which were small,
but sweet. You could taste his hands
in the dirt, which the mouth learns
to read as green and sweet. My mother
made him liver and onions; we ate fish
Fridays and I wasn’t allowed milk. He’s why
I like my eggs runny. I still don’t understand
anything about engines. I can’t remember
why those boys were after me. Maybe
it makes sense why a Rottweiler
would break a fence. Lonnie stood
with his shotgun out front. Sometimes
he wouldn’t come home, or he’d walk
into the house with his shirt bloody.
When we left, my mother didn’t want
money. Not that we would have gone,
but that other woman didn’t even invite us
to the funeral. Man, I bet Yvette’s children
have children. Lord knows what’s happened
to Chrissy now that she’s too old to dance.
Copyright © 2020 by Amaud Jamaul Johnson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 24, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Translated by Carina del Valle Schorske
Pensive light. Light
with folded hands, a shrug
of song in the shoulders.
Light that sullies the sea’s
Sunday best, the foam
moving blind over it.
I’ve lost the waistline
of my violet mountains
in the sky’s mouth.
El Yunque is an ancient flute;
Blue swallow, blue choke.
Here lives San Juan.
There’s a light that might
save you in the gold
pigeon coop, its womb
made of glass. Here
the rays of the sun
keep growing towards
the dense eyes
of blank harmony.
from the balcony I watch
the living death of the sun
high above the shoulders
of the stricken minute.
To the sound of trumpets
I defend my feeling
from the grey bite
And the day grows through me
like a magic tree
from nothing to nothing—
grows and sings,
fills up with promises
Everything is just twilight.
I make this light
because I love it.
It’s mine because we are,
eye to eye,
We are twilight, luz mía,
Luz de manos cerradas
y hombros de canto breve.
Luz que ensucia al mar
su camisón de fiesta.
Anda ciega la espuma.
Mis montañas violetas
han perdido su talle
en la boca del cielo.
El Yunque es flauta histórica;
Salto en retrospectiva.
Bocado azul que ahoga.
Acá vive San Juan.
Hay luz que salva
en palomar de oro
su vientre hecho de vidrio.
Aquí siguen creciendo
las espigas del sol
para los ojos densos
de la blanca armonía.
desde el balcón yo miro
la muertevida del sol
alto sobre los hombros
del fenecido instante.
A trompetazos de alma
defiendo mi emoción
de la mordida gris
Y crece el día por mí
como mágico árbol
de la nada a la nada.
Crece y canta,
y se llena de promesas
Todo es sólo twilight.
De leyes físicas.
Yo hago esta luz
porque la amo.
Es mía porque somos,
de mirada a mirada,
Somos twilight, luz mía,
Copyright © 2020 by Carina del Valle Schorske and Marigloria Palma. Published in Poem-a-Day on February 25, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
(from Negro Mountain)
Get your bearings.
No shape in my gap, not
now. From now
on, it goes
this is allied to “the negro
character” it’s far
from original—I’d only get
to where we came out of the mountains and
hit the sea. And view
the old coast too, from
the road, the route described
by its indentations—“One bay
after another”—until the road turned inland
in such. Far
be it from me. One’s
close to nothing.
though, to the coast—
hath an unknowne bottome, like the Bay
of Portugall,” some-
one else had been made
Copyright © 2020 by C. S. Giscombe. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 27, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
As if someone blew against the back of my neck,
I writhed up, becoming a wind myself,
and I flowed out the window of my bedroom.
Maybe I also emitted a moan over the croaking
of the frogs that night. Then I raised my arms
to the clouds, rooting my feet deep in the soil.
A stretch, I called it.
Now—pure nature in the night,
too sway-of-the-trees wise to worry about men—
I opened my nightgown but offered nothing
to anyone. This is for me, I said aloud to the night.
People would have laughed had they seen me
out their windows, naked but for my nightgown
flapping: I was small but the conviction of my stance
would’ve made me seem immense, framed
through their windows. Without my clothes
I was a world of possibility, more than a desire.
I, knowing better, I ought to mind my place,
I ought to walk like a lady,
I ought to demure myself to make him feel stronger,
I ought to mourn him when
he is gone. But every word I spoke to the wind
carried to him the scent of his regrets.
Every word blew through the night,
a breeze of my indifference.
Copyright © 2020 by A. Van Jordan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 28, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
To forgive one’s life love for dying, pick the long, feather-like, crimson flowers in early spring, when the desert is in bloom. Boil in river water only. Let cool. Drink at once. Drink when waking, at noon, and at bedtime each day for three full weeks thereafter. If resentment persists, go to your beloved’s grave daily and pray for forgiveness until sound sleep and appetite return.
My last days
May they pass
slow as black smoke
No I’m certain
that he stole it
from Adam I’m sure
the first night he
Copyright © 2020 by Tommy Archuleta. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 2, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
My Father’s Frontal Lobe—died
unpeacefully of a stroke on June 24,
2009 at Scripps Memorial Hospital in
San Diego, California. Born January 20,
1940, the frontal lobe enjoyed a good
life. The frontal lobe loved being the
boss. It tried to talk again but someone
put a bag over it. When the frontal
lobe died, it sucked in its lips like a
window pulled shut. At the funeral for
his words, my father wouldn’t stop
talking and his love passed through me,
fell onto the ground that wasn’t there.
I could hear someone stomping their
feet. The body is as confusing as
language—was his frontal lobe having a
tantrum or dancing? When I took my
father’s phone away, his words died in
the plastic coffin. At the funeral for his
words, we argued about my
miscarriage. It’s not really a baby, he
said. I ran out of words, stomped out
to shake the dead baby awake. I
thought of the tech who put the wand
down, quietly left the room when she
couldn’t find the heartbeat. I
understood then that darkness is falling
without an end. That darkness is not
the absorption of color but the
absorption of language.
Copyright © 2020 by Victoria Chang. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 3, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
My throat is dry [ ] a drowsy numbness pains [ ] my sense as though [ ] obscured by smoke [ ] I drive on roads dividing patchwork farmland, fences [ ] wide-eyed llamas [ ] perpetual surprise [ ] after a dream, I sip water in the dark [ ] I don’t want to sleep [ ] my husband breathing deeply [ ] my children twisting in their beds [ ] smoke rising from the fields [ ] end of harvest razing [ ] I lift the rock, find a family of woodlice [ ] curled away from me [ ] sleeping or pretending to sleep [ ] hemlock lacing the road’s shoulders [ ] my too-dry eyes [ ] the tender babies are paler [ ] than their parents, little ghosts [ ] rolled in on themselves, my children are sleeping [ ] when I lift the blanket [ ] when, after a dream, I smoke in the dark [ ] no bird singing [ ] nothing to ode [ ] the sharp scent of pine, wet soil, beast musk, rain [ ] the dull opiate of things [ ] what will outlive us [ ] I turn on the screen [ ] a panel of men in a void, screaming [ ] cornflowers curling into rust [ ] I breathe in smoke [ ] fists curled shut [ ] the green of marijuana fields [ ] the pungent scent of [ ] bodies curled in sleep [ ] as if sleep were a cure [ ] one minute past, and Lethe-wards [ ] hear that crackling? [ ] pine cones dropping like heavy flames [ ] glaciers splitting [ ] howling ghosts [ ] what earth will be left for [ ] my children cry out in their sleep [ ] dark room filling with the smoke I exhale [ ] hills roiling [ ] the screaming stays while the screen goes dark [ ] I can’t see it disappearing [ ] to thy high requiem [ ] my throat is dry [ ] do I wake or sleep? [ ] I don’t want to wake
Copyright © 2020 by Danielle Cadena Deulen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 4, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Birthday, birthday, hurray, hurray
The 19th Amendment was ratified today
Drum rolls, piano rolls, trumpets bray
The 19th Amendment was ratified today
Left hand bounces, right hand strays
Maestro Joplin is leading the parade
Syncopated hashtags, polyrhythmic goose-steps
Ladies march to Pennsylvania Avenue!
Celebrate, ululate, caterwaul, praise
Women’s suffrage is all the rage
Sisters! Mothers! Throw off your bustles
Pedal your pushers to the voting booth
Pram it, waltz it, Studebaker roadster it
Drive your horseless carriage into the fray
Prime your cymbals, flute your skirts
One-step, two-step, kick-ball-change
Castlewalk, Turkey Trot, Grizzly Bear waltz
Argentine Tango, flirty and hot
Mommies, grannies, young and old biddies
Temperance ladies sip bathtub gin
Unmuzzle your girl dogs, Iowa your demi-hogs
Battle-axe polymaths, gangster moms
Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Lucy Burns and Carrie Chapman Catt
Alice Paul, come one, come all!
Sign the declaration at Seneca Falls!
Dada-faced spinsters, war-bond Prufrocks
Lillian Gish, make a silent wish
Debussy Cakewalk, Rachmaninoff rap
Preternatural hair bobs, hamster wheels
Crescendos, diminuendos, maniacal pianos
Syncopation mad, cut a rug with dad!
Oompa, tuba, majorette girl power
Baton over Spamalot!
Tiny babies, wearing onesies
Raise your bottles, tater-tots!
Accordion nannies, wash-board symphonies
The Great War is over!
Victory, freedom, justice, reason
Pikachu, sunflowers, pussy hats
Toss up your skull caps, wide brim feathers
Throwing shade on the seraphim
Hide your cell phones, raise your megaphones!
Speak truth to power
and vote, vote vote!
Nitwit legislators, gerrymandering fools
Dimwit commissioners, judicial tools
Toxic senators, unholy congressmen
Halitosis ombudsmen, mayoral tricks
Doom calf demagogues, racketeering mules
Whack-a-mole sheriffs, on the take
Fornicator governators, rakehell collaborators
Tweeter impersonators, racist prigs
Postbellum agitators, hooligan aldermen
Profiteering warmongers, Reconstruction dregs
Better run, rascals better pray
We’ll vote you out on judgement day!
Better run, rascals better pray
We’ll vote you out on election day!
Copyright © 2020 by Marilyn Chin. This poem was co-commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and the New York Philharmonic as part of the Project 19 initiative and published in Poem-a-Day on March 7, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
for Jericho, with thanks to Carl Phillips
I like men who are cruel to me;
men who know how I will end;
men who, when they touch me,
fasten their shadows to my neck
then get out my face when certain
they haven’t much use for being seen.
I like men to be cruel to me.
Any men who build their bodies into
widths of doors I only walk through
once will do. There’s a difference
between entrances and exits I don’t
have much use for now. I’ve seen
what’s left behind after a hawk
has seized a smaller bird midair.
The feathers lay circled in prattle
with rotting crab apples, grasses passing
between the entrances and exits
of clover. The raptor, somewhere
over it, over it. Cruelty where?
The hell would grief go in a goshawk?
It’s enough to risk the open field,
its rotten crab apples, grasses passing
out like lock-kneed mourners in sun.
There I was, scoping, scavenging
the damage to drag mystery out of
a simple read: two animals wanted
life enough to risk the open field
and one of them took what it hunted.
Each one tells me he wants me
vulnerable. I already wrote that book.
The body text cleaved to the spine,
simple to read as two animals wanting
to see inside each other and one
pulling back a wing to offer—See?
Here—the fastest way in or out
and you knew how it would end.
You cleaved the body text to the spine
cause you read closely. You clock damage.
It was a door you walked through once
before pivoting toward a newer image of risk.
Copyright © 2020 by Justin Phillip Reed. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 10, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
They had their lightning thrones they had
their cages. They had their lamb pens and lamb
ties not just for lambs but for their own. As soon
as I understood the name of my skin sack
I was handed the chain. Was told by virtue
of my snow-lit skin I was Courtier
of the Chain. And could be Lord Chancellor
if I played my cards right. Dominion. We worked
the word over and over. We practiced with butterscotch
and Jolly Ranchers in the gold Honda. In the mile-long
yellow chariot that ferried us to the Coliseum.
So sweet. No need to bite down for the whole world
to hear you. No need to work your jaws
like an animal. To make yourself into an animal.
But also. Useful to think like an animal. To know
what that smelled like. That fear. My little skin
sack and really such a weakling who wept
over the stupidest things. Particularly
when waiting for the long yellow chariot.
I want to go home. To where? That was the rub.
No more home for me. If there ever was one.
I pitied myself. Little skin sack with the young wolves
circling in their gladiator suits. Heart refusing
to harden. But. The taste of hatred::
the sweet promise of that possible release.
In the annals of my light scroll when and if the
Light takes me back, it will be impossible to deny.
After the kicks and taunts. After hours eating
Salisbury steak over the toilet in the girls’
restroom. After the turnaway the plague
game, bottles of piss and spit thrown from passing
chariots as I made my way to the fairgrounds
on foot? They made a wager and let a lamb sack out
before me. And battered it. And battered it.
But all the while looking at me. Who laughed
along with them. My relief inexhaustible
as my desolation the next day when, having
shown myself to lamb and wolf entirely,
I was given my true calling. Which was exile
from every realm.
Copyright © 2020 by Gabrielle Calvocoressi. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 12, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
The dining hall for instance: open roof beams,
open screens, and yard upon yard
of clean swept hardwood flooring, it
might almost be a family camp.
And likewise in the sleeping room: expanse
of window, paneled wall, and the
warmth implied by sunwash, only softened
here by half-drawn shades. You know
the kind?—dark canvas on a roller, in my
memory the canvas is always green. What I
couldn’t have guessed, except for the caption:
the logic behind the double row of well-
made beds. I’d like just once to have seen
his face, the keeper of order who
thought of it first: a prostitute on either side
of each of those women demanding
the vote. And “Negro,” to make the point perfectly
clear: You thought
your manners and your decent shoes would
keep you safe? He couldn’t have known
how much we’d take the lesson to heart.
At the workhouse in Virginia they’d started
the feedings with rubber tubes. Not here.
Or not that we’ve been told. The men
all dying in trenches in France. A
single system, just as we’ve been
learning for these hundred years. Empty
of people, the space looks almost benign.
Copyright © 2020 by Linda Gregerson. This poem was co-commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and the New York Philharmonic as part of the Project 19 initiative and published in Poem-a-Day on March 14, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
The sun rises in shades of tuna
I can only hear
See the trucks moving
Like ribbon around me
It's me and this machine
Somewhere are the bodies
I’ve put my mouth on
When I am old
And held in
I hope words
Will be lusterless
I want to be
Buffed so hard that even
When I get to school
One kid reads a piece
About how he wants to give
For a living
He says that a cheater
Will always cheat, and of course,
He wants to find a way
To make us learn this
The other day when locking
My house I had
A vision of a field
Behind it were three
I can leave many times
And still not be
Copyright © 2020 by Emily Kendal Frey. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 18, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
David Teng Olsen, Mural, 2017
At sunset, this October,
I picked some Nippon daisies,
the last flower to flower,
a verb named for its noun.
The weather was all indoors.
A Page solo plus Michelangelo
enameled in cerulean, tangles
of what looked like instant ramen,
a heavy barge in the surf offshore,
a spindly zeppelin down, the scene
split by an architectural birch
crisscrossed by laser blasts.
Dave added the sky one day,
then blew our heads apart
by denying it had ever been a sky.
A spider creature was our sons.
Their hair entangled meant
they would now never be apart,
not their whole lives wandering
in a world itself worryingly
wandering who knows where.
Look, there’s a friendly bloom;
Look, a vivisectionist, a severed wrist.
These thoughts our house had had about us.
Copyright © 2020 by Dan Chiasson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 20, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
I always took it for granted, the right to vote
And I knew what my mother meant
Her voice constricted tightly by the flu A virus
& a 30-year-relationship
with Newport 100s
I ain’t no chain smoker
she attempts to silence my concern
only a pack a week. That’s good, you know?
My mother survived a husband she didn’t want
and an addiction that loved her more
than any human needs
I sit to write a poem about the 100 year Anniversary
of the 19th Amendment
& my first thought returns to the womb
& those abortions I did not want at first
The thirst of an almost anything
is a gorge always looking to be
until the body is filled with more fibroids
On the 19th hour of the fourth day in a new decade
I will wake restless from some nightmare
about a bomb & a man with no backbone
on a golf course who clicks closed his Motorola phone
like an exclamation point against his misogynistic stance
He swings the golf club with each chant
Women let me grab
Women like me
Women vote until I say they don’t
In my nightmare he is an infective agent
In the clear of day
he is just the same
Every day he breathes is a threat to this country’s marrow
For Ida & Susan & Lucretia & Elizabeth Cady
& every day he tweets grief
like a cynical cornball comic’s receipts
like a red light signaling the end of times
The final night of 2019
& my New Year’s Eve plans involves
anything that will numb the pain
of a world breaking its own heart
My mother & I have already spoken
& her lungs are croaking wet
I just want you to know I don’t feel well
& I pause to pull up my stockings beneath my crumpled smile
On this day I sigh
I just wanted to dance & drink & forget about the 61.7% votes
My silk dress falls to my knees with the same swiftness
defiant as the white feminist who said “I’m your ally”
then voted for the demise of our nation’s most ignored
underpaid, imprisoned & impoverished citizens
Every day there is a telephone near
I miss my mother
In the waiting room of the OB/GYN
Uptown bound on the dirt orange train seat of the subway
O! How my mother loves the places she can never go
Her bones swaddled with arthritis & smoke
So she relies on my daily bemoans
The train smells like yesterday, Ma
They raise the tolls & fix nothing for the people
My landlord refuses to fix my toilet, my bathroom sink, my refrigerator
The city is annoying like an old boyfriend, always buzzing about nothing
& in the way of me making it on time to the polls
This woman didn’t say thank you when I held the door
& who does she think she is?
Each time I crack & cap on the everydayness of my day
My mother laughs as if she can see the flimsy MTA card
The yellow cabs that refuse to stop for her daughter
In these moments she can live again
A whole bodied woman with a full mouth
to speak it plain
I ask my mother what hurts?
How can I help from here?
3000 miles away
Alone in a tower between the sea
& the Mexico borders
My mother sighs a little sigh & says
I just wanted to hear your voice
Copyright © 2020 by Mahogany L. Browne. This poem was co-commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and the New York Philharmonic as part of the Project 19 initiative and published in Poem-a-Day on March 21, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
for my ancestor
in the Pennsylvania 25th Colored Infantry
aboard the Suwanee
First a penny-sized hole in the hull
then eager saltwater rushing over
us and clouds swirling and clotting
the moonlight—no time to stop and look upon it
as the hole becomes an iron mouth,
makes strange sounds, peels and tears
open iron as iron should not open—
muffled and heavy us becoming underwater
we confused the metal echo and thunder
as the same death knell from God’s mouth—
we been done floated all this way down
in dark blue used
uniforms, how far from slavers’ dried-out fields
in Virginia, Pennsylvania—wherever
we came from now we
barely and only
see and hear an ocean
whipped into storm
not horror, not glory, but storm
not fear, not power, but focus
on the work of breathing, living as the storm
rocks us and our insides upside down turns
hard tack into empty nausea—
so close to death I thought I saw the blaze-
sick fields of Berryville again, the curling fingers
of tobacco, hurt fruit and flower—
but no, but no.
I say no to death now. I’m nobody’s slave
now. I’m alive and not alone,
one of those who escaped and made myself
a soldier a weapon a stone in David’s sling
riding the air above the deep. I grow more dangerous
to those who want me. I ain’t going back
to anywhere I been before.
I grab a bucket. You grab a bucket. We the 25th
Pennsylvania Colored Infantry, newly formed
and too alive and close to free
to sink below this midnight water. 36 hours—chaos
shoveling-lifting-throwing ocean back into ocean
to reach land and war in the Carolinas.
I stole my body back from death and going down
more than once. I steal my breath
tonight and every night I will not drown.
Copyright © 2020 by Aaron Coleman. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 24, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
for Tarfia and Fita
The rabbit has a funny set of tools. He jumps.
or kicks. muffled and punching up. In pose
the rabbit knows, each side of his face to whom.
he should belong. He hobbles and eyes. This
is the dumb bun allegiance. This bunny, even dry and fluff
is aware, be vicious. will bite down your finger stalk.
will nick you good in the cheery web of your palm.
Those claws are good for traction. and defense.
This bunny, forgive him. There is no ease. His lack
of neck is all the senses about a stillness.
stuck in a calm. until household numbers upend
his floor. until the family upsets the nest
and traipses off. Then stuck in a bunny panic.
We each stab at gratitude. In our nubbing, none
of us do well. We jump. We kangaroo. We soft seeming,
scatter and gnaw. Maybe the only way forward
is to sleep all day. one eye open. under the sink.
Like the rabbit, we could sit in our shit.
Chew at the leaf of others’ dinner. Make
of each tile on the floor a good spot to piss. No,
it doesn’t get much better. And like the rabbit
we do not jump well from heights. We linger the dark
until it is safe to come out. To offer a nose.
a cheek for touch. the top of a crown. Nothing
makes us happier than another rabbit.
Copyright © 2020 by francine j. harris. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 26, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
—with a line from Louise Glück
Humor functions in the neighborhood as it functioned in the shtetl: the only way into a world insistent on your pain. Something you’d be shot for. If they want you to cry, tears are evasive; if they want you vulnerable, vulnerability’s a cop-out; if they want a confession, your confession is cheap. “When I speak passionately, / that’s when I’m least to be trusted.” A privilege to weep when to laugh is to choke on history. Oh diaspora: seventy-five years ago I’d be gassed beside my sisters, yet here I am, running out for milk in a heated car. Does a funnier joke exist? Yet there’s so many jokes in this neighborhood, that one barely gets a laugh.
You’re telling us.
Copyright © 2020 by Allison Pitinii Davis. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 1, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.