—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.

A lot more malaise and a little more grief every day,
aware that all seasons, the stormy, the sunlit, are brief every day. 

I don’t know the name of the hundredth drowned child, just the names
of the oligarchs trampling the green, eating beef every day,

while luminous creatures flick, stymied, above and around
the plastic detritus that’s piling up over the reef every day.

A tiny white cup of black coffee in afternoon shade,
while an oud or a sax plays brings breath and relief every day. 

Another beginning, no useful conclusion in sight‚—
another first draft that I tear out and add to the sheaf every day. 

One name, three-in-one, ninety-nine, or a matrix of tales 
that are one story only, well-springs of belief every day.

But I wake before dawn to read news that arrived overnight
on a minuscule screen , and exclaim  يا لطيف every day.

Copyright © 2020 by Marilyn Hacker. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 9, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

1

One summer night, walking from our house after dinner, stars make the sky almost white.

My awe is like blindness; wonder exchanges for sight.

Star-by-star comprises a multiplicity like thought, but quiet, too dense for any dark planet between.

While single stars are a feature of the horizon at dusk, caught at the edge of the net of gems.

Transparence hanging on its outer connectedness casts occurrence as accretion, filling in, of extravagant, euphoric blooming.

Then, being as spirit and in matter is known, here to there.

I go home and tell my children to come out and look.

The souls of my two children fly up like little birds into branches of the Milky Way,  
chatting with each other, naming constellations, comparing crystals and fire.

They exclaim at similarities between what they see in the sky and on our land.

So, by wonder, they strengthen correspondence between sky and home.

Earth is made from this alchemy of all children, human and animal, combined 
with our deep gratitude. 

2

I see his dark shape, moving and shifting against night’s screen of stars.

My little girl reaches for his lighted silhouette.

Human beings are thought upward and flown through by bright birds.

We believe stars are spirits of very high frequency.

We feel proud our animals come from stars so dense in meaning close to sacrament.

We describe time passing in stories about animals; star movement is named for seasonal migrations of deer, wolf, hummingbird, dolphin, and as animals stars walk among us.

Our snake Olivia, for example, tells me there’s no conflict between humans and rain, because resource is all around us.

A coyote loved night, and he loved to gaze at the stars.

“I noticed one star in Cassiopeia; I talked to her, and each night she grew brighter and closer, and she came to life here, as a corn snake, my friend.”

“She looks like a dancer on tiptoe, stepping around pink star-blossoms surging up after rain.”

3

Constellations are experienced emotionally as this play of self through plant and animal symbols and values.

A dream atmosphere flows; everything represented is sacred; being moves in accord, not of time.

Returning from the Milky Way, she realized crystals had fallen from her bag and looked up.

My story links a journey to sky with the creation of stars, in which place accommodates becoming.

Chama River flows north-south to the horizon, then straight up through the Milky Way, like water moving beneath a riverbed that’s dry.        

Abiquiu Mountain, El Rito Creek, coyote, snake, rainbow and rain, spider and hummingbird identify equivalent spiritual placements above, so wherever we go, there is company, nurture, from every star in our regard.

4

I start up to ask my birds to return home, and find our land continuous with a starry sky mapped as entities who set into motion occurrence, here.

Place awaits an imprint from this potential, even though starlight arriving now already happened; what happens is a depth of field, before and after drought, fire, storm disruption.

I move at high speed, but I’m still standing beside my house in the dark. 

To go there, I find the place on our mesa that correlates to their tree in the sky and leap up.

Space stirs as star trilliums emerge through darkness like humus.

I ask one blossom to please in the future renew these bonds between sky and my children, so they will always hold light in the minerals of their eyes.

5

Sun on its nightly underground journey weaves a black thread between white days on the cosmic loom, cord or resonance between new experience and meaning.

The origin of stars expresses the underlying warp of this fabric; summer solstice draws a diagonal across my floor, precession, weaving ground of informing spirit, so therefore, life is fundamental to stars.

The reverse is well known.

That’s why I don’t use a telescope, star charts or glasses when I go out; I think of a place; I wait, then fly to my children.

When the star-gate is raised, there’s a narrow door between sky and ground.

But when I arrive, I find the sky solid; I can’t break through to visit my starbirds and stand there wondering, before dawn.

Then sky vault lifts; maybe I can slip through to find the Milky Way and see its blossoms.

Then our sun appears in the crack and pushes through to the day.

It’s so bright, so hot, I step back and cover my eyes; I hear my mother calling.

Copyright © 2020 by Mei-mei Berssenbrugge. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 13, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

I. Apart

One place—one roof—one name—their daily bread
In daily sacrament they break
Together, and together take
Perpetual counsel, such as use has fed
The habit of, in words which make
No lie. For courtesy’s sweet sake
And pity’s, one brave heart whose joy is dead,
Smiles ever, answering words which wake
But weariness; hides all its ache,—
Its hopeless ache, its longing and its dread;
Strong as a martyr at the stake
Renouncing self; striving to slake
The pangs of thirst on bitter hyssop red
With vinegar! O brave, strong heart!
God sets all days, all hours apart,
Joy cometh at his hour appointed.

II. Together

No touch—no sight—no sound—wide continents
And seas clasp hands to separate
Them from each other now. Too late!
Triumphant Love has leagued the elements
To do their will. Hath light a mate
For swiftness? Can it overweight
The air? Or doth the sun know accidents?
The light, the air, the sun, inviolate
For them, do constant keep and state
Message of their ineffable contents
And raptures, each in each. So great
Their bliss of loving, even fate
In parting them, hath found no instruments
Whose bitter pain insatiate
Doth kill it, or their faith abate
In presence of Love’s hourly sacraments.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on April 18, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

1.

On a picnic table, in Pine, Arizona, 
a Bear, Makwa, sits and meditates. 
Occasionally, with menu in hand, 
he scans the reddish-brown landscape 
          that’s
partially draped with snow, a climatic 
rarity. But it’s heavenly here, he resolves, 
adding, inittawetti-menwi-bematesiyani
that's why I'm feeling good. After 
          ordering 
New York steak, jumbo prawns
and woodland mushrooms, a bottle 
of cabernet is placed on a cedar deer 
rack. While dipping the sopapilla 
          in 
honey, he reads the wine called
Zah was highly coveted by Bonnie, 
the 1930s gangster. The ruse evokes
a smile. Then, on a cart that’s 
          wheeled 
in beside him, a miniature cast-iron
stove with its legs embedded 
in ice crackles as two potatoes 
revolve and bake. From a silver 
          radio 
with a wobbly antennae, 
a saxophone is heard faintly, 
with Mayall singing “Going 
Back to California.” Nostalgia, 
          laments
the D. J. Epic, graphic 
nostalgia.    

2.

Soon, sparks fly from the microwave’s 
slender chimney, reminding him of the time 
he gave Black Eagle Childs a tune called 
Askotewi-Ttimani, Fire Boat. Akin 
          to
lovers separated by a wide river, 
whispers Nemese, Fish, the butter’s 
fragrance is corn tassel sweet 
and the sour cream senses earth 
          tremors 
akameeki, overseas. Combustible
emotions, you could say, through 
supernatural alchemy. And per 
etiquette, the handles of your
          silverware 
are designed with turquoise 
and corral inlay. “Say, I seem to 
have forgotten,” he asks, “but what
do they mean?”           

3.

From a nearby table, a Mawewa, Wolf 
politely intercedes: If I may answer
for Mayrin—once the shell-shock subsides, 
you'll recall the East is a star and the South 
          is 
a galaxy falling as snow into a dish that 
breathes, especially at noon; and the West 
is a door of purple seashells, with the North 
being a lodge made with pillars of swirling
          ice 
quills. Natawinoni, Medicine. These gifts 
will keep apoplectic reactions at bay. 
Wekone? What?” More so, if by birth 
your heart is exposed. “Jesus Christ! 
          How’d 
you know?” Nanotti-meko-Makwa-webi-
nenekenetama-wettikweni, Eventually, 
Bear begins reflecting on where he’d 
been. In Tanzania and Mozambique, 
          rows 
of white string that guided land 
mine-detecting rats over dry, ochre-
colored fields resembled gardens 
being prepped for spring 
          planting 
back home. Beautiful, 
speckled atamina, corn. 

4.

Remarkably, rats can also detect TB, 
said the Wakotte, Fox. “They can?”   
Moreover, in the desert where you 
visited, a waterfall came back to life 
          from 
a single raindrop, the one that travelled
with you on a Spider’s web, floating 
in the wind over distant mountains, 
oceans and clouds. Manetwi-kiyaki-
          niittawiyakwi
There’s still much we have to do. 
Because the Earth beneath our feet, 
Kokomesenana, our Grandmother, 
struggles to heal herself. Thus, 
          in 
the moment before the Northern 
Lights glow fiery red, arcing over 
us en route to Antarctica, you’ll ask 
in a solemn, musical voice that 
          guidance 
be granted in perpetuum to the culture,
language, religion and history of your 
children and their grandchildren. 
He was contemplating all of this 
          when
an old, toothless gentleman in 
a large suitcoat approached 
and asked, are you Randolph Scott? 
After saying “Yes,” an armor-clad 
         horse 
became audibly restless at the four
dragon-headed dogs staring at three 
galley sails billowing on the hinterland 
horizon.

Copyright © 2020 by Ray Young Bear. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 20, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

Who comforts you now that the wheel has broken?
No more princes for the poor. Loss whittling you thin.
Grief is the constant now, hope the last word spoken.

In a dance of two elegies, which circles the drain? A token
year with its daisies and carbines is where we begin.
Who comforts you now? That the wheel has broken

is Mechanics 101; to keep dreaming when the joke’s on
you? Well, crazier legends have been written.
Grief is the constant now; hope, the last word spoken

on a motel balcony, shouted in a hotel kitchen. No kin
can make this journey for you. The route’s locked in.
Who comforts you now that the wheel has broken

the bodies of its makers? Beyond the smoke and
ashes, what you hear rising is nothing but the wind.
Who comforts you? Now that the wheel has broken,

grief is the constant. Hope: the last word spoken.

Copyright © 2020 by Rita Dove. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 21, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

The slow crawling light wilts
into the dark flat of asphalt.

The moon rings the dim-lit room.
The scraping. The fire.

                                             Dust
in the deep flesh of ear.

Strike a match, watch the flame—
the scraping, the fire, ring
in unison,

                    the brain’s bent
                                                  fugue.

Yoked mica, deafened glint—
scrape and fire, the moon ringing
the dim-lit room.

                               A louse in the crevice
of brain—
                     wrinkle-scape
in knuckles flexed
                                    lashed, etched,
around the steel—
                                     the affliction
of squalor—a pummeling
                                              —skull

and brain
smelted in a starless dark.

Copyright © 2020 by Santee Frazier. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 22, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

On the turnpike, the smell of a heaven 
made out of old barn wood 
from Okmulgee. 

Handles and rungs 
cut from a fat farmer’s leather belt. 

In the eastern counties, 
coffins raced uphill, moving on hay bales 
and billiard balls.
Charon paid for everyone at the I-44 tollbooth.

On the North Canadian, 
comforts of a widower’s loneliness 
floated on pontoons. 
Time balanced on a fish egg.

In the city, violins violated jackhammers. 
At the refuge, night is the church for the disliked.  

I go to baptize the plants,
horns, and rain. 
I have passed through 
many different Oklahoma statehoods. 

Copyright © 2020 by Sy Hoahwah. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 24, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

I can never have the field. I can never halve the
field, make a helix of my hands and hold the
halves

like pictures of the field—or fields—and affix one
feeling to the fields—or the infinite field—and stay
that way

I can walk down to the bog, the field
under-foliate-feet, in a bloodflow motion towards
the beating

of the bullfrogs’ black-lacteous tactile pool and
listen to the unilluminable below-surface stirring,

gravid ruckus of drooling purr and primordial bluebrown
blur. I can aggravate the grating godhood and glisten

of preening slime—its opaque, plumbeous,
tympanic slurps—an inside-outside alertness
bur-bur-bur-bur-

burrowing, harping with pings and plops
(lurches), and make the mossy froth go
berserk with silence,

then foofaraw when the bog in the field senses I am
nothing to fear. I can hear amphibious amour fou
pulsing

under a blue-green gasoline film, spongiform but
formless, boiling with blotched air-bubble let-go, life
fumping

the surface in slicks of upward rain and glossopalatine
pops and liquid crop circles. I can stop here and
listen

in time with the bobolink and make my bel
memento, my untremendous tremolo and
rinky-dink dictation.

In the fable, the animal smells fear and so does the
fool. I think to myself—in my skull’s skeletal
bell-shape—

I am both. I am both. I am both, and I can hold it
together.

Copyright © 2020 by Kristina Martino. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 28, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

The screech of the recycling truck jolted me awake.
It was just after dawn and the huge trucks were already tearing
through the neighborhood, shrieking brakes keeping rhythm
with shattering glass and clinking cans amidst barking dogs.
I panicked then remembered the bins were out.

The little dogs shot out of the room, their tiny bodies
quivering with excitement and pent-up barking.

Before this moment I dreamt of Shimá, my mother:
she slept under a calico quilt, made with squares of tiny purple and yellow flowers.
She made our clothes from such fabric when we were children,

In my dream, I covered her carefully and patted her sleeping shoulder;
her breathing was soft and labored.
I smoothed her hair and caressed her forehead.
I sat at the foot of the bed and listened to her slumber;
her breathing evened out as the dream filament settled around us.
Perhaps as she slept, she relived the old Fort Wingate Boarding School days,
or maybe she and my father conversed as in all those decades past.
Maybe she relived everyday events—cooking meals, soothing children,
or visiting with relatives at the kitchen table.

In the final weeks of her life, I could not fathom her dreams
or waking thoughts, but in this morning dream, Shimá and I
were joined by our quiet breathing and lingering gestures.
In this dream, my mother and I were alone and silent.

We were alone and silent.

Soon the flurry of the recycling truck faded
and the usual morning calm returned, the sleek little dogs
came back to bed panting from a job well done; they licked my arm in unison.
I said, “Biighaah, Nizhoon,” praise for a job well done.
They fell asleep instantly, sinking into deep borderline snoring.

Outside the bedroom window, the morning was bright and still,
save for the cool breezes and calling of birds;
their innate songs encircled the quiet houses and scattered cacti.
Down the street garage doors slid shut as neighbors
maneuvered out of curved driveways to begin the workday.

Just then I longed to return to this first dream of Shimá.
I longed for the serene space she created,
now I knew she could do so, even in dreams.
How I yearned to make coffee for her one more time,
to cook breakfast—boiled eggs, black coffee and hash browns.
In her final weeks, my sisters and I fed her spoon by spoonful.
She would smile as we recounted childhood memories;
listening then talking, murmuring and remembering.

Now the morning sunlight sweeps through the house.
I put on coffee, go outside to stretch and pray.
The Holy People had already passed through
yet fulfilled my yearning to be with my mother.
They reassured me that she and other loved ones
are with them, and they exist in an arc of quiet solace.

The Holy Ones graced me with a glimpse of our future together;
the dream, a reprieve from the lonely, seemingly bereft present.

Copyright © 2020 by Luci Tapahonso. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 29, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

for Diane di Prima

                          Just that piece
     of the poem you could hear

     the groundswell,
     and written in such a way, numbered

            left in-tact 
            on the back 
            of a flat-bed truck

                                           amplified
                                  taking up
                   space 
                   in offering out

                   strategy with every form
                                       of art 

                   stacking the trucks
                   and sending them out…

new music/new poetry

                    Survival—courting the elements
(Divination) to be reliably great, what is clearly my job
the impulsive unending twist
in hell, groundswells

            sounds of film spinning on an old reel
sweeping up,
                     glyph like tracks
                     on a white page (reproduced)

                     Phones held close
                                  against the light
                                  deranged pleas
                                  hopeful songs
                                  gospel noble truths

Poems that we hold
                               beyond our bodies, a joy
                               we can keep ringing at eternities fold
 melted in the hot brick

                                     or crucible
                                     as Audre Lorde would have it

   that longest arc in the edges
          before they join

Copyright © 2020 by Cedar Sigo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 30, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

a hand made out of all that it touched—
fingers of syringes packed with soiled
polyester blankets nails cut from

a plastic bottle cap knuckles
shaped by rinds of other knuckles
and details layered in delicate ash—

ruddy, colorful, clothed. But the left,
flesh and grey, poured like the concrete
surrounding it and sanded at the edges

careful as geometry allows with
dried skin creeping through contours.
Naked hands. Beating knuckles on the ground

wondering will it crack the concrete finally
will it crumble under opposing forces—
material, economy as simple as concrete

is simple, simple to explain but difficult
to understand without explanation.
As plates in our deep crust skid past

one another. One might wonder who
thinks to pour a building of mostly
liquid. Such is the logic of conviction

we are told before the terms are defined.
Dysfunction of episodic memory.
Episode of memory of dysfunction.

Hands that are not our hands.
And so convinced are we of
our own demise we devise it.

Copyright © 2020 by Zoë Hitzig. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 1, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

I pry open the files, still packed
        with liquor & strange brine.

Midnight seeps from the cracks
        slow pulp of arithmetic. Four or five

or six at a time, the white men draw
        along the Gordonsville Road, on foot

or on horseback, clustered close—
        each man counting up his hours, the knife

of each man’s tongue at the hinge
        of his own mouth. For ninety-three years

& every time I slip away to read
        those white men line the roadway

secreting themselves in the night air
        feeding & breathing in their private

column. Why belly up to their pay stubs
        scraping my teeth on the chipped flat

of each page? This dim drink only blights me
        but I do it.

Copyright © 2020 by Kiki Petrosino. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 4, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

Sailing with just the jib
The earth a broken crib
and all the babes a-squall
cry no more cry no more
There’s such a thing as bit rot
you said          you said
it seemed everyone was reading
about extinction amidst the extinction
as if knowing were enabling. Winner
loses, the Marxist wrote, melancholic,
remembering the existentialist
adrift on the seas of his certainties.
To the east the sea’s growing darker
and a punctual low roar times itself
in the ear against the blood that in the ear
moves. Motorboat hour. Lobster trap check.
Exposed rock and the low tide
and an unease outstripping psychology.
Everyone dissolving into everyone
else but the lunge for the sublime
continues oh pathos and rage
for individuation. With the VR set on
the rapist feels it and then? Limits
of empathy as Noah determined
pulls up his ladder the sealed-in elect
to survive the drowners to drown.

Copyright © 2020 by Maureen N. McLane. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 5, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

You rode your bike from your house on the corner to the dead end of the street, and turned it around at the factory, back to the corner again. This was the loop your mother let you ride, not along the avenue with its cavalcade of trucks, or up the block where Drac the Dropout waited to plunge his pointy incisors into virginal necks. You can’t remember exactly your age, but you probably had a bike with a banana seat, and wore cutoff jeans and sweat socks to the knees. You are trying to be precise but everything is a carbon-like surface that scrolls by with pinpricks emitting memory’s wavy threads. One is blindingly bright and lasts only seconds: You are riding your bike and the shadowy blots behind the factory windows’ steel grates emit sounds that reach and wrap around you like a type of gravity that pulls down the face. You can’t see them but what they say is what men say all day long, to women who are trying to get somewhere. It’s not something you hadn’t heard before. But until then, you only had your ass grabbed by boys your own age—boys you knew, who you could name—in a daily playground game in which teachers looked away. In another pin prick, you loop back to your house, where your mother is standing on the corner talking to neighbors. You tell her what the men said, and ask, does this mean I’m beautiful? What did she say? Try remembering: You are standing on the corner with your mother. You are standing on the corner. This pinprick emits no light; it is dark, it is her silence. Someday you will have a daughter and the dead end will become a cul de sac and all the factories will be shut down or at the edges of town, and the men behind screens will be monitored, blocked. And when things seem safe, and everything is green and historic and homey, you will let her walk from school to park, where you’ll wait for her, thanks to a flexible schedule, on the corner. And when she walks daydreaming along the way and takes too long to reach you, the words they said will hang from the tree you wait under.

Copyright © 2020 by Rosa Alcalá. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 7, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

–From the immigration questionnaire given to Chinese entering or re-entering the U.S. during the Chinese Exclusion Act

Have you ridden in a streetcar?
Can you describe the taste of bread?
Where are the joss houses located in the city?
Do Jackson Street and Dupont run
in a circle or a line, what is the fruit
your mother ate before she bore you,
how many letters a year
do you receive from your father?
Of which material is your ancestral hall
now built? How many water buffalo
does your uncle own?
Do you love him? Do you hate her?
What kind of bird sang
at your parents’ wedding? What are the birth dates
for each of your cousins: did your brother die
from starvation, work, or murder?
Do you know the price of tea here?
Have you ever touched a stranger’s face
as he slept? Did it snow the year
you first wintered in our desert?
How much weight is
a bucket and a hammer? Which store
is opposite your grandmother’s?
Did you sleep with that man
for money? Did you sleep with that man
for love? Name the color and number
of all your mother’s dresses. Now
your village’s rivers.
What diseases of the heart
do you carry? What country do you see
when you think of your children?
Does your sister ever write?
In which direction does her front door face?
How many steps did you take
when you finally left her?
How far did you walk
before you looked back?

Copyright © 2020 by Paisley Rekdal. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 11, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

translated from the Macedonian by Ljubica Arsovska and edited by Patricia Marsh Stefanovska

Time trampled on you the moment you set out.
In the coach across the border
the conductor wiped the seats
with a brochure on human rights someone left behind.
Rain didn’t beat against the windows of the other passengers,
it was only yours that the raindrops hit like stones,
just like at the exit from a metro station you know
where it’s always raining
and the little orphans sniff glue from plastic bags
sprawled on the escalators.
Your soul shivered in the buffer zone,
your body gaped like a cupboard emptied before moving out,
the night was the senselessness of the daytime sense.
You dreamt in snatches an unending dream of how
the nineteenth century travels around with a beard
like a drunk loser,
how the twentieth century has a haircut and a shave
at the town barber’s,
and how the twenty-first runs frantically between the two.
In the first city the Politkovskaya Club awaits you
in the second—the Joyce Irish Pub,
in the third—white houses with lace curtains
and a notice: Today is Dr. Roberto’s funeral.
White underwear hung
from the balconies of Hell.
But Heaven’s balconies
have long run out of clotheslines and pegs
to hang washed brains out to dry.
Grannies in the corners of the neighbourhood
didn’t even hold out a hand any more.
On the table in the small room of your fellow countryman:
two volumes of Das Kapital and a key for the toilet.
An empty noose dangled from the ceiling light.
If everything is all right, one day
you too will become a postman here.
You’ll unlock the town’s cemetery
with a key from a big keyring
and read to the dead women
the letters from their dead husbands.
And then the neighbourhood boys
in their long black coats
will come upon you
and afterwards no one will
remember you any more,
not that you were here nor that you were born somewhere else.

 


 

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Времето те прегази во мигот кога тргна.
Во автобусот преку границата
кондуктерот ги избриша седиштата
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Врз прозорците на другите патници не врнеше,
само врз твојот капките удираа како камења,
исто како на излезот од едно познато метро
кај што врне без престан
и малите сирачиња дуваат лепак во пластични ќесиња
исполегнати на подвижните скали.
Душата ти трепереше во тампон зоната,
телото ти зјаеше како испразнет шкаф пред селидба,
ноќта беше бесмислата на денската смисла.
Со прекини сонуваше нераскинлив сон:
како деветнаесеттиот век патува наоколу брадосан
божем пијан губитник,
како дваесеттиот век се стрижи и бричи во градска берберница,
а дваесет и првиот безглаво трча помеѓу нив.
Во првиот град те пречека Клубот Политковскаја,
во вториот - ирскиот паб Џојс,
во третиот - бели куќи со завеси од тантели
и со некролог: денес ќе го погребеме д-р Роберто.
Од балконите на пеколот
висеше долна бела облека.
На балконите во рајот, пак,
одамна снема јажиња и штипки
за сушење испрани мозоци.
Бабичките во ќошињата на квартот
не пружаа повеќе ни рака.
На масата во сопчето на твојот сонародник:
два тома од Капиталот и клуч за тоалетот.
Од лустерот се нишаше слободна јамка.
Ако биде сѐ добро, еден ден овде
ќе станеш и ти поштар
кој со врзопче клучеви
ќе ги отклучува градските гробишта
и на мртвите жени ќе им ги чита
писмата од мртвите мажи.
И тогаш ќе те пресретнат
маалските момчиња
во долги црни капути
и потоа никој повеќе
нема да се сеќава на тебе

ни дека си бил тука ни дека си се родил некаде.

Copyright © 2020 by Lidija Dimkovska. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 14, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

I want to paint in a way that the “I” disappears into the sky and trees
The idea of a slowed down, slowly unfolding image held my attention

Variations on a theme are of no interest. A bowl and cup are not ideas.
I want my painting to be what it contains: it should speak, not me

The idea of a slowed down, slowly unfolding image held my attention
I paint things made of clay, just as the pigments I use come from the earth

I want my painting to be what it contains: it should speak, not me
Brown and ochre stoneware bowls beside a white porcelain pitcher

I paint things made of clay, just as the pigments I use come from the earth
I place the pale eggs on a dark, unadorned tabletop and let them roll into place

Brown and ochre stoneware bowls beside a white porcelain pitcher
The dusky red wall is not meant to symbolize anything but itself

I place the pale eggs on a dark unadorned tabletop and let them roll into place
I want to paint in a way that the “I” disappears into the sky and trees

The dusky red wall is not meant to symbolize anything but itself
Variations on a theme are of no interest. A bowl and cup are not ideas.

Copyright © 2020 by John Yau. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 18, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

Translated by Idra Novey and Ahmad Nadalizadeh
                                        For the city of Bam destroyed in the 2003 earthquake

The window is black
the table, black
the sky, black
the snow, black
You’re mistaken!
I don’t need medicine
or a psychotherapist.
Just lift these stones,
sweep aside the earth
and look into my eyes!

My eyes
that are round like the Earth

an image of the world
the world of shut doors
of countless walls

anytime I stand before the mirror
the image of an upside-down tortoise
makes me long for a passer-by
to arrive and invert the world

Some night
our hands will tremble from all this solitude
and our depiction on the canvas
will be scribbled out

the ruins of Bam scribbled out
the shelters we built
collapsing on our heads

I am terrified by the next images in this poem
the image of God lifting all the doors onto his shoulders
getting away
retreating far and then farther

I write: one day
the missing keys will be recovered.
What should we do about the missing locks.
 




The Ruins of Bam (Original Persian)
The Ruins of Bam (Original Persian)

Copyright © 2020 by Garous Abdolmalekian, Idra Novey, and Ahmad Nadalizadeh. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 21, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

(Written in her fifteenth year)

How sweet the hour when daylight blends 
   With the pensive shadows on evening’s breast; 
And dear to the heart is the pleasure it lends, 
   For ‘tis like the departure of saints to their rest. 

Oh, ‘tis sweet, Saranac, on thy loved banks to stray 
    To watch the last day-beam dance light on thy wave, 
To mark the white skiff as it skims o’er the bay, 
    Or heedlessly bounds o’er the warrior's grave. 

Oh, 'tis sweet to a heart unentangled and light, 
   When with hope’s brilliant prospects the fancy is blest, 
To pause ‘mid its day-dreams so witchingly bright, 
  And mark the last sunbeams, while sinking to rest. 

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on May 23, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

Once I freed myself of my duties to tasks and people and went down to the cleansing sea...
The air was like wine to my spirit,
The sky bathed my eyes with infinity,
The sun followed me, casting golden snares on the tide,
And the ocean—masses of molten surfaces, faintly gray-blue—sang to my heart...

Then I found myself, all here in the body and brain, and all there on the shore:
Content to be myself: free, and strong, and enlarged:
Then I knew the depths of myself were the depths of space.
And all living beings were of those depths (my brothers and sisters)
And that by going inward and away from duties, cities, street-cars and greetings,
I was dipping behind all surfaces, piercing cities and people,
And entering in and possessing them, more than a brother,
The surge of all life in them and in me...

So I swore I would be myself (there by the ocean)
And I swore I would cease to neglect myself, but would take myself as my mate,
Solemn marriage and deep: midnights of thought to be:
Long mornings of sacred communion, and twilights of talk,
Myself and I, long parted, clasping and married till death.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on May 24, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Instead, the poem is full of competent trees,
sturdy and slow-growing. The trees live on a wide
clean lawn full of adults. All night, the adults grow
older without somersaulting or spinning. They grow
old while thinking about themselves. They sleep well
and stay out late, their nerves coiled neatly inside
their grown bodies. They don’t think about children
because children were never there to begin with.
The children were not killed or stolen. This is absence,
not loss. There is a world of difference: the distance
between habitable worlds. It is the space that is
unbearable. The poem is relieved not to have to live
in it. Instead, its heart ticks perfectly unfretfully
among the trees. The children who are not in the poem
do not cast shadows or spells to make themselves
appear. When they don’t walk through the poem, time
does not bend around them. They are not black holes.
There are already so many nots in this poem, it is already
so negatively charged. The field around the poem
is summoning children and shadows and singularities
from a busy land full of breathing and mass. My non-
children are pulling children away from their own
warm worlds. They will arrive before I can stop them.
When matter meets anti-matter, it annihilates into
something new. Light. Sound. Waves and waves
of something like water. The poem’s arms are so light
they are falling upward from the body. Why are you crying?

Copyright © 2020 by Claire Wahmanholm. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 25, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

You made tomatoes laugh
& warned me
some words die in cages.                                          

I met you first in the desert.

You burned sage, greeted,
each of the four directions
with plumed syllables.

The ritual embarrassed me—
your stout body, your
mischievous smile did not.                

You were familial.                               

The first poem I wrote
that sounded like me
echoed your work.                 

Copal, popote, tocayo, cacahuate:
you taught me Spanish
is a colonial tongue.

Some Mesoamerican elders
believed there’s a fifth direction.

Not the sky or the ground
but the person right next to you.

I’m turning to face you, maestro.
I’m greeting you.
Tahui.

Copyright © 2020 by Eduardo C. Corral. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 27, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Those years are foliage of trees
their trunks hidden by bushes;
behind them a gray haze topped with silver
hides the swinging steps of my first love
the Danube.

On its face
grave steel palaces with smoking torches,
parading monasteries moved slowly to the Black Sea
till the bared branches scratched the north wind.

On its bed
a great Leviathan waited
for the ceremonies on the arrival of Messiah
and bobbing small fishes snapped sun splinters
for the pleasure of the monster.

Along its shores
red capped little hours danced
with rainbow colored kites,
messengers to heaven.

My memory is a sigh
of swallows swinging
through a slow dormant summer
to a timid line on the horizon.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on May 31, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

what we do not dream we cannot manufacture

Art follows ear and echo

covers/chooses

selective

eyesight searches the dust

and is surprised by love’s

apophatic blinking

 

what love sees in daily light

holds open color—ink, roar, melody and quiet

is its own steady gaze

to better endure bumps

 

“always more song to be sung” between the words

jars memory and its subatomic underscore

moving at the speed of thought underscore

 

in random thirsts rise underscore

name the sensations, underscore

to fish for breath, underscore

combing through hair as tangled as nets, as underscore

 

thick as the beat of blossoms’ underscore

 

a fine line between mind and senses spinning underscore

in which her/my/their body becomes expert underscore

without waiting for unified theory,

 

loving the body of one’s choice andunderscore

 

to live so surrounded underscore

with fewer asterisks and underscore

more verbs andunderscore

fewer security alerts Underscore
 


there eloquence before underscore

and above

underscore the grave.
 

*For Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor

Copyright © 2020 by Erica Hunt. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 1, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

I was called back into the dark during an early morning flyover     onto a rusty mauve plain     fields overrun with a low river of tar     the smell of burning grass carried from the east     flowing upward through neon bright signs of pharmaceuticals and snow     a bronze liquid of promise        a fleeting and always-ending sleep     the remains of chipped concrete eating away the foundations of every building     tables of salt rising over the whole country     I was called onto a platform in the north     a miles- wide outpost     where I sat     waiting to hear what new harm my sisters had conjured     they reached me by phone     through a star or their dreams     a breaking request from our father that had traveled through a long and oily channel     I could understand its beauty     the rainbow-thick shimmer of pigment and poison     a seeping fissure of love     before  the apocalypse     the ruin     or just the overhanging clouds     yesterday a maker of brine and sauerkraut told me the world would end by corrosion and decay     I’m not so sure     I hear the  eruption between refusal and insistence     or maybe just a truck   driving through 

Copyright © 2020 by Samuel Ace. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 2, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

A cop almost fell off 
his motorcycle. 

He was 
amid the colorful   floral skeletal 
commemorations of life, 
entertaining the children 
waiting for the procession to come down 
Bonita

He swerved his vehicle, 
almost tipped over. 

everywhere   clowns, 
evil horse energy 
in the pits of their eyes,   dark stele in the alcoves 
of their hearts,

children,   souls 
in a vault

oversaturating the memorial
antisepsis.

If he had fallen
would the children have gotten up? 

Who would have been the first 
to help?

the police 
the perverts of death.

Copyright © 2020 by Brandon Shimoda. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 3, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

I grew up on monopoly money and lucky charms
leftover hanukkah gelt from 
the friend who always
had things
in her family fridge
but what about those things
I bought with my own money
(pennies
             from
                      the
                             pavement),
the sour one-cent gummies, 
shaped like warped, warring men
they tasted hard and right
on the way
home from school.

(whispers, loudly: this is an ode to Rihanna)

what about those things?

(title for the thing: maybe “Repairing Rihanna”)
(or maybe: “Rihanna and Redress”)

hard-earned money in the
so-called smart city began to
get us
began to get us less things
the thing itself 
went public,
kicked back and relaxed 
meanwhile i am already so bored
i want to die

whenever I check my balance I hear voices
someone is owed! sing it, honey!
laaaadiiiidii, ladiidaa!  louder, honey!!!!
those automated sing-ah-longs…
make it count
make tech boom

a digital glitch is not the mistake
but rather that exact moment
the institution reproduces itself

and ugh.

Copyright © 2020 by Tiana Reid. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 4, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

Go forth, my son,
Winged by my heart’s desire!
Great reaches, yet unknown,
Await
For your possession.
I may not, if I would,
Retrace the way with you,
My pilgrimage is through,
But life is calling you!
Fare high and far, my son,
A new day has begun,
Thy star-ways must be won!

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 6, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

In 1990 over 700 Cyprinella formosa, commonly known as Beautiful shiners, were expatriated from Mexico to southeast Arizona where the small fish, their flat metallic bodies colorful in love-making, were eradicated in the 60’s through water diversion and over-pumping of underground streams.

Very little is known of their reproduction, except desire for lush riparian communities, warm vegetation to hide their bulbous young.

*

Relocation arrives through many terms. Sentence, reservation, subject, dam. From New Mexico the Gila River spills west, pools behind Coolidge Dam beneath which San Carlos Apache graves are concealed by a concrete slab. A sentence opens lines for a subject, physical, it predicates. Building foundations soften into water-logged records where the trout swim low, warming.

*

Gila River Indian Community grew most dense in the early 1940’s against the tribe’s will as incarcerated Japanese and Japanese Americans were forced to barrack blocks by the hundreds.

There is little evidence of idleness, printed the Phoenix Republic in 1942. Tangible myths of the model incarcerated confirmed their confinement wholly productive. Families made model citizens, if one can be made citizen, by utility filled with their lungs.

What of the mega-annum shell sculpted birds.

The first arrived in July to dust waves. The straw sleep sacks they filled with their hands.

Copyright © 2020 by Saretta Morgan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 8, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

28. It Is Not As If

It is not as if I have not been thinking this,
and it is not as if we have not been thinking this.
For what I mean when I will say whiteness, when I will say white
people, when I say the whites with such seeming assurance,
with such total confidence in the clarity of this locution,
as if we all know the etymology of this word’s genealogy,
the lie of a cluster of marauding nations, building kingdoms
by destroying kingdoms, we have heard this all before, O Babylon.
So, yes, when I say this, what I mean is Babylon, as the Rastas
have constructed the notion, in the way of generosity,
in the way of judgement, in the way of naming the enemy
of history for who he is, in the inadequate way of symbols,
in the way of the bible’s total disregard for history, and the prophet’s
dance in the fulcrum of history, leaping over time and place,
returning to the place where we began having learned
nothing and yet having learned everything language offers us.
It is not as if I have not been thinking this.
It is not as if we have not been thinking this.
And I want to rehearse Thomas Jefferson and the pragmatism
of cost, the wisdom of his loyalty to his family’s wealth,
the seat of the landed aristocrats reinvented on the plains
of the New World, the coat of arms, the courtly ambitions,
the inventions, the art, the bottles of wine, the French tongue,
the legacy, the faux Roman, faux Greek pretension, the envy
of the nobility of native confederacies, their tongues of fire;
the land, the land, the land, and the property of black bodies,
so much to give up, and who bears the sacrifice, who pays
the cost for the preservation of a nation’s ambitions?
How he said no to freeing the bodies he said were indebted
to him for their every breath—the calculus of property;
oh, the rituals of flesh-mongering, the protection of white freedom.
It is not as if I have not been thinking this.
It is not as if we have not been thinking this,
And Bartholomew de las Casas, Bishop of Chiapas,
and his Memorial de Remedios para Las Indias,
the pragmatic use of Africans, the ones to carry the burden
of saving the Indians, to save the white man’s soul—
this little bishop of pragmatic calculation, correcting sins
with more sins. And the bodies of black slave women,
their wombs, studied, tested, reshaped, probed, pierced, tortured,
with the whispered promise: “It will help you, too, it really
will and you will be praised for teaching us how to save
the wombs of white women, for the cause, all for the cause.”
And Roosevelt and his unfinished revolution, O “dream deferred”,
O Langston, you tried to sing, how long, not long, how long,
so long! And Churchill’s rising rhetoric, saying that though cousin
Nazis may ritualize the ancient blood feuds by invading Britain,
her world-wide empire will rise up and pay the price for protecting
the kingdom, the realm, liberty, and so on and so forth. Everyone
so merciful, everyone so wounded with guilt and gratitude,
everyone so pragmatic. It is what I am saying, that I am saying
nothing new, and what I am singing is, Babylon yuh throne gone
down, gone down, / Babylon yuh throne gone down.
It is not as if I have not been thinking this.
It is not as if we have not been thinking this.
For no one is blessed with blindness here,
No one is blessed with deafness here.
And this thing we see is lurking inside the soft
alarm of white people who know that they are watching
a slow magical act of erasure, and they know that this is how
terror manifests itself, quietly, reasonably, and with deadly
intent.  They are letting black people die.  They are letting
black people die in America. Hidden inside the maw
of these hearts, is the sharp pragmatism of the desperate,
the writers of the myth of survival of the fittest,
or the order of the universe, of Platonic logic, the caste system,
the war of the worlds.  They are letting black people die.
It is not as if I have not been thinking this.
No, it is not as if we have not been thinking this.
And someone is saying, in that soft voice of calm,
“Well, there will be costs, and those are the costs
of our liberty.”  Remember when the century turned,
and the pontiff and pontificators declared that in fifty years,
the nation would be brown, and for a decade, the rogue people
sought to halt this with guns, with terror, with the shutting of borders?
Now this has arrived, a kind of gift.  Let them die.  The blacks,
the poor, the ones who multiply like flies, let them die, and soon
we will be lily white again.  Do you think I am paranoid?  I am.
It is not as if I have not been thinking this.
It is not as if we have not been thinking this.
And paranoia is how we’ve survived.  So, we must march in the streets,
force the black people who are immigrant nurses, who are meat packers,
who are street cleaners, who are short-order cooks, who are
the dregs of society, who are black, who are black, who are black.
Let them die.  Here in Nebraska, our governor would not release
the racial numbers. He says there is no need to cause strife,
this is not our problem, he says. We are better than this, he says.
It is not as if I have not been thinking this.
It is not as if we have not been thinking this.
And so in the silence, we do not know what the purgation is,
and here in this stumbling prose of mine, this blunt prose of mine,
is the thing I have not yet said, “They are trying to kill us,
they are trying to kill us, they are trying to kill us off.”
I sip my comfort.  The dead prophet, his voice broken by cancer,
his psalm rises over the darkening plains, “Oh yeah, natty Congo”,
and then the sweetest act of pure resistance, “Spread out! Spread out!
Spread out!”  We are more than sand on the seashore, so we will not
get jumpy, we won’t get bumpy, and we won’t walk away, “Spread out!”,
they sing in four-part harmony, spears out, Spread out! Spread out!
It is not as if I have not been thinking this,
and it is not as if we have not been thinking this.
It is how we survived and how we will continue to survive.
But don’t be fooled. These are the betrayals that are gathering
over the hills.  Help me, I say, help me to see this as something else.
It is not as if I have not been thinking this.
See? It is not as if we have not all been thinking this.

KD

29.

It needs to be blunt and said as you say it.
I can see and agree and am trying to act, too,
but am embroiled in the whiteness I detest.
Yes, as a pacifist, I detest that whiteness
and see it as the bleaching of shrouds.
It makes me ashamed and angry and I fall
into nowhere and have no feet and can’t find
my way out of it. My hands are the wrong
shape to hide behind. I see the murderers
and stand in front of them, refusing
everything they are. I am weaponless.
I know guns from my childhood
and know their sick laugh, their
self-certainty, their imitations of ‘sound’—
their chatter. Yes, of course it’s death
they make, even when the target
is a symbol or a bull’s eye—names
say it all, underneath—target shooting,
but it’s not selective at the end of the breathing,
the last bottle of O negative blood, it takes all
in its recoil as much as its impact, it kills
life and it kills death and it is given
an ‘out’ through Keats’s white as death
half in love with easeful death’—
a poem I have recited since I was
sixteen, have recited on the verge of death,
as if it was a way through when it wasn’t.
The poem separated from the hand
that wrote it makes a travesty
of reality—the corpses piling
up in the feint light of whiteness.
The poem was part of the problem
born in the eye of empire, the smell
of hospitals and anatomies, and yet
I lament his terrible tragic passing.
I have stood in his deathroom
and only thought of a young person
and their overwhelming death,
the steps flowing with people
as now they are empty of both
Rome and world. I think the same
in the acts of medicine the acts
of insurance and discrimination,
and those who take the brunt of economies,
especially in Western economies
that live off the labour of re-arranged
and redecorated class alienation.
What you say is true and needs
to be said in such a way, Kwame.
I am saying as an aside to all tyranny,
that using the methods of the tyrannical
will lead to ongoing tyranny. Refusal
to do anything for them, to stop using their goods,
to stop giving them anything at all, will soon     bring their collapse.
Total and utter refusal. But then, they are
even prepared for that—bringing
it all down makes the suffering
suffer more via the pain ‘brought
on themselves.’ That’s tyranny’s propaganda.
     White bigots and the bigotry
implicit in any notion of ‘whiteness’
search for validation even where
it is bluntly refused—they enforce
their validation, legitimise themselves
in every conversation. I guess
that might be what Spike Lee
and Chuck D. have been saying
forever—the very notion 
‘white folk’ have any rights
of control or even say in other
people’s (and peoples’) lives needs
undoing. Your poem helps protect
the vulnerable and thwart the murderous—confront
them with its declarations of blackness,
and that’s as it must be, and you must say,
given the traumatic reality, Kwame.
So I listen to Sly Dunbar
not to absorb into what I have
been made from, but to reflect
against and learn from—to learn
is to respect and not just
be awed and entertained, those
shrouds across creativity,
those thefts as deadly
as going armed
with intent. I have literally
placed flowers in the barrels of guns.
I will stand between the gun
and its victim, I will
bury the arms
deeper than rust,
the corrosion,
beyond even air
of the grave, beyond
anything organic, living.
People are meant
to live! I march with you,
I am with you, I stand by you.
     I am not you. I know.

JK

Copyright © 2020 by Kwame Dawes and John Kinsella. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 11, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Last night, I visited a captivity story. 
I was sitting in a lean-to made of bark 
with Ella Ruth, both of us teenagers— 

her ebony skin, her black hair touching 
her tailbone. I looked at her hard, & 
she came back to sit beside the fire. 

From a slit in the rawhide doorway 
I could see my tribe in surgical masks, 
& as dogs began to howl I woke up.

Strange how the mind finds tenderness  
even in captivity. Or how amidst 
this being held in isolation we dream 

of masks. I see my ancestors, too,  
at the Carnival of Venice, a bouquet 
of myrrh, viper flesh, & honey 

in the plague doctor’s long beak— 
the face of death meant to ward off death. 
They look back through the silver mirror. 

Remember traveling to Siena, 
& we entered that semi-dark room? 
Those strange garments—the garb 

worn by a secret society of men— 
men who wore what we thought 
were pale KKK robes & masks. 

But they had cared for the contagious 
sick, & escorted them to the here 
& after, their faces always hidden. 

Yes, we descended the Ospedale’s 
winding stairs stories underground,  
through a long hall to a hidden room  

where a small medieval oil painting hung, 
the Confraternity of the Night Oratory
St. Catherine of Siena holds the brothers, 

their faces coved in hoods & white robes,  
under her cloak. They worked shifts  
on behalf of the many struck with plague. 

The hooded prisoners were led behind 
medieval-thick walls, into their tiny cells 
where solitary penitence was paid twenty- 

three hours a day. No one dared to speak 
at the Eastern State Penitentiary, eyes 
staring always at the cold stone floors. 

Beans, flourless bread, shad, lobster, 
corn, peppers, & a few grains of salt. 
Now, Al Capone had a rug & a radio. 

On a poor man’s cell block, uncle Gussie, 
who robbed a bank, spent years  
in the prison built like a wagon wheel. 

The low cell door forced him to bow  
when entering; the skylight above— 
the Eye of God—a reminder he was watched.  

When his mother died, two brothers,  
a priest & a cop, left sepia photographs  
of the funeral. Now, cats & ghosts roam. 

Lord, this big country. Land of plentitude 
ravaged, heart & gut torn out in the name 
of civilization & progress, & just plain old 

unsung unction, low-down skullduggery 
& theurgy. Nature ripped out by thew 
toned in old world prisons. Horsepower.    

Even with hard times here, hug the moon 
devastatingly close, & beat down the door 
with true love. Wherever you are, bless us. 

Yeah, we’ve both known a few in the joint,  
robbing Peter to pay Paul, or caught  
blowing time with this one or that one.  

Some excuse to keep rats on a wheel, or in a cage.  
Look, time moves at least twice at once now— 
back & forth, slow & fast. I held my palm 

 on my father’s back when he bent to whisper  
in the ear of the dead, & two men in black  
draped a white handkerchief over a face. 

Copyright © 2020 by Yusef Komunyakaa and Laren McClung. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 12, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Again, as always, when the shadows fall,
    In that sweet space between the dark and day, 
I leave the present and its fretful claims
    And seek the dim past where my memories stay. 
I dream an old, forgotten, far-off dream, 
     And think old thoughts and live old scenes anew, 
Till suddenly I reach the heart of Spring—
    The spring that brought me you!
I see again a little woody lane, 
    The moonlight rifting golden through the trees;
I hear the plaintive chirp of drowsy bird
    Lulled dreamward by a tender, vagrant breeze;
I hold your hand, I look into your eyes,
    I touch your lips,—oh, peerless, matchless dower!
Oh, Memory thwarting Time and Space and Death!
    Oh, Little Perfect Hour!

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 13, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

You are in the black car burning beneath the highway
And rising above it—not as smoke

But what causes it to rise. Hey, Black Child,
You are the fire at the end of your elders’

Weeping, fire against the blur of horse, hoof,
Stick, stone, several plagues including time.

Chrysalis hanging on the bough of this night
And the burning world: Burn, Baby, burn.

Anvil and iron be thy name, yea though ye may
Walk among the harnessed heat and huntsmen

Who bear their masters’ hunger for paradise
In your rabbit-death, in the beheading of your ghost.

You are the healing snake in the heather
Bursting forth from your humps of sleep.

In the morning, your tongue moves along the earth
Naming hawk sky; rabbit run; your tongue,

Poison to the filthy democracy, to the gold-
Domed capitols where the ‘Guard in their grub-

Worm-colored uniforms cling to the blades of grass—
Worm on the leaf, worm in the dust, worm,

Worm made of rust: sing it with me,
Dragon of Insurmountable Beauty.

Black Child, laugh at the men with their hoofs
and borrowed muscle, their long and short guns,

The worm of their faces, their casket ass-
Embling of the afternoon, leftover leaves

From last year’s autumn scraping across their boots;
Laugh, laugh at their assassins on the roofs

(For the time of the assassin is also the time of hysterical laughter).

Black Child, you are the walking-on-of-water
Without the need of an approving master.

You are in a beautiful language.

You are what lies beyond this kingdom
And the next and the next and fire. Fire, Black Child.

Copyright © 2020 by Roger Reeves. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 16, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

’Tis a time for much rejoicing;
      Let each heart be lured away;
Let each tongue, its thanks be voicing
      For Emancipation Day.
Day of victory, day of glory,
For thee, many a field was gory!

Many a time in days now ended,
      Hath our fathers’ courage failed,
Patiently their tears they blended;
      Ne’er they to their, Maker, railed,
Well we know their groans, He numbered,
When dominions fell, asundered.

As of old the Red Sea parted,
      And oppressed passed safely through,
Back from the North, the bold South, started,
      And a fissure wide she drew;
Drew a cleft of Liberty,
Through it, marched our people free.

And, in memory, ever grateful,
      Of the day they reached the shore,
Meet we now, with hearts e’er faithful,
      Joyous that the storm is o’er.
Storm of Torture! May grim Past,
Hurl thee down his torrents fast.

Bring your harpers, bring your sages,
      Bid each one the story tell;
Waft it on to future ages,
      Bid descendants learn it well.
Kept it bright in minds now tender,
Teach the young their thanks to render.

Come with hearts all firm united,
      In the union of a race;
With your loyalty well plighted,
      Look your brother in the face,
Stand by him, forsake him never,
God is with us now, forever.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 19, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

the slight angling up of the forehead
neck extension                        quick jut of chin

meeting the strangers’ eyes
a gilded curtsy to the sunfill in another

in yourself      tithe of respect
in an early version the copy editor deleted

the word “head” from the title
the copy editor says              it’s implied

the copy editor means well
the copy editor means

she is only fluent in one language of gestures
i do not explain                     i feel sad for her

limited understanding of greetings              & maybe
this is why my acknowledgements are so long;

didn’t we learn this early?
            to look at white spaces

            & find the color       
            thank god o thank god for

                                                             you               
                                                                                        are here.

Copyright © 2020 by Elizabeth Acevedo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 22, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

with a line from Gwendolyn Brooks

Months into the plague now,
I am disallowed
entry even into the waiting
room with Mom, escorted outside
instead by men armed
with guns & bottles
of hand sanitizer, their entire
countenance its own American
metaphor. So the first time
I see you in full force,
I am pacing maniacally
up & down the block outside,
Facetiming the radiologist
& your mother too,
her arm angled like a cellist’s
to help me see.
We are dazzled by the sight
of each bone in your feet,
the pulsing black archipelago
of your heart, your fists in front
of your face like mine when I
was only just born, ten times as big
as you are now. Your great-grandmother
calls me Tyson the moment she sees
this pose. Prefigures a boy
built for conflict, her barbarous
and metal little man. She leaves
the world only months after we learn
you are entering into it. And her mind
the year before that. In the dementia’s final
days, she envisions herself as a girl
of seventeen, running through fields
of strawberries, unfettered as a king
-fisher. I watch your stance and imagine
her laughter echoing back across the ages,
you, her youngest descendant born into
freedom, our littlest burden-lifter, world
-beater, avant-garde percussionist
swinging darkness into song.

Copyright © 2020 by Joshua Bennett. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 24, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

A prison is the only place that’s a prison.
Maybe your brain is a beehive—or, better:
an ants nest? A spin class?
The sand stuck in an hourglass? Your brain is like
stop it. So you practice driving with your knees,
you get all the way out to the complex of Little League fields,
you get chicken fingers with four kinds of mustard—
spicy, whole grain, Dijon, yellow—
you walk from field to field, you watch yourself
play every position, you circle each identical game,
each predictable outcome. On one field you catch.
On one field you pitch. You are center field. You are left.
Sometimes you have steady hands and French braids.
Sometimes you slide too hard into second on purpose.
It feels as good to get the bloody knee as it does to kick yourself in the shin.
You wait for the bottom of the ninth to lay your blanket out in the sun.
Admit it, Sasha, the sun helps. Today,
the red team hits the home run. Red floods every field.
A wasp lands on your thigh. You know this feeling.

Copyright © 2020 by Sasha Debevec-McKenney. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 26, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Dear Reader, it wouldn’t be a lie if you said poetry was a cover
for my powerlessness, here, on this plane
having ticked off another day waiting for her diagnosis to rise.
As the air pressure picks up, I feel the straight road
curved by darkness, where the curve is a human limit,
where the second verb is mean, the second verb is to blind.
On the other line, my mother sits on her bed
after a terrible infection. Her voice like a wave
breaking through the receiver, when she tells me
that unlike her I revel in the inconclusivity of the body.
+
At the end of the line, I know my mother
accumulates organ-shaped pillows after surgery.
First a heart, then lungs.
The lung pillow is a fleshy-pink. The heart
pillow, a child-drawn metaphor. Both help her expectorate
the costs to the softer places of her body.
After each procedure they make her cross,
the weight of the arm comes down. These souvenirs
of miraculous stuffing other patients on the transplant floor covet,
the way one might long for a paper sack doll made by hand.
Though the stuffing is just wood shavings, one lies
with the doll tight at the crick of an elbow at night.

Copyright © 2020 by April Freely. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 29, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

State of Florida v. Patrick Gene Scarborough, David Erwin Beagles, Ollie Odell Stoutamire, William Ted Collinsworth, 1959, case #3445.

Later I lower my head to my father’s chest,
the hollow where I hear his heart stop, if stop
meant speed to a stop, if hearts could gasp like a 
a mouth when events stun the heart to a stop
for a moment. His eyes fill with anger
then, collecting himself, he rises up to slump
his shoulders back down. The fists. The eyes.
Nothing can raise up, nothing feels essential,
a black body raising up in the south and all…
To a life starting here, ethereal, yet flesh, and all?
And even if you could, what all good would it do?
The damage and all. Black birds flock, 
dulcet yet mourning, an uproar of need,
a cry of black but blue is not the sky
in which they gender. My God, if life is not pain, 
no birth brought me into this world,
or could life begin here where it ends—
no shelter, no comfort, no ride home—
and must I go on, saying more? Pointing
them out in a court of men? Didn’t
the trees already finger the culprits? Creatures
make a way where there is no way. That way
after I lean into what’s left of me—and must I
(yes, you must) explain, over and over,
how my blood came to rest here—my body,
now labeled evidence, sows what I have yet to say.

Copyright © 2020 by A. Van Jordan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 30, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

The sun went down in beauty
    Beyond the Mississippi side,
As I stood on the banks of the river
    And watched its waters glide;
Its swelling currents resembling
    The longing restless soul,
Surging, swelling, and pursuing
    Its ever receding goal.

The sun went down in beauty,
    But the restless tide flowed on,
And the phantom of absent loved ones
    Danced on the waves and were gone;
Fleeting phantoms of loved ones,
    Their faces jubilant with glee,
In the spray seemed to rise and beckon,
    And then rush on to the sea.

The sun went down in beauty,
    While I stood musing alone,
Stood watching the rushing river
    And heard its restless moan;
Longings, vague, untenable,
    So far from speech apart,
Like the endless rush of the river,
    Went surging through my heart.

The sun went down in beauty,
    Peacefully sank to rest,
Leaving its golden reflection
    On the great Mississpi’s breast;
Gleaming on the turbulent river,
    In the coming gray twilight,
Soothing its restless surging,
    And kissing its waters goodnight.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on July 4, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

                              —Milledgeville, Georgia 18581

The hand2 in which the laws of the land3
were penned was that of a white man.

Hand, servant, same as bondsman, slave,
and necessarily a negro4 in this context,
but not all blacks were held in bondage
though bound by the constructed fetters
of race—that expedient economic tool
for making a class of women and men
kept in place based on the color writ
across their faces—a conservative notion
for keeping power in the hands of the few5.
It kept the threat held over the heads of all
negroes, including those free blacks,
who after the coming war would be
called the formerly free people of color
once we were all ostensibly free.

Hands, enslaved, handled clay
and molds in the making of bricks
to build this big house for the gathering
of those few men with their white faces
who hold power like the end of the rope.

Hand, what’s needed to wed, and a ring
or broom. Hand, a horse measure, handy
in horse-trading6. We also call the pointers
on the clock that go around marking time
in this occidental fashion, handy for business
transactions, hands.


1Milledgeville, my hometown, touts itself as the Antebellum Capital and it was that, but it was also, for the duration of the Civil War, the Confederate Capital of Georgia, and where Joseph Emerson Brown, the governor of Georgia from November 6, 1857 till June 17, 1865, lived with his family in the Governor’s Mansion. Governors brought enslaved folks, folks they held as property, from their plantations to work as the household staff at the Governor’s Mansion.

2 Hand as in handwriting, which is awful
in my case, so I type, but way back when,
actually, only 150 years ago—two long-lived
lives—by law few like me had a hand.

3 What’s needed is a note on the laws
that constructed race in the colonies
and young states, but that deserves
a library’s worth of writing.

4 Almost a decade after reading the typescript of a letter written by Elizabeth Grisham Brown, Gov. Joseph Emerson Brown’s wife, I finally got to read the original letter written in her hand; I got to touch it with my hand. I got to verify that she’d written what I’d read in the typescript. I’d thought about this letter she wrote home to her mother and sister at their plantation for near a decade because of its closing sentences: “Hoping you are all well, we will expect to hear from you shortly. Mr. Brown and the children join me in love to you all.” And caught between that and her signing “Yours most affectionately, E. Brown” she writes “The negroes send love to their friends.” Those words in that letter struck me when I first read them and have stuck with me since. There is so much there that speaks to the situation those Black folk were in then and the situation Black folk are in now. I intend for the title of my next book to be The Negroes Send Love to Their Friends.

5And this arrangement also served the rest
who would walk on the white side of the color
line, so they would readily step at the behest
of that narrative of race and their investment
in what is white and Black.

6 Prospective buyers would inspect
Negroes like horses or other livestock
and look in their mouths.

Copyright © 2020 by Sean Hill. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 9, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

for Ermias Asghedom (Nipsey Hussle)

the streetlights still weep / a
marathon of clouds hold firm / the agony
continues / we’re all an assembly of
sad / I’ve been writing dismal testimony
since before the last person I love
was gunned down / been trying
to write something about happy
since before my great-aunt’s knees
decided to hang themselves / there are more
funerals to be had / I tell the sky this
and hope the sun shows because all this
bleakness might move me to throw
it into a well / do you know

what it is to make a wish knowing
it’s a waste since before you even made it /
there was a guy back home who sold roses
out his trunk / he’d wait outside clubs
and ask if anyone wanted to buy a pretty lady
a keepsake / something to ensure
she remembers you / something sweet
to accompany the drinks you’d gifted
all night / I remember watching gangsters
buy roses like lottery tickets / chase women
all the way to their cars / remind them
which drink came from which pocket /
plead to be remembered /

do you know badgers make their homes
underground / while we celebrate the day
they wait around for dark / all the men I love
are nocturnal / stumbling vampires
in search of midnight roses / one night I stumbled
out a juke and couldn’t find my car /
haunted neighborhood blocks for what seemed
like leap years / I grew gray
that night / started tracking my own footprints
in snow / do you know what it is to track
oneself / it requires divine patience / just when
you think you’ve found your target
it moves / the way a sober shadow might /
the way an almost granted wish does / the way
a badger moves once the last person on earth
places her head to the pillow / it peeks
above ground to let the bobcats know
it isn’t dead

Copyright © 2020 by Derrick Harriell. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 14, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

"Their colour is a diabolic die."
            —Phillis Wheatley

What they say they are
And what they actually do
Is what Phillis overhears.
It’s like she isn’t there.
It’s like she’s a ghost, at arm’s length, hearing
The living curse out the dead—
Which, she’s been led to believe
No decent person does in a church.

How they say they love her
And how they look at her
Is what Phillis observes;
Like she’s the hole in the pocket
After the money rolls out.

God loves everybody—even the sinner,
(they say)
Even a mangy hound can rely
On a scrap of meat, scraped off the plate
(they say).

What they testify
And what they whisper in earshot
Is as dark as her skin, whistled from opposite sides
Of a mouth.

Is she the bible’s fine print?

Copyright © 2020 by Cornelius Eady. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 15, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

your body is still a miracle    thirst
quenched    with water across dry tongue and lips 
    or cocoa butter    ashy legs immersed
till shine seen    sheen    the mind too    cups and dips
from its favorite rivers    figures and facts
    slant stories of orbiting      protests or
protons    around daughters or suns  ::  it backs
up or opens wide to joy’s gush    downpour 
    the floods the heart pumps    hip hop    doo wop    dub
    veins mining the mud for poetry’s o
cell after cell drinks    ringgold colors       mulled 
    cool cascades of calla lilies  ::  swallow
and bathe    breathe    believe    through drought you survive 
    like the passage schooled you    till rains arrive

                        —after alexis pauline gumbs

Copyright © 2020 by Evie Shockley. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 16, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

after Margaret Walker’s “For My People”

The Lord clings to my hands
             after a night of shouting.
                           The Lord stands on my roof
             & sleeps in my bed.
Sings the darkened, Egun tunnel—
             cooks my food in abundance,
                           though I was once foolish
             & wished for an emptied stomach.
The Lord drapes me with rolls of fat
             & plaits my hair with sanity.
                           Gives me air,
             music from unremembered fever.
This air

                                         oh that i may give air to my people
                                         oh interruption of murder
                                         the welcome Selah

The Lord is a green, Tubman escape.
             A street buzzing with concern,
                           minds discarding answers.
             Black feet on a centuries-long journey.
The Lord is the dead one scratching my face,
             pinching me in dreams.
                           The screaming of the little girl that I was,
             the rocking of the little girl that I was—
the sweet hush of her healing.
             Her syllables
                           skipping on homesick pink.
             I pray to my God of confused love,
a toe touching blood
             & swimming through Moses-water.
                           A cloth & wise rocking.
             An eventual Passover,
outlined skeletons will sing
             this day of air
                           for my people—

                                         oh the roar of God
                                         oh our prophesied walking

Copyright © 2020 by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 17, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

So oft our hearts, belovèd lute,
In blossomy haunts of song are mute;
So long we pore, ’mid murmurings dull,
O’er loveliness unutterable.
So vain is all our passion strong!
The dream is lovelier than the song.

The rose thought, touched by words, doth turn
Wan ashes. Still, from memory’s urn,
The lingering blossoms tenderly
Refute our wilding minstrelsy.
Alas! We work but beauty’s wrong!
The dream is lovelier than the song.

Yearned Shelley o’er the golden flame?
Left Keats for beauty’s lure, a name
But “writ in water”? Woe is me!
To grieve o’er flowerful faëry.
My Phasian doves are flown so long—
The dream is lovelier than the song!

Ah, though we build a bower of dawn,
The golden-wingèd bird is gone,
And morn may gild, through shimmering leaves,
Only the swallow-twittering eaves.
What art may house or gold prolong
A dream far lovelier than a song?

The lilting witchery, the unrest
Of wingèd dreams, is in our breast;
But ever dear Fulfilment’s eyes
Gaze otherward. The long-sought prize,
My lute, must to the gods belong.
The dream is lovelier than the song.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on July 18, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

The train came with a police officer
on his gun. He shifts his weight
against the door. A flash back loads
the first time a service weapon was pulled in my face;
the second time it made me lay on the ground;
the third time it put my hands in the air; the fourth time
it pushed me against a wall; the fifth time
it told me it was just doing its job; the sixth time
it kicked my feet apart; the seventh time
it followed me home; the eighth time it grabbed my shirt collar.

Read the signs: it’s illegal to move
between cars.

Read the signs; my body knows
how Klan-rally a cop’s gun feels at eye level.

The ninth time the barrel cocked its head;
the tenth time, it told me it missed me
the last time; it said, burning black bodies is a tradition
it was raised on; the eleventh time the safety and trigger argued
through a range of black fiction. I could’ve been
any made-up one of us: Ricky or Wee-Bey
Mad Max or Tray; we all look the same under the right racism
anyway; the twelfth time it dared me to swing; the thirteenth time
I thought about it; the fourteenth time, I almost did it;
the fifteenth time, there were no cellphones; the sixteenth time
just covered badges; the seventeenth time
it searched me for the broken laws it thought I was;
the eighteenth time I assumed the position without anything
being said.

Copyright © 2020 by Jive Poetic. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 20, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

i have diver’s lungs from holding my
breath for so long. i promise you
i am not trying to break a record
sometimes i just forget to
exhale. my shoulders held tightly
near my neck, i am a ball of tense
living, a tumbleweed with steel-toed
boots. i can’t remember the last time
i felt light as dandelion. i can’t remember
the last time i took the sweetness in
& my diaphragm expanded into song.
they tell me breathing is everything,
meaning if i breathe right i can live to be
ancient. i’ll grow a soft furry tail or be
telekinetic something powerful enough
to heal the world. i swear i thought
the last time i’d think of death with breath
was that balmy day in july when the cops
became a raging fire & sucked the breath
out of Garner; but yesterday i walked
38 blocks to my father’s house with a mask
over my nose & mouth, the sweat dripping
off my chin only to get caught in fabric & pool up
like rain. & i inhaled small spurts of me, little
particles of my dna. i took into body my own self
& thought i’d die from so much exposure
to my own bereavement—they’re saying
this virus takes your breath away, not
like a mother’s love or like a good kiss
from your lover’s soft mouth but like the police
it can kill you fast or slow; dealer’s choice.
a pallbearer carrying your body without a casket.
they say it’s so contagious it could be quite
breathtaking. so persistent it might as well
be breathing                        down your neck—

Copyright © 2020 by Yesenia Montilla. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 21, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

I think of a good night’s sleep
an exhale taking its precious time

to leave my lungs         unworried
about the breathing to come       If only

I did not hail from the sweet state
of panic                               the town’s river,

my adrenaline raging without cease
I’d love peace but the moon is pulling me by my water

I know this is no way to live     but I was born here
a mobile of vultures orbiting above my crib

the noise you speak      bragging
about the luxury of your stillness

reminds me that some children are told to pick flowers
while others are told to pick a tree switch

that’ll best write a lesson across their hide
and my skin is a master course written in welts

I touch myself and read about the years
I cannot escape                              I hold my kids

and pray our embrace is not a history
repeating itself

Copyright © 2020 by Rasheed Copeland. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 22, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

When I was a child I would run
through the backyard while my father
yanked dandelions, daisies, thistles, crabgrass,
mowed, rearranged the stones around the porch—
the task of men, though I didn’t know.
Blushed with cartoons and chocolate milk
one Saturday, I found a bee working
a dandelion for its treasure the way
only God’s creatures can, giving
and giving until all that is left
is the act itself—and there’s faith, too,
my mother used to say in her magnolia lilt.
It comes as it comes—there’s a road to follow.
When I swat the bee, I plea in triumph.
My father, knee-drenched in manhood,
grins and his gold tooth glistens a likely tale.
And when the bee stings my ear,
I run to him screaming as my mother
runs outside hearing her only child’s voice
peel back the wallpaper. She charms my ear
with kisses. This afternoon, I notice a bee
trapped inside the window as my mother
on the phone tries to still her voice
to say her mother has died. I wonder if he can
taste the sadness, the man on TV tells the other.
The bee is so calm. The room enlists
a fresh haunting, and the doorframe bothers.
To believe her when she says—
as the bouquet of yellow roses on the dresser
bows its head and the angles of my clay bloom
with fire—it’ll be okay, is my duty as son.
My mother sits in the hospital in San Antonio,
motherless—my mother is now a mother
without the longest love she’s ever known.
My mother who used to wake up
before the slap of sunrise with my father
to build new rooftops. My mother who wrote
“I pray you have a great day”
on stupid notes tucked in my lunchbox.
My mother who told the white woman 
in Ross to apologize for bumping into me
as I knocked over a rack of pantyhose.
My mother who cried in Sea-Tac airport
as I walked through customs, yes-ing
the woman who asks, Is it his first time
moving from home? My mother who looks
at me with glinted simper when the pastor spouts
“disobedient children.” My mother who was told
at a young age she’d never give birth,
barren as she were. My mother, my mother.
What rises inside me, I imagine inside her, although
I’ve never had a mother leave this earth.
I’ve never been without love.

Copyright © 2020 by Luther Hughes. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 23, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

on the days the dark is vanta vicious
enough to swallow whole every holy
thing like my mother and the stigmata
she bleeds from a totem of raising black

on the days the cold is cold as all get out but
there’s no place to get in when even breath is
blade and hurts to think of thinking of breathing
let alone laughing

on the days I feel frayed and ‘fraid ripped
and torn from the lot plucked from family
and ‘nem and even myself sometimes my
name is the name of a stranger

my face still the face in the hole of a
hoodie just snatched out my own world
never mine and dragged and scraped
across the rough textured parts of this
being alive thing

i’m reminded of what it feels
like to have my head alight to
have it catch fire and blaze-lick
high above me and all this

i’m reminded to return to the truth that oh
yeah me my little self a match my little
self a cardboard cutout might could burn
this whole so-called kingdom down

Copyright © 2020 by Jason Reynolds. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 28, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

Bird dogs, they say—

the kind that chase something in flight.
try to capture with its teeth
a winged ceremony,
feathers dripping from each of their mouths.
The first dog was just plain old.
The second died of a heart worm pill —my father neglected to purchase.
What else has he let die?
My mother fixed his plate every night,
never bought a car, or shoes, or skirt
without his permission.
She birthed children and raised them.
She, my sister, and I—

winged things in the air.
I knew there was blood under the ground.
No surprise when I found the house was sinking.
Our dogs always stayed outside, not allowed
in the living room.
Only the basement,
where my father stayed, slept, fixed things.
My mother, a silent companion.
The dog barks and my father goes running.
The dog dies
and we bury my mother.
Graves for everyone
We bark
and feathers fall from my father’s teeth.
He barks and becomes the tree.
The bark remembers phantom noose
and screams.
The screech becomes a bullet
without a window to land through,
just a body,
a backyard,
a shovel.

Copyright © 2020 by Barbara Fant. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 29, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

I am hovering over this rug
with a hair dryer on high in my hand
I have finally, inevitably, spilled
red wine on this impractically white
housewarming hand-me-down from my cousin, who
clearly, and incorrectly, thought this was a good idea

With the help of a little panic,
sparkling water and a washcloth,
I am stunned by how quickly the wine washes out,
how I was sure this mistake would find me
every day with its gaping mouth, reminding me
of my own propensity for failure
and yet, here I am
with this clean slate

The rug is made of fur,
which means it died
to be here

It reminds me of my own survival
and everyone who has taught me
to shake loose the shadow of death

I think of inheritance, how this rug
was passed on to me through blood,
how this animal gave its blood
so that I may receive the gift of its death
and be grateful for it

I think of our inability
to control stories of origin
how history does not wash away
with water and a good scrub 

I think of evolution,
what it means to make it through
this world with your skin intact,
how flesh is fragile
but makes a needle and thread
of itself when necessary

I think of all that I have inherited,
all the bodies buried for me to be here
and stay here, how I was born with grief
and gratitude in my bones

And I think of legacy,
how I come from a long line of sorcerers
who make good work of building
joy from absolutely nothing

And what can I do with that
but pour another glass,
thank the stars
for this sorceress blood
and keep pressing forward

Copyright © 2020 by L. Ash Williams. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 30, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

I go to the railroad tracks
And follow them to the station of my enemies

A cobalt-toothed man pitches pennies
at my mugshot negative

All over the united states, there are
Toddlers in the rock

I see why everyone out here
got in the big cosmic basket
And why blood agreements mean a lot
And why I get shot back at

I understand the psycho-spiritual refusal
to write white history or take the glass freeway

White skin tattooed on my right forearm
Ricochet sewage near where I collapsed
into a rat-infested manhood

My new existence as living graffiti

In the kitchen with
a lot of gun cylinders to hack up
House of God in part
No cops in part

My body brings down the Christmas

The new bullets pray over blankets made from old bullets

Pray over the 28th hour’s next beauty mark

Extrajudicial confederate statue restoration
the waist band before the next protest poster

By the way,
Time is not an illusion, your honor
I will save your desk for last
You are witty, your honor
You’re moving money again, your honor

It is only raining one thing: non-white cops

And prison guard shadows
Reminding me of
Spoiled milk floating on an oil spill

A neighborhood making a lot of fuss over its demise

A new lake for a Black Panther Party

Malcom X’s ballroom jacket slung over my son’s shoulders
The figment of village
a noon noose to a new white preacher
             -All in an abstract painting of a president

Bought slavers some time, didn’t it?
The tantric screeches of military bolts and Election-Tuesday cars

A cold-blooded study in leg irons

Proof that some white people have actually fondled nooses
             That sundown couples
             made their vows of love over
                        opaque peach plastic
                        and bolt action audiences      

Man, the Medgar Evers-second is definitely my favorite law of science

Fondled news clippings and primitive Methodists

My arm changes imperialisms
Simple policing vs. Structural frenzies
Elementary school script vs. Even whiter white spectrums

Artless bleeding and
the challenge of watching civilians think

“terrible rituals they have around the corner.
They let their elders beg for public mercy”

“I am going to go ahead and sharpen these kids’ heads
into arrows myself and see
how much gravy spills out of family crests.”

Modern fans of war
              What with their t-shirt poems
              And t-shirt guilt

And me, having on the cheapest pair of shoes on the bus,
I have no choice but to read the city walls for signs of my life

Copyright © 2020 by Tongo Eisen-Martin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 31, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Oh, solitude, where is the sting,
    That men ascribe to thee?
Where is the terror in thy mien?
    I look, but cannot see.

Where hidest thou, that loneliness
    The world pretends to fear?
While lying on thy loving breast
    I find my sweetest cheer.

They do not understand thee, no,
    They are but knaves or fools,
Or else they must discern in thee
    Dame Nature’s queen of schools.

For in thy care, with naught but books,
    The bards and saints of old,
Become my friends and to mine ear
    Their mystic truths unfold.

When problems and perplexities
    Of life becloud my mind,
I know in thee, oh, solitude,
    The answer I can find.

When grief and sorrow crowd my heart
    To breaking, with their fears
Within thy arms, oh, solitude,
    I find relief in tears.

And when I weary of the world’s
    Deceits and cares and strife,
I find in thee sweet rest and peace
    And vigorous new life.

My garden never is complete
    Without a blooming rose,
Nor is my life, oh, solitude,
    Without thy sweet repose.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on August 1, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

Now and then the phone will ring and it will be
someone from my youth. The voice of a favorite cousin
stretched across many miles sounding exactly as she always has:
that trained concentration of one who stutters—
the slight hesitations, the drawn-out syllables,
the occasional lapse into a stammer.

When asked, she says my aunt is well for her age but
she forgets. I remember the last time I saw my aunt—
leaning on her cane, skin smooth as river rock,
mahogany brown, gray hair braided into two plaits
stretched atop her head and held in place
with black bobby pins.

She called to say James Lee has died. And did I know
Aunt Mary, who had four crippled children
and went blind after uncle Benny died, died last year?

I did not.

We wander back awhile, reminding and remembering:

Me under the streetlight outside our front yard
face buried in the crook of my arm held close
to the telephone pole as I closed my eyes and sang the words:
Last night, night before, twenty-four robbers at my door
I got up to let them in... hit ‘em in the head with a rolling pin,
then counted up to ten while they ran and hid.

Visiting the graves of grandparents I never knew.
Placing blush-pink peonies my father grew and cut
for the occasion into mason jars. Saying nothing.
Simply staring at the way our lives come down
to a concrete slab.

Copyright © 2020 by Rhonda Ward. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 4, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Last night I asked my mother to cornrow my hair
A skill I had been practicing since last summer
But always ended with a tumbleweed excuse of a braid

My black has always resided in braids
In tango fingers that work through tangles
Translating geometry from hands to head

For years my hair was cultivated into valleys and hills
That refused to be ironed out with a brush held in my hand
I have depended on my mother to make them plains

I am 18 and still sit between my mother’s knees
I still welcome the cracks of her knuckles in my ears
They whisper to me and tell me the secret of youth

I want to be 30 sitting between my mother’s knees
Her fingers keeping us both young while organizing my hair
I never want to flatten the hills by myself
I want the brush in her hand forever

Copyright © 2020 by Micah Daniels. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 5, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

She said, I wish I prayed, I would pray for you. And,

we all wanted a shape of prayer in our brains, taking over

instead of it chomping on itself. Stupid little elf. God has

never come to me. We surrender in the teeming utterance

of materials soaked with sentences already made in air

and by machines. The country says Freedom, crushed under

its own dream weight. I did not make up this song. Design

Within Reach is having a “Work from home sale.” The coming

apart, the giant laceration across the sky, we all feel it. Look

at the fire, look at it, like all the rage of all the smallest beings.

Copyright © 2020 by Dawn Lundy Martin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 6, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Let me make the songs for the people,
   Songs for the old and young;
Songs to stir like a battle-cry
   Wherever they are sung.

Not for the clashing of sabres,
   For carnage nor for strife;
But songs to thrill the hearts of men
   With more abundant life.

Let me make the songs for the weary,
   Amid life's fever and fret,
Till hearts shall relax their tension,
   And careworn brows forget.

Let me sing for little children,
   Before their footsteps stray,
Sweet anthems of love and duty,
   To float o'er life's highway.

I would sing for the poor and aged,
   When shadows dim their sight;
Of the bright and restful mansions,
   Where there shall be no night.

Our world, so worn and weary,
   Needs music, pure and strong,
To hush the jangle and discords
   Of sorrow, pain, and wrong.

Music to soothe all its sorrow,
   Till war and crime shall cease; 
And the hearts of men grown tender
   Girdle the world with peace.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on August 8, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

MEET KIRSTEN. Wears milkmaid braids to conserve her swedish past. Relinquished herself to assimilation at 8 after saying bye to her bff Singing Bird, whose tribe was forced off their land. “1854 was a wild year for me, guys. Cancel culture is real, but how could I disown my family for the racist things they say? How could I even point out that the things they say are racist? Like, how could I even say ‘Can you consider the words coming out of your mouth & never say them again?’” 

MEET MOLLY. Buys baguettes on mondays and wears a beret literally everywhere. Obsessed with hollywood films and harsh realities. Surprisingly patriotic despite her love of all things british, especially plaid. An expert on taking up space. When the trainer asks if anyone can define discrimination, she pulls out a legal pad “I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve been discriminated against because I’m a woman. I write literally every instance down as proof. Exactly how many hours do we have?”

MEET SAMANTHA. 25-year-old well-meaning rule lover who enjoys progress and satin. Would like to be a painter or possibly the president of the united states of america. Out of the two AMA questions received before the training, both came from her. One for each black person she’s ever talked to in her life. “1) This is more of a comment than anything, but I don’t understand why I can’t be curious about Addy’s hair 2) Remind me again, what’s the difference between equality and equity?”

MEET FELICITY. Wears wide brim hats for horse races and can stitch the shit out of anything. Makes a mean southern sweet tea just like her mommy used to in the old virginia colony. When the diversity trainer asks if anyone can recall a time in their lives when they’ve been racist, she has a hard time pinning down just one time. “Sure I could, but I’d rather focus on rescuing horses from alopecia than spend a few hours at this dumb-ass training. Honestly, who has the time for any of this?”

MEET ADDY. Just look at all these dolls crying, complaining and getting paid for it all. Meanwhile hot girl summer came and left and I’m still stuck here performing history. Imma just slap the next bitch who tries to buy me. The scholars who brought me to life built the best american story but forgot two key facts. 1) I’m tired of being sold  2) less than half the people who buy me actually listen. But if I raised my hand right now & asked “Do I really need to be here?” you think my boss would just let me leave? 

Copyright © 2020 by Kortney Morrow. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 10, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Black Mamas stay on their knees praying. Cursing
the lies folks tell ‘bout how the world don’t need you—

“The world don’t need you” is a lie folks tell themselves
when they step over blood gelled black and slick.

Folks step over black blood gelled and slick to get
on with things—don’t bring bones to the cemetery.

Bones in the cemetery, hear the prophecy:
—together, bone to bone—tendons and flesh—skin—

bone to bone—tendons and flesh—skin—together,
four winds breathe into these slain, that they may live—

—breathe, four winds, into these slain. That they may live—
Calling forth prophecy is no light work, No—

but, for Joshua, the sun stood still—the moon stopped.
Black Mamas stay on your knees praying—praying—

Copyright © 2020 by Antoinette Brim-Bell. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 11, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

The summer I was ten a teenager
named Kim butterflied my hair. Cornrows
curling into braids 
behind each ear.

Everybody’s wearing this style now, Kim said.

Who could try to tell me
I wasn’t beautiful. The magic
in something as once ordinary
as hair that for too long 
had not been good enough
now winged and amazing 
now connected 

to a long line of crowns.

Now connected
to a long line of girls
moving through Brooklyn with our heads
held so high, our necks ached. You must 
know this too – that feeling 

of being so much more than
you once believed yourself to be

so much more than your
too-skinny arms
and too-big feet and
too-long fingers and
too-thick and stubborn hair

All of us now
suddenly seen
the trick mirror that had us believe
we weren’t truly beautiful
suddenly shifts

and there we are

and there we are

and there we are again

and Oh! How could we not have seen
ourselves before? So much more

We are so much more.

Copyright © 2020 by Jacqueline Woodson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 12, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

I find an upscale bistro with a big screen at the bar.
The Williams Sisters will step out on to this Center Court,
for the very first time as a team. I celebrate the event
with my very first Cosmopolitan. I feel like a kid

watching TV in the Before Times: miraculously, Nat King Cole or
Pearl Bailey would appear on the Dinah Shore Show or Ed Sullivan.
Amazed, we’d run to the phone, call up the aunts and cousins.
Quick! Turn on Channel 10!... Three minutes of pride...

Smiling at no one in particular, I settle in to enjoy the match.
What is the commentator saying? He thinks it’s important
to describe their opponents to us: one is “dark,”
the other “blonde.” He just can’t bring himself to say:

Venus & Serena. Look at these two Classy Sisters:
Serious. Strategic. Black. Pounding History.

Copyright © 2020 by Kate Rushin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 13, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

My brother was a dark-skinned boy
with a sweet tooth, a smart mouth,
and a wicked thirst. At seventeen,
when I left him for America, his voice
was staticked with approaching adulthood,
he ate everything in the house, grew
what felt like an inch a day, and wore
his favorite shirt until mom disappeared it.
Tonight I’m grateful he slaked his thirst
in another country, far from this place
where a black boy’s being calls like crosshairs
to conscienceless men with guns and conviction.

I remember my brother’s ashy knees
and legs, how many errands he ran on them
up and down roads belonging to no one
and every one. And I’m grateful
he was a boy in a country of black boys,
in the time of walks to the store
on Aunty Marge’s corner to buy contraband
sweeties and sweetdrinks with change
snuck from mom’s handbag or dad’s wallet—
how that was a black boy’s biggest transgression,
and so far from fatal it feels an un-American dream.

Tonight, I think of my brother
as a black boy’s lifeless body spins me
into something like prayer—a keening
for the boy who went down the road, then
went down fighting, then went down dead.
My brother was a boy in the time of fistfights
he couldn’t win and that couldn’t stop
him slinging his weapon tongue anyway,
was a boy who went down fighting,
and got back up wearing his black eye
like a trophy. My brother who got up,
who grew up, who got to keep growing.

Tonight I am mourning the black boys
who are not my brother and who are
my brothers. I am mourning the boys
who walk the wrong roads, which is any road
in America. Tonight I am mourning
the death warrant hate has made of their skin—
black and bursting with such ordinary
hungers and thirsts, such abundant frailty,
such constellations of possibility, our boys
who might become men if this world spared them,
if it could see them whole—boys, men, brothers—human.

Copyright © 2020 by Lauren K. Alleyne. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 14, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

“...The straitjackets of race prejudice and discrimination do not wear only southern labels. The subtle, psychological technique of the North has approached in its ugliness and victimization of the Negro the outright terror and open brutality of the South.”
            ― Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Why We Can't Wait (Beacon Press, 2011)

                      this       here       the      cradle      of      this      here
                      nation—everywhere  you   look,  roots   run   right
                      back  south.  every  vein filled with red dirt, blood,
                      cotton.   we   the   dirty  word  you  spit  out   your
                      mouth.  mason  dixon  is  an  imagined  line—you
                      can  theorize  it, or wish it real, but  it’s  the  same
                      old  ghost—see-through,   benign.   all   y’all  from
                      alabama;  we  the wheel  turning  cotton  to make
                      the nation move. we the scapegoat in a land built
                      from death. no longitude or latitude disproves
                      the truth of founding fathers’ sacred oath:
                                 we hold these truths like dark snuff in our jaw,
                                 Black oppression’s not happenstance; it’s law.

Copyright © 2020 by Ashley M. Jones. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 17, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

after June Jordan

Nightly my enemies feast on my comrades
like maggots on money. Money being my enemy

as plastic is my enemy. My enemy everywhere
and in my home as wifi is

a money for me to reach my comrades
and kills my house plants. My enemy

is distance growing dark, distance growing
politely in my pocket as connection.

I must become something my enemies can’t eat, don’t have
a word for yet, my enemies being literate as a drone is

well-read and precise and quiet, as when I buy something
such as a new computer with which to sing against my enemies,
there is my enemy, silent and personal.

Copyright © 2020 by Taylor Johnson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 18, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Lord—
Your good daughter I have been
my whole life.

I’ve kept your house
clean as sucked bone,

starved myself of everything
your other children have told me is sin.

I’ve sharpened my teeth on the slate
of your Word for your work’s sake.

Bridled the glint of my tongue
so men will feel strong

and not be seen trembling
under the soft of it.

I’ve behaved

and for what
do I hunger, myself growing slight
on tomorrow’s meat:

words, words, your words
as valued here as Black credit
at an all-American bank.

They say, Lord, piety is speaking to you,
but madness is hearing you

speak back. And under this,
like all good jokes lies
the truth: no one

in this equation seems to be listening
anyway. To you, to our own damned selves.
Tell me

how many Black girls
does it take to change a mind,
or a home           or a block
or a scale            or a heart
or a course          or a country?

You, Lord, as you have
with your other minor prophets,
have dragged—or is it called us

up the mountain, where in the thin air
there are those who got here
long before I ever dreamed of it,

still waiting on you
to finally cash this check.

Copyright © 2020 by Natasha Oladokun. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 20, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Maggot & Mosquito mother infectious
encounters. Call home to the fen. Flooding
makes a marsh and unhouses the land.
I picture skin, inch by inch conversion
to new flesh. Without medicine i’ve seen the body
be made a speedy disposal. Dejected ground.
Profitable & prosper both contain pro.
Prospero Prospero Prospero.
I too have made incantation
of the man’s name
who gave me a borrowed tongue.
He planted a flag & dispensed
what made up his brain. Start
small & end larger. Expansion
is a uniform my lineage can’t shirk.
The water is enclosing, body
thinning in a baptism of English.
I could say that colonialism was a disease,
but that would suggest a cure.

Copyright © 2020 by Nabila Lovelace. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 21, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

“I’m gonna put on an iron shirt and chase the devil out of earth.”
            — Lee “Scratch” Perry and Max Romeo

Side A.

The devil I see is the one I saw and nail out of fears   out of cycles of wound   dread calcifying into prophecy    I put on an iron shirt to face it chase it but the cop still piss drunk with power I put on an iron shirt but the men on the street surveil the nipple   been hounding my punani since             before I spilled my first blood   what a menace of a body   I hurl blame to the husk   is the devil real or is it of my fantastical making  the answer is not the matter   the fact of paranoia be the true violence   warfare: the very presence of the question        I want to peer inward   to take a good look at the soundsystem     my heartbeat echoing out of my folkloric thirst   my desperate belief in other realities   a B-side where I’m abolished from emotional labor aka black woman’s burden  free to surrender to my own madness  to sink down into the dub of it   stripped of my first voice   reverbing outside the pain of a body—



Side B.

            stripped of my first voice    

 

                                               down in the dub            cop hounds my blood    

into paranoia           a black reality            

 

                                                                      cycles spilled    

 

                 power husked   
                                                                                         emotional woman I   I

I iron                            real street               folkloric and mad  
                                                                                       tr tr trrrruuuueeee  

 

take a good look at the devil

                                                     peer into the dread   

men surrender to wound: drunk        calcified                                          but I   

                        fantastic                 
                                                          chasing echoes       

 

 nailed to system                                            free in sound

 

                                        I       a fact      

 


                                                             answer of my own making


 

*To read this poem in its intended format, please view from a desktop. 

Copyright © 2020 by Desiree C. Bailey. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 25, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

             1.
Pained as he was when he gazed 
upon his father’s face, he held his gaze.

             2.
Toward what he’d never known, he walked,
somehow both arrogant & begging.

The purple of his father’s robes, like a bruise. 

             3.
As a river, over time, can forge
a way through stone, so
absence bore through him,
leaving a valley where his voice
echoes off the canyon walls. 

             4.
His mind had narrowed until all it held
was an idea of father, until so fixed on the idea
his mind seemed under siege. Inside him hummed
a longing, one he felt compelled to fix, so named it ​flaw.

             5.
What the boy wanted:
to finally know his father’s face.
Evidence, at last, of his origin. 

             6.
Felt within, a longing.
Felt and therefore knew
a weakness he wanted to master. 

             7.
A desire to know, and a belief
he deserved to,

these were the human parts of him.

             8. 
Fiery, Dawnsteed, Scorcher, Blaze–

the horses the father owned,

the horses the father, knowing he would fail, let his son steer–

             9.
is this devotion?

             10.
To master, control, rein in;
hoping this might prove him 
a man, perhaps, a god.

             11.
There are gaps knowing cannot fill.

             12.
What boy has not dreamt himself a noble son,
has not prematurely thought himself a man?

             13.
                           He lost control of the reins
& the horses did what one expects
from animals whose lives had always been 
tightly squeezed between two fists:

             14.
breaking from the path they’d always known,

             15.
they galloped nearer to that world from which they’d been kept, 

             16.
not out of malice but a kind of mercy

             17.
for the world the father feared the horses would destroy.

             18.
Finding himself at the mercy of what he’d sought–

             19.
gone too far to turn back, gone far beyond his father now
with further still to go, ignorant of the names
of the horses behind whom he was now dragged like the tail
of a comet hurtling toward earth, as in all directions
he sees the destruction he’d caused:

the flames licking trees at their roots, licking
dry the ocean’s mouth, licking the faces
of each living thing until they’d turned to ash,

until the world without grew hotter than the world within,
until a dizzying heat rose from the soil, until in his feet

             20.
the boy could feel the world ablaze–

             21.
free me from these reins
he cried perhaps to god, 
perhaps to father, 

             22.
the difference indecipherable, more or less insignificant

             23.
for even though he’d met him, the boy still knew himself

             24.
fatherless, godless, no less abandoned than he’d been.

             25.
The world to which, for better or worse, he once belonged, now gone, 

             26.
he belonged nowhere… 

             27.
To save what could be saved, to salvage what had not been lost,
to punish his failure to master what no other ever had: the boy

             28.
was struck dead & buried

             29.
beside a river, which began again to flow toward the distant mouth 

             30.
out of which, it would finally empty.

Copyright © 2020 by Jeremy Michael Clark. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 26, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

the return of poem to be read from right to left

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*This poem is best viewed on desktop.


“Sun Ra’s consistent statement, musically and spoken, is that this is a primitive world. Its practices, beliefs, religions, are uneducated, unenlightened, savage, destructive, already in the past. . . .That’s why Sun Ra returned only to say he left. Into the Future. Into Space.” —Amiri Baraka

Instead of an Arabic footnote, here is a list of artists who inspire, and were with me in the making of this poem...and so much more (in some kind of order of appearance): Kameelah Janan Rasheed, Elmaz Abinader, Suheir Hammad, Toni Morrison, Tavonne S. Carson, Ava Duvernay, Solmaz Sharif, Monica Sok, Justin Phillip Reed, Xandria Phillips, Charleen McClure, Nabila Lovelace, Ashley M. Jones, Danez Smith, René Magritte, Jay Deshpande, José Olivarez, Jonah Mixon-Webster, The Desert Crew, Fred Moten, John Rufo, S*ean D. Henry-Smith, Andrea Abi-Karam, Belal Mobarak, Jess Rizkallah, Hayan Charara, Randa Jarrar, Zaina Alsous, Roberto Montes, James Baldwin, Mo Browne, Audre Lorde, Adrian Piper, Evie Shockley, Airea D. Matthews, Tyehimba Jess, Harryette Mullen, Safia Elhillo, Ricardo Maldonado, Mejdulene B. Shomali, Philip Metres, and Raymond Antrobus. Shokran.

“The word Black, has geographic power, pulls everybody in:” —Gwendolyn Brooks, Primer for Blacks

 

Copyright © 2020 by Marwa Helal. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 27, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

I want to believe Don West
when he writes: none of mine

ever made their living by driving slaves.
But in my grandfather’s mouth that utterance

would’ve taken on another meaning:
In the memory my mother shares,

he is flitting across Louisville
in his taxi, passing back-and-forth

like a cardinal, red-faced, proud-breasted,
delivering Black folks their dry cleaning—

had to, she tells me, as part of his route—
but once he started his second shift and turned

on the cab light, he wouldn’t accept
Black fare. I recall him reciting

the early presidents’
racist pseudoscience—American

at its liver—to rationalize his hatred
of my father, his denial

of my Blackness. That denial a peril
I survived, a cliff he could have driven me over

at any moment of my childhood. Maybe,
I want to think, because they were poor men

who labored, farmed tobacco and dug for oil,
my grandfather’s people resisted

slavery, felt a kinship with my father’s people.
Or that because my grandfather

was one of eleven mouths to feed
on their homestead—reduced to dirt

across the Great Depression—
he had a white identity to be proud of, a legacy

that didn’t join our names
in a bill of sale, but in struggle.

I search his surname and it travels
back to Germany, appears

on the deed to the house he inherited,
retired and died in, poor-white resentment

inflaming his stomach and liver.
But when I search the name I share with my father,

my only inheritance                      disappears
into the 19th century, sixth generation:

my ancestor bred
to produce 248 offspring

for his owner, from whence comes
our family name. Mr. West, here

we are different. Here, is where
my grandfather found his love for me discordant

as the voice of the dead whispering
history. Here is where we are connected,

not by class, but blood & slavery.

Copyright © 2020 by Joy Priest. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 28, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Again my fancy takes its flight,
And soars away on thoughtful wing,
Again my soul thrills with delight,
And this the fancied theme, I sing,
From Earthly scenes awhile, I find release,
And dwell upon the restful Plains of Peace.

The Plains of Peace are passing fair,
Where naught disturbs and naught can harm,
I find no sorrow, woe or care,
These all are lost in perfect calm,
Bright are the joys, and pleasures never cease,
For those who dwell on the Plains of Peace.

No scorching sun or blighting storm,
No burning sand or desert drear,
No fell disease or wasting form,
To mar the glowing beauty here.
Decay and ruin ever must decrease,
Here on the fertile, healthful Plains of Peace.

What rare companionship I find,
What hours of social joy I spend,
What restfulness pervades my mind,
Communing with congenial friend.
True happiness seems ever to increase,
While dwelling here upon the Plains of Peace.

Ambitions too, are realized,
And that which I have sought on earth,
I find at last idealized,
My longings ripen into worth,
My fondest hopes no longer fear decease,
But bloom forth brightly on the Plains of Peace.

'Tis by my fancy, yet 'tis true,
That somewhere having done with Earth,
We shall another course pursue,
According to our aim or worth,
Our souls from mortal things must find release,
And dwell immortal on the Plains of Peace.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on August 30, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

I am liberated and focused today
on what it means to govern myself.

I am not watching the news
or wearing a bra.

I will not question America
or ask where it was last night.

I went to bed with a cold fact
With no cuddling, after.

Today, God I want nothing
not even the love I have been praying for.

On the train, I won’t offer
anyone my seat.

No one ever moves for me
Some days, not even the wind.

Today, I will be like the flag
that never waves.

At work, I will be black
and I will act like it.

They will mispronounce my name
And this time I won’t answer.

I will sit at my desk with my legs open
and my mind crossed.

Copyright © 2020 by Starr Davis. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 31, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Call me lagahoo, soucouyant. Call me other.
I came ravenous: mongoose consuming
fresh landscapes until I made myself

new species of the Indies.
Christen me how you wish, my muzzle
matted with blood of fresh invertebrates.

I disappear your problems
without thought to consequence.
Call me Obeah. Watch me cut

through cane, chase
sugar-hungry rats. Giggling
at mating season, I grow fat

multiples, litters thick as tropic air.
Don’t you find me beautiful? My soft animal
features, this body streamlined ruthless,

claws that won’t retract. You desire them.
You never ask me what I want. I take
your chickens, your iguana,

you watch me and wonder
when you will be outnumbered.
My offspring stalking your village,

ecosystems uprooted, roosts
swallowed whole.
I am not native. Not domesticated.

I am naturalized, resistant
to snake venoms, your colony’s toxins—
everything you brought me to,

this land. I chew and spit back
reptile and bird bone
prophecy strewn across stones.

Copyright © 2020 by Daria-Ann Martineau. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 2, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

notice now pictures of awful things on top our head
the freight that barricades this view, how enough
how the law batter down the dogged tide we make
the world shoring its dark scars between seasons
as though to hold it together only by a flame
is here a voice to please enough the blunt
borderlessness of this grief turning our heads to rubble
the lunacy of nothing so limning as death in the streets
in these vibrating hours where the corners talk back
need I simply run my tongue along the granite sky and live

to know how lost the millionth life somewhere today
the swift shape of roads new names combust, the sum
of anthems flooding the world with the eye’s sudden and narrow
saltwater and streets ziplined with screams at the pitch of cooking pots
then tear gas, then pepper spray, then militarized lies unzipping
body bags, oh, our many many there, our alive and just born,
and that is how to say let’s fuck it up, we the beat and we the loud
tuning forks and the help arriving empty-handed
propping the hot news of new times on our head

days like these pleat whatever the hollow year must offer
between the not-yet-dead and those just waking up
it will not be the vanished thing that we remember
it will be what we exchanged close to midnight
like smugglers high-wiring the city, hoarding the thoughts
of ours we interrupted midway to discovering the velocity
of the burning world below
of our language in the lateness of our stuck and reckless love

where the forces who claim they love us
level our lives to crust—the centuries-wide dance
of swapped shackles for knees
their batons and miscellany
thrown at our whole lives demanding our mothers
raise from their separate rooms, separate graves, today
to save who and me? I open the book to a naked page
where nothing clatter my heart, what head
what teeth cling to broadside, roll alias after
alias with a pen at their dull tribunes and shrines
imagine our heirlooms of shot nerves make a life
given to placards and synergies and elegies, but more

last things: where letters here where snow in May
where the millennium unstitches the quartered earth
in June, how many today to the viral fire
the frosted rich and their forts, but not
the fulsome rage of my people unpeaced
mute boots with somber looks appear
a fearsome autumn ending spring, though we still hear

I dare not sing

another song to dig a hole this time for the lineages
of magnolias where the offspring bring a hand to cover
our mouth, our heaping lives, who sit who burn who drop
three feet to the tar, who eat and demolish the thing
that takes our head, the thing that is no more
the place that never was except a burning learned

just once and not again when the darker working’s race

Copyright © 2020 by Canisia Lubrin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 3, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

They call. They message.

Then the occasional tag on social media.
I am wanting to check in on you… We
are thinking of you… I am so so sorry…

Then                  there                  I go
again                  pounding my head
sifting through thick
                            air
scattering names on a dusty floor

It is morning. It is the afternoon, maybe
the middle of some God-awful hour. I was

calm. I was hunkered low, shades drawn
maybe sipping a tea

                                                    No one
should see me    pacing kitchen

to porch

                                                 to bedroom

grabbing at lint or         shaking my wrist
                    in the mirror

                                                     Don’t call
don’t remind me there are soldiers

tramping on my lawn with gas
                                        and pepper spray.
I’ve just laid the sheets tight in my bed.
I’ve just trimmed the plants.
                                              And you are so white
and fragile with your checking. You are so late
so late so late.

Copyright © 2020 by Nandi Comer. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 4, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

what it sounds like is a bird breaking small bones against glass. the least of them, a sparrow, of course. you’re about to serve dinner and this is the scene. blame the bird, the impertinent windows, try not to think of the inconvenience of blood splattering violet in the dusk. how can you eat after this? do not think of whom to blame when the least of us hurdles into the next moment. a pane opening into another. the least of us spoiling your meal.

~

the smell of it will be smoke and rank. you will mutter about this for days, the injustice of splatter on your window. foolish bird. civilization. house with the view. fucking bird feeder. it will take you a week, while the flesh starts to rot under thinning feathers, while the blood has congealed and stuck, for you to realize that no one is coming to take the body. it is your dead bird. it is your glass. you have options you think. hire out. move out. leave it for the bigger blacker birds.

~

you will taste rotting just above the top of your tongue. so much, that you check yourself to make sure that it is not you. the bird deserves something. you go to the closet, pick out a shoe box. discount? designer? you start to think of how it has come to this: pondering your mortality through a bird. a dead bird. never-mind. you don’t find it a problem not running into windows.

~

it is an eyesore and we start to gather as large billows in your yard. you marvel at us, beautiful, collecting and loosening our dark bodies from white sky to your grass. and then it comes. more bones and blood. one by one crashing into the closed pane. mindless birds. brown and gray feathers. filthy pests. another. fucking feeder. we look like billions lifting into flight and then—shatter.

~

you might find a delicate humility in the art of cleaning glass. while you work, you sustain tiny slivers of opened flesh. tips of your fingers sing. shards, carnage, it has become too much. you are careful to pick up all that you can see. you call a repairman. you are careful to pick up all that you can see. you throw everything into big shiny trash bags. you are careful to pick up all that you can see. you consider french doors. you are careful to pick up all that you can see and find more with each barefoot trip through your bloodbath house.

Copyright © 2020 by Bettina Judd. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 7, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

To call oneself African (here) means, simply, the rejection of a view of self as mired in double consciousness. It is to imagine (or know—or avow, finally) one’s consciousness as that of the African’s untainted by the European encounter.
                                                             *  *  *

Think back, say 180 years: The slip, slippage…of thinking as someone free (thinking one’s self free to think, to be) and the cruel knock of the master or mistress insisting that you are object, abject…that what has slipped from your unguarded thoughts is aberration and must be nullified swiftly, permanently

                    You have been made to know at all costs—short of a kind of useless dysfunction—that yours is not to think, muse, contemplate. Your mind must be tabula rasa…your will nonexistent—except what is given you by others to be or do. The sharp eye or blunt iron or cutting whip has told you so.
                               
                          And you must take pains to never forget it.

                                                              *  *  *

Anyone who comes back to this human realm could be considered to have been stuck between a rock and a hard place. A liminal space, it offers possibility yet is fraught with tension. It is a “chafed” position, a chastened position, perhaps—as it does not provide stability or spiritual haven, but is, rather, a way station.
                                                              *  *  *  

It matters most to not just recognize the features of place or to come to know the feel of a place, but rather to have a particular sense of being in a place. 
(To sense one’s feeling of being in place.)

                                                              *  *  *  

                                  Anger has shaped its own place in you.
                                                              *  *  * 

Those who come to this human realm are struck between a rock and a hard place. Its liminal space offers possibility that is fraught with possibility. And you, with great pain, can never forget what others have so carefully forgotten.
                                                              *  *  *

          Think back: Tongue loosened from a bitter muteness…but the body moving among terrors…alight with everything you’ve guarded, even unremembered dreams…
          
       Thronging headlong bodies, buffering or buffeting or….

                    
                The cities and machines set against you, desperate to render you ragged and amorphous as clouds in rain.

                                                              *  *  * 

                    It matters most to not just recognize the features of place or to come to know the feel of a place, but rather to sense one’s being in that place. (To have a particular sense of being in that place.) 
                                                              *  *  * 

                                Where has anger not made a place for you?

Copyright © 2020 by Sharan Strange. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 10, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

translated from Vietnamese by the author

The dead don't let us go, I say to my friend Sirius, putting my father's letters in a drawer. It is the plight of Mezentius that I endure, attached to a dead man, hand in hand, mouth in mouth, in a sad embrace. The letters stopped arriving from the country of my childhood. The man who wrote them died a solitary death and was buried at the edge of a stream. But he is there, his skin touches my skin, my breath gives life to his lips. He is there, I say to Sirius, when I speak to you, when I eat, when I sleep, when I take a walk. It seems to me that I am dead, whereas my father, the dead man who refuses to leave me in peace, overflows with life. He possesses me, sucks my blood, gnaws my bones, feeds on my thoughts. 1

 

“Die fresh. Die withered.
Die sore. Die throbbing.
Die hard.  Die standing up.
Die lying down. Die
nightwise. Die more. Die
horrified. Die gradual. Die
corroding. Die squashed.
Die choking. Die fainting.
Die everything. Die all.
Die falling. Die swooning.
Die tense. Die loose. Die
now. Die spinning. Die
quashed. Die quelled. Die
rotting. Die crushed. Die
everyone. Die clean. Die
raw. Die bruised. Die
sitting. Die morningwise.
Die afternoonwise. Die
departing. Die undoing.”2
 

In the last letter, the dying man taught me a lesson of 36 deadly tricks. He called them the 36 documentations of secret agencies, 36 spells of horror, 36 faces of vanity, 36 tactics of being deadly, 36 stratagems of dying. All night long, I chant his weird song over and over like a crazy heart. Dripping drops of time, the tune flies far from the propaganda of a human life. When Sirius asks why I keep murmuring the lines, I say, It helps me learn my fathertongue, glide into my childhood siesta, melt into my red hot girdle of earth. The letters of the dead burn me, urge me to speak to them, speak them, have them speak me, even in my sleep. Every dream is a chamber where the language drills, like vital winds, hum me anew, blowing me closer to the waters where my father lies. Every night he still sleeptalks his fatal rhythm through my broken tongue.

1 Linda Lê, Thư Chết, trans. Bùi Thu Thuỷ (Hà Nội: NXB Văn Học, Nhã Nam, 2013), 7.
2 Trần Dần, Những Ngã Tư và Những Cột Đèn (Hà Nội: NXB Hội Nhà Văn, Nhã Nam, 2017), 259.

 

Chant Chữ Chết

Người chết không buông tha chúng ta, tôi vừa nói với anh bạn Sirius vừa xếp những lá thư của cha tôi vào ngăn kéo. Đó là nhục hình Mézence mà tôi phải chịu, tức là bị buộc vào một người chết, tay áp tay, miệng kề miệng, trong một nụ hôn buồn. Những lá thư đã ngừng đến từ đất nước của tuổi thơ tôi. Người viết thư đã chết, một cái chết cô đơn, và được chôn bên bờ nước. Nhưng người vẫn đây, da người chạm da tôi, hơi thở tôi thổi sống làn môi ấy. Tôi bảo Sirius, Người ở đây này, khi tôi đang nói chuyện với anh, khi tôi ăn, khi tôi ngủ, khi tôi dạo chơi. Dường như tôi mới chính là người chết, còn cha tôi, người chết không để tôi yên ấy, lại đang ngập tràn sự sống. Người ám tôi, hút máu tôi, gặm xương tôi, ngốn suy nghĩ tôi. 1

“Chết tươi. Chết
héo. Chết đau.
Chết điếng. Chết
cứng. Chêt đứng.
Chết nằm. Chết
đêm. Chết thêm.
Chết khiếp. Chết
dần. Chết mòn.
Chết toi. Chết
ngóp. Chết ngất.
Chết tất. Chết cả.
Chết lử. Chết lả.
Chết đứ. Chết đừ.
Chết ngay. Chết
quay. Chết ngỏm.
Chết ngoẻo. Chết
thối. Chết nát.
Chết hết. Chết
sạch. Chết tái.
Chết tím. Chết
ngồi. Chết sáng.
Chết chiều. Chết
bỏ. Chết dở.”2

 

Trong thư cuối, người dạy tôi tổng cộng 36 kế chết người. Người dặn đây là 36 tài liệu công tác nguỵ quân nguỵ quyền, 36 phép rùng rợn, 36 vẻ phù hoa, 36 món chết người, 36 món chết. Suốt đêm, tôi niệm bài ca quỷ ám của người, tụng đi tụng lại như một trái tim điên. Chảy ròng những giọt đồng hồ, giai điệu người bay xa kiếp giáo lý. Khi Sirius hỏi sao tôi cứ lẩm nhẩm lời người, tôi đáp, Để tôi học tiếng cha tôi, dạt vào giấc trưa tuổi thơ tôi, tan vào đất đỏ nhiệt đới tôi. Chữ người chết nung tôi, thúc tôi nói với họ, nói họ, rồi họ nói tôi, cả khi tôi ngủ. Mỗi giấc mơ là một căn phòng nơi những bài luyện chữ, như gió thổi, ngân tôi, tái thiết tôi, mang tôi cận kề con nước nơi cha tôi nằm. Hằng đêm người vẫn nói mớ một thứ phách nhịp chết người thấm xuyên lưỡi vỡ tôi.

1 Linda Lê, Thư Chết, Bùi Thu Thuỷ dịch (Hà Nội: NXB Văn Học, Nhã Nam, 2013), 7.
2 Trần Dần, Những Ngã Tư và Những Cột Đèn (Hà Nội: NXB Hội Nhà Văn, Nhã Nam, 2017), 259.

© 2020 Quyên Nguyễn-Hoàng. Published in Poem-a-Day in partnership with Words Without Borders (wordswithoutborders.org) on September 12, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

translated from the Spanish by Charles B. McMichael

Prairie land, Happy days. In Royal Buenos Ayres
Now far, far behind are left the fire, and terrific heat.
Today in thy verdant exultation all my day dreams will come to life
And I shall inhale thy fragrant breath and bathe me in thy sun.

A very good morning to thee, my orchard, and now I salute thy freshness
As it bursts forth from thy branches, while thy peach trees are in bloom;
Framed about with rose bushes thy Florida Street
Looks on while Glory, the Mart and Sport pass along.

A little bird, a poet, meditates verses in his craw;
Gossipy and petulant, a sparrow goes chattering;
The climbing plants are arguing about political affairs;
The roses and the lilies talk of art and also of love.

Driving his chariot team of fairy dragon flies,
The mischief making Puck of rich dreams passes
And here is the splendid sportswoman in her celestial car,
The Imperial Titania followed by Oberon,

At night when the half ring of gold shows itself
Beneath the tranquil blue of Heaven, the loved one of Pierrot,
(It is a pallid feast which reigns now in the orchard)
Plays upon her lyre the air, forsooth, do-re-mi-fa-sol.

The curious violets into her balcony are peeping
And one of them sighs, “Tis a pity that the nightingale is not here!”
The sylphs accompany the dances of the breezes
In a vague hazy Walpurgis of perfume and fantasy.

Soon is heard the echo of the loud cry of the pampas.
It burns like the setting of the Argentine sun
And a spectral horseman like a shadow crosses,
Over his shoulder is a poncho, upon his face is grief.

Who are you solitary traveler of the night?
“I am Poetry” who once upon a time reigned here
I am the last gaucho herdsman. I am going away forever
From our ancient country and carrying away its heart.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on September 13, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

breathe for George Floyd we
 

breathe for compassion we

do not know what that is we
 

another black man holy we

gone now George Floyd we

Ahmaud running street endless we

America scream & love we
 

do not know what love is we

breathe George Floyd flames we
 

next to you on a sp halt cho  ke we

knee Am Am
 

e      ri                   c        a w e

Copyright © 2020 by Juan Felipe Herrera. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 14, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

after Idra Novey

On a dirt road

On a drive to el campo

You found a batey

I cut the cane 

We sucked on a stalk

You gave me your arms 

I swam in the river

We locked the door 

Then the lights went out 

And the radio played 

You fingered the pesos 

I walked to the beach

We fried the fish 

You ate the mango  

I jumped in the water

We bought the flowers

Then the migrants came

And you bartered for more 

Then the sirens blared

And they were carried away

But we didn’t stop them 

Then the ocean swept

And the palm trees sagged

They were foreigners

We were foreigners  

And we lived there

Copyright © 2020 by Jasminne Mendez. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 15, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

for Paul Otremba

Six in all, to be exact. I know it was a Tuesday 
     or Wednesday because the museum closes early
on those days. I almost wrote something 

     about the light being late—; the “late light”
is what I almost said, and you know how we 
     poets go on and on about the light and 

the wind and the dark, but that day the dark was still 
     far away swimming in the Pacific, and we had 
45 minutes to find Goya’s “Still Life with Bream” 

     before the doors closed. I’ve now forgotten 
three times the word Golden in the title of that painting
     —and I wish I could ask what you think 

that means. I see that color most often 
     these days when the cold, wet light of morning 
soaks my son’s curls and his already light 

     brown hair takes on the flash of fish fins
in moonlight. I read somewhere 
     that Goya never titled this painting, 

or the other eleven still lifes, so it’s just 
     as well because I like the Spanish title better.  
“Doradas” is simple, doesn’t point 

     out the obvious. Lately, I’ve been saying 
dorado so often in the song I sing 
     to my son, “O sol, sol, dorado sol 

no te escondes...” I felt lost 
     that day in the museum, but you knew 
where we were going having been there 

     so many times. The canvas was so small 
at 17 x 24 inches. I stood before it 
     lost in its beach of green sand and 

that silver surf cut with pink. 
     I stared while you circled the room 
like a curious cat. I took a step back, 

     and then with your hands in your pockets 
you said, No matter where we stand, 
     there’s always one fish staring at us.

As a new father, I am now that pyramid 
     of fish; my body is all eyes and eyes. 
Some of them watch for you in the west 

where the lion sun yawns and shakes off 
     its sleep before it purrs, and hungry, 
dives deep in the deep of the deep.

Copyright © 2020 by Tomás Q. Morín. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 18, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Gettysburg National Military Park

Motorcycles and white tour vans speed 
between behemoth granite shafts, shove
my body by their force, leave me roadside
and wandering fields. Little is funny
when you’re Chicana and walking 
a Civil War site not meant for walking.
Regardless, I ask park rangers and guides 
for stories on Mexicans soldiers,

receive shrugs. No evidence in statues 
or statistics. In the cemetery, not one 
Spanish name. I’m alone in the wine shop. 
It’s the same in the post office, the market, 
the antique shop with KKK books on display.
In the peach orchard, I prepare a séance,
sit cross-legged in grass, and hold
a smoky quartz to the setting sun.  

I invite the unseen to speak. So many dead, 
it’s said Confederates were left to rot. 
In war, not all bodies are returned home 
nor graves marked. I Google “Mexicans 
in the Civil War” and uncover layers 
to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo 
and Cinco de Mayo. This is how I meet 
ancestors for the first time, heroes 

this country decorates in clownish sombreros 
and fake mustaches, dishonors for fighting 
European empire on shared American land 
Power & Money dictate can’t be shared. 
Years before this, carrying water gallons 
up an Arizona mountain ridge to replenish 
supplies in a pass known as “Dead Man’s,” 
I wrote messages on bottles to the living, 

scanned Sonoran canyons for the lost,
and knew too many would not be found. 
A black Sharpie Virgen drawn on hot plastic 
became a prayer: may the next officer halt 
before cracking her face beneath his boot,
spilling life on to dirt. No, nothing’s funny
when you’re brown in a country you’re taught 
isn’t yours, your dead don’t count.

Copyright © 2020 by Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 21, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

The soft harp of snowfall plucking through
my pine trees lulls me to peace, yet I still
hear the bongo of thunderstorms rapping
the rooftop of my queer childhood, dancing
to the clouds’ rage, raining away my sorrows.
Though snow melts silently into the gurgles
of my creek, my grandmother’s voice remains
frozen in my ears, still calling me a sissy, yet
praising me as her best friend. Even though
I marvel over spring’s abracadabra each time
my lilac blooms appear, I still disappear back
into the magic of summer nights on the porch,
the moon lighting up my grandfather’s stories
about his lost Cuba, his words carried away
with the smoke of his tabaco and the scent
of his jasmine tree flowering the night with
its tiny, perfumed stars. Despite the daystars
peeking behind the lavender clouds swaddling
mountain peaks in my window at sunset, I still
rise to the sun of my youth over the sea, after
a night’s sleep on a bed of sand, dreaming or
dreading who I would, or wouldn’t become.
Though I grew courageous enough to marry
a man who can only love me in his English:
darling, sweetheart, honey, I love him back
more in my Spanish whispered in his ears as
he sleeps: amorcito, tesoro, ceilo. After all
the meatloafs and apple pies we’ve baked
in our kitchen, I still sit down to the memory
of my mother’s table, savoring the loss of her
onion-smothered vaca frita and creamy flan.
No matter how tastefully my throw pillows
perfectly match my chic rugs and the stylish
art on my walls, it all falls apart sometimes,
just as I do, until I remember to be the boy
I was, always should be, playing alone with
his Legos in the family room, still enchanted
by the joy of his sheer self and his creations:
perfect or not, beautiful or not, immortal or
as mortal as the plentiful life I’ve made here,
although I keep living with my father dying
in our old house, his head cradled in my hand
for a sip of tea and a kiss on his forehead—
our last goodbye in the home that still lives
within this home where I live on to die, too.

Copyright © 2020 by Richard Blanco. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 22, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Mayagüez, Puerto Rico 1856

I. The First Horse
Cholera swarmed unseen through the water, lurking in wells and fountains,
squirming in garbage and excrement, infinitesimal worms drilling the intestines,
till all the water and salt would pour from the body, till the body became a worm,
shriveling and writhing, a slug in salt, till the skin burned blue as flame, the skin
of the peasant and the skin of the slave gone blue, the skin in the slave barracks blue,
the skin of ten thousand slaves blue. The Blue Death, face hidden in a bandanna,
dug graves with the gravediggers, who fell into holes they shoveled for the dead.
The doctors died too, seeing the signs in the mirror, the hand with the razor shaking.

II. The Second Horse
Doctor Betances stepped off the boat, back from Paris, the humidity of the plague
glistening in his beard. He saw the stepmother who fed him sink into a mound
of dirt, her body empty as the husk of a locust in drought.He toweled off his hands.
In the quarantine tents there was laudanum by the bitter spoonful, the lemonade
and broth; in the dim of the kerosene lamps there was the compress cool against
the forehead, the elixir of the bark from the cinchona tree. For peasants and slaves
moaning to their gods, the doctor prescribed chilled champagne to soothe the belly.
For the commander of the Spanish garrison, there was silence bitter as the spoon.

III. The Third Horse
At every hacienda, at every plantation, as the bodies of slaves rolled one by one
into ditches all hipbones and ribs, drained of water and salt, stripped of names,
Doctor Betances commanded the torch for the barracks where the bodies would
tangle together, stacked up as if they never left the ship that sailed from Africa,
kept awake by the ravenous worms of the plague feasting upon them. Watching
the blue flames blacken the wood, the doctor and the slaves saw another plague
burning away, the plague of manacles scraping the skin from hands that cut
the cane, the plague of the collar with four spikes for the runaways brought back.

IV. The Fourth Horse
The pestilence of the masters, stirred by spoons into the coffee of the world,
spread first at the marketplace, at auction, the coins passing from hand to hand.
So Doctor Betances began, at church, with twenty-five pesos in pieces of eight,
pirate coins dropped into the hands of slaves to drop into the hands of masters,
buying their own infants at the baptismal font. The secret society of abolitionists
shoved rowboats full of runaways off the docks in the bluest hour of the blue night,
off to islands without masters. Even the doctor would strangle in the executioner’s
garrote, spittle in his beard, if the soldiers on watch woke up from the opiate of empire.

V. The Fifth Horse
The governor circled his name in the name of empire, so Doctor Betances
sailed away to exile, the island drowning in his sight, but a vision stung
his eyes like salt in the wind: in the world after the plague, no more
plague of manacles; after the pestilence, no more pestilence of masters;
after the cemeteries of cholera, no more collar of spikes or executioners.
In his eye burned the blue of the rebel flag and the rising of his island.
The legend calls him the doctor who exhausted five horses, sleepless
as he chased invisible armies into the night. Listen for the horses.

 

*To read this poem in its intended format, please click here from your laptop or desktop.

Copyright © 2020 by Martín Espada. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 23, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

but love does not, Menelle Sebastien.
Of all the afflictions
& luck,
all the sums & paradoxes,
& gravitons that add up
to more minus
than plus,
I promise that love
is often as inconsiderate as it is just
because actual love,
I imagine,
is a wave function
that isn’t restricted
to being
in any one place
at one time.
No, love must
be a superposition
with a measurement problem,
but don’t worry,
I won’t get into alternative
realities & how a single judgement
from one can so easily
dissolve
whom,
or what,
she’s sizing up—                & yet,

                              when experts speak of capturing
vastness at such a small scale,
I can only see the passenger
pigeon
flitting into living
sequoia trees,
& every blue whale
sinking into the great
barrier
reef
& all the threats each are facing,
all these gigantic things
that beat
within the size
of a subatomic being
that is the proton,
which is not fundamental
as love
ought to be—

                            & maybe it does all
add up
to a single hush.
Like how we try to escape
what makes us human by trying
to make sense of what made us
human.
These days,
when I think on the proton,
I only observe love
as entanglement
in which we bias & sway & touch
over great,
great
distances.
But like I said,
I won’t get into it
like the quark’s fate
& all the possible quantum trickery
out there,
lying in wait.
I don’t believe hope dies
just because old measurements got it
wrong & there are no secret lives
between protons & muons
that cause the former to change
in size,
silencing all the music
that drives us
toward mystery
rather than discovery.
Maybe just thank
electronic hydrogen,
since, for now, there’s an answer,
even if it feels like a dead end—

                                                       because I’d bet everything,
                                                       that at least something began
                                                       over this:                         jounce,
                                                       butterfly & cower ::
                                                       over & oeuvre,
                                                       greedy, hunger,
                                                       & sour

                 until aching
                 each other’s spoils,
                 stripping bare
                 their delicate
                 & deadly
                 creaking
                 coils—

Copyright © 2020 by Rosebud Ben-Oni. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 24, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

translated by Chenxin Jiang

           as a door-nail
           and gone            to the world
           air             broke drop
nothing is certain but          and taxes
           mask             knell          grip
           blow              metal         rattle
food for worms sticky end brown bread
          or alive valiant to the             la la la
wish I were             yeah right you wish

 


預習

未知生焉知
不能復生視      如歸     而無憾
出生入      一線間    生契濶
輕於鴻毛     而後已而復生
     不瞑目不足惜
寧    不屈      鳴不默
一雞一鳴撐飯蓋鴨升天
憂患不終無安樂    啦    啦啦
未    得呢你就想

© 2020 Yau Ching and Chenxin Jiang. Published in Poem-a-Day in partnership with Words Without Borders (wordswithoutborders.org) on September 26, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Outside, an abandoned mattress sags with rain
and the driveway turns all sludge when I remember
I could’ve died eight years ago, in a bed
smaller than the one I share with a new lover
who just this morning found another grey hair in my afro,
and before resettling the wiry curl with the others,
kissed the freckle on my forehead.
I admit, I don’t know a love that doesn’t
destroy. Last night while we slept,
a mouse drowned in the rice pot
I left soaking in the sink. I tried
to make a metaphor out of this, the way
he took the mouse to the edge of the lake in the yard,
released it to a deeper grave. It was
an anniversary, just my lover
taking a dead thing away, taking it
somewhere I couldn’t see.

Copyright © 2020 by Diannely Antigua. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 28, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.