The rising sun had crowned the hills,
            And added beauty to the plain;
O grand and wondrous spectacle!
            That only nature could explain.

I stood within a leafy grove,
            And gazed around in blissful awe;
The sky appeared one mass of blue,
            That seemed to spread from sea to shore.

Far as the human eye could see,
            Were stretched the fields of waving corn.
Soft on my ear the warbling birds
            Were heralding the birth of morn.

While here and there a cottage quaint
            Seemed to repose in quiet ease
Amid the trees, whose leaflets waved
            And fluttered in the passing breeze.

O morning hour! so dear thy joy,
            And how I longed for thee to last;
But e’en thy fading into day
            Brought me an echo of the past.

 ‘Twas this,—how fair my life began;
            How pleasant was its hour of dawn;
But, merging into sorrow’s day,
            Then beauty faded with the morn.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on November 23, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets. 

Lord,
          when you send the rain,
          think about it, please,
          a little?
  Do
          not get carried away
          by the sound of falling water,
          the marvelous light
          on the falling water.
    I
          am beneath that water.
          It falls with great force
          and the light
Blinds
          me to the light.

From Jimmy’s Blues and Other Poems by James Baldwin (Beacon Press, 2014).  Copyright © 2014 The James Baldwin Estate. Used by permission of Beacon Press.

In California, someone is found hanging
from a tree, and no one knows why;

in my anger, I forget to explain
to our white neighbor, why it matters
that he’s black,

if only she knew
the luxury of not having to worry
whether her life mattered or not–

*

The first time I learned
about the color of my skin
I spent months
crossing a border
where my kind was not welcomed;

the first time I was othered
I was still in the womb
breaking in my naming–

*

In California, a man is found hanging
from a tree, and no one knows why;

someone said,
            it must have been a suicide,

what country is this
where suicide becomes the hopeful thing–

I want to talk about this,
I say to my husband,

do you know what this means?

I have run out of ways
of telling him that he, too, is a black, black man
living in a white, white world

but his body knows
our bodies always know–

*

In California, a black man is found hanging
from a tree, and no one knows why;

when they hear the news, someone asks
what kind of tree,

what country is this
where life is not life if it inhabits a black body
where we have to march in the streets
and get beaten, gassed, hunted down

so someone, anyone, can see this,
this us we see, this us we are, this humanness.

*

I am filled with a quiet furor. What happens
when the body is marked before it is born,
what happens to it
when it is filled with grief
what happens
when no one sees it as such
what happens
to black bodies riddled with war
what war is this
that continues to kill, kill, kill.

*

In California, a black man is found hanging
from a tree, and someone knows why;

we want to say many things
but none seem to get through;

our mother’s grief
is too great to contain us,
too deep to keep us safe

what do you call a country
that kills its people
and calls itself free,

what freedom is this
that has us running
that holds us hostage
that invades our every being
that hunts our children
that takes our fathers
that murders, murders, murders

Stop–
            listen to this:

In California, a black man is found hanging
from a tree, do you know why?

Does it matter
what kind of tree it was, what kind of earth
housed the roots of such tree,

does it matter
whether the man was in his early twenties
with glimmering black skin
and dancing dreadlocks

would you feel better
if it was a suicide

would it be better
if you never heard about this

do you find yourself thinking,
who would do such a thing,

do you find yourself breaking
completely split open
and parts of you erupting out,

did you wonder
about his mother
about her grief
about his beloveds

did you tell yourself
something nice
to forget this hanging body

did you will it away
what else did you do
to let yourself forget
as you did with all the others
did you tell yourself
I would never–but wait, wait:
did you hear:

in California, a black man is found hanging
from a tree, and you know why;

there is nothing more to say
no further reasoning you need to do
no way out of this,

listen closely:

a black man
is found hanging
from a tree

I know you must like trees
these tall muscular giants

housing small fruits,
breathing, living things,

I know you must think
this is a horrific thing
that has happened to a black man

but how many trees
have housed black bodies
how many were complicit
in our collective dying,

how quick are we to forget
the marred history of this land
built on the blood and bones
of our ancestors

how many more
will need to die
until you see, see, see

how many more
gunned down, beaten, suffocated
until you hear
our rightful pleading

how much blood
must you have on your hands
before our children
are finally set free,
listen:

a black man
hangs from a tree

a black man
hangs
from a tree

a black man
hanging from a tree,

how dare you try and absolve yourself
from our collective lynching–

Copyright © 2021 by Mahtem Shiferraw. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 9, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

If you could know the empty ache of loneliness,
          Masked well behind the calm indifferent face
Of us who pass you by in studied hurriedness,
          Intent upon our way, lest in the little space
Of one forgetful moment hungry eyes implore
          You to be kind, to open up your heart a little more,
I’m sure you’d smile a little kindlier, sometimes,
          To those of us you’ve never seen before.

If you could know the eagerness we’d grasp
          The hand you’d give to us in friendliness;
What vast, potential friendship in that clasp
          We’d press, and love you for your gentleness;
If you could know the wide, wide reach
          Of love that simple friendliness could teach,
I’m sure you’d say “Hello, my friend,” sometimes, 
          And now and then extend a hand in friendliness to each.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 7, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

One’s is to feed. One’s is to cleave.
One’s to be doubled over under greed.
One’s is strife. One’s to be strangled by life.
One’s to be called and to rise.
One’s to stare fire in the eye.
One’s is bondage to pleasure.
One’s to be held captive by power.
One’s to drive a nation to its naked knees
in war. One’s is the rapture of stolen hours.
One’s to be called yet cower.
One’s is to defend the dead.
One’s to suffer until ego is shed.
One’s is to dribble the nectar of evil.
One’s but to roll a stone up a hill.
One’s to crouch low
over damp kindling in deep snow
coaxing the thin plume
of cautious smoke.
One’s is only to shiver.
One’s is only to blow.

Copyright © 2021 by Tracy K. Smith. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 8, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.