tonight I'm cleaning baby portobellos
for you, my young activist
wiping the dirty tops with a damp cloth
as carefully as I used to rinse raspberries
for you to adorn your fingertips
before eating each blood-red prize
these days you rarely look me in the eye
& your long shagged hair hides your smile
I don’t expect you to remember or
understand the many ways I’ve kept you
alive or the life my love for you
has made me live
Copyright © 2017 by Rachel Zucker. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 23, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
I stand behind a one-way mirror. My father sits in a room interrogating himself. Bright bulb shining like the idea of a daughter. — It looked just like the real thing. The helicopters, the fields, the smoke which rose in colors, the bullets blank, but too real. Coppola yells Action and we drag slowly across the back of the screen, miniature prisoners of war to Robert Duvall’s broad, naked chest. What you’ll never see written into the credits are our names. — Ghost of a daughter: specter, spectator, from a future we can only dream of. We never dreamt that one day, you’d be my age and too bitter to talk to me. I who gave every peso to your mother, who sewed coins into the linings of my pockets, so that you could eat enough food and grow taller than either one of us. I am asking you to look me in the face and say Father. I am asking you to see me. — Morning yawns and today, my father has deleted a daughter, today, he’s blessed with two sons who take after his fire and quicksilver. Today he may be haunted by the grip of a friend who died in his arms, but not the scent of a baby girl he held 37 years ago. Women, he says, and spits out a phlegm- colored ghost. There is plasm, he says, and shrugs–– and then, there is ectoplasm. What is a father who has two sons? Happy, he replies with a toothpick pressed between his thumb and forefinger. Happy, he says, looking into the mirror and seeing no reflection.
Copyright © 2018 by Cathy Linh Che. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 10, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Her eyes were mostly shut. She didn’t speak.
The sun’s slow exile crossed the wall above the bed.
But once, when I bent to feed her a drop
of morphine from the little plastic beak,
her hand shot up and gripped my arm. She looked right at me.
When she said the words, it sounded like she meant: Don't leave me.
From the very first, we love like this: our heads turning
toward whatever mothers us, our mouths urgent
for the taste of our name.
Copyright © 2018 by Jenny George. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 17, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Christmas Eve, 2016 Before everyone died – in my family – first definition I learned was – my mother’s maiden name, ULANDAY – which literally means – of the rain – and biology books remind us – the pouring has a pattern – has purpose – namesake means release – for my mother meant, flee – meant leave – know exactly what parts of you – slip away – drained sediment of a body – is how a single mama feels – on the graveyard shift – only god is awake – is where my – family banked itself – a life rooted in rosaries – like nuns in barricade – scream – People Power – one out of five – leave to a new country – the women in my family hone – in my heart – like checkpoints – which is what they know – which is like a halt – not to be confused for – stop – which is what happened to my ma’s breath– when she went home – for the last time – I didn’t get to – hold her hand as she died – I said I tried – just translates to – I couldn’t make it – in time – I tell myself – ocean salt and tear salt – are one and the same – I press my eyes shut – cup ghost howl – cheeks splint wood worn – which is to say – learn to make myself a harbor – anyway – once I saw a pamphlet that said – what to do when your parent is dead – I couldn’t finish reading – but I doubt it informs the audience – what will happen – which is to say – you will pour your face & hands – & smother your mother’s scream on everything – you touch – turn eyelids into oars – go, paddle to find her.
Copyright © 2019 by Kay Ulanday Barrett. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 8, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
it ends my sleep to want my story about
my skin melting in the sun that day of
summer and a doctor who tells me i am dying,
that thing i hide under my nails like dirt
scratched from summer skin.
so i pick up a pencil and begin to erase myself.
erasure is sometimes editing.
immigration is always editing.
my father with the heart that chokes
him in his sleep, in his shorter and shorter
walks around concrete and glass sculptures,
around mother who keeps leaning one
way then the other at the precipice of fall
as he yells promises at her to keep her alive.
in this journey that began with his misstep
across waters and languages and his
hands on my face teaching me to long
how did he mean to rewrite me—
what will i say to the sky and the soil
neither foreign or home when they are
all gone leaving me to hold our name up
alone when i am neither tree nor
in the mirror i look for my head that
has begun to shake, the weight of how
much i am afraid, how it makes me look
like mother when i was a boy—seeing
it for the first time in her, demanding
she make it stop—
this fear of sleep has kept me up for years
did you know? because in dreams there is always
a point when your mother dies while
you are traveling through space searching
for your lost child and other such
i spent the day moving my body, guided
by a stranger’s voice and somewhere
on the floor my bones recognized pain
told me that in this too / (that is my body)
there are borders to cross
there are borders not meant to cross
interstitial—it’s a new word i learned
something about the space between
things, but it is obvious like my body that
wants to break, that space is the thing not
the between, the mass that cannot be occupied
a space between spaces that tell me
i am a child of none
i capture my hand grasping at the sky outside
the window of another plane in mid-flight.
it was orange. it wasn’t anything.
and the hand belonged to no one.
there was only the reaching.
Copyright © 2018 by Chiwan Choi. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 20, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
You tried to take
my red metals with your wolf jaw tongs
to forge a body never to be flame-licked again
but I reached out and held you
by the throat, pressed
my ear to your chest that meadow
startled with magpies.
You are not the first man
who tried to make my body a smoke.
But here I am
to silver the air and surround you
like a sky vast enough
to take your embers into itself;
I’ve been made to carry your fires.
Copyright © 2017 by Thomas Dooley. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 23, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
my father moved through dooms of love
through sames of am through haves of give,
singing each morning out of each night
my father moved through depths of height
this motionless forgetful where
turned at his glance to shining here;
that if (so timid air is firm)
under his eyes would stir and squirm
newly as from unburied which
floats the first who, his april touch
drove sleeping selves to swarm their fates
woke dreamers to their ghostly roots
and should some why completely weep
my father’s fingers brought her sleep:
vainly no smallest voice might cry
for he could feel the mountains grow.
Lifting the valleys of the sea
my father moved through griefs of joy;
praising a forehead called the moon
singing desire into begin
joy was his song and joy so pure
a heart of star by him could steer
and pure so now and now so yes
the wrists of twilight would rejoice
keen as midsummer’s keen beyond
conceiving mind of sun will stand,
so strictly (over utmost him
so hugely) stood my father’s dream
his flesh was flesh his blood was blood:
no hungry man but wished him food;
no cripple wouldn’t creep one mile
uphill to only see him smile.
Scorning the Pomp of must and shall
my father moved through dooms of feel;
his anger was as right as rain
his pity was as green as grain
septembering arms of year extend
less humbly wealth to foe and friend
than he to foolish and to wise
offered immeasurable is
proudly and (by octobering flame
beckoned) as earth will downward climb,
so naked for immortal work
his shoulders marched against the dark
his sorrow was as true as bread:
no liar looked him in the head;
if every friend became his foe
he’d laugh and build a world with snow.
My father moved through theys of we,
singing each new leaf out of each tree
(and every child was sure that spring
danced when she heard my father sing)
then let men kill which cannot share,
let blood and flesh be mud and mire,
scheming imagine, passion willed,
freedom a drug that’s bought and sold
giving to steal and cruel kind,
a heart to fear, to doubt a mind,
to differ a disease of same,
conform the pinnacle of am
though dull were all we taste as bright,
bitter all utterly things sweet,
maggoty minus and dumb death
all we inherit, all bequeath
and nothing quite so least as truth
—i say though hate were why men breathe—
because my Father lived his soul
love is the whole and more than all
Copyright © 1940, 1968, 1991 by the Trustees for the E. E. Cummings Trust from The Complete Poems: 1904-1962 by E. E. Cummings, Edited by George J. Firmage. Reprinted by permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.
we won’t tell you where it lies, as in time we might need the minor intimacy of that secret. just creatures, heavy with hope & begging against the grave song inside our living, we have agreed his death is the one cold chord we refuse to endure from the sorry endlessness of the blues. & if ever we fail to bear the rate at which we feel the world pining for the body of our boy, we can conjure that mole—the small brown presence of it tucked where only tenderness would think to look—& recall when it seemed nothing about our child could drift beyond the terrible certainty of love’s reach.
Copyright © 2019 by Geffrey Davis. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 26, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
I know I’m godless when
my thirst converts water into wasps, my country a carpet
I finger for crumbs. A country
my grandmother breeds
dogs instead of daughters because only one can be called
home. I am trained to lose accents,
to keep a pregnancy
or cancel it out with another man. My tongue is
a twin, one translating
the other’s silence. Here
is my lung’s list of needs: how to hold water
like a woman & not
drown. I want men
to stop writing & become mothers. I promise this
is the last time I call my mother
to hear her voice
beside mine. I want the privilege of a history
to hand back unworn
to grow out of
my mother’s touch like a dress from
childhood. Every time
I flirt with girls, I say
I know my way around a wound. I say let’s bang
open like doors, answer to
god. I unpin from
my skin, leave it to age in my closet & swing
from the dark, a wrecking
ball gown. In the closet
urns of ashes: we cremated my grandfather
on a stovetop, stirred
every nation we tried
to bury him in was a war past calling itself
one. I stay closeted with
him, his scent echoing
in the urn, weeks-old ginger & leeks, leaks
of light where his bones halved
& healed. With small
hands, I puzzled him back together. I hid from
his shadow in closets
his feet like a chicken’s,
jellied bone & meatless. His favorite food was chicken
feet, bones shallow in the meat
When he got dementia,
he flirted with my mother he mouthed for my breasts
like an infant
We poured milk
into his eyeholes until he saw everything
neck-deep in white
the Chinese color
of mourning, bad luck, though the doctor
says everything is
genetics. I lock myself in
the smallest rooms that fit in my mind, my grandfather’s:
a house we hired back from
fire. So I’ll forever
have a mother, I become a daughter who goes by god. I urn
my ghosts, know each by a name
Copyright © 2019 by K-Ming Chang. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 22, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.