translated from the Chinese by Ming Di and Jennifer Stern
An aging woman is pushing
a baby stroller
through a park of sun and dust.
Some dolls sit upright in the stroller.
Children free themselves from their parents’ hands
and run closer from across the park.
The woman walks gently
and the dolls are silent,
but strangely the children can hear
high noon crying.
They stumble and follow the stroller,
looking back and forth from the dolls
to the woman who’s pushing them.
The parents are watching the parade
from a distance;
they call their children’s names
but their voices are lost
between the sun and dust.
The woman walks
calmly, her pace is steady.
No one knows
who she is
or where she’s heading.
From Empty Chairs (Graywolf Press, 2015). Copyright © 2015 by Liu Xia. Used with the permission of Graywolf Press.
My therapist says I’m afraid of vanishing.
Last week his ceiling caved in, ending our session
in a shower of words and water.
I’m serious. I’m always serious
when I talk about therapists and cave-ins.
This morning I’m serious in a train
sliding past a clock-tower constructed
when this city thought it was flourishing. Flourishing
is a form of vanishing, a verb embedded in what comes after.
Once there was a city that flourished, its spires confident and secure
as my therapist’s ceiling. Once there was a train
that pulled out of a once-flourishing city.
One morning I was on that train, speeding between woods and river,
through a village of wooden houses and plots in a cemetery,
moving on, vanishing
too fast to become part of local history.
Vanishing was fun, like a sky skydiving.
I was the sky into which I dove.
I brooded above the little wooden town
and postage-stamp cemetery.
Time said, “Welcome to the fountain.”
History said, “You’re already forgotten.”
Wind-scalloped river, algae-covered pond, fronds of goldenrod,
a patch of reeds and then a factory parking lot, cars and men
moving slowly, lit by Sunday morning.
The train slowed to a stop, waiting to claim the single track ahead.
I will tell my therapist, when we meet again
beneath his brand-new ceiling,
“Once I was sitting on a train,
stopped dead and already gone.
From The Future Is Trying to Tell Us Something: New and Selected Poems (Sheep Meadow Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Joy Ladin. Used with the permission of the author.
The law wants my body reasonable
My body won't fence in its demands
Expects the world to stop
Whenever it wants to lay down
Throws up its middle finger
At deadlines, task lists,
Long awaited meetings
It ain't open to negotiation
Wants you to stop telling it to
It has three settings: rest, spark, flare
All that talk about your inconvenience & your hardship
It calls that Bullshit
It will not wait in line
It will not be polite
It will not use its inside voice
It wants all the space
In every room of the house
The entire sky & the full lawn of grass
It wants to set it all aflame
My body is a pyromaniac
My body is the art
Of Angela Bassett's right hand
Letting reason go up in smoke
Originally published by The Deaf Poets Society. Copyright © 2017 by Camisha L. Jones. Used with the permission of the author.
Green and blue and white, it is a flag
for Florida stitched by hungry ibises.
It is a paradise of flocks, a cornucopia
of wind and grass and dark, slow waters.
Turtles bask in the last tatters of afternoon,
frogs perfect their symphony at dusk—
in its solitude we remember ourselves,
dimly, as creatures of mud and starlight.
Clouds and savannahs and horizons,
its emptiness is an antidote, its ink
illuminates the manuscript of the heart.
It is not ours though it is ours
to destroy or preserve, this the kingdom
of otter, kingfisher, alligator, heron.
If the sacred is a river within us, let it flow
like this, serene and magnificent, forever.
Copyright © 2016 by Campbell McGrath. This poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.
1. Be it known I was born in deciduous Forest though I appear to come from Sea.
2. In the year of my birth, billion-year-old Rock. Appalachia dapple grey.
3. I looked up at those loaves like a three-year-old met with giant mother’s naked ass. I watered her Toes. I ran and ran.
4. It’s good not to be dead I knew, in my own lap with the mourning dove.
5. Water drinkers hovered around me. Piedmont to fall line, grandparents to parents, coastal plain to marsh, my world of voices and sharp claws.
6. A high song spills from me and quiets never, not for Flood—
7. On summer weekends the city children the city children the city children ride their vinyl creatures down my Shoals.
8. I remember a chorus fell, old growth fell, white village growth, villagers’ low chorus with musket-fire, thunder-fire cloud crack, downpour, the People pouring blood. The Eagle’s white face and tail.
9. I am history of Moss and Temperature.
10. blocked bombed dammed deeded bridged diked drunk fished prayed-in swum dived-into dredged dreaded diverted disregarded painted sung splashed waded drowned-in longed-for named named named
11. And more than once they set fire to my sleeves and petticoats. Jack in the Pulpit, Trout Lily. Mother’s crowns towered down, pinning each other across my slender back. I turned blue, like the Sky.
12. How is it I’ve become my own Mother? Sing in her treble voice? Take her mouth to bed?
13. At night the shooting Stars tack tulip trees to heaven.
14. Father, my Father, wherever you are there is always a body upstream.
15. History of fishing spider, shad, wolf, eel. Bog turtle, heron, peeper, bear. Our Salamander of the Wet Perpetua.
16. Always I am leaving home. Always I am coming home.
17. I looked up and the ash were back, both white and green, sycamores, beech, swamp maple. Oak, centuries of them. Last night’s rain dripped from their leaves onto my silver face.
Copyright © 2016 by JoAnn Balingit. This poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.
Every year, more than a million tourists march
through military museums, memorials, and ghostly
battleships as “Remember Pearl Harbor” echoes
with patriotic fervor. But what if they learned how
to pronounce, “Puʻuloa,” the Hawaiian name for this
sacred place, where pristine watersheds once flowed
to the sovereign sea, once birthed an estuary teeming
with spawn, fish, and oysters. What if tourists praised
Kaʻahupāhau who, in the form of a shark, protected
the harbor for generations? What if they recognized
the reciprocity between sugar profits, white men,
and the sharpened edge of a bayonet constitution?
Would they recite every name on the Kūʻē Petition
and finally hear the true history of the overthrow and
illegal annexation? Would January 17, 1893, live
in infamy? What if tourists were given a free map
of PACOM (Pacific Command)? Would they feel
its eyes and tentacles surveilling and strangling
36 countries and half the world’s population?
What if they hiked to all 700 toxic Superfund sites
in Pearl Harbor, and enjoyed a picnic of wild caught
seafood from these contaminated waters? What if
this monument of valor instead condemned violence?
What if national and state parks didn’t simply preserve
the myth of American innocence, but actually told
the truth about American empire? Would you offer
prayer and respect to the ancient bones buried here
under layers of soil and story? Would you give
more than an apology? Would these stolen places
finally return to their native stewards and descendants.
Maybe then, these tributes to colonial power
will finally become healing testaments of peace.
Copyright © 2016 by Craig Santos Perez.This poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.
Stone path, oat grass, stray cat, snare,
feather drift in feather air.
Laurel, anthill, train horn blare,
pecan shell shards on the stair.
One cat gnaws,
one wing tears.
Less song for the power line to bear.
Coo-OO-oo she sang, my dear.
Copyright © 2018 Cecily Parks. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Spring 2018.
June already, it's your birth month, nine months since the towers fell. I set olive twigs in my hair torn from a tree in Central Park, I ride a painted horse, its mane a sullen wonder. You are behind me on a lilting mare. You whisper--What of happiness? Dukham, Federico. Smoke fills my eyes. Young, I was raised to a sorrow song short fires and stubble on a monsoon coast. The leaves in your cap are very green. The eyes of your mare never close. Somewhere you wrote: Despedida. If I die leave the balcony open!
The shadows under the trees
And in the vines by the boat-house
And the lamps gleam softly.
On the street, far off,
The sound of the cars, rumbling,
The rocks grow dim on the edges of the shore.
The boats with tired prows against the landing
Have fallen asleep heavily:
The monuments sleep
And the trees
And the smooth slow-winding empty paths sleep.
This poem is in the public domain.
You have forty-nine days between death and rebirth if you're a Buddhist. Even the smallest soul could swim the English Channel in that time or climb, like a ten-month-old child, every step of the Washington Monument to travel across, up, down, over or through --you won't know till you get there which to do. He laid on me for a few seconds said Roscoe Black, who lived to tell about his skirmish with a grizzly bear in Glacier Park. He laid on me not doing anything. I could feel his heart beating against my heart. Never mind lie and lay, the whole world confuses them. For Roscoe Black you might say all forty-nine days flew by. I was raised on the Old Testament. In it God talks to Moses, Noah, Samuel, and they answer. People confer with angels. Certain animals converse with humans. It's a simple world, full of crossovers. Heaven's an airy Somewhere, and God has a nasty temper when provoked, but if there's a Hell, little is made of it. No longtailed Devil, no eternal fire, and no choosing what to come back as. When the grizzly bear appears, he lies/lays down on atheist and zealot. In the pitch-dark each of us waits for him in Glacier Park.
From Nurture, by Maxine Kumin, published by Viking Penguin, Inc. Copyright © 1989 by Maxine Kumin. Used with permission.
The park admits the wind,
the petals lift and scatter
like versions of myself I was on the verge
of becoming; and ten years on
and ten blocks down I still can’t tell
whether this dispersal resembles
a fist unclenching or waving goodbye.
But the petals scatter faster,
seeking the rose, the cigarette vendor,
and at least I’ve got by pumping heart
some rules of conduct: refuse to choose
between turning pages and turning heads
though the stubborn dine alone. Get over
“getting over”: dark clouds don’t fade
but drift with ever deeper colors.
Give up on rooted happiness
(the stolid trees on fire!) and sweet reprieve
(a poor park but my own) will follow.
There is still a chance the empty gazebo
will draw crowds from the greater world.
And meanwhile, meanwhile’s far from nothing:
the humming moment, the rustle of cherry trees.
from Sakura Park by Rachel Wetzsteon. Copyright © 2006. Reprinted by permission of Persea Books, Inc. New York.
He who thus considers things in their first growth and origin, whether a state or anything else, will obtain the clearest view of them.
—Aristotle, Politics (translated by Benjamin Jowett)
Look out across
the ridges of trees
as if holding
to blue distance,
a wager made
with the sky.
Look out over
then scrap the word for parts—
before, prepare, fortify—
to take possession of again.
On the road in, two wild
turkeys bustle off into
Off the trail in wet leaves,
yellow eyes of a box turtle.
What I take
to be the stripes
of common shiner
in a riffle.
Alone, one might intone
whose woods, whose woods,
one might whisper
One might say
summit and Summit,
as elsewhere, but near,
are Aristotle’s other
at fenced and guarded
leisure, though the wind
passes as it pleases,
and when it shakes
the trees, it is not
an agreement at all.
Copyright © 2016 by Dora Malech. This poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.
Under the green domes of maples light spangles the abundant slabs of moss. Grass won’t grow here, but something else has taken over. When I went into the drugstore yesterday the clerk who moved away had been replaced by a girl who looked so much like her I thought for a moment she’d come back to town with her hair cut. And in the second grade, when Bobby Markley died, a new boy from Ohio promptly sat beside me at his desk. Out here, in the city park, people are almost always interchangeable, though the summer I’ll hate to lose supplants itself with a wan and amber sun that isn’t quite the same, reminding me of larger griefs not easily consoled. “Life is the saddest thing there is, next to death,” Edith Wharton wrote, she who walked so often in the park listening to the old, remembered voices. She must have sat under trees not unlike this one, heavy with sorrows she couldn’t speak aloud. She mourned her friends, and one friend like no other, while the late sunlight passed across the grasses, and now she too is gone.
Copyright © 2017 Patricia Hooper. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Spring 2017.
They carved the letters yellow,
the wood around the letters green,
chained a picnic table to the grass
out near where the roof of the dead
mall directs a crack
of sunset to radiate the Burger King sign gold.
Last place open after midnight:
then apartment windows hold
stars and satellites in the cold.
A creek runs like a paper fold
from one corner of park to other,
twenty or thirty blocks from where
she took her first breaths of infancy
in the only city I know of
with the letters for poet
that does not also carry
a port or a point in its name.
Copyright © 2015 by Ed Skoog. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 27, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
for Mike, July 2016
After Dale’s sudden cancer,
his body wasting swiftly to death,
I didn’t believe in love or beauty, or my ability
to write poems.
And my grieving turned into a sequence of writing
little hostile elegies
in solitary sittings. Elegies ceased being an elegant poetic form.
I guess I was trying to understand
the shape of a new sorrow in its deep
how easily it’s foraged for my marginalized hungers that
With it, figurative language estranged itself
from crafting mutable metaphors,
of the natural world standing
in its place within adjectival phrases.
Landscape, though permissible, seemed to only swell around
retaining rivers beneath my feet with a grave distance.
Bodies ensued to ashes now,
and I didn’t utter dust to dust.
Only after losing many months and time
I did (slowly) begin to notice a greener (faint) tint to the
This felt like a small divinity.
Finding you was this too,
after such importunate feelings of
I said this is a remarkable lightness I feel, I couldn’t imagine it
before I felt it.
You told me to look at the moon. I did.
That’s what you did after Marie died.
You believed all moons in the sky to be
elegiac in a nonfigurative sense,
real to the eye,
therefore, you represented its steadfast truth.
I proposed then a drive to Glacier National
thinking of a fine faultless finery—the firs, pines, and
We drove up—higher than I expected—
skyward up the steepest corners and edges
and I looked out at spring’s sustenance,
of forest trees scored in majestic columns, bedded
coated with needles, fully medicinal,
their similes shedding: of giving over the live
to its eminence. Of the mountain’s height,
its splendor-drop because of its scare
I felt hesitant to look out.
But for descriptors: the rounded grass tufts
near the car grates then a hell-drop,
a belt of green.
Stones and gravel and gray peeking
This driving with you is a climb of faith,
and I feel it along with a helpless irritation of lust
in my throat
and gut, and a pair of callous and ashen calves and feet I seem
to have earned.
You helped me through a dry summer, fall, winter
and now summer.
Ten months after he died. He and I, all these years,
had never gone to Glacier,
only near it to Flathead or Whitefish, to fireplace lodges
I brought you to the Weeping
where we turned around, because you drove still further
until I threatened fear of heights.
I don’t know how to celebrate 100 years
this high up but you do.
This winding high-up national park with me:
your glasses cocked on your head,
a strange visor of blackish hair,
erect lens outward but modest
two circles looking above my direction
at the field of Beargrass, with its white stalks
and awkward loomed light.
I was unable to get out of the car at Heaven’s Peak,
because the sublime was frightening
but I crawled around the side and peered over, and I knew
I would never use the word Heaven
to describe anything I saw of death, but I saw beauty
in a scrap of its light
I was not afraid
of it taking me with it, the way I had seen him disappear
its extinguishing erasure.
I hold you in Glacier
where I see you clearly.
I will plow the hard-won truth of pitching death
and flinging its burden into spaces.
No treason I feel now (because)
the eros of the natural world lingers in sentience,
flooding with its central question of what (life and death)
I held onto the silver bumper of your car gripping your
because it was your hand and you, too, were
behind frank light and squinting
to see into a camera’s moon,
a lasting present tense
we just gave ourselves over to, lifted to
its blue course: a formal sky of imperturbable
of unambiguous secularity.
We take a simple walk around the car
Copyright © 2016 by Prageeta Sharma. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 17, 2016, this poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.
why must itself up every of a park
anus stick some quote statue unquote to
prove that a hero equals any jerk
who was afraid to dare to answer "no"?
quote citizens unquote might otherwise
forget(to err is human;to forgive
divine)that if the quote state unquote says
"kill" killing is an act of christian love.
"Nothing" in 1944 AD
"can stand against the argument of mil
itary necessity"(generalissimo e)
and echo answers "there is no appeal
from reason"(freud)—you pays your money and
you doesn't take your choice. Ain't freedom grand
From Complete Poems: 1904-1962 by E. E. Cummings, edited by George J. Firmage. Used with the permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation. Copyright © 1923, 1931, 1935, 1940, 1951, 1959, 1963, 1968, 1991 by the Trustees for the E. E. Cummings Trust. Copyright © 1976, 1978, 1979 by George James Firmage.
Big Bend has been here, been here. Shouldn’t it have a say?
Call the mountains a wall if you must, (the river has never been a wall),
leavened air soaking equally into all, could this be the home
we ache for? Silent light bathing cliff faces, dunes altering
in darkness, stones speaking low to one another, border secrets,
notes so rooted you may never be lonely the same ways again.
Big bend in thinking—why did you dream you needed so much?
Water, one small pack. Once I lay on my back on a concrete table
the whole day and read a book. A whole book, and it was long.
The day I continue to feast on.
Stones sifting a gospel of patience and dust,
no one exalted beyond a perfect parched cliff,
no one waiting for anything you do or don’t do.
Santa Elena, South Rim, once a woman knew what everything here
was named for, Hallie Stillwell brimming with stories,
her hat still snaps in the wind. You will not find
a prime minister in Big Bend, a president, or even a candidate,
beyond the lion, the javelina, the eagle lighting on its nest.
Copyright © 2016 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 17, 2016, this poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.
The Chinese truck driver
throws the rope
like a lasso, with a practiced flick,
over the load:
where it hovers an instant,
then arcs like a willow
into the waiting,
of his brother.
What does it matter
that, sitting in traffic,
I glanced out the window
and found them that way?
So lean and sleek-muscled
in their sweat-stiffened t-shirts:
offloading the pallets
just so they can load up
again in the morning,
and so on,
and so forth
forever like that—
I might tell them
if I spoke Mandarin,
or had a Marlboro to offer,
or thought for a minute
they’d believe it
when I say that I know
how it feels
to break your own
back for a living.
what’s the difference?
When every light
for a mile turns
green all at once,
no matter how much
I might like
to keep watching
the older one squint
and blow smoke
through his nose?
Something like sadness,
like joy, like a sudden
love for my life,
and for the body
in which I have lived it,
overtaking me all at once,
as a bus driver honks
and the setting
sun glints, so bright
off a windshield
I wince and look back
and it’s gone.
Copyright © 2015 by Patrick Phillips. Used with permission of the author.
Ed Trafton turns from the shimmering water
of Shoshone Lake to the first of fifteen tourist coaches,
pulls the black silk neckerchief up the bridge of his nose,
plants himself in the road and says, “Please step out
and come this way.” Black is so hot. “Drop your valuables
on the blanket.” Maybe the neckerchief isn’t necessary.
“Kindly take a standing seat and witness the convention.”
“A rather elegant man,” one woman confessed. “Steady
and calm, with a lovely sense of humor and a smile
that made his watery blue eyes sparkle. The kind of man
who might make a good president.” “Watery blue eyes?”
Ed wonders, his reflection in the mirror. “City councilman
or senator but president?” “Polite,” the woman added.
An elderly lady dropped her purse, which exploded
scattering bills, coins, a comb, and playing cards
over the dusty earth. The horses stamped their feet
and switched their tails to drive away the flies.
Someone coughed. Trafton bent over to gather up
the fallen valuables, the last card—jack of hearts.
“There madam, you keep these,” he said.
“You look as if you need them more than I do.”
“Gallant,“ the first woman went on. She laughed
and the air freshened, invisible birds began to sing.
As each coin or watch or earring hit the earth,
dust rose around the lodgepole and limber pines,
covered the water. Seeking clarity, coaches start
ten minutes apart—Old Faithful to West Thumb,
the horseshoe bend where they stop for the view.
But they can’t see what’s to come, coach after coach,
the blanket disappearing under the mound of treasure,
Mr. Trafton lightly touching each horse to send it on its way.
A young woman asked for a photo—“by the blanket.”
Other travelers pulled out their Brownies and lined up
beside the beguiling highwayman, the click of shutters
louder than the cicadas chirring in the dry grass,
pine resin rising with the heat, men fanning their faces
with hats or the news of the day—AUSTRIA-HUNGARY
DECLARES WAR ON SERBIA. Could be a joke—he was
so friendly and the water, lapping at the shore,
made that chuckling sound that says nothing
will change. It can’t be real silk, Trafton thinks,
tugging at his face, wouldn’t be so scratchy, people
milling around, the sun rising, the hills falling away,
the geysers and mudpots, and Shoshone Lake
coated in dust, still blue below the point.
Copyright © 2016 by David Romtvedt. This poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.
In the first days of summer the three elms, those slightly opened fans, unfold their shadows across the river. Two dogs arrive exhausted, tongues dripping, and settle down near the frogbait jars. Aiming their poles toward the center of water, the Sunday fishermen watch the light pirouette off the opposite shore. Their wives peel onions, open wine, do their nails. Most of the men think as little about gravity as they do about war and the weightlessness of time. How could they know that it is only the single, collective thought of their abandoned childhoods that keeps the world afloat?
From The Enchanted Room, published by Copper Canyon Press, 1986. Copyright © 1986 by Maurya Simon. Reprinted with permission of Copper Canyon Press: Post Office Box 271, Port Townsend, WA 98368
Dear Tom Dent,
We still love you
And what it means
To be a black college
Whose point of pride
And rebellion look
Like men in the 6th
& 7th Wards. You
And I knelt before
Them until they
Groaned. And ain't
That music too,
The body of several
Shades made into
One sound of want
Or without or wish
A Negro would come
Back home, little light
Skin, come give Daddy
I present myself that you might
Understand how you got here
And who you owe. As long as
I can remember Mona Lisa Saloy
Humming along, the band lives,
Every goodbye a lie. Everyone
Of them carries the weight
He chose. And plays it. No theft.
No rape. No flood. No. Not in
This moment. Not in this lovely
Sunlit room of my mind. Holy.
So the Bible says, in the beginning,
A black woman. I am alive. You?
Alive. You born with the nerve
To arrive yawning. You who walk
Without noticing your feet
On an early morning swept hard-
Wood floor. This because Eve,
Because Lucy. This the whole
Toe of the boot of America tapping.
Poetry is where
I am nothing
If I can't sit
In the audience
Or alone, sit down
Awhile and thank
God the chair
Is still warm.
Copyright © 2016 by Jericho Brown. This poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.
The mountains are at their theater again,
each ridge practicing an oration of scale and crest,
and the sails, performing glides across the lake, complain
for being out-shadowed despite their gracious
bows. Thirteen years in this state, what hasn’t occurred?
A cyclone in my spirit led to divorce, four books
gave darkness an echo of control, my slurred
hand finding steadiness by the prop of a page,
and God, my children whom I scarred! Pray they forgive.
My crimes felt mountainous, yet perspective
came with distance, and like those peaks, once keening
beneath biting ice, then felt resurrection in a vestige
of water, unfrozen, cascading and adding to the lake’s
depth, such have I come to gauge my own screaming.
The masts tip so far they appear to capsize, keeling
over where every father is a boat on water. The wakes
carry the memory of battles, and the Adirondacks
hold their measure. I am a tributary of something greater.
Copyright © 2016 by Major Jackson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 4, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.