Wet Charles dropped by the homeboys
in his busted high-top burgundy Chucks, hand 

            out for a buck, or two, from us young bucks, 
also rocking Chucks, trying to cop a couple ends
for a few gallons of gas or diapers for his newborn
daughter. Wet Charles could spin into splits. Quick
to say

             he never begged, traded, or borrowed
anything he couldn’t first steal. The highest point
in many homes is the attic. The jester’s hat
            jingles. The dope fiend’s pipe rings.

Is it the fire or the smoke that makes a comedian?
Even when I mad-dogged Charles, telling him
            to kick rocks with them ashy-as-hell Chucks 
            I never actually looked into the stones

of his eyes. I had known him since childhood, 
we all had, before he began chasing a rock 
                                     up and down a hill.

Stoned every day. Think of addiction as never being
able to find your phone. We were not embarrassed

by Charles but by what we might one day become.
The way bigger sand tiger shark embryos
            feed on smaller embryos in the womb,

we served classmates we had joked with in gym.
Slanging dope smokes up your sense of humor.
We never understood why the police chuckled

“circumstances” as the reason for harassing us
when we stood in a circle smoking on the block.

            Charles didn’t dozen about dope, just surged
            in his circuit, looking for ways to get high.

            Biking from the trolley to the Four Corners 
of Death, the intersection of Euclid and Imperial:

Greene Cat Liquor, Réal taco shop, the gas station,
                                    what was Huffman’s BBQ,
            where the only constant were entrepreneurial
            young men setting up corners in front of constantly
changing businesses with hastily painted front windows,

            where the persistence of the C
            in “Chicken Shack”
            could still be seen on the glass door
            of the new no contract cell phone store.

Archetypes have a way of worming into beauty.
The flaw is the small writing of a hero.
            Through what crack did Orpheus
                        sneak a minute fire from hell?

The sweet chemical scent of someone smoking rock
in a broken light bulb is a plasticity I can’t forget.
I didn’t pay any mind to the moralism of Nancy Reagan’s 
eggs or D.A.R.E. commercials in the eighties.

As we went most of those dampened days lighting 
something, or other, listening to the mercurial philosophies  
                               of Ice Cube, Wu-Tang, Spice-1,

            or Sugar Free. We smoked water, or what a hip
                         toxicologist might nasally call angel dust.
            You can be full of agua and not well.
If you’re not careful, time will find you a fiend.

I’m told
that rappers name themselves
            now with Lil or Young followed
            by randomly chosen abstractions: Lil e.g.
                                                           Young i.e.

                         Back in the stone age of hip-hop,
                         in the early nineties,
late eighties, so the stories go, rappers

            went into the kitchen and whatever
                         they had milk and honey
            of, voila, they had their stage name.

I was just another empty, scattered wrapper
on a sidewalk in the city.

            That’s how I became Slim Jim.
Though, that was more about stealing
cars than beef. 

We would spend summer evenings at the wooden
roller coaster in Pacific Beach, never going
on the ride but circling the beautiful
boardwalk that was only slightly less majestic

                     than the older homie’s
            primer-painted Glasshouse

convertible with three tall
white walls and one ever altering spare.

Everything was so gorgeous in the back 
seat of that Impala.

The moon was so brilliant in the sky.  
                         It was quite the shiner.

I’d watch the women around my way 
rub petroleum jelly on their forehead,

then their cheekbones, before a fight. 
Taking off your golden earrings
             does not make hearing

the truth any easier, but that water 
made the bass and elasticated cadence
of “Pocket Full of Stones” even more

resonant as we waded the highways home
from the rollercoaster with a trunk full of

18” box speakers rattling our bodies:
six sixteen-year-olds in the cramped 
back seat of a Datsun Wagon trying 
to release our own trapped music.

Copyright © 2021 by David Tomas Martinez. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 10, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

In the burned house I am eating breakfast.
You understand: there is no house, there is no breakfast,
yet here I am.

The spoon which was melted scrapes against
the bowl which was melted also.
No one else is around.

Where have they gone to, brother and sister,
mother and father? Off along the shore,
perhaps. Their clothes are still on the hangers,

their dishes piled beside the sink,
which is beside the woodstove
with its grate and sooty kettle,

every detail clear,
tin cup and rippled mirror.
The day is bright and songless,

the lake is blue, the forest watchful.
In the east a bank of cloud
rises up silently like dark bread.

I can see the swirls in the oilcloth,
I can see the flaws in the glass,
those flares where the sun hits them.

I can't see my own arms and legs
or know if this is a trap or blessing,
finding myself back here, where everything

in this house has long been over,
kettle and mirror, spoon and bowl,
including my own body,

including the body I had then,
including the body I have now
as I sit at this morning table, alone and happy,

bare child's feet on the scorched floorboards
(I can almost see)
in my burning clothes, the thin green shorts

and grubby yellow T-shirt
holding my cindery, non-existent,
radiant flesh. Incandescent.

From Morning in the Burned House by Margaret Atwood. Copyright © 1995 by Margaret Atwood. Published in the United States by Houghton Mifflin Co., published in Canada by McClelland and Stewart, Inc. All rights reserved.

I am taken with the hot animal
of my skin, grateful to swing my limbs

and have them move as I intend, though
my knee, though my shoulder, though something
is torn or tearing. Today, a dozen squid, dead

on the harbor beach: one mostly buried,
one with skin empty as a shell and hollow

feeling, and, though the tentacles look soft,
I do not touch them. I imagine they
were startled to find themselves in the sun.

I imagine the tide simply went out
without them. I imagine they cannot

feel the black flies charting the raised hills
of their eyes. I write my name in the sand:
Donika Kelly. I watch eighteen seagulls

skim the sandbar and lift low in the sky.
I pick up a pebble that looks like a green egg.

To the ditch lily I say I am in love.
To the Jeep parked haphazardly on the narrow
street I am in love. To the roses, white

petals rimmed brown, to the yellow lined
pavement, to the house trimmed in gold I am

in love. I shout with the rough calculus
of walking. Just let me find my way back,
let me move like a tide come in.

Copyright © 2017 by Donika Kelly. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 20, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Ancient kites, found in deserts 
of the Middle East, are constructions 

aimed at driving and trapping 
game animals. They consist 

of long dry stone walls 
converging on a neck 

which opens into a confined space 
used as the killing floor. 

The last night, unknowingly 
I lovingly effervesced the long catalog 

of my admirations for you into 
your ear. Hammer strike 

anvil. The last morning, 
I studied you sitting 

quietly studying the water 
in the toilet bowl. I brushed 

your hair. Gave you a kiss. 
Told you, “I love you.” Minutes later, 

we walked outside our door the final time,
rode the elevator down together. Crossed

the lobby and vestibule, out the front door
onto the wide sidewalk of our building. 

All the while, unaware of the drive. 
Your last moments under a bluebird sky.

Your last moment standing
at the end of the fatal kite.

Copyright © 2022 by Scott Hightower. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 13, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

Bruce Derricotte, June 22, 1928 - June 21, 2011
What was there is no longer there:
Not the blood running its wires of flame through the whole length
Not the memories, the texts written in the language of the flat hills
No, not the memories, the porch swing and the father crying
The genteel and elegant aunt bleeding out on the highway
(Too black for the white ambulance to pick up)
Who had sent back lacquered plates from China
Who had given away her best ivory comb that one time she was angry
Not the muscles, the ones the white girls longed to touch
But must not (for your mother warned
You would be lynched in that all-white Ohio town you grew up in)
Not that same town where you were the only, the one good black boy
All that is gone
Not the muscles running, the baseball flying into your mitt
Not the hand that laid itself over my heart and saved me 
Not the eyes that held the long gold tunnel I believed in 
Not the restrained hand in love and in anger
Not the holding back
Not the taut holding


Copyright © 2012 by Toi Derricotte. Used with permission of the author.

The line-storm clouds fly tattered and swift, 
  The road is forlorn all day, 
Where a myriad snowy quartz stones lift, 
  And the hoof-prints vanish away. 
The roadside flowers, too wet for the bee,
  Expend their bloom in vain. 
Come over the hills and far with me, 
  And be my love in the rain. 

The birds have less to say for themselves 
  In the wood-world’s torn despair
Than now these numberless years the elves, 
  Although they are no less there: 
All song of the woods is crushed like some 
  Wild, easily shattered rose. 
Come, be my love in the wet woods; come,
  Where the boughs rain when it blows. 

There is the gale to urge behind 
  And bruit our singing down, 
And the shallow waters aflutter with wind 
  From which to gather your gown.    
What matter if we go clear to the west, 
  And come not through dry-shod? 
For wilding brooch shall wet your breast 
  The rain-fresh goldenrod. 

Oh, never this whelming east wind swells   
  But it seems like the sea’s return 
To the ancient lands where it left the shells 
  Before the age of the fern; 
And it seems like the time when after doubt 
  Our love came back amain.      
Oh, come forth into the storm and rout 
  And be my love in the rain.

This poem is in the public domain.

When did I know that I’d have to carry it around
in order to have it when I need it, say in a pocket,

the dark itself not dark enough but needing to be
added to, handful by handful if necessary, until

the way my mother would sit all night in a room
without the lights, smoking, until she disappeared?

Where would she go, because I would go there.
In the morning, nothing but a blanket and all her

absence and the feeling in the air of happiness.
And so much loneliness, a kind of purity of being

and emptiness, no one you are or could ever be,
my mother like another me in another life, gone

where I will go, night now likely dark enough
I can be alone as I’ve never been alone before.

Copyright © 2019 by Stanley Plumly. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 7, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.