You must have a hope that will let you stomp and sing at any cold dawn. You must not wait to love the student who loves you and would like to kill you. You must read the story again and again to the child who receives you with a bovine stare. You must get up every day to punch in not dreaming on transcendence, not desiring new heroes or gods, not looking the other way, but looking for the other way and ready to talk to everyone on the line. You must not wait for official approval nor general consensus to rage. You must come again to kneel in shiny, rock-strewn soil not to pray, but to plant. Yes, even now as ice caps melt and black top goes soft in the sun you must prepare for the harvest.
Copyright © 2005 Jon Andersen. From Stomp & Sing. Used with permission of Curbstone Press.
Wait, for now.
Distrust everything if you have to.
But trust the hours. Haven’t they
carried you everywhere, up to now?
Personal events will become interesting again.
Hair will become interesting.
Pain will become interesting.
Buds that open out of season will become interesting.
Second-hand gloves will become lovely again;
their memories are what give them
the need for other hands. The desolation
of lovers is the same: that enormous emptiness
carved out of such tiny beings as we are
asks to be filled; the need
for the new love is faithfulness to the old.
Don’t go too early.
You’re tired. But everyone’s tired.
But no one is tired enough.
Only wait a little and listen:
music of hair,
music of pain,
music of looms weaving our loves again.
Be there to hear it, it will be the only time,
most of all to hear your whole existence,
rehearsed by the sorrows, play itself into total exhaustion.
Copyright © 1980 by Galway Kinnell. From Mortal Acts, Mortal Words (Mariner Books, 1980). Used with permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
I will think of water-lilies
Growing in a darkened pool,
And my breath shall move like water,
And my hands be limp and cool.
It shall be as though I waited
In a wooden place alone;
I will learn the peace of lilies
And will take it for my own.
If a twinge of thought, if yearning
Come like wind into this place,
I will bear it like the shadow
Of a leaf across my face.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on May 25, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
I have known hours built like cities,
House on grey house, with streets between
That lead to straggling roads and trail off,
Forgotten in a field of green;
Hours made like mountains lifting
White crests out of the fog and rain,
And woven of forbidden music—
Hours eternal in their pain.
Life is a tapestry of hours
Forever mellowing in tone,
Where all things blend, even the longing
For hours I have never known.
This poem is in the public domain.
Darkness swept the earth in my dream,
Cold crowded the streets with its wings,
Cold talons pursued each river and stream
Into the mountains, found out their springs
And drilled the dark world with ice.
An enormous wreck of a bird
Closed on my heart in the darkness
And sank into sleep as it shivered.
Not even the heat of your blood, nor the pure
Light falling endlessly from you, like rain,
Could stay in my memory there
Or comfort me then.
Only the comfort of darkness,
The ice-cold, unfreezable brine,
Could melt the cries into silence,
Your bright hands into mine.
From Collected Poems by Galway Kinnell. Copyright © 2017 by The Literary Estate of Galway Kinnell. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.
It's going to come out all right—do you know? The sun, the birds, the grass—they know. They get along—and we’ll get along. Some days will be rainy and you will sit waiting And the letter you wait for won’t come, And I will sit watching the sky tear off gray and gray And the letter I wait for won’t come. There will be ac-ci-dents. I know ac-ci-dents are coming. Smash-ups, signals wrong, washouts, trestles rotten, Red and yellow ac-ci-dents. But somehow and somewhere the end of the run The train gets put together again And the caboose and the green tail lights Fade down the right of way like a new white hope. I never heard a mockingbird in Kentucky Spilling its heart in the morning. I never saw the snow on Chimborazo. It’s a high white Mexican hat, I hear. I never had supper with Abe Lincoln. Nor a dish of soup with Jim Hill. But I’ve been around. I know some of the boys here who can go a little. I know girls good for a burst of speed any time. I heard Williams and Walker Before Walker died in the bughouse. I knew a mandolin player Working in a barber shop in an Indiana town, And he thought he had a million dollars. I knew a hotel girl in Des Moines. She had eyes; I saw her and said to myself The sun rises and the sun sets in her eyes. I was her steady and her heart went pit-a-pat. We took away the money for a prize waltz at a Brotherhood dance. She had eyes; she was safe as the bridge over the Mississippi at Burlington; I married her. Last summer we took the cushions going west. Pike’s Peak is a big old stone, believe me. It’s fastened down; something you can count on. It’s going to come out all right—do you know? The sun, the birds, the grass—they know. They get along—and we’ll get along.
This poem is in the public domain.
You have spoken the answer.
A child searches far sometimes
Into the red dust
On a dark rose leaf
And so you have gone far
For the answer is:
In the republic
Of the winking stars
and spent cataclysms
Sure we are it is off there the answer is hidden and folded over,
Sleeping in the sun, careless whether it is Sunday or any other
day of the week,
Knowing silence will bring all one way or another.
Have we not seen
Purple of the pansy
out of the mulch
into a dusk
blur of yellow?
Almost we thought from nowhere but it was the silence,
This poem is in the public domain.
A few small sails, barely moving,
dot Fidalgo Bay. As the sun burns away
the last pale clouds, a confluence
of robins descends to explore
my neighbor’s garden—
brown grass, muddy beds and the last
fading roses of the year.
It is September, the end of summer.
My backyard maples turning orange
and red and gold. From my high window,
the great mountain looks
painted on the horizon line,
small mountains at its feet, then
headlands and the Salish Sea below.
I can read no more today
about the agonies of this world,
its desperate refugees, the men
of arms and gold whose death tolls
are as numberless as the stars.
I’ve grown weary, impatient,
as I’ve grown old.
After this morning’s rain, I dream
only of a woman’s gentle laughter,
her fingers on my arm as we sip wine
in the evening, telling tales,
lighting the heart’s small fires
that will get us through the rains
of autumn and dark winter.
Alone at my window, I watch
a silent world and find it
welcome, my own silence welcome.
Longing has its own quiet place
in the human heart, but love
is sometimes rapturous, noisy,
almost uncivilized, and knows
no boundaries, no borders.
And what am I but its solitary
pilgrim—lost, found, lost again—
on the long journey whose only end
is silence before the burning
of my body, one last moment
of flame, a whiff of smoke
and gone with the rain.
From After Morning Rain (Tiger Bark Press, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Sam Hamill. Used with the permission of Eron Hamill.
I’ve lost something and I can’t describe
what it is
and what if that’s my job
to say how empty an absence is
like rolling 2 gears together
and maybe teeth are missing in one
or maybe trying to grind
two stones that are
polished and smoothed
I’ve always liked
a little grit
but sand in my shoes
or in my hair
is like shattering
a glass in carpet
and using a broom to
get it out
I can’t describe
what it’s like to
sit on opposite ends
of a park bench and
not know how
to get any closer
I miss so many things
and I’ve looked through my piggy
bank and only found pennies
a pile of things that are
almost completely worthless
a shoebox full of sporks
a well with a bucket and a rope
that’s too short
sometimes in my room
it’s so dark that if I wake
up I won’t know if it’s morning or night
imagine being someplace you know
so well but are lost and don’t have any idea
how to get out
the rule is, put your right hand out
lay it on the wall, and follow
sometimes the rules don’t apply to all of us
I don’t want to sleep here again tonight
Copyright © 2020 by Kenyatta Rogers . Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 26, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
for Otis Douglas Smith, my father
The recipe for hot water cornbread is simple:
Cornmeal, hot water. Mix till sluggish,
then dollop in a sizzling skillet.
When you smell the burning begin, flip it.
When you smell the burning begin again,
dump it onto a plate. You’ve got to wait
for the burning and get it just right.
Before the bread cools down,
smear it with sweet salted butter
and smash it with your fingers,
crumple it up in a bowl
of collard greens or buttermilk,
forget that I’m telling you it’s the first thing
I ever cooked, that my daddy was laughing
and breathing and no bullet in his head
when he taught me.
Mix it till it looks like quicksand, he’d say.
Till it moves like a slow song sounds.
We’d sit there in the kitchen, licking our fingers
and laughing at my mother,
who was probably scrubbing something with bleach,
or watching Bonanza,
or thinking how stupid it was to be burning
that nasty old bread in that cast iron skillet.
When I told her that I’d made my first-ever pan
of hot water cornbread, and that my daddy
had branded it glorious, she sniffed and kept
mopping the floor over and over in the same place.
So here’s how you do it:
You take out a bowl, like the one
we had with blue flowers and only one crack,
you put the cornmeal in it.
Then you turn on the hot water and you let it run
while you tell the story about the boy
who kissed your cheek after school
or about how you really want to be a reporter
instead of a teacher or nurse like Mama said,
and the water keeps running while Daddy says
You will be a wonderful writer
and you will be famous someday and when
you get famous, if I wrote you a letter and
send you some money, would you write about me?
and he is laughing and breathing and no bullet
in his head. So you let the water run into this mix
till it moves like mud moves at the bottom of a river,
which is another thing Daddy said, and even though
I’d never even seen a river,
I knew exactly what he meant.
Then you turn the fire way up under the skillet,
and you pour in this mix
that moves like mud moves at the bottom of a river,
like quicksand, like slow song sounds.
That stuff pops something awful when it first hits
that blazing skillet, and sometimes Daddy and I
would dance to those angry pop sounds,
he’d let me rest my feet on top of his
while we waltzed around the kitchen
and my mother huffed and puffed
on the other side of the door. When you are famous,
Daddy asks me, will you write about dancing
in the kitchen with your father?
I say everything I write will be about you,
then you will be famous too. And we dip and swirl
and spin, but then he stops.
And sniffs the air.
The thing you have to remember
about hot water cornbread
is to wait for the burning
so you know when to flip it, and then again
so you know when it’s crusty and done.
Then eat it the way we did,
with our fingers,
our feet still tingling from dancing.
But remember that sometimes the burning
takes such a long time,
and in that time,
poems are born.
From Teahouse of the Almighty (Coffee House Press, 2006). Copyright © 2006 by Patricia Smith. Used with permission of Coffee House Press.
when you send the rain,
think about it, please,
not get carried away
by the sound of falling water,
the marvelous light
on the falling water.
am beneath that water.
It falls with great force
and the light
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.
Oh, Hope! thou soother sweet of human woes!
How shall I lure thee to my haunts forlorn!
For me wilt thou renew the wither’d rose,
And clear my painful path of pointed thorn?
Ah come, sweet nymph! in smiles and softness drest,
Like the young hours that lead the tender year,
Enchantress! come, and charm my cares to rest:—
Alas! the flatterer flies, and will not hear!
A prey to fear, anxiety, and pain,
Must I a sad existence still deplore?
Lo!—the flowers fade, but all the thorns remain,
“For me the vernal garland blooms no more.”
Come then, “pale Misery’s love!” be thou my cure,
And I will bless thee, who, tho’ slow, art sure.
This poem is in the public domain.
for Frank O’Hara
Frank, we have become an urban species
at this moment many millions of humans are
standing on some corner waiting like me
for a signal permitting us to go,
a signal depicting a small pale pedestrian
to be followed by a sea-green light
we do not use this opportunity
to tune in to eternity
we bounce upon our toes impatiently
It is a Thursday morning, Frank, and I feel
rather acutely alive but I need a thing of beauty
or a theory of beauty to reconcile me
to the lumps of garbage I cannot love enclosed
in these tough shiny black plastic bags
heaped along the curb of 97th Street, my street—
like a hideous reminder of the fate we all expect
letting the bulky slimy truth of waste
attack our aesthetic sense and joie de vivre
reliably every Thursday. Let me scan the handsome amber
columned and corniced dwellings
reflected in rear windows of parked cars, let me wish
luck to their hives of intimacies, people
in kitchens finishing a morning coffee
saying see you later to the ones they live with
Let me raise my eyes to the blue veil adrift
between and above the artifice of buildings
and at last I am slipping through a flaw in time
where the string of white headlights approaching, the string
of red taillights departing, seem as if
they carry some kind of message
perhaps the message is that one block west
Riverside Park extends its length
at the edge of Manhattan like the downy arm
of a tender, amusing, beautiful lover,
and after that is the deathless river
but waiting for the light feels like forever
From Waiting for the Light, by Alicia Ostriker. Copyright © 2017. Reprinted by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.
I am like a flag unfurled in space,
I scent the oncoming winds and must bend with them,
While the things beneath are not yet stirring,
While doors close gently and there is silence in the chimneys
And the windows do not yet tremble and the dust is still heavy—
Then I feel the storm and am vibrant like the sea
And expand and withdraw into myself
And thrust myself forth and am alone in the great storm.
This poem is in the public domain. From Poems (Tobias A. Wright, 1918), translated by Jessie Lamont.