the arms of the bosque form a temple
site a dim sage sap a gentle
in yesterday’s burn, the wild flames
jumped the river
danced for acres with ache
as I loaded my car in the event
to return to this network of trees
(who make way for each other
who weep with wind for what was blackened)
is to discover a spiral of mulberry
a pocket of decadence
within a realm of filtered light
find me humming through the bush
with a basket dog paws painted purple
find me whispering to laden branches
beside a yearning
besides, a small dark-faced bird
ordering “come here”
motioning come here thumb, two fingers
also purple after having been motioned
by a soft breeze
by a silent ask to be unburdened
the tree that bears fruit is not withholding
despite the loss a shock of death
reverberating through root system
despite the taking,
mulberry is a generous and hungry lover
glutton for giving shouting for touch
I want to be consumed in a way
that is safe
in a space without smoke
in the shade of a cottonwood
in the slit of the bark
Copyright © 2022 by Jaye Elizabeth Elijah. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 8, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.
1. Mare Crisium
battery of wind | car sliding toward the
ditch | phantom in the left hemisphere | blood
down wrong | an erase | drumbeat | rip along
the seam | drumbeat | landslide and shatter | oh
drumbeat | how you became ashes when we
weren’t there | silence | silence | silence | silence ||
2. Mare Nubium
Turn west toward granite chop and shut
your eyes. Think of what you desire. Spread
your arms to manifest four humors in the arc. Clouds
will form in the shape of a precipice woman stone
eagle. You will be torn. You will be called
a fumbler. Clouds will form in the shape of a
child wren hand boat. You will be lofted.
You will be called a savior. Clouds form.
You open your arms. Rain at last lets down.
3. Mare Tranquillitatis
All our stories sputtered
the only language
left. Empty wine bottle
a driftwood bulwark.
Blue hour after
the sun, before dark,
and you kept
pushing your hair
out of your eyes
so you could watch
4. Mare Cognitum
Maybe afterward we know.
In this living there is no space
for recognition. I’d hang a ribbon
above the water. I’d be a book.
Finder’s fee to anyone who can
point out the route. Here. After.
5. Oceanus Procellarum
Once, electricity crawled through my arm and raised
a blister on each fingertip. Once, I choked on a stone.
Air pushing against barrier. Once, a car struck and I
kept traveling. Glass fragments in my hair and a broken
wing. I’ve never been good at this, saying which thump
bruised and which thump distorted. I wanted with
the whole structure I built as my being. Pulled myself
out of a life and into another. Low pressure rolling in
along my spine and settling. I want to open up now
and let it all out. Go ahead, make up a story of how
I was cold and unapproachable. Most shining when
closest but still bringing out the wind, bringing out the storm.
Copyright © 2021 by Erin Coughlin Hollowell. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 12, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
I know it’s a bad title
but I’m giving it to myself as a gift
on a day nearly canceled by sunlight
when the entire hill is approaching
the ideal of Virginia
brochured with goldenrod and loblolly
and I think “at least I have not woken up
with a bloody knife in my hand”
by then having absently wandered
one hundred yards from the house
while still seated in this chair
with my eyes closed.
It is a certain hill.
The one I imagine when I hear the word “hill,”
and if the apocalypse turns out
to be a world-wide nervous breakdown,
if our five billion minds collapse at once,
well I’d call that a surprise ending
and this hill would still be beautiful,
a place I wouldn’t mind dying
alone or with you.
I am trying to get at something
and I want to talk very plainly to you
so that we are both comforted by the honesty.
You see, there is a window by my desk
I stare out when I’m stuck,
though the outdoors has rarely inspired me to write
and I don’t know why I keep staring at it.
My childhood hasn’t made good material either,
mostly being a mulch of white minutes
with a few stand out moments:
popping tar bubbles on the driveway in the summer,
a certain amount of pride at school
everytime they called it “our sun,”
and playing football when the only play
was “go out long” are what stand out now.
If squeezed for more information
I can remember old clock radios
with flipping metal numbers
and an entree called Surf and Turf.
As a way of getting in touch with my origins,
every night I set the alarm clock
for the time I was born, so that waking up
becomes a historical reenactment
and the first thing I do
is take a reading of the day
and try to flow with it,
like when you’re riding a mechanical bull
and you strain to learn the pattern quickly
so you don’t inadvertently resist it.
I can’t remember being born
and no one else can remember it either
even the doctor who I met years later
at a cocktail party.
It’s one of the little disappointments
that makes you think about getting away,
going to Holly Springs or Coral Gables
and taking a room on the square
with a landlady whose hands are scored
by disinfectant, telling the people you meet
that you are from Alaska, and listen
to what they have to say about Alaska
until you have learned much more about Alaska
than you ever will about Holly Springs or Coral Gables.
Sometimes I’m buying a newspaper
in a strange city and think
“I am about to learn what it’s like to live here.”
Oftentimes there’s a news item
about the complaints of homeowners
who live beside the airport
and I realize that I read an article
on this subject nearly once a year
and always receive the same image:
I am in bed late at night
in my house near the airport
listening to the jets fly overhead,
a strange wife sleeping beside me.
In my mind the bedroom is an amalgamation
of various cold medicine commercial sets
(there is always a box of tissue on the nightstand).
I know these recurring news articles are clues,
flaws in the design, though I haven’t figured out
how to string them together yet.
But I’m noticing that the same people
are dying over and over again,
for instance, Minnie Pearl
who died this year
for the fourth time in four years.
Today is the first day of Lent
and once again I’m not really sure what it is.
How many more years will I let pass
before I take the trouble to ask someone?
It reminds me of this morning
when you were getting ready for work.
I was sitting by the space heater,
numbly watching you dress,
and when you asked why I never wear a robe
I had so many good reasons
I didn’t know where to begin.
If you were cool in high school
you didn’t ask too many questions.
You could tell who’d been to last night’s
big metal concert by the new t-shirts in the hallways.
You didn’t have to ask
and that’s what cool was:
the ability to deduce,
to know without asking.
And the pressure to simulate coolness
means not asking when you don’t know,
which is why kids grow ever more stupid.
A yearbook’s endpages, filled with promises
to stay in touch, stand as proof of the uselessness
of a teenager’s promise. Not like I’m dying
for a letter from the class stoner
ten years on but…
Do you remember the way the girls
would call out “love you!”
conveniently leaving out the “I”
as if they didn’t want to commit
to their own declaration.
I agree that the “I” is a pretty heavy concept
and hope you won’t get uncomfortable
if I should go into some deeper stuff here.
There are things I’ve given up on
like recording funny answering-machine messages.
It’s part of growing older
and the human race as a group
has matured along the same lines.
It seems our comedy dates the quickest.
If you laugh out loud at Shakespeare’s jokes
I hope you won’t be insulted
if I say you’re trying too hard.
Even sketches from the original Saturday Night Live
seem slow-witted and obvious now.
It’s just that our advances are irrepressible.
Nowadays little kids can’t even set up lemonade stands.
It makes people too self-conscious about the past,
though try explaining that to a kid.
I’m not saying it should be this way.
All this new technology
will eventually give us new feelings
that will never completely displace the old ones,
leaving everyone feeling quite nervous
and split in two.
We will travel to Mars
even as folks on Earth
are still ripping open potato chip
bags with their teeth.
Why? I don’t have the time or intelligence
to make all the connections,
like my friend Gordon
(this is a true story)
who, having grown up in Braintree, Massachusetts,
had never pictured a brain snagged in a tree
until I brought it up.
He’d never broken the name down to its parts.
By then it was too late.
He had moved to Coral Gables.
The hill out my window is still looking beautiful,
suffused in a kind of gold national park light,
and it seems to say,
I’m sorry the world could not possibly
use another poem about Orpheus
but I’m available if you’re not working
on a self-portrait or anything.
I’m watching my dog have nightmares,
twitching and whining on the office floor,
and I try to imagine what beast
has cornered him in the meadow
where his dreams are set.
I’m just letting the day be what it is:
a place for a large number of things
to gather and interact —
not even a place but an occasion,
a reality for real things.
Friends warned me not to get too psychedelic
or religious with this piece:
“they won’t accept it if it’s too psychedelic
or religious,” but these are valid topics
and I’m the one with the dog twitching on the floor,
possibly dreaming of me,
that part of me that would beat a dog
for no good reason,
no reason that a dog could see.
I am trying to get at something so simple
that I have to talk plainly
so the words don’t disfigure it,
and if it turns out that what I say is untrue,
then at least let it be harmless
like a leaky boat in the reeds
that is bothering no one.
I can’t trust the accuracy of my own memories,
many of them having blended with sentimental
telephone and margarine commercials,
plainly ruined by Madison Avenue,
though no one seems to call the advertising world
“Madison Avenue” anymore. Have they moved?
I need an update on this.
But first I have some business to take care of.
I walked out to the hill behind our house
which looks positively Alaskan today,
and it would be easier to explain this
if I had a picture to show you,
but I was with our young dog
and he was running through the tall grass
like running through the tall grass
is all of life together,
until a bird calls or he finds a beer can
and that thing fills all the space in his head.
his mind can only hold one thought at a time
and when he finally hears me call his name
he looks up and cocks his head.
For a single moment
my voice is everything:
Self-portrait at 28.
From Actual Air (Drag City, 2003) by David Berman Copyright © 2003 by David Berman. Used with the permission of Cassie Berman and Drag City.
The light retreats and is generous again.
No you to speak of, anywhere—neither in vicinity nor distance,
so I look at the blue water, the snowy egret, the lace of its feathers
shaking in the wind, the lake—no, I am lying.
There are no egrets here, no water. Most of the time,
my mind gnaws on such ridiculous fictions.
My phone notes littered with lines like Beauty will not save you.
Or: mouthwash, yogurt, cilantro.
A hummingbird zips past me, its luminescent plumage
disturbing my vision like a tiny dorsal fin.
But what I want does not appear. Instead, I find the redwoods and pines,
figs that have fallen and burst open on the pavement,
announcing that sickly sweet smell,
the sweetness of grief, my prayer for what is gone.
You are so dramatic, I say to the reflection on my phone,
then order the collected novels of Jean Rhys.
She, too, was humiliated by her body, that it wanted
such stupid, simple things: food and cherry wine, to touch someone.
On my daily walk, I steal Meyer lemons from my neighbors’ yard,
a small pomegranate. Instead of eating them,
I observe their casual rot on the kitchen counter,
this theatre of good things turning into something else.
Copyright © 2021 by Aria Aber. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 19, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
This poem is in the public domain.
And only where the forest fires have sped,
Scorching relentlessly the cool north lands,
A sweet wild flower lifts its purple head,
And, like some gentle spirit sorrow-fed,
It hides the scars with almost human hands.
And only to the heart that knows of grief,
Of desolating fire, of human pain,
There comes some purifying sweet belief,
Some fellow-feeling beautiful, if brief.
And life revives, and blossoms once again.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on May 2, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
It's an earth song,—
And I've been waiting long for an earth song.
It's a spring song,—
And I've been waiting long for a spring song.
Strong as the shoots of a new plant
Strong as the bursting of new buds
Strong as the coming of the first child from its mother's womb.
It's an earth song,
A body song,
A spring song,
I have been waiting long for this spring song.
This poem is in the public domain.
The ferns—sharp lime green, lean over
the concrete like a woman over a boardwalk
on a bright spring day like this, though maybe it is better
with Grace’s curious nose assessing the damp earth
while ignoring its copious lizards.
There is joy in the soft butt
of a dog disappearing into its daily necessities.
I am not sure I have ever had such a joy,
either in discovery or expectation. Looking out
over the side of a boat
with a hat as wide as this fern
is Grace, of the delicate paws.
I have never liked it: The Spring. But this is the
end of Spring! First yellow of summer. They say a poet
can never write a purely happy poem about a dog
greeting the sun and what it has done to rain.
I don’t know about that.
I am light like a canine’s memory;
a minute, a world. Where one of the greatest
and most daring feats is to enjoy
the breeze’s slow boat of fertilization
made by other dogs of other years—the scent of
living in and of itself. Grace among the ferns
likes to place her body right over the pulpit
of the last dog, so they know. I am here, too. Living.
Lime green ribbons touch her soft, wet nose.
Copyright © 2021 by Analicia Sotelo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 21, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
I’m out to find the new, the modern school,
Where Science trains the fledgling bard to fly,
Where critics teach the ignorant, the fool,
To write the stuff the editors would buy;
It matters not e’en though it be a lie,—
Just so it aims to smash tradition’s crown
And build up one instead decked with a new renown.
A thought is haunting me by night and day,
And in some safe archive I seek to lay it;
I have some startling thing I wish to say,
And they can put me wise just how to say it.
Without their aid, I, like the ass, must bray it,
Without due knowledge of its mood and tense,
And so ’tis sure to fail the bard to recompense.
Will some kind one direct me to that college
Where every budding genius now is headed,
The only source to gain poetic knowledge,
Where all the sacred truths lay deep imbedded,
Where nothing but the genuine goods are shredded,—
The factory where they shape new feet and meters
That make poetic symbols sound like carpet beaters.
• • • • • • •
I hope I’ll be an eligible student,
E’en though I am no poet in a sense,
But just a hot-head youth with ways imprudent,—
A rustic ranting rhymer like by chance
Who thinks that he can make the muses dance
By beating on some poet’s borrowed lyre,
To win some fool’s applause and please his own desire.
Perhaps they’ll never know or e’en suspect
That I am not a true, a genuine poet;
If in the poet’s colors I am decked
They may not ask me e’er to prove or show it.
I’ll play the wise old cock, nor try to crow it,
But be content to gaze with open mind;
I’ll never show the lead but eye things from behind.
• • • • • • •
There goes a wench, a poor live human scrag,
Half crushed beneath the freight of seventy years.
With pail and scrub-brush, soapine and a rag,
To polish marble halls and dirty stairs.
I believe most times she cleans them with her tears,
Ah me, that’s civilization at its height,
Democracy’s full moon, obscured in darkest night.
• • • • • • •
Our President is not a fighter,
He is too proud to shoulder arms,
He is a scholar and a writer
Who woos a wealthy widow’s charms.
• • • • • • •
A high-toned gent,
The darling son
Has got the wit,
He makes a hit,
With campaign stuff
Of Yankee bluff.
• • • • • • •
He wields his English and his grammar,
His textbook and his rhetorics;
His words rain blows like a trip-hammer
And cut much ice in politics.
He’s getting wordier not wiser
In trained and skilled diplomacy;
He holds the maniac-champ the Kaiser
To strict accountability.
Come, Woody, quit your honeymooning;
The Austrians have sunk a boat;
Cut out your wooing and your spooning.
Get busy, write another note!
• • • • • • •
The house of God is nigh forever closed,
While that of Baal is always open wide,
A poor religious zeal is here exposed,
Which thus reflects a lack of Christian pride.
From good to bad men daily turn aside,
As in a trice from heaven to hell they leap;
The devil works overtime while ministers hug sleep
• • • • • • •
We hail thee, land of liberty.
Star of our hope and destiny
Where long we’ve been and long must be
In freedom’s fabled place.
We bless thee, land, in love’s sweet name
Whereto as slaves our fathers came,
Where still we struggle lashed and lame,
As exiles torn from Grace.
The Scotchman tunes his pipe and drum,
Old Ireland’s Harp is never dumb,
We make our rag-time banjo hum
To Uncle Sam’s swift pace.
We follow where his footsteps lead,
We copy him in word and deed,
E’en though his low and vicious creed
Our morals should debase.
With him we hail the stripes and stars,
The stripes that stand for color bars,
The stars that burn and leave their scars
On our black bleeding race.
• • • • • • •
Some think this Negro question is a joke,
Exploited by their leaders for mere gain;
They have no time to fool with colored folk,
Who seem to show more energy than brain,
Who’re always fighting, raising hell and cain
Among themselves; each wants a different leader,
They know no more their wants than donkeys know their breeder.
Some look to Booker Washington to lead them,
Some yell for Trotter, some for Kelly Miller,
Some want Du Bois with fat ideas to feed them,
Some want Jack Johnson, the big white hope killer.
Perhaps some want Carranza, some want Villa,
I guess they want social equality,
To marry and to mix in white society.
• • • • • • •
This is the white man’s country,
And he must bear the sway;
The Negro is an outcast,
Who happens here to stray;
He bears upon his forehead
The badge of negligence,
By chance he drifted hither,
So he must live by chance.
The people rejoice to hear the nations say,
“The whites alone must bear the sway.”
This is the native rampart
Of Nature’s chosen sons,
While ’tis the haunted prison
Of her despised ones.
This is the fruitful Eden
Where fortune bids us dwell,
This is the white man’s heaven,
But ’tis the Negro’s hell.
The people laugh while all the nations yell,
“The white man’s heaven is the black man’s hell.”
• • • • • • •
I have a problem all alone to solve,
A problem how to find the poetry club,
It makes my sky piece like a top revolve,
For fear that they might mark me for a snob.
They’ll call me poetry monger and then dub
Me rustic rhymer, anything they choose,
Aye, anything at all, but heaven’s immortal muse.
Great Byron, when he published his Childe book,
In which he sang of all his lovely dears,
Called forth hot condemnation and cold look,
From lesser mortals who were not his peers.
They chided him for telling his affairs,
Because they could not tell their own so well,
They plagued the poet lord and made his life a hell.
They called him lewd, vile drunkard, vicious wight,
And all because he dared to tell the truth,
Because he was no cursed hermaphrodite—
A full-fledged genius with the fire of youth.
They hounded him, they hammered him forsooth;
Because he blended human with divine,
They branded him “the bard of women and of wine.”
Of course I soak the booze once in a while,
But I don’t wake the town to sing and shout it;
I love the girls, they win me with a smile,
But no one knows, for I won’t write about it.
And so the fools may never think to doubt it,
When I declare I am a moral man,
As gifted, yet as good as God did ever plan.
From The Book of American Negro Poetry (Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1922), edited by James Weldon Johnson. This poem is in the public domain.
But when the knife enters the trout,
there is not enough nothing in the blade
to spare the gills, not enough nothing
in the bright blood to keep the bucket water clear.
From The Last Map (Unsolicited Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Art Zilleruelo. Used with the permission of the author.
Nesting, the turtle seems to be crying even though she is simply secreting
her salt. Her dozens bud limbs inside amniotic pillows
as she leaves every egg in a cup of sand the size of her body,
shaped like a tilting teardrop — and both cryings
are mentioned by scientists. My niece Eve is startle-eyed when you feed her
avocado and when you feed her sweet potato. She lives mouth first:
she would eat the sidewalk and piano, the symmetrical petals of the Bradford pear,
as if she could learn which parts of the world are made and how,
and yesterday she put her mouth on the image of her own face
in the mirror. Larkin says what will survive of us is love,
but the scientists say that the end of the decay-chain is lead and uranium and after that,
plastics. Just now the zooplankton are swallowing micro pearls of plastic
and the sea is aflame with waste caught in the moon’s light.
Here is the darkening hour and here, the shore, as she droplets her eggs,
bright as ping pong balls, into the sand. She can’t find the spot.
The beach is saltined with lights, neoned with spectacular
globes of light, a dozen moons instead of the one moon. Still, she lets them go
and one month later, tiny turtles hatch. They seem groggy,
carrying their houses of bone and cartilage to the ocean,
scrambling toward the horizon alongside the earth’s magnetic field.
Less than one percent of the hatchlings make it past
the seagulls and crabs, so Noah spent a summer dashing them to the water.
But my poem is not about the moment when a bird dove and bore
into the underflesh and into Noah’s memory.
My poem is about how we are gathered around Eve
in the kitchen as she eats a fruit she has never tried before
and each newness in the world
stops the world’s ending in its tracks.
Copyright © 2016 Nomi Stone. “Anthropocene” originally appeared in Plume. Used with permission of the author.