If the gods bring to you
a strange and frightening creature,
accept the gift
as if it were one you had chosen.
Say the accustomed prayers,
oil the hooves well,
caress the small ears with praise.
Have the new halter of woven silver
embedded with jewels.
Spare no expense, pay what is asked,
when a gift arrives from the sea.
Treat it as you yourself
would be treated,
brought speechless and naked
into the court of a king.
And when the request finally comes,
do not hesitate even an instant—
Stroke the white throat,
the heavy, trembling dewlaps
you've come to believe were yours,
and plunge in the knife.
did you enter the pasture
without yourself trembling.
That you came to love it, that was the gift.
Let the envious gods take back what they can.
Originally published in The Lives of the Heart (HarperCollins, 1997); all rights reserved. Copyright © by Jane Hirshfield. Reprinted with the permission of the author.
Go through the gates with closed eyes.
Stand erect and let your black face front the west.
Drop the axe and leave the timber where it lies;
A woodman on the hill must have his rest.
Go where leaves are lying brown and wet.
Forget her warm arms and her breast who mothered you,
And every face you ever loved forget.
Close your eyes; walk bravely through.
From Caroling Dusk (Harper & Brothers, 1927), edited by Countee Cullen. This poem is in the public domain.
I become the song I’ve been
singing alone in this field with you.
What deal did we make that leaps
so far behind both into the horizon
and from it? Some grim comfort
has come my way in the form
of an ox. The ox struggles to remain
in my consciousness, an unfounded
howl yearning to ring around
a ventriloquist’s echo. I’ve become
too busy for such nonsense, so I cast
it into the places where I retreat myself,
the ecstatic, gratitudinal rest and re-
storation of popular music. My goal
isn’t to unfold popular music once
more, rather it is to speak now to
how the animals say it better. Make
the nominal joy render justice. Make
a joke of nothing. Grade this remark
holding no reluctance today, only hope.
Copyright © 2021 by Soham Patel. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 9, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
This youth too long has heard the break
Of waters in a land of change.
He goes to see what suns can make
From soil more indurate and strange.
He cuts what holds his days together
And shuts him in, as lock on lock:
The arrowed vane announcing weather,
The tripping racket of a clock;
Seeking, I think, a light that waits
Still as a lamp upon a shelf,—
A land with hills like rocky gates
Where no sea leaps upon itself.
But he will find that nothing dares
To be enduring, save where, south
Of hidden deserts, torn fire glares
On beauty with a rusted mouth,—
Where something dreadful and another
Look quietly upon each other.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on December 10, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.
Out of the barrenness of earth,
And the meager rain—
Mile upon mile of exultant
Fields of grain.
Out of the dimness of morning—
Sudden and stark,
A hot sun dispelling
The hushed dark.
Out of the bleakness of living,
Out of the unforgivable wrongs,
Out of the thin, dun soil of my soul—
Only the rhythm of the rain
Can ease my sorrow, end my pain.
He was a wilful lad,
Laughter the burden he had;
Songs unsung haunted his mouth,
Velvet as soft airs from the languid south;
He was sprung from the dawn,
Flame-crested. He is gone!
Only the lashing, silver whips
Of the rain can still my lips…
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on November 21, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
You can get there from here, though
there’s no going home.
Everywhere you go will be somewhere
you’ve never been. Try this:
head south on Mississippi 49, one—
by—one mile markers ticking off
another minute of your life. Follow this
to its natural conclusion—dead end
at the coast, the pier at Gulfport where
riggings of shrimp boats are loose stitches
in a sky threatening rain. Cross over
the man-made beach, 26 miles of sand
dumped on a mangrove swamp—buried
terrain of the past. Bring only
what you must carry—tome of memory
its random blank pages. On the dock
where you board the boat for Ship Island,
someone will take your picture:
the photograph—who you were—
will be waiting when you return
"Theories of Time and Space" from Native Guard: Poems by Natasha Trethewey. Copyright © 2006 by Natasha Trethewey. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
like a room with an open window, we
neither exit nor entrance,
fully: so the ghosts crossed our thresholds:
they have all gone out, they have all gone in:
the little houses leaning into the field of grass, the water
tower levitating into the sky, the roadside drill
that digs in the grit:
shock of the human
continuously beating but irregularly: so absence
fills with expectation, overfills: and the thing is
Copyright © 2019 Gina Franco. This poem was originally published in Quarterly West. Used with permission of the author.
Wouldbelove, do not think of me as a whetstone
until you hear the whole story:
In it, I’m not the hero, but I’m not the villain either
so let’s say, in the story, I was human
and made of human-things: fear
and hands, underbelly and blade. Let me
say it plain: I loved someone
and I failed at it. Let me say it
another way: I like to call myself wound
but I will answer to knife. Sometimes
I think we have the same name, Notquitelove. I want
to be soft, to say here is my underbelly and I want you
to hold the knife, but I don’t know what I want you to do:
plunge or mercy. I deserve both. I want to hold and be held.
Let me say it again, Possiblelove: I’m not sure
you should. The truth is: If you don’t, I won’t
die of want or lonely, just time. And not now, not even
soon. But that’s how every story ends eventually.
Here is how one might start: Before. The truth?
I’m not a liar but I close my eyes a lot, Couldbelove.
Before, I let a blade slide itself sharp against me. Look
at where I once bloomed red and pulsing. A keloid
history. I have not forgotten the knife or that I loved
it or what it was like before: my unscarred body
visits me in dreams and photographs. Maybelove,
I barely recognize it without the armor of its scars.
I am trying to tell the truth: the dreams are how
I haunt myself. Maybe I’m not telling the whole story:
I loved someone and now I don’t. I can’t promise
to leave you unscarred. The truth: I am a map
of every blade I ever held. This is not a dream.
Look at us now: all grit and density. What, Wouldbelove
do you know of knives? Do you think you are a soft thing?
I don’t. Maybe the truth is: Both. Blade and guard.
My truth is: blade. My hands
on the blade; my hands, the blade; my hands
carving and re-carving every overzealous fibrous
memory. The truth is: I want to hold your hands
because they are like mine. Holding a knife
by the blade and sharpening it. In your dreams, how much invitation
to pierce are you? Perhapslove, the truth is: I am afraid
we are both knives, both stones, both scarred. Or we will be.
The truth is: I have made fire
before: stone against stone. Mightbelove, I have sharpened
this knife before: blade against blade. I have hurt and hungered
against flesh. I won’t make a dull promise.
Copyright © 2019 by Nicole Homer. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 25, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
I can never have the field. I can never halve the
field, make a helix of my hands and hold the
like pictures of the field—or fields—and affix one
feeling to the fields—or the infinite field—and stay
I can walk down to the bog, the field
under-foliate-feet, in a bloodflow motion towards
of the bullfrogs’ black-lacteous tactile pool and
listen to the unilluminable below-surface stirring,
gravid ruckus of drooling purr and primordial bluebrown
blur. I can aggravate the grating godhood and glisten
of preening slime—its opaque, plumbeous,
tympanic slurps—an inside-outside alertness
burrowing, harping with pings and plops
(lurches), and make the mossy froth go
berserk with silence,
then foofaraw when the bog in the field senses I am
nothing to fear. I can hear amphibious amour fou
under a blue-green gasoline film, spongiform but
formless, boiling with blotched air-bubble let-go, life
the surface in slicks of upward rain and glossopalatine
pops and liquid crop circles. I can stop here and
in time with the bobolink and make my bel
memento, my untremendous tremolo and
In the fable, the animal smells fear and so does the
fool. I think to myself—in my skull’s skeletal
I am both. I am both. I am both, and I can hold it
Copyright © 2020 by Kristina Martino. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 28, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Yea, there are as many stars under the Earth as over the Earth...
Plenty of room to roll around in has our planet...
And I, at the edge of the porch,
Hearing the crickets shrill in the star-thick armies of grass,
And beholding over the spread of Earth the spread of the heavens...
Drink this deep moment in my pilgrimage,
With a sense of how forever I have been alive,
With a conviction that I shall go on, ever safe, ever growing,
The stars to be included in my travels,
And the future sure before me.
This poem is in the public domain.
I have known only my own shallows—
Safe, plumbed places,
Where I was wont to preen myself.
But for the abyss
I wanted a plank beneath
I was afraid of the silence
And the slipping toe-hold...
Oh, could I now dive
Into the unexplored deeps of me—
Delve and bring up and give
All that is submerged, encased, unfolded,
That is yet the best.
This poem is in the public domain. Originally appeared in The Ghetto and Other Poems (B. W. Huebsch, 1918).
I’m going to open the borders of my hunger
and call it a parade.
But I’m lying if I said I was hungry.
If dying required practice,
I could give up the conditions for being alone.
I undress in the sun and stare at it
until I can stand its brightness no longer.
Why is it always noon in my head?
I’m going to run outside and whisper,
or hold a gun and say bang,
or hold a gun and not do anything at all.
The lamps that wait inside me say
come, the gift is the practice,
the price is the door.
From Cenzontle (BOA Editions, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo. Used with the permission of BOA Editions.
Give me strength to endure
The gifts of the Muses,
Daughters of Memory.
When the sky is blue as Minerva's eyes
Let me stand unshaken;
When the sea sings to the rising sun
Let me be unafraid;
When the meadow lark falls like a meteor
Through the light of afternoon,
An unloosened fountain of rapture,
Keep my heart from spilling
Its vital power;
When at the dawn
The dim souls of crocuses hear the calls
Of waking birds,
Give me to live but master the loveliness.
Keep my eyes unharmed from splendors
Unveiled by you,
And my ears at peace
Filled no less with the music
Of Passion and Pain, growth and change.
But O ye sacred and terrible powers,
Reckless of my mortality,
Strengthen me to behold a face,
To know the spirit of a beloved one
Yet to endure, yet to dare!
This poem is in the public domain.