We are mired in matter until we are not
            — Ralph Lemon

I thought we were an archipelago 
each felt under our own finessed and gilded wing 
let’s make an assumption 
let’s make an assumption that            the lake has a bottom 
let’s make an assumption       that everyone will mourn 
let’s sack a hundred greenbacks 
for the sake of acknowledging they mean something 
what does it mean to have worth? 
who would dream to drain a lake? 
I spent my days staring into the eye of the Baltic 
it’s because I am also a body of water 
it’s not that onerous  
I’ve built a muscle memory  
it’s not that heavy 
let’s talk about erasure I mean 
that’s easy 
start with a word that you don’t like 
start with a people you didn’t know 
start with a neighborhood, rank 
start with any miasma dispersed 
let’s talk about burden 
let’s talk about burden for the weight 
it lends us 
let’s talk about supplication 
about my palms — uplift, patience 

let’s celebrate our substance  
subsistence in  
amber rivulets of stilllife 
constellations how you molded me  
country how we became it 
the longitude is a contested border  
my longest muscle I named  familiar 

Copyright © 2020 by Asiya Wadud. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 26, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

            I was trying to wave to you but you wouldn’t wave back
                                    —The Be Good Tanyas

Forgive me my deafness now for your name on others’ lips:
each mouth gathers then opens & I search for the wave

the fluke of their tongues should make with the blow
of your name in that mild darkness I recognize but cannot

explain as the same oblivious blue of Hold the conch to your ear
& hearing the highway loud & clear. My hands are bloated

with the name signs of my kin who have waited for water
to reach their ears. Or oil; grease from a fox with the gall

of a hare, bear fat melted in hot piss, peach kernels fried
in hog lard & tucked along the cavum for a cure; a sharp stick

even, a jagged rock; anything to wedge down deep to the drum
inside that kept them walking away from wives—old

or otherwise—& the tales they tell about our being too broken
for their bearing, & yet they bear on. Down. Forgive me

my deafness for my own sound, how I mistook it for a wound
you could heal. Forgive me the places your wasted words

could have saved us from going had I heard you with my hands.
I saw Joni live & still thought a gay pair of guys put up a parking lot.

How could I have known You are worthless sounds like Should we
do this, even with the lights on. You let me say Yes. So what

if Johnny Nash can see clearly now Lorraine is gone—I only wanted
to hear the sea. The audiologist asks Does it seem like you’re under

water? & I think only of your name. I thought it was you
after I love, but memory proves nothing save my certainty—

the chapped round of your mouth was the same shape while at rest
or in thought or blowing smoke, & all three make a similar sound:

Copyright © 2018 by Meg Day. Originally published in TYPO. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 18, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

A long night I spent
thinking that reality was the story
of the human species

 

the vanquished search for the vanquished

 

Sounds come by, ruffling my soul

 

I sense space’s elasticity,
go on reading the books she wrote on the
wars she’s seen

 

Why do seasons who regularly follow
their appointed time, deny their kind of energy
to us?

 

why is winter followed by a few
more days of winter?

 

We came to transmit the shimmering
from which we came; to name it

 

 
we deal with a permanent voyage,
the becoming of that which itself had
become

Copyright © 2017 by Etel Adnan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 28, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

 

I beg for invisible fire.

Every night I pray to love,
please invent yourself.

I imagine a place after this place
and I laugh quietly to no one
as the hair on my chin
weeds through old makeup.

When I go to sleep
I am vinegar inside clouded glass.
The world comes to an end
when I wake up and wonder
who will be next to me.

Police sirens and coyote howls
blend together in morning’s net.
Once, I walked out past the cars
and stood on a natural rock formation
that seemed placed there to be stood on.
I felt something like kinship.
It was the first time.

Once, I believed god
was a blanket of energy
stretched out around
our most vulnerable
places,

when really,

she’s the sound
of a promise
breaking

Copyright © 2020 by Joshua Jennifer Espinoza. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 14, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Like light but
in reverse we billow.

We turn a corner
and make the hills
disappear.

You rearrange
my parts until no
more hurting.

No more skin-sunk
nighttime fear.

No more blameless death.

My hair loses its atoms.
My body glows
in the dark.

Planets are smashed
into oblivion,
stripped of their power
to name things.

Our love fills the air.

Our love eats
the deadly sounds men
make when they see
how much magic
we have away
from them.


Copyright © 2017 by Joshua Jennifer Espinoza. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.


This is like a life. This is lifelike.
I climb inside a mistake
and remake myself in the shape
of a better mistake—
a nice pair of glasses
without any lenses,
shoes that don’t quite fit,
a chest that always hurts.
There is a checklist of things
you need to do to be a person.
I don’t want to be a person
but there isn’t a choice,
so I work my way down and
kiss the feet.
I work my way up and lick
the knee.
I give you my skull
to do with whatever you please.
You grow flowers from my head
and trim them too short.
I paint my nails nice and pretty
and who cares. Who gives a shit.
I’m trying not to give a shit
but it doesn’t fit well on me.
I wear my clothes. I wear my body.
I walk out in the grass and turn red
at the sight of everything.

Copyright © 2015 by Joshua Jennifer Espinoza. Used with the permission of the author.

California is a desert and I am a woman inside it.
The road ahead bends sideways and I lurch within myself.
I’m full of ugly feelings, awful thoughts, bad dreams
of doom, and so much love left unspoken.

Is mercury in retrograde? someone asks.
Someone answers, No, it’s something else
like that though. Something else like that.
That should be my name.

When you ask me am I really a woman, a human being,
a coherent identity, I’ll say No, I’m something else
like that though.

A true citizen of planet earth closes their eyes
and says what they are before the mirror.
A good person gives and asks for nothing in return.
I give and I ask for only one thing—

Hear me. Hear me. Hear me. Hear me. Hear me.
Hear me. Bear the weight of my voice and don’t forget—
things haunt. Things exist long after they are killed.

Copyright © 2018 by Joshua Jennifer Espinoza. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 11, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

California is a desert and I am a woman inside it.
The road ahead bends sideways and I lurch within myself.
I’m full of ugly feelings, awful thoughts, bad dreams
of doom, and so much love left unspoken.

Is mercury in retrograde? someone asks.
Someone answers, No, it’s something else
like that though. Something else like that.
That should be my name.

When you ask me am I really a woman, a human being,
a coherent identity, I’ll say No, I’m something else
like that though.

A true citizen of planet earth closes their eyes
and says what they are before the mirror.
A good person gives and asks for nothing in return.
I give and I ask for only one thing—

Hear me. Hear me. Hear me. Hear me. Hear me.
Hear me. Bear the weight of my voice and don’t forget—
things haunt. Things exist long after they are killed.

Copyright © 2018 by Joshua Jennifer Espinoza. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 11, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

The Blue Dress—died on August 6,
2015, along with the little blue flowers,
all silent. Once the petals looked up.
Now small pieces of dust. I wonder
whether they burned the dress or just
the body? I wonder who lifted her up
into the fire? I wonder if her hair
brushed his cheek before it grew into a
bonfire? I wonder what sound the body
made as it burned? They dyed her hair
for the funeral, too black. She looked
like a comic character. I waited for the
next comic panel, to see the speech
bubble and what she might say. But her
words never came and we were left
with the stillness of blown glass. The
irreversibility of rain. And millions of
little blue flowers. Imagination is having
to live in a dead person’s future. Grief is
wearing a dead person’s dress forever.

Copyright © 2018 by Victoria Chang. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 15, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Friendships—died June 24, 2009, once
beloved but not consistently beloved. 
The mirror won the battle.  I am now
imprisoned in the mirror.  All my selves
spread out like a deck of cards. It’s true,
the grieving speak a different language. 
I am separated from my friends by
gauze.  I will drive myself to my own
house for the party. I will make small
talk with myself, spill a drink on myself. 
When it’s over, I will drive myself back
to my own house.  My conversations
with other parents about children pass
me on the staircase on the way up and
repeat on the way down.  Before my
mother’s death, I sat anywhere. Now I
look for the image of the empty chair
near the image of the empty table.  An
image is a kind of distance.  An image
of me sits down.  Depression is a glove
over the heart.  Depression is an image
of a glove over the image of a heart.

Copyright © 2018 by Victoria Chang. Originally published in Kenyon Review. Used with the permission of the poet.

Memory—died August 3, 2015.  The
death was not sudden but slowly over a
decade.  I wonder if, when people die,
they  hear  a  bell.   Or  if  they  taste
something sweet, or if they feel a knife
cutting them in half, dragging through
the flesh like sheet cake.  The caretaker
who witnessed my mother’s death quit. 
She holds the memory and images and
now they are gone.  For the rest of her
life, the memories are hers.  She said
my mother couldn’t breathe, then took
her last breath 20 seconds later.  The
way I have imagined a kiss with many
men I have never kissed.  My memory
of  my  mother’s  death  can’t  be  a
memory but is an imagination, each
time the wind blows, leaves unfurl
a little differently.

Copyright © 2017 by Victoria Chang. Originally published in New England Review. Used with the permission of the poet.

You are standing in the minefield again.
Someone who is dead now

told you it is where you will learn
to dance. Snow on your lips like a salted

cut, you leap between your deaths, black as god’s
periods. Your arms cleaving little wounds

in the wind. You are something made. Then made
to survive, which means you are somebody’s

son. Which means if you open your eyes, you’ll be back
in that house, beneath a blanket printed with yellow sailboats.

Your mother’s boyfriend, his bald head ringed with red
hair, like a planet on fire, kneeling

by your bed again. Air of whiskey & crushed
Oreos. Snow falling through the window: ash returned

from a failed fable. His spilled-ink hand
on your chest. & you keep dancing inside the minefield—

motionless. The curtains fluttering. Honeyed light
beneath the door. His breath. His wet blue face: earth

spinning in no one’s orbit. & you want someone to say Hey…Hey
I think your dancing is gorgeous. A little waltz to die for,

darling. You want someone to say all this
is long ago. That one night, very soon, you’ll pack a bag

with your favorite paperback & your mother’s .45,
that the surest shelter was always the thoughts

above your head. That it’s fair—it has to be—
how our hands hurt us, then give us

the world. How you can love the world
until there’s nothing left to love

but yourself. Then you can stop.
Then you can walk away—back into the fog

-walled minefield, where the vein in your neck adores you
to zero. You can walk away. You can be nothing

& still breathing. Believe me.

Copyright © 2015 by Ocean Vuong. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 2, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets

I was so willing to pull a page out of my notebook, a day, several bright days and live them as if I was only alive, thirsty, timeless, young enough, to do this one more time, to dare to have nothing so much to lose and to feel that potential dying of the self in the light as the only thing I thought that was spiritual, possible and because I had no other way to call that mind, I called it poetry, but it was flesh and time and bread and friends frightened and free enough to want to have another day that way, tear another page.

Excerpted from Evolution. Copyright © 2018 by Eileen Myles. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Grove Press, an imprint of Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.

was when the
lights were
out

the whole city
in darkness

& we drove north
to our friend’s
yellow apt.
where she had
power & we
could work

later we stayed
in the darkened
apt. you sick
in bed & me
writing ambitiously
by candle light
in thin blue
books

your neighbor had
a generator &
after a while
we had a little
bit of light

I walked the
dog & you
were still
a little bit
sick

we sat on a stoop
one day in the
late afternoon
we had very little
money. enough for
a strong cappuccino
which we shared
sitting there &
suddenly the
city was lit.

Copyright © 2014 by Eileen Myles. Used with permission of the author.

I loved you before I was born.
It doesn't make sense, I know.

I saw your eyes before I had eyes to see.
And I've lived longing 
for your ever look ever since.
That longing entered time as this body. 
And the longing grew as this body waxed.
And the longing grows as the body wanes.
The longing will outlive this body.

I loved you before I was born.
It doesn't make sense, I know.

Long before eternity, I caught a glimpse
of your neck and shoulders, your ankles and toes.
And I've been lonely for you from that instant.
That loneliness appeared on earth as this body. 
And my share of time has been nothing 
but your name outrunning my ever saying it clearly. 
Your face fleeing my ever
kissing it firmly once on the mouth.

In longing, I am most myself, rapt,
my lamp mortal, my light 
hidden and singing. 

I give you my blank heart.
Please write on it
what you wish. 

From The Undressing: Poems by Li-Young Lee. Copyright © 2018 by Li-Young Lee. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

I loved you before I was born.
It doesn't make sense, I know.

I saw your eyes before I had eyes to see.
And I've lived longing 
for your ever look ever since.
That longing entered time as this body. 
And the longing grew as this body waxed.
And the longing grows as the body wanes.
The longing will outlive this body.

I loved you before I was born.
It doesn't make sense, I know.

Long before eternity, I caught a glimpse
of your neck and shoulders, your ankles and toes.
And I've been lonely for you from that instant.
That loneliness appeared on earth as this body. 
And my share of time has been nothing 
but your name outrunning my ever saying it clearly. 
Your face fleeing my ever
kissing it firmly once on the mouth.

In longing, I am most myself, rapt,
my lamp mortal, my light 
hidden and singing. 

I give you my blank heart.
Please write on it
what you wish. 

From The Undressing: Poems by Li-Young Lee. Copyright © 2018 by Li-Young Lee. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.


Tonight my brother, in heavy boots, is walking 
through bare rooms over my head,
opening and closing doors.
What could he be looking for in an empty house?
What could he possibly need there in heaven?
Does he remember his earth, his birthplace set to torches?
His love for me feels like spilled water
running back to its vessel.

At this hour, what is dead is restless
and what is living is burning.

Someone tell him he should sleep now.

My father keeps a light on by our bed
and readies for our journey.
He mends ten holes in the knees
of five pairs of boy's pants.
His love for me is like sewing:
various colors and too much thread,
the stitching uneven. But the needle pierces 
clean through with each stroke of his hand.

At this hour, what is dead is worried
and what is living is fugitive.

Someone tell him he should sleep now.

God, that old furnace, keeps talking 
with his mouth of teeth,
a beard stained at feasts, and his breath
of gasoline, airplane, human ash.
His love for me feels like fire,
feels like doves, feels like river-water.

At this hour, what is dead is helpless, kind
and helpless. While the Lord lives.

Someone tell the Lord to leave me alone.
I've had enough of his love
that feels like burning and flight and running away.

From The City In Which I Love You by Li-Young Lee. Copyright © 1990 by Li-Young Lee. Reprinted with permission of BOA Editions, Ltd. All rights reserved.

No easy thing to bear, the weight of sweetness.

Song, wisdom, sadness, joy: sweetness
equals three of any of these gravities.

See a peach bend
the branch and strain the stem until
it snaps.
Hold the peach, try the weight, sweetness
and death so round and snug
in your palm.
And, so, there is
the weight of memory:

Windblown, a rain-soaked
bough shakes, showering
the man and the boy.
They shiver in delight,
and the father lifts from his son’s cheek
one green leaf
fallen like a kiss.

The good boy hugs a bag of peaches
his father has entrusted
to him.
Now he follows
his father, who carries a bagful in each arm.
See the look on the boy’s face
as his father moves
faster and farther ahead, while his own steps
flag, and his arms grow weak, as he labors
under the weight
of peaches.

From Rose (BOA Editions, 1986). Copyright © 1986 by Li-Young Lee. Used with the permission of BOA Editions.

In the steamer is the trout   
seasoned with slivers of ginger,
two sprigs of green onion, and sesame oil.   
We shall eat it with rice for lunch,   
brothers, sister, my mother who will   
taste the sweetest meat of the head,   
holding it between her fingers   
deftly, the way my father did   
weeks ago. Then he lay down   
to sleep like a snow-covered road   
winding through pines older than him,   
without any travelers, and lonely for no one.

Li-Young Lee, "Eating Together" from Rose. Copyright © 1986 by Li-Young Lee. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., boaeditions.org.

It wasn’t the bright hems of the Lord’s skirts   
that brushed my face and I opened my eyes   
to see from a cleft in rock His backside;

it’s a wasp perched on my left cheek. I keep   
my eyes closed and stand perfectly still   
in the garden till it leaves me alone,

not to contemplate how this century   
ends and the next begins with no one
I know having seen God, but to wonder

why I get through most days unscathed, though I   
live in a time when it might be otherwise,   
and I grow more fatherless each day.

For years now I have come to conclusions   
without my father’s help, discovering
on my own what I know, what I don’t know,

and seeing how one cancels the other.
I've become a scholar of cancellations.   
Here, I stand among my father’s roses

and see that what punctures outnumbers what
consoles, the cruel and the tender never
make peace, though one climbs, though one descends

petal by petal to the hidden ground   
no one owns. I see that which is taken   
away by violence or persuasion.

The rose announces on earth the kingdom   
of gravity. A bird cancels it.   
My eyelids cancel the bird. Anything

might cancel my eyes: distance, time, war.   
My father said, Never take your both eyes   
off of the world, before he rocked me.

All night we waited for the knock
that would have signalled, All clear, come now;   
it would have meant escape; it never came.

I didn’t make the world I leave you with,   
he said, and then, being poor, he left me   
only this world, in which there is always

a family waiting in terror
before they’re rended, this world wherein a man   
might arise, go down, and walk along a path

and pause and bow to roses, roses
his father raised, and admire them, for one moment   
unable, thank God, to see in each and
every flower the world cancelling itself.

Li-Young Lee, "Arise, Go Down" from The City In Which I Love You. Copyright © 1990 by Li-Young Lee. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., a ahref="http://www.boaeditions.org" target=_blank>boaeditions.org.

                                       (adore, verb from Latin, adorare,
                                       from ad- ‘to’ + orare- ‘speak, call pray’)

You lie asleep beside me,
one hand on the pillow and cupped
at your mouth, as if to tell a secret.

As if you might say in your sleep
what you could never find 
words for awake.

Or as if you called
across a din of other voices,
or the howl of empty space. Calling

because there are no bells 
to strike the hours where we live. And I must know
when to kneel and when to rise.
What to praise and what to curse.
I must know how to bless
and how to receive blessing. 

One hand on your pillow and cupped
at your mouth,
as if you spoke a word
you’d kept to yourself all day, waiting 
for your most unguarded moment
to say, a thought meant for me, meant to be
shared between us this way,
sealed this way, a secret
no voice can carry without destroying,
a word without carriage, except conveyed
in the peace of your body and face,

a word born out of your deepest rest, a word
which only my own deepest breathing
and happiest rest beside you,
face to face, free of thinking, can sustain.

Maybe you had to be asleep
to say what you knew to be true.
Or what you had to say
you might not could bear to hear,
and so you must say so softly
I must close my eyes, I must turn
inward, to where you’ve made a room
and a bed inside me, to receive it. 

You say:
We cannot look upon Love’s face without dying.
So we face each other to see Love’s look.
And thus third-person souls
suddenly stand at gaze
and the lover and the beloved,
second- and first-persons,
You and I, eye
to eye, are born. 
But such refraction, multiplying gazes, strews
Love’s eye upon the objects of the world,
as upon the objects of our room. 

My brush, hairpin, mirror, book,
your loving look finds each of these things
lovable, I can see. Things
by any other measure poor, your look crowns
to make them your heart’s royalty.
Face, blush, breath, eyes, evanescent,
pledged to death, nowhere stored,
Love’s look gathers within its fondling
to adore.

This strewing and gathering
of Love’s face, of Love’s gaze, and only this,
begun in death’s audience, is the founding
action, call it the fundamental
paradise…did I say paradise?
I meant paradox…the fundamental paradox
of the breaths we breathe,
the thoughts we witness,
the kisses we exchange,
and every poem you write.

From The Undressing: Poems by Li-Young Lee. Copyright © 2018 by Li-Young Lee. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Then spring came:
	           branches-in-a-wind. . .

I bought a harness, I bought a bridle.
I wagered on God in a kind stranger—
kind at first; strange, then less so—
and I was right.
	      The difference between
God and luck is that luck, when it leaves,
does not go far: the idea is to believe
you could almost touch it. . . .

		          Now he's
singing, cadence of a rough sea—A way of
crossing a dark so unspecific, it seems
everywhere: isn't that what singing, once,
was for?
          I lay the harness across my lap,
the bridle beside me for the sweat—the color
and smell of it—that I couldn't, by now,
lift the leather free of, even if I wanted to.

I don't want to.

Reprinted from Quiver of Arrows: Selected Poems, 1986-2006 © 2007 by Carl Phillips, by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Learn more about FSG poets at fsgpoetry.com.

              Somewhere between what it feels like, to be at
one with the sea, and to understand the sea as
mere context for the boat whose engine refuses
finally to turn over: yeah, I know the place—
stumbled into it myself, once; twice, almost.  All
around and in between the two trees that
grow there, tree of compassion and—much taller—
tree of pity, its bark more bronze, the snow
              settled as if an openness of any kind meant, as well,
a woundedness that, by filling it, the snow
might heal…You know what I think? I think if we’re
lost, you should know exactly where, by now; I’ve
watched you stare long and hard enough at the map
already…I’m beginning to think I may never
not be undecided, about all sorts of things: whether
snow really does resemble the broken laughter
              of the long-abandoned when what left comes back
big-time; whether gratitude’s just a haunted
space like any other.  This place sounds daily
more like a theater of war, each time I listen to it—
loss, surprise, victory, being only three of the countless
fates, if you want to call them that, that we don’t
so much live with, it seems, as live for now among.  If as
close as we’re ever likely to get, you and I, is this—this close—

Copyright © 2016 by Carl Phillips. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 19, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Is it winter again, is it cold again,
didn't Frank just slip on the ice,
didn't he heal, weren't the spring seeds planted

didn't the night end,
didn't the melting ice
flood the narrow gutters

wasn't my body
rescued, wasn't it safe

didn't the scar form, invisible
above the injury

terror and cold,
didn't they just end, wasn't the back garden
harrowed and planted—

I remember how the earth felt, red and dense,
in stiff rows, weren't the seeds planted,
didn't vines climb the south wall

I can't hear your voice
for the wind's cries, whistling over the bare ground

I no longer care
what sound it makes

when was I silenced, when did it first seem
pointless to describe that sound

what it sounds like can't change what it is—

didn't the night end, wasn't the earth
safe when it was planted

didn't we plant the seeds,
weren't we necessary to the earth,

the vines, were they harvested?

Section I is reprinted from October by Louise Glück, published by Sarabande Books, Inc. Copyright © 2004 by Louise Glück. Reprinted by permission of Sarabande Books and the author. All rights reserved.

That’s us: the bruise on my thigh, a Camel
dangling from your beautiful mouth
and this our favorite wedding picture. The vows:
      (1) Do I take thee Wife
as wedge against the fear

of sleeping alone
in Southeast Asia?

      (2) Do I take thee Husband as solace
for all the girls ever wanted? For the ones kissed

and held by and held.

Twenty years later I am queer as
a happy Monday and you dead from cancer—

lung or liver, I no longer know
anyone to ask and made up the cause, cancer 
I say, because the paper said you died at home.
And that there was a child after besides the one before
and nothing to mark the one 
we washed away.
I dream of her sometimes, little toothless sack of skin.
with something, nothing, something 
swimming inside. 
                                     But more often
I dream of a house I once lived in,

a certain room, a street, its light. I wake 
trying to remember which country, 
what language. Not the house
where we lived and its bodies.
How they come and go

late at night, nearly dawn. I am making 
crepes and coffee and the group from the bar 
can’t believe their luck.
What did we talk about? I am trying to remember
and not trying to remember
how I tried or never tried to love you.

Copyright © 2020 by Janet McAdams. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 25, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Even this late it happens:
the coming of love, the coming of light. 
You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves, 
stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows, 
sending up warm bouquets of air.
Even this late the bones of the body shine 
and tomorrow’s dust flares into breath.

Excerpted from The Late Hour by Mark Strand. Copyright © 2002 by Mark Strand. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Someone was saying
something about shadows covering the field, about
how things pass, how one sleeps towards morning
and the morning goes.

Someone was saying
how the wind dies down but comes back,
how shells are the coffins of wind
but the weather continues.

It was a long night
and someone said something about the moon shedding its
   white
on the cold field, that there was nothing ahead
but more of the same.

Someone mentioned
a city she had been in before the war, a room with two
   candles
against a wall, someone dancing, someone watching.
We began to believe

the night would not end.
Someone was saying the music was over and no one had
   noticed.
Then someone said something about the planets, about the 
   stars,
how small they were, how far away.

From The Late Hour by Mark Strand, published by Atheneum. Copyright © 1973 by Mark Strand. Used with permission.

1

When the moon appears
and a few wind-stricken barns stand out
in the low-domed hills
and shine with a light
that is veiled and dust-filled
and that floats upon the fields,
my mother, with her hair in a bun,
her face in shadow, and the smoke
from her cigarette coiling close
to the faint yellow sheen of her dress,
stands near the house
and watches the seepage of late light
down through the sedges,
the last gray islands of cloud
taken from view, and the wind
ruffling the moon's ash-colored coat
on the black bay.


2

Soon the house, with its shades drawn closed, will send
small carpets of lampglow
into the haze and the bay
will begin its loud heaving
and the pines, frayed finials
climbing the hill, will seem to graze
the dim cinders of heaven.
And my mother will stare into the starlanes,
the endless tunnels of nothing,
and as she gazes,
under the hour's spell,
she will think how we yield each night
to the soundless storms of decay
that tear at the folding flesh,
and she will not know
why she is here
or what she is prisoner of
if not the conditions of love that brought her to this.


3

My mother will go indoors
and the fields, the bare stones
will drift in peace, small creatures --
the mouse and the swift -- will sleep
at opposite ends of the house.
Only the cricket will be up,
repeating its one shrill note
to the rotten boards of the porch,
to the rusted screens, to the air, to the rimless dark,
to the sea that keeps to itself.
Why should my mother awake?
The earth is not yet a garden
about to be turned. The stars
are not yet bells that ring
at night for the lost.
It is much too late.

From Mark Strand: Selected Poems, by Mark Strand, published by Atheneum. Copyright © 1979 by Mark Strand. Used with permission.

I have just realized that the stakes are myself
I have no other
ransom money, nothing to break or barter but my life
my spirit measured out, in bits, spread over
the roulette table, I recoup what I can
nothing else to shove under the nose of the maitre de jeu
nothing to thrust out the window, no white flag
this flesh all I have to offer, to make the play with
this immediate head, what it comes up with, my move
as we slither over this go board, stepping always
(we hope) between the lines

From Revolutionary Letters (City Lights Publishers, 1971). Copyright © 1971 Diane di Prima. Used with permission of Sheppard Powell. Published in Poem-a-Day on November 1, 2020.

I wonder 
how it would be here with you,
where the wind 
that has shaken off its dust in low valleys
touches one cleanly, 
as with a new-washed hand, 
and pain
is as the remote hunger of droning things,
and anger 
but a little silence 
sinking into the great silence.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on December 12, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

I love you, malcontent
Male wind—
Shaking the pollen from a flower
Or hurling the sea backward from the grinning sand.

Blow on and over my dreams. . .
Scatter my sick dreams. . .
Throw your lusty arms about me. . .
Envelop all my hot body. . .
Carry me to pine forests—
Great, rough-bearded forests. . .
Bring me to stark plains and steppes. . .

I would have the North to-night—
The cold, enduring North.

And if we should meet the Snow,
Whirling in spirals,
And he should blind my eyes. . .

Ally, you will defend me—
You will hold me close,
Blowing on my eyelids.

This poem is in the public domain.

(Shadows over a cradle...
fire-light craning...,
A hand
throws something in the fire
and a smaller hand
runs into the flame and out again,
singed and empty...,
Shadows
settling over a cradle...
two hands
and a fire.)

This poem is in the public domain.

My friend says I was not a good son
you understand
I say yes I understand

he says I did not go
to see my parents very often you know
and I say yes I know

even when I was living in the same city he says
maybe I would go there once
a month or maybe even less
I say oh yes

he says the last time I went to see my father
I say the last time I saw my father

he says the last time I saw my father
he was asking me about my life
how I was making out and he
went into the next room
to get something to give me

oh I say
feeling again the cold
of my father's hand the last time
he says and my father turned
in the doorway and saw me
look at my wristwatch and he
said you know I would like you to stay
and talk with me

oh yes I say

but if you are busy he said
I don't want you to feel that you
have to
just because I'm here

I say nothing

he says my father
said maybe
you have important work you are doing
or maybe you should be seeing
somebody I don't want to keep you

I look out the window
my friend is older than I am
he says and I told my father it was so
and I got up and left him then
you know

though there was nowhere I had to go
and nothing I had to do

From Opening the Hand, by W. S. Merwin, published by Atheneum. Copyright © 1983 by W. S. Merwin. Used with permission.

Listen
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

From Migration: New & Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2005). Copyright © 1988 by W. S. Merwin. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

I wanted to write a book that was like lying down.
            —Bhanu Kapil

a feeling has passed before a charted present
a possibly expired desire
a replacement of Whitman’s body with his opposite
a polite vengeance

a presumed minor literature
a simile not in force
a yoking of the concrete
a myth makes

a body subject to forces not legislated to pass over a same
a memory uncertain about a sentence
a certain observation of an indefinite object
a response barely stands

a sentence only to signal an unwritten
a demand for a law barring its passage and end
a tapeworm, a pinworm, a hookworm, a threadworm
a fluke a sentence wants never to end

Copyright © 2021 by Kimberly Alidio. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 4, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

Dream I have a little   of a mathematics         Child again absorbed
in novels from my sickbed     Bright clutch of what is recognition

somewhere avant meridian     Another child leaving in the novel
I am reading    Light in me     a sleep a pool of neither

thought nor feeling     not of things but of     their elements
escaping          Slips away the child    in the book from a party        

her birthday from        the other children        she is leaving  
I am tired        I am reading    I am adding I am                  trying

not to understand        To undo the will         to understand 
Must relinquish must and trying         Reading free from I

I read a child   listening for the first time       to music for the first time
in the sense     of recognition             What is it that sees me

child in a novel           that has neither                   person nor a substance                      
music              mathematics is a dream                   makes me see myself 

more loving     when I listen               makes my heart go     
the hunter and a lonely           Remembering  is a mathematics         

and the body in its illnesses    the stamina has symphonic               
calculus of living        in a sickness    I can listen now          

learn I have a mind     listening          heart I have    
remembers      what the seeing was    a dream a reading is    

a feeling          I have every time I have         first comes     
the listening    then memory     dream            the sense

of speech         is mathematics                        to see a means of feeling
there is always then    the leaving       and undoing            Life I was

a fraction         will not see      the world that I am making    
I knew in my additions           I was nothing more than

almost             child again      in the middle distance speaking
to his apparition          Speak              you have a history

Copyright © 2021 by Kyle Dacuyan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 24, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

Blues to You. I have folded
my sorrows like fitted
bedsheets: fraying elastic, the faint
scent of an ex-lover’s
detergent and my palms
holding the creases
against my skin, a way to live
into them. I have
folded. My sorrows don’t ask
for any precision
other than my hands
against their hands
mountains—
of holding
a mountain of folds smoothed out for the moon and
the impossible season Mars makes of it. Have I folded
my sorrows well enough into
               the weather of the darkest
               corner of a fading
               restaurant and the small
               talk caught in its walls? I have
folded my sorrows. I have. I have
forded the shallows dragging
my sheets
and their sweet un
-foldings into
another in
-tractable
year

Copyright © 2021 by Andrea Blancas Beltran. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 16, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

                    I

This wind sighing recalls certain things.
I warned you:
Beware of it:
Passion has wings;
And will return with the year’s return
Like a bird on migrant wings.
This wind sighing recalls
Certain half-remembered things.

                    II

You have left something of you behind.
But you went with eager step,
Fearful, lest what you have left behind
Should halt your eager step.
When the lean years bring you back,
You will be as one
Who has laughed the lean years with strange men;
You will be different then.

                    III

Beyond the gate of the sun
I shall not seek you:
Before the last days are done
You have sung your last song,
You have played your last tune,
You have danced your steps too soon.
It is not easy
When great moments are so few:
Beyond the gate of the sun
I shall not seek you.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on January 22, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

The gold March dawn
and below my window 
a man carves his car
from the snow heap
plowed up around it.
So easy not to envy
the cold muscled task

but then imagine—
feeling your heartbeat
alive like a chipmunk
at work in your chest,
imagine the whole day
arm-sore and good
with accomplishment,

the day you begin
with heavy breath
and see it linger
outside your body
like a negative of
the dark air cavity
in you like the spirit
in you like the ghost.

Copyright © 2022 by Alicia Mountain. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 3, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

A man leaves the world
and the streets he lived on
grow a little shorter.

One more window dark
in this city, the figs on his branches
will soften for birds.

If we stand quietly enough evenings
there grows a whole company of us
standing quietly together.
overhead loud grackles are claiming their trees  
and the sky which sews and sews, tirelessly sewing,
drops her purple hem.
Each thing in its time, in its place,
it would be nice to think the same about people.

Some people do. They sleep completely,
waking refreshed. Others live in two worlds,
the lost and remembered.
They sleep twice, once for the one who is gone,
once for themselves. They dream thickly,
dream double, they wake from a dream
into another one, they walk the short streets
calling out names, and then they answer.

From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye. Published by Far Corner. Reprinted with permission of the author. Copyright © 1995 Naomi Shihab Nye.

Sometimes there is a day you just want

to get far away from.

Feel it shrink inside you like an island,

as if you were on a boat.

I always wish to be on a boat.

Then, maybe, no more fighting

about land.  I want that day to feel

as if it never happened, when Ahmad was burned,

when people were killed, when my cousin was shot.

The day someone went to jail

is not a day that shines.   I want to have a clear mind

again, as a baby who stares at the light

wisping through the window and thinks,

That’s mine.

From The Tiny Journalist (BOA Editions, Ltd. 2019) by Naomi Shihab Nye. Copyright © 2019 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Used with the permission of the poet. 

Where do you keep all these people?
The shoemaker with his rumpled cough.
The man who twisted straws into brooms.
My teacher, oh my teacher. I will always cry
when I think of my teacher.
The olive farmer who lost every inch of ground,
every tree,
who sat with head in his hands
in his son's living room for years after.
I tucked them into my drawer with cuff links and bow ties.
Touched them each evening before I slept.
Wished them happiness and peace.
Peace in the heart. No wonder we all got heart trouble.
But justice never smiled on us. Why didn't it?
I tried to get Americans to think of them.
But they were too involved with their own affairs
to imagine ours. And you can't blame them, really.
How much do I think of Africa? I always did feel sad
in the back of my mind for places I didn't
have enough energy to worry about.

Originally published in Transfer (BOA Editions, 2011). Copyright © by Naomi Shihab Nye. Used with the permission of the author.