Turning to watch you leave,
I see we must always walk toward
other rooms, river of heaven
between two office buildings.
Orphaned cloud, cioppino poppling,
book spined in the open palm. Unstoppable light.
I think it is all right.
Or do tonight, garden toad
a speaking stone,
young sound in an old heart.
Annul the self? I float it,
a day lily in my wine. Oblivion?
I love our lives,
keeping me from it.
From Orexia. Copyright © 2017 by Lisa Russ Spaar. Reprinted with the permission of Persea Books, Inc. (New York), www.perseabooks.com.
Gettysburg National Military Park
Motorcycles and white tour vans speed
between behemoth granite shafts, shove
my body by their force, leave me roadside
and wandering fields. Little is funny
when you’re Chicana and walking
a Civil War site not meant for walking.
Regardless, I ask park rangers and guides
for stories on Mexicans soldiers,
receive shrugs. No evidence in statues
or statistics. In the cemetery, not one
Spanish name. I’m alone in the wine shop.
It’s the same in the post office, the market,
the antique shop with KKK books on display.
In the peach orchard, I prepare a séance,
sit cross-legged in grass, and hold
a smoky quartz to the setting sun.
I invite the unseen to speak. So many dead,
it’s said Confederates were left to rot.
In war, not all bodies are returned home
nor graves marked. I Google “Mexicans
in the Civil War” and uncover layers
to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
and Cinco de Mayo. This is how I meet
ancestors for the first time, heroes
this country decorates in clownish sombreros
and fake mustaches, dishonors for fighting
European empire on shared American land
Power & Money dictate can’t be shared.
Years before this, carrying water gallons
up an Arizona mountain ridge to replenish
supplies in a pass known as “Dead Man’s,”
I wrote messages on bottles to the living,
scanned Sonoran canyons for the lost,
and knew too many would not be found.
A black Sharpie Virgen drawn on hot plastic
became a prayer: may the next officer halt
before cracking her face beneath his boot,
spilling life on to dirt. No, nothing’s funny
when you’re brown in a country you’re taught
isn’t yours, your dead don’t count.
Copyright © 2020 by Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 21, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
for Bessie Stringfield
You said you took God with you to all 48 states.
You caroled your grief on an Indian Scout,
rode your Harley until the crowd forgot it was a motorcycle,
saw a stallion riding the track wall,
breaking for a field’s freedom.
You wanted a story you could tell
about surviving America on two wheels,
six years too early for the Green Book.
But I understand leaving.
I’ve been looking
to see the world.
Copyright © 2020 Tyree Daye. From Cardinal (Copper Canyon Press, 2020). Used with permission of the author and Copper Canyon Press (coppercanyonpress.org)
We cross under
the midnight shield
and learn that bullets
can curse the air.
of endangered stars
evicts itself to
the water. Another
convoy leaves the kiln.
The crowded dead
turn into the earth’s
unfolded bed sheet.
We drift near banks,
creatures of the Mekong,
heads bobbing like
ghosts without bodies,
toward the farthest shore.
With every treading
soak, the wading leg,
we beg ourselves to live,
to float the mortared
cartilage and burial
tissue in this river yard
of amputated hearts.
This poem originally appeared in American Poets, Spring-Summer 2016. Copyright © 2016 Mai Der Vang. Used with permission of the author.