Yesterday, against admonishment,
my daughter balanced on the couch back,
fell and cut her mouth.

Because I saw it happen I knew
she was not hurt, and yet
a child’s blood so red
it stops a father’s heart.

My daughter cried her tears;
I held some ice
against her lip.
That was the end of it.

Round and round: bow and kiss.
I try to teach her caution;
she tries to teach me risk. 

From The Caged Owl: New and Selected Poems by Gregory Orr. Copyright © 2002 by Gregory Orr. Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press. All rights reserved.

Do strangers make you human

Science fiction visiting bodies as cold fact

What unknown numbers govern our genes or phones

A constant thrum from outer space

Snow makes a sound in sand

You are seen from far far above

Unheard and vanished

bodies dismember to dirt

Hardly alive, hardly a person anymore

Who will I be next and in that life will you know me
 

Copyright © 2016 by Kazim Ali. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 20, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Mice drink the rainwater before dying by
the poison we set in the cupboard for them.
They come for the birdseed, and winter
is so grey here the sight of a single cardinal
can keep us warm for days. We’ll justify
anything—and by we, I mean I, and by
I, I mean we, with our man-is-the-only-
animal-who and our manifest destiny, killers
each of us by greater or lesser degrees.
Instead of a gun or knife in my pocket
there are two notes. Unwhich the//
dandelion, reads one. I don’t know what
it means but cannot throw it away;
it is soft as cashmere. The other says:
coffee, chocolate, birdseed. I should be
extinct by now, except I can’t make it
on to that list either. Like toothpicks
made of plain wood, some things are
increasingly hard to find. Even when he was
a young drunk going deaf from target practice,
my father preferred picking his teeth
to brushing them. My mother preferred
crying. They bought or rented places
on streets named Castle, Ring, Greystone—
as if we were heroes in a Celtic epic.
Our romanticism was earned, and leaned
toward the gothic, but lichen aimed
for names on gravestones far
lovelier than our own. It seemed to last
a long time, that long time ago, finches
pixelating the hurricane fences,
cars idling exhaust, dandelions bolting
from flower to weed to delicacy,
like me. Egyptians prepared their dead
for a difficult journey; living is more
—I was going to say, more difficult,
but more alone will do, imprudent—
unlike art—always falling below or rising
above the Aristotelian mean. In France,
a common rural road sign reads:
Animal Prudence. Purely cautionary,
it has nothing to do with Aristotle,
but offers sound advice nonetheless.
These days, I caution my father more
than he ever cautioned me. He hears
his aural hallucinations better and shows
greater interest: sportscasters at ballgames,
revelers at the parties he insists on.
He’s got all his own teeth, so toothpicks
must do the job. His pockets fill with them.
There are always half a dozen rattling
like desert bones in my dryer. I think
of the mason who chiseled his face
in the cathedral wall; he couldn’t write
his name. The yellow bouquets I’d offer
my mother by the fistful also got their name
in France: dent de lion, meaning teeth of the lion.  

Copyright © 2016 by Kathy Fagan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 23, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

Li-Young Lee, “From Blossoms” 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.

                    What makes
                     a voice
                     distinct?
                     What special
                     quality
                     makes it
                     indelible?
                     Yours is plaintive,
                     as any singer
                     of torch songs
                     must be,
                     yet endowed
                     with confidence,
                     and fully
                     in command.
                     Deep and
                     resonant,
                     a bit husky
                     if you like.
                     A voice that rises—
                     or skyrockets,
                     rather—from
                     a wellspring
                     of pure emotion.
                     Manically
                     infatuated
                     in “I Only
                     Want to Be
                     with You.”
                     Desperate to
                     keep your
                     lover from
                     leaving in
                     “Stay Awhile.”
                     Despondent
                     in “I Just
                     Don’t Know
                     What to Do
                     with Myself”
                     and “You Don’t
                     Have to Say
                     You Love Me.”
                     All cried out
                     in “All Cried
                     Out.”  But then
                     amazingly
                     on the rebound
                     in “Brand New Me.”

                     I hear your
                     voice, Dusty,
                     and I am
                     instantly
                     whisked
                     back in time,
                     not quite
                     a teenager
                     all over
                     again,
                     full of longing
                     and confusion,
                     listening
                     to your
                     latest hit
                     on my
                     red plastic
                     transistor
                     radio on
                     a mid-sixties
                     Los Angeles
                     suburban
                     summer
                     afternoon.

                     Twice in
                     my life, I
                     found myself
                     in the same
                     room as you.
                     Can one fathom
                     anything more
                     miraculous?
                     The first
                     time was
                     in 1983, late
                     November,
                     in the basement
                     of a church
                     in Los Feliz,
                     around the
                     corner from
                     where I lived.
                     Sober only
                     a few weeks,
                     I watched
                     you approach
                     the podium,
                     but didn’t
                     realize who
                     you were
                     until you
                     identified
                     yourself as
                     “Dusty S.”
                     For the next
                     twenty minutes,
                     you told us
                     the story
                     of your
                     drinking.
                     How early in
                     your career,
                     backstage
                     before a
                     performance,
                     one of the 
                     Four Tops
                     handed you
                     your first
                     drink, vodka.
                     How smoothly
                     it went down
                     and loosened
                     you up,
                     lit you from
                     within,
                     gave you
                     enough
                     courage
                     to go out on
                     stage, into that
                     blinding spot,
                     and sing like
                     no one else.
                     The alcohol
                     eventually
                     stopped working—
                     it always does,
                     that brand
                     of magic
                     is transient—
                     and here you
                     were, two
                     decades
                     later, sober
                     and clean
                     and still singing,
                     so to speak,
                     before a live
                     audience.
                     In my youth,
                     your words
                     had come over
                     the radio
                     and stirred
                     feelings
                     of heartbreak
                     and infatuation.
                     Now they
                     inspired me
                     to keep
                     coming back.

                     The second
                     time, 1987,
                     four years
                     sober, at a more
                     upscale meeting
                     at Cedars-Sinai
                     in West Hollywood,
                     I sat directly
                     behind you.
                     It was hard
                     to breathe
                     being in such
                     close proximity.
                     I didn’t hear
                     a word the
                     speaker said.
                     During his
                     drunkalog,
                     I slowly,
                     surreptitiously,
                     moved the
                     toe of my
                     white high-top
                     until it touched
                     the back of
                     your folding chair.
                     Then said a
                     little prayer.
                     I hoped
                     (should I be
                     embarrassed
                     admitting this?)
                     that some
                     of your
                     stardust
                     might travel
                     down the
                     metal leg
                     of your chair,
                     like a lightning
                     rod, and be
                     passed on
                     to me.

                     It’s after
                     midnight
                     again, Dusty,
                     half a century
                     since, on
                     a suburban
                     lawn or alone
                     in my room,
                     I suffered
                     through hits
                     by Paul Revere
                     & the Raiders
                     and Herman’s
                     Hermits,
                     just to
                     experience
                     two or
                     three minutes
                     of your
                     sultry voice.
                     I’m on
                     YouTube
                     again, watching
                     the black-and-white
                     video of you
                     singing “I
                     Only Want
                     to Be
                     with You.”
                     Your 1964
                     appearance
                     on some teen
                     variety show.
                     I’ve viewed
                     it innumerable
                     times, but
                     it’s always
                     exciting to see
                     you dance
                     out of the
                     darkness into
                     the round
                     spotlight,
                     exuberant
                     as the song’s
                     intro, arms
                     outspread,
                     in a chiffon
                     cocktail
                     dress and
                     high heels,
                     your platinum
                     hair, sprayed
                     perfectly
                     in place,
                     as bright
                     and shiny
                     as the moon.
                     Midway
                     through the
                     song—the
                     instrumental
                     bridge—you
                     turn and
                     sashay around
                     the edge of
                     the spotlight,
                     the ruffled
                     hem of your
                     chiffon dress
                     twisting with
                     your hips
                     and intricate
                     footwork.
                     Circle circling
                     circle: your
                     full backlit
                     hair orbiting
                     the pool of
                     white light
                     in the center
                     of the stage.
                     I watch this
                     again and again,
                     like Bashō’s moon
                     walking around
                     the pond
                     all night long.

Copyright © 2018 by David Trinidad. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 13, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

translated by Cola Franzen

Today I picked up
seven stones
resembling birds and orphans
in the dead sand.
I looked at them
as if they were offerings
of uncommon times,
as if they were
seven endangered travelers.

Like a sorceress, I came near
and very gently
moistened them
against my cheek.

I wanted
to be seven stones
inside my skin,
to be, for an instant, very round and smooth
so somebody would pick me up
and make clefts in my sides
with the damp voice of the wind.

I wanted
you to pick me up,
to kiss me,
so I could be a river stone
in your estuary mouth.

I keep the seven stones
in my pocket.
They make a mound
in my hand
and in my stories
of absences,
a mossy sound.


Siete piedras

Hoy recogí
siete piedras
parecían pájaros y huérfanas
en la arena difunta.
Las miré,
como si fueran obsequios
de tiempos raros,
como si fueran
siete viajeras amenazadas.

Me acerqué maga,
y así muy dulce,
las humedecí
con mis mejillas.

Quise ser
siete piedras
en mi tez,
por un instante ser muy lisa y ronca
para que alguien me recoja
y haga de mí, hendiduras con la voz
de un viento humedecido.

Quise que
me recojas
me beses,
para ser piedra del río
en tu boca de estuarios.

Guardé en mi delantal
las siete piedras,
hacían una loma
en mi mano
eran en mis historias
de ausencias
un sonido enmohecido.

Marjorie Agosín, “Seven Stones / Siete piedras," translated by Cola Franzen, from Sargasso. Copyright © 1993 by Marjorie Agosin. Translation copyright © 1993 by Cola Franzen. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of White Pine Press, www.whitepine.org.

You’re used to it, the way,
in the first wide-eyed
minutes, climbing from parking lot
to fire trail, or rifling through
cupboards in a rented kitchen,
I can’t help but tell you
we should visit here again,
my reverie inserting
a variation in the season,
or giving friends the room
next door, in stubborn panic
to fix this happiness in place
by escaping from it.
“We’re here now,” you say,
holding out the book I bought
with its dog-eared maps and lists
and, on the cover, a waterfall,
white flecks frozen, very close.

Copyright © 2017 by Nate Klug. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 23, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

In the republic of flowers I studied
the secrets of hanging clothes I didn't
know if it was raining or someone
was frying eggs I held the skulls
of words that mean nothing you left
between the hour of the ox and the hour
of the rat I heard the sound of two
braids I watched it rain through
a mirror am I asking to be spared
or am I asking to be spread your body
smelled like cathedrals and I kept
your photo in a bottle of mezcal
semen-salt wolf’s teeth you should have
touched my eyes until they blistered
kissed the skin of my instep for thousands
of years sealed honey never spoils
won’t crystallize I saw myself snapping
a swan's neck I needed to air out
my eyes the droplets on a spiderweb
and the grace they held who gave me
permission to be this person to drag
my misfortune on this leash made of gold

Copyright © 2017 by Erika L. Sánchez. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 10, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Shiitake, velvet foot, hen of the woods, wood 
ear, cloud ear, slippery jack, brown wreaths

of Polish borowik dried and hanging 
in the stalls of a Krakow market—all these

were years away from the room where I lay 
once, studying the contours of your sex

as if it were some subterranean species 
I’d never encounter again. Because I hadn’t

yet tasted oyster—not even portobello— 
when I thought mushroom, I meant the common white

or button, the ones my mother bought for salads 
or served in butter beside my father’s steak.

First taste of love, or toxic look-alike, 
there was your stalk and cap, the earth and dark,

our hunger, wonder, and need. Even now, 
I can’t identify exactly what

we were, or why, some twenty years later,
learning you lay dying—were in fact

already dead, suspended by machines if not
 belief—I thought first of your living flesh,

the size and shape of you. My amanita 
phalloides, that room was to exist forever,

as a field guide or mossy path, even 
if as we foraged, we did not once look back.

Copyright © 2018 by Chelsea Rathburn. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 27, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

                      for Natalie

So much like sequins
the sunlight on this river.
Something like that kiss—
 
remember?
Fourth of July, with the moon
down early	the air moved
 
as if it were thinking,
as if it had begun
to understand
 
how hard it is 
to feel at home
in the world,
 
but that night
she found a place
just above your shoulder
 
and pressed her lips
there. Soft rain
 
had called off the fireworks:
the sky was quiet, but
back on Earth
 
two boys cruised by on bikes
trying out bad words. You turned
to reach her mouth,
 
at last, with yours	after weeks
of long walks, talking
 
about former loves
gone awry—
 
how the soul finally
falls down
 
and gets up alone
once more
 
finding the city strange,
the streets unmarked.

Every time you meet someone
it’s hard not to wonder
 
who they’ve been—one story
breaking so much
 
into the next: memory
engraves its hesitations—
 
but that night
you found yourself
unafraid. Do you remember
 
what the wind told the trees
about her brown hair?—
how the cool dark turned around:
 
that first kiss,
long as a river.
 
Didn’t it seem like you already loved her?
 
Off the sidewalk: a small pond,
the tall cattails, all those sleepy koi
 
coloring the water.

Copyright © 2018 by Tim Seibles. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 1, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

A century of silence is violence.

*

That winter a blizzard, a cold that crawled over
            the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and covered

                 the foothills with a crust of ice.
                        Everything whitened into bone.     

            The clothesline snapped like a branch.
                        A warning shot can be understood in

any language. The entrance to the coalmine dropped
            open like the mouth of a skull without eyeholes.  
           

            Mining folk felt safest underground.
                 The pits were for protection from the chill

that had stretched into the spring. The pits
            were for protection from the wind that kept the walls

                 of each tent shivering all night.
                        The pits were for protection.

*

And somehow the kettle still sang,
            its burst of steam a prized distraction

                 inside the deadness of the tent.
                        In the moment it was the thing

            with most life. It filled the small space
                 with breath—an exhale so far away

from the hour it would take
            the first bullet in its lung.

*

            The horses crushed the quiet.
                 Their nostrils flared and suddenly

                        they looked quite human
                                  in their rage. One foot sunk its hoof
                                               
                 into the face of a doll—an act
                        so cruel it had to have been deliberate.

            The baby limbs stretched out in shock.
                        No mouth, no throat—no sound.

                                    The horse shook its tail like a shrug.

*

Few things gathered the bodies
            in the camp—a game of baseball,

                        a marriage, a christening, a strike.
                                    And war, which darkened the light

            in the tents, shadow upon shadow.
                        The soldiers first, then the smoke,

                                    and then the fall of
                                                a smothering sky.

                          The pits, so womb-like, a refuge
                                    for the lambs while the wolf

            devoured the tents, so sheep-like in their
                        whiteness, so sheep-like in their bleating.

*

            The pits were for protection.

*

One evening the cook was making stew
            in the cauldron. A witch’s brew, said

                        the children who dared themselves
                                    to come near enough to toss

                        a pebble of coal in the pot.
                                    The rocks bounced off the bellies

            of both cauldron and cook. The man cursed,
                        which only made the children giggle.

                                    He chased them with the spoon.
                                                It made them laugh some more.

                        To teach a lesson, he grabbed a rabbit
                                    by the ears. It kicked and splashed as he

            submerged it under boiling water.
                        He trapped it with the lid.

                                    The children screamed in terror,
                                                imagining the bunny swimming

                        through the scalding soup
                                    only to reach scalding metal.

*

            Grief for a dead child sounds the same
                        in Greek or Italian or Spanish. Grief

                                    for eleven children has no language,
                                                only numbness—

*

                                                            it hardens even the land.
 
                                                Fires dissipated. Battles ended.
                                                            The miners rolled their stories up

                                    and left the town of Ludlow, 100 years
                                                empty except for an abandoned row

                        of shacks. Near the baseball diamond, a
                                    memorial as neglected as the playing field.

            A memorial rings hollow—it’s for the solace
                        of the living. To reach the dead

                                    walk toward the structures still standing,
                                                their windows still looking in.

                        Listen closely for the ghost of a woman
                                    tucking into bed the ghost of her son.

            Lean in. That blank sound you hear?
                        The weight of the ghost of her kiss

as it passes through his head—
            the collapse of absence into absence.        

Originally published in Newtown Literary. Copyright © 2017 by Rigoberto González. Used by permission of the author.

I'm the one in the back of the bar, drinking cachaça, 
fingering the lip of the glass. Every dream has left 
me now as I wait for the next song:  Drag and drum. 
They'll be no humming in this room, only fragrance 
of sweat and fuel. To make the animal go. To make it 
Hungry.  After that there is Thirst. 

* 

I danced in the border town until it wasn't decent, 
until I was my grandest self hitchhiking, my slim arm 
out like the stalk of a tired flower, waving, silver rings 
catch the headlights. I'm not sure what I wanted
as we rode on his motorcycle where Chinese signs blurred 
past, flashing red, then blue, and I breathed in the scent 
of fish and plum. My hands found their way to his pockets 
as I rode without helmet, careening toward the cemetery, 
the moon dripping light onto avenues of tombstones.

*

If the Tunisian black market was hidden within a maze. 
If I couldn't find my way, I asked. The wide eyes 
of the boy who led me to the Mediterranean Sea. 
If I took his kindness as a version of truth and stood 
posing for a photo in front of bicycles leaned 
against the sand colored walls. If I arrived 
at the center of the market, women in black muslin 
sold glazed tile on blankets. When I bent down, 
the men surrounded me. If they asked for money 
I had nothing. If they threw their bills around me, 
I recall the purple and red faces crushed on paper. 

* 

Attempting to cross the border with no passport, 
no money. The contents had fallen out of her 
pocket as she ran for the bus. She made promises 
to the officers, bared an inner thigh until their eyes 
grew wide, until they stamped a sheet of official paper 
with tri-colored emblems. The man's fist 
was large though it twitched as he pounded 
the stamp onto the translucent page. The little 
money she had inside an orange handkerchief tied 
to her hair, coins rolling to the ground as she fled.

*

Perhaps it was chance that I ended on the far side 
of the earth. Atrocities of our entanglement not on the bed 
but beside it. Using our mouths as tools for betterment, 
for seduction, for completion. The vertebra twists 
into a question mark to conform to another's. 

In the Patanal, the cowboys steadied the horses 
in the barn, the animal's labored breathing, the sigh 
as the coarse brush worked through the mane. 
The owner's daughter learning to move her hips 
as she practiced her samba before the steaming pot, 
and radio clicking, and lid drumming.

Of the men I've known, you were the most steady,
reliable one near the window killing mosquitoes, 
gathering cool water to press to my scalp. One-sided 
heart I was then. Selfish one. I wanted everything. 
Macaws flew past in quick flock, pushing outward 
toward the earth's scattering filament and mystery. 

* 

I don't ask myself questions anymore
(but it is not a question you ask yourself),
rather it was born, rather that the statement
was peeled like a film of dirt, (rather 
the words were meaning) wrapped inside 
a scarf, stuffed into my carry bag, rather 
that the camera caught all of it 
(the hunter and the kill).

When danger itself was restless,
(it had four legs and it ran with speed 
& vengeance). Though there was 
no purpose, (though the past had nothing 
to do with the chase now). This grand state 
(pumped from its own engine of blood), 
centuries of evolution, first as a red-eyed 
embryo, then reptile, then mammal, then 
man, pure racing, push of muscle and tendon, 
the tongue loose and dragging as the body 
made its way forward. Each time more 
powerful, a new version of waking until 
the species grew great wings and lifted.

Copyright © 2010 by Tina Chang. Used by permission of the author.

HEY

C’MON
COME OUT

WHEREVER YOU ARE

WE NEED TO HAVE THIS MEETING
AT THIS TREE

AIN’ EVEN BEEN
PLANTED
YET

From Directed by Desire: The Complete Poems of June Jordan (Copper Canyon Press, 2005). Copyright © 2005, 2017 by the June Jordan Literary Estate. Used with the permission of the June Jordan Literary Estate, www.junejordan.com.

Since you ask, most days I cannot remember.
I walk in my clothing, unmarked by that voyage.
Then the almost unnameable lust returns.

Even then I have nothing against life.
I know well the grass blades you mention,
the furniture you have placed under the sun.

But suicides have a special language.
Like carpenters they want to know which tools.
They never ask why build.

Twice I have so simply declared myself,
have possessed the enemy, eaten the enemy,
have taken on his craft, his magic.

In this way, heavy and thoughtful,
warmer than oil or water,
I have rested, drooling at the mouth-hole.

I did not think of my body at needle point.
Even the cornea and the leftover urine were gone.
Suicides have already betrayed the body.

Still-born, they don't always die,
but dazzled, they can't forget a drug so sweet
that even children would look on and smile.

To thrust all that life under your tongue!--
that, all by itself, becomes a passion.
Death's a sad Bone; bruised, you'd say,

and yet she waits for me, year after year,
to so delicately undo an old wound,
to empty my breath from its bad prison.

Balanced there, suicides sometimes meet,
raging at the fruit, a pumped-up moon,
leaving the bread they mistook for a kiss,

leaving the page of the book carelessly open,
something unsaid, the phone off the hook
and the love, whatever it was, an infection.

From The Complete Poems by Anne Sexton, published by Houghton Mifflin Company. Copyright © 1981 by Linda Gray Sexton. Used with permission.

At night the moon shakes the bright dice of the water;
And the elders, their flower light as broken snow upon the bush,
Repeat the circle of the moon.

Within the month
Black fruit breaks from the white flower.
The black-wheeled berries turn
Weighing the boughs over the road.
There is no harvest.
Heavy to withering, the black wheels bend
Ripe for the mouths of chance lovers,
Or birds.

      Twigs show again in the quick cleavage of season and season.
      The elders sag over the powdery road-bank,
      As though they bore, and it were too much,
      The seed of the year beyond the year.

This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on August 11, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

I will wade out
                    	   till my thighs are steeped in burn-
ing flowers
I will take the sun in my mouth
and leap into the ripe air
                                	   	Alive
                                            	               with closed eyes
to dash against darkness
                                	  in the sleeping curves of my
body
Shall enter fingers of smooth mastery
with chasteness of sea-girls
                                	         Will I complete the mystery
of my flesh
I will rise
        	After a thousand years
lipping
flowers
             And set my teeth in the silver of the moon

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on October 14, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

a love letter to traci akemi kato-kiriyama

does a voice have to be auditory to be a voice?

where in the body does hearing take place?

which are the questions that cannot be addressed in language?

which are the questions where promises lodge?

how do we hear what is outside our earshot?

when does distance look like closeness, feel like velvet sunrise cheek to cheek?

what are the objects, ideas, or experiences we drop beneath the more evident surfaces of our lives to the air or water or ground beneath? do we drop them purposefully? are they forgotten?

what word makes the body?

what body defies the word?

which figures, shapes, presences, haunts, methods, media, modes, ephemera, gestures, abandonments, models, anti-models, breaths, harmonics? which soil? which fields?

what does beginning sound like? what body does continuing form? what note does perseverance hum?

is a word a body?

which apertures? which hinges?

where does a body stand without settling?

through which holes does history break into our day?

where in the past does the future excavate?

where in the future does the past propel?

what are the distinctions between proximity and simultaneity?

where does a body resist without refusal?

can borders be exceeded? can borders be disintegrated?

where in the body does hearing take place?

where in the body does loving take place?

how do we make family with someone we do not know?

what do we carry with us and where in the body do we carry it?

might we be permitted a we this evening?

may I hold your hand? to feel your hand as its actual shape, clothed in its papery useful unequivocal skin, bones stacked like tiny branches, the balancing act of a bird, joints unlocking, span from thumb to pinky octaving out toward unfamiliar harmonics?

what space does the body occupy despite everything?

what does despitesound like? what does withsound like?

where does attake place? where does respite take place?

 

Copyright © 2018 by Jen Hofer. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 7, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

By Hannah Ensor and Laura Wetherington

In meditation my thought-labeling
has gotten more specific: raging. capital. scheming.
What is the nothingness before the storm? I have tried
to be tzim tzum. I have tried to forget the word MARTYR.
So many parts of my life are like that, like when the thought comes
and I keep it inside. I’m a deep kettle whistle. I see what you mean
about the sun being sharp. My explanation for why
is under-scientific. Laughing forms kinship. Laughing is a way
to say I hear you. Or here we are. Sitting in a room creates a room
that we carry with us. It can be big, if you like.
It can hold your friends. Some feelings are for now
and some feelings are for later. I believe we can queer each other
through listening. I keep forgetting today. Did you get my letter?
My throat closed and I put brackets around it. I can’t help but notice 
how many of my feelings are about thinking.

Copyright © 2019 by Hannah Ensor and Laura Wetherington. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 11, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

                                        In my favorite fantasy    
                                                   I am given             

                                        permission    I am prone    
                                        face toward the light 
                                                      beach queen    bathed in body

A thought that comes from a coming-from     the sweet place

                           where a sunset isn’t indescribable
 				                                      something simply looked at

                                                      The sun sets    I sit
                                                      sinless in sand 
                                                      I sip only once

Copyright © 2019 by Chase Berggrun. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 9, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Maybe silence adds to the pain
and maybe pain adds to the sea
and maybe the sea is only a reflection
of a ruin today
where the mind is unable to make out
how things used to be for us:
complete, with deities, a kind of 
order. Oh never mind the ATMs 
scattered throughout the medieval town
or the street art sprayed
into the air that says
Destroy what destroys you
But I destroy myself;
I destroy myself.

Copyright © 2018 by Sandra Simonds. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 24, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

when hiding from enemies

 

                                                  at least one dream away from
machines & from bodies that do not sleep that he drags
his thumb along his lover’s smudged chin, notices his face
   bathed earthen

the trees once giants, are giants again he tells the moon they come savage and without undoing

after a grenade falls a fresh cavity in the ground appears as a nest and he wishes his own children to forget him           they
will be the lucky ones       to live enemies must believe
   him gone

they are not from these caves dear santos dear virgen evoke what luz perpetual dear palmettos & salt water be all and his
   mouth too

his lover lies down wet ground speaking only what he knows dripping face the shrapnel moon       he whispers his want
to dissolve like this in ferns

Copyright © 2019 by Angela Peñaredondo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 4, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

English is your fourth language

the baby of the family

the one your mouth spoils

favorite by default

who may one day be sold off by its siblings

in hopes to never return

all of your other tongues have grown jealous


your country has over 200 dialects

that’s over 200 ways

to say Love

to say family

to say I am a song

to say I belong to something

that does not want to kill me

& does not want to siphon the gold from my

blood or the stories from my bones

Copyright © 2019 by Pages Matam. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 6, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

(at St. Mary’s)

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that

From Quilting: Poems 1987–1990 by Lucille Clifton. Copyright © 2001 by Lucille Clifton. Reprinted with permission of BOA Editions Ltd. All rights reserved.

On TV, someone is selling the idea of buying
by way of a happy family by way of a cleaning product. 
I want—, I say. Then your mouth
on my mouth. Your mouth on my belly. And then. 

I was never good at being a girl. All those hands
made dirty work. Once, my grandmother
scooped the Tennessee soil, put it in my mouth. 
It tasted true. I wanted more. In my steepled city 
steeped in song, I pitied that christian god 
his labor. He made marrow and astonishment 
of us. We made bludgeon of him, bland bread of his son. 

My neighbor used to be a missionary. Now he spends days 
painting a bird pecking at the eyeballs of a dead girl. 
In the painting, you can only see the bird. See how 
the artist probes the light so the feathers shimmer. Beautiful, 

the TV mother says to each guest as the house 
burns down. She sashays through the parlor, 
stopping to nibble on a stuffed mushroom, 
dab sweat from the brow of a dignitary. Everything 
is a metaphor until the body abuts it. Even then. 
Metaphor with blood. Metaphor with teeth. 

Metaphor with epinephrine. I name each blow 
desire. Look how your hand revises 
my form. Extraordinary ability. Prodigal child. You leave
and take your weather with you. I take your language
to polish my wound, but rarely do I dare
to mean anything at all. A poem is evidence

of nothing. You cannot prosecute with a poem.
I thought your violence made me good. I thought 
your desire made me beautiful though the signs
chirping wanted all had your face. Maybe you’ve named 
me innocent after living so long in my mouth. 
I, for one, always fall in love with the person holding
the pen. What will you bring me when I tell you
what I’ve done? Lobster, slant of light, doilied petition,
blond girl playing scales on the violin? 

Oh, I will reach right through her. I will extract her best music.

Copyright © 2018 by Claire Schwartz. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 10, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Words are hoops
Through which to leap upon meanings,
Which are horses’ backs,
Bare, moving.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on May 5, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

I like to say we left at first light
        with Chairman Mao himself chasing us in a police car,
my father fighting him off with firecrackers,
        even though Mao was already over a decade
dead, & my mother says all my father did
        during the Cultural Revolution was teach math,
which he was not qualified to teach, & swim & sunbathe
        around Piano Island, a place I never read about
in my American textbooks, a place everybody in the family
        says they took me to, & that I loved.
What is it, to remember nothing, of what one loved?
        To have forgotten the faces one first kissed?
They ask if I remember them, the aunts, the uncles,
        & I say Yes it’s coming back, I say Of course,
when it’s No not at all, because when I last saw them
        I was three, & the China of my first three years
is largely make-believe, my vast invented country,
        my dream before I knew the word “dream,”
my father’s martial arts films plus a teaspoon-taste 
        of history. I like to say we left at first light,
we had to, my parents had been unmasked as the famous
        kung fu crime-fighting couple of the Southern provinces,
& the Hong Kong mafia was after us. I like to say
        we were helped by a handsome mysterious Northerner,
who turned out himself to be a kung fu master.
        I don’t like to say, I don’t remember crying.
No embracing in the airport, sobbing. I don’t remember
        feeling bad, leaving China.
I like to say we left at first light, we snuck off
        on some secret adventure, while the others were
still sleeping, still blanketed, warm
        in their memories of us.
What do I remember of crying? When my mother slapped me
        for being dirty, diseased, led astray by Western devils,
a dirty, bad son, I cried, thirteen, already too old,
        too male for crying. When my father said Get out,
never come back,
I cried & ran, threw myself into night.
        Then returned, at first light, I don’t remember exactly
why, or what exactly came next. One memory claims
        my mother rushed into the pink dawn bright
to see what had happened, reaching toward me with her hands,
        & I wanted to say No. Don’t touch me.
Another memory insists the front door had simply been left
        unlocked, & I slipped right through, found my room,
my bed, which felt somehow smaller, & fell asleep, for hours,
        before my mother (anybody) seemed to notice.
I’m not certain which is the correct version, but what stays with me
        is the leaving, the cry, the country splintering.
It’s been another five years since my mother has seen her sisters,
        her own mother, who recently had a stroke, who has                          trouble
recalling who, why. I feel awful, my mother says,
        not going back at once to see her. But too much is                              happening here.
Here, she says, as though it’s the most difficult,
        least forgivable English word. 
What would my mother say, if she were the one writing?
        How would her voice sound? Which is really to ask, what is
my best guess, my invented, translated (Chinese-to-English,
        English-to-English) mother’s voice? She might say:
We left at first light, we had to, the flight was early,
        in early spring. Go, my mother urged, what are you doing,
waving at me, crying? Get on that plane before it leaves without you.
        It was spring & I could smell it, despite the sterile glass
& metal of the airport—scent of my mother’s just-washed hair,
        of the just-born flowers of fields we passed on the car ride                over,
how I did not know those flowers were already
        memory, how I thought I could smell them, boarding the                  plane,
the strange tunnel full of their aroma, their names
        I once knew, & my mother’s long black hair—so impossible              now.
Why did I never consider how different spring could smell,              feel,
        elsewhere? First light, last scent, lost
country. First & deepest severance that should have
        prepared me for all others. 

From When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities by Chen Chen, published by BOA Editions. Copyright © 2017 by Chen Chen. Used with permission of BOA Editions.

 

Instead, let it be the echo to every footstep
drowned out by rain, cripple the air like a name

flung onto a sinking boat, splash the kapok’s bark
through rot & iron of a city trying to forget

the bones beneath its sidewalks, then through
the refugee camp sick with smoke & half-sung

hymns, a shack rusted black & lit with Bà Ngoại’s
last candle, the hogs’ faces we held in our hands

& mistook for brothers, let it enter a room illuminated
with snow, furnished only with laughter, Wonder Bread

& mayonnaise raised to cracked lips as testament
to a triumph no one recalls, let it brush the newborn’s

flushed cheek as he’s lifted in his father’s arms, wreathed
with fishgut & Marlboros, everyone cheering as another

brown gook crumbles under John Wayne’s M16, Vietnam
burning on the screen, let it slide through their ears,

clean, like a promise, before piercing the poster
of Michael Jackson glistening over the couch, into

the supermarket where a Hapa woman is ready
to believe every white man possessing her nose

is her father, may it sing, briefly, inside her mouth,
before laying her down between jars of tomato

& blue boxes of pasta, the deep-red apple rolling
from her palm, then into the prison cell

where her husband sits staring at the moon
until he’s convinced it’s the last wafer

god refused him, let it hit his jaw like a kiss
we’ve forgotten how to give one another, hissing

back to ’68, Ha Long Bay: the sky replaced
with fire, the sky only the dead

look up to, may it reach the grandfather fucking
the pregnant farmgirl in the back of his army jeep,

his blond hair flickering in napalm-blasted wind, let it pin
him down to dust where his future daughters rise,

fingers blistered with salt & Agent Orange, let them
tear open his olive fatigues, clutch that name hanging

from his neck, that name they press to their tongues
to relearn the word live, live, live—but if

for nothing else, let me weave this deathbeam
the way a blind woman stitches a flap of skin back

to her daughter’s ribs. Yes—let me believe I was born
to cock back this rifle, smooth & slick, like a true

Charlie, like the footsteps of ghosts misted through rain
as I lower myself between the sights—& pray

that nothing moves.

From Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong, published by Copper Canyon Press. Copyright © 2016 by Ocean Vuong. Used with permission of Copper Canyon Press.

We pay to enter the dirty
pen. We buy small bags of feed
to feed the well-fed animals. We are
guests in their home, our feet
on their sawdust floor. We pretend
not to notice the stench. Theirs
is a predictable life. Better,
I guess, than the slaughter,
is the many-handed god. Me?
I’m going to leave here, eat
a body that was once untouched,
and fed, then gutted and delivered
to my table. Afterwards, I’ll wash
off what of this I can. If I dream
it will be of the smallest goat,
who despite her job, flinched
from most of the hands. Though
she let me touch her, she would not
eat from my palm. In my dream,
she’ll die of old age
and not boredom.

Copyright © 2019 by Nicole Homer. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 28, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

After Hanif Abdurraqib & Frank O’Hara
 
It is the last class of the day & I am teaching a classroom of sixth graders about poetry & across town a man has walked into a Starbucks & blown himself up while some other men throw grenades in the street & shoot into the crowd of civilians & I am 27 years old which means I am the only person in this room who was alive when this happened in New York City & I was in eighth grade & sitting in my classroom for the first class of the day & I made a joke about how mad everyone was going to be at the pilot who messed up & later added, how stupid do you have to be for it to happen twice? & the sixth graders are practicing listing sensory details & somebody calls out blue skies as a sight they love & nobody in this classroom knows what has happened yet & they do not know that the school is in lockdown which is a word we did not have when I was in sixth grade & the whole class is laughing because a boy has called out dog poop as a smell he does not like & what is a boy if not a glowing thing learning what he can get away with & I was once a girl in a classroom on the lucky side of town who did not know what had happened yet & electrical fire is a smell I did not know I did not like until my neighborhood smelled that way for weeks & blue skies is a sight I have never trusted again & poetry is what I reached for in the days when the ash would not stop falling & there is a sixth grade girl in this classroom whose father is in that Starbucks & she does not know what has happened yet & what is a girl if not a pulsing thing learning what the world will take from her & what if I am still a girl sitting in my classroom on the lucky side of town making a careless joke looking at the teacher for some kind of answer & what if I am also the teacher without any answers looking back at myself & what is an adult if not a terrified thing desperate to protect something you cannot save? & how lucky do you have to be for it to miss you twice? & tomorrow a sixth grade girl will come to class while her father has the shrapnel pulled from his body & maybe she will reach for poetry & the sky outside the classroom is so terribly blue & the students are quiet & looking at me & waiting for a grown-up or a poem or an answer or a bell to ring & the bell rings & they float up from their seats like tiny ghosts & are gone

Copyright © 2019 by Sarah Kay. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February , 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Then a woman said, Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.
And he answered:
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on February 10, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

A young man learns to shoot
& dies in the mud
an ocean away from home,
a rifle in his fingers
& the sky dripping
from his heart. Next to him
a friend watches
his final breath slip
ragged into the ditch,
a thing the friend will carry
back to America—
wound, souvenir,
backstory. He’ll teach 
literature to young people
for 40 years. He’ll coach
his daughters’ softball teams. 
Root for Red Wings
& Lions & Tigers. Dance
well. Love generously. 
He’ll be quick with a joke
& firm with handshakes.
He’ll rarely talk
about the war. If asked
he’ll tell you instead
his favorite story:
Odysseus escaping
from the Cyclops
with a bad pun & good wine
& a sharp stick.
It’s about buying time
& making do, he’ll say. 
It’s about doing what it takes 
to get home, & you see 
he has been talking 
about the war all along.
We all want the same thing
from this world:
Call me nobody. Let me live.

Copyright © 2019 by Amorak Huey. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 20, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

There once was a planet who was both
sick and beautiful. Chemicals rode through her
that she did not put there.
Animals drowned in her eyeballs
that she did not put there—
animals she could not warn
against falling in because
she was of them, not
separable from them.
Define sick, the atmosphere asked.
So she tried: she made
a whale on fire
somehow still
swimming and alive.
See? she said. Like that,
kind of. But the atmosphere did
not understand this, so the planet progressed in her argument.
She talked about the skin
that snakes shed, about satellites that circled her
like suitors forever yet never
said a word.
She talked about the shyness
of large things, how a blueberry dominates
the tongue that it dies on.
She talked and talked and
the atmosphere started nodding—
you could call this
a revolution, or just therapy.
Meanwhile the whale spent the rest of his
life burning (etc., etc., he sang a few songs).
When he finally died
his body, continuing
to burn steadily, drifted down
to the ocean floor.
And although the planet
had long since forgotten him—he was merely one
of her many examples—he became
a kind of god in the eyes
of the fish that saw him as he fell. Or
not a god exactly, but at least something
inexplicable. Something strange and worth
briefly turning your face toward.

Copyright © 2019 by Mikko Harvey. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 22, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

I know I’m godless when
my thirst converts water                into wasps, my country a carpet
                                                            I finger for crumbs. A country
my grandmother breeds
dogs instead of daughters             because only one can be called
                                                            home. I am trained to lose accents,
to keep a pregnancy
or cancel it out with                       another man. My tongue is
                                                            a twin, one translating
the other’s silence. Here
is my lung’s list of needs:               how to hold water
                                                            like a woman & not
drown. I want men
to stop writing &                            become mothers. I promise this
                                                            is the last time I call my mother
to hear her voice
beside mine. I want                        the privilege of a history
                                                            to hand back unworn
to grow out of
my mother’s touch                         like a dress from
                                                            childhood. Every time
I flirt with girls, I say
I know my way around                   a wound. I say let’s bang
                                                            open like doors, answer to
god. I unpin from
my skin, leave it to                          age in my closet & swing
                                                            from the dark, a wrecking
ball gown. In the closet
urns of ashes:                                   we cremated my grandfather
                                                            on a stovetop, stirred
every nation we tried
to bury him in was                          a war past calling itself
                                                            one. I stay closeted with
him, his scent echoing
in the urn, weeks-old                     ginger & leeks, leaks
                                                            of light where his bones halved
& healed. With small
hands, I puzzled                              him back together. I hid from
                                                            his shadow in closets
his feet like a chicken’s,
jellied bone & meatless.                His favorite food was chicken
                                                            feet, bones shallow in the meat
When he got dementia,
he flirted with my mother              he mouthed for my breasts
                                                            like an infant
We poured milk
into his eyeholes                             until he saw everything
                                                            neck-deep in white
the Chinese color
of mourning, bad                             luck, though the doctor
                                                            says everything is
genetics. I lock myself in
the smallest rooms that fit             in my mind, my grandfather’s:
                                                            a house we hired back from
fire. So I’ll forever
have a mother, I become                a daughter who goes by god. I urn
                                                            my ghosts, know each by a name
my own.

Copyright © 2019 by K-Ming Chang. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 22, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.