—with a line from Louise Glück
Humor functions in the neighborhood as it functioned in the shtetl: the only way into a world insistent on your pain. Something you’d be shot for. If they want you to cry, tears are evasive; if they want you vulnerable, vulnerability’s a cop-out; if they want a confession, your confession is cheap. “When I speak passionately, / that’s when I’m least to be trusted.” A privilege to weep when to laugh is to choke on history. Oh diaspora: seventy-five years ago I’d be gassed beside my sisters, yet here I am, running out for milk in a heated car. Does a funnier joke exist? Yet there’s so many jokes in this neighborhood, that one barely gets a laugh.
You’re telling us.
Copyright © 2020 by Allison Pitinii Davis. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 1, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
When I come home they rush to me, the flies, & would take me, they would take me in their small arms if I were smaller, so fly this way, that way in joy, they welcome me. They kiss my face one two, they say, Come in, come in. Sit at this table. Sit. They hold one hand inside the other & say, Eat. They share the food, sit close to me, sit. As I chew they touch my hair, they touch their hands to my crumbs, joining me. The rim of my cup on which they perch. The milky lake above which. They ask for a story: How does it begin? Before, I was a child, & so on. My story goes on too long. I only want to look into their faces. The old one sits still, I sit with it, but the others busy themselves now with work & after the hour which maybe to them is a week, a month, I sleep in the room between the open window & the kitchen, dreaming though I were the Sierra, though I were their long lost sister, they understand that when I wake I will have to go. One helps me with my coat, another rides my shoulder to the train. Come with me, come, I say. No, no, it says, & waits with me there the rest whistling, touching my hair, though maybe these are its last seconds on earth in the light in the air is this love, though it is little, my errand, & for so little I left my house again.
Copyright © 2020 by Aracelis Girmay. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 2, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
arils loosed from the yellow membrane
pith pocked and pocketed
spread across the plate Aapa
gave us on our wedding day
my daughter, my panniq, picking at the crimson
carapace, her graceful small fingers
examining each aril between finger and thumb
before she consumes it, just so
reminds me of crab cooked in winter
my uncles letting loose
their catch across the tile floor
the clatter as thin tine toes
and later the bodies’
carapace—craggy corniced interiors
the inner sanctum
the source of life
the sacred centering
have I done enough to deserve this
I hold each memory
the December light flickers out
between the dark damp trees
I watch my daughter, my panniq, as she is this moment
Copyright © 2020 by Carrie Ayagaduk Ojanen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 3, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
A flare of russet,
green fronds, surprise
of flush against
the bare grey cypress
in winter woods.
Cardinal wild pine,
Spikes of bright bloom–
How they contour
against the trunk.
I miss that closeness
against my skin,
Before they latched,
their grief revealed
in such a flash.
Seekers of light,
Over the wetlands
a snail kite skims
tallgrass, then swoops
to scoop the apple
snail in curved bill.
of names, of raptor
and prey, the beak,
like a trap door,
The way two beings
create a space
for one another—
the bud to branch,
tongue against nipple.
Copyright © 2020 by Elise Paschen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 6, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Yesterday: me, a stone, the river,
a bottle of Jack, the clouds
with unusual speed crept by.
A man was in the middle of me.
I was humbled.
Not by him. The earth,
with its unusual speed,
went from dawn to dusk to dawn.
Just like that. The light
every shade of gold. Gold. I’m
greedy for it. Light is my currency.
I am big with dawn. So hot & so
pregnant with the fire I stole.
By pregnant I mean everything
you see is of me. Daylight
is my daughter. Dusk, my lover’s
post-pleasure face. And the night?
Well. Look up.
Are you ever really alone?
Copyright © 2020 by Katie Condon. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 7, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
The translucent claws of newborn mice
this pearl cast of color,
the barely perceptible
like a ghosted threshold of being:
here not here.
The single breath we hold
on the thinnest verge of sight:
not there there.
A curve nearly naked
an arc of almost,
a wisp of becoming
tiny enough to change me.
Copyright © 2020 by Kimberly Blaeser. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 8, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
A lot more malaise and a little more grief every day,
aware that all seasons, the stormy, the sunlit, are brief every day.
I don’t know the name of the hundredth drowned child, just the names
of the oligarchs trampling the green, eating beef every day,
while luminous creatures flick, stymied, above and around
the plastic detritus that’s piling up over the reef every day.
A tiny white cup of black coffee in afternoon shade,
while an oud or a sax plays brings breath and relief every day.
Another beginning, no useful conclusion in sight‚—
another first draft that I tear out and add to the sheaf every day.
One name, three-in-one, ninety-nine, or a matrix of tales
that are one story only, well-springs of belief every day.
But I wake before dawn to read news that arrived overnight
on a minuscule screen , and exclaim يا لطيف every day.
Copyright © 2020 by Marilyn Hacker. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 9, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
I begged the Muse.
Always the same
If you want the line,
you’ll have to earn it.
Write about something
besides younger men,
Think of Elizabeth Bishop,
who spent twenty years
on “The Moose.”
No! I won’t!
Too late. I was already
Copyright © 2020 by Marilyn Kallet. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 10, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
One summer night, walking from our house after dinner, stars make the sky almost white.
My awe is like blindness; wonder exchanges for sight.
Star-by-star comprises a multiplicity like thought, but quiet, too dense for any dark planet between.
While single stars are a feature of the horizon at dusk, caught at the edge of the net of gems.
Transparence hanging on its outer connectedness casts occurrence as accretion, filling in, of extravagant, euphoric blooming.
Then, being as spirit and in matter is known, here to there.
I go home and tell my children to come out and look.
The souls of my two children fly up like little birds into branches of the Milky Way,
chatting with each other, naming constellations, comparing crystals and fire.
They exclaim at similarities between what they see in the sky and on our land.
So, by wonder, they strengthen correspondence between sky and home.
Earth is made from this alchemy of all children, human and animal, combined
with our deep gratitude.
I see his dark shape, moving and shifting against night’s screen of stars.
My little girl reaches for his lighted silhouette.
Human beings are thought upward and flown through by bright birds.
We believe stars are spirits of very high frequency.
We feel proud our animals come from stars so dense in meaning close to sacrament.
We describe time passing in stories about animals; star movement is named for seasonal migrations of deer, wolf, hummingbird, dolphin, and as animals stars walk among us.
Our snake Olivia, for example, tells me there’s no conflict between humans and rain, because resource is all around us.
A coyote loved night, and he loved to gaze at the stars.
“I noticed one star in Cassiopeia; I talked to her, and each night she grew brighter and closer, and she came to life here, as a corn snake, my friend.”
“She looks like a dancer on tiptoe, stepping around pink star-blossoms surging up after rain.”
Constellations are experienced emotionally as this play of self through plant and animal symbols and values.
A dream atmosphere flows; everything represented is sacred; being moves in accord, not of time.
Returning from the Milky Way, she realized crystals had fallen from her bag and looked up.
My story links a journey to sky with the creation of stars, in which place accommodates becoming.
Chama River flows north-south to the horizon, then straight up through the Milky Way, like water moving beneath a riverbed that’s dry.
Abiquiu Mountain, El Rito Creek, coyote, snake, rainbow and rain, spider and hummingbird identify equivalent spiritual placements above, so wherever we go, there is company, nurture, from every star in our regard.
I start up to ask my birds to return home, and find our land continuous with a starry sky mapped as entities who set into motion occurrence, here.
Place awaits an imprint from this potential, even though starlight arriving now already happened; what happens is a depth of field, before and after drought, fire, storm disruption.
I move at high speed, but I’m still standing beside my house in the dark.
To go there, I find the place on our mesa that correlates to their tree in the sky and leap up.
Space stirs as star trilliums emerge through darkness like humus.
I ask one blossom to please in the future renew these bonds between sky and my children, so they will always hold light in the minerals of their eyes.
Sun on its nightly underground journey weaves a black thread between white days on the cosmic loom, cord or resonance between new experience and meaning.
The origin of stars expresses the underlying warp of this fabric; summer solstice draws a diagonal across my floor, precession, weaving ground of informing spirit, so therefore, life is fundamental to stars.
The reverse is well known.
That’s why I don’t use a telescope, star charts or glasses when I go out; I think of a place; I wait, then fly to my children.
When the star-gate is raised, there’s a narrow door between sky and ground.
But when I arrive, I find the sky solid; I can’t break through to visit my starbirds and stand there wondering, before dawn.
Then sky vault lifts; maybe I can slip through to find the Milky Way and see its blossoms.
Then our sun appears in the crack and pushes through to the day.
It’s so bright, so hot, I step back and cover my eyes; I hear my mother calling.
Copyright © 2020 by Mei-mei Berssenbrugge. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 13, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Doubt is easy. You welcome it, your old friend.
Poet Edward Field told a bunch of kids,
Invite it in, feed it a good dinner, give it a place to sleep
on the couch. Don’t make it too comfortable or
it might never leave. When it goes away, say okay, I’ll see you
again later. Don’t fear. Don’t give it your notebook.
As for bad reviews, sure. William Stafford advised no credence to
praise or blame. Just steady on.
Once a man named Paul called me “a kid.” I liked kids
but I knew he meant it as an insult. Anyway, I was a kid.
I guess he was saying, why should we listen to kids?
A newspaper described a woman named Frieda being asked
if “I was serious” and “she whistled.” What did that mean?
How do you interpret a whistle? This was one thing that bothered me.
And where did Frieda ever go?
Copyright © 2020 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 14, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Slender as my ring finger, the female hummingbird crashed
into plate glass separating her and me
before we could ask each other’s name. Green flame,
she launched from a dead eucalyptus limb.
Almost on impact, she was gone, her needle beak
opening twice to speak the abrupt language of her going,
taking in the day’s rising heat as I took
one more scalding breath, horrified by death’s velocity.
Too weak from chemo not to cry
for the passage of her emerald shine,
I lifted her weightlessness into my palm.
Mourning doves moaned, who, who,
oh who while her wings closed against the tiny body
sky would quick forget as soon as it would forget mine
Copyright © 2020 by Pamela Uschuk. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 15, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
For Hooker, Muddy, and Buddy
of the sluggish, coolly vengeful way
a southern body falters. Muscles whine
with toiling, browning teeth go tilt and splay,
then tremulous and gone. The serpentine
and slapdash landscape of his mouth is maze
for blue until the heart—so sparsely blessed,
lethargic in its fatty cloak—OKs
that surge of Tallahatchie through his chest,
and Lordy, hear that awful moan unlatch?
Behind the mic, he’s drowning in that great
migration uniform of sharkskin patched
with prayer and dust. His cramped feet palpitate
in alligator kickers, needle-toed,
so tight he feels the thudding blood, so tight
they make it way too easy to unload
his woe. The drunken drummer misses right
on time, the speakers sputter static, but
our bluesman gravels anyhow—The moon
won’t even rise for me tonight / now what’s
a brokedown man gon’ do? That wretched croon
delights the urban wanderers, intent
on loving on this perfect underwhelm
of Negro, jinxed and catastrophic, bent
into his hurting halves. Inside the realm
of pain as pageant, woozy revelers raise
their plastic cups of fizz and watered rye
to toast the warbler of decay, whose dazed
and dwindling lyric craves its moonlit sky.
Copyright © 2020 by Patricia Smith. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 16, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
words appeared as the soft purring of a cat, crow screeching,
end of a hymn, cicadas in trees—spilling in the white
noise of my head—Da Nang Mekong Saigon Nam.
I walked suburban streets to school, hi-fi blasting Somebody To Love,
coach meting out orders, my playbook of fakes and jives,
my head swelling in the helmet. Over sweet cocktails with my beloved
under the yellowing gingkoes of 64th off Lex, for a moment I felt
grown up and then the air in my head was orange chemical Dow
and DuPont, the juke box blasting Light My Fire—and where were we?
staring at the image: pistol to the head, a boy I once knew
on the white-lined field was bagged
and flown back in the dioxin haze of morning.
In the mangrove of my head chopping sounds
under the covers, rice patties—floating mirrors with unidentified
objects. There were Catholics in Saigon and Catholics on my street,
what about Laos? what about Cambodia?
American questions spilling in sunlight on white
shutters, and I’m home on plush carpet waiting for a number.
Copyright © 2020 by Peter Balakian. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 17, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
On a picnic table, in Pine, Arizona,
a Bear, Makwa, sits and meditates.
Occasionally, with menu in hand,
he scans the reddish-brown landscape
partially draped with snow, a climatic
rarity. But it’s heavenly here, he resolves,
that's why I'm feeling good. After
New York steak, jumbo prawns
and woodland mushrooms, a bottle
of cabernet is placed on a cedar deer
rack. While dipping the sopapilla
honey, he reads the wine called
Zah was highly coveted by Bonnie,
the 1930s gangster. The ruse evokes
a smile. Then, on a cart that’s
in beside him, a miniature cast-iron
stove with its legs embedded
in ice crackles as two potatoes
revolve and bake. From a silver
with a wobbly antennae,
a saxophone is heard faintly,
with Mayall singing “Going
Back to California.” Nostalgia,
the D. J. Epic, graphic
Soon, sparks fly from the microwave’s
slender chimney, reminding him of the time
he gave Black Eagle Childs a tune called
Askotewi-Ttimani, Fire Boat. Akin
lovers separated by a wide river,
whispers Nemese, Fish, the butter’s
fragrance is corn tassel sweet
and the sour cream senses earth
akameeki, overseas. Combustible
emotions, you could say, through
supernatural alchemy. And per
etiquette, the handles of your
are designed with turquoise
and corral inlay. “Say, I seem to
have forgotten,” he asks, “but what
do they mean?”
From a nearby table, a Mawewa, Wolf
politely intercedes: If I may answer
for Mayrin—once the shell-shock subsides,
you'll recall the East is a star and the South
a galaxy falling as snow into a dish that
breathes, especially at noon; and the West
is a door of purple seashells, with the North
being a lodge made with pillars of swirling
quills. Natawinoni, Medicine. These gifts
will keep apoplectic reactions at bay.
“Wekone? What?” More so, if by birth
your heart is exposed. “Jesus Christ!
you know?” Nanotti-meko-Makwa-webi-
Bear begins reflecting on where he’d
been. In Tanzania and Mozambique,
of white string that guided land
mine-detecting rats over dry, ochre-
colored fields resembled gardens
being prepped for spring
back home. Beautiful,
speckled atamina, corn.
Remarkably, rats can also detect TB,
said the Wakotte, Fox. “They can?”
Moreover, in the desert where you
visited, a waterfall came back to life
a single raindrop, the one that travelled
with you on a Spider’s web, floating
in the wind over distant mountains,
oceans and clouds. Manetwi-kiyaki-
There’s still much we have to do.
Because the Earth beneath our feet,
Kokomesenana, our Grandmother,
struggles to heal herself. Thus,
the moment before the Northern
Lights glow fiery red, arcing over
us en route to Antarctica, you’ll ask
in a solemn, musical voice that
be granted in perpetuum to the culture,
language, religion and history of your
children and their grandchildren.
He was contemplating all of this
an old, toothless gentleman in
a large suitcoat approached
and asked, are you Randolph Scott?
After saying “Yes,” an armor-clad
became audibly restless at the four
dragon-headed dogs staring at three
galley sails billowing on the hinterland
Copyright © 2020 by Ray Young Bear. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 20, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Who comforts you now that the wheel has broken?
No more princes for the poor. Loss whittling you thin.
Grief is the constant now, hope the last word spoken.
In a dance of two elegies, which circles the drain? A token
year with its daisies and carbines is where we begin.
Who comforts you now? That the wheel has broken
is Mechanics 101; to keep dreaming when the joke’s on
you? Well, crazier legends have been written.
Grief is the constant now; hope, the last word spoken
on a motel balcony, shouted in a hotel kitchen. No kin
can make this journey for you. The route’s locked in.
Who comforts you now that the wheel has broken
the bodies of its makers? Beyond the smoke and
ashes, what you hear rising is nothing but the wind.
Who comforts you? Now that the wheel has broken,
grief is the constant. Hope: the last word spoken.
Copyright © 2020 by Rita Dove. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 21, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
The slow crawling light wilts
into the dark flat of asphalt.
The moon rings the dim-lit room.
The scraping. The fire.
in the deep flesh of ear.
Strike a match, watch the flame—
the scraping, the fire, ring
the brain’s bent
Yoked mica, deafened glint—
scrape and fire, the moon ringing
the dim-lit room.
A louse in the crevice
in knuckles flexed
around the steel—
of squalor—a pummeling
smelted in a starless dark.
Copyright © 2020 by Santee Frazier. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 22, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Water levels have bled out,
like it had just bitten its lip
& was about to swell—then rip:
had I paid better attention to drought,
listened more to the stars and stayed
with mountain clouds, I’d have let go
of the knot swing hanging above the slow
life flow beneath my legs, I’d have prayed
to forget all the times he came to me
but not wanted me: how fast it rises,
carrying plumes of pang in undercurrent:
swirls of sediment & silt around my knees—
the dragging stalks and leaves of irises,
how pathetic they look breaking in torrent—
Copyright © 2020 by Tacey M. Atsitty. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 23, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
On the turnpike, the smell of a heaven
made out of old barn wood
Handles and rungs
cut from a fat farmer’s leather belt.
In the eastern counties,
coffins raced uphill, moving on hay bales
and billiard balls.
Charon paid for everyone at the I-44 tollbooth.
On the North Canadian,
comforts of a widower’s loneliness
floated on pontoons.
Time balanced on a fish egg.
In the city, violins violated jackhammers.
At the refuge, night is the church for the disliked.
I go to baptize the plants,
horns, and rain.
I have passed through
many different Oklahoma statehoods.
Copyright © 2020 by Sy Hoahwah. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 24, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
In 2017 activists strung up wedding dresses between the palm trees along Beirut’s seafront protesting a law allowing a rapist to escape punishment if he married his victim.
unlike eyes, the ears don’t shut when sleep treads in
unlike eye the ear dont sh when sleep tread sin
unlike eyes, the ears hunt din
ik eyes, the ears do read
au ai / inept / little pain
u lied / yes,
keyed shut / yes,
keyed shut we slept red
lithe earth whelp
ears shut in
Copyright © 2020 by Carolina Ebeid. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 27, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
I can never have the field. I can never halve the
field, make a helix of my hands and hold the
like pictures of the field—or fields—and affix one
feeling to the fields—or the infinite field—and stay
I can walk down to the bog, the field
under-foliate-feet, in a bloodflow motion towards
of the bullfrogs’ black-lacteous tactile pool and
listen to the unilluminable below-surface stirring,
gravid ruckus of drooling purr and primordial bluebrown
blur. I can aggravate the grating godhood and glisten
of preening slime—its opaque, plumbeous,
tympanic slurps—an inside-outside alertness
burrowing, harping with pings and plops
(lurches), and make the mossy froth go
berserk with silence,
then foofaraw when the bog in the field senses I am
nothing to fear. I can hear amphibious amour fou
under a blue-green gasoline film, spongiform but
formless, boiling with blotched air-bubble let-go, life
the surface in slicks of upward rain and glossopalatine
pops and liquid crop circles. I can stop here and
in time with the bobolink and make my bel
memento, my untremendous tremolo and
In the fable, the animal smells fear and so does the
fool. I think to myself—in my skull’s skeletal
I am both. I am both. I am both, and I can hold it
Copyright © 2020 by Kristina Martino. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 28, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
The screech of the recycling truck jolted me awake.
It was just after dawn and the huge trucks were already tearing
through the neighborhood, shrieking brakes keeping rhythm
with shattering glass and clinking cans amidst barking dogs.
I panicked then remembered the bins were out.
The little dogs shot out of the room, their tiny bodies
quivering with excitement and pent-up barking.
Before this moment I dreamt of Shimá, my mother:
she slept under a calico quilt, made with squares of tiny purple and yellow flowers.
She made our clothes from such fabric when we were children,
In my dream, I covered her carefully and patted her sleeping shoulder;
her breathing was soft and labored.
I smoothed her hair and caressed her forehead.
I sat at the foot of the bed and listened to her slumber;
her breathing evened out as the dream filament settled around us.
Perhaps as she slept, she relived the old Fort Wingate Boarding School days,
or maybe she and my father conversed as in all those decades past.
Maybe she relived everyday events—cooking meals, soothing children,
or visiting with relatives at the kitchen table.
In the final weeks of her life, I could not fathom her dreams
or waking thoughts, but in this morning dream, Shimá and I
were joined by our quiet breathing and lingering gestures.
In this dream, my mother and I were alone and silent.
We were alone and silent.
Soon the flurry of the recycling truck faded
and the usual morning calm returned, the sleek little dogs
came back to bed panting from a job well done; they licked my arm in unison.
I said, “Biighaah, Nizhoon,” praise for a job well done.
They fell asleep instantly, sinking into deep borderline snoring.
Outside the bedroom window, the morning was bright and still,
save for the cool breezes and calling of birds;
their innate songs encircled the quiet houses and scattered cacti.
Down the street garage doors slid shut as neighbors
maneuvered out of curved driveways to begin the workday.
Just then I longed to return to this first dream of Shimá.
I longed for the serene space she created,
now I knew she could do so, even in dreams.
How I yearned to make coffee for her one more time,
to cook breakfast—boiled eggs, black coffee and hash browns.
In her final weeks, my sisters and I fed her spoon by spoonful.
She would smile as we recounted childhood memories;
listening then talking, murmuring and remembering.
Now the morning sunlight sweeps through the house.
I put on coffee, go outside to stretch and pray.
The Holy People had already passed through
yet fulfilled my yearning to be with my mother.
They reassured me that she and other loved ones
are with them, and they exist in an arc of quiet solace.
The Holy Ones graced me with a glimpse of our future together;
the dream, a reprieve from the lonely, seemingly bereft present.
Copyright © 2020 by Luci Tapahonso. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 29, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
for Diane di Prima
Just that piece
of the poem you could hear
and written in such a way, numbered
on the back
of a flat-bed truck
in offering out
strategy with every form
stacking the trucks
and sending them out…
new music/new poetry
Survival—courting the elements
(Divination) to be reliably great, what is clearly my job
the impulsive unending twist
in hell, groundswells
sounds of film spinning on an old reel
glyph like tracks
on a white page (reproduced)
Phones held close
against the light
gospel noble truths
Poems that we hold
beyond our bodies, a joy
we can keep ringing at eternities fold
melted in the hot brick
as Audre Lorde would have it
that longest arc in the edges
before they join
Copyright © 2020 by Cedar Sigo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 30, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.