a hand made out of all that it touched—
fingers of syringes packed with soiled
polyester blankets nails cut from

a plastic bottle cap knuckles
shaped by rinds of other knuckles
and details layered in delicate ash—

ruddy, colorful, clothed. But the left,
flesh and grey, poured like the concrete
surrounding it and sanded at the edges

careful as geometry allows with
dried skin creeping through contours.
Naked hands. Beating knuckles on the ground

wondering will it crack the concrete finally
will it crumble under opposing forces—
material, economy as simple as concrete

is simple, simple to explain but difficult
to understand without explanation.
As plates in our deep crust skid past

one another. One might wonder who
thinks to pour a building of mostly
liquid. Such is the logic of conviction

we are told before the terms are defined.
Dysfunction of episodic memory.
Episode of memory of dysfunction.

Hands that are not our hands.
And so convinced are we of
our own demise we devise it.

Copyright © 2020 by Zoë Hitzig. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 1, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

I pry open the files, still packed
        with liquor & strange brine.

Midnight seeps from the cracks
        slow pulp of arithmetic. Four or five

or six at a time, the white men draw
        along the Gordonsville Road, on foot

or on horseback, clustered close—
        each man counting up his hours, the knife

of each man’s tongue at the hinge
        of his own mouth. For ninety-three years

& every time I slip away to read
        those white men line the roadway

secreting themselves in the night air
        feeding & breathing in their private

column. Why belly up to their pay stubs
        scraping my teeth on the chipped flat

of each page? This dim drink only blights me
        but I do it.

Copyright © 2020 by Kiki Petrosino. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 4, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

Sailing with just the jib
The earth a broken crib
and all the babes a-squall
cry no more cry no more
There’s such a thing as bit rot
you said          you said
it seemed everyone was reading
about extinction amidst the extinction
as if knowing were enabling. Winner
loses, the Marxist wrote, melancholic,
remembering the existentialist
adrift on the seas of his certainties.
To the east the sea’s growing darker
and a punctual low roar times itself
in the ear against the blood that in the ear
moves. Motorboat hour. Lobster trap check.
Exposed rock and the low tide
and an unease outstripping psychology.
Everyone dissolving into everyone
else but the lunge for the sublime
continues oh pathos and rage
for individuation. With the VR set on
the rapist feels it and then? Limits
of empathy as Noah determined
pulls up his ladder the sealed-in elect
to survive the drowners to drown.

Copyright © 2020 by Maureen N. McLane. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 5, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

Admittedly I may be blowing my <6 mm mole somewhat
out of proportion in the general scheme of things. At my
last follow-up, Dr. Song gently reminded me that we
entered the “catabasis” phase of my journey through
dermatological oncology some time ago. 

Cata-, from the ancient Greek κατά, or downward, prefixed
to the intransitive form of the verbal stem baínō, to go. It
means a trip to the coast, a military retreat, an endless
windstorm over the Antarctic plateau, or the sadness
experienced by some men at a certain point in their lives. 

In a clinical context, the term may also refer to the decline
or remission of a disease. So why do I still feel a ghostly
pinprick along the crease of my arm where the needle went
in before I went under? I suspect that I am not quite out of
the woods yet. Then again, maybe the woods have yet to
exit me.

Copyright © 2020 by Srikanth Reddy. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 6, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

You rode your bike from your house on the corner to the dead end of the street, and turned it around at the factory, back to the corner again. This was the loop your mother let you ride, not along the avenue with its cavalcade of trucks, or up the block where Drac the Dropout waited to plunge his pointy incisors into virginal necks. You can't remember exactly your age, but you probably had a bike with a banana seat, and wore cutoff jeans and sweat socks to the knees. You are trying to be precise but everything is a carbon-like surface that scrolls by with pinpricks emitting memory’s wavy threads. One is blindingly bright and lasts only seconds: You are riding your bike and the shadowy blots behind the factory windows’ steel grates emit sounds that reach and wrap around you like a type of gravity that pulls down the face. You can’t see them but what they say is what men say all day long, to women who are trying to get somewhere. It’s not something you hadn’t heard before. But until then, you only had your ass grabbed by boys your own age—boys you knew, who you could name—in a daily playground game in which teachers looked away. In another pin prick, you loop back to your house, where your mother is standing on the corner talking to neighbors. You tell her what the men said, and ask, does this mean I’m beautiful? What did she say? Try remembering: You are standing on the corner with your mother. You are standing on the corner. This pinprick emits no light; it is dark, it is her silence. Someday you will have a daughter and the dead end will become a cul de sac and all the factories will be shut down or at the edges of town, and the men behind screens will be monitored, blocked. And when things seem safe, and everything is green and historic and homey, you will let her walk from school to park, where you’ll wait for her, thanks to a flexible schedule, on the corner. And when she walks daydreaming along the way and takes too long to reach you, the words they said will hang from the tree you wait under.

Copyright © 2020 by Rosa Alcalá. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 7, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

Dressed all in plastic,
which means oil,

we’re bright-eyed, scrambling
for the colored cubes

spilled
on the rug’s polymer.

Inside each 
is a tiny car.

When we can’t unscrew the tops
we cry for help.

We’re optimists.

            *

To sleep is to fall
into belief.

Airing even
our worst suspicions
may be pleasurable;

we are carried,
buoyed.

In sleep,
the body can heal,
grow larger.

Creatures that never wake
can sprout a whole new
limb,

a tail.

This may be wrong.

Copyright © 2020 by Rae Armantrout. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 8, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

–From the immigration questionnaire given to Chinese entering or re-entering the U.S. during the Chinese Exclusion Act

Have you ridden in a streetcar?
Can you describe the taste of bread?
Where are the joss houses located in the city?
Do Jackson Street and Dupont run
in a circle or a line, what is the fruit
your mother ate before she bore you,
how many letters a year
do you receive from your father?
Of which material is your ancestral hall
now built? How many water buffalo
does your uncle own?
Do you love him? Do you hate her?
What kind of bird sang
at your parents’ wedding? What are the birth dates
for each of your cousins: did your brother die
from starvation, work, or murder?
Do you know the price of tea here?
Have you ever touched a stranger’s face
as he slept? Did it snow the year
you first wintered in our desert?
How much weight is
a bucket and a hammer? Which store
is opposite your grandmother’s?
Did you sleep with that man
for money? Did you sleep with that man
for love? Name the color and number
of all your mother’s dresses. Now
your village’s rivers.
What diseases of the heart
do you carry? What country do you see
when you think of your children?
Does your sister ever write?
In which direction does her front door face?
How many steps did you take
when you finally left her?
How far did you walk
before you looked back?

Copyright © 2020 by Paisley Rekdal. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 11, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

The person you are trying

is not accepting. Is not

at this time. Please

again. The person

you are trying is not

in service. Please check

that you have. This

is your call. Your

person is not accepting.

Your person is this

number. You have

not correctly. Your person

is a recording. Again later

at this time. Not accepting.

Copyright © 2020 by Martha Collins. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 12, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

(This poem’s about looking for the sage and not finding her)

Some say she moved in with her ex-girlfriend in Taiwan
Some say she went to Florida to wrestle alligators

Some say she went to Peach Blossom Spring
To drink tea with Tao Qian

Miho says she’s living in Calexico with three cats
And a gerbil named Max

Some say she’s just a shadow of the Great Society
A parody
Of what might-have-been

Rhea saw her stark raving mad
Between 23rd and the Avenue of the Americas
Wrapped in a flag!

I swear I saw her floating in a motel pool
Topless, on a plastic manatee, palms up

What in hell was she thinking?

What is poetry? What are stars?
Whence comes the end of suffering?

Copyright © 2020 by Marilyn Chin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 13, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

translated from the Macedonian by Ljubica Arsovska and edited by Patricia Marsh Stefanovska

Time trampled on you the moment you set out.
In the coach across the border
the conductor wiped the seats
with a brochure on human rights someone left behind.
Rain didn’t beat against the windows of the other passengers,
it was only yours that the raindrops hit like stones,
just like at the exit from a metro station you know
where it’s always raining
and the little orphans sniff glue from plastic bags
sprawled on the escalators.
Your soul shivered in the buffer zone,
your body gaped like a cupboard emptied before moving out,
the night was the senselessness of the daytime sense.
You dreamt in snatches an unending dream of how
the nineteenth century travels around with a beard
like a drunk loser,
how the twentieth century has a haircut and a shave
at the town barber’s,
and how the twenty-first runs frantically between the two.
In the first city the Politkovskaya Club awaits you
in the second—the Joyce Irish Pub,
in the third—white houses with lace curtains
and a notice: Today is Dr. Roberto’s funeral.
White underwear hung
from the balconies of Hell.
But Heaven’s balconies
have long run out of clotheslines and pegs
to hang washed brains out to dry.
Grannies in the corners of the neighbourhood
didn’t even hold out a hand any more.
On the table in the small room of your fellow countryman:
two volumes of Das Kapital and a key for the toilet.
An empty noose dangled from the ceiling light.
If everything is all right, one day
you too will become a postman here.
You’ll unlock the town’s cemetery
with a key from a big keyring
and read to the dead women
the letters from their dead husbands.
And then the neighbourhood boys
in their long black coats
will come upon you
and afterwards no one will
remember you any more,
not that you were here nor that you were born somewhere else.

 


 

Патување

 

Времето те прегази во мигот кога тргна.
Во автобусот преку границата
кондуктерот ги избриша седиштата
со заборавена брошура за човековите права.
Врз прозорците на другите патници не врнеше,
само врз твојот капките удираа како камења,
исто како на излезот од едно познато метро
кај што врне без престан
и малите сирачиња дуваат лепак во пластични ќесиња
исполегнати на подвижните скали.
Душата ти трепереше во тампон зоната,
телото ти зјаеше како испразнет шкаф пред селидба,
ноќта беше бесмислата на денската смисла.
Со прекини сонуваше нераскинлив сон:
како деветнаесеттиот век патува наоколу брадосан
божем пијан губитник,
како дваесеттиот век се стрижи и бричи во градска берберница,
а дваесет и првиот безглаво трча помеѓу нив.
Во првиот град те пречека Клубот Политковскаја,
во вториот - ирскиот паб Џојс,
во третиот - бели куќи со завеси од тантели
и со некролог: денес ќе го погребеме д-р Роберто.
Од балконите на пеколот
висеше долна бела облека.
На балконите во рајот, пак,
одамна снема јажиња и штипки
за сушење испрани мозоци.
Бабичките во ќошињата на квартот
не пружаа повеќе ни рака.
На масата во сопчето на твојот сонародник:
два тома од Капиталот и клуч за тоалетот.
Од лустерот се нишаше слободна јамка.
Ако биде сѐ добро, еден ден овде
ќе станеш и ти поштар
кој со врзопче клучеви
ќе ги отклучува градските гробишта
и на мртвите жени ќе им ги чита
писмата од мртвите мажи.
И тогаш ќе те пресретнат
маалските момчиња
во долги црни капути
и потоа никој повеќе
нема да се сеќава на тебе

ни дека си бил тука ни дека си се родил некаде.

Copyright © 2020 by Lidija Dimkovska. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 14, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

The windshield’s dirty, the squirter stuff’s all gone, so
we drive on together into a sun-gray pane of grime
and dust. My son

puts the passenger seat back as far as it will go, closes
his eyes. I crack my window open for a bit
of fresher air. It’s so

incredibly fresh out there.

Rain, over.
Puddles left
in ditches. Black mirrors with our passing 

reflected in them, I suppose, but I’d
have to pull over and kneel down at the side
of the road to know.

The day ahead—

for this, the radio
doesn’t need to be played.
The house we used to live in

still exists
in a snapshot, in which
it yellows in another family’s scrapbook.

And a man on a bicycle
rides beside us
for a long time, very swiftly, until finally

he can’t keep up—

but before he slips
behind us, he salutes us
with his left hand—

a reminder:

that every single second—
that every prisoner on death row—
that every name on every tombstone—

that everywhere we go—
that every day, like this one, will
be like every other, having never been, never

ending. So
thank you. And, oh—
I almost forgot to say it: amen.

Copyright © 2020 by Laura Kasischke. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 15, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

I want to paint in a way that the “I” disappears into the sky and trees
The idea of a slowed down, slowly unfolding image held my attention

Variations on a theme are of no interest. A bowl and cup are not ideas.
I want my painting to be what it contains: it should speak, not me

The idea of a slowed down, slowly unfolding image held my attention
I paint things made of clay, just as the pigments I use come from the earth

I want my painting to be what it contains: it should speak, not me
Brown and ochre stoneware bowls beside a white porcelain pitcher

I paint things made of clay, just as the pigments I use come from the earth
I place the pale eggs on a dark, unadorned tabletop and let them roll into place

Brown and ochre stoneware bowls beside a white porcelain pitcher
The dusky red wall is not meant to symbolize anything but itself

I place the pale eggs on a dark unadorned tabletop and let them roll into place
I want to paint in a way that the “I” disappears into the sky and trees

The dusky red wall is not meant to symbolize anything but itself
Variations on a theme are of no interest. A bowl and cup are not ideas.

Copyright © 2020 by John Yau. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 18, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

11.
The swear jar isn’t empty. Full of flowers
instead of coins it makes a cursed bouquet
of love-me-nots, a tangled vine of credit
extended to one most likely to default.
Such a trifling bargain, flowers for mercy.
O Nature, predatory lender!
Risk is the commuter bus I ride between damnation
and wonder. Stitch my wounds loosely. Give me chastity,
O Lord, says the Berber Saint,
for miracle and sin are kindred. Each is hatched
from a broken law.

Copyright © 2020 by Gregory Pardlo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 19, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

Gathering sounds from each provincial
Nook and hilly village, the scholars
Discerned differences between
Long and short vowels, which phonemes,
Mumbled or dipthonged, would become
Brethren, linguistically speaking.
Speaking of taxonomy,
I’ve been busy categorizing what’s
Joseon, what’s American about each
Choice of diction or hill I might die on.
Killing my accent was only ever half the
Task, is what I mean. Q: When grief
Pushes its wet moons from me, is the sound
Historically accurate? or just a bit of feedback?

Copyright © 2020 by Franny Choi. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 20, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

Translated by Idra Novey and Ahmad Nadalizadeh
                                        For the city of Bam destroyed in the 2003 earthquake

The window is black
the table, black
the sky, black
the snow, black
You’re mistaken!
I don’t need medicine
or a psychotherapist.
Just lift these stones,
sweep aside the earth
and look into my eyes!

My eyes
that are round like the Earth

an image of the world
the world of shut doors
of countless walls

anytime I stand before the mirror
the image of an upside-down tortoise
makes me long for a passer-by
to arrive and invert the world

Some night
our hands will tremble from all this solitude
and our depiction on the canvas
will be scribbled out

the ruins of Bam scribbled out
the shelters we built
collapsing on our heads

I am terrified by the next images in this poem
the image of God lifting all the doors onto his shoulders
getting away
retreating far and then farther

I write: one day
the missing keys will be recovered.
What should we do about the missing locks.
 




The Ruins of Bam (Original Persian)
The Ruins of Bam (Original Persian)

Copyright © 2020 by Garous Abdolmalekian, Idra Novey, and Ahmad Nadalizadeh. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 21, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

when the tide
 

of silence
 

rises
 

say “ocean”
 

then with the paddle
 

of your tongue
 

rearrange
 

the letters to form
 

“canoe”

Copyright © 2020 by Craig Santos Perez. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 22, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

Instead, the poem is full of competent trees,
sturdy and slow-growing. The trees live on a wide
clean lawn full of adults. All night, the adults grow
older without somersaulting or spinning. They grow
old while thinking about themselves. They sleep well
and stay out late, their nerves coiled neatly inside
their grown bodies. They don’t think about children
because children were never there to begin with.
The children were not killed or stolen. This is absence,
not loss. There is a world of difference: the distance
between habitable worlds. It is the space that is
unbearable. The poem is relieved not to have to live
in it. Instead, its heart ticks perfectly unfretfully
among the trees. The children who are not in the poem
do not cast shadows or spells to make themselves
appear. When they don’t walk through the poem, time
does not bend around them. They are not black holes.
There are already so many nots in this poem, it is already
so negatively charged. The field around the poem
is summoning children and shadows and singularities
from a busy land full of breathing and mass. My non-
children are pulling children away from their own
warm worlds. They will arrive before I can stop them.
When matter meets anti-matter, it annihilates into
something new. Light. Sound. Waves and waves
of something like water. The poem’s arms are so light
they are falling upward from the body. Why are you crying?

Copyright © 2020 by Claire Wahmanholm. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 25, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

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.

You made tomatoes laugh
& warned me
some words die in cages.                                          

I met you first in the desert.

You burned sage, greeted,
each of the four directions
with plumed syllables.

The ritual embarrassed me—
your stout body, your
mischievous smile did not.                

You were familial.                               

The first poem I wrote
that sounded like me
echoed your work.                 

Copal, popote, tocayo, cacahuate:
you taught me Spanish
is a colonial tongue.

Some Mesoamerican elders
believed there’s a fifth direction.

Not the sky or the ground
but the person right next to you.

I’m turning to face you, maestro.
I’m greeting you.
Tahui.

Copyright © 2020 by Eduardo C. Corral. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 27, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

—for Melissa 

What sadness anywhere is sadness where
I could just stand and walk to you      from sadness 
Go      home to you though I bring home my sadness 
What sadness there though I have felt sad there

Before      when I come home from far away
What sadness then      or from three blocks uptown 
My office      where I write this poem down
In a room full of the dimness that fills spac-

es anywhere where you are not      a film 
Obscuring every surface but it is a light 
Not shining      ever from surfaces

You are not near what sadness      where you might 
By being near reveal each thing for what it is
What sadness where each thing is whole

Copyright © 2020 by Shane McCrae. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 28, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

Put your name in a hat, or a volcano:
Your sense of time is inadequate:

While I sleep my secret face faces the other way:
Grief is a heated iron comb:

The kerosene of grief, it doesn’t age well, it degrades:
Grief is a kind of time:

Sign your name. Become a series of signals:
            Holes punched through a rag. Make a space to look through:
            Your eye is a hole, too:
            Your iris constricts a telegraphy of the future:

Strange deliveries:
            The midwifery of anything here:
            Trade this hide for sod:

At night I dream of an infant made of flour and heat:
We dream of the castaway wind inside us:

At night my throat dresses itself in green feathers:
It does. You do:

Copyright © 2020 by Sun Yung Shin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 29, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.