dear reader, with our heels digging into the good mud at a swamp’s edge, you might tell me something about the dandelion & how it is not a flower itself but a plant made up of several small flowers at its crown & lord knows I have been called by what I look like more than I have been called by what I actually am & I wish to return the favor for the purpose of this exercise. which, too, is an attempt at fashioning something pretty out of seeds refusing to make anything worthwhile of their burial. size me up & skip whatever semantics arrive to the tongue first. say: that boy he look like a hollowed-out grandfather clock. he look like a million-dollar god with a two-cent heaven. like all it takes is one kiss & before morning, you could scatter his whole mind across a field.
Copyright © 2018 by Hanif Abdurraqib. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 4, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Oh, my planet, how beautiful you are. Little curve that leads me to the lakeside. Let me step out of the sack of skin I wore on earth. It’s good to be home. No more need to name me. No more need to make the shape of a machete with my mouth. Pushing up up up the tired sides that want to drop below my teeth. Lord, I’ve missed you. The streets covered all day in light from the moons. I was confused all the time. I wanted so much. My hole felt like a gut with an antler rammed through it. So lonely and strange and always trying to smile. Coin of the realm. And my arms open and my life coming in and out of the “ATM.” Once I saw a fox leap inside the morning light and made the same shape of myself. Once I watched the boats and also rocked back and forth. How does every person not cry out all the time? Yes, it was good to eat doughnuts. Yes. I was blessed by many days of joy. A rabbit in the driveway. A rosemary bush with a sorcerer’s cloak of spider webs. Brian Eno. The Hammond B3 Organ that never asked me who I knew. But that body. Like a factory. That mind like a ship built to pile in other bodies. Skin like a sow without any of the sow’s equanimity. It reflected nothing. Pink skin. Blue eyes hard as an anvil. Like a window with covering that refuses the passerby’s gaze. I loved the bully power some days. Oh my pleasure in not causing harm. My pride. I’m not like so-and-so. My pink skin preaching, my pink skin yawping out my other hole, “I did not choke the man with my elbow!” “Would never!” “I let all the boys in hoodies walk through dark streets.” “I did not shoot them with my guns!” The ship rising up inside me. As if the fox felt pride for not tearing the bird to pieces. As if the owl’s heart grew large from not wrecking the squirrel’s nest. My pink skin a sail full of indignation. My eyes pitching across the feed. It is so good to be home and yet. I have a ship inside. How can the organ welcome me? I’m not a sow on her worst day. Which would be what? Breaking from the barn? Eating all the acorns and rolling in the mud? No. Her worst would be at my hands and on my plate for supper. Grow like the tree, the man who heals the bodies said. In every way I became the ship rising in the harbor. How can I be welcomed after that?
Copyright © 2018 by Gabrielle Calvocoressi. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 9, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Out of the deep and the dark, A sparkling mystery, a shape, Something perfect, Comes like the stir of the day: One whose breath is an odour, Whose eyes show the road to stars, The breeze in his face, The glory of Heaven on his back. He steps like a vision hung in air, Diffusing the passion of Eternity; His abode is the sunlight of morn, The music of eve his speech: In his sight, One shall turn from the dust of the grave, And move upward to the woodland.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on July 8, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
In a dream I spoke with the Cyprus-born, And said to her, "Mother of beauty, mother of joy, Why hast thou given to men "This thing called love, like the ache of a wound In beauty's side, To burn and throb and be quelled for an hour And never wholly depart?" And the daughter of Cyprus said to me, "Child of the earth, Behold, all things are born and attain, But only as they desire,— "The sun that is strong, the gods that are wise, The loving heart, Deeds and knowledge and beauty and joy,— But before all else was desire."
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on July 7, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Prospero Assume, just for a moment, I am denied a job in the factory of my dreams under the fluorescent lights of a porcelain white foreman. It’s orderly and neat. I feed my family. No one questions my face. I raised my son in my likeness, so he would never go unseen, bobbing on a wave of expectation, I set in motion with my back put into my work, praying for my country, blessed with more of me, never worrying about those who might die, or those who did, trying to stir a storm, trying to stand where I’m standing.
Copyright © 2018 by A. Van Jordan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 16, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
You should never put the new antlers of a deer to your nose and smell them. They have little insects that crawl into the nose and devour the brain. —Kenkō, Essays in Idleness Consider that the insects might be metaphor. That the antlers’ wet velvet scent might be Proust’s madeleine dipped into a cup of tea adorned with centrifugal patterns of azalea and willow—those fleshing the hill behind this room, walls wreathed in smoke and iron, musk of the deer head above the mantle. He was nailed in place before I was me. Through the floorboards, a caterpillar, stripped from its chrysalis by red ants, wakes, as if to a house aflame. Silk frays like silver horns, like thoughts branching from a brain. After the MRI, my father’s chosen father squinted at the wormholes raveling the screen and said, Be good to one another. Love, how inelegantly we leave. How insistent we are to return in one form or another. I wish all of this and none of it for us: more sun, more tempest, more fear and fearlessness—more of that which is tempered, carved, and worn, creased into overlapping planes. The way I feel the world’s aperture enlarge in each morning’s patchwork blur of light and colour while I fumble for my glasses beside the bed—lenses smudged by both our hands. When they were alive, those antlers held up the sky. Now what do they hold?
Copyright © 2018 by Michael Prior. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 18, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Aging. Being in pain. Finishing. Rotting.
We feel we’ve contracted into very dim, very old white dwarf stars, not yet black holes. Wrinkled, but not quite withered. Dropped out of summer like a stone, we watch time fall. With the leaves. Into a deeper color. Wavelengths missing in the reflected light.
The road toward rotting has been so long. We forget where we are going. Like a child, I look amazed at a thistle. Or drink cheap wine and hug my knees. To shorten the shadow? To ward off letting go?
So much body now, to be cared for. What with the arrow, lost cartilage, skeleton within. Memory no longer holds up. A bridge to theory and dreams. Impervious to vertigo. Days are long and too spacious.
Though the sun is a mere eight light-minutes away elderly dust hangs. Over the long sentences I wrote in the last century. Now thoughts in purpose tremor, in lament, in search of. Not being too soon? Going to be? Unconformities separating strata of decay?
You say aimlessness has its virtues. Just as not fully understanding may be required for harmony. And blow your nose. You sing fast falls the eventide, damp on the skin, with bitter wind. And here it is again, the craving for happiness that night induces. Or the day of marriage.
The difference of our bodies makes for different velocities. But gravity is always attracting, and my higher speed. Cannot outrun the inner fright we seem made of. Though I gesticulate broadly. As in a silent movie. Running after the train, waving goodbye.
Distant galaxies are moving away from us. Friends, lovers, family. Even the sky shifts toward red. Where every clearness is only. A more welcoming slope of the night. And I don't remember why I opened the door.
Mouth full of moans, you believe the natural state. Is a body at rest. And close your eyes to the threat of your face disappearing. Without thought or emotion. Into its condition. And I thought I knew you.
Are the complications thinning to a final simplicity? The nearest thing to a straight path in curved space? Clouds of gas slowly collapsing? With only one possible outcome? But unlike a black hole I keep my hair on. As I move toward the unquestionable dark.
This dark, Mrs. Ramsay thinks, is perhaps the core of every self. The deep note of existence the ear finds, but cannot hold on to. Across the vicissities of the symphony. Or else this dark could be our shelter in the time of long dominion. And though we are not well suited to the perspectives it opens it is an awesome thing to see. Once you can see it.
Copyright © 2018 by Rosmarie Waldrop. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 1, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
No matter the rush of undertow everything else is still here. I scrawl your name at the bottom of the river I sing it and it sings me back. What I’d give for a name so keen it whittles the valleys of my neck. I’m forever drenched in this night, and you no longer exist. The river catches the sky’s black, ink meant to preserve a memory. I stay because it’s easy. Here. I relive what you did to me, find myself again in the water—swollen and sullen as a bruise. I trace and retrace, graffiti every river’s bank, drown into ecstasy instead of moving on with my life. I wear what you did to me like gills, a new way to breathe. I jump into the river for days. I forget I have lungs at all.
Copyright © 2019 by Noor Ibn Najam. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 28, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
My white therapist calls it my edge, I hear
Angry Black Woman. She says, Strength
of Willful Negative Focus. She says, Acerbic
Intellectual Temperament. I copy her words
onto an index card. She wants
an origin story, a stranger with his hand
inside me, or worse. I’m without
linear narrative and cannot sate her. We
perform rituals on her living room floor. I burn
letters brimming with resentments, watch
the paper ember in the fireplace, admit
I don’t want to let this go. What if anger,
my armor, is embedded in the marrow
of who I am. Who can I learn to be
without it? Wherever you go,
there you are. She asks what I will lose
if I surrender, I imagine a gutted fish,
silvery skin gleaming, emptied of itself—
Copyright © 2019 by Rage Hezekiah. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 1, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
These days, I refuse to let you see me
the way I see myself.
I wake up in the morning not knowing
whether I will make it through the day;
reminding myself of the small, small things
I’ve forgotten to marvel in;
these trees, blood-free and bone-dry
have come to rescue me more than once,
but my saving often requires hiding
yet they stand so tall, so slim and gluttonous
refusing to contain me; even baobab trees
will split open at my command, and
carve out fleshless wombs to welcome me.
I must fall out of love of the world
without me in it, but my loves have
long gone, and left me in a foreign land
where once I was made of bone,
now water, now nothing.
Copyright © 2019 by Mahtem Shifferaw. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 6, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
The corpses weigh nothing, nearly nothing, even your breath
is breeze enough to scatter them
We steamed them in tupperware with a damp sponge
then we tweezed the stiff wings open
The wing colors would brush off if you touched them
3,000 butterflies raised and gassed
and shipped to Evolution, the store in New York
rented by an artist hired to design a restaurant
He wanted to paper the walls with butterflies
Each came folded in its own translucent envelope
We tweezed them open, pinned them into rows
on styrofoam flats we stacked in towers in the narrow
hallway leading to the bathroom
Evolution called itself a natural history store
It sold preserved birds, lizards, scorpions in lucite, bobcat
with the eyes dug out and glass ones fitted, head turned
Also more affordable bits like teeth
and peacock feathers, by the register
a dish of raccoon penis bones
This was on Spring
The sidewalks swarmed with bare-armed people
there to see the city
You could buy your own name in calligraphy
or written on a grain of rice
by someone at a folding table
Souvenir portraits of taxis and the Brooklyn Bridge
lined up on blankets laid over the pavement
The artist we were pinning for had gotten famous
being first to put a dead shark in a gallery
For several million dollars each he sold what he described
as happy pictures which were rainbow dots assistants painted
on white canvases
I remember actually thinking his art confronted death,
that’s how young I was
We were paid per butterfly
The way we sat, I saw the backs
of the other pinners’ heads more than their faces
One’s braids the color of wine, one’s puffy headphones, feather cut
and slim neck rising from a scissored collar, that one
bought a raccoon penis bone on lunch break
Mostly we didn’t speak
Another life glimpsed in a detail mentioned, leaving or arriving
She lived with a carpenter who fixed her lunches
Come fall I’d be in college
I smelled the corpses on my fingers when I took my smoke break
leaning against a warm brick wall facing the smooth white headless
mannequins in thousand-dollar shift dresses
The deli next door advertised organic toast and raisins on the vine
Mornings, I tried to learn from eyeliner
and shimmer on faces near mine on the train
Warm fogged imprint on a metal pole
where someone’s grip evaporated
Everyone looking down when someone walked through
asking for help
At Evolution, talk radio played all day
A cool voice giving hourly updates
on the bombing of another city which it called
The pinner in headphones sometimes hummed
or started a breathy lyric
I watched my tweezers guide the poisonous exquisite
blue of morpho wings
Their legs like jointed eyelashes
False eyes on the grayling wingtips
to protect the true face
The monarch’s wings like fire
pouring through a lattice
Copyright © 2020 by Margaret Ross. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 22, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
Since we’re not young, weeks have to do time
for years of missing each other. Yet only this odd warp
in time tells me we’re not young.
Did I ever walk the morning streets at twenty,
my limbs streaming with a purer joy?
did I lean from any window over the city
listening for the future
as I listen here with nerves tuned for your ring?
And you, you move toward me with the same tempo.
Your eyes are everlasting, the green spark
of the blue-eyed grass of early summer,
the green-blue wild cress washed by the spring.
At twenty, yes: we thought we’d live forever.
At forty-five, I want to know even our limits.
I touch you knowing we weren’t born tomorrow,
and somehow, each of us will help the other live,
and somewhere, each of us must help the other die.
Poem III from "Twenty-One Love Poems," from The Dream of a Common Language: Poems 1974-1977 by Adrienne Rich. Copyright © 1978 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
when love floods a person
that deepens year after year
the essential person
letting everyone see
the layers of yellow
sandstone, red basalt
when love washes over a person
the person away
Copyright © 2021 by Alicia Ostriker. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 5, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.