They descend from the boat two by two. The gap in Angela Davis’s teeth speaks to the gap in James Baldwin’s teeth. The gap in James Baldwin’s teeth speaks to the gap in Malcolm X’s Teeth. The gap in Malcolm X’s teeth speaks to the gap in Malcolm X’s teeth. The gap in Condoleezza Rice’s teeth doesn’t speak. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard kisses the Band Aid on Nelly’s cheek. Frederick Douglass’s side part kisses Nikki Giovanni’s Thug Life tattoo. The choir is led by Whoopi Goldberg’s eyebrows. The choir is led by Will Smith’s flat top. The choir loses its way. The choir never returns home. The choir sings funeral instead of wedding, sings funeral instead of allegedly, sings funeral instead of help, sings Black instead of grace, sings Black as knucklebone, mercy, junebug, sea air. It is time for war.
Copyright © 2018 by Morgan Parker. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 2, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
The planet pulls our bodies through the year. Delivers us, headlong, into the tears in currents. The ebbs and flows of blood in chambers, bombastic and flooded with unremembered names. Neighbors bourne feet first through their door arches. Down the corridors, lonesome and lost. Their voices suture the silence behind them and the little song pulsing its staccato cannot explain the day and the day and the day, like an arm and then another pulled through a sleeve.
Copyright © 2018 by Oliver de la Paz. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 3, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
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.
1. lush field of shadows, static hush and radial itch, primordial 2. goo of the sonogram’s wand gliding across my belly 3. my daughter blooming into focus, feathered 4. and fluttering across the stormy screen, the way it rained 5. so hard one night in April driving home from the café in Queens 6. where we’d eaten sweet tamales I thought we might drown 7. in the flooded streets but we didn’t and I want to say 8. that was the night she was conceived: husk and sugar, 9. an apartment filled with music, hiss of damp clothes 10. drying on the radiator, a prayer made with a record’s broken needle 11. to become beaming and undone.
Copyright © 2018 by Kendra DeColo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 5, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
There’s a way out— walk the dirt road into cerulean dawn, tap the windows of cars and trucks rattling down highway 77 with clear fingerprints, and clasp the nine eyes of the desert shut at the intersection of then and now. Ask: will this whirlwind connect to that one, making them cousins to the knife? Will lake mist etched on flakes of flood-birthed moonlight hang its beard on a tow truck hoisting up a buck, butterflies leaking from its nostrils, dark clouds draining off its cedar coat?
Copyright © 2018 by Sherwin Bitsui. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 6, 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.
I began to die, then. I think
I was asleep. Dreaming
of an afterlife that revised
my flesh into what
I had wanted. Why do
I think of Ronald Reagan
the way one recalls
the sick heart and terror
which is percussive.
Was this the year
I saw him at the airport.
Men grimly tested
my body for hidden death,
waving a wand up
and down. My left arm
and it was surgery
that put it right. Look,
if you want, at
the pale stippling of scar,
there. Some nights I wake
and everything hurts
a little. It is
amazing how long
a ruined thing
will burn. In the night,
there are words,
though often I've denied
their shape. Their sound.
My soul: whatever
it sings it is singing.
Copyright © 2018 by Paul Guest. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 10, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
A crocodile slips its earth-toned body
back into the river, in silence, violence down
and for its nightness
I cannot see the water. With fear
I am alone. Slick rocks smile thin anonymous light, they lie
about what I am. I see and try to hold
my body in my body, trace a vein
from the base of my palm through
the crook of my elbow, armpit, home—home
makes no sense. I've given up on what I know.
This blindness is a mirror turning
back to sand still hollowed, where
every sound is amplified. I want to be the crocodile’s
stomach that is my father, teeth
that are my mother, vertebrae
that aggregate the spine that are loves, knuckled
angles casing nerves. It’s me wading around
inside, mouth open. A humid numbness dense, low,
beneath the undertow: hands that coax and claim
my scaled neck, soothe and pull
each knotted shoulder. I give in to a third of moon caught
in cloud, its orange-grey halo drawn away
from what can be named, known. A curse and prayer
to go unchanged within this water, my movement
foreign, a rootless gurgle, flit of river vines
caging the dwindling
river’s brutal bed, the gorge, flushed
with new food: the blue heron’s bone-flight collapsed,
tangled feathers along the mudglut bank’s
saliva, lifting like shame in the open.
Copyright © 2018 by Aaron Coleman. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 11, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
after Tyehimba Jess Freedom is what you can buy with a left jab & a right cross. You’ve got the uppercut of a champ. On a sweaty August night, you watch Ramos v Ramos from the Olympic on TV. You turn off the blaring AC, want to hear the fighters’ tssiiuu tssiiuu, exhaling as they attempt to break each other’s skin. You’re light on your feet like Mando, got Sugar’s hand speed. Freedom is your girl by your side telling you to fight. She brings your boxing license in a lunch bag while you labor at Lockheed, roots for you in Rocky Lane’s garage on a Sunday as you spar any man who dares. She wipes your burning face with a cool towel, the sinewed shape of your body surfacing quick after you trade in Budweiser for a jump rope. Freedom is the rattle in your jaw the first time you take a hook to the gut, the way a glove slides across your nose slick with Vaseline as you size up the weary contender, know that look in his eyes that whispers across the canvas between rounds. Finish me already, body shriveling in the corner, you’ve won.
Copyright © 2018 by Eloisa Amezcua. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 12, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Science in its tedium reveals
that each spirit we spirit
ganks a solid half hour from
our life spans.
Or so says my doctor, a watery,
Jesus-eyed man, and hard to suffer
with his well-intended scrips for yoga
and neti pots, notably stingy with the better
drugs, in situ here amongst the disinfected
toys dreadful in their plastic baskets.
Above his head, the flayed men of medical
illustration are nailed for something like
décor. The eyeball scheme is best,
with its wondrous Canal of Schlemm,
first favorite of all weirdly named
eponymous body parts. It’s just a splotch
of violet on the diagram, but without which
our aqueous humours would burst
their meshy dams and overflow. Tears,
idle tears…so sad, so fresh the days
that are no more…is what I quote to him
as he thumps my back with his tiny
doctor’s’ tomahawk. But he’s used to me.
We have an understanding. What he
means to miser, I’ve come to spend
most lavishly. And I feel fortunate again,
to be historically shaky in the maths,
enough to avoid making an easy sum
of my truly happy hours, or nights curled
sulfurous on my side, a priced-to-sell
shrimp boiling in anxious sleep.
If we’re lucky, it’s always a terrible time
to die. Better the privilege of booze
than the whim of one more shambolic
butcher shelling peasants in a wood,
our world’s long spree of Caesars
starting wars to pay their bills
in any given era’s Rome. Turns out,
Lord Alfred’s stomach did for him,
and he died thirsty, calling for more opium.
Free of the exam room now, I spot the same
tattered goldfish in his smeary bowl
beside the door where he’s glugged along
for years, a mostly failed distraction
for poxed or broken children. I raise my fin
to him, celebrate the poison we’re all
swimming in, remembering the way
you say cheers in Hungarian:
Isten Isten, meaning, in translation,
“I’m a god. You’re a god.”
Copyright © 2018 by Erin Belieu. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 13, 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.
No matter how he wrested himself silent in night, six days post-stroke he woke fluent in former languages, backtracking this time here. Mercy nurses, attendants, remedied in their own. Once he registered, all he cawed out was if it’s too far gone, we need to talk. All of this, what I am, doesn’t know how to die. All I know how to do is survive. All I ever done. If it’s time, tell me, tell me, give me four days. I’d like to have that blanket Dustin designed. Damnit, I hate to leave this beauty, life. On the fourth, came the Pendleton, delivered right on time. His breath slowed, eased, then quit. That was it. After some hours the rest of us slept. Some of us sleep still left.
Copyright © 2018 by Allison Adelle Hedge Coke. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 17, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
At daylight, he surrendered to the gutters’
thick cirrhosis, his trajectory
half awake, half anvil from the glass to the killing floor
I was raised in, each thin thread tethered
from the root of a nicotined tooth
to the rusted bars of the slammer. I couldn't tell you why
Felix the Cat came to mind, totally inebriated,
two Xs, bubbles popping, his gait
a saint carried in a procession—Cherry Pink
& Apple Blossom White, 1955—
except that my grandfather died
with a bottle in his pocket, his Robert Mitchum
chin & pompadour distilled
from a banana republic in fire, a slow, steady
drinker, perfect fulfillment to drown out
his manhood. There's a certain kind of fix
that falters precariously,
a benediction when they allege
one more drunk for the hood. He didn't matter
to the dispenser nor the riffraff crowd.
Nothing about him capsized, except his compound
of cologne & corrosion. All those rotguts.
All those bums. They didn't matter
to the nation, though they were the nation.
Copyright © 2018 by William Archila. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 18, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
What can I say to cheer you up? This afternoon the sky is like five portholes between the clouds. The unidentifiable weeds are tall and still unidentifiable and I miss the cows in the field, where have they gone? Sometimes one would wander then stand in the middle of the road and I’d have to stop my car and wait for it to decide to finish crossing. I am drinking seltzer through a straw because of my injury and I have inexplicable bruises on the side of my thigh and I just spent the last five minutes watching a bird through my window sitting in the small crotch where two phone lines x together though it flew off before I could take a picture of it. In the urgent care waiting room this morning there was a magazine with a proven neuroscience article on rituals that will make us happy and the first was practicing gratitude but when I tried to think of something right there next to the guy with the walker and the woman with gauze held to her cheek I came up blank. Because I am a terrible person I will tell you that my neighbor does this thing I hate with her kids called heart-bread, where they’re forced each night before bed to go around one by one and come up with a moment of gratitude and I want to tell her that we can thank anything—the crushed cans in recycling, my wristwatch for keeping time, the rainstorm yesterday that had water pouring from the gutters. I mean, we all overflow; we all feel an abundance of something but sometimes it’s just emptiness: vacant page, busy signal, radio static, implacable repeat rut where the tone arm reaches across a spinning vinyl record to play it again, rest its delicate needle in a groove and caress forever the same sound from the same body. Which is to say that the opposite of ennui is excitement and I’m not feeling it either today even a little. Not in the CVS while browsing the shiny electric rainbow nail-polish display indefinitely while waiting for my prescription. And probably not on my run later no matter how bucolic the mountains seem in the 5pm heat. The second ritual in that article was to touch people, which is easy if you’re with people you can touch but I’m in too loud a solitude and can only touch myself which reminds me of that old Divinyls’ song and I’m pretty sure that’s not what the article meant. Buber says you has no borders but he’s talking about god I think since this is not true of us because we all have bodies which make us small countries or maybe islands. If summer means our bodies are more porous perhaps we’re also more open to this inexplicable sadness that hangs here from the cinderblocks, drags itself across the barbed wire fence. What I’m trying to tell you is that I’m not cheered up either. That bird, before it flew off, I like to think of the crossed wires, the impenetrable conversations rushing under its feet.
Copyright © 2018 by Erika Meitner. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 19, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
A year or two, mornings before school, our father came into our rooms with pliers. My sisters and I crammed into Jordache casings, Gloria Vanderbilts. We’d jump into jeans, tug them up our ashy thighs, abrade young skin with denim seams. Taut denimed butts on polyester Holly Hobby bedspreads, until they were painted on, until our arms ached, our fingers hurt, until we were panting, exhausted, our smooth foreheads beaded with sweat. Near tears as usual, calling for help. After the first time, when he laughed but then couldn’t grip the brass zipper, so ha ha dad the joke’s on you, he kept pliers handy, grabbed the pull tab, tugged it up the teeth so we could button our own damn pants. What we think we want. What we know. What do we know when we ask for what we think we want? We pray for ridiculous things, we humans. And so often are indulged.
Copyright © 2018 by Jill McDonough. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 20, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
and Vievee Francis concerning love, redemption, and the TV show Empire might not be the most august of openings, but like hypocrisy in this great falling hegemony, it’s all I got. Besides, what’s history but a conversation we’re born into without context, and what is society but three friends who keep dipping to the DM’s from a group text. Oh, America, where its most valid ID states, I am Erica, in glittery pink hearts, the hologram hinting at the fact that this card holder has a dogmatic Top Forty devotion, only eats organic granola, and raises strays humanely. It’s easy to be angry when the constitution starts for some, We the People, and begins for others, Well see, you people. Some can’t start a sentence without To be fair. This is where, if I were a white poet, I’d be ironic, especially if I had, in the Stevens’ vernacular, a mind of winter, which is a generous manner of saying said poet’s emotionally snowed in. It’s still socially unacceptable in my community to admit predispositions toward depression. In part because we think sadness is bougie. I sure as pig believed that I was too broke to be depressed. Machismo culture means, Matthew, that we never needed any other emotion than power, anything but anger was middling, that I never had the courage to be anything but mean, to say, hey friend, I see your achievement. Hey friend, I see your achievement. Hyperbole shades in what we are afraid to say. In my experience, when someone’s really feeling you, they’ll ask, You got some black in you, don’t lie. Beautiful black women, ask me again what I am, touch my hair once more, tell me it must be the Indians in me. Tell me otra vez, while holding my ears, while I look up at you, no tienes labios pero tus besos son como azúcar. Beautiful black women, we’ve built so many types of pyramids. I can love you, and dis like the rhetoric. If you say you don’t smell beach-y, oceanic, a wave breaking obsequiously, then you don’t. Skin can’t be the night, too filled with a lonely white consciousness. We up in church yet, Vievee? The dog and pony show of white tears makes some of us pretty pet-able. And here is where if I were a white poet I’d say black women are saving the world. Some of the poorest poets swear by their Kraft. A politics. Perfection, beauty were never white aesthetics. Despite this, pimps put white girls out during the day, black girls at night. Rachel Dolezal went on the nightly news and televised us with falsehoods, darkened us all, but she probably understood Louis Simpson best, who said every aesthetic statement is a defense of one’s own, so when I say I love you, what I mean is I love what I am, but especially, maybe more so, what I’ve never been.
Copyright © 2018 by David Tomas Martinez. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 23, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Let them come for what’s left: a chorus of bone, river and soot. Worthy enough. Holy enough. Like all the others, singular—or not. Wanting only for your name to blue my lips and call it miracle. Our love double-knotted, saddle-stitched held the world together. Until it didn’t— all the words you placed in me flushed and faltered. From memory, I recited their worn prattle—cut them clean with my bite. The jungle we made in blame grew and grew, fed on our melancholy. Not even the birds knew to change their songs.
Copyright © 2018 by Vandana Khanna. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 24, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
I love the crown molding and the white granite countertops. And look, dear! Stainless steel appliances! Don’t you love them? It’s such a perfect apartment, and, in every room, a coffered ceiling. And don’t you love the pink twin sinks, like porcelain scallops? And listen to the faucets, like the rush of a waterfall heard through thick woods just as the birds began to sing early one morning years ago in the hills outside Florence. Where are you going? Love fills me the way the sun surprises the room when I pull the string and the curtains open. Pinch-pleat curtains, crinkle-voile, semi-opaque, and sheer! Soft as love when I stroke them, warm as love against my cheek, a scent of spring rain gentling the petunias when I wrap myself in them until I cannot see, until I cannot move my arms or legs. Of course, I’d love to see the guest bedroom with its walk-in closet and built-in shoe shelf, its en suite bath with the whirlpool tub! Let me just wipe my eyes on these curtains. Let me just untangle. The view through this window is so lovely, the far fingers of smoke trembling over the distant city where the workers— rich black thoughts pour from the smokestacks is all I have to say about the workers. No, sorry, I’m still here, wrapped in the curtains. They were so alluring, voluptuous, really, if curtains can be voluptuous against bare skin. You continue with the tour, dear, and I’ll be along presently. The sky is rose chiffon, the clouds like pressed flowers above the smokestacks, just leave me here, restrained and lavished at once! And the window, with its inviting coolness to the tongue. To my tongue. It’s like I am licking those smokestacks!
Copyright © 2018 by Kevin Prufer. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 25, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
The wind then, through seams of bluestem,
or switchgrass swayed by a coyote’s passing.
Where the fabric gapes, Barthes said,
lies the sensual. A prairie cut
by winding seeps, or winds or shearing wings.
Mare’s tails, mackerels, cirrus,
distance dispersed as light. Under a buzzard’s bank
and spiral the prairie folds and unfolds.
Here between the stands of bluestem, I am interruption.
I rake my fingers over culms and panicles.
Here seeds burr into my sleeves, spur each hem.
In a prairie, I am chance. I am rupture. The wind—
thief, ruffian, quick-fingered sky, snatches a kink
of my hair. The broken nap falls, wound round
like a prairie snake, a coil of barbed wire, a snare
for the unwary. In the fall, volunteer naturalists
will wrench invading roots and scour grassy densities
with fire. Wick, knot, gnarl, my kindled hair
will flare, burn, soften into ash, ash that will settle,
sieve through soil, compost for roots to suck
and worms to cast out, out into the loess that raises
redtop, turkeyfoot, sideoats grama,
and all the darkened progenies of grass
that reach and strive and shape dissent from light.
Copyright © 2018 by Janice N. Harrington. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 26, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Catapult through hills locking on air. So much of it the lungs won’t take it in. Then all’s a pinwheel, I’m the pin. The girl on her back having a tantrum on the drugstore floor until her mother stands up and leaves. The ladybug’s gunmetal legs pedaling machinely until they still and fold. The body is an envelope. The air black diamonds and helium I’m far too far to grieve.
Copyright © 2018 by Melissa Stein. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 27, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
For X. From the shallows our son watches me play dead. He sits on river rocks chucking sand, burying strawberries while I float down- stream, breath wound bright in the gut, a body both here and of other waters. The day he was born, midwives touched your face, your hands, tested nerve and pulse, dripped saline along your thigh, numbered blades—their ceremony for the first cuts, before swaddling blankets, fever syrups, bath time and mud. These are places the boy is ticklish: lunette of the earlobe kneecaps madrigal fat of his belly collarbone toes. These words he knows, but will not say: yes horse sleep white. * Again the boy cries himself hoarse as we sing through these hours right before dawn. First the alphabet, then “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” then “The Great Pretender.” Our words like foxes, like milk teeth. We can’t hold him quiet. His body must, they say, learn now about hunger, about being alone. So we hum and shhh into the yellow bruise of Sunday, melodies the shape of bluets and yearlings, blood pudding and this worry, this awe we have no name for— * When he asks, make no mention of those names we saved for the children we lost—his ghost siblings, their phantom initials. Of tests and lemongrass, nettle leaf and sharps, forms in triplicate, clinics painted with lambs, comets, maps to nerve meridians, hearts: say nothing. Never speak of that quiet after the kicking stopped. Believe in time he’ll learn our cells betray each miracle and wild conundrum they’re coded to bear. If he needs an answer, give him morning mass off W. 16th: how aisle and chancel roared with lilies and cornets; how we dared a new unknown to find us, there, in song.
Copyright © 2018 by R. A. Villanueva. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 30, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
(for Stephon Clark’s grandmother) shave your face. a haircut even. kiss your kids. your partner. your parents. tell them you listened. you kissed their asses like you were taught. kissed their asses and still. walk. or run. don’t matter. glue your identification to your forehead. wrap yourself in the flag. hand over heart. hit the high note. hide your slang under your tongue. delete your profile. scrub the net. clean your blood. prepare your body for peepholes no one will ever peer into.
Copyright © 2018 by Jason Reynolds. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 31, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.