and there was light.
Now God says, Give them a little theatrical lighting
 
and they’re happy,
and we are. So many of us
 
dressing each morning, testing
endless combinations, becoming in our mirrors
 
more ourselves, imagining,
in an entrance, the ecstatic
 
weight of human eyes.
Now that the sun is sheering
 
toward us, what is left
but to let it close in
 
for our close-up? Let us really feel
how good it feels
 
to be still in it, making
every kind of self that can be
 
looked at. God, did you make us
to be your bright accomplices?
 
God, here are our shining spines.
Let there be no more dreams of being
 
more than a beginning.
Let it be
 
that to be is to be
backlit, and then to be only that light.

Copyright © 2018 by Mary Szybist. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 1, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

The bumper sticker says Live In The Moment! on a Jeep
that cuts me off. I’m working to forget it, to let go
of everything but the wheel in my hands,
as a road connects two cities without forcing them
to touch. When I drive by something, does it sway
toward me or away? Does it slip into the past
or dance nervously in place? The past suffers
from anxiety too. It goes underground, emerging
once in a blue moon to hiss. I hear the grass never
saying a word. I hear it spreading its arms across
each grave & barely catch a name. My dying wish
is scattering now before every planet. I want places to
look forward to. Listen: the earth is a thin voice
in a headset. It’s whispering breathe... breathe...
but who believes in going back?

Copyright © 2018 by Ben Purkert. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 2, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

This massive apartment: a whole room left
Empty to air, where we used to sleep.
So many steps on the waxed wood, like off turns
On the dial of a lock whose combination one’s lost—
All decaying about me like empire,
The moldings moldering while I sit frozen
As a swan on the surface of a lake changing to ice.
Fruit flies and mosquitoes, a water bug,
Carpet beetles, the mouse found behind the couch
Months after it’d shrunk to a puff of fur:
Nothing to eat here but beer and more dark.
The shower where someone’s young wife died
In an explosion of epilepsy while he slept.
One wonders what he was dreaming then.
The same dreams we once made here, maybe.

Copyright © 2018 by Monica Ferrell. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 5, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Night time is the right time . . .
—Ray Charles and Margie Hendricks

She had me in the car. I came forward like a song.
We did it before temple, after temple, between prayers.
The windows echoed her mantras, our cries warmed the air.
Two peaks merged, then sank below the clouds.

We did it before temple, after temple, between prayers.
Her stomach began to show and people asked us not to come.
Two peaks merged, then sank below the clouds.
Night and day, everything was changing.

. . . . .

Her stomach began to show and people asked her not to come.
My mother was all alone when I was born.
Night and day. Everything was changing.
The radio started playing rhythm and blues.

My mother was all alone when I was born—
The windows echoed her mantras, our cries warmed the air,
The radio started playing rhythm and blues.
She had me in a car. I came forward like a song.

Copyright © 2018 by Duy Doan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 6, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

We bank sneaks do it for the back-
jumping buzz and for the poetry
of course, iamb after iamb of ka-
klink in our birdcage coffers.
The beard-jammer (that shitty
shirtrabbit) dropped from the eaves
after a whole lot of listening and squashed
my swagger in seconds. So here I am
on yonder Ponder Island, forced to
forgo the fizz powder that used to give me
the good go-ahead, count my every blink
and contemplate. It’s always claws
for breakfast, then around eye-flicker
five thousand he comes in to cat-cuff
me, to drone on about the bone orchard
or the Burlap Sisters (buzz-nappers all three)
who never went free. They didn’t do
dialogue. They were islands of their own.
Each midnight (thrice daily) I scan
the skies for wormholes, which I know
is flimsy whimsy, as if I’ll swoon through
space into a dimension where
there are cackle-tubs full of jokes
and tenth chances. Still, I keep
the old big-eye open. When I can
I prowl the caper-cove hooting help!
My sentence: twelve years of mirror
manufacture. Not even one lousy weak-
ankled gerund. There’s no magic in mirrors
but in verbs, hey-brim- ho yes. I narrate
my movements to myself with as many
as possible—I grind, polish, whistle,
wish, but I worry I’m losing the lingo.
I never look at my show-me in the glass—
it fazzles me. Instead I count what I’ve sent
down the wormholes in the past:
one year of daily weather diagrams
and owl-falls, an exquisite equation for
unlocking a safe. I think there are
other worlds out there and perhaps
in a quicksquint I’ll catch a glimpse of
my double (Little-Go- Cheat or Lizzy-Loll-
Tongue I call her). Worst: We’re handcuff-
Married. Best: Thanks to me her nimbles
unlatch a door and cull-money silvers
into her lap. She imagines my sky.
Sends me hers.

Copyright © 2018 by Matthea Harvey. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 7, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

When we first met, my heart pounded. They said
the shock of it was probably what broke
his heart. In search of peace, we traveled once
to Finland, tasted reindeer heart. It seemed
so heartless, how you wanted it to end.
I noticed on the nurse who took his pulse
a heart tattooed above her collarbone.
The kids played hearts all night to pass the time.
You said that at its heart rejection was
impossible to understand. “We send
our heartfelt sympathy,” was written in
the card your mother sent, in flowing script.
I tried interpreting his EKG,
which looked like knife wounds to the heart. I knew
enough to guess he wouldn’t last much longer.
As if we’d learned our lines by heart, you said,
“I can’t explain.” “Please don’t,” was my reply.
They say the heart is just a muscle. Or
the heart is where the human soul resides.
I saw myself in you; you looked so much
like him. You didn’t have the heart to say
you didn’t want me anymore. I still
can see that plastic statue: Jesus Christ,
his sacred heart aflame, held out in his
own hands. He finally let go. How grief
this great is borne, not felt. Borne in the heart.

Copyright © 2018 by Rafael Campo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 8, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

It’s not fair. You owe it to the reader.
We’re trying to help. We have an uncle
with a disability and he always says

exactly what it is. Take it from him.
Take it from us. Take it from them.
You can’t expect people to read you

if you don’t come out and say it.
Everyone knows the default mode
of a poem is ten fingers, ten toes

with sight and hearing and balance.
When this is not true, it is incumbent
on you to come out and say it.

Here’s what. We’ll rope you
to the podium and ask
What do you have? What is it?

Copyright © 2018 by Jillian Weise. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 9, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

You, who have bowed your head, shed
another season of antlers at my feet, for years

you fall asleep to the lullabies of dolls,
cotton-stuffed and frayed, ears damp with sleep

and saliva, scalps knotted with yarn, milk-breath,
and yawns. Birth is a torn ticket stub, a sugar

cone wrapped in a paper sleeve, the blackest
ice. It has been called irretrievable, a foreign

coin, the moon’s slip, showing, a pair
of new shoes rubbing raw your heel.

I lose the back of my earring and bend
the metal in such a way as to keep it

fastened to me. In the universe where we are
strangers, you kick with fury, impatient

as grass. I have eaten all your names.
In this garden you are blue ink, baseball cap

wishbone, pulled teeth, wet sand, hourglass.
There are locks of your hair in the robin’s nest

and clogging the shower drain. You, who are
covered in feathers, who have witnessed birth

give birth to death and watched death suck
her purple nipple. You long for a mother

like death’s mother, want to nurse until drunk
you dream of minnows swimming

through your ears—their iridescence causing
you to blink, your arms twitching.

Even while you sleep I feed you.

Copyright © 2018 by Ama Codjoe. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 12, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Haven’t found anyone 
From the old gang.
They must be still in hiding,
Holding their breaths
And trying not to laugh.

Our street is down on its luck
With windows broken
Where on summer nights 
One heard couples arguing,
Or saw them dancing to the radio.

The redhead we were 
All in love with,
Who sat on the fire escape,
Smoking late into the night, 
Must be in hiding too.

The skinny boy 
On crutches
Who always carried a book,
May not have 
Gotten very far.

Darkness comes early 
This time of year
Making it hard 
To recognize familiar faces 
In those of strangers.

Copyright © 2018 by Charles Simic. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 13, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets

"Save your hands,” my mother says,
seeing me untwist a jar's tight cap—

just the way she used to tell me
not to let boys fool around, or feel

my breasts: "keep them fresh
for marriage,” as if they were a pair

of actual fruit. I scoffed
to think they could bruise, scuff,

soften, rot, wither. I look down now
at my knuckly thumbs, my index finger

permanently askew in the same classic
crook as hers, called a swan's neck,

as if snapped, it's that pronounced.
Even as I type, wondering how long

I'll be able to—each joint in my left hand
needing to be hoisted, prodded, into place,

one knuckle like a clock's dial clicking
as it's turned to open, bend or unbend.

I balk at the idea that we can overuse
ourselves, must parcel out and pace

our energies so as not to run out of any
necessary component while still alive—

the definition of "necessary” necessarily
suffering change over time. 

The only certainty is uncertainty, I thought
I knew, so ignored whatever she said

about boys and sex: her version of
a story never mine. It made me laugh,

the way she made up traditions, that we
didn't kiss boys until a certain age, we

didn't fool around. What we? What part of me
was she? No part I could put my finger on.

How odd, then, one day, to find her
half-napping in her room, talking first

to herself and then to me, about a boy
she used to know, her friend's brother,

who she kissed, she said, just because 
he wanted her to. "Now why would I do that,”

she mused, distraught anew and freshly
stung by the self-betrayal. So much 

I still want to do with my hands—
type, play, cook, caress, swipe, re-trace.

Copyright © 2018 by Carol Moldaw. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 14, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

The Blue Dress—died on August 6,
2015, along with the little blue flowers,
all silent. Once the petals looked up.
Now small pieces of dust. I wonder
whether they burned the dress or just
the body? I wonder who lifted her up
into the fire? I wonder if her hair
brushed his cheek before it grew into a
bonfire? I wonder what sound the body
made as it burned? They dyed her hair
for the funeral, too black. She looked
like a comic character. I waited for the
next comic panel, to see the speech
bubble and what she might say. But her
words never came and we were left
with the stillness of blown glass. The
irreversibility of rain. And millions of
little blue flowers. Imagination is having
to live in a dead person’s future. Grief is
wearing a dead person’s dress forever.

Copyright © 2018 by Victoria Chang. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 15, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

My mother is taking 
me to the store 
because it’s hot out and I’m sick and want a popsicle. All the other kids
are at school sitting 
in rows of small desks, looking 
out the window. 
She is wearing one of those pantsuits 

with shoulder pads 
and carrying a purse with a checkbook. We are holding hands, standing in 
front of the big automatic doors 
which silently swing open 
so we can 
walk in together, so we can 
step out of the heat and step 

into a world of fluorescent light and cool, cool air. 
Then, as if a part of the heat 
had suddenly broken off, 
had become its own power, a man 
places his arm around her 
shoulders but also around her neck 
and she lets go of my hand and pushes me 
away. Pushes me toward 

the safety of the checkout line. Then the man begins to yell. 
And then the man begins to cry. 
The pyramid 
of canned beans in front of me 
is so perfect 
I can’t imagine anyone needing beans 
bad enough 
to destroy it. The man is walking my mother 

down one aisle and then another aisle 
and then another 
like a father dragging
his daughter toward a wedding he cannot find. 
Everyone is 
standing so still. All you can hear
is my mom pleading
and the sound of the air conditioner like Shhhhhhhhhh.

Copyright © 2018 by Matthew Dickman. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 16, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

I wish you (my mother once told me—mother of my child-
hood—even though water is water-weary—what is prayer if not quiet
who has made me—what hands you become when you touch—
who laid down on whose body—whose face and whose shoulders

worth shaking—what will I not hear when I look back
at you—who is not the mother of a daughter—who is not
the mother of a man—we are right to be afraid of our bodies—wind
is carried by what is upright and still moves what has) had

(been buried deep enough in the ground to be called roots—
when will this be the world where you stop—whatever broke 
into you was torn by the contact—a face wears a face it can see—
what is alive is unrecognizable—need it be—who is my mother,

mother—no one—who hasn’t killed herself by
growing into someone—I’m sorry you have) never been born

Copyright © 2018 by TC Tolbert. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 21, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

            I was trying to wave to you but you wouldn’t wave back
                                    —The Be Good Tanyas

Forgive me my deafness now for your name on others’ lips:
each mouth gathers then opens & I search for the wave

the fluke of their tongues should make with the blow
of your name in that mild darkness I recognize but cannot

explain as the same oblivious blue of Hold the conch to your ear
& hearing the highway loud & clear. My hands are bloated

with the name signs of my kin who have waited for water
to reach their ears. Or oil; grease from a fox with the gall

of a hare, bear fat melted in hot piss, peach kernels fried
in hog lard & tucked along the cavum for a cure; a sharp stick

even, a jagged rock; anything to wedge down deep to the drum
inside that kept them walking away from wives—old

or otherwise—& the tales they tell about our being too broken
for their bearing, & yet they bear on. Down. Forgive me

my deafness for my own sound, how I mistook it for a wound
you could heal. Forgive me the places your wasted words

could have saved us from going had I heard you with my hands.
I saw Joni live & still thought a gay pair of guys put up a parking lot.

How could I have known You are worthless sounds like Should we
do this, even with the lights on. You let me say Yes. So what

if Johnny Nash can see clearly now Lorraine is gone—I only wanted
to hear the sea. The audiologist asks Does it seem like you’re under

water? & I think only of your name. I thought it was you
after I love, but memory proves nothing save my certainty—

the chapped round of your mouth was the same shape while at rest
or in thought or blowing smoke, & all three make a similar sound:

Copyright © 2018 by Meg Day. Originally published in TYPO. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 18, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

            after George Jackson

Because something else must belong to him,
More than these chains, these cuffs, these cells—
Something more than Hard Rock’s hurt,
More than remembrances of where men
Go mad with craving—corpuscle, epidermis,
Flesh, men buried in the whale of it, all of it,
Because the so many of us mute ourselves,
Silent before the box, fascinated by the drama
Of confined bodies on prime-time television,
These prisons sanitized for entertainment &;
These indeterminate sentences hidden, because
We all lack this panther’s rage, the gift
Of Soledad &; geographies adorned with state numbers
&; names of the dead &; dying etched on skin,
This suffering, wild loss, under mass cuffs,
Those buried hours must be about more
Than adding to this surfeit of pain as history
As bars that once held him embrace us.

From Bastards of the Reagan Era (Four Way Books, 2015). Copyright © 2015 by Reginald Dwayne Betts. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 22, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets

You wrap my ribs in gauze—
an experiment with the word tenderly

after your hands left my throat too bruised to speak.

While winter sun squints at the ghost flower
dying in its shabby terra cotta

far from home

men tell me to be honest about my role in the incident:

Okay, yes
I should have stayed inside

while you railed from the sidewalk

but my confused heart got into the car.

What happened is
I once spent too much time in the desert

so pogonip seems glamorous hung stuck in the trees
like when blood dries on skin

and I want to wear it

out for an evening,
pat my hands over its kinky path down my face

because: f*** you,

you didn’t find me here.
I brought you here.

From Landscape with Sex and Violence (YesYes Books, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Lynn Melnick. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 23, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

after Yusef Komunyakaa

My black face fades,
hiding inside black smoke.
I knew they'd use it,
dammit: tear gas.
I'm grown. I'm fresh.
Their clouded assumption eyes me
like a runaway, guilty as night,
chasing morning. I run
this way—the street lets me go.
I turn that way—I'm inside
the back of a police van
again, depending on my attitude
to be the difference.
I run down the signs
half-expecting to find
my name protesting in ink.
I touch the name Freddie Gray;
I see the beat cop's worn eyes.
Names stretch across the people’s banner
but when they walk away
the names fall from our lips.
Paparazzi flash. Call it riot.
The ground. A body on the ground.
A white cop’s image hovers
over us, then his blank gaze
looks through mine. I’m a broken window.
He’s raised his right arm
a gun in his hand. In the black smoke
a drone tracking targets:
No, a crow gasping for air. 

 

Copyright © 2018 by Amanda Johnston. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 19, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

it was clear they were hungry
with their carts empty the clothes inside their empty hands

they were hungry because their hands
were empty their hands in trashcans

the trashcans on the street
the asphalt street on the red dirt the dirt taxpayers pay for

up to that invisible line visible thick white paint
visible booths visible with the fence starting from the booths

booth road booth road booth road office building then the fence
fence fence fence

it started from a corner with an iron pole
always an iron pole at the beginning

those men those women could walk between booths
say hi to white or brown officers no problem

the problem I think were carts belts jackets
we didn’t have any

or maybe not the problem
our skin sunburned all of us spoke Spanish

we didn’t know how they had ended up that way
on that side

we didn’t know how we had ended up here
we didn’t know but we understood why they walk

the opposite direction to buy food on this side
this side we all know is hunger

From Unaccompanied (Copper Canyon Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Javier Zamora. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 20, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Here is a description of hundreds of years in which
I never comprehend it is hundreds of years, passing
“We lived together,” I write, but what does that mean 
Last night A. convinced me you are a parasite
OK, you’re a parasite, that’s interesting
My blood mixes with the blood of the flea
And we’re having another poetry lesson
It always takes hundreds of years
You’ve interrupted us in the midst of our poetry lesson
I mean “you,” the reader, have interrupted “us”
By which I mean, the bad “you” and, of course, “me”
Out of which construction some American relativism
Comes…
Meanwhile, the flea has returned to Iowa
Ah, flea, let’s look into your affairs!
You seem to have learned a lot from poetry
I truly admired that line about how
A phone charger has become entangled in a tree
And your love of leopards is a neat neoclassical reference
Dionysus animatedly squirting things
Here I’ll insert a description of ……
…………………………………….
[plus provisional knowledge claim]
I wish I could say, “The bad ‘you’ stomps
Upon its hat,” or maybe its “hat”
Or perhaps “it” “gnashes” “its” soft “teeth”
But instead the bad “you” stalks me on email
It sends word to remind me that it is “here”
I mean, nonchalant, therefore
Because this is also poetry
Which is why it is part of the lesson
And reinforced during office hours
The sublime plum
The immortal peach 
The slow death of the humanities
Due to pluralism and (?) expense
“If I can’t have them nobody can”
Is what I wished he’d said
Instead he asked me who the fuck
I think I am in the Foxhead 
And the brown stick of the Iowa River
We didn’t know much but we knew the river
Things occurred and I can remember 
What my body is, in the traditional manner
No politics, except in poems
No deeds, except figuratively
Here is a description of the pink color of heaven and in standing water
Heavens have fallen 
I am 24
Here is a thread of ice 
Penetrating the human sciences
Once you are here, there is only living 
Once you were
And believed I was good until you no longer believed this 
Of me

Copyright © 2018 by Lucy Ives. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 26, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Soldiers collect & number:
pigment, hair, jade,
roasted meat, timber,
cum. The enemy’s
flute; the face

of an enemy
as he holds his young;
the enemy’s face the moment
it’s harmed. The woods

are a class in what
they can take. The country
is fat. We eat
from its side.

Copyright © 2018 by Nomi Stone. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 27, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

When it comes at me in the mirror with its meaning 
ramping up until it passes and lowers in pitch, I’m on 
the bit of the M1 where it bisects the Ring of Gullion 

and I switch lanes, and let my right foot alleviate 
its weight on the accelerator of the Focus, 
and the ambulance is faster, and the shift in its report 

an effect of the change in the wave’s frequency 
and length on the observer, who is, in this case, me, 
heading up to Newry hospice off the redeye, and I

lag and have to have the window down for brisk air. 
If the grief moves in towards me at high speed, 
the wavelengths I observe are decreased as the frequency 

increases. I don’t know what this means though 
I can tell you how it feels: in the cryptic centre 
of my head a voice recites a rhyme I read somewhere 

or heard once or otherwise made up: 
Let us go to the woods, one little pig cries. 
But why would we do that? his brother replies.

To look for my mother, the little pig cries. 
But why would we do that? his sister replies.
For to kiss her to death, the little pig whispers.

What is driving along this but a guided dream 
since the road feeds itself in as the planed length
time feeds to the mind’s lathe to get it trimmed 

correctly to size: heavy clouds; the waterlogged
fields; a rainbow arcing faintly out to the west 
and I keep that with everything I keep to myself.

I am either in the midst of it or on my own or both 
things are true at the same time. I kill the radio. 
Were the universe to finish, music would endure

though I have no memories left for the moment before 
so when I think of you I think of you sat slumping 
on the edge of the mattress, zonked on Zopiclone, 

small and bald as a wee scaldy fallen out the nest 
and found there hours after you were meant 
to have gone on to bed. At my coming in 

you barely raise your head, your eyes are half-shut 
and you cannot find the holes for the buttons 
on your nightie, because you have it on you inside out.

I know every journey to a source is homecoming,
and I am bombing along the District of Songs 
along the Great Road of the Fews, towards you, 

through a depression left by the caldera’s collapse. 
This is the District of Poets, the district of The Dorsey: 
Doirse meaning doors or gates, the solitary pass 

to the old kingdom through the earthworks’ long 
involvement, a pair of abrupt Iron Age banks 
running parallel for a mile or so. An entrenchment. 

An entrance. All manner and slant of analogy etcetera 
but when, in the end, we had kissed you to death, 
we sat and held your cold hands for a half hour more

and wiped with tissues all the black stuff bubbling up 
from your lungs away from your lips, and wept 
a good bit, and got up then and folded your clothes
 
and stacked your cards and binned the flowers, 
and I sat out there in my rental car in the car park 
as you kept on lying in here, past all metaphor,  

left by yourself on the cleared stage like a real corpse.  

Copyright © 2018 by Nick Laird. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 28, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

At last understanding
that everything my friend had been saying
for the thirty-three months since he knew
were words of the dog tag, words of, whatever else, 
the milled and stamped-into metal of what stays behind.
Blackcap Mountain. Blue scorpion venom. Persimmon pudding.
He spoke them.
He could not say love enough times.
It clinked against itself, it clinked against its little chain.

—2016

Copyright © 2018 by Jane Hirshfield. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 29, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

The Zen priest says I am everything I am not.

In order to stop resisting, I must not attempt to stop resisting.

I must believe there is no need to believe in thoughts.

Oblivious to appetites that appear to be exits, and also entrances.

What is there to hoard when the worldly realm has no permanent vacancies?

Ten years I’ve taken to this mind fasting.

My shadow these days is bare.

It drives a stranger, a good fool.

Nothing can surprise.

Clarity is just questioning having eaten its fill.

Copyright © 2018 by Jenny Xie. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 30, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.