...it would be like hearing the grass grow 
or the squirrel’s heartbeat, and we should die of that roar 
which is the other side of silence  —George Eliot

My mourning is quiet, stealthy like the pause 
before bad news. An inherited trait near as I can
tell. All the men in my line are instinctually stoic & 
hidden—brackish bodies, damned at the gates. 

My last uncle just passed away, also of cancer, 
and with my brother Tyrone I discuss this too as inheritance— 
annual X-rays to hunt what would prey on us.

Memories surface of fishing trips
and nickel poker, except my grief has substituted
his face for Tyrone’s and dad’s for mine. 

What am I if not mane,
if not king,
     if not crown & control
& grass-shadow-eyes hidden?

My son’s first time sinking a hook in ocean water 
was with him just a few months ago and we split 
a can of High Life and hovered over the entrails 
of a sausage sandwich and laughed

at everything and he was the last of his brothers 
and the closest thing to seeing dad again—I breathe 
deep and slow like a big cat when blood is in the air

or ground, drop the phone on the bathroom floor,
slide down the wall against the shower door
like an avalanche crashing down a glass mountain,

head cupped in open palms & become a prayer 
built on bad knees, become swinging

jaw—unhinged, become throttle & throat &


            remembering my pride.

Copyright © 2020 by Junious Ward. This poem appeared in Sing Me a Lesser Wound (Bull City Press, 2020)Used with permission of the author.

The yellow flowers on the grave
make an arch, they lie 

on a black stone that lies on the ground
like a black door that will always

remain closed down into the earth,
into it is etched the name

of a great poet who believed
he had nothing more to say,

he threw himself into literal water
and everyone has done their mourning 

and been mourned over, and we all 
went on with our shopping, 

I stare at this photograph of that grave
and think you died like him, 

like all the others,
and the yellow flowers 

seem angry, they seem to want to refuse 
to be placed anywhere but in a vase 

next to the living, someday 
all of us will have our names 

etched where we cannot read them,
she who sealed her envelopes

full of poems about doubt with flowers 
called it her “granite lip,” I want mine 

to say Lucky Life, and what would 
a perfect elegy do? place the flowers 

back in the ground? take me 
where I can watch him sit eternally 

dreaming over his typewriter? 
then, at last, will I finally unlearn 

everything? and I admit that yes, 
while I could never leave 

everyone, here at last 
I understand these yellow flowers, 

the names, the black door 
he held open 

and you walked through.

Copyright © 2023 by Matthew Zapruder. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 18, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.

Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,
Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,
     I heard a Negro play.
Down on Lenox Avenue the other night
By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light
     He did a lazy sway . . .
     He did a lazy sway . . .
To the tune o’ those Weary Blues.
With his ebony hands on each ivory key
He made that poor piano moan with melody.
     O Blues!
Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool
He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool.
     Sweet Blues!
Coming from a black man’s soul.
     O Blues!
In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone
I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan—
     "Ain’t got nobody in all this world,
       Ain’t got nobody but ma self.
       I’s gwine to quit ma frownin’
       And put ma troubles on the shelf."

Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor.
He played a few chords then he sang some more—
     "I got the Weary Blues
       And I can’t be satisfied.
       Got the Weary Blues
       And can’t be satisfied—
       I ain’t happy no mo’
       And I wish that I had died."
And far into the night he crooned that tune.
The stars went out and so did the moon.
The singer stopped playing and went to bed
While the Weary Blues echoed through his head.
He slept like a rock or a man that's dead.

From The Weary Blues (Alfred A. Knopf, 1926) by Langston Hughes. This poem is in the public domain. 

Pocket pet of witches,  reincarnated child souls, most toxic augers of weather
&  superstitions—your   midnight  croaking means  rain’s  on the  way while  a
draught  of  pollywogs’s  a  cure-all  for  cancer,  consumption &  or weakness.
You taste somewhere  between mermaid & chicken,  you don’t dole warts nor
grant wishes.  In the original fairy tale it’s the maiden  pummeling you against
the wall turning you back into a prince & not her sovereign kisses. Mistake, as
Homer did,  Bufo for you &  open the doors  of astral vision.  God Almighty’s
been  sweeping  you  into cloud,  hailing you  down  upon roofs &  roads since
Heraclides.  Because yours is the  first species to die out  when your  habitat is
contaminated  you  are  earth   gauger,  poison  in  the  water’s  measure.  How
seldom  nowadays  a floating fleet  of ships is,  too few are  tempests of  blood,
crosses,   snakes   &   fishes;   our  end   times   reveal   themselves   as   nuclear
cataclysm,  flood &  drought,  pandemic.  Once a week you pull off your  dead
skin &  eat it.  I get it.  Like some megaton  explosion I too’ve  wanted to shed
self,  all leg  &  bleating  throat  &  reslicken  primogenial.  What  did  I  know
peeling  you   apart   teasing  out   with  scalpel  your   three-chambered  heart
but denials sweet & tribulations vile?  That,  & if you had wings you wouldn’t
bump   your   salientian    ass   every   time   you    hopped   down    the   street

Copyright © 2023 by Flower Conroy. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 8, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets. 

Long ago some one carved me in the semblance of a god.
I have forgot now what god I was meant to represent.
I have no consciousness now but of stone, sunlight, and rain;
The sun baking my skin of stone, the wind lifting my hair;
The sun’s light is hot upon me,
The moon’s light is cool,
Casting a silver-laced pattern of light and dark
Over the planes of my body:
My thoughts now are the thoughts of a stone,
My substance now is the substance of life itself;
I have sunk deep into life as one sinks into sleep;
Life is above me, below me, around me, 
Moving through my pores of stone—
It does not matter how small the space you pack life in,
That space is as big as the universe—
Space, volume, and the overtone of volume
Move through me like chords of music,
Like the taste of happiness in the throat,
Which you fear to lose, though it may choke you—
(In the cities this is not known,
For space there is emptiness,
And time is torment) . . . . .
Since I became a stone
I have no need to remember anything—
Everything is remembered for me;
I live and I think and I dream as a stone,
In the warm sunlight, in the grey rain;
All my surfaces are touched to softness
By the light fingers of the wind,
The slow dripping of rain:
My body retains only faintly the image
It was meant to represent,
I am more beautiful and less rigid,
I am a part of space,
Time has entered into me,
Life has passed through me—
What matter the name of the god I was meant to represent?

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on January 28, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.

Under the cover of night, Icarus,
careful not to wake his captors from sleep,
flees from the prison built by his father’s
master. He does not look back. He does not
stop. Just as Icarus arrives at the border
of the sky, more North than he’s ever thought
possible, Master’s son, with blazing rage,
strikes the wings from Icarus’ shoulders with a whip,
a tendril of flame hungry for dark meat.

Icarus plummets into the river and drowns.
The river carries him and spits him out
someplace colder, some unfamiliar South,
where he’ll tread forever in an ocean
always bloated blue with bodies of kin.

Copyright © 2019 Jonathan Teklit. This poem originally appeared on poets.org as part of the 2019 University and College Poetry Prizes. Used with permission of the author. 

Quiet. Given to prying more than pecking, an odd member
of the family, lives only in the high pine forests of western

mountains like the Cascades, where I spent an afternoon
almost a decade ago in Roslyn, Washington looking for what

I could find of Black people who’d migrated from the South
almost a century and a quarter prior. The white-headed

woodpecker doesn’t migrate and so is found in its
home range year-round when it can be found. Roslyn,

founded as a coal mining town, drew miners from all over
Europe—as far away as Croatia—across the ocean, with

opportunities. With their hammering and drilling to extract
a living, woodpeckers could be considered arboreal miners.

A habitat, a home range, is where one can feed and house
oneself—meet the requirements of life—and propagate.

In 1888, those miners from many lands all in Roslyn came
together to go on strike against the mine management.

And so, from Southern states, a few hundred Black miners
were recruited with the promise of opportunities in Roslyn,

many with their families in tow, to break the strike. They
faced resentment and armed resistance, left in the dark

until their arrival, unwitting scabs—that healing that happens
after lacerations or abrasions. Things settled down as they do

sometimes, and eventually Blacks and whites entered a union
as equals. Black save for a white face and crown and a sliver

of white on its wings that flares to a crescent when they
spread for flight, the white-headed woodpecker is a study

in contrasts. Males have a patch of red feathers
on the back of their crowns, and I can’t help but see blood.

Copyright © 2021 by Sean Hill. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 19, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
    And wild and sweet
    The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
    Had rolled along
    The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
    A voice, a chime,
    A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
    And with the sound
    The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
    And made forlorn
    The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
    "For hate is strong,
    And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
    The Wrong shall fail,
    The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."

This poem is in the public domain.

translated from the Arabic by Robyn Creswell

    As I return home with a dead bird in my hand, a little grave
I’m about to dig waits for us in the backyard. 
    No blood on the washed feathers, two outspread wings, 
and a dewdrop (some concentrate of spirit?) on its beak, as if 
it had flown for many days while actually dead. 
    Its fall was fated in the Lord’s eyes, heavy and diagonal in 
front of mine. 
    I’m the one who left my country back there to go for a walk 
in this forest, holding a dead bird whose absence the flock
never noticed, 
    returning home for a funeral that might have been a solemn 
one were it not for the sneakers on my feet. 

From THE THRESHOLD: POEMS by Iman Mersal. Translation and Introduction copyright © 2022 by Robyn Creswell. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. All Rights Reserved.

You turn the kitchen
tap’s metallic stream
into tropical drink,
extra sugar whirlpooling
to the pitcher-bottom
like gypsum sand.
Purplesaurus Rex, Roarin’
Rock-A-Dile Red, Ice Blue
Island Twist, Sharkleberry Fin;
on our tongues, each version
keeps a section, like tiles
on the elemental table.
In ninth grade, Sandra
employed a jug of Black Cherry
to dye her straightened
bangs burgundy.
When toddlers swallow you,
their top lips mustache in color
as if they’ve kissed paint.
The trendy folks can savor
all that imported mango nectar
and health-market juice.
We need factory-crafted packets,
unpronounceable ingredients,
a logo cute enough to hug,
a drink unnaturally sweet
so that, on the porch,
as summer sun recedes,
Granddad takes out his teeth
to make more mouth to admit you.

Copyright © 2011 by Marcus Jackson. “Ode to Kool-Aid” originally appeared in Neighborhood Register (Cavankerry Press, 2011). Used with permission of the author.

I come from hay and barns, raising 
chickens. In spring, lambs come. 

You got to get up, fly early, do the orphan run 
sleep till dawn, start the feeding. 

When the electricity shuts off, you boil water, you crack ice. 
You keep the animals watered. 

You walk through the barn, through the hay smell,
your hair brittle where you chopped it with scissors 

same ones you use for everything. Your sweater has holes. 
When you feed the ram lambs, you say goodbye. 

Summer, choke cherries; your mouth’s dry. Apples, cider. 
Corn picking. Canning for weeks that feel like years. 

Chopping heads off quail, rabbits, chickens. 
You can pluck a chicken, gut it fast. 

You find unformed eggs, unformed chicks. 
They start chirping day nineteen. 

You make biscuits and gravy for hundred kids 
serve them up good. You’re the chick 

who never got past day nineteen, never found your chick voice. 
You make iced tea. They say, you’re a soldier in the king’s army. 

At night, you say to yourself, Kathy, someday. 
We go walking. We go talking. We find a big story. 

A cracking egg story. A walking girl story. 
A walking out of the woods story. A not slapped silly story. 

A not Jesus story. Hush, Kathy you say, we get out of here. 
We find out where chicks go when they learn to fly.

Copyright © 2022 by Kate Gale. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 6, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.