I lack the rigor of a lightning bolt,
the weight of an anchor. I am
frayed where it would be highly useful—
and this I feel perpetually—to make a point.

I think if I can concentrate I might turn sharp.
Only, I don't know how to concentrate—
I know only the look of someone concentrating,
indistinguishable from nearsightedness.

It is hard for you to be near me,
my silly intensity shuffling
all the insignia of interiority.
Knowing me never made anyone a needle.

From Where's the Moon, There's the Moon by Dan Chiasson. Copyright © 2010 by Dan Chiasson. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf.

I have more love than ever.
Our kids have kids soon to have kids.
I need them. I need everyone
to come over to the house,
sleep on the floor, on the couches
in the front room. I need noise,
too many people in too small a space,
I need dancing, the spilling of drinks,
the loud pronouncements
over music, the verbal sparring,
the broken dishes, the wealth.
I need it all flying apart.
My friends to slam against me,
to hold me, to say they love me.
I need mornings to ask for favors
and forgiveness. I need to give,
have all my emotions rattled,
my family to be greedy,
to keep coming, to keep asking
and taking. I need no resolution,
just the constant turmoil of living.
Give me the bottom of the river,
all the unadorned, unfinished,
unpraised moments, one good turn
on the luxuriant wheel.

From Saint Friend (McSweeney's Poetry Series, 2014) by Carl Adamshick. Copyright © 2014 Carl Adamshick. All rights reserved. 

Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
are you.
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.
Remember.

“Remember.” Copyright © 1983 by Joy Harjo from She Had Some Horses by Joy Harjo. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

A man crosses the street in rain,
stepping gently, looking two times north and south,
because his son is asleep on his shoulder.

No car must splash him.
No car drive too near to his shadow.

This man carries the world’s most sensitive cargo
but he’s not marked.
Nowhere does his jacket say FRAGILE,
HANDLE WITH CARE.

His ear fills up with breathing.
He hears the hum of a boy’s dream
deep inside him.

We’re not going to be able
to live in this world
if we’re not willing to do what he’s doing
with one another.

The road will only be wide.
The rain will never stop falling.

Naomi Shihab Nye, “Shoulders” from Red Suitcase. Copyright © 1994 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.

Thank you my life long afternoon
late in this spring that has no age
my window above the river
for the woman you led me to
when it was time at last the words
coming to me out of mid-air
that carried me through the clear day
and come even now to find me
for old friends and echoes of them
those mistakes only I could make
homesickness that guides the plovers
from somewhere they had loved before
they knew they loved it to somewhere
they had loved before they saw it
thank you good body hand and eye
and the places and moments known
only to me revisiting
once more complete just as they are
and the morning stars I have seen
and the dogs who are guiding me

From Collected Poems 1996–2011 by W.S. Merwin. Copyright © 2013 by W. S. Merwin. Reprinted by permission of The Library of America.

We tell beginnings: for the flesh and the answer,
or the look, the lake in the eye that knows,
for the despair that flows down in widest rivers,
cloud of home; and also the green tree of grace,
all in the leaf, in the love that gives us ourselves.

The word of nourishment passes through the women,
soldiers and orchards rooted in constellations,
white towers, eyes of children: 
saying in time of war What shall we feed?
I cannot say the end.

Nourish beginnings, let us nourish beginnings.
Not all things are blest, but the
seeds of all things are blest.
The blessing is in the seed.

This moment, this seed, this wave of the sea, this look, this instant of love.
Years over wars and an imagining of peace. Or the expiation journey
toward peace which is many wishes flaming together,
fierce pure life, the many-living home.
Love that gives us ourselves, in the world known to all
new techniques for the healing of the wound,
and the unknown world. One life, or the faring stars.

From Birds, Beasts, and Seas, edited by Jeffrey Yang, published by New Directions. Copyright © 2011. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

After the leaves have fallen, we return
To a plain sense of things. It is as if
We had come to an end of the imagination,
Inanimate in an inert savoir.

It is difficult even to choose the adjective
For this blank cold, this sadness without cause.
The great structure has become a minor house.
No turban walks across the lessened floors.

The greenhouse never so badly needed paint.
The chimney is fifty years old and slants to one side.
A fantastic effort has failed, a repetition
In a repetitiousness of men and flies.

Yet the absence of the imagination had
Itself to be imagined. The great pond,
The plain sense of it, without reflections, leaves,
Mud, water like dirty glass, expressing silence

Of a sort, silence of a rat come out to see,
The great pond and its waste of the lilies, all this
Had to be imagined as an inevitable knowledge,
Required, as a necessity requires.

Copyright © 2011 by Wallace Stevens. Reprinted from Selected Poems with the permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

Let there be a ban on every holiday.

        No ringing in the new year.

No fireworks doodling the warm night air.

        No holly on the door. I say

let there be no more.

        For many are not here who were here before.

Copyright © 2010 by Greg Delanty. Used with permission of the author.

Say Stop.

Keep your lips pressed together
after you say the p:

(soon they’ll try
and pry

your breath out—)

Whisper it
three times in a row:

Stop Stop Stop

In a hospital bed
like a curled up fish, someone’s

gulping at air—

How should you apply
your breath?

List all of the people
you would like
to stop.

Who offers love,
who terror—

Write Stop.
Put a period at the end.

Decide if it’s a kiss
or a bullet.

Copyright © 2017 by Dana Levin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 6, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

My father’s hopes travel with me

years after he died. Someday

we will learn how to live.  All of us

surviving without violence

never stop dreaming how to cure it.

What changes? Crossing a small street

in Doha Souk, nut shops shuttered,

a handkerchief lies crumpled in the street,

maroon and white, like one my father had,

from Jordan.  Perfectly placed

in his pocket under his smile, for years.

He would have given it to anyone.

How do we continue all these days?

Copyright © 2015 Naomi Shihab Nye. Used by permission of the author.

This is what was bequeathed us:
This earth the beloved left
And, leaving,
Left to us.

No other world
But this one:
Willows and the river
And the factory
With its black smokestacks.

No other shore, only this bank
On which the living gather.

No meaning but what we find here.
No purpose but what we make.

That, and the beloved’s clear instructions:
Turn me into song; sing me awake.

From How Beautiful the Beloved by Gregory Orr. Copyright © 2009 by Gregory Orr. Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

This is the moment when you see again
the red berries of the mountain ash
and in the dark sky
the birds’ night migrations.

It grieves me to think
the dead won’t see them—
these things we depend on,
they disappear.

What will the soul do for solace then?
I tell myself maybe it won’t need
these pleasures anymore; 
maybe just not being is simply enough,
hard as that is to imagine.

From Averno by Louise Glück, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Copyright © 2006 by Louise Glück. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher.

First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers
the grave and awkward mask.
I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
assiduous team
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.

There is a ladder.
The ladder is always there
hanging innocently
close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for,
we who have used it.
Otherwise
it is a piece of maritime floss
some sundry equipment.

I go down.
Rung after rung and still
the oxygen immerses me
the blue light
the clear atoms
of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
will begin.

First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.

And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
lived here
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
and besides
you breathe differently down here.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.

This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body.
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he

whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
whose breasts still bear the stress
whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
obscurely inside barrels
half-wedged and left to rot
we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass

We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.

From Diving into the Wreck: Poems 1971-1972 by Adrienne Rich. Copyright © 1973 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Reprinted by permission of the author and W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Copyright 1973 by Adrienne Rich.

We should not have produced all this life.
Let’s say I am
in a state of heightened attentiveness.
Is this my gift? Do I take your head in my hands
and swivel it, or cast marbles around our feet, make a line I bring you behind?
Now: see the man on wire, taste the papery taste of “polity,”
grasscloth, a long marriage worn into the back steps.
Do I draw you into the middle ground with me, where everything is sharp?
Every night I pray for hard work.
My job is to make something for you.
All poets wonder if the brittle on a stick is enough.
Knowing the stick contains tender green is why it doesn’t crack when flung,
the crease of fox ears,
how the trash man paused with the storm glass,
holding it, making himself into a frame, a single frame—
all poets wonder if this is enough. See
how a boy is changed when he drops a stick, does not look back.
A taste lost in the movement of the second hand on a clock.
Watch closely:
once I loved you, this is the instant I don’t anymore.
All poets wonder if such calibration,
if the religion of rushing water, if wet tines,
waves in glass, ant eggs blent with brown sugar
that burst against the teeth, Agnes hanging off her father like a cobweb,
Agnes in her silver rubber flats, how sky tautens as you get near the sea—
all poets wonder if this is enough.
A crone in corpse pose. A voice cool as measuring salt.
Drawn in the circle of noticing.

Copyright © 2017 by Joy Katz. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 14, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

What things are steadfast? Not the birds.
Not the bride and groom who hurry
in their brevity to reach one another.
The stars do not blow away as we do.
The heavenly things ignite and freeze.
But not as my hair falls before you.
Fragile and momentary, we continue.
Fearing madness in all things huge
and their requiring. Managing as thin light
on water. Managing only greetings
and farewells. We love a little, as the mice
huddle, as the goat leans against my hand.
As the lovers quickening, riding time.
Making safety in the moment. This touching
home goes far. This fishing in the air.

From All of It Singing. Copyright © 2008 by Linda Gregg. Used with permission of Graywolf Press.

Anything can happen. You know how Jupiter
Will mostly wait for clouds to gather head
Before he hurls the lightning? Well, just now
He galloped his thunder cart and his horses

Across a clear blue sky. It shook the earth
And the clogged underearth, the River Styx,
The winding streams, the Atlantic shore itself.
Anything can happen, the tallest towers

Be overturned, those in high places daunted,
Those overlooked regarded. Stropped-beak Fortune
Swoops, making the air gasp, tearing the crest off one,
Setting it down bleeding on the next.

Ground gives. The heaven’s weight
Lifts up off Atlas like a kettle-lid.
Capstones shift, nothing resettles right.
Telluric ash and fire-spores boil away.

“Anything Can Happen” from District and Circle by Seamus Heaney. Copyright © 2006 by Seamus Heaney. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on September 5, 2013. Browse the Poem-a-Day archive.

	          after Marina Wilson

Consider the hands
that write this letter.
The left palm pressed flat against the paper,
as it has done before, over my heart,
in peace or reverence
to the sea or some beautiful thing
I saw once, felt once: snow falling
like rice flung from the giants' wedding,
or the strangest birds. & consider, then,
the right hand, & how it is a fist,
within which a sharpened utensil,
similar to the way I've held a spade,
match to the wick, the horse's reins, 
loping, the very fists
I've seen from the roads to Limay & Estelí.
For years, I have come to sit this way:
one hand open, one hand closed,
like a farmer who puts down seeds & gathers up
the food that comes from that farming.
Or, yes, it is like the way I've danced
with my left hand opened around a shoulder
& my right hand closed inside
of another hand. & how
I pray, I pray for this
to be my way: sweet
work alluded to in the body's position
to its paper:
left hand, right hand
like an open eye, an eye closed:
one hand flat against the trapdoor,
the other hand knocking, knocking.

From Teeth by Aracelis Girmay. Copyright © 2007 by Aracelis Girmay. Used by permission of Curbstone Press.

A man can cry, all night, your back
shaking against me as your mother
sleeps, hooked to the drip
to clear her kidneys from their muck
of sleeping pills. Each one white
as the snapper’s belly I once watched a man
gut by the ice bins in his truck, its last 
bubbling grunt cleaved in two
with a knife. The way my uncle’s rabbit
growled in its cage, screamed
so like a child that when I woke the night
a fox chewed through the wires
to reach it, I thought it was my own voice
frozen in the yard. And then the fox,
trapped later by a neighbor, who thrashed
and barked, as did the crows
that came for its eyes: the sound
of one animal’s pain setting off a chain
in so many others, until each cry dissolves
into the next grown louder. 
Even if I were blind
I would know night by the noise it made:
our groaning bed, the mewling
staircase, drapes that scrape
against glass panes behind which
stars rise, blue and silent.
But not even the stars
are silent: their pale waves
echo through space, the way my father’s
disappointment sags at my cheek,
and his brother’s anger
whitens his temple. And these
are your mother’s shoulders shaking
in my arms tonight, her thin breath
that drags at our window
where coyotes cry: one calling to the next
calling to the next, their tender throats
tipped back to the sky.

Copyright © 2016 by Paisley Rekdal. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 12, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Physics says: go to sleep. Of course
you're tired. Every atom in you
has been dancing the shimmy in silver shoes
nonstop from mitosis to now.
Quit tapping your feet. They'll dance
inside themselves without you. Go to sleep.

Geology says: it will be all right. Slow inch
by inch America is giving itself
to the ocean. Go to sleep. Let darkness
lap at your sides. Give darkness an inch.
You aren't alone. All of the continents used to be
one body. You aren't alone. Go to sleep.

Astronomy says: the sun will rise tomorrow,
Zoology says: on rainbow-fish and lithe gazelle,
Psychology says: but first it has to be night, so
Biology says: the body-clocks are stopped all over town
and
History says: here are the blankets, layer on layer, down and down. 

Copyright © 2007 by Albert Goldbarth. Reprinted from The Kitchen Sink: New and Selected Poems, 1972-2007 with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota.

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

From Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens by Wallace Stevens. Copyright © 1954 by Wallace Stevens. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.

Copyright © 2017 by Ada Limón. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 15, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

There must be soft words
for an evening like this, when the breeze
caresses like gentle fingertips
all over. I don’t know

how not to write darkly and sad.
But it’s two years today since
my little girl was born, cut safely
from the noose.

We meant nothing but hope;
how near death is to that.

Only children, only some children,
get to run free from these snags. She
was born! She lived and she grows
like joy spreading from the syllables

of songs. She reminds me of now
and now and now.
                            I must learn
to have been so lucky.

Copyright @ 2014 by Craig Morgan Teicher. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on May 22, 2014.

I have not disappeared.
The boulevard is full of my steps. The sky is
full of my thinking. An archbishop
prays for my soul, even though
we only met once, and even then, he was
busy waving at a congregation.
The ticking clocks in Vermont sway

back and forth as though sweeping
up my eyes and my tattoos and my metaphors,
and what comes up are the great paragraphs
of dust, which also carry motes
of my existence. I have not disappeared.
My wife quivers inside a kiss.
My pulse was given to her many times,

in many countries. The chunks of bread we dip
in olive oil is communion with our ancestors,
who also have not disappeared. Their delicate songs
I wear on my eyelids. Their smiles have
given me freedom which is a crater
I keep falling in. When I bite into the two halves
of an orange whose cross-section resembles my lungs,

a delta of juices burst down my chin, and like magic,
makes me appear to those who think I’ve
disappeared. It’s too bad war makes people
disappear like chess pieces, and that prisons
turn prisoners into movie endings. When I fade
into the mountains on a forest trail,
I still have not disappeared, even though its green facade
turns my arms and legs into branches of oak.
It is then I belong to a southerly wind,
which by now you have mistaken as me nodding back
and forth like a Hasid in prayer or a mother who has just
lost her son to gunfire in Detroit. I have not disappeared.

In my children, I see my bulging face
pressing further into the mysteries.

In a library in Tucson, on a plane above
Buenos Aires, on a field where nearby burns
a controlled fire, I am held by a professor,
a General, and a photographer.
One burns a finely wrapped cigar, then sniffs
the scented pages of my books, scouring
for the bitter smell of control.
I hold him in my mind like a chalice.
I have not disappeared. I swish the amber
hue of lager on my tongue and ponder the drilling
rigs in the Gulf of Alaska and all the oil-painted plovers.

When we talk about limits, we disappear.
In Jasper, TX you can disappear on a strip of gravel.

I am a shrug of a life in sacred language.
Right now: termites toil over a grave.
My mind is a ravine of yesterdays.
At a glance from across the room, I wear
September on my face,
which is eternal, and does not disappear
even if you close your eyes once and for all
simultaneously like two coffins.

Copyright © 2013 by Major Jackson. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on September 11, 2013. 

[For Petra]

Scientists say the average human
life gets three months longer every year.
By this math, death will be optional. Like a tie
or dessert or suffering. My mother asks
whether I’d want to live forever.
“I’d get bored,” I tell her. “But,” she says,
“there’s so much to do,” meaning
she believes there’s much she hasn’t done.
Thirty years ago she was the age I am now
but, unlike me, too industrious to think about
birds disappeared by rain. If only we had more
time or enough money to be kept on ice
until such a time science could bring us back.
Of late my mother has begun to think life
short-lived. I’m too young to convince her
otherwise. The one and only occasion
I was in the same room as the Mona Lisa,
it was encased in glass behind what I imagine
were velvet ropes. There’s far less between
ourselves and oblivion—skin that often defeats
its very purpose. Or maybe its purpose
isn’t protection at all, but rather to provide
a place, similar to a doctor’s waiting room,
in which to sit until our names are called.
Hold your questions until the end.
Mother, measure my wide-open arms—
we still have this much time to kill.

Copyright © 2017 by Nicole Sealey. Originally published in The Village Voice. Used with permission of the author.

Now that we have come out of hiding,
Why would we live again in the tombs we’d made out of our     souls?

And the sundered bodies that we’ve reassembled
With prayers and consolations,
What would their torn parts be, other than flesh?

Now that we have tasted hope
And dressed each other’s wounds with the legends of our
     oneness
Would we not prefer to close our mouths forever shut
On the wine that swilled inside them?

Having dreamed the same dream,
Having found the water behind a thousand mirages,
Why would we hide from the sun again
Or fear the night sky after we’ve reached the ends of
     darkness,
Live in death again after all the life our dead have given         us?

Listen to me Zow’ya, Beida, Ajdabya, Tobruk, Nalut,
Listen to me Derna, Musrata, Benghazi, Zintan,
Listen to me houses, alleys, courtyards, and streets that
     throng my veins,
Some day soon, in your freed light, in the shade of your
     proud trees,
Your excavated heroes will return to their thrones in your
     martyrs’ squares,
Lovers will hold each other’s hands.

I need not look far to imagine the nerves dying,
Rejecting the life that blood sends them.
I need not look deep into my past to seek a thousand         hopeless vistas.
But now that I have tasted hope
I have fallen into the embrace of my own rugged          innocence.

How long were my ancient days?
I no longer care to count.
I no longer care to measure.
How bitter was the bread of bitterness?
I no longer care to recall.

Now that we have tasted hope, this hard-earned crust,
We would sooner die than seek any other taste to life,
Any other way of being human.

Copyright © 2012 by Khaled Mattawa. From Beloit Poetry Journal, Split This Rock Edition. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database

 

For Cynthia
When Suibhe would not return to fine garments and good food, to his houses and his people, Loingseachan told him, "Your father is dead." "I'm sorry to hear it," he said. "Your mother is dead," said the lad. "All pity for me has gone out of the world." "Your sister, too, is dead." "The mild sun rests on every ditch," he said; "a sister loves even though not loved." "Suibhne, your daughter is dead." "And an only daughter is the needle of the heart." "And Suibhne, your little boy, who used to call you 'Daddy' he is dead." "Aye," said Suibhne, "that's the drop that brings a man to the ground."
     He fell out of the yew tree; Loingseachan closed his arms around him and placed him in manacles.

—after The Middle-Irish Romance
     The Madness of Suibhne

 

 

1

Child of my winter, born
When the new fallen soldiers froze
In Asia's steep ravines and fouled the snows,
When I was torn

By love I could not still,
By fear that silenced my cramped mind
To that cold war where, lost, I could not find
My peace in my will, 

All those days we could keep
Your mind a landscape of new snow
Where the chilled tenant-farmer finds, below,
His fields asleep

In their smooth covering, white
As quilts to warm the resting bed
Of birth or pain, spotless as paper spread
For me to write,

And thinks: Here lies my land
Unmarked by agony, the lean foot
Of the weasel tracking, the thick trapper's boot;
And I have planned

My chances to restrain
The torments of demented summer or
Increase the deepening harvest here before
It snows again.

 

 

2

   Late April and you are three; today
      We dug your garden in the yard.
   To curb the damage of your play,
Strange dogs at night and the moles tunneling,
   Four slender sticks of lath stand guard
      Uplifting their thin string.

   So you were the first to tramp it down.
      And after the earth was sifted close
   You brought your watering can to drown
All earth and us.  But these mixed seeds are pressed
   With light loam in their steadfast rows.
      Child, we've done our best.

   Someone will have to weed and spread
      The young sprouts.  Sprinkle them in the hour
   When shadow falls across their bed.
You should try to look at them every day
   Because when they come to full flower
      I will be away.

 

3

The child between them on the street
Comes to a puddle, lifts his feet
   And hangs on their hands. They start
At the Jive weight and lurch together,
Recoil to swing him through the weather,
   Stiffen and pull apart.

We read of cold war soldiers that
Never gained ground, gave none, but sat
   Tight in their chill trenches.
Pain seeps up from some cavity
Through the ranked teeth in sympathy;
   The whole jaw grinds and clenches

Till something somewhere has to give.
It's better the poor soldiers live
   In someone else's hands
Than drop where helpless powers fall
On crops and barns, on towns where all
   Will burn. And no man stands.

For good, they sever and divide
Their won and lost land. On each side
   Prisoners are returned
Excepting a few unknown names.
The peasant plods back and reclaims
   His fields that strangers burned

And nobody seems very pleased.
It's best. Still, what must not be seized
   Clenches the empty fist.
I tugged your hand, once, when I hated
Things less: a mere game dislocated
   The radius of your wrist.

Love's wishbone, child, although I've gone
As men must and let you be drawn
   Off to appease another,
It may help that a Chinese play
Or Solomon himself might say
   I am your real mother.

 

 

4

      No one can tell you why
   the season will not wait;
      the night I told you I
must leave, you wept a fearful rate
         to stay up late.

      Now that it's turning Fall,
   we go to take our walk
      among municipal
flowers, to steal one off its stalk,
         to try and talk.

      We huff like windy giants
   scattering with our breath
      gray-headed dandelions;
Spring is the cold wind's aftermath.
         The poet saith.

      But the asters, too, are gray,
   ghost-gray. Last night's cold
      is sending on their way
petunias and dwarf marigold,
         hunched sick and old.

      Like nerves caught in a graph,
   the morning-glory vines
      frost has erased by half
still scrawl across their rigid twines.
         Like broken lines

      of verses I can't make.
   In its unraveling loom
      we find a flower to take,
with some late buds that might still bloom,
         back to your room.

      Night comes and the stiff dew.
   I'm told a friend's child cried
      because a cricket, who
had minstreled every night outside
         her window, died.

 

 

5

Winter again and it is snowing;
Although you are still three,
You are already growing
Strange to me.

You chatter about new playmates, sing
Strange songs; you do not know
Hey ding-a-ding-a-ding
Or where I go

Or when I sang for bedtime, Fox
Went out on a chilly night,
Before I went for walks
And did not write;

You never mind the squalls and storms
That are renewed long since;
Outside, the thick snow swarms
Into my prints

And swirls out by warehouses, sealed,
Dark cowbarns, huddled, still,
Beyond to the blank field,
The fox's hill

Where he backtracks and sees the paw,
Gnawed off, he cannot feel;
Conceded to the jaw
Of toothed, blue steel.

 

 

6

      Easter has come around
   again; the river is rising
      over the thawed ground
   and the banksides. When you come you bring
      an egg dyed lavender.
   We shout along our bank to hear
our voices returning from the hills to meet us.
   We need the landscape to repeat us.

      You Jived on this bank first.
   While nine months filled your term, we knew
      how your lungs, immersed
   in the womb, miraculously grew
      their useless folds till
   the fierce, cold air rushed in to fill
them out like bushes thick with leaves. You took your hour,
   caught breath, and cried with your full lung power.

      Over the stagnant bight
   we see the hungry bank swallow
      flaunting his free flight
   still; we sink in mud to follow
      the killdeer from the grass
   that hides her nest. That March there was
rain; the rivers rose; you could hear killdeers flying
   all night over the mudflats crying.

      You bring back how the red-
   winged blackbird shrieked, slapping frail wings,
      diving at my head—
   I saw where her tough nest, cradled, swings
      in tall reeds that must sway
   with the winds blowing every way.
If you recall much, you recall this place. You still
   live nearby—on the opposite hill.

      After the sharp windstorm
   of July Fourth, all that summer
      through the gentle, warm
   afternoons, we heard great chain saws chirr
      like iron locusts. Crews
   of roughneck boys swarmed to cut loose
branches wrenched in the shattering wind, to hack free
   all the torn limbs that could sap the tree.

      In the debris lay
   starlings, dead. Near the park's birdrun
      we surprised one day
   a proud, tan-spatted, buff-brown pigeon.
      In my hands she flapped so
   fearfully that I let her go.
Her keeper came. And we helped snarl her in a net.
   You bring things I'd as soon forget.

      You raise into my head
   a Fall night that I came once more
      to sit on your bed;
   sweat beads stood out on your arms and fore-
      head and you wheezed for breath,
   for help, like some child caught beneath
its comfortable wooly blankets, drowning there.
   Your lungs caught and would not take the air.

      Of all things, only we
   have power to choose that we should die;
      nothing else is free
   in this world to refuse it. Yet I,
      who say this, could not raise
   myself from bed how many days
to the thieving world. Child, I have another wife,
   another child. We try to choose our life.

 

 

7

Here in the scuffled dust
   is our ground of play.
I lift you on your swing and must
   shove you away,
see you return again,
   drive you off again, then

stand quiet till you come.
   You, though you climb
higher, farther from me, longer,
   will fall back to me stronger.
Bad penny, pendulum,
   you keep my constant time

to bob in blue July
   where fat goldfinches fly
over the glittering, fecund
   reach of our growing lands.
Once more now, this second,
   I hold you in my hands.

 

 

8

I thumped on you the best I could
      which was no use;
you would not tolerate your food
until the sweet, fresh milk was soured
      with lemon juice.

That puffed you up like a fine yeast.
   The first June in your yard
like some squat Nero at a feast
you sat and chewed on white, sweet clover.
      That is over.

When you were old enough to walk
      we went to feed
the rabbits in the park milkweed;
saw the paired monkeys, under lock,
   consume each other's salt.

Going home we watched the slow
stars follow us down Heaven's vault.
You said, let's catch one that comes low,
      pull off its skin
   and cook it for our dinner.

   As absentee bread-winner,
I seldom got you such cuisine;
we ate in local restaurants
or bought what lunches we could pack
      in a brown sack

with stale, dry bread to toss for ducks
   on the green-scummed lagoons,
crackers for porcupine and fox,
life-savers for the footpad coons
      to scour and rinse,

snatch after in their muddy pail
   and stare into their paws.
When I moved next door to the jail
      I learned to fry
omelettes and griddle cakes so I

could set you supper at my table.
As I built back from helplessness,
      when I grew able,
the only possible answer was
   you had to come here less.

This Hallowe'en you come one week.
      You masquerade
   as a vermilion, sleek,
fat, crosseyed fox in the parade
or, where grim jackolanterns leer,

go with your bag from door to door
foraging for treats. How queer:
   when you take off your mask
my neighbors must forget and ask
      whose child you are.

Of course you lose your appetite,
   whine and won't touch your plate;
      as local law
I set your place on an orange crate
in your own room for days. At night

you lie asleep there on the bed
      and grate your jaw.
Assuredly your father's crimes
      are visited
on you. You visit me sometimes.

The time's up. Now our pumpkin sees
   me bringing your suitcase.
      He holds his grin;
the forehead shrivels, sinking in.
You break this year's first crust of snow

off the runningboard to eat.
   We manage, though for days
I crave sweets when you leave and know
they rot my teeth. Indeed our sweet
      foods leave us cavities.

 

 

9

   I get numb and go in
though the dry ground will not hold
   the few dry swirls of snow
and it must not be very cold.
A friend asks how you've been
      and I don't know

   or see much right to ask.
Or what use it could be to know.
   In three months since you came
the leaves have fallen and the snow;
your pictures pinned above my desk
      seem much the same.

   Somehow I come to find
myself upstairs in the third floor
   museum's halls,
walking to kill my time once more
among the enduring and resigned
      stuffed animals,

   where, through a century's
caprice, displacement and
   known treachery between
its wars, they hear some old command
and in their peaceable kingdoms freeze
      to this still scene,

   Nature Morte. Here
by the door, its guardian,
   the patchwork dodo stands
where you and your stepsister ran
laughing and pointing. Here, last year,
      you pulled my hands

   and had your first, worst quarrel,
so toys were put up on your shelves.
   Here in the first glass cage
the little bobcats arch themselves,
still practicing their snarl
      of constant rage.

   The bison, here, immense,
shoves at his calf, brow to brow,
   and looks it in the eye
to see what is it thinking now.
I forced you to obedience;
      I don't know why.

   Still the lean lioness
beyond them, on her jutting ledge
   of shale and desert shrub,
stands watching always at the edge,
stands hard and tanned and envious
      above her cub;

   with horns locked in tan heather,
two great Olympian Elk stand bound,
   fixed in their lasting hate
till hunger brings them both to ground.
Whom equal weakness binds together
      none shall separate.

   Yet separate in the ocean
of broken ice, the white bear reels
   beyond the leathery groups
of scattered, drab Arctic seals
arrested here in violent motion
      like Napoleon's troops.

   Our states have stood so long
At war, shaken with hate and dread,
   they are paralyzed at bay;
once we were out of reach, we said,
we would grow reasonable and strong.
      Some other day.

   Like the cold men of Rome,
we have won costly fields to sow
   in salt, our only seed.
Nothing but injury will grow.
I write you only the bitter poems
      that you can't read.

   Onan who would not breed
a child to take his brother's bread
   and be his brother's birth,
rose up and left his lawful bed,
went out and spilled his seed
      in the cold earth.

   I stand by the unborn,
by putty-colored children curled
   in jars of alcohol,
that waken to no other world,
unchanging, where no eye shall mourn.
      I see the caul

   that wrapped a kitten, dead.
I see the branching, doubled throat
   of a two-headed foal;
I see the hydrocephalic goat;
here is the curled and swollen head,
      there, the burst skull;

   skin of a limbless calf;
a horse's foetus, mummified;
   mounted and joined forever,
the Siamese twin dogs that ride
belly to belly, half and half,
      that none shall sever.

   I walk among the growths,
by gangrenous tissue, goiter, cysts,
   by fistulas and cancers,
where the malignancy man loathes
is held suspended and persists.
      And I don't know the answers.

   The window's turning white.
The world moves like a diseased heart
   packed with ice and snow.
Three months now we have been apart
less than a mile. I cannot fight
      or let you go.

 

 

10

The vicious winter finally yields
   the green winter wheat;
the farmer, tired in the tired fields
   he dare not leave will eat.

Once more the runs come fresh; prevailing
   piglets, stout as jugs,
harry their old sow to the railing
   to ease her swollen dugs

and game colts trail the herded mares
   that circle the pasture courses;
our seasons bring us back once more
   like merry-go-round horses.

With crocus mouths, perennial hungers,
   into the park Spring comes;
we roast hot dogs on old coat hangers
   and feed the swan bread crumbs,

pay our respects to the peacocks, rabbits,
   and leathery Canada goose
who took, last Fall, our tame white habits
   and now will not turn loose.

In full regalia, the pheasant cocks
   march past their dubious hens;
the porcupine and the lean, red fox
   trot around bachelor pens

and the miniature painted train
   wails on its oval track:
you said, I'm going to Pennsylvania!
   and waved. And you've come back.

If I loved you, they said, I'd leave
   and find my own affairs.
Well, once again this April, we've
   come around to the bears;

punished and cared for, behind bars,
   the coons on bread and water
stretch thin black fingers after ours.
   And you are still my daughter.

 

W. D. Snodgrass, "Heart's Needle" from Not for Specialists: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 2006 by W. D. Snodgrass. Used by permission of BOA Editions, Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.

Which yet joined not scent to hue,
Crown the pale year weak and new;
When the night is left behind
In the deep east, dun and blind,
And the blue noon is over us,
And the multitudinous
Billows murmur at our feet,
Where the earth and ocean meet,
And all things seem only one
In the universal sun.

This poem is in the public domain.

     The deep wine
of it risen tall above
           the buried
	    corm,

     its ornamental
spathe furrowed thought-
           fully, to human
	     warmth.

     O un-branched
 inflouresence, amorpho-
           phalos, misshapen
  	     swelling,

     with its allure
of rotting flesh
           for the scarabs
	     to follow,

     hollow, to the sun-lit
trove, as though all
           dark were light
	     unbidden

    by our parsing
eye, and love itself
           hidden inside
      the word.

     Call it life
enrapt with death’s
           blight, blooming
                   briefly.


~


      Emergent morning
in the sweet gum triggering
            green, green
                   its wings

       fanning translucent 
below the porch light—angelic,
	a palm of light 
	       opening.

       Hallowed, hatched
each instar inches undercover,
	a spent thing
	       climbing

        larval, alluvial,
out of every cycle’s shelf-
	life, its rife
       	       unknowing,

        to become this end—
brief birth flying, flown, thrown
  	at midnight into
	       beginning.

        Mouth-less, it appears 
something bidden out of the dark,
	out of the broadleaf,
	        unmoving,

         to say something
wordlessly—the word we too
	can neither speak
	        nor sing.

Copyright © 2013 by Daniel Tobin. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on December 18, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

River was my first word
after mama.
I grew up with the names of rivers
on my tongue: the Coosa,
the Tallapoosa, the Black Warrior;
the sound of their names
as native to me as my own.

I walked barefoot along the brow of Lookout Mountain
with my father, where the Little River
carves its name through the canyons
of sandstone and shale
above Shinbone Valley;
where the Cherokee
stood on these same stones
and cast their voices into the canyon below.

You are here, a red arrow
on the atlas tells me
at the edge of the bluff
where young fools have carved their initials
into giant oaks
and spray painted their names and dates
on the canyon rocks,
where human history is no more
than a layer of stardust, thin
as the fingernail of god.

What the canyon holds in its hands:
an old language spoken into the pines
and carried downstream
on wind and time, vanishing
like footprints in ash.
The mountain holds their sorrow
in the marrow of its bones.
The body remembers
the scars of massacres,
how the hawk ached to see
family after family
dragged by the roots
from the land of their fathers.

Someone survived to remember
beyond the weight of wagons and their thousands
of feet cutting a deep trail of grief.
Someone survived to tell the story of this
sorrow and where they left their homes
and how the trees wept to see them go
and where they crossed the river
and where they whispered a prayer into their grandmother’s eyes
before she died
and where it was along the road they buried her
and where the oak stood whose roots
grew around her bones
and where it was that the wild persimmons grow
and what it was she last said to her children
and which child was to keep her memory alive
and which child was to keep the language alive
and weave the stories of this journey into song
and when were the seasons of singing
and what were the stories that go with the seasons
that tell how to work and when to pray
that tell when to dance and who made the day.

You are here
where bloodlines and rivers
are woven together.
I followed the river until I forgot my name
and came here to the mouth of the canyon
to swim in the rain and remember
this, the most indigenous joy I know:
to wade into the river naked
among the moss and stones,
to drink water from my hands
and be alive in the river, the river saying,
You are here,
a daughter of stardust and time.
 

Copyright © 2016 by Ansel Elkins. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 26, 2016, this poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.

Deep autumn & the mistake occurs, the plum tree blossoms, twelve
                                                         blossoms on three different
branches, which for us, personally, means none this coming spring or perhaps none on
                                                         just those branches on which
                                                         just now
lands, suddenly, a grey-gold migratory bird—still here?—crisping, 
                                                         multiplying the wrong
                                                         air, shifting branches with small
hops, then stilling—very still—breathing into this oxygen which also pockets my
                                                         looking hard, just
                                                         that, takes it in, also my
                                                         thinking which I try to seal off, 
my humanity, I was not a mistake is what my humanity thinks, I cannot
                                                         go somewhere
else than this body, the afterwards of each of these instants is just
                                                         another instant, breathe, breathe, 
my cells reach out, I multiply on the face of
                                                         the earth, on the
mud—I can see my prints on the sweet bluish mud—where I was just
                                                         standing and reaching to see if
those really were blossoms, I thought perhaps paper
                                                         from wind, & the sadness in
me is that of forced parting, as when I loved a personal
                                                         love, which now seems unthinkable, & I look at 
the gate, how open it is, 
                                                         in it the very fact of God as
invention seems to sit, fast, as in its saddle, so comfortable—& where
                                                         does the road out of it
go—& are those torn wires hanging from the limbs—& the voice I heard once after I passed
                                                         what I thought was a sleeping
man, the curse muttered out, & the cage after they have let
                                                         the creatures
out, they are elsewhere, in one of the other rings, the ring with the empty cage is
                                                         gleaming, the cage is
to be looked at, grieving, for nothing, your pilgrimage ends here, 
                                                         we are islands, we
                                                         should beget nothing &
what am I to do with my imagination—& the person in me trembles—& there is still
                                                         innocence, it is starting up somewhere
even now, and the strange swelling of the so-called Milky Way, and the sound of the
                                                         wings of the bird as it lifts off
suddenly, & how it is going somewhere precise, & that precision, & how I no longer
                                                         can say for sure that it
knows nothing, flaming, razory, the feathered serpent I saw as a child, of stone, &
                                                         how it stares back at me
from the height of its pyramid, & the blood flowing from the sacrifice, & the oracles
                                                         dragging hooks through the hearts in
                                                         order to say
what is coming, what is true, & all the blood, millennia, drained to stave off
                                                         the future, stave off, 
& the armies on the far plains, the gleam off their armor now in this bird's
                                                         eye, as it flies towards me
then over, & the sound of the thousands of men assembled at
                                                         all cost now
the sound of the bird lifting, thick, rustling where it flies over—only see, it is
                                                         a hawk after all, I had not seen
clearly, it has gone to hunt in the next field, & the chlorophyll is
                                                         coursing, & the sun is
sucked in, & the chief priest walks away now where what remains of
                                                         the body is left
as is customary for the local birds.  

From Sea Change by Jorie Graham, published by Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Copyright © 2008 by Jorie Graham. Reprinted with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

It’s not that we’re not dying.
Everything is dying.
We hear these rumors of the planet’s end
none of us will be around to watch.

It’s not that we’re not ugly.
We’re ugly.
Look at your feet, now that your shoes are off.
You could be a duck,

no, duck-billed platypus,
your feet distraction from your ugly nose.
It’s not that we’re not traveling,
we’re traveling.

But it’s not the broadback Mediterranean
carrying us against the world’s current.
It’s the imagined sea, imagined street,
the winged breakers, the waters we confuse with sky

willingly, so someone out there asks
are you flying or swimming?
That someone envies mortal happiness
like everyone on the other side, the dead

who stand in watch, who would give up their bliss,
their low tide eternity rippleless
for one day back here, alive again with us.
They know the sea and sky I’m walking on

or swimming, flying, they know it’s none of these,
this dancing-standing-still, this turning, turning,
these constant transformations of the wind
I can bring down by singing to myself,

the newborn mornings, these continuals—
 

Copyright © 2015 by Peter Cooley. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 11, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

and I’d like to get naked and into bed and be hot radiating heat from the inside these sweaters and fleeceys do nothing to keep out the out or keep my vitals in—some drafty body I’ve got leaking in and out in all directions I’d like to get naked into bed but hot on this early winter afternoon already dusky grim and not think of all the ways I’ve gone about the world and shown myself a fool, shame poking holes in my thinned carapace practically lacy and woefully feminine I’d like to get naked into bed and feel if not hot then weightless as I once was in the sensory deprivation tank in Madison, Wisconsin circa 1992 I paid money for that perfectly body-temperatured silent pitch dark tank to do what? play dead and not die? that was before email before children before I knew anything more than the deaths of a few loved ones which were poisoned nuts of swallowed grief but nothing of life of life giving which cuts open the self bursting busted unsolvable I’d like to get naked into the bed of my life but hot hot my little flicker-self trumped up somehow blind and deaf to all the dampening misery of my friends’ woe-oh-ohs and I’d like a little flashlight to write poems with this lousy day not this poem I’m writing under the mostly flat blaze of bulb but a poem written with the light itself a tiny fleeting love poem to life hot hot hot a poem that would say “oh look here a bright spot of life, oh look another!”

Copyright © 2011 by Rachel Zucker. Used with permission of the author.

After it ended badly it got so much better
which took a while of course but still
he grew so tender & I so grateful
which maybe tells you something about how it was
I’m trying to tell you I know you
have staggered wept spiraled through a long room
banging your head against it holding crushed
bird skulls in your hands your many hearts unstrung
unable to play a note their wood still beautiful
& carved so elaborately maybe a collector would want them
stupid collectors always preserving & never breaking open
the jars so everyone starves while admiring the view
you don’t own anyone everything will be taken from you
go ahead & eat this poem please it will help

Copyright © 2016 by Kim Addonizio. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 11, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

There's an art
   to everything. How
the rain means
   April and an ongoingness like
   that of song until at last

it ends. A centuries-old
   set of silver handbells that
once an altar boy swung,
   processing...You're the same
   wilderness you've always

been, slashing through briars,
   the bracken
of your invasive
   self. So he said,
   in a dream. But

the rest of it—all the rest—
   was waking: more often
than not, to the next
   extravagance. Two blackamoor
   statues, each mirroring

the other, each hoisting
   forever upward his burden of
hand-painted, carved-by-hand
   peacock feathers. Don't
   you know it, don't you know

I love you, he said. He was
   shaking. He said:
I love you. There's an art
   to everything. What I've
   done with this life,

what I'd meant not to do,
 or would have meant, maybe, had I
understood, though I have
 no regrets. Not the broken but
 still-flowering dogwood. Not

the honey locust, either. Not even
   the ghost walnut with its
non-branches whose
   every shadow is memory,
   memory...As he said to me

once, That's all garbage
   down the river, now. Turning,
but as the utterly lost—
   because addicted—do:
   resigned all over again. It

only looked, it—
   It must only look
like leaving. There's an art
   to everything. Even
   turning away. How

eventually even hunger
   can become a space
to live in. How they made
   out of shamelessness something
   beautiful, for as long as they could.

Copyright © 2011 by Carl Phillips. Reprinted from Double Shadow with the permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Even tonight and I need to take a walk and clear
my head about this poem about why I can’t 
go out without changing my clothes my shoes
my body posture my gender identity my age
my status as a woman alone in the evening/
alone on the streets/alone not being the point/
the point being that I can’t do what I want 
to do with my own body because I am the wrong
sex the wrong age the wrong skin and
suppose it was not here in the city but down on the beach/
or far into the woods and I wanted to go
there by myself thinking about God/or thinking
about children or thinking about the world/all of it
disclosed by the stars and the silence:
I could not go and I could not think and I could not
stay there
alone
as I need to be
alone because I can’t do what I want to do with my own
body and
who in the hell set things up
like this
and in France they say if the guy penetrates
but does not ejaculate then he did not rape me
and if after stabbing him if after screams if
after begging the bastard and if even after smashing
a hammer to his head if even after that if he
and his buddies fuck me after that
then I consented and there was 
no rape because finally you understand finally
they fucked me over because I was wrong I was
wrong again to be me being me where I was/wrong
to be who I am
which is exactly like South Africa
penetrating into Namibia penetrating into
Angola and does that mean I mean how do you know if
Pretoria ejaculates what will the evidence look like the
proof of the monster jackboot ejaculation on Blackland
and if
after Namibia and if after Angola and if after Zimbabwe
and if after all of my kinsmen and women resist even to
self-immolation of the villages and if after that
we lose nevertheless what will the big boys say will they
claim my consent:
Do You Follow Me: We are the wrong people of
the wrong skin on the wrong continent and what
in the hell is everybody being reasonable about
and according to the Times this week
back in 1966 the C.I.A. decided that they had this problem
and the problem was this man named Nkrumah so they
killed him and before that it was Patrice Lumumba
and before that it was my father on the campus
of my Ivy League school and my father afraid
to walk into the cafeteria because he said he
was wrong the wrong age the wrong skin the wrong
gender identity and he was paying my tuition and
before that 
it was my father saying I was wrong saying that
I should have been a boy because he wanted one/a
boy and that I should have been lighter skinned and
that I should have had straighter hair and that
I should not be so boy crazy but instead I should
just be one/a boy and before that
it was my mother pleading plastic surgery for
my nose and braces for my teeth and telling me
to let the books loose to let them loose in other
words
I am very familiar with the problems of the C.I.A.
and the problems of South Africa and the problems
of Exxon Corporation and the problems of white
America in general and the problems of the teachers 
and the preachers and the F.B.I. and the social
workers and my particular Mom and Dad/I am very
familiar with the problems because the problems
turn out to be
me
I am the history of rape
I am the history of the rejection of who I am
I am the history of the terrorized incarceration of
my self
I am the history of battery assault and limitless
armies against whatever I want to do with my mind
and my body and my soul and
whether it’s about walking out at night
or whether it’s about the love that I feel or
whether it’s about the sanctity of my vagina or
the sanctity of my national boundaries
or the sanctity of my leaders or the sanctity
of each and every desire
that I know from my personal and idiosyncratic
and indisputably single and singular heart
I have been raped
be-
cause I have been wrong the wrong sex the wrong age
the wrong skin the wrong nose the wrong hair the
wrong need the wrong dream the wrong geographic
the wrong sartorial I
I have been the meaning of rape
I have been the problem everyone seeks to
eliminate by forced
penetration with or without the evidence of slime and/
but let this be unmistakable this poem
is not consent I do not consent
to my mother to my father to the teachers to
the F.B.I. to South Africa to Bedford-Stuy
to Park Avenue to American Airlines to the hardon
idlers on the corners to the sneaky creeps in 
cars
I am not wrong: Wrong is not my name
My name is my own my own my own
and I can’t tell you who the hell set things up like this
but I can tell you that from now on my resistance
my simple and daily and nightly self-determination
may very well cost you your life

Copyright © 2017 by the June M. Jordan Literary Estate. Used with the permission of the June M. Jordan Literary Estate, www.junejordan.com.

Is that Eric Garner worked
for some time for the Parks and Rec.
Horticultural Department, which means,
perhaps, that with his very large hands,
perhaps, in all likelihood,
he put gently into the earth
some plants which, most likely,
some of them, in all likelihood,
continue to grow, continue
to do what such plants do, like house
and feed small and necessary creatures,
like being pleasant to touch and smell,
like converting sunlight
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe.

Copyright © 2015 by Ross Gay. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.

Most likely, you think we hated the elephant,
the golden toad, the thylacine and all variations
of whale harpooned or hacked into extinction.

It must seem like we sought to leave you nothing
but benzene, mercury, the stomachs
of seagulls rippled with jet fuel and plastic. 

You probably doubt that we were capable of joy,
but I assure you we were.

We still had the night sky back then,
and like our ancestors, we admired
its illuminated doodles
of scorpion outlines and upside-down ladles.

Absolutely, there were some forests left!
Absolutely, we still had some lakes!

I’m saying, it wasn’t all lead paint and sulfur dioxide.
There were bees back then, and they pollinated
a euphoria of flowers so we might
contemplate the great mysteries and finally ask,
“Hey guys, what’s transcendence?”   

And then all the bees were dead.

Copyright © 2017 by Matthew Olzmann. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 14, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

In the first version, Persephone
is taken from her mother
and the goddess of the earth
punishes the earth—this is
consistent with what we know of human behavior,

that human beings take profound satisfaction
in doing harm, particularly
unconscious harm:

we may call this
negative creation.

Persephone's initial
sojourn in hell continues to be
pawed over by scholars who dispute
the sensations of the virgin:

did she cooperate in her rape,
or was she drugged, violated against her will,
as happens so often now to modern girls.

As is well known, the return of the beloved
does not correct
the loss of the beloved: Persephone

returns home
stained with red juice like
a character in Hawthorne—

I am not certain I will
keep this word: is earth
"home" to Persephone? Is she at home, conceivably,
in the bed of the god? Is she
at home nowhere? Is she
a born wanderer, in other words
an existential
replica of her own mother, less
hamstrung by ideas of causality?

You are allowed to like
no one, you know. The characters
are not people.
They are aspects of a dilemma or conflict.

Three parts: just as the soul is divided,
ego, superego, id. Likewise

the three levels of the known world,
a kind of diagram that separates
heaven from earth from hell.

You must ask yourself:
where is it snowing?

White of forgetfulness,
of desecration—

It is snowing on earth; the cold wind says

Persephone is having sex in hell.
Unlike the rest of us, she doesn't know
what winter is, only that
she is what causes it.

She is lying in the bed of Hades.
What is in her mind?
Is she afraid? Has something
blotted out the idea
of mind?

She does know the earth
is run by mothers, this much
is certain. She also knows
she is not what is called
a girl any longer. Regarding
incarceration, she believes

she has been a prisoner since she has been a daughter.

The terrible reunions in store for her
will take up the rest of her life.
When the passion for expiation
is chronic, fierce, you do not choose
the way you live. You do not live;
you are not allowed to die.

You drift between earth and death
which seem, finally,
strangely alike. Scholars tell us

that there is no point in knowing what you want
when the forces contending over you
could kill you.

White of forgetfulness,
white of safety—

They say
there is a rift in the human soul
which was not constructed to belong
entirely to life. Earth

asks us to deny this rift, a threat
disguised as suggestion—
as we have seen
in the tale of Persephone
which should be read

as an argument between the mother and the lover—
the daughter is just meat.

When death confronts her, she has never seen
the meadow without the daisies.
Suddenly she is no longer
singing her maidenly songs
about her mother's
beauty and fecundity. Where
the rift is, the break is.

Song of the earth,
song of the mythic vision of eternal life—

My soul
shattered with the strain
of trying to belong to earth—

What will you do,
when it is your turn in the field with the god?

"Persephone the Wanderer" from Averno by Louise Glück. Copyright © 2006 by Louise Glück. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

There are names for what binds us:
strong forces, weak forces.
Look around, you can see them:
the skin that forms in a half-empty cup,
nails rusting into the places they join,
joints dovetailed on their own weight.
The way things stay so solidly
wherever they’ve been set down—
and gravity, scientists say, is weak.

And see how the flesh grows back
across a wound, with a great vehemence,
more strong
than the simple, untested surface before.
There’s a name for it on horses,
when it comes back darker and raised: proud flesh,

as all flesh
is proud of its wounds, wears them
as honors given out after battle,
small triumphs pinned to the chest

And when two people have loved each other
see how it is like a
scar between their bodies,
stronger, darker, and proud;
how the black cord makes of them a single fabric
that nothing can tear or mend.

—1982

Originally published in Of Gravity & Angels (Wesleyan University Press, 1988). Copyright © 1988 by Jane Hirshfield. Reprinted with the permission of the author. All rights reserved.

Ours is a partial language part pantomime,
part grimy guesswork: adulterated speculation
as to meaning & motivation.

Translated, heart suggests a familiar, universal
device but internal chemistries vary—
though components be the same & not uncommon.

The world owes us nothing. It promises less.
Call it: freedom. Free will. Or Wednesday.

Copyright © 2016 Rangi McNeil. Used with permission of the author.

1

On my way home from school
   up tribal Providence Hill
      past the Academy ballpark
where I could never hope to play
   I scuffed in the drainage ditch
      among the sodden seethe of leaves
hunting for perfect stones
   rolled out of glacial time
      into my pitcher’s hand;
then sprinted lickety-
   split on my magic Keds
      from a crouching start,
scarcely touching the ground
   with my flying skin
      as I poured it on
for the prize of the mastery
   over that stretch of road,
      with no one no where to deny
when I flung myself down
   that on the given course
      I was the world’s fastest human.

 
2

Around the bend
   that tried to loop me home
      dawdling came natural
across a nettled field
   riddled with rabbit-life
      where the bees sank sugar-wells
in the trunks of the maples
   and a stringy old lilac
      more than two stories tall
blazing with mildew
   remembered a door in the 
      long teeth of the woods.
All of it happened slow:
   brushing the stickseed off,
      wading through jewelweed
strangled by angel’s hair,
   spotting the print of the deer
      and the red fox’s scats.
Once I owned the key
   to an umbrageous trail
      thickened with mosses
where flickering presences
   gave me right of passage
      as I followed in the steps
of straight-backed Massassoit
   soundlessly heel-and-toe
      practicing my Indian walk.

 
3

Past the abandoned quarry
   where the pale sun bobbed
      in the sump of the granite,
past copperhead ledge,
   where the ferns gave foothold,
      I walked, deliberate,
on to the clearing,
   with the stones in my pocket
      changing to oracles
and my coiled ear tuned
   to the slightest leaf-stir.
      I had kept my appointment.
There I stood in the shadow,
   at fifty measured paces,
      of the inexhaustible oak,
tyrant and target,
   Jehovah of acorns,
      watchtower of the thunders,
that locked King Philip’s War
   in its annulated core
      under the cut of my name.
Father wherever you are
    I have only three throws
       bless my good right arm.
In the haze of afternoon,
   while the air flowed saffron,
      I played my game for keeps—
for love, for poetry,
   and for eternal life—
      after the trials of summer.

4

In the recurring dream
   my mother stands
      in her bridal gown
under the burning lilac,
   with Bernard Shaw and Bertie
      Russell kissing her hands;
the house behind her is in ruins;
   she is wearing an owl’s face
      and makes barking noises.
Her minatory finger points.
   I pass through the cardboard doorway
      askew in the field
and peer down a well
   where an albino walrus huffs.
      He has the gentlest eyes.
If the dirt keeps sifting in,
   staining the water yellow,
      why should I be blamed?
Never try to explain.
   That single Model A
      sputtering up the grade
unfurled a highway behind
   where the tanks maneuver,
      revolving their turrets.
In a murderous time
   the heart breaks and breaks
      and lives by breaking.
It is necessary to go
   through dark and deeper dark
      and not to turn.
I am looking for the trail.
   Where is my testing-tree?
      Give me back my stones!

Trust me I’m really trying to pay attention
     but it’s harder every day

& so I begin to trust only in appearances not
     “authenticity”—that half truth—

Growing so precisely redacted it’s even less
     now than what it once seemed

So I can’t help it & maybe I’m doing all right?—
     someone else has to tell me

I spend all my time in meetings & almost none
     with the few people I love

Still my house is beautiful it’s filled with books
     & filled with light & filled too

With eloquent recordings of music at the end
     of the world & also with the grace

Of the woman who’s made this house of paper
     songs & tied my hand-inked messages

With black ribbons to those thin branches
     above the brick walkway

Leading to our door as it’s now the single way
     I’ll actually write to people

& how do I look to you these days?—& really
     who remembers it all as you do?—

& when the night-blooming jasmine smells so
     delicious I love just sitting here

Shredding on Lance’s custom shop Les Paul—
     my vintage Vox amp cranked up

So high no microphone could salvage those lyrics
     of pure human spittle you know

That song I mean the one about all of us—fiercely
     irrelevant & yet so briefly alive

From The Last Troubadour (Ecco Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by David St. John. Used with permission of the author.

It’s a journey . . . that I propose . . . I am not the guide . . . nor technical assistant . . . I will be your fellow passenger . . .

Though the rail has been ridden . . . winter clouds cover . . . autumn’s exuberant quilt . . . we must provide our own guide-posts . . .

I have heard . . . from previous visitors . . . the road washes out sometimes . . . and passengers are compelled . . . to continue groping . . . or turn back . . . I am not afraid . . .

I am not afraid . . . of rough spots . . . or lonely times . . . I don’t fear . . . the success of this endeavor . . . I am Ra . . . in a space . . . not to be discovered . . . but invented . . .

I promise you nothing . . . I accept your promise . . . of the same we are simply riding . . . a wave . . . that may carry . . . or crash . . .

It’s a journey . . . and I want . . . to go . . .

“A Journey” from The Collected Poetry of Nikki Giovanni: 1968-1998 by Nikki Giovanni. Copyright compilation © 2003 by Nikki Giovanni. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

say it with your whole black mouth: i am innocent

& if you are not innocent, say this: i am worthy of forgiveness, of breath after breath

i tell you this: i let blue eyes dress me in guilt
walked around stores convinced the very skin of my palm was stolen

& what good has that brought me? days filled flinching
thinking the sirens were reaching for me

& when the sirens were for me
did i not make peace with god?

so many white people are alive because
we know how to control ourselves.

how many times have we died on a whim
wielded like gallows in their sun-shy hands?

here, standing in my own body, i say: the next time
they murder us for the crime of their imaginations

i don’t know what i’ll do.

i did not come to preach of peace
for that is not the hunted’s duty.

i came here to say what i can’t say
without my name being added to a list

what my mother fears i will say

                       what she wishes to say herself

i came here to say

i can’t bring myself to write it down

sometimes i dream of pulling a red apology
from a pig’s collared neck & wake up crackin up

           if i dream of setting fire to cul-de-sacs
           i wake chained to the bed

i don’t like thinking about doing to white folks
what white folks done to us

when i do
                      can’t say

          i don’t dance

o my people

          how long will we

reach for god

          instead of something sharper?

          my lovely doe

with a taste for meat

          take

the hunter

          by his hand

Copyright © 2018 by Danez Smith. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 25, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

This poem originally appeared in Waxwing, Issue 10, in June 2016. Used with permission of the author.

For years I went to the Peruvian barbers on 18th Street
—comforting, welcome: the full coatrack,
three chairs held by three barbers,

oldest by the window, the middle one
a slight fellow who spoke an oddly feminine Spanish,
the youngest last, red-haired, self-consciously masculine,

and in each of the mirrors their children’s photos,
smutty cartoons, postcards from Machu Picchu.
I was happy in any chair, though I liked best

the touch of the eldest, who’d rest his hand
against my neck in a thoughtless, confident way.
Ten years maybe. One day the powdery blue

steel shutters pulled down over the window and door,
not to be raised again. They’d lost their lease.
I didn’t know how at a loss I’d feel;

this haze around what I’d like to think
the sculptural presence of my skull
requires neither art nor science,

but two haircuts on Seventh, one in Dublin,
nothing right.
                            Then (I hear my friend Marie
laughing over my shoulder, saying In your poems

there’s always a then, and I think,  Is it a poem
without a then?
) dull early winter, back on 18th,
upspiraling red in a cylinder of glass, just below the line

of sidewalk, a new sign, WILLIE’S BARBERSHOP. 
Dark hallway, glass door, and there’s (presumably) Willie.
When I tell him I used to go down the street

he says in an inscrutable accent, This your home now,
puts me in a chair, asks me what I want and soon he’s clipping
and singing with the radio’s Latin dance tune.

That’s when I notice Willie’s walls,
though he’s been here all of a week, spangled with images
hung in barber shops since the beginning of time:

lounge singers, near-celebrities, random boxers
—Italian boys, Puerto Rican, caught in the hour
of their beauty, though they’d scowl at the word.

Cheering victors over a trophy won for what? 
Frames already dusty, at slight angles,
here, it is clear, forever. Are barbershops

like aspens, each sprung from a common root
ten thousand years old, sons of one father,
holding up fighters and starlets to shield the tenderness

at their hearts? Our guardian Willie defies time,
his chair our ferryboat, and we go down into the trance
of touch and the skull-buzz drone

singing cranial nerves in the direction of peace,
and so I understand that in the back
of this nothing building on 18th Street
                                                   —I’ve found that door

ajar before, in daylight, when it shouldn’t be,
some forgotten bulb left burning in a fathomless shaft
of my uncharted nights—
                                                   the men I have outlived

await their turns, the fevered and wasted, whose mothers
and lovers scattered their ashes and gave away their clothes.
Twenty years and their names tumble into a numb well

—though in truth I have not forgotten one of you,
may I never forget one of you—these layers of men,
arrayed in their no-longer-breathing ranks.

Willie, I have not lived well in my grief for them;
I have lugged this weight from place to place
as though it were mine to account for,

and today I sit in your good chair, in the sixth decade
of my life, and if your back door is a threshold
of the kingdom of the lost, yours is a steady hand

on my shoulder. Go down into the still waters
of this chair and come up refreshed, ready to face the avenue.
Maybe I do believe we will not be left comfortless.

After everything comes tumbling down or you tear it down
and stumble in the shadow-valley trenches of the moon,
there’s a still a decent chance at—a barber shop,

salsa on the radio, the instruments of renewal wielded,
effortlessly, and, who’d have thought, for you.
Willie if he is Willie fusses much longer over my head

than my head merits, which allows me to be grateful
without qualification. Could I be a little satisfied?
There’s a man who loves me. Our dogs. Fifteen,

twenty more good years, if I’m a bit careful.
There’s what I haven’t written. It’s sunny out,
though cold.  After I tip Willie

I’m going down to Jane Street, to a coffee shop I like,
and then I’m going to write this poem. Then
 

Copyright © 2015 by Mark Doty. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 2, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets. 

Dawn oversees percolating coffee
and the new wreckage of the world.

I stand before my routine reflection,
button up my sanity,
brush weary strands of hair with pomade
and seal cracked lips of distrust
with cocoa butter and matte rouge.

I ready myself once again
for morning and mortify.
Stacking poetry and bills in a knapsack;
I bundle up hope (it’s brutal out there).

For a moment, I stand with ghosts
and the framed ancestors surrounding me.
I call out, hoping she can hear me
over the day-breaking sirens—
hoping she’s not far away,
or right down the street,
praying over another dead black boy.

How will we make it through this, Ms. Brooks?

                     Hold On.

When she held a body,
she saw much worse than this.
I know she was earshot and fingertip close to oppression.
She saw how hateful hate could be.
She raised babies, taught Stone Rangers,
grew a natural and wrote around critics.

She won a Pulitzer in the dark.

She justified our kitchenette dreams,
and held on. 
She held on to all of us.

                    Hold On, she whispers. 

Another day, when I have to tip-toe
around the police and passive-aggressive emails
from people who sit only a few feet away from me.
Another day of fractured humans
who decide how I will live and die,
and I have to act like I like it
so I can keep a job;
be a team player, pay taxes on it;
I have to act like I’m happy to be
slammed, severed, and swindled.
Otherwise, I’m just part of the problem—
a rebel rouser and rude.

They want me to like it, or at least pretend,
so the pretty veils that blanket who we really are—
this complicated history, can stay pretty and veiled
like some desert belly dancer
who must be seen but not heard.

                     Hold On.

We are a world of lesions.
Human has become hindrance.
We must be stamped and have papers,
and still, it’s not enough.
Ignorance has become powerful.
The dice that rolls our futures is platinum
but hollow inside.

Did you see that, Ms. Brooks?
Do you see what we’ve become?
They are skinning our histories,
deporting our roots,
detonating our very right to tell the truth.
We are one step closer to annihilation.

                    Hold On, she says, two million light years away.

She’s right.
Hold On everybody.
Hold On because the poets are still alive—and writing.
Hold On to the last of the disappearing bees
and that Great Barrier Reef.
Hold On to the one sitting next to you,
not masked behind some keyboard.
The one right next to you.
The ones who live and love right next to you.
Hold On to them.

And when we bury another grandmother,
or another black boy;
when we stand in front of a pipeline,
pour another glass of dirty drinking water
and put it on the dining room table,
next to the kreplach, bratwurst, tamales, collards, and dumplings 
that our foremothers and fathers—immigrants,
brought with them so we all knew that we came from somewhere;
somewhere that mattered.
When we kneel on the rubbled mosques,
sit in massacred prayer circles,
Holding On is what gets us through.

We must remember who we are.
We are worth fighting for.
We’ve seen beauty.
We’ve birthed babies who’ve only known a black President.
We’ve tasted empathy and paid it forward.
We’ve Go-Funded from wrong to right.
We’ve marched and made love.
We haven’t forgotten—even if they have—Karma is keeping watch. 

Hold On.
Hold On everybody.
Even if all you have left
is that middle finger around your God-given right
to be free, to be heard, to be loved,
and remembered…Hold On,
and keep
Holding.

Copyright © 2017 by Parneshia Jones. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 13, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

If you work at a steady rate
you may reach the river by nightfall
and if you have the will

a canoe will be waiting 
by the ash factory 
for you to take upstream

to the takoyaki shack
where you can eat delicious food
and drink as much beer as you like

until late into the night.
In other words you have 
your whole life ahead of you

and no one can tell you 
what to do or how to act
or what to say or anything

said the machine in the wall
before dispensing my receipt 
in a tiny wadded ball.

Copyright © 2012 by Ben Mirov. Used with permission of the author.

The End. Above these words the sky closes.
It closes by turning white. Not
The white of all clouds or being within a cloud.
White of worldless light. The End.
Feel a silence there that reminds you of a scent.
Crushed grass the hooves galloped through
Or is it the binder’s glue?
Some silence never not real finally can be
Heard. Silence before the first words.
Precedent chaos. Or marrow work.
Or just the sound of the throat opening to speak.
Like those scholars of pure water
Who rode through mountains and meadows
To drink from each fresh spring a glass
And then with brush and ink wrote poems
On the differences of sameness,
You too feel yourself taste the silent page
Of the end and the silent page of beginning.
They taste so much of whiteness never more
White than white that’s been lost.
You have some sense of the book
Altering, page sewn secretly next to page,
Last page stitched to first. O, earth—
It rolls around the solar scroll
Turning nothing into years and years into
Nothing. At The End you’re a witness to this work
That wears the witness away. And who are you
Anyway. Pronoun of the 2nd person. Lover,
Stranger, God. Student, Child, Shade.
Something similar gathers in you.
Another way of saying I in a poem—
Of saying I in a poem that realizes at the end
That I am just a distance from myself.
And so are you. That same distance.

Copyright © 2017 by Dan Beachy-Quick. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 31, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

To everything, there is a season of parrots. Instead of feathers, we searched the sky for meteors on our last night.  Salamanders use the stars to find their way home. Who knew they could see that far, fix the tiny beads of their eyes on distant arrangements of lights so as to return to wet and wild nests? Our heads tilt up and up and we are careful to never look at each other. You were born on a day of peaches splitting from so much rain and the slick smell of fresh tar and asphalt pushed over a cracked parking lot. You were strong enough—even as a baby—to clutch a fistful of thistle and the sun himself was proud to light up your teeth when they first swelled and pushed up from your gums. And this is how I will always remember you when we are covered up again: by the pale mica flecks on your shoulders. Some thrown there from your own smile. Some from my own teeth. There are not enough jam jars to can this summer sky at night. I want to spread those little meteors on a hunk of still-warm bread this winter. Any trace left on the knife will make a kitchen sink like that evening air

the cool night before
star showers: so sticky so
warm so full of light
 

Copyright © 2017 by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 7, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

We draw breath from brick
          step on stones, weather-worn,
                    cobbled and carved  

with the story of this church,
          this meeting house,
                    where Ben Franklin was baptized

and Phillis Wheatley prayed—a mouth-house
          where colonists gathered
                    to plot against the crown.

This structure, with elegant curves
          and round-topped windows, was the heart
                    of Boston, the body of the people,

survived occupation for preservation,
          foregoing decoration
                    for conversation.

Let us gather in the box pews
          once numbered and rented
                    by generations of families

held together like ribs
          in the body politic. Let us gaze upon
                    the upper galleries to the free seats

where the poor and the town slaves
          listened and waited and pondered
                    and prayed

for revolution. 
          Let us testify to the plight
                    of the well-meaning at the pulpit

with its sounding board high above,
          congregations raising heads and hands to the sky.
                    We, the people—the tourists        

and townies—one nation under
          this vaulted roof, exalted voices
                    speaking poetry out loud,

in praise and dissent.
          We draw breath from brick. Ignite the fire in us.
                    Speak to us:     

the language is hope.

Copyright © 2016 by January Gill O’Neil. This poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.

Do you remember our earnestness our sincerity
in first grade when we learned to sing America

The Beautiful along with the Star-Spangled Banner
and say the Pledge of Allegiance to America

We put our hands over our first grade hearts
we felt proud to be citizens of America

I said One Nation Invisible until corrected
maybe I was right about America

School days school days dear old Golden Rule Days
when we learned how to behave in America

What to wear, how to smoke, how to despise our parents
who didn’t understand us or America

Only later learning the Banner and the Beautiful
live on opposite sides of the street in America

Only later discovering the Nation is divisible
by money by power by color by gender by sex America

We comprehend it now this land is two lands
one triumphant bully one still hopeful America

Imagining amber waves of grain blowing in the wind
purple mountains and no homeless in America

Sometimes I still put my hand tenderly on my heart
somehow or other still carried away by America

Copyright © 2013 by Alicia Ostriker. "Ghazal: America the Beautiful" has appeared in the July-August 2012 issue of The Atlantic and in the Winter 2013 issue of Logos. Used with permission of the author.

To this day I still remember sitting
on my abuelo’s lap watching                 the Yankees hit,
                 then run, a soft wind rounding the bases
every foot tap to the white pad gentle as a       kiss.

How I loved those afternoons languidly
                 eating jamón sandwiches & drinking root beer.

Later, when I knew something about                 the blue collar
man—my father who worked with his hands & tumbled
                 into the house exhausted like heat in a rainstorm—
                                    I became a Mets fan.

Something about                 their unclean                 faces
                                       their mustaches               seemed rough
to the touch. They had names like       Wally & Dyskstra.
I was certain I would                 marry a man just like them

                 that is until                      Sammy Sosa came along

with his smile a reptile that only knew about lying in the sun.
His arms were cannons and his skin burnt cinnamon
                 that glistened in my dreams.

Everyone said he was not       beautiful.

Out on the streets where the men set up shop playing dominoes
I’d hear them say between the yelling of       capicu
                                   “como juega, pero feo como el diablo.”

I knew nothing of my history
                 of the infighting on an island on which one side swore
it was only one thing: pallid, pristine.                        & I didn’t know
                 that Sammy carried this history like a                    tattoo.

That he wished everyday to be                 white.

It is a perfect game this race war, it is everywhere,       living
                                  in the American bayou as much as
                 the Dominican dirt roads.
It makes a man do something to his skin that seems unholy.
It makes that same man change               eye color like a soft
                 summer dress slipped on slowly.
It makes a grandmother ask her granddaughter

                                  if she’s suffering
                 from something feverish
because that could be the only excuse why
                                  her hair has not been straightened
like a ballerina’s back                 dyed the color of wild
                 daffodils growing in an outfield.

Sammy hit 66 home runs one year
                                  & that was still            not                  enough
                 to make him feel handsome

or worthy of that blackness that I believe a gift
even today while black churches burn & black bodies
disappear from one day to the next the same as old
pennies.

I think of him often       barely remember what he looked like

                 but I can recall his       hunched shoulders in the
dugout                 his perfect swing
                 & how maybe he spit out       something black
from his mouth                 after
every                 single                                  strike—

Copyright © 2015 Yesenia Montilla. Originally published in the Winter 2015 issue of Prairie Schooner. Used with permission of Prairie Schooner

I buried my father
in the sky.
Since then, the birds
clean and comb him every morning   
and pull the blanket up to his chin   
every night.

I buried my father underground.   
Since then, my ladders
only climb down,
and all the earth has become a house   
whose rooms are the hours, whose doors   
stand open at evening, receiving   
guest after guest.
Sometimes I see past them
to the tables spread for a wedding feast.

I buried my father in my heart.
Now he grows in me, my strange son,   
my little root who won’t drink milk,   
little pale foot sunk in unheard-of night,   
little clock spring newly wet
in the fire, little grape, parent to the future   
wine, a son the fruit of his own son,   
little father I ransom with my life.

Li-Young Lee, "Little Father" from Book of My Nights. Copyright © 2001 by Li-Young Lee. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., boaeditions.org.

There was a road ran past our house
Too lovely to explore.
I asked my mother once—she said
That if you followed where it led
It brought you to the milk-man’s door.
(That’s why I have not traveled more.)

“The Unexplorer” was published in A Few Figs From Thistles (Harper & Brothers, 1922). This poem is in the public domain. 

I could bore you with the sunset, the way water tasted
     after so many days without it, 
                                                     the trees,
the breed of dogs, but I can’t say 
                                                    there were forty people
when we found the ranch with the thin white man, 
           his dogs, 
                          and his shotgun. 

Until this 5 a.m. I couldn’t remember
                           there were only five, 
or seven people—

We’d separated by the paloverdes.
      We, meaning: 
                             four people. Not forty. 
The rest. . . 
     I don’t know. 
                            They weren’t there 
when the thin white man 
                                         let us drink from a hose
while pointing his shotgun. 
                                             In pocho Spanish he told us
si correr perros atacar.
                                      If run dogs trained attack.

When La Migra arrived, an officer 
     who probably called himself Hispanic at best,

not Mejicano like we called him, said 
                                                      buenas noches
     and gave us pan dulce y chocolate. 

Procedure says he should’ve taken us 
     back to the station, 

checked our fingerprints, 
                                             etcétera. 

He must’ve remembered his family 
      over the border, 

or the border coming over them, 
     because he drove us to the border 

and told us 
     next time, rest at least five days, 

don’t trust anyone calling themselves coyotes, 
      bring more tortillas, sardines, Alhambra. 

He knew we would try again 
      and again,
                       like everyone does.  

Copyright © 2016, 2017 by Javier Zamora. Reprinted with the permission of Copper Canyon Press.

To fling my arms wide
In some place of the sun,
To whirl and to dance
Till the white day is done.
Then rest at cool evening
Beneath a tall tree
While night comes on gently,
    Dark like me—
That is my dream!

To fling my arms wide
In the face of the sun,
Dance! Whirl! Whirl!
Till the quick day is done.
Rest at pale evening . . .
A tall, slim tree . . .
Night coming tenderly
    Black like me.

From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Copyright © 1994 the Estate of Langston Hughes. Used with permission.

I
Among starving polar bears, 
The only moving thing 
Was the edge of a glacier.
 
II
We are of one ecology
Like a planet
In which there are 200,000 glaciers.
 
III
The glacier absorbed greenhouse gases. 
We are a large part of the biosphere.
 
IV
Humans and animals 
Are kin. 
Humans and animals and glaciers 
Are kin.
 
V
We do not know which to fear more,
The terror of change
Or the terror of uncertainty, 
The glacier calving
Or just after.
 
VI
Icebergs fill the vast Ocean
With titanic wrecks. 
The mass of the glacier 
Disappears, to and fro. 
The threat
Hidden in the crevasse
An unavoidable cause.
 
VII
O vulnerable humans,
Why do you engineer sea walls?
Do you not see how the glacier
Already floods the streets
Of the cities around you?
 
VIII
I know king tides, 
And lurid, inescapable storms; 
But I know, too, 
That the glacier is involved 
In what I know.
 
IX
When the glacial terminus broke, 
It marked the beginning 
Of one of many waves.
 
X
At the rumble of a glacier
Losing its equilibrium, 
Every tourist in the new Arctic
chased ice quickly.
 
XI
They explored the poles 
for offshore drilling. 
Once, we blocked them, 
In that we understood 
The risk of an oil spill
For a glacier.
 
XII
The sea is rising.
The glacier must be retreating.
 
XIII
It was summer all winter. 
It was melting 
And it was going to melt.
The glacier fits
In our warm-hands.
 

Copyright © 2016 by Craig Santos Perez. “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Glacier” originally appeared in Newsletter of the Comparative Literature Association of the Republic of China. Reprinted with permission of the author.

I have had enough.
I gasp for breath.

Every way ends, every road,
every foot-path leads at last
to the hill-crest—
then you retrace your steps,
or find the same slope on the other side,
precipitate.

I have had enough—
border-pinks, clove-pinks, wax-lilies,
herbs, sweet-cress.

O for some sharp swish of a branch—
there is no scent of resin
in this place,
no taste of bark, of coarse weeds,
aromatic, astringent—
only border on border of scented pinks.

Have you seen fruit under cover
that wanted light—
pears wadded in cloth,
protected from the frost,
melons, almost ripe,
smothered in straw?

Why not let the pears cling
to the empty branch?
All your coaxing will only make
a bitter fruit—
let them cling, ripen of themselves,
test their own worth,
nipped, shrivelled by the frost,
to fall at last but fair
With a russet coat.

Or the melon—
let it bleach yellow
in the winter light,
even tart to the taste—
it is better to taste of frost—
the exquisite frost—
than of wadding and of dead grass.

For this beauty,
beauty without strength,
chokes out life.
I want wind to break,
scatter these pink-stalks,
snap off their spiced heads,
fling them about with dead leaves—
spread the paths with twigs,
limbs broken off,
trail great pine branches,
hurled from some far wood
right across the melon-patch,
break pear and quince—
leave half-trees, torn, twisted
but showing the fight was valiant.

O to blot out this garden
to forget, to find a new beauty
in some terrible
wind-tortured place.

This poem is in the public domain.

The dead piled up, thick, fragrant, on the fire escape.
My mother ordered me again, and again, to sweep it clean.
All that blooms must fall. I learned this not from the Dao,
   but from high school biology.

Oh, the contradictions of having a broom and not a dustpan!
I swept the leaves down, down through the iron grille
and let the dead rain over the Wong family’s patio.

And it was Achilles Wong who completed the task.
   We called her:
The one-who-cleared-away-another-family’s-autumn.
She blossomed, tall, benevolent, notwithstanding.

From The Phoenix Gone, the Terrace Empty (Milkweed Editions, 1994). Copyright © 1994 by Marilyn Chin. Used with the permission of the author. 

Light the first light of evening, as in a room
In which we rest and, for small reason, think
The world imagined is the ultimate good.

This is, therefore, the intensest rendezvous. 
It is in that thought that we collect ourselves,
Out of all the indifferences, into one thing:

Within a single thing, a single shawl
Wrapped tightly round us, since we are poor, a warmth, 
A light, a power, the miraculous influence.

Here, now, we forget each other and ourselves.
We feel the obscurity of an order, a whole, 
A knowledge, that which arranged the rendezvous.

Within its vital boundary, in the mind.
We say God and the imagination are one... 
How high that highest candle lights the dark.

Out of this same light, out of the central mind, 
We make a dwelling in the evening air, 
In which being there together is enough.

From The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens. Copyright © 1954 by Wallace Stevens. Used with permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

Whether it’s a turtle who drags herself
Slowly to the sandlot, where she digs
The sandy nest she was born to dig

And lay leathery eggs in, or whether it’s salmon
Rocketing upstream
Toward pools that call, Bring your eggs here

And nowhere else in the world
, whether it is turtle-green
Ugliness and awkwardness, or the seething
Grace and gild of silky salmon, we

Are envious, our wishes speak out right here,
Thirsty for a destiny like theirs,
An absolute right choice

To end all choices. Is it memory,
We ask, is it a smell
They remember,

Or just what is it—some kind of blueprint
That makes them move, hot grain by grain,
Cold cascade above icy cascade,

Slipping through
Water’s fingers
A hundred miles

Inland from the easy, shiny sea?
And we also—in the company
Of our tribe

Or perhaps alone, like the turtle
On her wrinkled feet with the tapping nails—
We also are going to travel, we say let’s be

Oblivious to all, save
That we travel, and we say
When we reach the place we’ll know

We are in the right spot, somehow, like a breath
Entering a singer’s chest, that shapes itself
For the song that is to follow.

Copyright © 1987 by Alicia Ostriker. Used with the permission of the author.

In the perfect universe of math it’s said
the world’s eternal aberration.
In fact, we should be less than dead,

math itself disrupted for matter ever to be read
as real. A thought so hard to fathom that The Nation
in its article on math has said

we lack the right imagination: the human head
will not subtract itself from the equation,
zero out the eager ego to be less than dead.

Did the numbers hunger for mistake, for fun upend
themselves to recalculate our infinite extinction?
And was existence meant for all, since it could be said

without our numbers others might have thrived:
the black rhinoceros, shortnose sturgeon—?
Articles of horn and scale both less and more than dead,

figurative dreams that now haunt us in our beds.
Memory’s another flaw in our equation. Was it The Nation?
I forget. Regardless, I know that someone said
in a perfect universe, we’d all be dead.

From Imaginary Vessels. Copyright © 2016 by Paisley Rekdal. Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org.

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

Copyright © 1966 by Robert Hayden, from Collected Poems of Robert Hayden, edited by Frederick Glaysher. Used by permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation.

First there was the blue wing
of a scraggly loud jay tucked
into the shrubs. Then the bluish-
black moth drunkenly tripping
from blade to blade. Then
the quiet that came roaring
in like the R. J. Corman over
Broadway near the RV shop.
These are the last three things
that happened. Not in the universe,
but here, in the basin of my mind,
where I’m always making a list
for you, recording the day’s minor
urchins: silvery dust mote, pistachio
shell, the dog eating a sugar
snap pea. It’s going to rain soon,
close clouds bloated above us,
the air like a net about to release
all the caught fishes, a storm
siren in the distance. I know
you don’t always understand,
but let me point to the first
wet drops landing on the stones,
the noise like fingers drumming
the skin. I can’t help it. I will
never get over making everything
such a big deal.

From The Carrying (Milkweed Editions, 2018) by Ada Limón. Copyright © 2018 by Ada Limón. Used with the permission of Milkweed Editions. milkweed.org.

Washing the floors to send you to college
Staying at home so you can feel safe
What do you think is the soul of her knowledge
What do you think that makes her feel safe

Biting her lips and lowering her eyes
To make sure there's food on the table
What do you think would be her surprise
If the world was as willing as she's able

Hugging herself in an old kitchen chair
She listens to your hurt and your rage
What do you think she knows of despair
What is the aching of age

The fathers, the children, the brothers
Turn to her and everybody white turns to her
What about her turning around
Alone in the everyday light

There oughta be a woman can break
Down, sit down, break down, sit down
Like everybody else call it quits on Mondays
Blues on Tuesdays, sleep until Sunday
Down, sit down, break down, sit down

A way outa no way is flesh outa flesh
Courage that cries out at night
A way outa no way is flesh outa flesh
Bravery kept outa sight
A way outa no way is too much to ask
Too much of a task for any one woman

Copyright © 2017 by the June M. Jordan Literary Estate. Used with the permission of the June M. Jordan Literary Estate, www.junejordan.com.

They’re both convinced
that a sudden passion joined them.
Such certainty is beautiful,
but uncertainty is more beautiful still.

Since they’d never met before, they’re sure
that there’d been nothing between them.
But what’s the word from the streets, staircases, hallways—
perhaps they’ve passed by each other a million times?

I want to ask them
if they don’t remember—
a moment face to face
in some revolving door?
perhaps a “sorry” muttered in a crowd?
a curt “wrong number” caught in the receiver?—
but I know the answer.
No, they don’t remember.

They’d be amazed to hear
that Chance has been toying with them
now for years.

Not quite ready yet
to become their Destiny,
it pushed them close, drove them apart,
it barred their path,
stifling a laugh,
and then leaped aside.

There were signs and signals,
even if they couldn’t read them yet.
Perhaps three years ago
or just last Tuesday
a certain leaf fluttered
from one shoulder to another?
Something was dropped and then picked up.
Who knows, maybe the ball that vanished
into childhood’s thicket?

There were doorknobs and doorbells
where one touch had covered another
beforehand.
Suitcases checked and standing side by side.
One night, perhaps, the same dream,
grown hazy by morning.

Every beginning
is only a sequel, after all,
and the book of events
is always open halfway through.

"Love at First Sight" from MAP: Collected and Last Poems by Wislawa Szymborska, translated from Polish by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak. Copyright © 2015 by The Wislawa Szymborska Foundation. English copyright © 2015 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

I’m on a bike and someone’s name is forming.

The road is potholes the road is dust.

Cruising the dirt, the meadow humming with bugs.

Dust rising, tires crushing rock, bats ejecting from under the barn

streaming the insected air the pulse life repeating life looping back

slowing down getting longer though it didn’t and isn’t.

A little letting go of fear.

A little spittle in death’s eye.

Don’t ask don’t think (I didn’t ask or think).

Didn’t think don’t think.

I remember giving in to it lying back and then

little sprout of willow

spray of the earth green of leaves the light coming down

as if through a ferny veil dirty primal randomly animate

and we are in it still.

From The Uses of the Body, published by Copper Canyon Press. Copyright © 2015 by Deborah Landau. Reprinted with permission of Copper Canyon Press.

To pray you open your whole self
To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon
To one whole voice that is you.
And know there is more
That you can't see, can't hear,
Can't know except in moments
Steadily growing, and in languages
That aren't always sound but other
Circles of motion.
Like eagle that Sunday morning
Over Salt River. Circled in blue sky
In wind, swept our hearts clean
With sacred wings.
We see you, see ourselves and know
That we must take the utmost care
And kindness in all things.
Breathe in, knowing we are made of
All this, and breathe, knowing
We are truly blessed because we
Were born, and die soon within a
True circle of motion, 
Like eagle rounding out the morning
Inside us. 
We pray that it will be done
In beauty.
In beauty.

From In Mad Love and War © 1990 by Joy Harjo. Reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press. 

                1.

The earth is dry and they live wanting.
Each with a small reservoir
Of furious music heavy in the throat.  
They drag it out and with nails in their feet
Coax the night into being.  Brief believing.  
A skirt shimmering with sequins and lies.
And in this night that is not night,
Each word is a wish, each phrase
A shape their bodies ache to fill—

             I’m going to braid my hair
         Braid many colors into my hair
             I’ll put a long braid in my hair
         And write your name there

They defy gravity to feel tugged back.
The clatter, the mad slap of landing.

                2.

And not just them.  Not just
The ramshackle family, the tios,
Primitos, not just the bailaor
Whose heels have notched 
And hammered time
So the hours flow in place
Like a tin river, marking
Only what once was.
Not just the voices scraping
Against the river, nor the hands
nudging them farther, fingers
like blind birds, palms empty,
echoing.  Not just the women
with sober faces and flowers
in their hair, the ones who dance
as though they're burying
memory—one last time—
beneath them.
      And I hate to do it here.
To set myself heavily beside them.
Not now that they’ve proven
The body a myth, parable
For what not even language 
Moves quickly enough to name.
If I call it pain, and try to touch it
With my hands, my own life,
It lies still and the music thins,
A pulse felt for through garments.
If I lean into the desire it starts from—
If I lean unbuttoned into the blow
Of loss after loss, love tossed
Into the ecstatic void—
It carries me with it farther,
To chords that stretch and bend
Like light through colored glass.
But it races on, toward shadows
Where the world I know 
And the world I fear
Threaten to meet.

                3.

There is always a road,
The sea, dark hair, dolor.

Always a question
Bigger than itself—

    They say you’re leaving Monday
    Why can’t you leave on Tuesday?

First published in Gulf Coast. Copyright © Tracy K. Smith. Used with permission of the author.

Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain; 
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink 
And rise and sink and rise and sink again; 
Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath, 
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone; 
Yet many a man is making friends with death 
Even as I speak, for lack of love alone. 
It well may be that in a difficult hour, 
Pinned down by pain and moaning for release, 
Or nagged by want past resolution’s power, 
I might be driven to sell your love for peace, 
Or trade the memory of this night for food. 
It well may be. I do not think I would. 

Edna St. Vincent Millay, "Love is Not All" (Sonnet XXX), from Collected Poems. Copyright 1931, 1934, 1939, © 1958 by Edna St. Vincent Millay and Norma Millay Ellis. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Holly Peppe, Literary Executor, The Millay Society. www.millay.org.

Whether it’s a turtle who drags herself
Slowly to the sandlot, where she digs
The sandy nest she was born to dig

And lay leathery eggs in, or whether it’s salmon
Rocketing upstream
Toward pools that call, Bring your eggs here

And nowhere else in the world
, whether it is turtle-green
Ugliness and awkwardness, or the seething
Grace and gild of silky salmon, we

Are envious, our wishes speak out right here,
Thirsty for a destiny like theirs,
An absolute right choice

To end all choices. Is it memory,
We ask, is it a smell
They remember,

Or just what is it—some kind of blueprint
That makes them move, hot grain by grain,
Cold cascade above icy cascade,

Slipping through
Water’s fingers
A hundred miles

Inland from the easy, shiny sea?
And we also—in the company
Of our tribe

Or perhaps alone, like the turtle
On her wrinkled feet with the tapping nails—
We also are going to travel, we say let’s be

Oblivious to all, save
That we travel, and we say
When we reach the place we’ll know

We are in the right spot, somehow, like a breath
Entering a singer’s chest, that shapes itself
For the song that is to follow.

Copyright © 1987 by Alicia Ostriker. Used with the permission of the author.

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast's fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

From Ahead of All Parting: Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Stephen Mitchell and published by Modern Library. © 1995 by Stephen Mitchell. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

You are not fifteen, or twelve, or seventeen—
You are a hundred wild centuries

And fifteen, bringing with you
In every breath and in every step

Everyone who has come before you,
All the yous that you have been,

The mothers of your mother,
The fathers of your father.

If someone in your family tree was trouble,
A hundred were not:

The bad do not win—not finally,
No matter how loud they are.

We simply would not be here
If that were so.

You are made, fundamentally, from the good.
With this knowledge, you never march alone.

You are the breaking news of the century.
You are the good who has come forward

Through it all, even if so many days
Feel otherwise.  But think:

When you as a child learned to speak,
It’s not that you didn’t know words—

It’s that, from the centuries, you knew so many,
And it’s hard to choose the words that will be your own.

From those centuries we human beings bring with us
The simple solutions and songs,

The river bridges and star charts and song harmonies
All in service to a simple idea:

That we can make a house called tomorrow.
What we bring, finally, into the new day, every day,

Is ourselves.  And that’s all we need
To start.  That’s everything we require to keep going. 

Look back only for as long as you must,
Then go forward into the history you will make.

Be good, then better.  Write books.  Cure disease.
Make us proud.  Make yourself proud.

And those who came before you?  When you hear thunder,
Hear it as their applause.

Copyright © 2018 by Alberto Ríos. Used with the permission of the author.

What can be said in New Year rhymes,
That's not been said a thousand times?

The new years come, the old years go,
We know we dream, we dream we know.

We rise up laughing with the light,
We lie down weeping with the night.

We hug the world until it stings,
We curse it then and sigh for wings.

We live, we love, we woo, we wed,
We wreathe our brides, we sheet our dead.

We laugh, we weep, we hope, we fear,
And that's the burden of the year.

This poem is in the public domain.

Even this late it happens:
the coming of love, the coming of light. 
You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves, 
stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows, 
sending up warm bouquets of air.
Even this late the bones of the body shine 
and tomorrow’s dust flares into breath.

Excerpted from The Late Hour by Mark Strand. Copyright © 2002 by Mark Strand. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

The honor
of being human
will stay constant.

The earth, earth,
water wet, sun
shine.

The world will be
as ever round, and
all yourselves

will know it,
on it, and around
and around.

No one knows
what will
happen. That

is the happiness
of the circle,
finding you.

From The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley, 1945–1975, by Robert Creeley, © 2006 by the Regents of the University of California. Published by the University of California Press. Used with permission of the University of California Press and the Estate of Robert Creeley.

I
Among starving polar bears, 
The only moving thing 
Was the edge of a glacier.
 
II
We are of one ecology
Like a planet
In which there are 200,000 glaciers.
 
III
The glacier absorbed greenhouse gases. 
We are a large part of the biosphere.
 
IV
Humans and animals 
Are kin. 
Humans and animals and glaciers 
Are kin.
 
V
We do not know which to fear more,
The terror of change
Or the terror of uncertainty, 
The glacier calving
Or just after.
 
VI
Icebergs fill the vast Ocean
With titanic wrecks. 
The mass of the glacier 
Disappears, to and fro. 
The threat
Hidden in the crevasse
An unavoidable cause.
 
VII
O vulnerable humans,
Why do you engineer sea walls?
Do you not see how the glacier
Already floods the streets
Of the cities around you?
 
VIII
I know king tides, 
And lurid, inescapable storms; 
But I know, too, 
That the glacier is involved 
In what I know.
 
IX
When the glacial terminus broke, 
It marked the beginning 
Of one of many waves.
 
X
At the rumble of a glacier
Losing its equilibrium, 
Every tourist in the new Arctic
chased ice quickly.
 
XI
They explored the poles 
for offshore drilling. 
Once, we blocked them, 
In that we understood 
The risk of an oil spill
For a glacier.
 
XII
The sea is rising.
The glacier must be retreating.
 
XIII
It was summer all winter. 
It was melting 
And it was going to melt.
The glacier fits
In our warm-hands.
 

Copyright © 2016 by Craig Santos Perez. “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Glacier” originally appeared in Newsletter of the Comparative Literature Association of the Republic of China. Reprinted with permission of the author.