On another night
in a hotel
in a room
in a city
flanked by all
that is unfamiliar
I am able to move
my finger along
a glass screen
& in seconds
see your mother
smiling in a room
that is our own
that is now so
far away but
also not so far
away at all
& she can place
the small screen
near her belly
& when I speak
I can see you
her skin as if you
knew that this
& what a small
joy it is to be some-
where that is not
with you but to
still be with you
& see your feet
her rib cage like
you knew we’d
both be dancing
Copyright © 2017 by Clint Smith. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 11, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
My ancestors are made with water—
blue on the sides, and green down the spine;
when we travel, we lose brothers at sea
and do not stop to grieve.
Our mothers burn with a fire
that does not let them be;
they whisper our names
nomenclatures of invisibility
honey-dewed faces, eyes sewn shut,
how to tell them
the sorrow that splits us in half
the longing for a land not our own
the constant moving and shifting of things,
which words describe
the clenching in our stomachs
the fear lodged deeply into our bones
churning us from within,
and the loss that follows us everywhere:
behind mountains, past oceans, into
the heads of trees, how to swallow
a tongue that speaks with too many accents—
when white faces sprout
we are told to set ourselves ablaze
and this smell of smoke we know—
water or fire, or both,
because we have drowned many at a time
and left our bodies burning, or swollen, or bleeding
and purple—this kind of language we know,
naming new things into our invisibility
and this, we too, call home.
Copyright © 2017 by Mahtem Shiferraw. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 16, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
she ambles toward El Norte she remembers as she steps
wasps & spiders webbed in between the corn in Fowler
her mamá Concha’s story the fire she fanned to clear
the path through the thick burned stalks all this
she almost-touches the blueberries in Skagit Washington
& the line of men wrapped as cocoons and dark as amber
flecked honey at the line the only store in Firebaugh where
you can cash your check shirts twisted & whispered & upright
down in Illinois in Cobden you go through the back door
of Darden's bar to buy drinks for the foreman El Cuadrado
María’s coming home after returning to Atizapán de Zaragoza
where she works at la Tortillería next to la Señora Muñóz
it is an abyss smoked & metal flat and deep with nixtamal
“Good pay in South Georgia” she says “I’ll work the
cucumbers” feet in water skin see-through peels & peels
off & off then on Saturday bussed to Walmart bussed back
to camp season after season the crossing higher alone
or with groups of three the coyote says “I am leaving you
here at the bottom of this mountain you Indians know how
to climb” she remembers Guadalupe Ríos say from the edge
of Santa María Corte in Nayarít “Nosotros los Peyoteros
sabemos caminar We know how to walk” María de la Luz
with an address in her net-bag her son who was taken many
years ago 1346 D St. San Diego will she recognize Juan
is the street still there who is he now who am I now who
will he remember you this ancient trail of grandmothers &
deportadas “I know how to walk” María de la Luz prays
as she ascends the black mountain as she moves her body
tiny as she listens to the sudden rush of things fall among
thorns & hisses María de la Luz notices a band of light
Copyright © 2017 Juan Felipe Herrera. Used with permission of the author. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 20, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
I watch a woman take a photo
of a flowering tree with her phone.
A future where no one will look at it,
perpetual trembling which wasn’t
and isn’t. I have taken photos of a sunset.
In person, “wow” “beautiful”
but the picture can only be
as interesting as a word repeated until emptied.
I think I believe this.
Sunset the word holds more than a photo could.
Since it announces the sun then puts it away.
We went to the poppy preserve
where the poppies were few but generous clumps
of them grew right outside the fence
like a slightly cruel lesson.
I watched your face, just out of reach.
The flowers are diminished by the lens.
The woman tries and tries to make it right
bending her knees, tilting back.
I take a photo of a sunset, with flash.
I who think I have something
to learn from anything learned nothing from the streetlight
that shines obnoxiously into my bedroom.
This is my photo of a tree in bloom.
A thought unfolding
across somebody’s face.
Copyright © 2016 by Ari Banias. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 26, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
I’m not with my blue toes or my doggies
nor am I under any arched roof rotting blossoms
in my drain, sunlight pouncing upon me,
nor am I fixed like a tree, nor am I unfixed
like a wind. I ate an apple, that’s fine
and after Anthony left I got a whiskey.
I stared a bit like a shadow at a book,
a fold in my shirt showed a monk’s bowing head
in a column of dusty light, but I just basically
used it to cover up my arm which was prickling
now because of some awful thing within me.
Big nasty sun making me feel old and then
this lovely gold bird flew up to my lunch.
An actual family of little white turnips
rolling over in the boiling pot like some
clouds is how I act. A great blue sky for a bed
and that beauty make me happy again.
Melbourne, Perth, Darwin, Townsville, Belém, Durban, Lima, Xai-Xai planes with wingspans big as high schools eight hundred nine hundred tons a piece gone like pollen, cumulus cirrus altostratus nimbostratus people getting skinny just trying to lose weight and the sky the biggest thing anyone ever thought of Acceptance, Vancouver, Tehran, Maui school children balloons light blue nothing one goes away not forever, in fact most people, at least if you are flying Delta, come down in Salt Lake City Fairbanks, Kobe, Aukland, Anchorage from Cleveland a hundred Hawaii-bound Germans are coming in low, not to say too low just low pull up Amsterdam pull up Miami historically a very high-strung bunch smokers eaters tiny planes must circle we have bigger problems on our hands New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Paris the boy who has been ignoring dinner throws thirteen paper planes out the window does it look like this? Tashkent, Nome, Rio, Hobart, yes yes it looks just like that now do your homework Capetown Capetown lots of rain good on one good on two go three go four go five go six Mau, Brak, Zella, Ghat, an African parade good on two good on three please speak English please speak English good on five good on six gentlemen: the world will let us down many times but it will never run out of coffee hooray! for Lagos, Accra, Freetown, Dakar your son is on the telephone the Germans landed safely Seattle off to Istanbul tiny planes please circle oh tiny planes do please please circle
From Something I Expected to be Different by Joshua Beckman, published by Verse Press. Copyright © 2001 by Joshua Beckman. Reprinted by permission of Verse Press. All rights reserved.
Unslide the door,
uncap the lazy little coffee cup.
The pasty people must be part of the dinner.
And a city turns its incapacity in,
foolish city. She was naked
and her halo all crushed against
the pillow while she slept, but I
didn’t care. Wake and totter.
Place a hand over your mouth,
a hand over another.
A killing pain, a bag all organized,
an inch of skin along your leg.
It’s like they kept making babies
and stopped making baby whistles.
Doable, yes, but here they
teach us something different.
It’s a battery. It’s a garden.
The glass box in which the lettuce grew
was broken by nasty raccoons
and we turned the other cheek.
The sun does rise and melt the frost,
the frost in little drops does fill
the empty lettuce, and in this way
the world is truly nourished.
No incredible silence, no
intangible calorie, just
bad raccoon in a good world.
Just coverless table and
silent drape awaiting breakfast.
Imagine how mean people
can be in dreams, and how
kind sleeping seems later.
Untitled Poem [Unslide the door] by Joshua Beckman. From Shake, © 2006 by Joshua Beckman, published by Wave Books.