how much history is enough history before we can agree
to flee our daycares to wash everything away and start over
leaving laptops to be lost in the wet along with housecats and Christ’s
own mother even a lobster climbs away from its shell a few
times a life but every time I open my eyes I find
I am still inside myself each epiphany dull and familiar
oh now I am barefoot oh now I am lighting the wrong end
of a cigarette I just want to be shaken new like a flag whipping
away its dust want to pull out each of my teeth
and replace them with jewels I’m told what seems like joy
is often joy that the soul lives in the throat plinking
like a copper bell I’ve been so young for so many years
it’s all starting to jumble together joy jeweling copper
its plink a throat sometimes I feel beautiful and near dying
like a feather on an arrow shot through a neck other times
I feel tasked only with my own soreness like a scab on the roof
of a mouth my father believed in gardens delighting
at burying each thing in its potential for growth some years
the soil was so hard the water seeped down slower than the green
seeped up still he’d say if you’re not happy in your own yard
you won’t be happy anywhere I’ve never had a yard but I’ve had apartments
where water pipes burst above my head where I’ve scrubbed
a lover’s blood from the kitchen tile such cleaning
takes so much time you expect there to be confetti at the end
what we’ll need in the next life toothpaste party hats
and animal bones every day people charge out of this world
squealing good-bye human behavior! so long acres
of germless chrome! it seems gaudy for them to be so cavalier
with their bliss while I’m still here lurching into my labor
hanging by my hair from the roof of a chapel churchlight thickening
around me or wandering into the woods to pull apart eggshells emptying
them in the dirt then sewing them back together to dry in the sun
Copyright © 2017 by Kaveh Akbar. From Calling a Wolf a Wolf (Alice James Books, 2017). Used with permission of the author.
I want a red dress. I want it flimsy and cheap, I want it too tight, I want to wear it until someone tears it off me. I want it sleeveless and backless, this dress, so no one has to guess what's underneath. I want to walk down the street past Thrifty's and the hardware store with all those keys glittering in the window, past Mr. and Mrs. Wong selling day-old donuts in their café, past the Guerra brothers slinging pigs from the truck and onto the dolly, hoisting the slick snouts over their shoulders. I want to walk like I'm the only woman on earth and I can have my pick. I want that red dress bad. I want it to confirm your worst fears about me, to show you how little I care about you or anything except what I want. When I find it, I'll pull that garment from its hanger like I'm choosing a body to carry me into this world, through the birth-cries and the love-cries too, and I'll wear it like bones, like skin, it'll be the goddamned dress they bury me in.
From Tell Me by Kim Addonizio. Copyright © 2000 by Kim Addonizio. Reprinted by permission of BOA Editions, Ltd. All rights reserved.
One river gives
Its journey to the next.
We give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.
We give because giving has changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.
We have been better for it,
We have been wounded by it—
Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,
Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.
Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,
But we read this book, anyway, over and again:
Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,
Mine to yours, yours to mine.
You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.
Together we are simple green. You gave me
What you did not have, and I gave you
What I had to give—together, we made
Something greater from the difference.
Copyright © 2014 by Alberto Ríos. Used with permission of the author.
Brown love is getting the pat down but not the secondary screening
and waiting after you clear to make sure the Sikh man or
the Black woman or the hijabis behind you get through
Brown love is asking the Punjabi guy working at the starbucks knockoff
if all the tea sizes are still the same price
and he says no,
it hasn’t been like that for at least four years,
but he slips you an extra tea bag without talking about it.
Brown love is the unsmiling aunty
at the disabled immigration line
anything to declare? No? No? Have a good day.
and your rice, semolina, kari karo seeds and jaggary all get through
even though they are definitely from countries
where there are insects that could eat america to the ground
Brown love is texting your cousin on whatsapp asking
if she’s ever had a hard time bringing weed tincture in her carry on
brown love is a balm
in this airport of life
where, if we can scrape up enough money
we all end up
because we all came from somewhere
and we want to go there
or we can’t go to there but we want to go to the place we went after that
where our mom still lives even though we fight
or our chosen sis is still in her rent controlled perfect apartment
where we get the luxury of things being like how we remember
we want to go to the place we used to live
and even if gentrification snatched the bakery
with the 75 cent coffee where everyone hung out all night
we can still walk the block where it was
and the thing about brown love is, nobody smiles.
nobody is friendly. nobody winks. nobody can get away with that
they’re all silently working their terrible 9 dollar an hour
food service jobs where tip jars aren’t allowed
or TSA sucks but it’s the job you can get out of the military
and nobody can get away with being outwardly loving
but we do what we can
brown love is the woman who lets your 1 pound over the 50 pound limit bag go
the angry woman who looks like your cousin
who is so tired on the american airlines customer service line
she tags your bag for checked luggage
and doesn’t say anything about a credit card, she just yells Next!
Brown love is your tired cousin who prays you all the way home
from when you get on the subway to when you land and get on another.
This is what we have
we do what we can.
Copyright © 2020 by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 16, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
I ask a student how I can help her. Nothing is on her paper.
It’s been that way for thirty-five minutes. She has a headache.
She asks to leave early. Maybe I asked the wrong question.
I’ve always been dumb with questions. When I hurt,
I too have a hard time accepting advice or gentleness.
I owe for an education that hurt, and collectors call my mama’s house.
I do nothing about my unpaid bills as if that will help.
I do nothing about the mold on my ceiling, and it spreads.
I do nothing about the cat’s litter box, and she pisses on my new bath mat.
Nothing isn’t an absence. Silence isn’t nothing. I told a woman I loved her,
and she never talked to me again. I told my mama a man hurt me,
and her hard silence told me to keep my story to myself.
Nothing is full of something, a mass that grows where you cut at it.
I’ve lost three aunts when white doctors told them the thing they felt
was nothing. My aunt said nothing when it clawed at her breathing.
I sat in a room while it killed her. I am afraid when nothing keeps me
in bed for days. I imagine what my beautiful aunts are becoming
underground, and I cry for them in my sleep where no one can see.
Nothing is in my bedroom, but I smell my aunt’s perfume
and wake to my name called from nowhere. I never looked
into a sky and said it was empty. Maybe that’s why I imagine a god
up there to fill what seems unimaginable. Some days, I want to live
inside the words more than my own black body.
When the white man shoves me so that he can get on the bus first,
when he says I am nothing but fits it inside a word, and no one stops him,
I wear a bruise in the morning where he touched me before I was born.
My mama’s shame spreads inside me. I’ve heard her say
there was nothing in a grocery store she could afford. I’ve heard her tell
the landlord she had nothing to her name. There was nothing I could do
for the young black woman that disappeared on her way to campus.
They found her purse and her phone, but nothing led them to her.
Nobody was there to hold Renisha McBride’s hand
when she was scared of dying. I worry poems are nothing against it.
My mama said that if I became a poet or a teacher, I’d make nothing, but
I’ve thrown words like rocks and hit something in a room when I aimed
for a window. One student says when he writes, it feels
like nothing can stop him, and his laughter unlocks a door. He invites me
into his living.
Copyright © 2020 by Krysten Hill. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 7, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.