When the doctor suggested surgery
and a brace for all my youngest years,
my parents scrambled to take me
to massage therapy, deep tissue work,
osteopathy, and soon my crooked spine
unspooled a bit, I could breathe again,
and move more in a body unclouded
by pain. My mom would tell me to sing
songs to her the whole forty-five minute
drive to Middle Two Rock Road and forty-
five minutes back from physical therapy.
She’d say, even my voice sounded unfettered
by my spine afterward. So I sang and sang,
because I thought she liked it. I never
asked her what she gave up to drive me,
or how her day was before this chore. Today,
at her age, I was driving myself home from yet
another spine appointment, singing along
to some maudlin but solid song on the radio,
and I saw a mom take her raincoat off
and give it to her young daughter when
a storm took over the afternoon. My god,
I thought, my whole life I’ve been under her
raincoat thinking it was somehow a marvel
that I never got wet.
From The Carrying (Milkweed Editions, 2018) by Ada Limón. Copyright © 2018 by Ada Limón. Used with the permission of Milkweed Editions. milkweed.org.
I like being with you all night with closed eyes.
What luck—here you are
along the stars!
I did a road trip
all over my mind and heart
there you were
kneeling by the roadside
with your little toolkit
Give me a world, you have taken the world I was.
Copyright © 2020 by Anne Carson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 10, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
She pressed her lips to mind.
How many years I must have yearned
for someone’s lips against mind.
Pheromones, newly born, were floating
between us. There was hardly any air.
She kissed me again, reaching that place
that sends messages to toes and fingertips,
then all the way to something like home.
Some music was playing on its own.
Nothing like a woman who knows
to kiss the right thing at the right time,
then kisses the things she’s missed.
How had I ever settled for less?
I was thinking this is intelligence,
this is the wisest tongue
since the Oracle got into a Greek’s ear,
speaking sense. It’s the Good,
defining itself. I was out of my mind.
She was in. We married as soon as we could.
"The Kiss," from Everything Else in the World by Stephen Dunn. Copyright © 2007 by Stephen Dunn. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Wind rising in the alleys
My spirit lifts in you like a banner
Streaming free of hot walls.
You are full of unspent dreams . . .
You are laden with beginnings . . .
There is hope in you . . . not sweet . . .
acrid as blood in the mouth.
Come into my tossing dust
Scattering the peace of old deaths,
Wind rising in the alleys
Carrying stuff of flame.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on July 11, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
Last night I heard your voice, mother,
The words you sang to me
When I, a little barefoot boy,
Knelt down against your knee.
And tears gushed from my heart, mother,
And passed beyond its wall,
But though the fountain reached my throat
The drops refused to fall.
'Tis ten years since you died, mother,
Just ten dark years of pain,
And oh, I only wish that I
Could weep just once again.
From Harlem Shadows (New York, Harcourt, Brace and company, 1922) by Claude McKay. This poem is in the public domain.
He winds through the party like wind, one of the just who live alone in black and white, bewildered by the eden of his body. (You, you talk like winter rain.) He's the meaning of almost-morning walking home at five A.M., the difference a night makes turning over into day, simple birds staking claims on no sleep. Whatever they call those particular birds. He's the age of sensibility at seventeen, he isn't worth the time of afternoon it takes to write this down. He's the friend that lightning makes, raking the naked tree, thunder that waits for weeks to arrive; he's the certainty of torrents in September, harvest time and powerlines down for miles. He doesn't even know his name. In his body he's one with air, white as a sky rinsed with rain. It's cold there, it's hard to breathe, and drowning is somewhere to be after a month of drought.
"A Muse" from Some Are Drowning, by Reginald Shepherd. Copyright © 1995. Reprinted by permission of University of Pittsburgh Press.
The world is a beautiful place to be born into if you don’t mind happiness not always being so very much fun if you don’t mind a touch of hell now and then just when everything is fine because even in heaven they don’t sing all the time The world is a beautiful place to be born into if you don’t mind some people dying all the time or maybe only starving some of the time which isn’t half so bad if it isn’t you Oh the world is a beautiful place to be born into if you don’t much mind a few dead minds in the higher places or a bomb or two now and then in your upturned faces or such other improprieties as our Name Brand society is prey to with its men of distinction and its men of extinction and its priests and other patrolmen and its various segregations and congressional investigations and other constipations that our fool flesh is heir to Yes the world is the best place of all for a lot of such things as making the fun scene and making the love scene and making the sad scene and singing low songs of having inspirations and walking around looking at everything and smelling flowers and goosing statues and even thinking and kissing people and making babies and wearing pants and waving hats and dancing and going swimming in rivers on picnics in the middle of the summer and just generally ‘living it up’ Yes but then right in the middle of it comes the smiling mortician
From A Coney Island of the Mind, copyright ©1955 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions
back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you
with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is
From Migration: New & Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2005). Copyright © 1988 by W. S. Merwin. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Love comes quietly,
about me, on me,
in the old ways.
What did I know
able to go
alone all the way.
From For Love: Poems. Copyright © 1962 by Robert Creeley. Used with permission of the Estate of Robert Creeley and The Permissions Company.
I would like to describe the simplest emotion joy or sadness but not as others do reaching for shafts of rain or sun I would like to describe a light which is being born in me but I know it does not resemble any star for it is not so bright not so pure and is uncertain I would like to describe courage without dragging behind me a dusty lion and also anxiety without shaking a glass full of water to put it another way I would give all metaphors in return for one word drawn out of my breast like a rib for one word contained within the boundaries of my skin but apparently this is not possible and just to say - I love I run around like mad picking up handfuls of birds and my tenderness which after all is not made of water asks the water for a face and anger different from fire borrows from it a loquacious tongue so is blurred so is blurred in me what white-haired gentlemen separated once and for all and said this is the subject and this is the object we fall asleep with one hand under our head and with the other in a mound of planets our feet abandon us and taste the earth with their tiny roots which next morning we tear out painfully
From The Collected Poems 1956-1998 by Zbigniew Herbert. © 2007 by The Estate of Zbigniew Herbert. Published by arrangement with Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
for Ted Berrigan & Alice Notley the bridges of Chicago are not the bridges of Paris or the bridges of Amsterdam except they are a definition almost no one bothers to define like life full of surprises in what now looks to be the oldest modern American city o apparition of the movie version of the future circa 1931 the bridges soon filled with moving lines of people workers' armies in the darkness of first December visit along the water bend of the Chicago River the cliffs of architecture like palisades at night the stars in windows stars in the poem you wrote a sky through which the el train pulls its lights in New York streets of childhood is like a necklace (necktie) in the language of old poems old memories old Fritz Lang visions of the night before the revolution the poor souls of working people we all love fathers or uncles lost to us in dreams & gauze of intervening 1960s there are whole tribes of Indians somewhere inhabiting a tunnel paradise they will wait it out still with a perfect assurance of things to come everyone so well read in old novels maybe the economics of disaster Ted depressions of the spirit so unlike the bright promise of the early years gloss of the young life easing death atop a hill in Lawrence Kansas the afternoon sky became aluminum (illumination) played on a tambourine to calm the serpent fear the material corpse that leaves us vulnerable everyone will come to it I think I do not think you dig it getting so out of hand so far away but we remain & I will make another visit soon hope we can take a walk together it is night & we are not so bad off have turned forty like poets happy with our sadness we are still humans in a city overhung with ancient bridges you pop your pill I laugh look back upon the future of America & remember when we both wrote our famous poems called Modern Times
From New Selected Poems. Copyright © 1986 by Jerome Rothenberg. Reprinted with permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.
I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don't tell! they'd advertise – you know!
How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!
Poetry used by permission of the publishers and the Trustees of Amherst College from The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Ralph W. Franklin ed., Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Copyright © 1998 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © 1951, 1955, 1979 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.
to Ken Kesey & Ken Babbs
Clumsy at first, fitting together
the years we have been apart,
and the ways.
But as the night
passed and the day came, the first
fine morning of April,
it came clear:
the world that has tried us
and showed us its joy
was our bond
when we said nothing.
And we allowed it to be
with us, the new green
Our lives, half gone,
stay full of laughter.
have the world for words.
Though we have been
apart, we have been together.
Trying to sleep, I cannot
take my mind away.
The bright day
shines in my head
like a coin
on the bed of a stream.
From Collected Poems: 1957-1982 by Wendell Berry. Copyright © 1985 by Wendell Berry. Used by permission of Counterpoint Press. All rights reserved.