That streetlight looks like the slicked backbone
of a dead tree in the rain, its green lamp blazing
like the first neon fig glowing in the first garden
on a continent that split away from Africa
from which floated away Brazil. Why are we not
more amazed by the constellations, all those flung
stars held together by the thinnest filaments
of our evolved, image making brains. For instance,
here we are in the middle of another Autumn,
plummeting through a universe that made us
from its shattering and dust, stooping
now to pluck an orange leaf from the sidewalk,
a small veined hand we hold in an open palm
as we walk through the park on a weekend we
invented so we would have time to spare. Time,
another idea we devised so the days would have
an epilogue, precise, unwavering, a pendulum
strung above our heads. When was the sun
enough? The moon with its diminishing face?
The sea with its nets of fish? The meadow’s
yellow baskets of grain? If I was in charge
I’d say leave them there on their backs
in the grass, wondering, eating berries
and rolling toward each other’s naked bodies
for warmth, for something we’ve yet to name,
when the leaves were turning colors in their dying
and we didn’t know why, or that they would return,
bud and green. One of a billion
small miracles. This planet will again be stone.
Copyright © 2019 by Dorianne Laux. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 10, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems. Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Reprinted with the permission of the author.
When the bass drops on Bill Withers’ Better Off Dead, it’s like 7 a.m. and I confess I’m looking over my shoulder once or twice just to make sure no one in Brooklyn is peeking into my third-floor window to see me in pajamas I haven’t washed for three weeks before I slide from sink to stove in one long groove left foot first then back to the window side with my chin up and both fists clenched like two small sacks of stolen nickels and I can almost hear the silver hit the floor by the dozens when I let loose and sway a little back and just like that I’m a lizard grown two new good legs on a breeze -bent limb. I’m a grown-ass man with a three-day wish and two days to live. And just like that everyone knows my heart’s broke and no one is home. Just like that, I’m water. Just like that, I’m the boat. Just like that, I’m both things in the whole world rocking. Sometimes sadness is just what comes between the dancing. And bam!, my mother’s dead and, bam!, my brother’s children are laughing. Just like—ok, it’s true I can’t pop up from my knees so quick these days and no one ever said I could sing but tell me my body ain’t good enough for this. I’ll count the aches another time, one in each ankle, the sharp spike in my back, this mud-muscle throbbing in my going bones, I’m missing the six biggest screws to hold this blessed mess together. I’m wind- rattled. The wood’s splitting. The hinges are falling off. When the first bridge ends, just like that, I’m a flung open door.
forming an arrowhead, ibises carry each other in the direction of
what i want to read as a glyph of hope.
i walk east—a parking lot almost burns—the dusk blushes,
lukewarm—then i’m back again on the balcony of my university
building six and half years ago before we met, wind transporting
brush sediments towards approaching summer.
those jacarandas and tolerant native vines—auspicious walks on
hot nights, a feline rolls her body in dirt. under this sky, i nurse
you feel gone more than ever. your shoulder turns over into
another bed. shadows lean into my neck like ink spill, reminding
me of those ibises and how i should proceed.
in absence, i despise what you’ve become, what you’ve always
been, a secret set loose and this body who prays for your
Copyright © 2021 by Angela Peñaredondo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 25, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
When the grapevine had thinned
but not broken & the worst was yet to come
of winter snow, I tracked my treed heart
to the high boughs of a quaking
aspen & shot it down.
If love comes fast,
let her be a bullet & not a barking dog;
let my heart say, as that trigger’s pulled,
Are all wonders small? Otherwise, let love
be a woman of gunpowder
& lead; let her
arrive a brass angel, a dark powdered comet
whose mercy is dense as the fishing sinker
that pulleys the moon, even when it is heavy
with milk. I shot my heart
& turned myself in
to wild kindness, left the road to my coffin
that seemed also to include my carrying it & walked
back along the trampled brush I remembered
only as a blur of hot breath & a howling in my chest.
From Last Psalm at Sea Level (Barrow Street, 2014). Copyright © 2014 by Meg Day. Used with the permission of the author.
Enough seen….Enough had....Enough…
No. It will never be enough. Never
enough wind clamoring in the trees,
sun and shadow handling each leaf, never enough clang
of my neighbor hammering,
the iron nails, relenting wood, sound waves
lapping over roofs, never enough
bees purposeful at the throats
of lilies. How could we be replete
with the flesh of ripe tomatoes, the unique
scent of their crushed leaves. It would take many
births to be done with the thatness of that.
Oh blame life. That we just want more.
Summer rain. Mud. A cup of tea.
Our teeth, our eyes. A baby in a stroller.
Another spoonful of crème brûlée, sweet burnt crust crackling.
And hot showers, oh lovely, lovely hot showers.
Today was a good day.
My mother-in-law sat on the porch, eating crackers and cheese
with a watered-down margarita
and though her nails are no longer stop-light red
and she can’t remember who’s alive and dead,
still, this was a day
with no weeping, no unstoppable weeping.
Last night, through the small window of my laptop,
I watched a dying man kill himself in Switzerland.
He wore a blue shirt and snow was falling
onto a small blue house, onto dark needles of pine and fir.
He didn’t step outside to feel the snow on his face.
He sat at a table with his wife and drank poison.
Online I found a plastic bag complete with Velcro
and a hole for a tube to a propane tank. I wouldn’t have to
move our Weber. I could just slide
down the stucco to the flagstones, where the healthy
weeds are sprouting through the cracks.
Maybe it wouldn’t be half-bad
to go out looking at the yellowing leaves of the old camellia.
And from there I could see the chickens scratching—
if we still have chickens then. And yet…
this little hat of life, how will I bear
to take it off while I can still reach up? Snug woolen watch cap,
lacy bonnet, yellow cloche with the yellow veil
I wore the Easter I turned thirteen when my mother let me
with Tommy Spagnola on the boardwalk in Atlantic City.
Oxygen, oxygen, the cry of the body—and you always want to
what it wants. But I must say no—
with more tenderness
than I have ever given to a lover, the gift
of the nipple hardening under my fingertip, more
tenderness than to my newborn,
when I held her still flecked
with my blood. I’ll say the most gentle refusal
to this dear dumb animal and tighten
the clasp around my throat that once was kissed and kissed
until the blood couldn’t rest in its channel, but rose
to the surface like a fish that couldn’t wait to be caught.
Copyright © 2015 by Ellen Bass. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 14, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
Finally, morning. This loneliness
feels more ordinary in the light, more like my face
in the mirror. My daughter in the ER again.
Something she ate? Some freshener
someone spritzed in the air?
They’re trying to kill me, she says,
as though it’s a joke. Lucretius
got me through the night. He told me the world goes on
making and unmaking. Maybe it’s wrong
to think of better and worse.
There’s no one who can carry my fear
for a child who walks out the door
not knowing what will stop her breath.
The rain they say is coming
sails now over the Pacific in purplish nimbus clouds.
But it isn’t enough. Last year I watched
elephants encircle their young, shuffling
their massive legs without hurry, flaring
their great dusty ears. Once they drank
from the snowmelt of Kilimanjaro.
Now the mountain is bald. Lucretius knows
we’re just atoms combining and recombining:
star dust, flesh, grass. All night
I plastered my body to Janet,
breathing when she breathed. But her skin,
warm as it is, does, after all, keep me out.
How tenuous it all is.
My daughter’s coming home next week.
She’ll bring the pink plaid suitcase we bought at Ross.
When she points it out to the escort
pushing her wheelchair, it will be easy
to spot on the carousel. I just want to touch her.
can be enough to make you look up
at the yellowed leaves of the apple tree, the few
that survived the rains and frost, shot
with late afternoon sun. They glow a deep
orange-gold against a blue so sheer, a single bird
would rip it like silk. You may have to break
your heart, but it isn’t nothing
to know even one moment alive. The sound
of an oar in an oarlock or a ruminant
animal tearing grass. The smell of grated ginger.
The ruby neon of the liquor store sign.
Warm socks. You remember your mother,
her precision a ceremony, as she gathered
the white cotton, slipped it over your toes,
drew up the heel, turned the cuff. A breath
can uncoil as you walk across your own muddy yard,
the big dipper pouring night down over you, and everything
you dread, all you can’t bear, dissolves
and, like a needle slipped into your vein—
that sudden rush of the world.
Copyright © 2016 by Ellen Bass. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 18, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.