Palm-sized and fledgling, a beak
protruding from the sleeve, I
have kept my birds muted
for so long, I fear they’ve grown
accustom to a grim quietude.
What chaos could ensue
should a wing get loose?
Come overdue burst, come
flock, swarm, talon, and claw.
Scatter the coop’s roost, free
the cygnet and its shadow. Crack
and scratch at the state’s cage,
cut through cloud and branch,
no matter the dumb hourglass’s
white sand yawning grain by grain.
What cannot be contained
cannot be contained.
Copyright © 2020 Ada Limón. This poem was co-commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and the New York Philharmonic as part of the Project 19 initiative.
No shoes and a glossy
red helmet, I rode
on the back of my dad’s
Harley at seven years old.
Before the divorce.
Before the new apartment.
Before the new marriage.
Before the apple tree.
Before the ceramics in the garbage.
Before the dog’s chain.
Before the koi were all eaten
by the crane. Before the road
between us, there was the road
beneath us, and I was just
big enough not to let go:
Henno Road, creek just below,
rough wind, chicken legs,
and I never knew survival
was like that. If you live,
you look back and beg
for it again, the hazardous
bliss before you know
what you would miss.
Copyright © 2015 by Ada Limón. Used with permission of the author.
is a field
as long as the butterflies say
it is a field
with their flight
it takes a long time
like light or sound or language
we have more
than six sense dialect
adjusting to time
the distance and its permanence
i have found my shortcuts
where i first took form
in the field
Copyright © 2022 by Marwa Helal. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 3, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.
Again the woods are odorous, the lark
Lifts on upsoaring wings the heaven gray
That hung above the tree-tops, veiled and dark,
Where branches bare disclosed the empty day.
After long rainy afternoons an hour
Comes with its shafts of golden light and flings
Them at the windows in a radiant shower,
And rain drops beat the panes like timorous wings.
Then all is still. The stones are crooned to sleep
By the soft sound of rain that slowly dies;
And cradled in the branches, hidden deep
In each bright bud, a slumbering silence lies.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on April 5, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
is even more fun than going to San Sebastian, Irún, Hendaye, Biarritz, Bayonne
or being sick to my stomach on the Travesera de Gracia in Barcelona
partly because in your orange shirt you look like a better happier St. Sebastian
partly because of my love for you, partly because of your love for yoghurt
partly because of the fluorescent orange tulips around the birches
partly because of the secrecy our smiles take on before people and statuary
it is hard to believe when I’m with you that there can be anything as still
as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front of it
in the warm New York 4 o’clock light we are drifting back and forth
between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles
and the portrait show seems to have no faces in it at all, just paint
you suddenly wonder why in the world anyone ever did them
at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world
except possibly for the Polish Rider occasionally and anyway it’s in the Frick
which thank heavens you haven’t gone to yet so we can go together for the first time
and the fact that you move so beautifully more or less takes care of Futurism
just as at home I never think of the Nude Descending a Staircase or
at a rehearsal a single drawing of Leonardo or Michelangelo that used to wow me
and what good does all the research of the Impressionists do them
when they never got the right person to stand near the tree when the sun sank
or for that matter Marino Marini when he didn’t pick the rider as carefully
as the horse
it seems they were all cheated of some marvelous experience
which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I’m telling you about it
From The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara by Frank O’Hara, copyright © 1971 by Maureen Granville-Smith, Administratrix of the Estate of Frank O’Hara, copyright renewed 1999 by Maureen O’Hara Granville-Smith and Donald Allen. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.
Translated from the Arabic by Joseph Dacre Carlyle
When you told us our glances, soft, timid, and mild,
Could occasion such wounds in the heart,
Can ye wonder that yours, so ungovern’d and wild,
Some wounds to our cheeks should impart?
The wounds on our cheeks, are but transient, I own,
With a blush they appear and decay;
But those on the heart, fickle youths, ye have shewn
To be even more transient than they.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on April 15, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.
In my youth the heart of dawn was in my heart, and the songs of April were in my ears.
But my soul was sad unto death, and I knew not why. Even unto this day I know not why I was sad.
But now, though I am with eventide, my heart is still veiling dawn,
And though I am with autumn, my ears still echo the songs of spring.
But my sadness has turned into awe, and I stand in the presence of life and life’s daily miracles.
The difference between my youth which was my spring, and these forty years, and they are my autumn, is the very difference that exists between flower and fruit.
A flower is forever swayed with the wind and knows not why and wherefore.
But the fruit overladen with the honey of summer, knows that it is one of life’s home-comings, as a poet when his song is sung knows sweet content,
Though life has been bitter upon his lips.
In my youth I longed for the unknown, and for the unknown I am still longing.
But in the days of my youth longing embraced necessity that knows naught of patience.
Today I long not less, but my longing is friendly with patience, and even waiting.
And I know that all this desire that moves within me is one of those laws that turns universes around one another in quiet ecstasy, in swift passion which your eyes deem stillness, and your mind a mystery.
And in my youth I loved beauty and abhorred ugliness, for beauty was to me a world separated from all other worlds.
But now that the gracious years have lifted the veil of picking-and-choosing from over my eyes, I know that all I have deemed ugly in what I see and hear, is but a blinder upon my eyes, and wool in my ears;
And that our senses, like our neighbors, hate what they do not understand.
And in my youth I loved the fragrance of flowers and their color.
Now I know that their thorns are their innocent protection, and if it were not for that innocence they would disappear forevermore.
And in my youth, of all seasons I hated winter, for I said in my aloneness, “Winter is a thief who robs the earth of her sun-woven garment, and suffers her to stand naked in the wind.”
But now I know that in winter there is re-birth and renewal, and that the wind tears the old raiment to cloak her with a new raiment woven by the spring.
And in my youth I would gaze upon the sun of the day and the stars of the night, saying in my secret, “How small am I, and how small a circle my dream makes.”
But today when I stand before the sun or the stars I cry, “The sun is close to me, and the stars are upon me;” for all the distances of my youth have turned into the nearness of age;
And the great aloneness which knows not what is far and what is near, nor what is small nor great, has turned into a vision that weighs not nor does it measure.
In my youth I was but the slave of the high tide and the ebb tide of the sea, and the prisoner of half moons and full moons.
Today I stand at this shore and I rise not nor do I go down.
Even my roots once every twenty-eight days would seek the heart of the earth.
And on the twenty-ninth day they would rise toward the throne of the sky.
And on that very day the rivers in my veins would stop for a moment, and then would run again to the sea.
Yes, in my youth I was a thing, sad and yielding, and all the seasons played with me and laughed in their hearts.
And life took a fancy to me and kissed my young lips, and slapped my cheeks.
Today I play with the seasons. And I steal a kiss from life’s lips ere she kisses my lips.
And I even hold her hands playfully that she may not strike my cheek.
In my youth I was sad indeed, and all things seemed dark and distant.
Today, all is radiant and near, and for this I would live my youth and the pain of my youth, again and yet again.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on April 2, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.
translated from the Arabic by Leonard Chalmers-Hunt
They are not wisest who are conscious most
That without worldly power, life’s end is lost,
Let lisping lips be offered by a child,
The heart with Wisdom would be reconciled.
Sometimes when in the city’s marketplace
I’ve chanced to greet a friend’s familiar face,
Where the white mosque o’er those who sell and buy
Lifts shining minarets to meet the sky.
When questioned oft by folk incredulous,
My answers they’ve rebuked as nebulous.
“Tell us,” said they, “the secrets of a wine
Which warms the heart, and makes the eye to shine!”
Not of fermented wine that Vision clear!
Soft as the morn! but not of atmosphere!
Bright as Arabia’s Sun! but not of fire.
Spirit of Beauty! drawing nigh and nigher.
It “is”! and “was,” and brooded o’er the deep
Till Thought and Purpose caused the void to leap
When Time and Space were not, but a great Calm
Profound Solemnity!—and then Life’s Balm.
Forth at a “Word” inscrutable in Might,
Created worlds rolled onward thro’ the night.
Dwelling alone, some wiser Law to teach,
Veiled from all things, yet immanent in each!
O, the desire of my toil-stainèd soul!
To rest beneath what seems an endless goal,
To breathe new life, nor doubtfully despond
Of clasping yet once more friends gone beyond!
For Time’s a thought of space, which men call years,
Fulfilled, when Love shall dry the mourner’s tears,
From seed to blade, from blade to ripen’d sheaf,
No parting is; with one who shareth grief!
Would I might feel that Sense, which strengthens sight
Which teacheth simple hearts to praise aright,
Then heart would join with lips at shadow-fall
And frail hands stretch to One who loveth all!
So rich in virtue is that gracious Wine!
That one who knoweth not Its name Divine
Should but hear it, ne’er would be afraid
To speak his love, e’en as a man to maid.
He who fills oft the Cup of mortal fire,
Drinks to himself unquenchable desire!
But he who hearkens to the Seer’s advice,
Tastes the ripe Vintage of Its Paradise!
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on April 16, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.
Living is no laughing matter: you must live with great seriousness like a squirrel, for example— I mean without looking for something beyond and above living, I mean living must be your whole occupation. Living is no laughing matter: you must take it seriously, so much so and to such a degree that, for example, your hands tied behind your back, your back to the wall, or else in a laboratory in your white coat and safety glasses, you can die for people— even for people whose faces you’ve never seen, even though you know living is the most real, the most beautiful thing. I mean, you must take living so seriously that even at seventy, for example, you’ll plant olive trees— and not for your children, either, but because although you fear death you don’t believe it, because living, I mean, weighs heavier.
Let’s say we’re seriously ill, need surgery— which is to say we might not get up from the white table. Even though it’s impossible not to feel sad about going a little too soon, we’ll still laugh at the jokes being told, we’ll look out the window to see if it’s raining, or still wait anxiously for the latest newscast. . . Let’s say we’re at the front— for something worth fighting for, say. There, in the first offensive, on that very day, we might fall on our face, dead. We’ll know this with a curious anger, but we’ll still worry ourselves to death about the outcome of the war, which could last years. Let’s say we’re in prison and close to fifty, and we have eighteen more years, say, before the iron doors will open. We’ll still live with the outside, with its people and animals, struggle and wind— I mean with the outside beyond the walls. I mean, however and wherever we are, we must live as if we will never die.
This earth will grow cold, a star among stars and one of the smallest, a gilded mote on blue velvet— I mean this, our great earth. This earth will grow cold one day, not like a block of ice or a dead cloud even but like an empty walnut it will roll along in pitch-black space . . . You must grieve for this right now —you have to feel this sorrow now— for the world must be loved this much if you’re going to say “I lived”. . .
From Poems of Nazim Hikmet, translated by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk, published by Persea Books. Copyright © 1994 by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk. Used with the permission of Persea Books. All rights reserved.