say it with your whole black mouth: i am innocent
& if you are not innocent, say this: i am worthy of forgiveness, of breath after breath
i tell you this: i let blue eyes dress me in guilt
walked around stores convinced the very skin of my palm was stolen
& what good has that brought me? days filled flinching
thinking the sirens were reaching for me
& when the sirens were for me
did i not make peace with god?
so many white people are alive because
we know how to control ourselves.
how many times have we died on a whim
wielded like gallows in their sun-shy hands?
here, standing in my own body, i say: the next time
they murder us for the crime of their imaginations
i don’t know what i’ll do.
i did not come to preach of peace
for that is not the hunted’s duty.
i came here to say what i can’t say
without my name being added to a list
what my mother fears i will say
what she wishes to say herself
i came here to say
i can’t bring myself to write it down
sometimes i dream of pulling a red apology
from a pig’s collared neck & wake up crackin up
if i dream of setting fire to cul-de-sacs
i wake chained to the bed
i don’t like thinking about doing to white folks
what white folks done to us
when i do
i don’t dance
o my people
how long will we
reach for god
instead of something sharper?
my lovely doe
with a taste for meat
by his hand
Copyright © 2018 by Danez Smith. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 25, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
And seriously now the guitar is beating me up It is shoving me into the narrow range of its cheerful melancholy And all sorts of feelings I want to have I cannot My feet start to move in exactly the same way They did for so many years each time I entered The tin shack where the dancing occurred Again I see you Luna just as I did When I was a boy once and everything Made a large kind of sense we were being guarded The new wave band with the exciting hair Produced inside us the same faint scent Of oranges that filled the patio in ancient holy Spain We read about in our textbooks We knew someday we would go Together there and feel our song In the narrow alleyways made sense We would sing it and drink each other’s blood Which would only make us grow stronger Sometimes we talked about just going to Panama To watch the ships move through the artificial scar Overlords made in earth to bring the goods we loved We put them in our mouths and on our record players Luna I am losing the red thread I want to rush back out into the street Away from this terrible guitar that is making me feel I’m just a chandelier in the reflections of my own Glass droplets quantifying what has passed Too enervated to keep toiling like a star Luna I don’t mean to say it’s all been a loss There was that class I took on how to ride The carousel holding my nephew But it’s impossible to be positive with this guitar playing There is something inside the tune I can’t alter and this man is singing All these songs about going there To be honest I just gave up and moved I hear my sister yelling in the yard Luna I’m going to bring my head outside To see if I can scare some crows They have bad manners not that I really care There are three of them right now Making me think of you and me and the other one The best evening of my life was when we parked Above that hill and talked all night About the things we would never do Until we grew dark and indifferent As a well in a ruined village The army passes by…
Copyright © 2018 by Matthew Zapruder. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 26, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Copyright © 2018 by Tina Chang. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 30, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
You might say fear is a predictable emotion & I might agree. Whenever my husband leaves for his graveyard shift, when he prepares to walk out into the abyss of black sky, I am afraid tonight will be the night I become a widow. I don't want to love like this. But here we are: walking hand in hand in our parkas down the avenues & he pulls away from me. I might be in some dreamy place, thinking of the roast chicken we just had, the coconut peas & rice he just cooked, & how the food has filled our bellies with delight. How many times can I speak about black men & an officer enters the scene? I don't want to love like this. But there is a gun in the holster & a hand on the gun in the holster & my husband's hands are no longer in his pockets because it is night & we are just trying to breathe in some fresh evening air, trying to be unpredictable, to forget fear for a moment & live in love & love.
Copyright © 2018 by DéLana R. A. Dameron. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 25, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
The average mother loses 700 hours of sleep in the first year of her child’s life; or, what that first year taught me about America.
Most of us favor one side when we walk. As we tire,
we lean into that side and stop moving in a straight line—
so it takes longer to get anywhere,
let alone home.
In wilderness conditions,
where people don’t know the terrain,
a tired person might end up leaning so far into one side
they’ll walk in a circle rather than straight ahead.
It can kill you, such leaning
—and it can get you killed.
I told my husband,
I walked in a circle in my mind but you came out okay.
Initially, he asked me to clarify,
but then he let it go.
Who wrote that first If You Lived Here You’d Be Home by Now sign?
It seems I’m going to have to move.
I am tired and also sick
of helping other people in lieu of helping myself.
It's really not that bad: we’re in the home stretch.
That’s the mind of a parent.
Relentless optimism in the face of sheer panic
Copyright © 2018 by Camille T. Dungy. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 28, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Out of the deep and the dark, A sparkling mystery, a shape, Something perfect, Comes like the stir of the day: One whose breath is an odour, Whose eyes show the road to stars, The breeze in his face, The glory of Heaven on his back. He steps like a vision hung in air, Diffusing the passion of Eternity; His abode is the sunlight of morn, The music of eve his speech: In his sight, One shall turn from the dust of the grave, And move upward to the woodland.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on July 8, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Dear Boy: It is true: You took two tries
to get here—for your mother and me
to calyx together a body bold
enough to carry the grace of you. Amen.
So forgive us if we still bow inside
the garden of your miscarried becoming—:
grant us the ruined grounds of the first prayer
fiercer than our cleaved breathing. How could we
rush to rinse the word loss from our de-parented mouths?
Remember this: we surrendered a new name
for everything to the tender hour at our chest.
Nothing blooms in the old field of maybe. No sound
flowers above please. But we endure what’s not delivered
from the impressions planted by our knees. Amen.
From The Night Angler. Copyright © 2018 by Geffrey Davis. Used with the permission of BOA Editions.
Across the dunes, in the waning light,
The rising moon pours her amber rays,
Through the slumbrous air of the dim, brown night
The pungent smell of the seaweed strays—
From vast and trackless spaces
Where wind and water meet,
White flowers, that rise from the sleepless deep,
Come drifting to my feet.
They flutter the shore in a drowsy tune,
Unfurl their bloom to the lightlorn sky,
Allow a caress to the rising moon,
Then fall to slumber, and fade, and die.
White flowers, a-bloom on the vagrant deep,
Like dreams of love, rising out of sleep,
You are the songs, I dreamt but never sung,
Pale hopes my thoughts alone have known,
Vain words ne’er uttered, though on the tongue,
That winds to the sibilant seas have blown.
In you, I see the everlasting drift of years
That will endure all sorrows, smiles and tears;
For when the bell of time will ring the doom
To all the follies of the human race,
You still will rise in fugitive bloom
And garland the shores of ruined space.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on September 16, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.
I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.
—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
From The Complete Poems 1927-1979 by Elizabeth Bishop, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc. Copyright © 1979, 1983 by Alice Helen Methfessel. Used with permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.
A shipping container of rubber duckies made in China for the US washed overboard in 1992, and some of them traveled and washed ashore over 17,000 miles over 15 years. Let’s go ahead and assume it’s yellow. What little of science I know: its plastic skin invincible against salt water, but not the sun– we can only ask so much. Will it fade or brown? What I mean to say is I would want one of these for my daughter: its internal clock set to the mercy of the currents that have been predictable for centuries, but mercy is not the word anyone would choose. Sometimes not making sense and floating are the same. Each wave is its own beginning and ending. Through international waters, you could have caused an incident: no one knowing you, never reaching the hands that hoped for you. Rough immigrant, or free refugee– floating flagless, fading border, stamped with words but not your name.
Copyright © 2018 by Bao Phi. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 24, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Her eyes were mostly shut. She didn’t speak.
The sun’s slow exile crossed the wall above the bed.
But once, when I bent to feed her a drop
of morphine from the little plastic beak,
her hand shot up and gripped my arm. She looked right at me.
When she said the words, it sounded like she meant: Don't leave me.
From the very first, we love like this: our heads turning
toward whatever mothers us, our mouths urgent
for the taste of our name.
Copyright © 2018 by Jenny George. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 17, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
A woman has a window in her face: that is the truth. I look like my mother: that is the truth. I want to tell you I am not like her: that is the truth. I am ashamed walking in a woman’s body: that is the truth. I wish to take back everything I say: that is the truth. A window can be a mirror. It can also be a door: that is the truth. As a girl, my mother slept in a shack with no windows and one door: that is the truth. My grandma would slam windows: truth. A mother’s hands are stronger than God: truth. We often use fruit to describe a bruise, like plum or blackberry: truth. My mother’s window blackberried: truth. My mother’s door peached: truth. She loves peaches: that is the truth. My father could not stand them in our house: that is the truth. We had three doors and nine windows in our house: that is the truth. A woman has a face in her window: truth. A father has a window but I don’t know where it is: truth. What burrows is the peach fuzz, he said: that is the truth. I have never been close enough to a peach to eat one: truth. The worst things last on the skin: truth. I don’t like not having things: truth. My father has one door but I can’t find it: truth. Not all windows open: that is the truth. One night I see my father crying in the yard, head in his hands: that is the truth. I make things up that I want for myself: that is the truth.
Copyright © 2018 by Sara Borjas. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 26, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
The human brain wants to complete—
The poem too easy? Bored. The poem too hard?
Angry. What’s this one about? Around the block
the easy summer weather, the picture-puff clouds
adrift in the blue sky that’s no paint-by-numbers.
In the corner garden, the cabbage butterfly
bothers the big leafy heads, trying to complete
its life cycle by hatching a horned monster to
chew holes in the green cloth manufactured so
laboriously by seed germ from air, water,
light, dirt. There’s no end to this, yes, no end.
Even when we want to stop, stop, stop! Even
when someone else calls us monster. Even when
we fear and hope that we will not have the final
Copyright © 2018 by Minnie Bruce Pratt. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 26, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
This poem is in the public domain.
Is that Eric Garner worked
for some time for the Parks and Rec.
Horticultural Department, which means,
perhaps, that with his very large hands,
perhaps, in all likelihood,
he put gently into the earth
some plants which, most likely,
some of them, in all likelihood,
continue to grow, continue
to do what such plants do, like house
and feed small and necessary creatures,
like being pleasant to touch and smell,
like converting sunlight
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe.
Copyright © 2015 by Ross Gay. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.
A ghost, though invisible, still is like a place
your sight can knock on, echoing; but here
within this thick black pelt, your strongest gaze
will be absorbed and utterly disappear:
just as a raving madman, when nothing else
can ease him, charges into his dark night
howling, pounds on the padded wall, and feels
the rage being taken in and pacified.
She seems to hide all looks that have ever fallen
into her, so that, like an audience,
she can look them over, menacing and sullen,
and curl to sleep with them. But all at once
as if awakened, she turns her face to yours;
and with a shock, you see yourself, tiny,
inside the golden amber of her eyeballs
suspended, like a prehistoric fly.
Translated by Stephen Mitchell.