After Hanif Abdurraqib & Frank O’Hara It is the last class of the day & I am teaching a classroom of sixth graders about poetry & across town a man has walked into a Starbucks & blown himself up while some other men throw grenades in the street & shoot into the crowd of civilians & I am 27 years old which means I am the only person in this room who was alive when this happened in New York City & I was in eighth grade & sitting in my classroom for the first class of the day & I made a joke about how mad everyone was going to be at the pilot who messed up & later added, how stupid do you have to be for it to happen twice? & the sixth graders are practicing listing sensory details & somebody calls out blue skies as a sight they love & nobody in this classroom knows what has happened yet & they do not know that the school is in lockdown which is a word we did not have when I was in sixth grade & the whole class is laughing because a boy has called out dog poop as a smell he does not like & what is a boy if not a glowing thing learning what he can get away with & I was once a girl in a classroom on the lucky side of town who did not know what had happened yet & electrical fire is a smell I did not know I did not like until my neighborhood smelled that way for weeks & blue skies is a sight I have never trusted again & poetry is what I reached for in the days when the ash would not stop falling & there is a sixth grade girl in this classroom whose father is in that Starbucks & she does not know what has happened yet & what is a girl if not a pulsing thing learning what the world will take from her & what if I am still a girl sitting in my classroom on the lucky side of town making a careless joke looking at the teacher for some kind of answer & what if I am also the teacher without any answers looking back at myself & what is an adult if not a terrified thing desperate to protect something you cannot save? & how lucky do you have to be for it to miss you twice? & tomorrow a sixth grade girl will come to class while her father has the shrapnel pulled from his body & maybe she will reach for poetry & the sky outside the classroom is so terribly blue & the students are quiet & looking at me & waiting for a grown-up or a poem or an answer or a bell to ring & the bell rings & they float up from their seats like tiny ghosts & are gone
Copyright © 2019 by Sarah Kay. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February , 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
my roommate one year in college would say of my smallness that any man who found me attractive had a trace of the pedophilic & i would shrink newly girled twenty-one with my eyebrows plucked to grownup arches sprouting back every three weeks in sharp little shoots already men have tried to steal me in their taxis corral me into alleyways of the new city already the demand for my name though no one ever asks how old i am though no one ever did i feel creaking & ancient in the repetition of it all i feel my girlhood gone for generations my entire line of blood crowded with exhausted women their unlined faces frozen in time with only a thickness about the waist a small shoot of gray to belie the years i make up names to hand to strangers at parties i trim years from my age & share without being asked that i am fifteen seventeen & no one blinks no one stops wanting i am disappeared like all the girls before me around me all the girls to come everyone thinks i am a little girl & still they hunt me still they show their teeth i am so tired i am one thousand years old one thousand years older when touched
Copyright © 2019 by Safia Elhillo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 13, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
the train never comes.
You smell it anyway, its blue-coal
body. In August, the fringe sticky
with Queen Anne’s lace, you might
walk these tracks inside
gigantic noons. I walked them.
You might smash bottles,
start fires, watch clouds from
your back, breathe clouds through
the red sparks of cigarettes.
Take your first sips of bad
sweet wine, cry in a graveyard at night
with your best friend, a half moon
and grave dirt in your hair.
Have your first bad kiss here, like
swallowing a living fish. If you see
the older kids, run, god
knows why. They will chase you
into the waxy halls
of high school. Unlike me,
you will have all your music
in your hand, the best
movies, a phone that calls
everyone at once. Look up.
The big fires of June stars
are so slow and boring they will
keep you awake for good.
Swim the mucky river.
Wash your hair in clover-smell,
the swish of trees. The crows—
you can’t not love it
when they chatter the sun down.
Follow gravel roads
to screaming crickets
and beer, sleep out
on the hood of your
wake up with yellow flowers
in your mouth. Walk the streets
on the first night
of fall, every tree swelling
with what I can’t say
and see in the lit-up houses
Copyright © 2016 Jeffrey Bean. This poem originally appeared in The Missouri Review. Used with permission of the author.
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.