Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.
“Remember.” Copyright © 1983 by Joy Harjo from She Had Some Horses by Joy Harjo. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Last night when my work was done,
And my estranged hands
Were becoming mutually interested
In such forgotten things as pulses,
I looked out of a window
Into a glittering night sky.
I began to feather-stitch a ring around the moon.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on November 2, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
The air is close by the sea and the glow from the pink moon
drapes low over a tamarind tree.
We hold hands, walk across a road rushing with traffic
to an abandoned building site on the bay, look out across the dark marina.
Sea cows sleep by the side of a splintered dock, a cluster of them
under the shallow water,
their wide backs covered in algae like mounds of bleached coral.
Every few minutes one floats up for air,
then drifts back down to the bottom,
without fully waking.
They will do this for hours, and for a while we try to match
our breath to theirs, and with each other’s.
In the morning, sitting in the garden beneath thatch palms,
we drink black coffee from white ceramic cups.
Lizards killed by feral cats are scattered on the footpath.
I sweep them into a pile with the ones from the night before.
Waves of heat rise from the asphalt,
and we sense a transparent gray fuzz lightly covering everything
as if there were no such thing as empty space,
that even a jar void of substance holds emptiness as if it were full.
In a world of loss
gratitude is what
I demand for keeping
within my reach.
No one despises
the shepherd for
collecting his flock.
No one accuses
the watchman of
making a captive
of his charge.
I’m like a holster,
or sheath, all function
and no fury. Don’t
you worry as I
swallow you whole. Those
ulcers in my gut
are only windows,
the stoma punched
in my throat is just
a keyhole. Don’t be shy.
Hand me the rattle
of your aching heart
and I’ll cradle you,
bird with broken wing.
Let me love you. I
will hold your brittle
bones together. I’ll
unclasp your beak
so you can sing.
It’s a world of always
leaving but here
you can always stay.
Copyright © 2019 by Rigoberto González. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 30, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
begins with its subject,
which is the sentence.
Track the sentence
to find out what happens
or how it will act. It is
the subject, after all. To track,
meaning keep an eye on,
which is synecdoche,
part representing the whole
of a thing. One
may track a package if he pleases.
One may track a person,
though you’d probably want
the whole of him, not only
an eye, or perhaps
only an eye. Look how
the sentence is so capable
of embracing contraction.
A him may function
as a subject, but that depends
upon the sentence, i.e., A man
is subject to his sentence.
Such syntax renders it like
a package showing evidence
of having been tampered with—
Copyright © 2019 by Nathan McClain. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 23, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
People always tell me, “Don’t put the cart
before the horse,” which is curious
because I don’t have a horse.
Is this some new advancement in public shaming—
repeatedly drawing one’s attention
to that which one is currently not, and never
has been, in possession of?
If ever, I happen to obtain a Clydesdale,
then I’ll align, absolutely, it to its proper position
in relation to the cart, but I can’t
do that because all I have is the cart.
One solitary cart—a little grief wagon that goes
precisely nowhere—along with, apparently, one
invisible horse, which does not pull,
does not haul, does not in any fashion
budge, impel or tow my disaster buggy
up the hill or down the road.
I’m not asking for much. A more tender world
with less hatred strutting the streets.
Perhaps a downtick in state-sanctioned violence
against civilians. Wind through the trees.
Water under the bridge. Kindness.
LOL, says the world. These things take time, says
the Office of Disappointment. Change cannot
be rushed, says the roundtable of my smartest friends.
Then, together, they say, The cart!
They say, The horse!
They say, Haven’t we told you already?
So my invisible horse remains
standing where it previously stood:
between hotdog stands and hallelujahs,
between the Nasdaq and the moon’s adumbral visage,
between the status quo and The Great Filter,
and I can see that it’s not his fault—being
invisible and not existing—
how he’s the product of both my imagination
and society’s failure of imagination.
Watch how I press my hand against his translucent flank.
How I hold two sugar cubes to his hypothetical mouth.
How I say I want to believe in him,
speaking softly into his missing ear.
Copyright © 2019 by Matthew Olzmann. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 22, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Love is a flame that burns with sacred fire,
And fills the being up with sweet desire;
Yet, once the altar feels love’s fiery breath,
The heart must be a crucible till death.
Say love is life; and say it not amiss,
That love is but a synonym for bliss.
Say what you will of love—in what refrain,
But knows the heart, ‘tis but a word for pain.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on October 20, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
They come home with our daughter
because there’s no one at school
to feed them on the weekends.
They are mates, and like all true
companions they are devoted
and they bite. We set their cage
on the kitchen table and wait
for the weekend to end, for our girl
to fall asleep so we can talk
about god while the rats lick
the silver ball that delivers
the water one drop at a time.
There are so many points on which
you and I disagree: the value
of a clean counter, the purpose
of parent-teacher conferences,
what warrants a good cry or calling
you a name so cruel I make myself
whisper it through my teeth. God
is the least of it. When I think
I’m so angry I could hit you
in the face, you turn yours to me
with a look of disbelief. The rats,
meanwhile, have turned up the volume.
Tick, tick, says the silver ball
as their teeth click against it, thirsty
as ever, thirstier still at night
when the darkness wakes them.
And during the day, when they’re curled
together in their flannel hammock,
head to tail, two furry apostrophes
possessing nothing but each other,
paws pressed together as if in prayer—
to what gods do they prostrate
themselves then? God of fidelity? God
of forgiveness? I lied when I said
I didn’t believe. Who—even me,
the coldest of heart—could turn away
from a sea parted, bread that multiplies
to answer need, water transformed
to the sweetest wine, the kind
that tastes better for each year
it’s been left in the barrel?
Copyright © 2019 by Keetje Kuipers. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 16, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
When I told them it must be like dropping your kid
off at school their first day, all my parent friends
nodded and smiled uncomfortably, meaning
what would I know. I won’t be taking solace
in the many firsts ahead. Here among the gray,
spotted and brown heads of the seniors,
their soft flesh and angles, their obedience as they
sit as uprightly as they are able at white, parallel
tables, nobody cries, and very few speak.
When I seat dad beside her, one senior tells me
she’s ninety-four, presenting one hand, four
fingers in the air, just as she might have ninety
years ago with a stranger like me, now long gone.
Dad never liked me to talk:
Lower your voice, he’d say. If I was louder:
Put on your boxing gloves. Or: You’ll catch
more flies with honey than vinegar, as if some day
I’d need the flies. I stopped talking, started writing
instead. I work full-time and dad wants to die,
so I dropped him at the Champion Avenue
Low-income Senior & Child Care Services Center,
a newish building, municipal and nondescript,
in a neighborhood that’s been razed and rebuilt so often
it’s got no discernible character left. There was bingo,
men playing poker in a corner. Red sauce and cheese
on white bread pizza for lunch. Dad, a big talker,
was an instant hit, but refused to return. What
is the name of that animal, someone asked me.
Where is Philip, asked someone else, over and over.
As if firsts and lasts were one and the same.
Copyright © 2019 by Kathy Fagan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 15, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.
We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.
It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.
At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.
Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.
This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.
Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.
We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.
At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.
Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.
From The Woman Who Fell From the Sky (W. W. Norton, 1994) by Joy Harjo. Copyright © 1994 by Joy Harjo. Used with permission of the author.