The week after you died, Mom,
you were in my checkout line,
little old lady who met my stare
with the fear, the yearning
of a mortal chosen by a god,
feeling herself change
painfully cell by cell
into a shadow, a laurel, you, a constellation.

Copyright © 2013 by James Richardson. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on May 28, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

My friend says I was not a good son
you understand
I say yes I understand

he says I did not go
to see my parents very often you know
and I say yes I know

even when I was living in the same city he says
maybe I would go there once
a month or maybe even less
I say oh yes

he says the last time I went to see my father
I say the last time I saw my father

he says the last time I saw my father
he was asking me about my life
how I was making out and he
went into the next room
to get something to give me

oh I say
feeling again the cold
of my father's hand the last time
he says and my father turned
in the doorway and saw me
look at my wristwatch and he
said you know I would like you to stay
and talk with me

oh yes I say

but if you are busy he said
I don't want you to feel that you
have to
just because I'm here

I say nothing

he says my father
said maybe
you have important work you are doing
or maybe you should be seeing
somebody I don't want to keep you

I look out the window
my friend is older than I am
he says and I told my father it was so
and I got up and left him then
you know

though there was nowhere I had to go
and nothing I had to do

From Opening the Hand, by W. S. Merwin, published by Atheneum. Copyright © 1983 by W. S. Merwin. Used with permission.

I needed, for months after he died, to remember our rooms—
            some lit by the trivial, others ample

with an obscurity that comforted us: it hid our own darkness.
            So for months, duteous, I remembered:

rooms where friends lingered, rooms with our beds,
            with our books, rooms with curtains I sewed

from bright cottons. I remembered tables of laughter,
            a chipped bowl in early light, black

branches by a window, bowing toward night, & those rooms,
            too, in which we came together

to be away from all. And sometimes from ourselves:
            I remembered that, also.

But tonight—as I stand in the doorway to his room
            & stare at dusk settled there—

what I remember best is how, to throw my arms around his neck,
            I needed to stand on the tip of my toes.

Copyright © 2015 by Laure-Anne Bosselaar. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 25, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

Man looking into the sea,
taking the view from those who have as much right to it as you have to yourself,
it is human nature to stand in the middle of a thing,
but you cannot stand in the middle of this;
the sea has nothing to give but a well excavated grave.
The firs stand in a procession, each with an emerald turkey-foot at the top,
reserved as their contours, saying nothing;
repression, however, is not the most obvious characteristic of the sea;
the sea is a collector, quick to return a rapacious look.
There are others besides you who have worn that look—
whose expression is no longer a protest; the fish no longer investigate them
for their bones have not lasted:
men lower nets, unconscious of the fact that they are desecrating a grave,
and row quickly away—the blades of the oars
moving together like the feet of water-spiders as if there were no such thing as death.
The wrinkles progress among themselves in a phalanx—beautiful under networks of foam,
and fade breathlessly while the sea rustles in and out of the seaweed;
the birds swim through the air at top speed, emitting cat-calls as heretofore—
the tortoise-shell scourges about the feet of the cliffs, in motion beneath them;
and the ocean, under the pulsation of lighthouses and noise of bellbuoys,
advances as usual, looking as if it were not that ocean in which dropped things are bound to sink—
in which if they turn and twist, it is neither with volition nor consciousness.

From The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore. Copyright © 1981 by Marianne Craig Moore. Reprinted with permission of Marianne Craig Moore. All rights reserved.

I come back indoors at dusk-end. I come back into the room with

your now finished no-longer-aching no-longer-being

body in it, the candle beside you still lit—no other

light for now. I sit by it and look at it. Another in

from the one I was just peering-out towards now, over

rooftops, over the woods, first stars.

The candle burns. It is so quiet you can hear it burn.

Only I breathe. I hear that too.

Listen I say to you, forgetting. Do you hear it Dad. Listen.

What is increase. The cease of increase.

The cease of progress. What is progress.

What is going. The cease of going.

What is knowing. What is fruition.

The cease of. Cease of.

What is bloodflow. The cease of bloodflow

of increase of progress the best is over, is over-

thrown, no, the worst is yet to come, no, it is

7:58 p.m., it is late spring, it is capital’s apogee, the

flow’s, fruition’s, going’s, increase’s, in creases of

matter, brainfold, cellflow, knowing’s

pastime, it misfired, lifetime’s only airtime—candle says

you shall out yourself, out-

perform yourself, grow multiform—you shall self-identify as

                                  still

mortal—here in this timestorm—this end-of-time

storm—the night comes on.
 
 
Last night came on with you still here.

Now I wait here. Feel I can think. Feel there are no minutes in you

Put my minutes there, on you, as hands—touch, press,

feel the flying-away, the leaving-sticks-behind under the skin, then even the skin

abandoned now, no otherwise now, even the otherwise gone.

I lay our open book on you, where we left off. I read. I read aloud—

grove, forest, jungle, dog—the words don’t grip-up into sentences for me,

                   it is in pieces,

I start again into the space above you—grandeur wisdom village

tongue, street, wind—hornet—feeler runner rust red more—oh

more—I hear my voice—it is so raised—on you—are you—refinery portal

land scald difference—here comes my you, rising in me, my feel-

                   ing your it, my me, in-

creasing, elaborating, flowing, not yet released from form, not yet,

still will-formed, swarming, mis-

informed—bridegroom of spume and vroom.

I touch your pillowcase. I read this out to you as, in extremis, we await

those who will come to fix you—make you permanent. No more vein-hiss. A

                   masterpiece. My phantom

father-body—so gone—how gone. I sit. Your suit laid out. Your silver tie. Your

                   shirt. I don’t know

                   what is

needed now. It’s day. Read now, you’d say. Here it is then, one last time, the

                   news. I

                   read. There is no

precedent for, far exceeds the ability of, will not

                   adapt to, cannot

                   adapt to,

but not for a while yet, not yet, but not for much longer, no, much

sooner than predicted, yes, ten times, a hundred times, all evidence

                   points towards.

                   What do I tell my child.

Day has arrived and crosses out the candle-light. Here it is now the

silent summer—extinction—migration—the blue-jewel-

butterfly you loved, goodbye, the red kite, the dunnock, the crested tit, the cross-

billed spotless starling (near the top of the list) smokey gopher—spud-

wasp—the named storms, extinct fonts, ingots, blindmole-made-

tunnels—oh your century, there in you, how it goes out—

how lonely are we aiming for—are we there

yet—the orange-bellied and golden-shouldered parrots—

I read them out into our room, I feel my fingers grip this

page, where are the men who are supposed to come for you,

most of the ecosystem’s services, it says,

will easily become replaced—the soil, the roots, the webs—the organizations

of—the 3D grasses, minnows, mudflats—the virtual carapace—the simulated action of

forest, wetland, of all the living noise that keeps us

company. Company. I look at you.

Must I be this machine I am

become. This brain programming

blood function, flowing beating releasing channeling.

This one where I hold my head in my hands and the chip

slips in and click I go to find my in-

formation. The two-headed eagle, the

beaked snake, the feathered men walking sideways while looking

ahead, on stone, on wall, on pyramid, in

sacrifice—must I have already become when it is all still

happening. Behind you thin machines that ticked and hummed until just now

are off for good. What I wouldn’t give, you had said last night, for five more

minutes here. You can’t imagine it. Minutes ago.

Ago. It hums. It checks us now, monitoring

this minute fraction of—the MRI, the access-zone, the

aura, slot, logo, confession-

al—I feel the hissing multiplying

satellites out there I took for stars, the bedspread’s weave, your being tucked-in—

goodnight, goodnight—Once upon a time I say into my air,

and I caress you now with the same touch

as I caress these keys.

Copyright © 2015 by Jorie Graham. Originally published in the September/October 2015 issue of the Boston Review. Used with permission of the author.

When someone dies, the clothes are so sad. They have outlived
their usefulness and cannot get warm and full.
You talk to the clothes and explain that he is not coming back

as when he showed up immaculately dressed in slacks and plaid jacket
and had that beautiful smile on and you’d talk.
You’d go to get something and come back and he’d be gone.

You explain death to the clothes like that dream.
You tell them how much you miss the spouse
and how much you miss the pet with its little winter sweater.

You tell the worn raincoat that if you talk about it,
you will finally let grief out. The ancients etched the words
for battle and victory onto their shields and then they went out

and fought to the last breath. Words have that kind of power
you remind the clothes that remain in the drawer, arms stubbornly
folded across the chest, or slung across the backs of chairs,

or hanging inside the dark closet. Do with us what you will,
they faintly sigh, as you close the door on them.
He is gone and no one can tell us where.

Copyright © 2015 by Emily Fragos. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 21, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

I know what my heart is like
      Since your love died:
It is like a hollow ledge
Holding a little pool
      Left there by the tide,
      A little tepid pool,
Drying inward from the edge.

This poem is in the public domain.

My skeleton,
you who once ached
with your own growing larger

are now,
each year
imperceptibly smaller,
lighter,
absorbed by your own
concentration.

When I danced,
you danced.
When you broke,
I.

And so it was lying down,
walking,
climbing the tiring stairs.
Your jaws. My bread.

Someday you,
what is left of you,
will be flensed of this marriage.

Angular wristbone's arthritis,
cracked harp of ribcage,
blunt of heel,
opened bowl of the skull,
twin platters of pelvis—
each of you will leave me behind,
at last serene.

What did I know of your days,
your nights,
I who held you all my life
inside my hands
and thought they were empty?

You who held me all my life
inside your hands
as a new mother holds
her own unblanketed child,
not thinking at all.

—2013

Copyright © 2013 by Jane Hirshfield. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on October 14, 2013.

I am the blossom pressed in a book,
found again after two hundred years....

I am the maker, the lover, and the keeper....

When the young girl who starves
sits down to a table
she will sit beside me....

I am food on the prisoner's plate....

I am water rushing to the wellhead,
filling the pitcher until it spills....

I am the patient gardener
of the dry and weedy garden....

I am the stone step,
the latch, and the working hinge....

I am the heart contracted by joy...
the longest hair, white
before the rest....

I am there in the basket of fruit
presented to the widow....

I am the musk rose opening
unattended, the fern on the boggy summit....

I am the one whose love
overcomes you, already with you
when you think to call my name....

From The Boat of Quiet Hours by Jane Kenyon, published by Graywolf Press. © 1986 by Jane Kenyon. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Why must I tell you this story, O little one
You’re just a bud-of-a-girl, who knows nothing

Now you are full-faced, bright as sun
Now you open your skirts pink, layered, brazen

Suffering is alchemy, change is God
Now you droop your head, heavy with rust

Sit, contemplate, what did Buddha say?
Old age, sickness, death, no one owns eternity            

Detach, detach, look away from the sun
Let your petals fall aimlessly                 

Don’t despair, little one, we are done
 

Copyright © 2016 by Marilyn Chin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 19, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

In the recesses of the woman’s mind
           there is a warehouse. The warehouse
                      is covered with wisteria. The wisteria wonders

what it is doing in the mind of the woman.
           The woman wonders too.
                     The river is raw tonight. The river is a calling

aching with want. The woman walks towards it
           her arms unimpaired and coated
                     with moonlight. The wisteria wants the river.

It also wants the warehouse in the mind
           of the woman, wants to remain in the ruins
                     though water is another kind of original ruin

determined in its structure and unpredictable.
           The woman unlaces the light across her body.
                     She wades through the river while the twining
                              wisteria

bleeds from her mouth, her eyes, her wrist-veins,
           her heart valve, her heart. The garden again
                     overgrows the body—called by the water

and carried by the woman to the wanting river.
           When she bleeds the wisteria, the warehouse
                     in her mind is free and empty and the source

of all emptiness. It is free to house the night sky.
           It is free like the woman to hold nothing
                     but the boundless, empty, unimaginable dark.
 

Copyright © 2016 Brynn Saito. Used with permission of the author.

they thought the field was wasting
and so they gathered the marker rocks and stones and
piled them into a barn    they say that the rocks were shaped
some of them scratched with triangles and other forms    they
must have been trying to invent some new language they say
the rocks went to build that wall there guarding the manor and
some few were used for the state house
crops refused to grow
i say the stones marked an old tongue and it was called eternity
and pointed toward the river    i say that after that collection
no pillow in the big house dreamed     i say that somewhere under
here moulders one called alice whose great grandson is old now
too and refuses to talk about slavery    i say that at the
masters table only one plate is set for supper    i say no seed
can flourish on this ground once planted then forsaken    wild
berries warm a field of bones
bloom how you must i say

Lucille Clifton, "mulberry fields" from Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton. Copyright © 1991 by Lucille Clifton. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., boaeditions.org.

for James Schuyler

Pink dandruff of some tree
afloat on the swimming pool.
What’s that bird?
I’m not from around here.
My mail will probably be forwarded
as quietly as this pink fluff
or a question or morphine
or impatience or a mistake
or the infinite method
established by experience
but never in this world.
I’ve always wanted to use
malarkey and henna in a poem
and now I have.
Oh Jimmy, all you ever wanted
was to see the new century
but no such luck.
You never saw a century plant
either, or you would have
taken another drink.
They grow for one hundred years,
bloom in their centenary spring
then die forevermore.
The stalk is ten feet tall
(you’d be jealous) rising
out of a clump of cactus leaves
(think yucca) then busting into
creamy ovoids flaming
on the candelabrum.
I was in an air-conditioned car
when I saw it but still felt
the heat of its beauty,
I wanted to stop and talk to it
but we sped on, so tonight
I’ll xanax myself to sleep
with the sweet thought that
today and every day is a
century plant of its own
seeded awful long beginning
blooming in drive-by yelps
of love and helplessness
and you saw plenty of them,
spectacular and sad as
a head of hennaed hair,
a lot of malarkey
if you ask anybody
other than us.

Copyright © 2013 by Mary Ruefle. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on May 6, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

It was the military
        coming together

on paper under glass

to shine on me! they
        called me

        damp thing it was
my name coming

together under orders

nothing would go
        unlaminated

they said
        they said

under orders     after death
all things must shine

Copyright © 2011 by Heather Christle. Used with permission of the author.

I walked the three floors
of the local antique store
and imagined white plaques
adorning each room
—but unlike museums
I could touch the displays,
and could take a seat
at a beautiful walnut table—
I could wonder about the moment
its palm-stained patina 
went from simply dirty
to expensively antique—that
singular moment the thing
became slightly more
than a thing by simply
continuing to be
the very same thing—all its cracks
thick as the edge of a quarter—
all its smoothed over corners—
all its dark knots flourishing—
and I thought I could live
for awhile in this very
same body—and did, somehow,
and was loved, somehow,
into a third body, which totters
across the living room,
and whose knees I kiss
when he stumbles,
and the difference between
just now and not
is an aperture’s quick snap—
is breath-delicate—
it must have been Luck
—I see it—that saddled me,
the blind horse rising
and falling as the carnival
blared from the brass pipes,
as the carousel twirled
its crown of lights,
and one by one the bulbs 
went dark—and so it is,
this life—this goddamn
lucky life—the organ
sounding off the melody,
the platform winding down,
and the horses still bounding.

Copyright © 2016 by Keith Leonard. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 7, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

and I didn’t mean to, this was not
my intent. I meant to say how I loved
the birds, how watching them lift off
the branches, hearing their song
helps me get through the gray morning.
When I wrote about how they crash
into the small dark places that only birds
can fit through, layers of night sky, pipes
through drains, how I’ve seen them splayed
across gutters, piles of feathers stuck
together by dried blood, how once my car
ran over a sparrow, though I swerved,
the road was narrow, the bird not quick
enough, dragged it under my tire as I drove
to forget, bird disappearing part by part,
beak, slender feet, fretful, hot,
I did not mean to write about death,
but rather how when something dies
we remember who we love, and we
die a little too, we who are still breathing,
we who still have the energy to survive.

 

Copyright © 2017 by Kim Dower. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 7, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Because I could not stop for Death
He kindly stopped for me
The Carriage held but just Ourselves 
And Immortality.

We slowly droveHe knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recessin the Ring
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain
We passed the Setting Sun

Or ratherHe passed us
The Dews drew quivering and chill
For only Gossamer, my Gown
My Tippetonly Tulle

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground
The Roof was scarcely visible
The Cornicein the Ground

Since then’tis Centuriesand yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity

Poetry used by permission of the publishers and the Trustees of Amherst College from The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Ralph W. Franklin ed., Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Copyright © 1998 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © 1951, 1955, 1979, by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.

for Philip Levine

Donald Justice has died twice:
once in Miami, in the sun, on a Sunday,
and once in Iowa City, on a Friday
in August, which was not without
its own sunif not bright spot.
The first time he died, he was thinking
of Vallejo, who died in Paris, maybe
on a Thursday, surely in rain.
Vallejo died again in Paris,
in April, of an unknown illness
which may have been malaria,
as fictionalized in Bolaño’s
Monsieur Pain. “There is, brothers,
very much to do,” Vallejo said
between his deaths, and Phil,
you must have died once
in Seville, in the land of Machado,
before going again last Saturday
in Fresno, so you no longer write
to us or bring in trash bins filled
with light. Phil, I will die, maybe
on a Sunday in Wellfleet, because
today it is Sunday, and ice
is jamming the eaves, and there
is nowhere to put the snow
that keeps recalling all
those other snows—
or the stones on more stones.
 

Copyright © 2015 by Andrea Cohen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 28, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,—
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve. 
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

Edna St. Vincent Millay, "Dirge Without Music" from The Buck in the Snow and Other Poems. Copyright © 1928 Edna St. Vincent Millay. Used with permission of The Millay Society.

I am writing to you as an act of ending.

Cutting faces out of paper and folding them in envelopes like thoughts.

Am I a monster, Clarice Lispector asked in The Hour of the Star, or is this what it means to be human?

To be alive, I think as I cut another face.

What makes the shape become visible, and breathe, is the angle and variation of absence.

Sugar skull, I whisper, what I have known all along.

I am you gone.

From Please Bury Me in This. Copyright © 2017 by Allison Benis White. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc. on behalf of Four Way Books, www.fourwaybooks.com.

                     —for L

Together in the garden, a cigarette cradled
between her fingers, she tells me of breeding

cockatiels—clutch after successful clutch, and what
she can’t forget: the time of one-too-many and

the smallest chick pushed from the nest.
How she thought mistake and put it back again,

only to see the same, simple denial.
And then, for days, trying to make her hands

avian, to syringe-feed the bird into flight.
One thin month lies between us and our miscarriage,

and I feel her grow silent under the new vastness
of this wreckage. I try to talk about my father

breaking blighted pigeon eggs: at twelve, I thought
patience and pressed him to wait, one week, then two,

until frustration set and he crushed the shells
before me, against the coop. I wanted to gather up

each shard, to will those gossamer embryos
into growth again—          What do we rescue

now, at home, gleaning herbs in the evening,
as swallows swerve in the fallow air? I lean over

her shoulder: her hair smells of the rosemary we take,
and of the rosemary we leave to freeze in the garden.

From Revising the Storm (BOA Editions, 2014) by Geffrey Davis. Copyright © 2014 by Geffrey Davis. Used with permission of the author.

My black face fades,
hiding inside the black granite.
I said I wouldn’t,
dammit: No tears.
I’m stone. I’m flesh.
My clouded reflection eyes me
like a bird of prey, the profile of night
slanted against morning. I turn
this way—the stone lets me go.
I turn that way—I’m inside
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again, depending on the light
to make a difference.
I go down the 58,022 names,
half-expecting to find
my own in letters like smoke.
I touch the name Andrew Johnson;
I see the booby trap’s white flash.
Names shimmer on a woman’s blouse
but when she walks away
the names stay on the wall.
Brushstrokes flash, a red bird’s
wings cutting across my stare.
The sky. A plane in the sky.
A white vet’s image floats
closer to me, then his pale eyes
look through mine. I’m a window.
He's lost his right arm
inside the stone. In the black mirror
a woman’s trying to erase names:
No, she’s brushing a boy’s hair.

From Dien Cai Dau by Yusef Komunyakaa. Copyright © 1988 by Yusef Komunyakaa. Reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press. All rights reserved.

Sometimes I picture your face on money. 

But this isn’t Rome, where they know
what money’s worth, which is almost 

the paper it’s printed on (a kind of art), 

and where I stared what seemed eternity
into a guidebook, lost, side-skipping

pigeon past, motorbikes, and swarms 

of gypsy tykes excavating the ruins
of tourists’ pockets, until I stumbled

onto the Temple of the Golden Arches-

McDonald’s!- and across the piazza, 
the Pantheon.... Inside, third niche left, 

alone a moment with the Ossa et cineres

of Raphael, I thought of you; “put it all
in the poem” was your advice so, okay, 

here you are! – among the camcorders, 

cell phones, retired gods, and a pair of
kings – rumpled, broke, and amused 

as you were the Green Mountain morning

you asked: among us who was writing 
for posterity?, and one of us knew. Bill, 

I haven’t paid you your due, but need

another favor: could you please undie
so I can buy you the glass of good

rosso in the Eternal City I owe you? 



               William Matthews, poet and teacher (1942 – 1997) 

Copyright © 2005 Jim Simmerman. Used with permission of BOA Editions, Ltd.

                                  I.
Oh, why should the spirit of mortal be proud?
Like a swift-fleeing meteor, a fast-flying cloud,
A flash of the Lightning, a break of the wave,
Man passes from life to his rest in the grave.

                                  II.
The leaves of the oak and the willow shall fade,
Be scattered around and together be laid;
And the young and the old, and the low and the high,
Shall molder to dust and together shall lie.

                                  III.
The infant, a mother attended and ,loved,
The mother, that infant’s affection who proved,
The husband, that mother and infant who blessed,
Each, all, are away to their dwellings of rest.

                                  IV.
The maid, on whose cheek, on whose brow, in whose eye,
Shone beauty and pleasure––her triumphs are by;
And the memories of those who have loved her and praised
Are alike from the minds of the living erased.

                                  V.
The hand of the king that the scepter hath borne,
The brow of the priest that the miter hath worn,
The eye of the sage, and the heart of the brave,
Are hidden and lost in the depth of the grave.

                                  VI.
The peasant, whose lot was to sow and to reap,
The herdsman, who climbed with his goats up the steep,
The beggar, who wandered in search of his bread,
Have faded away like the grass that we tread.

                                  VII.
The saint, who enjoyed the communion of Heaven,
The sinner, who dared to remain unforgiven,
The wise and the foolish, the guilty and just,
Have quietly mingled their bones in the dust.

                                  VIII.
So the multitude goes, like the flower or the weed,
That withers away to let others succeed;
So the multitude comes, even those we behold,
To repeat every tale that has often been told.

                                  IX.
For we are the same that our fathers have been;
We see the same sights that our fathers have seen;
We drink the same stream, and we view the same sun,
And run the same course that our fathers have run.

                                  X.
The thoughts we are thinking, our fathers would think;
From the death that we shrink from, our fathers would shrink;
To the life that we cling to, they also would cling;
But it speeds for us all, like a bird on the wing.

                                  XI.
They loved, but the story we can not unfold;
They scorned, but the heart of the haughty is cold:
They grieved, but no wail from their slumbers will come;
They joyed, but the tongue of their gladness is dumb.

                                  XII.
They died––ah ! they died––and we things that are now,
Who walk on the turl that lies over their brow,
Who make in their dwelling a transient abode,
Meet the things that they met on their pilgrimage-road.

                                  XIII.
Yea ! hope and despondency, pleasure and pain,
We mingle together in sunshine and rain;
And the smiles and the tears, the song and the dirge,
Still follow each other like surge upon surge.

                                  XIV.
’Tis the wink of an eye, ’tis the draught of a breach,
From the blossom of health to the paleness of death,
From the gilded saloon to the bier and the shroud:
Oh, why should the spirit of mortal be proud?

This poem is in the public domain.

         (for Adriana Corral)

Before dawn, trembling in air down to the old river,

circulating gently as a new season

delicate still in its softness, rustling raiment

of hopes never stitched tightly enough to any hour.

I was almost, maybe, just about, going to do that.

A girl’s thick dark hair, brushed over one shoulder

so regularly no one could imagine it not being there.

Hair as a monument.   Hovering - pitched.

Beloved sister, maker of plans, main branch,

we needed you desperately, where have you gone?

Here is the sentence called No no no no no.

Come back, everything grants you your freedom,

here in the mire of too much thinking,

we drown, we drown, split by your echo.

Copyright © 2015 Naomi Shihab Nye. Used by permission of the author.

I’m here, on the dark porch, restyled in my mother’s chair.
10:45 and no moon.
Below the house, car lights
Swing down, on the canyon floor, to the sea.

In this they resemble us,
Dropping like match flames through the great void
Under our feet.
In this they resemble her, burning and disappearing.

Everyone’s gone
And I’m here, sizing the dark, saving my mother’s seat.

From China Trace. Copyright © 1977 by Charles Wright. Courtesy of Charles Wright and Wesleyan University Press.

This is the moment when you see again
the red berries of the mountain ash
and in the dark sky
the birds’ night migrations.

It grieves me to think
the dead won’t see them—
these things we depend on,
they disappear.

What will the soul do for solace then?
I tell myself maybe it won’t need
these pleasures anymore; 
maybe just not being is simply enough,
hard as that is to imagine.

From Averno by Louise Glück, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Copyright © 2006 by Louise Glück. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher.

A shattered bottle tore through my hand last month and split 
a vein until every finger was purple and I couldn’t
 
make even a tentative fist. I used the other hand to indicate
 
I’m okay. 
 
How unwise I am, how polite in a crisis.
In triage, an overheard photo of someone’s lover 
 
almost 3000 miles west made me seize with longing 
when I spied a palm tree in the background.
 
I understand what it says about me 
that my body lustfully wishes to place itself where it was never safe.
 
I have put enormous energy into trying to convince you I’m fine and
 
I’m just about there, no? 
 
Besides, decades on, poorly healed bones help me to predict rain!
though it’s true I like to verify weather
 
with another source because I tend not to believe myself.
I’ve been told repeatedly that I don’t understand plot but
 
it would be a clever twist, wouldn’t it, if in the end 
I realize it’s me who does me in.
 

Copyright © 2017 by Lynn Melnick. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 26, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

If I should die,
And you should live,
And time should gurgle on,
And morn should beam,
And noon should burn,
As it has usual done;
If birds should build as early,
And bees as bustling go,—
One might depart at option
From enterprise below!
’T is sweet to know that stocks will stand
When we with daisies lie,
That commerce will continue,
And trades as briskly fly.
It makes the parting tranquil
And keeps the soul serene,
That gentlemen so sprightly
Conduct the pleasing scene!

When I have fears that I may cease to be 
  Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain, 
Before high piled books, in charact’ry, 
  Hold like rich garners the full-ripen’d grain; 
When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face, 
  Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance, 
And think that I may never live to trace 
  Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance; 
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour! 
  That I shall never look upon thee more, 
Never have relish in the faery power 
  Of unreflecting love!—then on the shore 
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think 
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.

This poem is in the public domain.

    Some day this quest
       Shall cease;
          Some day,
          For aye,
    This heart shall rest
      In peace.
Sometimes—ofttimes—I almost feel
The calm upon my senses steal,
So soft, and all but hear
The dead leaves rustle near
And sign to be
At rest with me.
Though I behold
  The ashen branches tossing to and fro,
  Somehow I only vaguely know
The wind is rude and cold.

This poem is in the public domain.

It fell to me to tell the bees, 
though I had wanted another duty—
to be the scribbler at his death, 
there chart the third day's quickening. 
But fate said no, it falls to you 
to tell the bees, the middle daughter. 
So it was written at your birth. 
I wanted to keep the fire, working 
the constant arranging and shifting 
of the coals blown flaring, 
my cheeks flushed red, 
my bed laid down before the fire, 
myself anonymous among the strangers
there who'd come and go. 
But destiny said no. It falls 
to you to tell the bees, it said. 
I wanted to be the one to wash his linens, 
boiling the death-soiled sheets, 
using the waters for my tea. 
I might have been the one to seal 
his solitude with mud and thatch and string, 
the webs he parted every morning, 
the hounds' hair combed from brushes, 
the dust swept into piles with sparrows' feathers. 
Who makes the laws that live 
inside the brick and mortar of a name, 
selects the seeds, garden or wild, 
brings forth the foliage grown up around it 
through drought or blight or blossom,
the honey darkening in the bitter years,
the combs like funeral lace or wedding veils 
steeped in oak gall and rainwater, 
sequined of rent wings. 
And so arrayed I set out, this once
obedient, toward the hives' domed skeps 
on evening's hill, five tombs alight. 
I thought I heard the thrash and moaning 
of confinement, beyond the century, 
a calling across dreams, 
as if asked to make haste just out of sleep. 
I knelt and waited. 
The voice that found me gave the news. 
Up flew the bees toward his orchards.

From Trapeze by Deborah Digges. Copyright © 2004 by Deborah Digges. Reprinted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.

On suffering, which is real.
On the mouth that never closes,
the air that dries the mouth.

On the miraculous dying body,
its greens and purples.
On the beauty of hair itself.

On the dazzling toddler:
“Like eggplant,” he says,
when you say “Vegetable,”

“Chrysanthemum” to “Flower.”
On his grandmother’s suffering, larger
than vanished skyscrapers,

September zucchini,
other things too big. For her glory
that goes along with it,

glory of grown children’s vigil,
communal fealty, glory
of the body that operates

even as it falls apart, the body
that can no longer even make fever
but nonetheless burns

florid and bright and magnificent
as it dims, as it shrinks,
as it turns to something else.

From Crave Radiance: New and Selected Poems 1990-2010. Copyright © 2010 by Elizabeth Alexander. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc. for Graywolf Press, www.graywolfpress.org.

You came in a dream, yesterday
—The first day we met
you showed me your dark workroom
off the kitchen, your books, your notebooks.

Reading our last, knowing-last letters
—the years of our friendship
reading our poems to each other,
I would start breathing again.

Yesterday, in the afternoon,
more than a year since you died,
some words came into the air.
I looked away a second,
and they were gone,
six lines, just passing through.

                                          for Adrienne Rich

Copyright © 2013 by Jean Valentine. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on November 27, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

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
are you.
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.

“Remember.” Copyright © 1983 by Joy Harjo from She Had Some Horses by Joy Harjo. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Time does not bring relief; you all have lied   
Who told me time would ease me of my pain!   
I miss him in the weeping of the rain;   
I want him at the shrinking of the tide;
The old snows melt from every mountain-side,   
And last year's leaves are smoke in every lane;   
But last year's bitter loving must remain
Heaped on my heart, and my old thoughts abide.   
There are a hundred places where I fear   
To go,—so with his memory they brim.   
And entering with relief some quiet place   
Where never fell his foot or shone his face   
I say, "There is no memory of him here!"   
And so stand stricken, so remembering him.

This poem is in the public domain.

Aging. Being in pain. Finishing. Rotting.
              —Emmanuel Fournier

We feel we’ve contracted into very dim, very old white dwarf stars, not yet black holes. Wrinkled, but not quite withered. Dropped out of summer like a stone, we watch time fall. With the leaves. Into a deeper color. Wavelengths missing in the reflected light.
 

The road toward rotting has been so long. We forget where we are going. Like a child, I look amazed at a thistle. Or drink cheap wine and hug my knees. To shorten the shadow? To ward off letting go?
 

So much body now, to be cared for. What with the arrow, lost cartilage, skeleton within. Memory no longer holds up. A bridge to theory and dreams. Impervious to vertigo. Days are long and too spacious.
 

Though the sun is a mere eight light-minutes away elderly dust hangs. Over the long sentences I wrote in the last century. Now thoughts in purpose tremor, in lament, in search of. Not being too soon? Going to be? Unconformities separating strata of decay?
 

You say aimlessness has its virtues. Just as not fully understanding may be required for harmony. And blow your nose. You sing fast falls the eventide, damp on the skin, with bitter wind. And here it is again, the craving for happiness that night induces. Or the day of marriage.
 

The difference of our bodies makes for different velocities. But gravity is always attracting, and my higher speed. Cannot outrun the inner fright we seem made of. Though I gesticulate broadly. As in a silent movie. Running after the train, waving goodbye.
 

Distant galaxies are moving away from us. Friends, lovers, family. Even the sky shifts toward red. Where every clearness is only. A more welcoming slope of the night. And I don't remember why I opened the door.
 

Mouth full of moans, you believe the natural state. Is a body at rest. And close your eyes to the threat of your face disappearing. Without thought or emotion. Into its condition. And I thought I knew you.
 

Are the complications thinning to a final simplicity? The nearest thing to a straight path in curved space? Clouds of gas slowly collapsing? With only one possible outcome? But unlike a black hole I keep my hair on. As I move toward the unquestionable dark.
 

This dark, Mrs. Ramsay thinks, is perhaps the core of every self. The deep note of existence the ear finds, but cannot hold on to. Across the vicissities of the symphony. Or else this dark could be our shelter in the time of long dominion. And though we are not well suited to the perspectives it opens it is an awesome thing to see. Once you can see it.

Copyright © 2018 by Rosmarie Waldrop. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 1, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Really nice meeting you sorry
I have to hurry off there’s this thing
happening this thing I must do
you too yes dying is the thing
everyone is not talking about it
why ruin karaoke night why discolor
the air between you and the bartender
hello what can I get for you
it’s miraculous we’re here and then
the world is yanked from us and then
time dismantles our bodies to dust
okay um can I help the next customer
see it would be awkward
let’s not bring it up mum’s the word
come on now we’ve still got
some living to do pick up that trumpet
I’ve got mine already never mind
we can’t play any instruments
the point is to make a sound
any sound in this endless parade
shimmering toward silence.

Copyright © 2018 David Hernandez. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Winter 2018.

I slept with all four hooves
                       in the air or I slept like a snail

            in my broken shell.

The periphery of the world
                       dissolved. A giant exit sign

            blinking above my head.

My family sings
                       its death march.

            They are the size of the moon.

No, they are the size
                       of thumbtacks punched

            through the sky’s eyelid.

What beauty, what bruise.

                       What strange lullaby is this
            that sings from its wound?)

Here, my dead father knocks

                       on a little paper door. Here,
            my family knocks, waits.

Come through me, my darlings,

                       whatever you are: flame,
            lampshade, soap.

Leave your shattered shadows

                       behind. I’ll be the doorway
            that watches you go.

Copyright © 2013 by Hadara Bar-Nadav. “Lullaby (with Exit Sign)” was published in Lullaby (with Exit Sign) (Saturnalia Books, 2013). Used with permission of the author.

 

I cannot forget the sugar on the table.
The hand that spilled it was not that of
my usual father, three layers of clothes
for a wind he felt from hallway to kitchen,
the brightest room though the lightbulbs
were greasy.

The sugar like bleached anthills of ground teeth.
It seemed to issue from open wounds in his palms.
Each day, more of Father granulated, the injury spread
like dye through cotton, staining all the wash,
condemning the house.

The gas jets on the stove shoot a blue spear
that passes my cheek like air. I stir
and the sugar dissolves, the coffee giving no evidence
that it has been sweetened and I will not taste it
to find out, my father raised to my lips, the toast burnt,
the breakfast ruined.

Neither he nor I will move from the shrine
of Mother’s photo. We begin to understand
the limits of love’s power. And as we do,
we have to redefine God; he is not love at all.
He is longing.

He is what he became those three days
that one third of himself was dead.

Thylias Moss, "Spilled Sugar" from At Redbones. Copyright © 1990 by Thylias Moss. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of the Cleveland State University Poetry Center, www.csupoetrycenter.com.

Because I love you, and beneath the uncountable stars
I have become the delicate piston threading itself through your chest,

I want to tell you a story I shouldn’t but will, and in the meantime neglect, Love,
the discordant melody spilling from my ears but attend,

instead, to this tale, for a river burns inside my mouth
and it wants both purgation and to eternally sip your thousand drippings;

and in the story is a dog and unnamed it leads to less heartbreak,
so name him Max, and in the story are neighborhood kids

who spin a yarn about Max like I’m singing to you, except they tell a child,
a boy who only moments earlier had been wending through sticker bushes

to pick juicy rubies, whose chin was, in fact, stained with them,
and combining in their story the big kids make

the boy who shall remain unnamed believe Max to be sick and rabid,
and say his limp and regular smell of piss are just two signs,

but the worst of it, they say, is that he’ll likely find you in the night,
and the big kids do not giggle, and the boy does not giggle,

but lets the final berries in his hand drop into the overgrowth
at his feet, and if I spoke the dream of the unnamed boy

I fear my tongue would turn an arm of fire so I won’t, but
know inside the boy’s head grew a fire beneath the same stars

as you and I, Love, your leg between mine, the fine hairs
on your upper thigh nearly glistening in the night, and the boy,

the night, the incalculable mysteries as he sleeps with a stuffed animal
tucked beneath his chin and rolls tight against his brother

in their shared bed, who rolls away, and you know by now
there is no salve to quell his mind’s roaring machinery

and I shouldn’t tell you, but I will,
the unnamed boy

on the third night of the dreams which harden his soft face
puts on pants and a sweatshirt and quietly takes the spade from the den

and more quietly leaves his house where upstairs his father lies dreamless,
and his mother bends her body into his,

and beneath these same stars, Love, which often, when I study them,
seem to recede like so many of the lies of light,

the boy walks to the yard where Max lives attached to a steel cable
spanning the lawn, and the boy brings hot dogs which he learned

from Tom & Jerry, and nearly urinating in his pants he tosses them
toward the quiet and crippled thing limping across the lawn,

the cable whispering above the dew-slick grass, and Max whimpers,
and the boy sees a wolf where stands this ratty

and sad and groveling dog and beneath these very stars
the boy brings the shovel down

until Max’s hind legs stop twitching and his left ear folds into itself,
and the unnamed boy stares at the rabid wolf whose wild eyes loll white in his head,

taking slow steps backward through the wet grass and feels,
for the first time in days, the breath in his lungs, which is cool,

and a little damp, spilling over his small lips, and he feels,
again, his feet beneath him, and the earth beneath them, and starlings

singing the morning in, and the somber movement of beetles
chewing the leaves of the white birch, glinting in the dark, and he notices,

Darling, an upturned nest beneath the tree, and flips it looking for the blue eggs
of robins, but finds none, and placing a rumpled crimson feather in his mouth

slips the spindly thicket into another tree, which he climbs
to watch the first hint of light glancing above the fields, and the boy

eventually returns to his thorny fruit bush where an occasional prick
leaves on his arm or leg a spot of blood the color of these raspberries

and tasting of salt, and filling his upturned shirt with them he beams
that he could pull from the earth that which might make you smile,

Love, which you’ll find in the fridge, on the bottom shelf, behind the milk,
in the bowl you made with your own lovely hands.

"Bringing the Shovel Down" from Bringing the Shovel Down, by Ross Gay, © 2011. Reprinted by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

Christmas Eve, 2016

Before everyone died – in my family – first definition I learned was – my mother’s maiden name, ULANDAY – which literally means – of the rain – and biology books remind us – the pouring has a pattern –  has purpose – namesake means release – for my mother meant, flee – meant leave – know exactly what parts of you – slip away – drained sediment of a body – is how a single mama feels – on the graveyard shift – only god is awake –  is where my – family banked itself – a life rooted in rosaries – like nuns in barricade – scream – People Power – one out of five – leave to a new country – the women in my family hone – in my heart – like checkpoints – which is what they know – which is like a halt  – not to be confused for – stop – which is what happened to my ma’s breath– when she went home – for the last time – I didn’t get to – hold her hand as she died – I said I tried – just translates to – I couldn’t make it – in time – I tell myself – ocean salt and tear salt – are one and the same – I press my eyes shut – cup ghost howl – cheeks splint wood worn – which is to say – learn to make myself a harbor – anyway – once I saw a pamphlet that said – what to do when your parent is dead –  I couldn’t finish reading – but I doubt it informs the audience – what will happen – which is to say – you will pour your face & hands – & smother your mother’s scream on everything – you touch – turn eyelids into oars – go, paddle to find her.

Copyright © 2019 by Kay Ulanday Barrett. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 8, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

How many times the blood rush of truck, bus & subway
     has passed below my window.
How often this body, meant to bend & breed—squat like
     my mother’s, her mother’s & hers—has
paced instead, inside its head, gazing skyward for a noun or phrase to
     shatter the glass of our locked cars & save us,
original cloud
     that might break over all:

raccoon washing its hands like a surgeon in the birdbath,
girl at the drive-through deciding only 42 percent of humanity
     sucks, the rest of them hungry or high,
their wheels aglow like daisies, their wounds debrided, unbridled . . .

Jesus, Mary & Joseph, I have blamed you for everything—
     the decades broken like your rosaries, our few family belongings
missing, glued or taped . . .

     Back home, the air
is scented with Japanese lilac & catalpa’s orchid blooms—
     all of us colonized, colonizing:
your body made to carry mine
     dismantled, finally,
     in flame, to this,
of which I am but remnant, a speck
fished from a tear duct with your tongue.

Whose easy laugh is that I’m hearing now?
Whose loneliness, unbroken, goes rolling in the blood?

Copyright © 2018 Kathy Fagan. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Winter 2018. Used with permission of the authors.

Of course it was a disaster.
The unbearable, dearest secret
has always been a disaster.
The danger when we try to leave.
Going over and over afterward
what we should have done
instead of what we did.
But for those short times
we seemed to be alive. Misled,
misused, lied to and cheated,
certainly. Still, for that
little while, we visited
our possible life.

Copyright © 2001 Jack Gilbert. From The Great Fires: Poems 1982–1992, 2001, Alfred A. Knopf. Reprinted with permission.

We first met in your home. Outside,
summer fire. Inside, Texas
summer ice, I was wiped out
by travel and illness, lying on a couch,
which made me a good height for you to talk to.
That I had a son with the same name
as you, struck you with wonder—me, too—
one name, one label, two beings. We said,
to each other, I think, whatever came into
our minds—put there by what the other
had just said—as if we threw,
one by one, taking turns, those
intensely dried paper flowers
of my childhood, into a glass of water,
and watched them uncurl, fast, uneven,
and bright—and tossed another. We were in
the present moment, so intensely in it
everything outside it took a step back,
out of the light, then another step back.
And that was where we met, next,
years later, in that light, you were so
intent, alert, alive, as if
in the grip of a fierce brightness, and moving
around in it, quick in its grip. I wish I had
been there, last week, to hear your best friend,
who had met you eye to eye—in what,
in your childhood, was the future—talk of how
extraordinary you were, my almost
unknown dear, your mother’s and father’s
dearest. You were wearing a cape, that first day,
a cloak of many colors, a cloud,
your hand on the shoulder of the wild creature of your life.

Copyright © 2019 Sharon Olds. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Winter 2019.

When someone dies, the clothes are so sad. They have outlived
their usefulness and cannot get warm and full.
You talk to the clothes and explain that he is not coming back

as when he showed up immaculately dressed in slacks and plaid jacket
and had that beautiful smile on and you’d talk.
You’d go to get something and come back and he’d be gone.

You explain death to the clothes like that dream.
You tell them how much you miss the spouse
and how much you miss the pet with its little winter sweater.

You tell the worn raincoat that if you talk about it,
you will finally let grief out. The ancients etched the words
for battle and victory onto their shields and then they went out

and fought to the last breath. Words have that kind of power
you remind the clothes that remain in the drawer, arms stubbornly
folded across the chest, or slung across the backs of chairs,

or hanging inside the dark closet. Do with us what you will,
they faintly sigh, as you close the door on them.
He is gone and no one can tell us where.

Copyright © 2015 by Emily Fragos. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 21, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

When I have fears that I may cease to be 
  Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain, 
Before high piled books, in charact’ry, 
  Hold like rich garners the full-ripen’d grain; 
When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face, 
  Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance, 
And think that I may never live to trace 
  Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance; 
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour! 
  That I shall never look upon thee more, 
Never have relish in the faery power 
  Of unreflecting love!—then on the shore 
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think 
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.

This poem is in the public domain.

‘It is but thin soil where we stand; I have felt my roots in a richer ere this. I have seen a bunch of violets in a glass vase, tied loosely with a straw, which reminded me of myself.’—The Week.

I am a parcel of vain strivings tied
   By a chance bond together,
Dangling this way and that, their links
   Were made so loose and wide,
                        Methinks,
         For milder weather.

A bunch of violets without their roots,
   And sorrel intermixed,
Encircled by a wisp of straw
   Once coiled about their shoots,
                        The law
         By which I’m fixed.

A nosegay which Time clutched from out
   Those fair Elysian fields,
With weeds and broken stems, in haste,
   Doth make the rabble rout
                        That waste
         The day he yields.

And here I bloom for a short hour unseen,
   Drinking my juices up,
With no root in the land
   To keep my branches green,
                        But stand
         In a bare cup.

Some tender buds were left upon my stem
   In mimicry of life,
But ah! the children will not know,
   Till time has withered them,
                        The woe
         With which they’re rife.

But now I see I was not plucked for nought,
   And after in life’s vase
Of glass set while I might survive,
   But by a kind hand brought
                        Alive
         To a strange place.

That stock thus thinned will soon redeem its hours,
   And by another year,
Such as God knows, with freer air,
   More fruits and fairer flowers
                        Will bear,
         While I droop here.

 

This poem is in the public domain.

Nothing better to do than watch
each drop of Cytoxan shimmy

down a see-through tube
to anoint the chosen vein.

You could turn to the window’s maple,
smoldering in autumn sun,

to catch the precise nanosecond
when leaf detaches from limb—

stare down a likely candidate,
curled and tinged with brown.

A nudge from the wind
might encourage the scene along,

but even then, if the angle of light
isn’t just so, you’d miss

the shadow of falling leaf many yards
beyond the trunk, hitting asphalt

and racing toward its embodied self.
When leaf touches ground,

does its shadow ascend?
In these shortened days of fall,

I look for signs of renewal.
Look how the sun flares

bonfire orange and gold
as it clings to the west. Listen!

Can you still hear the freight train’s
burst of horn displacing the air,

after the last boxcar
slinks behind the farthest hill?

Do only laws of physics apply?
In old movie frames, I see my mother’s

young face, gardenia-pale
against dark curls. She is waving,

climbing terraced steps to a lake.
I reverse the reel at will,

my mother backing down
the stairs, then floating up again.

Copyright © 2018 Nancy Naomi Carlson. This poem originally appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Summer 2018. Used with permission of the author.

Oaks or chestnuts, what here
                draws brass linen, wakes me, overcast,
                with the polished sprigs of my grandmother’s
                lamp, holding the plumed shade once

holding fire by her opened Bible, parsed
                for the night’s reading. Across dark and
                plywood, an aqueduct’s dry run, listen
                my voice, around her house, croton leaves

from the oven’s heat, levitating.
                Saturdays doubles her to a bee. I outstare
                the sea and summon the carols of Christmas;
                her fake pine tree, its foil star

perforates the town’s gossiping lights.
                I again turn the pages, she sleeps
                in the watered-down night.

Where do they go? Where do they go?

Copyright © 2018 Ishion Hutchinson. This poem originally appeared in Kenyon Review, November/December 2018. Used with permission of the author.