how much history is enough history before we can agree
to flee our daycares to wash everything away and start over
leaving laptops to be lost in the wet along with housecats and Christ’s
own mother even a lobster climbs away from its shell a few
times a life but every time I open my eyes I find
I am still inside myself each epiphany dull and familiar
oh now I am barefoot oh now I am lighting the wrong end
of a cigarette I just want to be shaken new like a flag whipping
away its dust want to pull out each of my teeth
and replace them with jewels I’m told what seems like joy
is often joy that the soul lives in the throat plinking
like a copper bell I’ve been so young for so many years
it’s all starting to jumble together joy jeweling copper
its plink a throat sometimes I feel beautiful and near dying
like a feather on an arrow shot through a neck other times
I feel tasked only with my own soreness like a scab on the roof
of a mouth my father believed in gardens delighting
at burying each thing in its potential for growth some years
the soil was so hard the water seeped down slower than the green
seeped up still he’d say if you’re not happy in your own yard
you won’t be happy anywhere I’ve never had a yard but I’ve had apartments
where water pipes burst above my head where I’ve scrubbed
a lover’s blood from the kitchen tile such cleaning
takes so much time you expect there to be confetti at the end
what we’ll need in the next life toothpaste party hats
and animal bones every day people charge out of this world
squealing good-bye human behavior! so long acres
of germless chrome! it seems gaudy for them to be so cavalier
with their bliss while I’m still here lurching into my labor
hanging by my hair from the roof of a chapel churchlight thickening
around me or wandering into the woods to pull apart eggshells emptying
them in the dirt then sewing them back together to dry in the sun
Copyright © 2017 by Kaveh Akbar. From Calling a Wolf a Wolf (Alice James Books, 2017). Used with permission of the author.
translated by Karen Kovacik
Let ordinariness in poetry be like the white
plastic chairs by the Wailing Wall.
In them, not in showy armchairs,
the old rabbis pray,
foreheads touching the wall’s stone.
Regular plastic chairs—
women and men climb up on them
to see each other over the partition.
And the mother of a boy celebrating his bar mitzvah
steps onto a chair and showers her son with candies
as he bids childhood good- bye.
Let ordinariness in poetry be like these chairs,
which vanish to make room
for a circle dance on the Sabbath.
Codzienność w poezji niech będzie jak białe
plastikowe krzesła pod Ścianą Płaczu.
To na nich, nie w ozdobnych fotelach,
modlą się starzy rabini,
czołami dotykając kamieni w murze.
Zwyczajne plastikowe krzesła—
wspinają się na nie kobiety i mężczyźni,
żeby siebie widzieć ponad dzielącą ich przegrodą.
I matka chłopca, który ma bar micwę,
wchodzi na krzesło i obsypuje cukierkami
syna żegnającego dzieciństwo.
Codzienność w poezji niech będzie jak te krzesła,
które znikają, żeby zrobić miejsce
dla tanecznego kręgu w szabatowy wieczór.
Copyright © 2019 Krystyna Dąbrowska and Karen Kovacik. Used with permission of the authors. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Winter 2019.
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
This poem is in the public domain.
Did you ever see stars? asked my father with a cackle. He was not
speaking of the heavens, but the white flash in his head when a fist burst
between his eyes. In Brooklyn, this would cause men and boys to slap
the table with glee; this might be the only heavenly light we'd ever see.
I never saw stars. The sky in Brooklyn was a tide of smoke rolling over us
from the factory across the avenue, the mattresses burning in the junkyard,
the ruins where squatters would sleep, the riots of 1966 that kept me
locked in my room like a suspect. My father talked truce on the streets.
My son can see the stars through the tall barrel of a telescope.
He names the galaxies with the numbers and letters of astronomy.
I cannot see what he sees in the telescope, no matter how many eyes I shut.
I understand a smoking mattress better than the language of galaxies.
My father saw stars. My son sees stars. The earth rolls beneath
our feet. We lurch ahead, and one day we have walked this far.
Reprinted from Vivas to Those Who Have Failed. Copyright © 2016 by Martín Espada. Used with permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. and Frances Goldin Literary Agency.
Tumbling through the
city in my
mind without once
the racket in
the lugwork probably
stupid thing I
said or did
some crime or
other the city they
say is a lonely
place until yes
the sound of sweeping
and a woman
yes with a
which you are now
too the canopy
of a fig its
arms pulling the
September sun to it
has a hose too
and so works hard
rinsing and scrubbing
lest some poor sod
slip on the
silk of a fig
and break his hip
and not probably
reach over to gobble up
the light catches
the veins in her hands
when I ask about
the tree they
flutter in the air and
she says take
as much as
so I load my
pockets and mouth
and she points
to the step-ladder against
the wall to
mean more but
I was without a
sack so my meager
plunder would have to
suffice and an old woman
was pulling into
the earth loosed one
from a low slung
branch and its eye
wept like hers
which she dabbed
with a kerchief as she
cleaved the fig with
what remained of her
teeth and soon there were
eight or nine
people gathered beneath
the tree looking into
it like a
do you see it
and I am tall and so
good for these things
and a bald man even
told me so
when I grabbed three
or four for
him reaching into the
giddy throngs of
stoned which he only
pointed to smiling and
rubbing his stomach
I mean he was really rubbing his stomach
like there was a baby
it was hot his
head shone while he
offered recipes to the
group using words which
I couldn’t understand and besides
I was a little
tipsy on the dance
of the velvety heart rolling
in my mouth
pulling me down and
down into the
oldest countries of my
body where I ate my first fig
from the hand of a man who escaped his country
by swimming through the night
never said more than
five words to me
at once but gave me
figs and a man on his way
to work hops twice
to reach at last his
fig which he smiles at and calls
baby, c’mere baby,
he says and blows a kiss
to the tree which everyone knows
cannot grow this far north
and favoring the rocky, sun-baked soils
of Jordan and Sicily
but no one told the fig tree
or the immigrants
there is a way
the fig tree grows
in groves it wants,
it seems, to hold us,
yes I am anthropomorphizing
goddammit I have twice
in the last thirty seconds
rubbed my sweaty
forearm into someone else’s
gleeful eating out of each other’s hands
on Christian St.
in Philadelphia a city like most
which has murdered its own
this is true
we are feeding each other
from a tree
at the corner of Christian and 9th
Copyright © 2013 by Ross Gay. Originally published in the May-June 2013 issue of American Poetry Review. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.
Sun makes the day new.
Tiny green plants emerge from earth.
Birds are singing the sky into place.
There is nowhere else I want to be but here.
I lean into the rhythm of your heart to see where it will take us.
We gallop into a warm, southern wind.
I link my legs to yours and we ride together,
Toward the ancient encampment of our relatives.
Where have you been? they ask.
And what has taken you so long?
That night after eating, singing, and dancing
We lay together under the stars.
We know ourselves to be part of mystery.
It is unspeakable.
It is everlasting.
It is for keeps.
MARCH 4, 2013, CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS
Reprinted from Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings by Joy Harjo. Copyright © 2015 by Joy Harjo. Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.
How fresh, O Lord, how sweet and clean Are Thy returns! ev’n as the flow’rs in Spring, To which, besides their own demean The late-past frosts tributes of pleasure bring; Grief melts away Like snow in May, As if there were no such cold thing. Who would have thought my shrivel’d heart Could have recover’d greennesse? It was gone Quite under ground; as flow’rs depart To see their mother-root, when they have blown, Where they together All the hard weather, Dead to the world, keep house unknown. These are Thy wonders, Lord of power, Killing and quickning, bringing down to Hell And up to Heaven in an houre; Making a chiming of a passing-bell. We say amisse This or that is; Thy word is all, if we could spell. O that I once past changing were, Fast in Thy Paradise, where no flower can wither; Many a Spring I shoot up fair, Offring at Heav’n, growing and groning thither, Nor doth my flower Want a Spring-showre, My sinnes and I joyning together. But while I grow in a straight line, Still upwards bent, as if Heav’n were mine own, Thy anger comes, and I decline: What frost to that? what pole is not the zone Where all things burn, When Thou dost turn, And the least frown of Thine is shown? And now in age I bud again, After so many deaths I live and write; I once more smell the dew and rain, And relish versing: O, my onely Light, It cannot be That I am he On whom Thy tempests fell all night. These are Thy wonders, Lord of love, To make us see we are but flow’rs that glide; Which when we once can find and prove, Thou hast a garden for us where to bide. Who would be more, Swelling through store, Forfeit their Paradise by their pride.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on September 8, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
WHEREVER YOU ARE
WE NEED TO HAVE THIS MEETING
AT THIS TREE
AIN’ EVEN BEEN
From Directed by Desire: The Complete Poems of June Jordan (Copper Canyon Press, 2005). Copyright © 2005, 2017 by the June Jordan Literary Estate. Used with the permission of the June Jordan Literary Estate, www.junejordan.com.
We sit side by side,
brother and sister, and read
the book of what will be, while a breeze
blows the pages over—
desolate odd, cheerful even,
and otherwise. When we come
to our own story, the happy beginning,
the ending we don’t know yet,
the ten thousand acts
encumbering the days between,
we will read every page of it.
If an ancestor has pressed
a love-flower for us, it will lie hidden
between pages of the slow going,
where only those who adore the story
ever read. When the time comes
to shut the book and set out,
we will take childhood’s laughter
as far as we can into the days to come,
until another laughter sounds back
from the place where our next bodies
will have risen and will be telling
tales of what seemed deadly serious once,
offering to us oldening wayfarers
the light heart, now made of time
and sorrow, that we started with.
From Collected Poems by Galway Kinnell. Copyright © 2017 by The Literary Estate of Galway Kinnell. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.
Love makes you feel alive Johnny my animal you have no idea How beautiful you are to me in the morning When it is 5 a.m. and I am lonely Everyone is dying around me I eat spinach bread to keep my sanity, I am Like Lisa in the mental unit with my father I am Muriel who throws tables I play blackjack with the clowns Oh yes I do all that for a salad Your black hair is better than a piece of fate I find in the sky when I am looking 45,000 miles above the earth For things that make it all worthwhile I do this for you but you will never know How dear you are to me You chop leaves in your house in New York City Dream of glamorous women and even too they are great No one will ever love you like I do that is certain Because I know the inside of your face Is a solid block of coal and then it too Something that is warm like warm snow I hold the insides of you in my palm And they are warm snow, melting even With the flurries glutted out of the morning When I get on the plane the stewardess tells me to let loose My heart, the man next to me was the same man as last week Whoever those postmodernists are that say There is no universal have never spent any time with an animal I have played tennis with so many animals I can't count the times I have let them win Their snouts that were wet with health Dripping in the sun, then we went and took a swim Just me and the otters, I held them so close I felt the bump of ghosts as I held them. There is no poem that will bring back the dead There is no poem that I could ever say that will Arise the dead in their slumber, their faces gone There is no poem or song I could sing to you That would make me seem more beautiful If there were such songs I would sing them O they would hear me singing from here until dawn
From Black Life by Dorothea Lasky. Copyright © 2010 by Dorothea Lasky. Used by permission of Wave Books. All rights reserved.
First there was the blue wing
of a scraggly loud jay tucked
into the shrubs. Then the bluish-
black moth drunkenly tripping
from blade to blade. Then
the quiet that came roaring
in like the R. J. Corman over
Broadway near the RV shop.
These are the last three things
that happened. Not in the universe,
but here, in the basin of my mind,
where I’m always making a list
for you, recording the day’s minor
urchins: silvery dust mote, pistachio
shell, the dog eating a sugar
snap pea. It’s going to rain soon,
close clouds bloated above us,
the air like a net about to release
all the caught fishes, a storm
siren in the distance. I know
you don’t always understand,
but let me point to the first
wet drops landing on the stones,
the noise like fingers drumming
the skin. I can’t help it. I will
never get over making everything
such a big deal.
From The Carrying (Milkweed Editions, 2018) by Ada Limón. Copyright © 2018 by Ada Limón. Used with the permission of Milkweed Editions. milkweed.org.