We see a little farther now and a little farther still
—C. D. Wright
I ask the rain to remit, but not because I am ungrateful
A raincheck for the rain—is such a thing possible?
In Florida, even the cold is warm by comparison
We sit at the ocean’s lip as it licks the sand from our toes
Consider instead—the terrifying beauty of alternative
I ask the sun to pumice our faces, blind us humble and good
Incumbent sun, so long accustomed to winning the stars’ wars
Consider although—like trying to whistle with a mouth full of Saltines
We only know what we know
We only see what we see
I ask the space to persist after the hyphen that separates
Birth from death, to leave the parenthesis like a gap tooth
Then to no one in particular, I say: What age is not a tender age?
This hapless haptic misses her Blackberry
Such tender buttons, were they not?
The tiny Underwood slick inside her pocket
I ask the lifeguard not to hang the purple flag
For jellyfish and sting rays and the floating terror
Imagine if that were your name!
Also answers to: bluebottle, Physalia physalis, man-of-war
Consider except—Luminara of a word—bag of sand with a light inside
Synonym for human perhaps?
I am not opposed to the idea of being lost—
like the red balloon, Mylar with a silver underside—
buoyed along these stubby waves
Consider forever—which is a trick command
A seagull tugs the string of the beached balloon
You see it more clearly now: a webbed design, the visage of Spiderman
When the rain comes, it is warm kisses, little white beads
Grown-ups stick their tongues out like children do
It’s not over till it’s over—and then, too soon
Copyright © 2016 by Julie Marie Wade. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 28, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
Lady, won’t you wait
out the hurricane
all night at my place—
we’ll take cover like
the lamps & I’ll
let you oil
my scalp. Please, I needs
a good woman’s hands
caught in my hair, turning
my knots to butter.
All night we’ll churn.
will lean in too soon—
you’ll leave out into
the wet world, winded
& alone, knowing
the me only
Copyright © 2015 by Kevin Young. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 9, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
I wake myself imagining the shape
of the day and where I will find
myself within it. Language is not often
in that shape,
but sentences survive somehow
through the islands of dark matter,
the negative space often more important
than the positive.
Imagine finding you look at the world
completely different upon waking one day.
You do not know if this is permanent.
Anything can change, after all,
for how else would you find yourself
in this predicament or this opportunity,
depending on the frame? A single thought
can make loneliness seem frighteningly new.
We destroy the paths of rivers to make room for the sea.
Copyright © 2016 by Adam Clay. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 24, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
You can get there from here, though
there’s no going home.
Everywhere you go will be somewhere
you’ve never been. Try this:
head south on Mississippi 49, one—
by—one mile markers ticking off
another minute of your life. Follow this
to its natural conclusion—dead end
at the coast, the pier at Gulfport where
riggings of shrimp boats are loose stitches
in a sky threatening rain. Cross over
the man-made beach, 26 miles of sand
dumped on a mangrove swamp—buried
terrain of the past. Bring only
what you must carry—tome of memory
its random blank pages. On the dock
where you board the boat for Ship Island,
someone will take your picture:
the photograph—who you were—
will be waiting when you return
"Theories of Time and Space" from Native Guard: Poems by Natasha Trethewey. Copyright © 2006 by Natasha Trethewey. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
Click the icon above to listen to this audio poem.
Click the icon above to listen to this audio poem.
First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers
the grave and awkward mask.
I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.
There is a ladder.
The ladder is always there
close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for,
we who have used it.
it is a piece of maritime floss
some sundry equipment.
I go down.
Rung after rung and still
the oxygen immerses me
the blue light
the clear atoms
of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.
And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
you breathe differently down here.
I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed
the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.
This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body.
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he
whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
whose breasts still bear the stress
whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
obscurely inside barrels
half-wedged and left to rot
we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass
We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
our names do not appear.
From Diving into the Wreck: Poems 1971-1972 by Adrienne Rich. Copyright © 1973 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Reprinted by permission of the author and W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Copyright 1973 by Adrienne Rich.
As no assistance could be expected
of the ocean, I turned to the trumpeting
tunnel of sky and rummaged
the tops of plum birch turning
their leaves like coins, then
to the tumbler sweating
on the porch rail. The sky,
the color of whale oil. The wind,
a box of uncolored letters. And so
I was gris-gris with my lichen hair
and moonstone wound
around my neck, a raccoon
stuck under an electric
fence, or a photo showing
only one wick at a séance.
How to unpin this particular
corner of sky? I sing
an antler song to find
you, but there’s no trace
of the sky in the sky. I’ll have to
collapse the air to find you.
Copyright © 2016 by Sarah Messer. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 11, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
Now the rain
Now the seams put in evening
Now the tree seeming shakes out
of felt unfolds cleanly
If in falling rain names what it touches
If beneath the tree a dry radius describes
form steps forward wearing its suit of summer’s dust
My ear on your chest where rest hems breath with thread
until being is everywhere an edge a cloth’s
periphery pinned with rocks & we under
look up dry out the light turn
sleep to costume Now the sleeves
Now clean buttons to shut our eyes
Now our each seam gleams
From Companion Grasses (Omnidawn, 2013) by Brian Teare. Copyright © 2013 by Brian Teare. Used with permission of the author.
I am so small walking on the beach at night under the widening sky. The wet sand quickens beneath my feet and the waves thunder against the shore. I am moving away from the boardwalk with its colorful streamers of people and the hotels with their blinking lights. The wind sighs for hundreds of miles. I am disappearing so far into the dark I have vanished from sight. I am a tiny seashell that has secretly drifted ashore and carries the sound of the ocean surging through its body. I am so small now no one can see me. How can I be filled with such a vast love?
From Lay Back the Darkness by Edward Hirsch Copyright © 2003 by Edward Hirsch. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
She sang beyond the genius of the sea. The water never formed to mind or voice, Like a body wholly body, fluttering Its empty sleeves; and yet its mimic motion Made constant cry, caused constantly a cry, That was not ours although we understood, Inhuman, of the veritable ocean. The sea was not a mask. No more was she. The song and water were not medleyed sound Even if what she sang was what she heard. Since what she sang was uttered word by word. It may be that in all her phrases stirred The grinding water and the gasping wind; But it was she and not the sea we heard. For she was the maker of the song she sang. The ever-hooded, tragic-gestured sea Was merely a place by which she walked to sing. Whose spirit is this? we said, because we knew It was the spirit that we sought and knew That we should ask this often as she sang. If it was only the dark voice of the sea That rose, or even colored by many waves; If it was only the outer voice of sky And cloud, of the sunken coral water-walled, However clear, it would have been deep air, The heaving speech of air, a summer sound Repeated in a summer without end And sound alone. But it was more than that, More even than her voice, and ours, among The meaningless plungings of water and the wind, Theatrical distances, bronze shadows heaped On high horizons, mountainous atmospheres Of sky and sea. It was her voice that made The sky acutest at its vanishing. She measured to the hour its solitude. She was the single artificer of the world In which she sang. And when she sang, the sea, Whatever self it had, became the self That was her song, for she was the maker. Then we, As we beheld her striding there alone, Knew that there never was a world for her Except the one she sang and, singing, made. Ramon Fernandez, tell me, if you know, Why, when the singing ended and we turned Toward the town, tell why the glassy lights, The lights in the fishing boats at anchor there, As night descended, tilting in the air, Mastered the night and portioned out the sea, Fixing emblazoned zones and fiery poles, Arranging, deepening, enchanting night. Oh! Blessed rage for order, pale Ramon, The maker's rage to order words of the sea, Words of the fragrant portals, dimly-starred, And of ourselves and of our origins, In ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds.
From Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens by Wallace Stevens. Copyright © 1954 by Wallace Stevens. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
The great blue
song of the earth
is sung in all
the best venues—
and on this spring
day in the wetlands
a late sun,
we stand alone
and in love
with each other
and the passing day
we watch a cormorant
whose eye is ringed
in blue diamonds,
a shimmering lure,
and we love this blue
and this dark bird
and this deepening sky
that pinks and hums
in the west, and then
the bird opens his beak
and flutters his throat
and the late
the inside tissue
of his mouth
which is as blue
as his ocular jewelry,
as blue as the bluest
ocean, as blue
as the sky in all
its depth, as blue
as the back of the small
and determined beetle
who struggles to roll
his enormous dung ball
in his own breeding bid
to enchant another
small blue miracle.
Copyright © 2016 by Sidney Wade. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 18, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
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From Allegiances by William Stafford, published by Harper & Row. © 1970 by William Stafford. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
these days I speak of myself in the past tense
writing about yesterday knowing tomorrow
is no more than mist crawling toward violet mountains
I think of days when this weather meant you
were not so far away the light changing
so fast I believe I can see you turning a corner
the rain comes in smelling of pine and moss
a kind of brazen intrusion on the careful seeds of spring
I pay more attention to details these days
saving the most trivial until I sort them for trash
or recycle a luxury I’ve come to know only recently
you have never been too far from my thoughts
despite the newborn birds and their erratic songs
the way they tilt their heads as if drowsing for the sun
the way they repeat their singular songs
over and over as if wishing for a different outcome
Copyright © 2015 by Colleen J. McElroy. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 29, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
Is nothing real but when I was fifteen, Going on sixteen, like a corny song? I see myself so clearly then, and painfully— Knees bleeding through my usher's uniform Behind the candy counter in the theater After a morning's surfing; paddling frantically To top the brisk outsiders coming to wreck me, Trundle me clumsily along the beach floor's Gravel and sand; my knees aching with salt. Is that all I have to write about? You write about the life that's vividest. And if that is your own, that is your subject. And if the years before and after sixteen Are colorless as salt and taste like sand— Return to those remembered chilly mornings, The light spreading like a great skin on the water, And the blue water scalloped with wind-ridges, And—what was it exactly?—that slow waiting When, to invigorate yourself, you peed Inside your bathing suit and felt the warmth Crawl all around your hips and thighs, And the first set rolled in and the water level Rose in expectancy, and the sun struck The water surface like a brassy palm, Flat and gonglike, and the wave face formed. Yes. But that was a summer so removed In time, so specially peculiar to my life, Why would I want to write about it again? There was a day or two when, paddling out, An older boy who had just graduated And grown a great blonde moustache, like a walrus, Skimmed past me like a smooth machine on the water, And said my name. I was so much younger, To be identified by one like him— The easy deference of a kind of god Who also went to church where I did—made me Reconsider my worth. I had been noticed. He soon was a small figure crossing waves, The shawling crest surrounding him with spray, Whiter than gull feathers. He had said my name Without scorn, just with a bit of surprise To notice me among those trying the big waves Of the morning break. His name is carved now On the black wall in Washington, the frozen wave That grievers cross to find a name or names. I knew him as I say I knew him, then, Which wasn't very well. My father preached His funeral. He came home in a bag That may have mixed in pieces of his squad. Yes, I can write about a lot of things Besides the summer that I turned sixteen. But that's my ground swell. I must start Where things began to happen and I knew it.
From Questions for Ecclesiastes published by Story Line Press, 1997. Copyright © 1997 by Mark Jarman. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
seems like a good way to say
I spent all last week feeling helpless
and talking about it in terms of not being
Why can’t compassion change our lives
even half so completely as a suicide bomber,
or half so immediately as a natural disaster
Big ideas get me nowhere, so
the fact that breaking spring feels better
than cracking up is at least a start
toward a walk through Washington Park,
its trees in pink blossom, its white-yellow-purple
Tomorrow I will talk about Frankenstein
in bed and then I will talk about it with people
who are sleeping I will say that it’s a book
about artistic responsibility I will
say it’s alive It’s alive And some number
of eyes will stare back at me without believing
any of it matters, or without believing
it matters for them And what can I say
to convince them I have only my love
to recommend it beyond what it already is
My suspect credibility upon the rockets
of birds, the soft parts of people, the oceans’
inevitable, cyclical weeping Who has time
for poetry has more time than they deserve
Copyright © 2016 by Matt Hart. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 24, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
Not vinegar. Not acid. Not
sugarcane pressed to mortar by
fist, but salt: salt, the home taste; salt,
the tide; salt, the blood. Not Holy
Ghost, but a saint of coral come
to life in the night crossing a
field of brambles and thorns, the camps
of pirates beat back to the bay
with hornets. Not Santo Niño.
And not a belt of storms, but this:
girls singing, an avocado
in each open palm, courting doves;
a moth drawn to the light of our
room you take to be your father.
Copyright © 2014 by R. A. Villanueva. Used with permission of the author.
Back then, what did I know?
The names of subway lines, busses.
How long it took to walk 20 blocks.
Uptown and downtown.
Not north, not south, not you.
When I saw you, later, seaweed reefed in the air,
you were grey-green, incomprehensible, old.
What you clung to, hung from: old.
Trees looking half-dead, stones.
Marriage of fungi and algae,
chemists of air,
changers of nitrogen-unusable into nitrogen-usable.
Like those nameless ones
who kept painting, shaping, engraving,
unseen, unread, unremembered.
Not caring if they were no good, if they were past it.
Rock wools, water fans, earth scale, mouse ears, dust,
Transformers unvalued, uncounted.
Cell by cell, word by word, making a world they could live in.
Originally published in Come,Thief (Knopf, 2011); all rights reserved. Copyright © by Jane Hirshfield. Used by permission of the author, all rights reserved.
our Father I do love to walk
down to the shore at dawn
while the ground is cold
and there sprinkle my cells
to smashed ocean radios
I dream that I was born
with no tongue and that
I can neither ask nor
answer nor understand
questions about where
I come from that the waves
are my clapping sisters
so many dark swallowed
ships my deleted thoughts
cannon and coin pulp
my new body and that any
one of a million canyons
trembling with the psalms
of stones is my easily
remembered mother who
easily remembers me
Copyright © 2016 by Nathan Parker. Used with permission of the author.
Somewhere between what it feels like, to be at
one with the sea, and to understand the sea as
mere context for the boat whose engine refuses
finally to turn over: yeah, I know the place—
stumbled into it myself, once; twice, almost. All
around and in between the two trees that
grow there, tree of compassion and—much taller—
tree of pity, its bark more bronze, the snow
settled as if an openness of any kind meant, as well,
a woundedness that, by filling it, the snow
might heal…You know what I think? I think if we’re
lost, you should know exactly where, by now; I’ve
watched you stare long and hard enough at the map
already…I’m beginning to think I may never
not be undecided, about all sorts of things: whether
snow really does resemble the broken laughter
of the long-abandoned when what left comes back
big-time; whether gratitude’s just a haunted
space like any other. This place sounds daily
more like a theater of war, each time I listen to it—
loss, surprise, victory, being only three of the countless
fates, if you want to call them that, that we don’t
so much live with, it seems, as live for now among. If as
close as we’re ever likely to get, you and I, is this—this close—
Copyright © 2016 by Carl Phillips. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 19, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
I walked to the end of the pier
and threw your name into the sea,
and when you flew back to me—
a silver fish—I devoured you,
cleaned you to the bone. I was through.
But then you came back again:
as sun on water. I reached for you,
skimmed my hands over the light of you.
And when the sky darkened,
again, I thought it was over, but then,
you became water. I closed my eyes
and lay on top of you, swallowed you,
let you swallow me too. And when
you carried my body back to shore—
as I trusted that you would do—
well, then, you became shore too,
and I knew, finally, I would never be through.
Copyright © 2016 by Nicole Callihan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 16, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
For Elizabeth Bishop Nautilus Island's hermit heiress still lives through winter in her Spartan cottage; her sheep still graze above the sea. Her son's a bishop. Her farmer is first selectman in our village, she's in her dotage. Thirsting for the hierarchic privacy of Queen Victoria's century, she buys up all the eyesores facing her shore, and lets them fall. The season's ill— we've lost our summer millionaire, who seemed to leap from an L. L. Bean catalogue. His nine-knot yawl was auctioned off to lobstermen. A red fox stain covers Blue Hill. And now our fairy decorator brightens his shop for fall, his fishnet's filled with orange cork, orange, his cobbler's bench and awl, there is no money in his work, he'd rather marry. One dark night, my Tudor Ford climbed the hill's skull, I watched for love-cars. Lights turned down, they lay together, hull to hull, where the graveyard shelves on the town. . . . My mind's not right. A car radio bleats, 'Love, O careless Love . . . .' I hear my ill-spirit sob in each blood cell, as if my hand were at its throat . . . . I myself am hell; nobody's here— only skunks, that search in the moonlight for a bite to eat. They march on their soles up Main Street: white stripes, moonstruck eyes' red fire under the chalk-dry and spar spire of the Trinitarian Church. I stand on top of our back steps and breathe the rich air— a mother skunk with her column of kittens swills the garbage pail She jabs her wedge-head in a cup of sour cream, drops her ostrich tail, and will not scare.
From Selected Poems by Robert Lowell, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc. Copyright © 1976, 1977 by Robert Lowell. Used by permission.
Meandering across a field with wild asparagus,
I write with my body the characters for grass,
water, transformation, ache to be one with spring.
Biting into watermelon, spitting black seeds
onto a plate, I watch the eyes of an Armenian
accordion player, and before dropping a few
euros into his brown cap, smell sweat and fear.
I stay wary of the red horse, Relámpago, latch
the gate behind me; a thorned Russian olive
branch arcs across the path below my forehead,
and, approaching the Pojoaque River, I recall
the sign, beware pickpockets, find backhoe tracks,
water diverted into a ditch. Crisscrossing
the stream, I catch a lightning flash, the white-
capped Truchas peaks, behind, to the east, and in
the interval between lightning and thunder,
as snow accumulates on black branches,
the chasm between what I envision and what I do.
Copyright © by Arthur Sze. Used with the permission of the author.
I felt perfected along the rectangle
By its ragged side
Fences trees and mist dropping
Some space for the flowers
I set an image in my head where
Bushes in their out of focus
Made a green dearth about the door
I wanted to do a book on
Pages left in the heat or rain
But my desire seemingly disappeared
Picked up by a car in the middle of
A pack of cigarettes
This trip into the forest
The trees trading with memory to
Frame the various breaks
The pleasures of small laws cut
Behind the mower with my eyes
Running the grass blades
We don’t really get any older
I can see what that means
Copyright © 2016 by Samuel Amadon. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 29, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
I’m a witch who lost all her powers, then
in place of my powers, I got the coiled beauty
of seashells and sleeping infants. The coiled
beauty of eardrums, and the sound wave
of bells. The bells! This is the country of clouds.
The molten body, the Floridian pinks,
and centuries of sand dollars examining
the arcing waves. New territory
of interiority and I’m in the middle of this.
White like a negative belt.
I am an airless thing. When I get high, I get low.
But I’m real and airless and love you.
Copyright © 2016 by Sandra Simonds. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 6, 2016 by the Academy of American Poets.
They sing their dearest songs— He, she, all of them—yea, Treble and tenor and bass. And one to play; With the candles mooning each face... Ah, no; the years O! How the sick leaves reel down in throngs! They clear the creeping moss— Elders and juniors-—aye, Making the pathways neat And the garden gay; And they build a shady seat... Ah, no; the years, the years; See, the white storm-birds wing across! They are blithely breakfasting all— Men and maidens—yea, Under the summer tree, With a glimpse of the bay, While pet fowl come to the knee... Ah, no; the years O! And the rotten rose is ripped from the wall. They change to a high new house, He, she, all of them—aye, Clocks and carpets and chairs On the lawn all day, And brightest things that are theirs... Ah, no; the years, the years; Down their carved names the raindrop plows.
This poem is in the public domain.
You wouldn’t know it could feel so redundant—
the wolfish starlings plunder the grass
and nothing burns. Big Sur. We came here to rest.
The coast, a color. The thought of nothing,
the blue middle of my life—
A cliff side and a footpath
down to the small beach. And fire, there
a cold wind. Long waves the whole year—restless,
leafy and metallic,
the brightness of ash. The sunlight
like something from Tarkovsky, one pointless, small ambition
in which passion turns into a terrifying tenderness. Deep
cargo in the hull; heartache. And somehow you knew
you should light the match, like a person condemned
to whom the starlight is
another brief monument to what
is fallible. Your life,
little fireling, little warlike starling, flickering indignantly, all
erotic umbrage. Broken wing in my hand. Pathological, shy
flame, I will care for you. Little shape of my fate, my
certain failure. What
is desire, if not
this burden. Dearth and glut
cupped in your hands: wild, deadheaded, and blue.
Copyright © 2016 by Miguel Murphy. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 30, 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
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.
At the time the time felt well spent but now
I see it was wasted. Not a waste—it just had
no point—no shape—no hourglass’ tapering
waist. At a certain point, bliss gets replaced
by disinterest. If you will allow me for once
to be honest. I left the sea’s lacy wake, waking
each day well-rested, untested, unmet. Nothing
was going to change, and that was the point.
The seabirds sang: Protect your gifts! burying
their doomed eggs in the sand—sand to heat,
to melt, shape into that chalice of time: bulb
upon bulb, curvaceous, urgent as an aging
odalisque. It was a version of love not meant
to set—the best—not trashed, but wholly left
to the mists of that idly mown lawn, the little
boat trolling a coast, bereft of tide or tempest.
Copyright © 2016 by Nathaniel Bellows. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 14, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
Qader blew at a cigarette, stuck his head
out the window. Carol wondered why she left
was beginning to see living in peace
with Sandanistas in her father's ranch.
My brother and I up front wondered why
we hadn't killed each other all these years.
We were stuck on the Biloxi highway, mid-July
the AC kaput, and what the radio played
didn't matter, Randy Travis on the rise
declaring the end of disco, Reagan, Meese
Jane Fonda, and the gain in the pain
and we all felt like burning American flags
on behalf of a thousand justifiable causes.
But who cares, we were stuck for hours
stuck in 1982, and what blocked the way didn't matter
and the ocean we went to see was no big deal
a great disappointnent in fact, an ocean
brow-beaten by a river, rumbling, moaning
black eyed, bruised, weighed by Mississippi silt.
And the salty air we came to breathe
did not appear, only swamp algae
and the death smell of moss, the slime
the invisible webs that trapped ghosts
in lukewarm water, the dead who would not dissolve--
Tom Sawyer, not dissolving, Huck Finn
not dissolving, Big Jim not dissolving
Goodman, Chaney, Medgar not dissolving
Cherokee tears floating on top like drops of oil
Lakotas still streaming down, Kiowas
still coming down, Sioux still floating
still in the Mississippi where everything seemed
tenuous, everything seemed it would revert back
to the dreams of sickly pale men and women
back to the nightmares of runagates and domestics
all hanging there, in the air over Biloxi
clinging to crayfish and the gnarled hands of shrimpers.
It sat there ominous, a poisonous lethargy
not far from the town we lived in, which God knows
did not matter, making tomorrow matter even less
as long as we were here the week after and the month.
Next time, we promised, it'll be the Atlantic, next time
some salty immensity, some honest to goodness breeze
the smell of the earth turning around itself,
a clear run to the horizon, a cleans shot to Africa,
to something we could beckon and understand
something the waves would release us from
now that we were stuck here on the Biloxi road
chained, and chain smoking, aware of the sea
we left behind, and that had left us, the Mediterranean,
that other swamp, too far to touch us again,
too far to ever matter.
Copyright © by Khaled Mattawa. Used with the permission of the author.
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Some nights, I rise from the latest excuse for
Why not stay awhile, usually that hour when
the coyotes roam the streets as if they’ve always
owned the place and had come back inspecting now
for damage. But what hasn’t been damaged? History
here means a history of storms rushing the trees
for so long, their bowed shapes seem a kind of star—
worth trusting, I mean, as in how the helmsman,
steering home, knows what star to lean on. Do
people, anymore, even say helmsman? Everything
in waves, or at least wave-like, as when another’s
suffering, being greater, displaces our own, or
I understand it should, which is meant to be
different, I’m sure of it, from that pleasure
Lucretius speaks of, in witnessing from land
a ship foundering at sea, though more and more
it all seems related. I love the nights here. I love
the jetty’s black ghost-finger, how it calms
the harbor, how the fog hanging stranded just
above the water is fog, finally, not the left-behind
parts of those questions from which I half-wish
I could school my mind, desperate cargo,
to keep a little distance. An old map from when
this place was first settled shows monsters
everywhere, once the shore gives out—it can still
feel like that: I dive in, and they rise like faithfulness
itself, watery pallbearers heading seaward, and
I the raft they steady. It seems there’s no turning back.
Copyright © 2015 by Carl Phillips. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 26, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
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i will die in havana in a hurricane it will be morning, i'll be facing southwest away from the gulf, away from the storm away from home, looking to the virid hills of matanzas where the orisha rise, lifted by congueros in masks of iron, bongoseros in masks of water, timbaleros in masks of fire by all the clave that binds the rhythms of this world i'll be writing when i go, revising another hopeful survey of my life. i will die of nothing that i did but of all that i did not do i promised myself a better self than i could make & i will not forgive you will be there, complaining that i never saved you, that i left you where you live, stranded in your own green dream when you come for me come singing no dirge, but scat my eulogy in bebop code. sing that i died among gods but lived with no god & did not suffer for it. find one true poem that i made & sing it to my shade as it fades into the wind. sing it presto, in 4/4 time in the universal ghetto key of b flat i will die in havana in rhythm. tumbao montuno, guaguanco, dense strata of rhythm pulsing me away & the mother of waters will say to the saint of crossroads well, damn. he danced his way out after all
From Things I Must Have Known by A.B. Spellman. Copyright © 2008 by A.B. Spellman. Published by Coffee House Press. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
The jacaranda blooms beside the drunk stick tree.
Come. I see you swelling with nectar. Hear you,
Venteveos, shriek till night. Come. See me.
The jacaranda blooms beside the drunk stick tree.
The violent violet petals pollen weep.
A bichofeo sings of you with open throat and beak.
A jacaranda blooms beside the drunk stick tree.
I see you swell with nectar, hear you shriek.
Copyright © 2016 by Chip Livingston. Used with permission of the author.
You could ask any one of them up by the lake
It had presence
Fold of coldness folded over cold
The rumors of what was beyond
You had to take into account who was telling
the story and
for whose ends
Against the dark of her intuition
an unrelenting stream
of light starting to set like cement
some mildew tingeing the dream since
its uniform had not been
Where her love stood
until he stepped behind the overhang
the synesthesia of his name
a silver helmet ringing
Copyright © by C. D. Wright. Used with the permission of the author.