I’m older than my father when he turned
bright gold and left his body with its used-up liver
in the Faulkner Hospital, Jamaica Plain. I don’t
believe in the afterlife, don’t know where he is
now his flesh has finished rotting from his long
bones in the Jewish Cemetery—he could be the only
convert under those rows and rows of headstones. 
Once, washing dishes in a narrow kitchen
I heard him whistling behind me. My nape froze. 
Nothing like this has happened since. But this morning
we were on a plane to Virginia together. I was 17,
pregnant and scared. Abortion was waiting,
my aunt’s guest bed soaked with blood, my mother
screaming—and he was saying Kids get into trouble— 
I’m getting it now: this was forgiveness.
I think if he’d lived he’d have changed and grown
but what would he have made of my flood of words
after he’d said in a low voice as the plane
descended to Richmond in clean daylight
and the stewardess walked between the rows
in her neat skirt and tucked-in blouse
Don’t ever tell this to anyone.

From My Body: New and Selected Poems by Joan Larkin. Copyright © 2007 by Joan Larkin. Used by permission of Hanging Loose Press.

The days unfold
like maps. Fresh dirt
in the garden, black
as cake, grows warm.

The roses perform
a silent recital,
each playing its part
from memory. I wait

for my father the way
men wait for a train.
I wait for my father
the way a dancer

waits for music.
My mother is a curtain
in the window.
She calls me in

to fit my shadow
for a suit. I keep still
as she pinches the tape
around its wrist.

Around her neck
my mother’s pearls
clink like teeth.
Your shadow grows

faster than you do,
she says. She says
that waiting is
a kind of dancing.

At night I dance
with the stillness.
My blood waits
behind my chest

like a man behind
a locked door.
My father waits
in another country.

Copyright © 2014 by Ryan Teitman. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on January 9, 2014. 

Bring me your pain, love. Spread 
it out like fine rugs, silk sashes, 
warm eggs, cinnamon
and cloves in burlap sacks. Show me

the detail, the intricate embroidery 
on the collar, tiny shell buttons, 
the hem stitched the way you were taught,
pricking just a thread, almost invisible.

Unclasp it like jewels, the gold 
still hot from your body. Empty 
your basket of figs. Spill your wine.

That hard nugget of pain, I would suck it, 
cradling it on my tongue like the slick 
seed of pomegranate. I would lift it

tenderly, as a great animal might 
carry a small one in the private 
cave of the mouth.

Reprinted from Mules of Love by Ellen Bass, with the permission of BOA Editions, Ltd. Copyright © 2002 by Ellen Bass. All rights reserved.

In the days when a man
would hold a swarm of words
inside his belly, nestled
against his spleen, singing.

In the days of night riders
when life tongued a reed
till blues & sorrow song
called out of the deep night:
Another man done gone.
Another man done gone.

In the days when one could lose oneself
all up inside love that way,
& then moan on the bone
till the gods cried out in someone's sleep.

Today,
already I've seen three dark-skinned men
discussing the weather with demons
& angels, gazing up at the clouds
& squinting down into iron grates
along the fast streets of luminous encounters.

I double-check my reflection in plate glass
& wonder, Am I passing another
Lucky Thompson or Marion Brown
cornered by a blue dementia,
another dark-skinned man
who woke up dreaming one morning
& then walked out of himself
dreaming? Did this one dare
to step on a crack in the sidewalk,
to turn a midnight corner & never come back
whole, or did he try to stare down a look
that shoved a blade into his heart?
I mean, I also know something
about night riders & catgut. Yeah,
honey, I know something about talking with ghosts.

Copyright © 2011 by Yusef Komunyakaa. Reprinted from The Chameleon Couch with the permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

A fifth of animals without backbones could be at risk of extinction, say scientists.
—BBC Nature News

Ask me if I speak for the snail and I will tell you
I speak for the snail.
                          speak of underneathedness
and the welcome of mosses,
                                        of life that springs up,
little lives that pull back and wait for a moment.

I speak for the damselfly, water skeet, mollusk,
the caterpillar, the beetle, the spider, the ant.
                                                        I speak
from the time before spinelessness was frowned upon.

Ask me if I speak for the moon jelly. I will tell you
                        one thing today and another tomorrow
        and I will be as consistent as anything alive
on this earth.

                        I move as the currents move, with the breezes.
What part of your nature drives you? You, in your cubicle
ought to understand me. I filter and filter and filter all day.

Ask me if I speak for the nautilus and I will be silent
as the nautilus shell on a shelf. I can be beautiful
and useless if that's all you know to ask of me.

Ask me what I know of longing and I will speak of distances
        between meadows of night-blooming flowers.
                                                        I will speak
                        the impossible hope of the firefly.

                                                You with the candle
burning and only one chair at your table must understand
        such wordless desire.

                                To say it is mindless is missing the point.

Copyright © 2012 by Camille Dungy. Used with permission of the author.

They don't wade in so much as they are taken.
Deep in the day, in the deep of the field,
every current in the grasses whispers hurry
hurry, every yellow spreads its perfume
like a rumor, impelling them further on.
It is the way of girls.  It is the sway
of their dresses in the summer trance-
light, their bare calves already far-gone
in green.  What songs will they follow?
Whatever the wood warbles, whatever storm
or harm the border promises, whatever
calm.  Let them go.  Let them go traceless 
through the high grass and into the willow-
blur, traceless across the lean blue glint
of the river, to the long dark bodies
of the conifers, and over the welcoming
threshold of nightfall.

From The Beginning of the Fields by Angela Shaw. Copyright © 2009 by Angela Shaw. Used by permission of Tupelo Press. All rights reserved.

A parrot of irritation sits
on my shoulder, pecks
at my head, ruffling his feathers
in my ear. He repeats
everything I say, like a child
trying to irritate the parent.
Too much to do today: the dracena
that’s outgrown its pot, a mountain
of bills to pay and nothing in the house
to eat. Too many clothes need washing
and the dog needs his shots.
It just goes on and on, I say
to myself, no one around, and catch
myself saying it, a ball hit so straight
to your glove you’d have to be
blind not to catch it. And of course
I hope it does go on and on
forever, the little pain,
the little pleasure, the sun
a blood orange in the sky, the sky
parrot blue and the day
unfolding like a bird slowly
spreading its wings, though I know,
saying it, that it won’t.

From The Book of Ten, published by University of Pittsburgh Press. Copyright © 2011 by Susan Wood. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

At night, down the hall into the bedroom we go.
In the morning we enter the kitchen.
Places, please. On like this,

without alarm. I am the talker and taker
he is the giver and the bedroom man.
We are out of order but not broken.

He says, let’s make this one short.
She says, what do you mean?
We set out and got nearer.

Along the way some loved ones died.
Whole summers ruined that way.
Take me to the door, take me in your arms.

Mother’s been dead a decade
but her voice comes back to me now and often.
Life accumulates, a series of commas,

first this, then that, then him, then here.
A clump of matter (paragraph)
and here we are: minutes, years.

Wait, I am trying to establish
something with these people.
Him, her, him. We make a little pantomime.

Family, I say, wake up. The sentences
one then another one, in a line. And then
we go on like that, for a long time.

 

About this poem:
“‘Domestic’ is part of a new manuscript, The Uses of the Body, which explores themes of gender, desire, marriage, monogamy, mortality (subjects I’ve written about previously) as well as pregnancy, childbirth, motherhood (subjects I’ve been reluctant to explore in poetry for fear of risking sentimentality). Although this material may seem familiar, I feel compelled to find fresh language, form, and syntax that can capture the immense strangeness of these experiences. This poem (‘Domestic’) comes at the end of a long sequence about marriage and domestic life.”

Deborah Landau

 

Copyright © 2013 by Deborah Landau. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on February 13, 2013. Browse the Poem-a-Day archive.

Beneath heaven’s vault
remember always walking
through halls of cloud
down aisles of sunlight
or through high hedges
of the green rain
walk in the world
highheeled with swirl of cape
hand at the swordhilt
of your pride
Keep a tall throat
Remain aghast at life

Enter each day
as upon a stage
lighted and waiting
for your step
Crave upward as flame
have keenness in the nostril
Give your eyes
to agony or rapture

Train your hands
as birds to be
brooding or nimble
Move your body
as the horses
sweeping on slender hooves
over crag and prairie
with fleeing manes
and aloofness of their limbs

Take earth for your own large room
and the floor of the earth
carpeted with sunlight
and hung round with silver wind
for your dancing place

From Collected Poems by May Swenson. Copyright © 2013 by The Literary Estate of May Swenson. Reprinted by permission of The Library of America. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on June 6, 2013. Browse the Poem-a-Day archive.

        in memory of Reetika Vazirani (1962-2003) and Rachel Wetzsteon (1967-2009)
 
Sewanee, Tennessee. 
Summer of '96, I went there for 
booze and poetry and rest. 
I danced a little dance; 
I talked a little shop. 
I forgot a recent ghost.  

"Invitation to a Ghost" 
was my favorite poem in Tennessee. 
And Justice taught my workshop. 
(God love him, he called me decadent for 
ending a line with an anapest.) At the dance 
party with Allison and the rest  

of the poets from Rebel's Rest, 
ambition was the ghost 
unseen, but always in attendance. 
And I misplaced my faith in Tennessee, 
upon a hill: I gave an undergrad what-for 
after priming him with lines of Bishop.  

Gossip is another word for talking shop. 
But Rachel, sharper than the rest, 
winner of things I hoped for, 
was above all that, like a charming host. 
She spoke of posterity in Tennessee. 
And every day felt like a dance  

preparing us for a bigger dance. 
In the bookstore, I pretended to shop 
with Reetika, Rachel's roommate in Tennessee, 
wicked-funny and stunning and rest- 
less. We flirted like we stood a ghost 
of a chance. I was twenty-four.  

I wonder now what it's all been for: 
that summer; the words; the awful dance 
that followed. So many ghosts. 
Let the muses close the horror shop. 
Let Rachel and Reetika rest. 
—Years ago, there was Tennessee.

Copyright © 2012 by Randall Mann. Used with permission of the author.

Above us, stars. Beneath us, constellations.
Five billion miles away, a galaxy dies
like a snowflake falling on water. Below us,
some farmer, feeling the chill of that distant death,
snaps on his yard light, drawing his sheds and barn
back into the little system of his care.
All night, the cities, like shimmering novas,
tug with bright streets at lonely lights like
his.

From Flying at Night: Poems 1965-1985 by Ted Kooser, © 1980. Reprinted by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

Because your generation didn’t wear perfume
           but chose a scent—a signature—every day
                      you spritzed a powerhouse floral with top
                                 notes of lavender and mandarin, a loud
smell one part Doris Day, that girl-next-door
           who used Technicolor to find a way to laugh about
                      husbands screwing their secretaries over lunch,
                                 the rest all Faye Dunaway, all high drama
extensions of nails and lashes, your hair a
           a breezy fall of bangs, a stiletto entrance
                      that knew to walk sideways, hip first:
                                 now watch a real lady descend the stairs.

Launched in 1968, Norell
           was the 1950s tingling with the beginning
                      of Disco; Norell was a housewife tired of gospel,
                                 mopping her house to Stevie Wonder instead.

You wore so much of it, tiny pockets
           of your ghost lingered hours after you
                      were gone, and last month, I stalked
                                 a woman wearing your scent through
the grocery so long I abandoned
           my cart and went home. Fanny, tell me:
                      How can manufactured particles carry you
                                 through the air? I always express what I see,
but it was no photo that
           stopped and queased me to my knees.

After all these years, you were an invisible
           trace, and in front of a tower of soup cans
                      I was a simple animal craving the deep memory
                                 worn by a stranger oblivious of me. If I had courage,
the kind of fool I’d like to be,
           I would have pressed my face to her small
                      shoulder, and with the sheer work of
                                 two pink lungs, I would have breathed
enough to
           conjure
                      you back
                                 to me.

Copyright © 2013 by Nickole Brown. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on July 18, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

I don’t want to hurt a man, but I like to hear one beg.
Two people touch twice a month in ten hotels, and
We call it long distance. He holds down one coast.
I wander the other like any African American, Africa
With its condition and America with its condition
And black folk born in this nation content to carry
Half of each. I shoulder my share. My man flies
To touch me. Sky on our side. Sky above his world
I wish to write. Which is where I go wrong. Words
Are a sense of sound. I get smart. My mother shakes
Her head. My grandmother sighs: He ain’t got no
Sense. My grandmother is dead. She lives with me.
I hear my mother shake her head over the phone.
Somebody cut the cord. We have a long distance
Relationship. I lost half of her to a stroke. God gives
To each a body. God gives every body its pains.
When pain mounts in my body, I try thinking
Of my white forefathers who hurt their black bastards
Quite legally. I hate to say it, but one pain can ease
Another. Doctors rather I take pills. My man wants me
To see a doctor. What are you when you leave your man
Wanting? What am I now that I think so fondly
Of airplanes? What’s my name, whose is it, while we
Make love. My lover leaves me with words I wish
To write. Flies from one side of a nation to the outside
Of our world. I don’t want the world. I only want
African sense of American sound. Him. Touching.
This body. Aware of its pains. Greetings, Earthlings.
My name is Slow And Stumbling. I come from planet
Trouble. I am here to love you uncomfortable.

Copyright © 2011 by Jericho Brown. Used with permission of the author.

            for Barbara


        There are words
I've had to save myself from,
like My Lord and Blessed Mother,
words I said and never meant,
though I admit a part of me misses
the ornamental stateliness
of High Mass, that smell

        of incense. Heaven did exist,
I discovered, but was reciprocal
and momentary, like lust
felt at exactly the same time—
two mortals, say, on a resilient bed,
making a small case for themselves.

        You and I became the words
I'd say before I'd lay me down to sleep,
and again when I'd wake—wishful
words, no belief in them yet.
It seemed you'd been put on earth
to distract me
from what was doctrinal and dry.
Electricity may start things,
but if they're to last
I've come to understand
a steady, low-voltage hum

        of affection
must be arrived at. How else to offset
the occasional slide
into neglect and ill temper?
I learned, in time, to let heaven
go its mythy way, to never again

        be a supplicant
of any single idea. For you and me
it's here and now from here on in.
Nothing can save us, nor do we wish
to be saved.

        Let night come
with its austere grandeur,
ancient superstitions and fears.
It can do us no harm.
We'll put some music on,
open the curtains, let things darken
as they will.

From Here and Now, published by W.W. Norton. Copyright © 2011 by Stephen Dunn. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

Man-made, bejesus hot, patches of sand turned to glass.
Home of Iron Mountain and McCulloch chainsaws.

London Bridge, disassembled, shipped, reassembled.
The white sturgeon stocked, found dead, some lost,
hiding in the depths of Parker Dam. Fifty year-old
monsters, maybe twenty feet long. Lake named

for the Mojave word for blue. Havasu. Havasu.
What we called the sky on largemouth bass days,

striped bass nights, carp, catfish, crappie, razorback,
turtles, stocked, caught, restocked. I stood waist deep
in that dammed blue, and I was beautiful, a life saver
resting on my young hips, childless, oblivious

to politics, to the life carted in and dumped
into the cauldron I swam through, going under,

gliding along the cool sand like a human fish,
white bikini-ed shark flashing my blind side.
We heard a woman died, face down in the sand,
drunk on a 125 degree day. That night we slept

on dampened sheets, a hotel ice bucket on the
bedside table. We sucked the cubes round, slid

the beveled edges down our thighs and spines,
let them melt to pools in the small caves
below our sternums. While you slept beside me
I thought of that woman, her body one long

third degree burn, sweating and turning
under a largo moon, the TV on: seven dead

from Tylenol, the etched black wedge of the
Vietnam Memorial, the Commodore Computer
unveiled, the first artificial heart, just beginning
to wonder if something might be wrong.

Copyright © 2013 by Dorianne Laux. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on April 17, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

At dusk the streetlights
stand like beacons to the underworld,
a girl runs toward me beaded with rain
and sweat. I think husk, wheels—
seeds rattle, shake loose and a candle
is held to the egg's red mass she is
too young to see. In Pompeii those bodies
are not bodies but plaster poured
into the cavity where a body once lay,
no less a hand pushing back ash,
no less a woman with her unborn child
twisting for a pocket of air,
the forge, the fire, the glimpsed blade,
a door we close quickly, just as my brother
said Now I know I will die, and I thought
of course and not me in the same second.
We kept driving, arrived at the airport
and the next day our father did die—
aria, the birds rising at the sound
of the explosion and plums, succulent
ashy, burnished. Walking down the Spanish
Steps on a Sunday morning in October,
no one there yet, Keats' window open,
you said Ten or fifteen years from now
when I am gone, come back. You touched
our absence from each other,
the fifteen years ahead you've always had—
when in dreams I am older and you
remain as you were when we first met,
before devotion was returned,
or was it that I let it be—our lives together
suddenly recognizable as if seared pages
fallen from a larger book.

From Undone, published by New Issues Press. Copyright © 2011 by Maxine Scates. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

I bathe my television    in total attention    I give it my corneas
I give it my eardrums    I give it my longing
In return I get pictures      of girls fighting    and men flying
and women in big houses    with tight faces    blotting down tears
with tiny knuckles    Sometimes my mother calls
and I don't answer      Sometimes a siren     sings past the window
and summer air     pushes in     dripping with the scent
of human sweat       But what do I care      I've given my skin
to the TV     I've given it my tastes     In return    it gives me so many
different sounds     to fill the silence   where the secrets
of my life     flash by like ad space     for the coming season

Copyright © 2013 by Brynn Saito. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on April 5, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

The donkey. The donkey pulling the cart.
The caravan of dust. The cart made of plywood,
of crossbeam and junkyard tires. The donkey
made of donkey. The long face. The long ears.
The curled lashes. The obsidian eyes blinking
in the dust. The cart rolling, cracking the knuckles
of pebbles. The dust. The blanket over the cart.
The hidden mortar shells. The veins of wires.
The remote device. The red light. The donkey
trotting. The blue sky. The rolling cart. The dust
smudging the blue sky. The silent bell of the sun.
The Humvee. The soldiers. The dust-colored
uniforms. The boy from Montgomery, the boy
from Little Falls. The donkey cart approaching.
The dust. The laughter on their lips. The dust
on their lips. The moment before the moment.
The shockwave. The dust. The dust. The dust.

From Hoodwinked, published by Sarabande Books. Copyright © 2011 by David Hernandez. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

We're all pagans and shamans and clap your hands now we won't stop the beat

We believe in divine healing and we hate to see that evening sun go down

We know when the sight of our women dressed in white each ritual night, is touching, hypnotizes

The animals blush and split for us as revival, as revealed to themselves

These are triumphant women.

Even Sister Fame hiding out in the alley turning tricks and singing verses from the undid scripture, is touching

Thank you jesus, thank you jesus, that you jesus, baby, is that you, she mutters up high between rocks and lacehis eagerness— it was all night long

Sometimes he'd interrupt a recording session to tell us about his early Motown days or expand on his views of Heaven and Hell

One time he was saying how important it was to love one's father.

Do you love yours? I asked him

Why don't you tell him

Why don't you tell your father, he said

I will if you do

You go first


About this poem:
"'Motown Philly Back Again' is a meditation on some of the myths and legends that pervade the recording industry. It includes some catachresis between Marvin Gaye and myself that helps me explore some nuances of paternity as I've experienced it within the context of black culture. The many hyperlinks embedded in the text explicate more of the associative registers of the poem, which is part of a larger series of meditations on crossings between rituals of worship/devotion, rituals of violence, and rituals of entertainment as they converge and diverge in the role of the arts in the lives of black Americans and also all Americans. That series is called 'Great Day in the Morning' and will be available as a chapbook this year."

Harmony Holiday

Copyright © 2013 by Harmony Holiday. Used with permission of the author.

no dove at all, coo-rooing through the dusk
and foraging for small seeds
My mother was the clouded-over night
a moon swims through, the dark against which stars
switch themselves on, so many already dead
by now (stars switch themselves off
and are my mother, she was never
so celestial, so clearly seen)

My mother was the murderous flight of crows
stilled, black plumage gleaming
among black branches, taken
for nocturnal leaves, the difference
between two darks:

a cacophony of needs
in the bare tree silhouette,
a flight of feathers, scattering
black. She was the night
streetlights oppose (perch
for the crows, their purchase on sight),
obscure bruise across the sky
making up names for rain

My mother always falling
was never snow, no kind
of bird, pigeon or crow

From Red Clay Weather, published by University of Pittsburgh Press. Copyright © 2011 by Reginald Shepherd. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

The truck that swerved to miss the stroller in which I slept.
 
My mother turning from the laundry basket just in time to see me open 
  the third-story window to call to the cat.
 
In the car, on ice, something spinning and made of history snatched me
  back from the guardrail and set me down between two gentle trees.
  And that time I thought to look both ways on the one-way street.
 
And when the doorbell rang, and I didn’t answer, and just before I slipped
  one night into a drunken dream, I remembered to blow out the candle
  burning on the table beside me.
 
It's a miracle, I tell you, this middle-aged woman scanning the cans on
  the grocery store shelf. Hidden in the works of a mysterious clock are
  her many deaths, and yet the whole world is piled up before her on a
  banquet table again today. The timer, broken. The sunset smeared
  across the horizon in the girlish cursive of the ocean, Forever, For You.
 
And still she can offer only her body as proof:
 
The way it moves a little slower every day. And the cells, ticking away.
  A crow pecking at a sweater. The last hour waiting patiently on a tray
  for her somewhere in the future. The spoon slipping quietly into the
  beautiful soup.
 

Copyright © 2011 by Laura Kasischke. Reprinted from Space, in Chains with the permission of Copper Canyon Press.

I have not disappeared.
The boulevard is full of my steps. The sky is
full of my thinking. An archbishop
prays for my soul, even though
we only met once, and even then, he was
busy waving at a congregation.
The ticking clocks in Vermont sway

back and forth as though sweeping
up my eyes and my tattoos and my metaphors,
and what comes up are the great paragraphs
of dust, which also carry motes
of my existence. I have not disappeared.
My wife quivers inside a kiss.
My pulse was given to her many times,

in many countries. The chunks of bread we dip
in olive oil is communion with our ancestors,
who also have not disappeared. Their delicate songs
I wear on my eyelids. Their smiles have
given me freedom which is a crater
I keep falling in. When I bite into the two halves
of an orange whose cross-section resembles my lungs,

a delta of juices burst down my chin, and like magic,
makes me appear to those who think I’ve
disappeared. It’s too bad war makes people
disappear like chess pieces, and that prisons
turn prisoners into movie endings. When I fade
into the mountains on a forest trail,
I still have not disappeared, even though its green facade
turns my arms and legs into branches of oak.
It is then I belong to a southerly wind,
which by now you have mistaken as me nodding back
and forth like a Hasid in prayer or a mother who has just
lost her son to gunfire in Detroit. I have not disappeared.

In my children, I see my bulging face
pressing further into the mysteries.

In a library in Tucson, on a plane above
Buenos Aires, on a field where nearby burns
a controlled fire, I am held by a professor,
a General, and a photographer.
One burns a finely wrapped cigar, then sniffs
the scented pages of my books, scouring
for the bitter smell of control.
I hold him in my mind like a chalice.
I have not disappeared. I swish the amber
hue of lager on my tongue and ponder the drilling
rigs in the Gulf of Alaska and all the oil-painted plovers.

When we talk about limits, we disappear.
In Jasper, TX you can disappear on a strip of gravel.

I am a shrug of a life in sacred language.
Right now: termites toil over a grave.
My mind is a ravine of yesterdays.
At a glance from across the room, I wear
September on my face,
which is eternal, and does not disappear
even if you close your eyes once and for all
simultaneously like two coffins.

Copyright © 2013 by Major Jackson. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on September 11, 2013. 

You are ice and fire,
The touch of you burns my hands like snow.
You are cold and flame.
You are the crimson of amaryllis,
The silver of moon-touched magnolias.
When I am with you,
My heart is a frozen pond
Gleaming with agitated torches.

This poem is in the public domain.

Last week Mars suddenly got a lot closer.
It used to be the place we'd throw out
as impossible, utterly unreachable, so red
and foreign and sere. Not anymore.
And I'm trying to figure out why watching
the panorama makes something in the hot core
of me crumple like a swig-emptied can,
intoxicating though it may be, vibrant
with out-of-this-world color like the whole thing's
a sand painting, a dimensional mandala
some galactic monk took her sweet time pouring
freehand, blowing on it between sips of her tea,
ruffling up the most dramatic of its rumpled crests.
It's bluer than I thought, attained. Like most things
I wish we could take back.

Copyright © 2012 by Shanna Compton. Used with permission of the author.

Along Ancona's hills the shimmering heat,
A tropic tide of air with ebb and flow
Bathes all the fields of wheat until they glow
Like flashing seas of green, which toss and beat
Around the vines. The poppies lithe and fleet
Seem running, fiery torchmen, to and fro
To mark the shore.

                        The farmer does not know
That they are there. He walks with heavy feet,
Counting the bread and wine by autumn's gain,
But I,—I smile to think that days remain
Perhaps to me in which, though bread be sweet
No more, and red wine warm my blood in vain,
I shall be glad remembering how the fleet,
Lithe poppies ran like torchmen with the wheat.

This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on June 29, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.  This poem is in the public domain.

Body my house
my horse my hound
what will I do 
when you are fallen

Where will I sleep
How will I ride
What will I hunt

Where can I go
without my mount
all eager and quick
How will I know
in thicket ahead
is danger or treasure
when Body my good
bright dog is dead

How will it be
to lie in the sky
without roof or door
and wind for an eye

With cloud for shift
how will I hide?

From New & Selected Things Taking Place by May Swenson. Copyright © 1978 by the estate of May Swenson. Reprinted by permission of the estate of May Swenson. All rights reserved.

Red slippers in a shop-window; and outside in the street, flaws of gray, windy sleet!
 
Behind the polished glass the slippers hang in long threads of red, festooning from the ceiling like stalactites of blood, flooding the eyes of passers-by with dripping color, jamming their crimson reflections against the windows of cabs and tram-cars, screaming their claret and salmon into the teeth of the sleet, plopping their little round maroon lights upon the tops of umbrellas.

The row of white, sparkling shop-fronts is gashed and bleeding, it bleeds red slippers. They spout under the electric light, fluid and fluctuating, a hot rain—and freeze again to red slippers, myriadly multiplied in the mirror side of the window.

They balance upon arched insteps like springing bridges of crimson lacquer; they swing up over curved heels like whirling tanagers sucked in a wind-pocket; they flatten out, heelless, like July ponds, flared and burnished by red rockets.

Snap, snap, they are cracker sparks of scarlet in the white, monotonous block of shops.

They plunge the clangor of billions of vermilion trumpets into the crowd outside, and echo in faint rose over the pavement.

People hurry by, for these are only shoes, and in a window farther down is a big lotus bud of cardboard, whose petals open every few minutes and reveal a wax doll, with staring bead eyes and flaxen hair, lolling awkwardly in its flower chair.

One has often seen shoes, but whoever saw a cardboard lotus bud before?

The flaws of gray, windy sleet beat on the shop-window where there are only red slippers.

This poem is in the public domain.


so it came to me to 
carry the abandoned 
mattress to the attic      

                         a month dead my father
		         waited hillside in the field 
 			 surrounding his house 

I was glad to see him
to remember when
the fathers seemed 

                          generic     related     a class
    			  of things as uniform as trees 
                          are when you don’t know
			
their names     a stand
of them across the field 
I want to say autumn

                           aspens     the late fathers 
                           blonde as early evening
 			   wind startles their eyes 
 
and makes of your name 
a sail      a boat above roots 
that rise to stem that rise 

		            to leaf his door and cornices    
                            his felt hat and mattress 
                            empty     it feels like forever
				
above the flickering field     
the fathers shrinking 
far beneath our feet



for Lisa Fishman

Copyright © 2013 by Brian Teare. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on October 22, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Drink deep, drink deep of quietness,
    And on the margins of the sea
Remember not thine old distress
    Nor all the miseries to be.
Calmer than mists, and cold
As they, that fold on fold
Up the dim valley are rolled,
    Learn thou to be.

The Past—it was a feverish dream,
    A drunken slumber full of tears.
The Future—O what wild wings gleam,
    Wheeled in the van of desperate years!
Thou lovedst the evening: dawn
Glimmers; the night is gone:—
What dangers lure thee on,
    What dreams more fierce?

But meanwhile, now the east is gray,
    The hour is pale, the cocks yet dumb,
Be glad before the birth of day,
    Take thy brief rest ere morning come:
Here in the beautiful woods
All night the sea-mist floods,—
Thy last of solitudes,
    Thy yearlong home.

This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on September 1, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive. This poem is in the public domain.

I love its smallness: as though our whole town
were a picture postcard and our feelings
were on vacation: ourselves in mini-
ature, shopping at tiny sales, buying
the newspapers—small and pale and square
as sugar cubes—at the fragile, little curb.
The way the streetlight is really a table
lamp where now we sit and where real
night, (which is very tall and black and
at our backs), where for a moment
the night is forced to bend down and look
through these tiny windows, forced to come
closer and put its hand on our shoulder
and stoop over the book to read the fine print.

Copyright © 2012 by Lynn Emanuel. Used with permission of the author.

Late August morning I go out to cut
spent and faded hydrangeas—washed
greens, russets, troubled little auras

of sky as if these were the very silks
of Versailles, mottled by rain and ruin
then half-restored, after all this time…

When I come back with my handful
I realize I’ve accidentally locked the door,
and can’t get back into the house.

The dining room window’s easiest;
crawl through beauty bush and spirea,
push aside some errant maples, take down

the wood-framed screen, hoist myself up.
But how, exactly, to clamber across the sill
and the radiator down to the tile?

I try bending one leg in, but I don’t fold
readily; I push myself up so that my waist
rests against the sill, and lean forward,

place my hands on the floor and begin to slide
down into the room, which makes me think
this was what it was like to be born:

awkward, too big for the passageway…
Negotiate, submit?
                           When I give myself
to gravity there I am, inside, no harm,

the dazzling splotchy flowerheads
scattered around me on the floor.
Will leaving the world be the same

—uncertainty as to how to proceed,
some discomfort, and suddenly you’re
—where? I am so involved with this idea

I forget to unlock the door,
so when I go to fetch the mail, I’m locked out
again. Am I at home in this house,

would I prefer to be out here,
where I could be almost anyone?
This time it’s simpler: the window-frame,

the radiator, my descent. Born twice
in one day!
                In their silvered jug,
these bruise-blessed flowers:

how hard I had to work to bring them
into this room. When I say spent,
I don’t mean they have no further coin.

If there are lives to come, I think
they might be a littler easier than this one.

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Doty. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on April 23, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

A man in terror of impotence
or infertility, not knowing the difference . . . . 
                                             —Adrienne Rich


We live in dread of something:

Need, perhaps. Tears,
the air inside a woman’s dress,
the deep breath of non-ambition.

In a valley of stone,
men had to carry stones.
In a sea of fertility,
women could drown
in the wake of conceptions.

We no longer build in stone—
houses of rice paper, beds
of feather. Manhood
is the one stone we still
insist on, lifting it

From abandoned quarries,
carrying it on our backs
even when we make love,
until the woman beneath us
calls passion a kind of

Suffocation, surfaces for air
like a young child whose head
has been pushed beneath the water,
a way to learn swimming.

Did you come? we ask,
her head bobbing above the brine
that pours from us. Applause
is what we want now,

Her wet hands
clapping in the last wind
before she sinks again,
before she holds us again
so tight we both plunge
like a cry for help
into the water,

Before we fall to the bottom—

Stones
not even the fish
will pause to tell apart.

From Sympathetic Magic, published by Water Mark Press in 1980. Copyright © 1980 by Michael Blumenthal. Used by permission of the author.

(Ruth Stone, June 8, 1915 - November 19, 2011)
 

And suddenly, it's today, it's this morning
they are putting Ruth into the earth,
her breasts going down, under the hill,
like the moon and sun going down together.
O I know, it's not Ruth—what was Ruth 
went out, slowly, but this was her form,
beautiful and powerful
as the old, gorgeous goddesses who were
terrible, too, not telling a lie
for anyone—and she'd been left here so long, among
mortals, by her mate—who could not,
one hour, bear to go on being human.
And I've gone a little crazy myself
with her going, which seems to go against logic,
the way she has always been there, with her wonder, and her
generousness, her breasts like two
voluptuous external hearts.
I am so glad she kept them, all
her life, and she got to be buried in them—
she 96, and they
maybe 82, each, which is
164 years
of pleasure and longing.  And think of all 
the poets who have suckled at her riskiness, her
risque, her body politic, her
outlaw grace!  What she came into this world with,
with a mew and cry, she gave us.  In her red
sweater and her red hair and her raw
melodious Virginia crackle,
she emptied herself fully out
into her songs and our song-making,
we would not have made our songs without her.
O dear one, what is this?  You are not a child,
though you dwindled, you have not retraced your path,
but continued to move straight forward to where 
we will follow you, radiant mother.  Red Rover, cross over. 

Copyright © 2013 by Sharon Olds. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on November 5, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Give me, again, the fairy tale grotto
with the portico-vaulting overhead.
Let me walk beneath the canted columns
of Gaudí’s rookery, spiral
along his crenelated Jerusalem
of broken tiles, crazy shields.
Yes, it’s hot as hell and full
of tourists at the double helix,
but the anarchists now occupy
the Food Court, and the arcadian dream
for the working class includes this shady
colonnade cut into the mountainside.
I’ve postponed my allegiance to
the tiny house movement, to the 450
square feet of simple, American maple
infrastructure and the roomy
mind suspended like a hammock
between joists. Serpents and castle
keeps shimmer, and a mosaic invitation
to the Confectionery gets me a free
café con leche on the La Rambla,

where honeycombed apartments bend
on chiseled stone and host
floating, wrought-iron balconies.
I think I’ll move into Gaudí’s dream
of recycled mesh, walk barefoot
on his flagstone tiles
inscribed with seaweed
and sacred graffiti
from pagan tombs.
O, Barcelona of chamfered corners!
And chimneys of cowled
warriors! From Gaudí’s Book
of Revelations, I invite the goblet
and the stone Mobius strip
to a tapas of grilled prawns and squid.
Gaudí’s book of Revelations.

Copyright © 2013 by Robin Becker. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on August 19, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

We live in secret cities
And we travel unmapped roads.

We speak words between us that we recognize
But which cannot be looked up.

They are our words.
They come from very far inside our mouths.

You and I, we are the secret citizens of the city
Inside us, and inside us

There go all the cars we have driven
And seen, there are all the people

We know and have known, there
Are all the places that are

But which used to be as well. This is where
They went. They did not disappear.

We each take a piece 
Through the eye and through the ear.

It's loud inside us, in there, and when we speak
In the outside world

We have to hope that some of that sound
Does not come out, that an arm

Not reach out
In place of the tongue.

Copyright © 1998 by Alberto Rios. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

You weren’t well or really ill yet either;
just a little tired, your handsomeness
tinged by grief or anticipation, which brought
to your face a thoughtful, deepening grace.

I didn’t for a moment doubt you were dead.
I knew that to be true still, even in the dream.
You’d been out—at work maybe?—
having a good day, almost energetic.

We seemed to be moving from some old house
where we’d lived, boxes everywhere, things
in disarray: that was the story of my dream,
but even asleep I was shocked out of the narrative

by your face, the physical fact of your face:
inches from mine, smooth-shaven, loving, alert.
Why so difficult, remembering the actual look
of you? Without a photograph, without strain?

So when I saw your unguarded, reliable face,
your unmistakable gaze opening all the warmth
and clarity of —warm brown tea—we held
each other for the time the dream allowed.

Bless you. You came back, so I could see you
once more, plainly, so I could rest against you
without thinking this happiness lessened anything,
without thinking you were alive again.

From Sweet Machine, published by HarperCollins. Copyright © 1998 by Mark Doty. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Little cramped words scrawling all over the paper
Like draggled fly's legs,
What can you tell of the flaring moon
Through the oak leaves?
Or of my uncertain window and the bare floor
Spattered with moonlight?
Your silly quirks and twists have nothing in them
Of blossoming hawthorns,
And this paper is dull, crisp, smooth, virgin of loveliness
Beneath my hand.

I am tired, Beloved, of chafing my heart against
The want of you;
Of squeezing it into little inkdrops,
And posting it.
And I scald alone, here, under the fire
Of the great moon.

This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on February 9, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive. This poem is in the public domain.

For weeks, I breathe his body in the sheet
	and pillow. I lift a blanket to my face.
There’s bitter incense paired with something sweet,  	
	like sandalwood left sitting in the heat	
or cardamom rubbed on a piece of lace. 
	For weeks, I breathe his body. In the sheet	
I smell anise, the musk that we secrete		 	
	with longing, leather and moss. I find a trace  
of bitter incense paired with something sweet.   
	Am I imagining the wet scent of peat	
and cedar, oud, impossible to erase?
	For weeks, I breathe his body in the sheet— 
crushed pepper—although perhaps discreet,
	difficult for someone else to place.
There’s bitter incense paired with something sweet.  
	With each deployment I become an aesthete
of smoke and oak. Patchouli fills the space
	for weeks. I breathe his body in the sheet	
until he starts to fade, made incomplete,  	
	a bottle almost empty in its case.	
There’s bitter incense paired with something sweet.  
	And then he’s gone. Not even the conceit 	
of him remains, not the resinous base.	
	For weeks, I breathed his body in the sheet.	
He was bitter incense paired with something sweet.       

Copyright © 2013 by Jehanne Dubrow. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on December 20, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

after Tennyson
Now come the purple garments, now the white;
Now move the vagrant beds among the disinfected halls;
Now stretch the opaque hose between the antiseptic rooms:
I waken: and she looks at me.

Now droops the freshly propped-up pillow like a ghost,
And like a ghost she sets it right for me.

Now lie the intravenous tubules by the door,
And all the body's ills stare openly at me.

Now drifts the slim physician on, and leaves
His clipboard hanging like a thought in front of me.

Now folds the young nurse all her aprons up,
And slips her lovely bosom in a waiting car:
And so desire folds itself as well, and slips
Into my arms, and then is lost in me.

Copyright © 2011 by Michael Blumenthal. Used with permission of the author.


The soul of swift-soled Achilles hearing me
Praise his son, silvered, and then was gone,
His long strides causing him to blend, light-bent,
Into the shining, maize meadow cloudbank						
Shadowed by that one solitary tree 
It takes sixteen years for light, let alone
A soul, to cross.
		 The other dead, who thrived
Though they had died, rejoiced at seeing me
And sang, one by one, to me; and I in 
Turn said back to one after the other
That the song that soul sang was a blessing
And that I had never heard anything
Like it; which was true, but also, I must
Admit, they bored me to tears, tears that their
Surprisingly still finite knowledge took
As tears of pure joy from hearing them sing.

Only Ajax Telamoniades
Kept away, arms crossed, refusing to speak,
Dim-starred and disappearing into his rage.
All because of a simple spar of words,
A mere speech, and winning Achilles’ armor.
Athena above and those men at the ships
Decided that, not me, although it’s true 
He never stood chance. But by custom
Should have been given the matchless metal. 
How I wish I hadn’t won that contest.
How the ground closed over his head for it.
What a fool I can be. Ajax. Who knew
No equal in action but for the one
Man who surpassed him, just-fled Achilles,
So capable of happiness despite
All that happened because he washed up here,
Heaven: this implausible place for us.

Strange that Ajax is also in Heaven
Despite ending his legendary life.
In the end he’s won, but he doesn’t seem
To understand that he’s won. Poor Ajax.
Like always, I thought I had winning words
And so I said to him with unreturned gaze:
“Son of great Telamon, mighty Ajax, 
War tower, shake free of your anger.
No one else is to blame but Zeus, and look,
He is no longer here, friend. Paradise
Has found you and given you an eternal
Roof under the one tree of High Heaven.
Zeus treated us so terribly, and you,
Whom he should have loved like his strongest son,
You worst of all.
   But that is history
Now. Come, my strong brother, lord and deserved
Winner of all Achilles wore and was,
Come, be with us here; let me hear the light
Of Heaven in your voice; and let me know,
Because I love you, how you (of all men!)
Ended up in the keen of this endless berm.”
But Ajax, gift-eyed, said nothing to me
And took his seat under the rowan tree.

Copyright © 2013 by Rowan Ricardo Phillips. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on December 19, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

A boy told me
if he roller-skated fast enough
his loneliness couldn’t catch up to him,
the best reason I ever heard
for trying to be a champion.
What I wonder tonight
pedaling hard down King William Street
is if it translates to bicycles.
A victory! To leave your loneliness
panting behind you on some street corner
while you float free into a cloud of sudden azaleas,
pink petals that have never felt loneliness,
no matter how slowly they fell.

Naomi Shihab Nye, "The Rider" from Fuel. Copyright © 1998 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., boaeditions.org.

Away from leaf touch, from twig.
Away from the markings and evidence
of others. Beyond the shale night
filling with rain. Beyond the sleepy
origin of sadness. Back, back into
the ingrown room. The place where
everything loved is placed, assembled
for memory. The delicate hold
and tender rearrangement of what is missing,
like certain words, a color reflected off 
water a few years back. Apricots and 
what burns. It has obtained what it is.
Sweet with a stone. Sweet with the
concession of a few statements,
a few lives it will touch without bruising.

First published in American Poet. Copyright © 2010 by Carl Adamshick. From Curses and Wishes (Louisiana State University Press, 2011). Used by permission of the author.

who visits me in a hospital

Like a fleet with bellying sails, 
Like the great bulk of a sea-cliff with the staccato bark 
     of waves about it, 
Like the tart tang of the sea breeze
Are you;
Filling the little room where I lie straitly on a white 
     island between pain and pain.

This poem is in the public domain.

Still are there wonders of the dark and day:
   The muted shrilling of shy things at night,
      So small beneath the stars and moon;
   The peace, dream-frail, but perfect while the light
      Lies softly on the leaves at noon.
         These are, and these will be
             Until eternity;
But she who loved them well has gone away.

Each dawn, while yet the east is veiléd grey,
   The birds about her window wake and sing;
      And far away, each day, some lark
   I know is singing where the grasses swing;
      Some robin calls and calls at dark.
         These are, and these will be
             Until eternity;
But she who loved them well has gone away.

The wild flowers that she loved down green ways stray;
   Her roses lift their wistful buds at dawn,
      But not for eyes that loved them best;
   Only her little pansies are all gone,
      Some lying softly on her breast.
         And flowers will bud and be
             Until eternity;
But she who loved them well has gone away.

Where has she gone? And who is there to say?
   But this we know: her gentle spirit moves
      And is where beauty never wanes,
   Perchance by other streams, mid other groves;
      And to us there, ah! she remains
         A lovely memory
             Until eternity;
She came, she loved, and then she went away.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on August 24, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

One never knows
does one
how one comes to be
standing
most ways to naked
in front of one’s pal’s
big sister who has, simply
by telling me to,
gotten me to shed
all but the scantest
flap of fabric
and twirl before her
like a rotisserie
chicken as she
observes
and offers thoughtful critique
of my just
pubescent physique
which is not
a thing
to behold
what with my damp trunks
clinging to
my damp crotch
and proportion and grace
are words the definition
of which I don’t yet know
nor did I ask the
the mini-skirted scientist
sitting open-legged
and now shoeless
on my mom’s couch
though it may have been
this morning
while chucking papers
I heard through the Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock
pulsing my walkman
a mourning
dove struggling
snared in the downspout’s
mouth and without
lowering the volume
or missing a verse
I crinkled the rusted aluminum
trap enough that with
a little wriggle
it was free
and did not
at once
wobble to some
powerline but sat on my hand
and looked at me
for at least
one verse of “It Takes Two”
sort of bobbing
its head
and cooing once or twice
before flopping off
but that seems very long ago
now
as I pirouette
my hairless and shivering
warble of acne and pudge
burning a hole
in the rug as big sis tosses off
Greek and Latin words
like pectorals and
gluteus maximus
standing to show me
what she means
with her hands on my love
handles and now
I can see myself
trying to add some gaudy flourish
to this memory
to make of it
a fantasy
which is why I linger
hoping to mis-recall
the child
me
make of me
someone I wasn’t
make of this
experience the beginning
of a new life
gilded doors
kicked open blaring
trombones a full
beard Isaac Hayes singing in the background
and me thundering forth
on the wild steed
of emergent manhood
but I think this child was not
that child
obscuring, as he was, his breasts
by tucking his hands
into his armpits
and having never even made love
to himself
yet was not
really a candidate for much
besides the chill
of a minor shame
that he would forget for 15 years
one of what would prove
to be many
such shames
stitched together like a quilt
with all its just legible
patterning which could be a thing
heavy and warm
to be buried in
or instead might be held up
to the light
where we see the threads
barely holding
so human and frail
so beautiful and sad and small
from this remove.

Copyright © 2013 by Ross Gay. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on October 11, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Thank you my life long afternoon
late in this spring that has no age
my window above the river
for the woman you led me to
when it was time at last the words
coming to me out of mid-air
that carried me through the clear day
and come even now to find me
for old friends and echoes of them
those mistakes only I could make
homesickness that guides the plovers
from somewhere they had loved before
they knew they loved it to somewhere
they had loved before they saw it
thank you good body hand and eye
and the places and moments known
only to me revisiting
once more complete just as they are
and the morning stars I have seen
and the dogs who are guiding me

From Collected Poems 1996–2011 by W.S. Merwin. Copyright © 2013 by W. S. Merwin. Reprinted by permission of The Library of America.

Finally, morning. This loneliness
feels more ordinary in the light, more like my face
in the mirror. My daughter in the ER again.
Something she ate? Some freshener

someone spritzed in the air?
They’re trying to kill me, she says,
as though it’s a joke. Lucretius
got me through the night. He told me the world goes on

making and unmaking. Maybe it’s wrong
to think of better and worse.
There’s no one who can carry my fear
for a child who walks out the door

not knowing what will stop her breath.
The rain they say is coming
sails now over the Pacific in purplish nimbus clouds.
But it isn’t enough. Last year I watched

elephants encircle their young, shuffling
their massive legs without hurry, flaring
their great dusty ears. Once they drank
from the snowmelt of Kilimanjaro.

Now the mountain is bald. Lucretius knows
we’re just atoms combining and recombining:
star dust, flesh, grass. All night
I plastered my body to Janet,

breathing when she breathed. But her skin,
warm as it is, does, after all, keep me out.
How tenuous it all is.
My daughter’s coming home next week.

She’ll bring the pink plaid suitcase we bought at Ross.
When she points it out to the escort
pushing her wheelchair, it will be easy
to spot on the carousel. I just want to touch her.

Copyright © 2013 by Ellen Bass. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on September 30, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

The pony and the deer are trapped by tanks,

and the lady with the guitar is sad beyond words.

Hurtling across the sky, a missile has mistaken

a vehicle for a helicopter, exploding in a ball

of white flame. Upside-down birds—red specks

of knotted wool—glow above the sideways trees.

Hidden among plants, a barefooted boy waits—

like the divine coroner—aiming his rifle at something,

enjoying the attentions of a gray doggy, or maybe

there’s a bullet already in his head.

Copyright © 2013 by Henri Cole. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on October 29, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Lincoln, leaving Springfield, 1861,
         boards a train with a salute: but it is weak.
To correct it, he slides his hand away
         from his face as if waving, as if brushing
the snows of childhood from his eyes.

The train is coming east. In the window
         Lincoln watches his face. You’ll grow old
the moment you arrive, he says to this face.
         But you will never reach great age. The train
speeds like the cortical pressure wave

in the left lateral sinus, say, a bullet
         in the skull. Then he will have his salute.
Then they will love him. Then eternity will slow, fall
         like snow. Then the treaty with huge silence
which he, his face exhausted, must sign.
 

Copyright © 2013 by David Keplinger. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on May 16, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

On the Mexico side in the 1950s and 60s,
There were movie houses everywhere

And for the longest time people could smoke
As they pleased in the comfort of the theaters.

The smoke rose and the movie told itself
On the screen and in the air both,

The projection caught a little
In the wavering mist of the cigarettes.

In this way, every story was two stories
And every character lived near its ghost.

Looking up we knew what would happen next
Before it did, as if it the movie were dreaming

Itself, and we were part of it, part of the plot
Itself, and not just the audience.

And in that dream the actors’ faces bent
A little, hard to make out exactly in the smoke,

So that María Félix and Pedro Armendáriz
Looked a little like my aunt and one of my uncles—

And so they were, and so were we all in the movies,
Which is how I remember it: Popcorn in hand,

Smoke in the air, gum on the floor—
Those Saturday nights, we ourselves

Were the story and the stuff and the stars. 
We ourselves were alive in the dance of the dream.

Copyright © 2014 by Alberto Ríos. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on March 3, 2014. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

My sixteenth
egret from
the window
of this train,
white against
the marshes'
shocking green
cushioning
Long Island
Sound from
Kingston down
to Mystic against
the shoreline's
erratic discipline:
the egret so
completely
still, the colors
so extreme,
the window
of my train
might be rolling
out a scroll
of meticulous
ancient Chinese
painting: my heart-
beat down its side
in liquid characters:
no tenses, no
conjunctions, just
emphatic strokes
on paper from
the inner bark
of sandalwood:
egret, marshes,
the number
sixteen: white
and that essential
shocking green
perhaps even
the character
for kingfisher
green balanced
with jade white
in ancient poems—
every other element
implicit in the
brush strokes'
elliptic fusion
of calm and motion,
assuring as my
train moves on
and marsh gives way
to warehouses
and idle factories
that my sixteen
egrets still remain:
each a crescent
moon against
an emerald sky,
alabaster on
kingfisher green,
its body motionless
on one lithe leg,
cradling its
surreptitious
wings

Copyright © 2012 by Jacqueline Osherow. Used with permission of the author.

I think I detect cracked leather.
I’m pretty sure I smell the cherries
from a Shirley Temple my father bought me

in 1959, in a bar in Orlando, Florida,
and the chlorine from my mother’s bathing cap.
And last winter’s kisses, like salt on black ice,

like the moon slung away from the earth.
When Li Po drank wine, the moon dove
in the river, and he staggered after.

Probably he tasted laughter.
When my friend Susan drinks
she cries because she’s Irish

and childless. I’d like to taste,
one more time, the rain that arrived
one afternoon and fell just short

of where I stood, so I leaned my face in,
alive in both worlds at once,
knowing it would end and not caring.

Copyright © 2013 by Kim Addonizio. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on September 3, 2013.