Lord,
          when you send the rain,
          think about it, please,
          a little?
  Do
          not get carried away
          by the sound of falling water,
          the marvelous light
          on the falling water.
    I
          am beneath that water.
          It falls with great force
          and the light
Blinds
          me to the light.

From Jimmy’s Blues and Other Poems by James Baldwin (Beacon Press, 2014).  Copyright © 2014 The James Baldwin Estate. Used by permission of Beacon Press.

It was like the moment when a bird decides not to eat from your hand,
and flies, just before it flies, the moment the rivers seem to still
and stop because a storm is coming, but there is no storm, as when
a hundred starlings lift and bank together before they wheel and drop,
very much like the moment, driving on bad ice, when it occurs to you
your car could spin, just before it slowly begins to spin, like
the moment just before you forgot what it was you were about to say,
it was like that, and after that, it was still like that, only
all the time.

From The Good Thief. Copyright © 1988 by Marie Howe. Reprinted by permission of Persea Books, Inc., New York.

I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
     flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
     went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy
     bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I've known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Copyright © 1994 the Estate of Langston Hughes. Used with permission.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

This poem is in the public domain.

More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.

Copyright © 2017 by Ada Limón. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 15, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems. Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Since we’re not young, weeks have to do time
for years of missing each other. Yet only this odd warp
in time tells me we’re not young.
Did I ever walk the morning streets at twenty,
my limbs streaming with a purer joy?
did I lean from any window over the city
listening for the future
as I listen here with nerves tuned for your ring?
And you, you move toward me with the same tempo.
Your eyes are everlasting, the green spark
of the blue-eyed grass of early summer,
the green-blue wild cress washed by the spring.
At twenty, yes: we thought we’d live forever.
At forty-five, I want to know even our limits.
I touch you knowing we weren’t born tomorrow,
and somehow, each of us will help the other live,
and somewhere, each of us must help the other die.

Poem III from "Twenty-One Love Poems," from The Dream of a Common Language: Poems 1974-1977 by Adrienne Rich. Copyright © 1978 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

The leaves fall, fall as from far,
Like distant gardens withered in the heavens;
They fall with slow and lingering descent.

And in the nights the heavy Earth, too, falls
From out the stars into the Solitude.

Thus all doth fall. This hand of mine must fall
And lo! the other one:—it is the law.
But there is One who holds this falling
Infinitely softly in His hands.

This poem is in the public domain. From Poems (Tobias A. Wright, 1918), translated by Jessie Lamont.

Over the land freckled with snow half-thawed
The speculating rooks at their nests cawed
And saw from elm-tops, delicate as flowers of grass,
What we below could not see, Winter pass.

This poem is in the public domain.

It's just getting dark, fog drifting in,
damp grasses fragrant with anise and mint,
and though I call his name
until my voice cracks,
there's no faint tinkling
of tag against collar, no sleek
black silhouette with tall ears rushing
toward me through the wild radish.

As it turns out, he's trotted home,
tracing the route of his trusty urine.
Now he sprawls on the deep red rug, not dead,
not stolen by a car on West Cliff Drive.

Every time I look at him, the wide head
resting on outstretched paws,
joy does another lap around the racetrack
of my heart. Even in sleep
when I turn over to ease my bad hip,
I'm suffused with contentment.

If I could lose him like this every day
I'd be the happiest woman alive.

From The Human Line (Copper Canyon Press, 2007). Copyright © 2007 by Ellen Bass. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don't tell! they'd advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!

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

The ocean pushes back
Alive and vigorous
The heritage of habitat
Leans against expectation
Muscles its due respect
Without regard
Without warning
Without reorienting the ones
With swimming pool perspectives
Limitations of consistent temperatures
and painted cement walls

The ocean rumbles its sovereignty
Full weight of freedom on my
skin

Copyright © 2021 by Dasha Kelly Hamilton. This poem originally appeared in Wisconsin People & Ideas Magazine, January 2021. Used with permission of the author.

north dakota     i’m worried about you
the companies you keep   all these new friends     north dakota
            beyond the boom, beyond the precious resources
                        do you really think they care what becomes of you

north dakota     you used to be the shy one
enchanted secret land loved by only a few     north dakota

when i traveled away and told people i belonged to you     north dakota
           your name rolled awkwardly from their tongues
                       a mouth full of rocks, the name of a foreign country

north dakota     you were the blushing wallflower
the natural beauty, nearly invisible, always on the periphery
north dakota     the least visited state in the union    

now everyone knows your name     north dakota
the blogs and all the papers are talking about you     even 60 minutes

i’m collecting your clippings     north dakota
the pictures of you from space
            the flares of natural gas in your northern corner 
                       like an exploding supernova
                                  a massive city where no city exists
                                               a giant red blight upon the land

and those puncture wounds     north dakota     take care of yourself
the injection sites     I’ve seen them on the maps
four thousand active wells    one every two miles

all your indicators are up     north dakota
            eighteen billion barrels, some estimates say

more oil than we have water to extract
            more oil than we have atmosphere to burn

north dakota     you could run the table right now;
           you could write your own ticket
  
so, how can i tell you this?    north dakota, your politicians
    are co-opted (or cowards or bought-out or honest and thwarted)
        they’re lowering the tax rate for oil companies
        they’re greasing the wheels that need no greasing
        they’re practically giving the water away

north dakota     dear sleeping beauty    please, wake up
they have opened you up and said, come in     take everything
    
        what will become of your sacred places
        what will become of the prairie dog
        the wolf, the wild horses, the eagle
        the meadowlark, the fox, the elk
        the pronghorn sheep, the rare mountain lion
        the roads, the air, the topsoil
        your people, your people
        what will become of the water

north dakota     who will ever be able to live with you
once this is all over     i’m speaking to you now
as one wildcat girl     to another     be careful     north dakota

From Small Buried Things: Poems (New Rivers Press, 2015) by Debra Marquart. Copyright © 2015 by Debra Marquart. Used with the permission of the author.

What kind of thoughts now, do you carry
   In your travels day by day
Are they bright and lofty visions, 
   Or neglected, gone astray?

Matters not how great in fancy, 
    Or what deeds of skill you’ve wrought; 
Man, though high may be his station, 
    Is no better than his thoughts. 

Catch your thoughts and hold them tightly, 
   Let each one an honor be; 
Purge them, scourge them, burnish brightly, 
   Then in love set each one free. 

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on January 18, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Watch the dewdrops in the morning,
   Shake their little diamond heads,
Sparkling, flashing, ever moving,
   From their silent little beds.

See the grass! Each blade is brightened,
   Roots are strengthened by their stay;
Like the dewdrops, let us scatter
   Gems of love along the way.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on August 16, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

From The Poems of Dylan Thomas, published by New Directions. Copyright © 1952, 1953 Dylan Thomas. Copyright © 1937, 1945, 1955, 1962, 1966, 1967 the Trustees for the Copyrights of Dylan Thomas. Copyright © 1938, 1939, 1943, 1946, 1971 New Directions Publishing Corp. Used with permission.

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Copyright © 1962 by William Carlos Williams. Used with permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved. No part of this poem may be reproduced in any form without the written consent of the publisher.

(War Time)

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white,

Robins will wear their feathery fire
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

From The Language of Spring, edited by Robert Atwan, published by Beacon Press, 2003.

Cook a large fish—choose one with many bones, a skeleton
you will need skill to expose, maybe the flying
silver carp that's invaded the Great Lakes, tumbling
the others into oblivion. If you don't live
near a lake, you'll have to travel.
Walking is best and shows you mean it,
but you could take a train and let yourself
be soothed by the rocking
on the rails. It's permitted
to receive solace for whatever you did
or didn't do, pitiful, beautiful
human. When my mother was in the hospital,
my daughter and I had to clear out the home
she wouldn't return to. Then she recovered
and asked, incredulous,
How could you have thrown out all my shoes?
So you'll need a boat. You could rent or buy,
but, for the sake of repairing the world,
build your own. Thin strips
of Western red cedar are perfect,
but don't cut a tree. There'll be
a demolished barn or downed trunk
if you venture further.
And someone will have a mill.
And someone will loan you tools.
The perfume of sawdust and the curls
that fall from your plane
will sweeten the hours. Each night
we dream thirty-six billion dreams. In one night
we could dream back everything lost.
So grill the pale flesh.
Unharness yourself from your weary stories.
Then carry the oily, succulent fish to the one you hurt.
There is much to fear as a creature
caught in time, but this
is safe. You need no defense. This
is just another way to know
you are alive.

“How to Apologize” originally appeared in The New Yorker (March 15, 2021). Used with the permission of the poet. 

What if you knew you'd be the last
to touch someone?
If you were taking tickets, for example,
at the theater, tearing them,
giving back the ragged stubs,
you might take care to touch that palm,
brush your fingertips
along the life line's crease.

When a man pulls his wheeled suitcase
too slowly through the airport, when
the car in front of me doesn't signal,
when the clerk at the pharmacy
won't say Thank you, I don't remember
they're going to die.

A friend told me she'd been with her aunt.
They'd just had lunch and the waiter,
a young gay man with plum black eyes,
joked as he served the coffee, kissed
her aunt's powdered cheek when they left.
Then they walked half a block and her aunt
dropped dead on the sidewalk.

How close does the dragon's spume
have to come? How wide does the crack
in heaven have to split?
What would people look like
if we could see them as they are,
soaked in honey, stung and swollen,
reckless, pinned against time?

From The Human Line (Copper Canyon Press, 2007). Copyright © 2007 by Ellen Bass. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

Wave of sorrow,
Do not drown me now:

I see the island
Still ahead somehow.

I see the island
And its sands are fair:

Wave of sorrow,
Take me there.

From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes (Vintage Books, 1995) by Langston Hughes. Used by permission Harold Ober Associates. 

An original poem written for the inaugural reading of Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith at the Library of Congress.

There’s a poem in this place—
in the footfalls in the halls
in the quiet beat of the seats.
It is here, at the curtain of day,
where America writes a lyric
you must whisper to say.

There’s a poem in this place—
in the heavy grace,
the lined face of this noble building,
collections burned and reborn twice.

There’s a poem in Boston’s Copley Square
where protest chants
tear through the air
like sheets of rain,
where love of the many
swallows hatred of the few.

There’s a poem in Charlottesville
where tiki torches string a ring of flame
tight round the wrist of night
where men so white they gleam blue—
seem like statues
where men heap that long wax burning
ever higher
where Heather Heyer
blooms forever in a meadow of resistance.

There’s a poem in the great sleeping giant
of Lake Michigan, defiantly raising
its big blue head to Milwaukee and Chicago—
a poem begun long ago, blazed into frozen soil,
strutting upward and aglow.

There’s a poem in Florida, in East Texas
where streets swell into a nexus
of rivers, cows afloat like mottled buoys in the brown,
where courage is now so common
that 23-year-old Jesus Contreras rescues people from floodwaters.

There’s a poem in Los Angeles
yawning wide as the Pacific tide
where a single mother swelters
in a windowless classroom, teaching
black and brown students in Watts
to spell out their thoughts
so her daughter might write
this poem for you.             

There's a lyric in California
where thousands of students march for blocks,
undocumented and unafraid;
where my friend Rosa finds the power to blossom
in deadlock, her spirit the bedrock of her community.
She knows hope is like a stubborn
ship gripping a dock,
a truth: that you can’t stop a dreamer
or knock down a dream.

How could this not be her city
su nación
our country
our America,
our American lyric to write—
a poem by the people, the poor,
the Protestant, the Muslim, the Jew,
the native, the immigrant,
the black, the brown, the blind, the brave,
the undocumented and undeterred,
the woman, the man, the nonbinary,
the white, the trans,
the ally to all of the above
and more?

Tyrants fear the poet.
Now that we know it
we can’t blow it.
We owe it
to show it
not slow it
although it
hurts to sew it
when the world
skirts below it.       

Hope—
we must bestow it
like a wick in the poet
so it can grow, lit,
bringing with it
stories to rewrite—
the story of a Texas city depleted but not defeated
a history written that need not be repeated
a nation composed but not yet completed.

There’s a poem in this place—
a poem in America
a poet in every American
who rewrites this nation, who tells
a story worthy of being told on this minnow of an earth
to breathe hope into a palimpsest of time—
a poet in every American
who sees that our poem penned
doesn’t mean our poem’s end.

There’s a place where this poem dwells—
it is here, it is now, in the yellow song of dawn’s bell
where we write an American lyric
we are just beginning to tell.

Copyright © 2017 by Amanda Gorman. Reprinted from Split This Rock's The Quarry: A Social Justice Database.

The forest is its own thanksgiving
Walking a mile or so from the road
Past the lake & ancient post office
I skim the long bodies of the beech trees

The elegant ascension of their slender trunks
A kind of gorgeous illusory play
Of white bars against the dark ochre matting
Of the earth below

Peace is where you find it
As here the last secret of the dawn air mixes
With a nostalgia so perfumed by misery
Only the rhythm of the walk itself

Carries me beyond the past
To say I miss you is to say almost nothing
To say the forest is the sanctuary of ghosts
Is only the first step of my own giving way—

Not the giving up—just the old giving thanks

From The Red Leaves of Night (HarperCollins, 1999) by David St. John. Copyright © 1999 by David St. John. Used with the permission of the poet.

For October

I was thinking about that museum 
with just the one painted stamp people 
pay big money to stare at minimum 
an hour at a time by a painter of people

who have been old for a very long time. 
Sarah Beth Bess of Peducah, Old Walter Thom
outside Paris Island, the most senior clients
of most of the low country senior homes.   

There used to be a country where no sad
songs were allowed out loud because 
making the king blue was outlawed. 
The girl falling down the well sang without pause 

as she fell. People described it as gospel.
The boy in the well sang as well as a small bell 
& the people said it sounded like babble.
Rising in life-like detail from the middle 

of the stamp sized painting is an ornate mountain. 
My people moved further south to the beaches 
instead of moving north after reconstruction. 
“Blessed,” my father said when I asked if he’d 

rather be blessed or lucky. Soda in a can taste better 
than soda in a bottle but beer in a bottle 
taste better than beer in a can. It’s better
plus less stressful to think the best of people.

The worst thing about scared people 
is they go around scaring other people. 
Who you are with your mamma, People, 
is not who you are with other people.

The color of my mother’s thumbs up emoji 
is unchanged either because she’s not estranged 
by such things or because she doesn’t know 
the shade of her thumb can be changed. 

The painter can be seen painting a small 
painting through the window of a modestly
decorated cabin on the mountain. With all 
the people who clap when some mostly 

vengeful violence happens in the movie, 
those who do not clap may feel no other people 
are not clapping. I hear you. It seems  
reasonable to stare at a painting for at least 

as long as it takes the painter to make it 
& also reasonable to stare for approximately 
as long as it takes the sun to rise & set.
I told my father being blessed was vaguely 

more dependent on the whims of God. 
I’d rather be lucky. The girl in the well 
was put there in the name of god
by farming people. The boy fell.

Copyright © 2021 by Terrance Hayes. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 25, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

Do you still believe in borders now?  

Birds soar over your maps and walls, and always have.     

You might have watched how the smoke from your own fires  

travelled on wind you couldn’t see    

                                            wafting over the valley

and up and over the hills and over the next valley and the next hill.

 

Did you not hear the animals howl and sing?   

Or hear the silence of the animals no longer singing?   

Now you know what it is to be afraid.  

You think this is a dream?  It is not

a dream.    You think this is a theoretical question?  

What do you love more than what you imagine is your singular life?   

The water grows clearer.  The swans settle and float there.    

 

Are you willing to take your place in the forest again?    to become loam and bark

to be a leaf falling. from a great height.  to be the worm who eats the leaf

and the bird who eats the worm?    Look at the sky: are you

willing to be the sky again?  

 

                                              You think this lesson is 

too hard for you    You want the time-out to end.  You want

to go to the movies as before, to sit and eat with your friends.

It can end now, but not in the way you imagine    You know

the mind that has been talking to you for so long—the mind that

can explain everything?    Don’t listen.
 

You were once a citizen of a country called I Don’t Know.

Remember the burning boat that brought you there?   Climb in.

Copyright © 2021 by Marie Howe. Used with permission of the poet.

To see what’s there and not already
 
patterned by familiarity— for an unpredicted
 
whole is there, casting a pair of shadows, manipulating
 
its material, advancing, assembling enough
 
kinship that we call it life, our life, what
 
is already many lives, the dimensions of
 
its magnitude veiled to us as we live it––

  
Across the cytoplasm of adjacent cells
 
goes a signal that turns you toward me, turns
 
me into you. We are coupled in quiet
 
tumult, convergent arguments, an alien
 
rhythm becoming familiar. A rhythm
 
of I am here, never to be peeled away.
 
We are become one thing
 
                                                         Listening

  
or what’s there and not. Through the storm,
 
neem trees on the hill stamp wildly
 
in their roots. We have passed through
 
the spring, but what thing has passed
 
through us? Now your laughter
 
transparentizes me. And whose sense
 
of the self doesn’t swerve? Your unconditional
 
foreignness grows conditional, stops
 
being foreign at all. With your nearness,
 
my lens on the world shifts. A peristaltic
 
contraction courses through us as a single
 
wave. No longer can we keep our distance.
 
Our lips brush, or the tips of ourselves.

  
But what language are you whispering to me
 
your teeth stained by nilgiri tea, above the trills
 
and whistles in the high limbs, above the screech
 
of a bulldozer blade shoving rubble
 
up the wounded street, above the silence
 
of an eyeless tick climbing a grass stem? I understand
 
nothing but the lust your voice incites, the
 
declamatory tenderness. How, and who can say
 
what force has cued up this hour for our
 
small voices to merge into a carnality
 
that did not exist before now.

  
Having come to this unforeseen
 
conjunction, we slip
 
into one another, we take hold
 
in a pulse of heat, —in a yes and no—
 
for already we can see
 
we are no longer what we were

  
as I find you within me—not fused, not
 
bonded, but nested. And for you, is it
 
the same?—the intensity of such
 
investment, each of us excited
 
by the volatility of the other which
 
propels us in a rush as something,
 
perhaps our lips brush or
 
the tips of ourselves, stripping
 
away what?—what was before? Was there
 
even anything before?

  
The reconfiguration is instantaneous
 
experience. It is being
 
itself. But whose being now? Was I
 
endowed with some special pliability so
 
that becoming part of you I didn’t pass
 
through my own nihilation? And what
 
does the death of who-you-were mean to me
 
except that now you are present, constantly.

  

Because excess is what it took
 
for us to transform, to effulge. You cast
 
your life beyond itself. Can’t you sense me
 
within your ecstatic openness
 
like rain mingling with red earth?
 
Without you I survived and with you
 
I live again in a radical augmentation
 
of identity because we have
 
effaced our outer limits, because
 
we summoned each other. In you,
 
I cast my life beyond itself.

From Twice Alive (New Directions, 2021) by Forrest Gander. Copyright © 2021 by Forrest Gander. Used with the permission of the poet.

I will swing my lasso of headlights
across your front porch,

let it drop like a rope of knotted light
at your feet.

While I put the car in park,
you will tie and tighten the loop

of light around your waist —
and I will be there with the other end

wrapped three times
around my hips horned with loneliness.

Reel me in across the glow-throbbing sea
of greenthread, bluestem prickly poppy,

the white inflorescence of yucca bells,
up the dust-lit stairs into your arms.

If you say to me, This is not your new house
but I am your new home,

I will enter the door of your throat,
hang my last lariat in the hallway,

build my altar of best books on your bedside table,
turn the lamp on and off, on and off, on and off.

I will lie down in you.
Eat my meals at the red table of your heart.

Each steaming bowl will be, Just right.
I will eat it all up,

break all your chairs to pieces.
If I try running off into the deep-purpling scrub brush,

you will remind me,
There is nowhere to go if you are already here,

and pat your hand on your lap lighted
by the topazion lux of the moon through the window,

say, Here, Love, sit here — when I do,
I will say, And here I still am.

Until then, Where are you? What is your address?
I am hurting. I am riding the night

on a full tank of gas and my headlights
are reaching out for something.

“If I Should Come Upon Your House Lonely in the West Texas Desert” originally appeared in The New York Times Magazine (April 1, 2021). Used with permission of the poet.

for the students  

     The great dead circled the serrated
  hills; they tried to remind you
       to breathe. An old rat crawled
under fire-forgotten rocks; it was called
          & pulled to a movable nothing 
     far from the human need to
        heed & heal.  Maybe you can’t
find it now, but the season
     hauls the wind inside & because 
     you’re a student, you can put     
some questions in your phone, especially
   when you feel you shouldn’t cry…

 Stipple the worry, the grief-torn, those 
    patterns of should & won’t  ::;   new
 minutes set in past danger—  spikelet 
or callus on the roadside;  you
      stop in awe & are home. 
Your human burden varies; the once  
boundless freedom you sought even in 
      private still pulses on your skin...
     The little thistles between the human  
& non-human animals, the linked auras 
in trees & a colorful radiance
   of bodies are hunched to begin—

Copyright © Brenda Hillman. This poem originally appeared in Clade Song. Used with permission of the author.

The world will keep trudging through time without us

When we lift from the story contest to fly home

We will be as falling stars to those watching from the edge

Of grief and heartbreak

Maybe then we will see the design of the two-minded creature 

And know why half the world fights righteously for greedy masters 

And the other half is nailing it all back together

Through the smoke of cooking fires, lovers’ trysts, and endless 

Human industry—

Maybe then, beloved rascal

We will find each other again in the timeless weave of breathing

We will sit under the trees in the shadow of earth sorrows 

Watch hyenas drink rain, and laugh.

This poem originally appeared in The New Yorker (October 4, 2021). Copyright © 2021 by Joy Harjo. Used with the permission of the poet.

It's just getting dark, fog drifting in,
damp grasses fragrant with anise and mint,
and though I call his name
until my voice cracks,
there's no faint tinkling
of tag against collar, no sleek
black silhouette with tall ears rushing
toward me through the wild radish.

As it turns out, he's trotted home,
tracing the route of his trusty urine.
Now he sprawls on the deep red rug, not dead,
not stolen by a car on West Cliff Drive.

Every time I look at him, the wide head
resting on outstretched paws,
joy does another lap around the racetrack
of my heart. Even in sleep
when I turn over to ease my bad hip,
I'm suffused with contentment.

If I could lose him like this every day
I'd be the happiest woman alive.

From The Human Line (Copper Canyon Press, 2007). Copyright © 2007 by Ellen Bass. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

She does not know
Her beauty,
She thinks her brown body
Has no glory.

If she could dance
Naked,
Under palm trees
And see her image in the river
She would know.

But there are no palm trees
On the street,
And dish water gives back no images.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on February 19, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

The cry of the cicada
Gives us no sign
That presently it will die.

 

 

                                              —Translation by William George Aston

This poem is in the public domain.

An ancient pond!
With a sound from the water
Of the frog as it plunges in.

 

 

                                              —Translation by William George Aston

This poem is in the public domain.

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee.
And revery.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.

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

Long ago, I built a self outside myself.
I ate what my family ate, answered

to my name, but when they said let us pray,
I kept my eyes open. There is a price

to be paid for resistance. Whatever
you call me, I have called myself

worse, invented words made up
of letters from my own name.

Now the backs of my hands, all bone
and strain, I think cannot be mine.

Who hasn’t killed herself at least once,
only to grow into someone needier?

Who hasn’t bent with her wounds
to a mutinous patch, weeds

shooting up like false rhubarb,
every wisp, stem, and sodden pith

a testament? Who hasn’t scratched
at the question of what it means to be here?

Copyright © 2018 by Kari Gunter-Seymour. This poem originally appeared in Still: The Journal, Fall 2018. Used with permission of the author.

          We pull into dirt driveway in Lara’s blue Celica. The car came from her 18 money last year and it’s got only one dent on the side from a white girl in Wolf Point who slammed the door of her boyfriend’s Ford pick-up into the passenger side of Lara’s then new car. Lara was pissed, got out to kick the girl’s ass but they sped out of the Town Pump’s parking lot too fast. That girl was scared. Lara came back to the car and we laughed at that dent, but most of all we laughed at that fear. Driveway to uncle’s house, we’re bumping Tupac, get out, step into sweat lodge. Got a sick auntie. Take in a towel, leave out hip-hop beat, add in hand drum. Our uncle forgives us this time for being late and we are more sorry for this than we were for quitting the basketball team or for getting pregnant last year.

Copyright © 2005 by M. L. Smoker. Used by permission of Hanging Loose Press.

Anvil clouds in the west.
My father dies in hospice
while I’m on the highway,
stuck in roadwork. 
Gaunt on the gurney.
Limbs impossibly still.
Mouth slightly open, 
as if surprised, as if saying 
ah! One eye half closed, 
the other looking up,
lit by a further light,
a sky in the ceiling. 
I touch his hand, barely 
cool. It’s only been 
an hour. At the elevator, 
I’m not ready to drop 
down the bright chute.
I go back. Bend & kiss
his hand. Outside, long
soft nails hammer the earth.

Copyright © 2022 by Willa Carroll. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 7, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

All those years—paw of again, paw of let’s go
of lake-plash, of come throw, perked ear
of what’s that? of yanked back who’s that?
unsettled pacer of storms, investigator of grass,
distinguished scholar of curbside, delighted
roller in the perfume of foul, sleek 
fetcher, sock chewer, under table sleeper,
taut leaper into air & pond—then, all at once,
it became her turn & the reliable 
body began—the unimaginable undoing; 

while we—scratchers of belly & ear, callers of hey, 
come back, diligent trainers of down come,
companions of dawn, partners of rain,
& errand, stick throwers, ball wranglers, 
chair readers & nappers,
while at our feet with twitch & yelp,
she rustles through the high grass of dream—
understood it was now our turn, 
which meant—as it does with each animal sorrow
—doing the unimaginable.

Copyright © 2022 by Victoria Redel. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 21, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

Long ago, I built a self outside myself.
I ate what my family ate, answered

to my name, but when they said let us pray,
I kept my eyes open. There is a price

to be paid for resistance. Whatever
you call me, I have called myself

worse, invented words made up
of letters from my own name.

Now the backs of my hands, all bone
and strain, I think cannot be mine.

Who hasn’t killed herself at least once,
only to grow into someone needier?

Who hasn’t bent with her wounds
to a mutinous patch, weeds

shooting up like false rhubarb,
every wisp, stem, and sodden pith

a testament? Who hasn’t scratched
at the question of what it means to be here?

Copyright © 2018 by Kari Gunter-Seymour. This poem originally appeared in Still: The Journal, Fall 2018. Used with permission of the author.

More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.

Copyright © 2017 by Ada Limón. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 15, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

The truth is, I’ve never cared for the National
Anthem. If you think about it, it’s not a good
song. Too high for most of us with “the rockets’
red glare” and then there are the bombs.
(Always, always there is war and bombs.)
Once, I sang it at homecoming and threw
even the tenacious high school band off key.
But the song didn’t mean anything, just a call
to the field, something to get through before
the pummeling of youth. And what of the stanzas
we never sing, the third that mentions “no refuge
could save the hireling and the slave”? Perhaps
the truth is that every song of this country
has an unsung third stanza, something brutal
snaking underneath us as we absent-mindedly sing
the high notes with a beer sloshing in the stands
hoping our team wins. Don’t get me wrong, I do
like the flag, how it undulates in the wind
like water, elemental, and best when it’s humbled,
brought to its knees, clung to by someone who
has lost everything, when it’s not a weapon,
when it flickers, when it folds up so perfectly
you can keep it until it’s needed, until you can
love it again, until the song in your mouth feels
like sustenance, a song where the notes are sung
by even the ageless woods, the shortgrass plains,
the Red River Gorge, the fistful of land left
unpoisoned, that song that’s our birthright,
that’s sung in silence when it’s too hard to go on,
that sounds like someone’s rough fingers weaving
into another’s, that sounds like a match being lit
in an endless cave, the song that says my bones
are your bones, and your bones are my bones,
and isn’t that enough?

From The Carrying (Milkweed Editions, 2018) by Ada Limón. Copyright © 2018 by Ada Limón. Used with the permission of Milkweed Editions. milkweed.org.

Palm-sized and fledgling, a beak
protruding from the sleeve, I
have kept my birds muted
for so long, I fear they’ve grown
accustom to a grim quietude.
What chaos could ensue
should a wing get loose?
Come overdue burst, come
flock, swarm, talon, and claw.
Scatter the coop’s roost, free
the cygnet and its shadow. Crack
and scratch at the state’s cage,
cut through cloud and branch,
no matter the dumb hourglass’s
white sand yawning grain by grain.
What cannot be contained
cannot be contained.

Copyright © 2020 Ada Limón. This poem was co-commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and the New York Philharmonic as part of the Project 19 initiative.

When the doctor suggested surgery
and a brace for all my youngest years,
my parents scrambled to take me
to massage therapy, deep tissue work,
osteopathy, and soon my crooked spine
unspooled a bit, I could breathe again,
and move more in a body unclouded
by pain. My mom would tell me to sing
songs to her the whole forty-five minute
drive to Middle Two Rock Road and forty-
five minutes back from physical therapy.
She’d say, even my voice sounded unfettered
by my spine afterward. So I sang and sang,
because I thought she liked it. I never
asked her what she gave up to drive me,
or how her day was before this chore. Today,
at her age, I was driving myself home from yet
another spine appointment, singing along
to some maudlin but solid song on the radio,
and I saw a mom take her raincoat off
and give it to her young daughter when
a storm took over the afternoon. My god,
I thought, my whole life I’ve been under her
raincoat thinking it was somehow a marvel
that I never got wet.

From The Carrying (Milkweed Editions, 2018) by Ada Limón. Copyright © 2018 by Ada Limón. Used with the permission of Milkweed Editions. milkweed.org.

I like the lady horses best,
how they make it all look easy,
like running 40 miles per hour
is as fun as taking a nap, or grass.
I like their lady horse swagger,
after winning. Ears up, girls, ears up!
But mainly, let’s be honest, I like
that they’re ladies. As if this big
dangerous animal is also a part of me,
that somewhere inside the delicate
skin of my body, there pumps
an 8-pound female horse heart,
giant with power, heavy with blood.
Don’t you want to believe it?
Don’t you want to lift my shirt and see
the huge beating genius machine
that thinks, no, it knows,
it’s going to come in first.

From Bright Dead Things (Milkweed Editions, 2015). Copyright © 2015 by Ada Limón. Used with permission from Milkweed Editions, milkweed.org.