I’ve been visiting again
with a sunken southern corner.
Fish smaller than first teeth, birthed from the soil,
maneuver in the glaze
where rain pools, covering the lowest stones.
Behind him, in a cracked white tub,
my knees to his sides,
left ear pressed to
the stack of bones in his neck,
I was once so terrified of my own contentment
I bit my shoulder
and drew blood there
to the surface—past it—
What I have wanted most
is many lives. One for each longing,
round and separate.
Sometimes I bring figs here, asphyxiating
in plastic, for their distant echo
of your humid, ghost-flesh air
shouldering the leaves—that almost-a-human
I was born in autumn
as it fled underground
to be fed to a body
of water that only swallows.
Copyright © 2021 by Gabrielle Bates. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 20, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
“Pain blesses the body back to its sinner”
Handcuffs around my wrists
lined with synthetic fur, my arms bound
& hoisted, heavenward, as if in praise.
Once, bodies like mine were seen as a symptom
of sin, something to be prayed away;
how once, priests beat themselves to sanctify
the flesh. To put their sins to death. Now,
my clothes scatter across the floor like petals
lanced by hail. Motion stretches objects
in the eye. A drop of rain remade,
a needle, a blade. Mark how muscle fiber
& piano strings both, when struck, ring.
No music without violence or wind.
I’ve been searching the backs of lover’s hands
for a kinder score, a pain that makes
my pain a stranger tune. Still, my body aches
an ugly psalm. All my bones refuse to harm
-onize. Percussion is our oldest form of song,
wind bruised into melody. Let me say this plainly:
I want you to beat me
into a pain that’s unfamiliar. How convenient
this word, beat, that lives in both the kingdoms
of brutality & song. The singer’s voice: a cry,
a moan, god’s name broken across a blade
of teeth. The riding crop & flog & scourge—
a wicked faith. A blood-loud devotion.
There is no prayer to save me from my flesh.
You can’t have the bible without the belt.
Copyright © 2021 by torrin a. greathouse. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 11, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
I am taken with the hot animal
of my skin, grateful to swing my limbs
and have them move as I intend, though
my knee, though my shoulder, though something
is torn or tearing. Today, a dozen squid, dead
on the harbor beach: one mostly buried,
one with skin empty as a shell and hollow
feeling, and, though the tentacles look soft,
I do not touch them. I imagine they
were startled to find themselves in the sun.
I imagine the tide simply went out
without them. I imagine they cannot
feel the black flies charting the raised hills
of their eyes. I write my name in the sand:
Donika Kelly. I watch eighteen seagulls
skim the sandbar and lift low in the sky.
I pick up a pebble that looks like a green egg.
To the ditch lily I say I am in love.
To the Jeep parked haphazardly on the narrow
street I am in love. To the roses, white
petals rimmed brown, to the yellow lined
pavement, to the house trimmed in gold I am
in love. I shout with the rough calculus
of walking. Just let me find my way back,
let me move like a tide come in.
Copyright © 2017 by Donika Kelly. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 20, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.