The eye chews the apple,
sends the brain
an image of the un-apple. Which is similar
to the way I throw my voice
like a Frisbee, like salt
over a shoulder, a birthday party
where someone’s brother
is grilling hot dogs, a little speed
in his blood,
some red balloons. The eye
is the most deceptive
organ in the body.
Followed closely by the hand,
which refuses to accept
that touch comes down
to the repulsion of electrons,
so that when I hold
the hand of the person I love,
mostly I am pushing
him away. Which has something to do
with the striking resemblance
between a bag
of individually wrapped candies
and the human heart.
The sticky glass
of their shattering. How love
can crack like a tooth
kissing a sidewalk,
the way right now someone’s car leapfrogs
a sidewalk, her body
making love to the windshield
the windshield. And still the fireflies glow
with their particular sorrow.
The police tape
separating the mind from everything
that is not the mind
proves imaginary. My eyes
find the face
of the person I love
and pull out their fork and knife.
Copyright © 2016 by Ruth Madievsky. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 23, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
Maybe you’re not the featherweight champ
of all the cutthroat combat sports
(fifteen and pregnant
but you’d convert your ring corner
into a slaughterhouse
before you’d inquire after human kindness.
In the humdrum flare outside the clinic
you wait for a ride, feel the spill at the tipping point
trickle down your inner thigh
as you bask in the post-industrial particulate
on your skin, ash
into a jasmine pot’s bituminous anchorage
so tacky it glows in a habitat that spent your body
long before it finished growing.
Lynn! they lied to you
don’t you know?
Your womb will be the first thing to heal.
What you smell is pleasure, not the rot of the thing
amid the waste.
You will have babies.
You will write poems about flowers that turn on in darkness.
Copyright © 2016 by Lynn Melnick. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 22, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
Darkness wounds the barley,
etching it with denser clouds. A herd sends its
envoy out to nose the garbage at
road’s edge before creeping into the expanse.
And the rest follow with cheap hunger—
ten at once through the swaying curtain, heads
tipped, disappearing in the dim.
Wrong to think of them as vessels
in which your feelings live, leaping across emptiness.
Light a candle. Entertain pity all evening.
It isn’t the deer’s work to hold you. That isn’t you
growing full in the field. Paint them, your
heaviest brush lavish with creams and blacks,
trembling, timid, before the canvas.
Copyright © 2016 by Paula Bohince. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 19, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
wake up when he mentions colors
and light, streets they’ve walked—
Second Avenue, West 20th, Park.
This guy is happy, right? they ask;
who am I to answer. What I like
about Schuyler is the way sonatas
and Coca-Cola flourish in the same stanza,
morning glories opening
their bright mouths, and trailing down
I don’t drink soda and I never listen
to Faure as much as I should
is chanting always be better?). What I like is
the pyrotechnics always just past
the paper horizon,
waiting to burst from underneath.
It’s the idea that it’s enough to think
one thing and then say it: maybe a stapler sits
like a black jaw on the desk while the aloe
stretches half-parabola curves
towards the light and an avocado shell
waits to be rubbish.
There are, of course, always going to be people
who hook us under the sternum and pull
us forward with wire until our own bones break
to make us relinquish them. And in their wake we watch
their boat sail away with a mast solid as the Empire
State Building and all flags in array. Goodbye, little sailor,
I’ll miss you
when I drift down under dark water
where there are shipwrecks and bleached whale
bones and fish bright as constellations, but not enough
to keep swimming.
Copyright © 2016 by Kate Angus. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 12, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
I tell my father about the way
I collect small things
in the sacs of my heart—
thick juniper berries
apple cores that retain their shape
and the click of shells
that sound like an oven baking.
He presses the mole on my shoulder
that matches his shoulder,
proof that I was not found
at the bottom of the sea.
I also got his feet, far from
Cinderella’s dainty glass slippers—
and fingers, too wide for most
Cracker Jack wedding rings.
I read how some mammals never
forget their young—
their speckled spots, odd goat
cries, or birthmarks on curved
ivory tusks. There must be some
thread of magic there
cooling honey to stone—where
like recognizes like or how
a rib seeks its twin.
Copyright © 2016 by Cynthia Manick. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 15, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.
Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road.
The earth, that is sufficient,
I do not want the constellations any nearer,
I know they are very well where they are,
I know they suffice for those who belong to them.
(Still here I carry my old delicious burdens,
I carry them, men and women, I carry them with me wherever I go,
I swear it is impossible for me to get rid of them,
I am fill’d with them, and I will fill them in return.)
This poem is in the public domain.
A charm a single charm is doubtful. If the red is rose and there is a gate surrounding it, if inside is let in and there places change then certainly something is upright. It is earnest.
This poem is in the public domain.
Sisyphus punches in, each morning,
At a mountain he must face all day,
In hell, for eternity, and at night,
Having not reached the summit
Again, he walks down slow, where
The rock rushed by, careful to see,
With new eyes, where it all went
Wrong, again, and then later,
At the bar in town, sits cooling his
Bleeding hands against a whiskey,
On the rocks, and maps new paths,
On a napkin, inside the wet ring
His tumbler made, again and again,
The routes running on to absurd
Lengths, hands shaking, and if it
Wasn’t a map, you might think
It was the history of history
Or parts of a nude in repose,
Patient with death and belonging.
Copyright © 2016 by Aaron Fagan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 8, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
He perches in the slime, inert,
Bedaubed with iridescent dirt.
The oil upon the puddles dries
To colours like a peacock’s eyes,
And half-submerged tomato-cans
Shine scaly, as leviathans
Oozily crawling through the mud.
The ground is here and there bestud
With lumps of only part-burned coal.
His duty is to glean the whole,
To pick them from the filth, each one,
To hoard them for the hidden sun
Which glows within each fiery core
And waits to be made free once more.
Their sharp and glistening edges cut
His stiffened fingers. Through the smut
Gleam red the wounds which will not shut.
Wet through and shivering he kneels
And digs the slippery coals; like eels
They slide about. His force all spent,
He counts his small accomplishment.
A half-a-dozen clinker-coals
Which still have fire in their souls.
Fire! And in his thought there burns
The topaz fire of votive urns.
He sees it fling from hill to hill,
And still consumed, is burning still.
Higher and higher leaps the flame,
The smoke an ever-shifting frame.
He sees a Spanish Castle old,
With silver steps and paths of gold.
From myrtle bowers comes the plash
Of fountains, and the emerald flash
Of parrots in the orange trees,
Whose blossoms pasture humming bees.
He knows he feeds the urns whose smoke
Bears visions, that his master-stroke
Is out of dirt and misery
To light the fire of poesy.
He sees the glory, yet he knows
That others cannot see his shows.
To them his smoke is sightless, black,
His votive vessels but a pack
Of old discarded shards, his fire
A peddler’s; still to him the pyre
Is incensed, an enduring goal!
He sighs and grubs another coal.
This poem is in the public domain.
Once from a big, big building,
When I was small, small,
The queer folk in the windows
Would smile at me and call.
And in the hard wee gardens
Such pleasant men would hoe:
“Sir, may we touch the little girl’s hair!”—
It was so red, you know.
They cut me coloured asters
With shears so sharp and neat,
They brought me grapes and plums and pears
And pretty cakes to eat.
And out of all the windows,
No matter where we went,
The merriest eyes would follow me
And make me compliment.
There were a thousand windows,
All latticed up and down.
And up to all the windows,
When we went back to town,
The queer folk put their faces,
As gentle as could be;
“Come again, little girl!” they called, and I
Called back, “You come see me!”
“A Visit to the Asylum” was published in The Harp-Weaver and Other Poems (Harper Brothers, 1923). This poem is in the public domain.
The light here on earth keeps us plenty busy: a fire
in central Pennsylvania still burns bright since 1962.
Whole squads of tiny squid blaze up the coast of Japan
before sunrise. Of course you didn’t show when we went
searching for you, but we found other lights: firefly,
strawberry moon, a tiny catch of it in each other’s teeth.
Someone who saw you said they laid down
in the middle of the road and took you all in,
and I’m guessing you’re used to that—people falling
over themselves to catch a glimpse of you
and your weird mint-glow shushing itself over the lake.
Aurora, I’d rather stay indoors with him—even if it meant
a rickety hotel and its wood paneling, golf carpeting
in the bathrooms, and grainy soapcakes. Instead
of waiting until just the right hour of the shortest
blue-night of the year when you finally felt moved
enough to collide your gas particles with sun particles—
I’d rather share sunrise with him and loon call
over the lake with him, the slap of shoreline threaded
through screen windows with him. My heart
slams in my chest, against my shirt—it’s a kind
of kindling you’d never be able to light on your own.
Copyright © 2016 by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 1, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
The rising moon has hid the stars;
Her level rays, like golden bars,
Lie on the landscape green,
With shadows brown between.
And silver white the river gleams,
As if Diana, in her dreams,
Had dropt her silver bow
Upon the meadows low.
On such a tranquil night as this,
She woke Endymion with a kiss,
When, sleeping in the grove,
He dreamed not of her love.
Like Dian’s kiss, unasked, unsought,
Love gives itself, but is not bought;
Her voice, nor sound betrays
Its deep, impassioned gaze.
It comes,—the beautiful, the free,
The crown of all humanity,—
In silence and alone
To seek the elected one.
It lifts the boughs, whose shadows deep,
Are Life’s oblivion, the soul’s sleep,
And kisses the closed eyes
Of him, who slumbering lies.
O, weary hearts! O, slumbering eyes!
O, drooping souls, whose destinies
Are fraught with fear and pain,
Ye shall be loved again!
No one is so accursed by fate,
No one so utterly desolate,
But some heart, though unknown,
Responds unto his own.
Responds,—as if with unseen wings,
A breath from heaven had touched its strings
And whispers, in its song,
“Where hast thou stayed so long!”
This poem is in the public domain.
Oh, for the veils of my far away youth,
Shielding my heart from the blaze of the truth,
Why did I stray from their shelter and grow
Into the sadness that follows—to know!
Impotent atom with desolate gaze
Threading the tumult of hazardous ways—
Oh, for the veils, for the veils of my youth
Veils that hung low o’er the blaze of the truth!
This poem is in the public domain.
Which makes of men a transparency,
Who holds that mirror
And bids us such a breast-bared spectacle to see
Of you and me?
Whose magic penetrates like a dart,
Who lifts that mirror
And throws our mind back on us, and our heart,
Until we start?
Works well in these night hours of ache;
Why in that mirror
Are tincts we never see ourselves once take
When the world is awake?
Can test each mortal when unaware;
Yea, that strange mirror
May catch his last thoughts, whole life foul or fair,
This poem is in the public domain.
She went around pre-registered
for her own eventual absence.
Not that she believed
would save her,
whatever that meant,
but she hoped
that registering this estrangement
with the proper authorities
Nice as it was, she resented it—
river-boat hotel deck chair
There was no place for it
in her already crowded rooms.
She was no hoarder!
But the alternative
seemed even worse
Copyright © 2016 by Rae Armantrout. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 9, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
you devour it
and then, then
good as it was
Copyright © 2016 by Noah Eli Gordon. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 3, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
Thing of dirt and water and oxygen marked by thinking
and reacting and a couch
one may or may not be permitted
to sleep on. He may not permit me
to touch him or to take the bone
from his mouth, but he does, and that’s a choice
based on many factors, not the least of which
is his own desire to let me
do these things. How I could ever
think or feel myself more
deserving of a single thing than
this being, whom I call by a name the same way
my parents chose a name for me. The same way my genes
went expressing themselves to make my face exactly
my face. This isn’t special. Or this is special. But it’s one
answer, the same, for us both.
Copyright © 2016 by Holly Amos. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 2, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
And what is love? It is a doll dress’d up
For idleness to cosset, nurse, and dandle;
A thing of soft misnomers, so divine
That silly youth doth think to make itself
Divine by loving, and so goes on
Yawning and doting a whole summer long,
Till Miss’s comb is made a pearl tiara,
And common Wellingtons turn Romeo boots;
Then Cleopatra lives at number seven,
And Antony resides in Brunswick Square.
Fools! if some passions high have warm’d the world,
If Queens and Soldiers have play’d deep for hearts,
It is no reason why such agonies
Should be more common than the growth of weeds.
Fools! make me whole again that weighty pearl
The Queen of Egypt melted, and I’ll say
That ye may love in spite of beaver hats.
This poem is in the public domain.
In this life,
I was very minor.
I was a minor lover.
There was maybe a day, a night
or two, when I was on.
I was, would have been,
a minor daughter,
had my parents lived.
I was a minor runner. I was
a minor thinker. In the middle
distance, not too fast.
I was a minor mother: only
two, and sometimes,
I was mean to them.
I was a minor beauty.
I was a minor Buddhist.
There was a certain symmetry, but
it, too, was minor.
My poems were not major
enough to even make me
a “minor poet,”
but I did sit here
instead of getting up, getting
the gun, loading it.
Copyright © 2016 by Olena Kalytiak Davis. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 31, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
After it ended badly it got so much better
which took a while of course but still
he grew so tender & I so grateful
which maybe tells you something about how it was
I’m trying to tell you I know you
have staggered wept spiraled through a long room
banging your head against it holding crushed
bird skulls in your hands your many hearts unstrung
unable to play a note their wood still beautiful
& carved so elaborately maybe a collector would want them
stupid collectors always preserving & never breaking open
the jars so everyone starves while admiring the view
you don’t own anyone everything will be taken from you
go ahead & eat this poem please it will help
Copyright © 2016 by Kim Addonizio. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 11, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
Until I find a name
I will not put it in the soul calculator
I will leave it free and open and unnamed
And not limit my expectations for the kind of person
That goes in one direction of the wind
I will keep all lines of the wind open
And place all my days free and empty
And re-envision what it means to be unencumbered
Not crying but the expanse of numbers
That go beyond the grave to what is left
And it may be true
I said it could be true
That the sunny days do stick to walls
And then enter you
It may be true that the purple bells do chime
Everyday you let them
It may be true that the sweet juice
I put across my lips would not be my last
But that the nights could get better and better
Until the evil is banished until the day
When the sun would crush it anyway
It was true without a set of things like letters
It was true the air was free and open
And I saw things as they were
For the first time
Copyright © 2016 by Dorothea Lasky. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 1, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
To have been told “I love you” by you could well be, for me,
the highlight of my life, the best feeling, the best peak
on my feeling graph, in the way that the Chrysler building
might not be the tallest building in the NY sky but is
the best, the most exquisitely spired, or the way that
Hank Aaron’s career home-run total is not the highest
but the best, the one that signifies the purest greatness.
So improbable! To have met you at all and then
to have been told in your soft young voice so soon
after meeting you: "I love you." And I felt the mystery
of being that you, of being a you and being
loved, and what I was, instantly, was someone
who could be told "I love you" by someone like you.
I was, in that moment, new; you were 19; I was 22;
you were impulsive; I was there in front of you, with a future
that hadn't yet been burned for fuel; I had energy;
you had beauty; and your eyes were a pale blue,
and they backed what you said with all they hadn't seen,
and they were the least ambitious eyes I'd known,
the least calculating, and when you spoke and when
they shone, perhaps you saw the feeling you caused.
Perhaps you saw too that the feeling would stay.
Copyright © 2016 by Matthew Yeager. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 31, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
Serious moonlight fell brightly on the mountains tonight
Elegant moonlight fell loudly on the deer asleep in the yard
Broken moonlight fell splendidly on the swing set
Moody moonlight fell hard on the weedy pond
Pretty moonlight fell recklessly on the garden beds
Fierce moonlight fell thoughtfully on the recycling bins
Actual moonlight fell wildly on the coyotes falling on the rabbit
Personal moonlight fell purposely on my desk and books
Ancient moonlight fell perfectly on my bed sheets
Modern moonlight fell roughly scattering my thoughts awfully
Bowie died last night his exquisite alien soul has taken off
You are with another and I’m falling repeatedly
Shattered by this silently falling terrible moonlight
Copyright © 2016 by Camille Guthrie. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 21, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
My dream lives close to my lungs.
Sometimes I feel it as a pen
spilling ink in the dark purse
of my breathing. My body
lives here in Colorado,
in an apartment with a few plants.
I am what the experts refer to
as history, a small totality
making its way to the future.
In the evening, I inherit death
as an idea, as a subject I’ll be tested on.
Mid-afternoons, I take long walks.
I live by myself as the state lives
by itself in borders it had nothing
to do with. I, too, have a river.
If you ask, I’ll tell you all about the light.
Copyright © 2016 by Carl Adamshick. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 18, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
I heard it on the radio,
A woman’s voice saying,
I like for you to be
The space far away
Where poetry figures out
Why you are still
But not absent,
Why you can hear
What’s coming next.
But her voice could not touch
What had flown away.
Nor could she kiss
My mouth, though I repeat
What was understood
Each night and each day.
Copyright © 2016 David Biespiel. Used with permission of the author.
The forest rings so wide, it is the world. The sky, ocean,
In hand rising to tides, particulate excreta. The river mouth
The moon lights in blindness through the forest, hot,
tumbling silver by houses
Like mushrooms crowded. Ladder by ladder, neighbors
pass ore in ladles
While this planet hushes into a cinder. The moon unlocks
its continents of water
So the outline of a sail appears as its cobalt face—the forest
A ring tight as the throat sings wider: who arrives
Who arrives who arrives. In the office I ask
If the cup my coworker is holding is real. It doesn’t look
real. It looks like math’s
Translated bed. Beside their chainsaws, loggers smoking—
Dead, lung-dead, I am the operator of something—the
mouth with green rot touching
The metal slurry of the ocean.
The singer sings the last verse. The last
Song we hear, stepping outside the heat
Into the dark pine, the moon dissolving like lead.
In the office I ask, How could the news come?
In our terror echoing as profit.
Copyright © 2016 Joe Hall. Used with permission of the author.
In the recesses of the woman’s mind
there is a warehouse. The warehouse
is covered with wisteria. The wisteria wonders
what it is doing in the mind of the woman.
The woman wonders too.
The river is raw tonight. The river is a calling
aching with want. The woman walks towards it
her arms unimpaired and coated
with moonlight. The wisteria wants the river.
It also wants the warehouse in the mind
of the woman, wants to remain in the ruins
though water is another kind of original ruin
determined in its structure and unpredictable.
The woman unlaces the light across her body.
She wades through the river while the twining
bleeds from her mouth, her eyes, her wrist-veins,
her heart valve, her heart. The garden again
overgrows the body—called by the water
and carried by the woman to the wanting river.
When she bleeds the wisteria, the warehouse
in her mind is free and empty and the source
of all emptiness. It is free to house the night sky.
It is free like the woman to hold nothing
but the boundless, empty, unimaginable dark.
Copyright © 2016 Brynn Saito. Used with permission of the author.
that the world belongs to a stony-hearted goat-god—
how every time we act, we enact
his vileness; how this is no
ecstasy, just a bad labored joke.
Your body in spasm
longs to strip the flesh, but if you do
there will be nothing left but the busy
bone-clatter of tactics.
I will listen instead to the river,
cold as time, smelling of blood-brown leaves.
Copyright © 2016 April Bernard. Used with permission of the author.
Dark, and the wind-blurred pines,
With a glimmer of light between.
Then I, entombed for an hourless night
With the world of things unseen.
Mist, the dust of flowers,
Leagues, heavy with promise of snow,
And a beckoning road ‘twixt vale and hill,
With the lure that all must know.
A light, my window’s gleam,
Soft, flaring its squares of red—
I loose the ache of the wilderness
And long for the fire instead.
You too know, old fellow?
Then, lift your head and bark.
It’s just the call of the lonesome place,
The winds and the housing dark.
This poem is in the public domain.
O white little lights at Carney’s Point,
You shine so clear o’er the Delaware;
When the moon rides high in the silver sky,
Then you gleam, white gems on the Delaware.
Diamond circlet on a full white throat,
You laugh your rays on a questioning boat;
Is it peace you dream in your flashing gleam,
O’er the quiet flow of the Delaware?
And the lights grew dim at the water’s brim,
For the smoke of the mills shredded slow between;
And the smoke was red, as is new bloodshed,
And the lights went lurid ’neath the livid screen.
O red little lights at Carney’s Point,
You glower so grim o’er the Delaware;
When the moon hides low sombrous clouds below,
Then you glow like coals o’er the Delaware.
Blood red rubies on a throat of fire,
You flash through the dusk of a funeral pyre;
Are there hearth fires red whom you fear and dread
O’er the turgid flow of the Delaware?
And the lights gleamed gold o’er the river cold,
For the murk of the furnace shed a copper veil;
And the veil was grim at the great cloud’s brim,
And the lights went molten, now hot, now pale.
O gold little lights at Carney’s Point,
You gleam so proud o’er the Delaware;
When the moon grows wan in the eastering dawn,
Then you sparkle gold points o’er the Delaware.
Aureate filagree on a Croesus’ brow,
You hasten the dawn on a gray ship’s prow.
Light you streams of gold in the grim ship’s hold
O’er the sullen flow of the Delaware?
And the lights went gray in the ash of day,
For a quiet Aurora brought a halcyon balm;
And the sun laughed high in the infinite sky,
And the lights were forgot in the sweet, sane calm.
This poem is in the public domain.
What secret had Nietzsche discovered
when he walked the Turin streets
before he flung his arms around
a horse being beaten and collapsed
into a decade-long coma? Clinging
to the cowering brown beast, he said
Mother, I am stupid. Wild hair and a three-
piece tweed suit constrained the body
that held the mind that knew too much.
Why am I mining dead men for answers
when they were all as mad as I am?
The horse, his eyes hollow as those
of the Burmese elephant that Orwell shot
decades later, had the look of every
betrayed creature. Perhaps Nietzsche
saw the shock in the animal’s eyes—
how every human contains the capacity
to inflict cruelty. The look that turns
to recognition, to resignation, to an eye
reflecting a field full of fallen horses.
Copyright © 2016 Jennifer Franklin. Used with permission of the author.
Trying to fall asleep,
I count down stone steps
into the dark, and there they are:
Centaurs, half in and half out
of the woods, hindquarters still trees.
Downstairs in dreams I look
directly into their man-eyes,
which are opaque, absorbent.
They don’t speak. I don’t speak
of the long yellow teeth tearing off
the little dress—just for a glimpse,
no harm done. No hands, no harm.
Their hindquarters still trees.
No words to explain or contain it.
You can’t translate something
that was never in a language
in the first place.
Copyright © 2016 Chase Twichell. Used with permission of the author.
My ex-lover received it at seventeen
skiing the steep slope at Wintergreen called
Devil’s Elbow. The early snowmelt along the Blue
Ridge had slipped the white limb of a birch
through the crust, jutted that camouflaged tip
into the center of the trail. He hit it, full speed,
flipped over his ski poles. One of them split
his vocal cords with its aluminum point. He sprawled
in the snow, his pink throat skewered like Saint
Sebastian or the raw quiver of his Greek father’s
peppered lamb kebobs. The doctors didn’t let him speak
for a year and when he finally tried his choirboy
voice had gravel in it. His tenor had a bloody
birch limb in it, had a knife in it, had a whole lower
octave clotted in it, had a wound and a wound’s
cracked whisper in it. The first time I heard him
sing in his blues band, five years after the accident,
I told him his smoked rasp sounded
exactly like Tom Waits. Like my grandfather
sixty years since the iron lung. I couldn’t believe
a growl like that crawled up from the lips
of a former Catholic schoolboy. But as he shut off
the halogen overhead—leaving only the ultraviolet
of his bedside’s black light—he stroked my cheek,
crooned, Goodnight, Irene. His teeth and his throat’s
three-inch scar glowed a green neon.
Copyright © 2016 Anna Journey. Used with permission of the author.
The dead bird, color of a bruise,
and smaller than an eye
is king among omens.
Who can blame the ants for feasting?
Let him cast the first crumb.
We once tended the oracles.
Now we rely on a photograph
a hand we never saw
A man draws a chalk outline
first in his mind
then around the body
of another man.
He does this without thinking.
What can I do about the white room I left
behind? What can I do about the great stones
I walk among now? What can I do
Even a small cut can sing all day.
There are entire nights
I would take back.
Nostalgia is a thin moon,
into a sky like cold,
you were a drowned man, crown
of phosphorescent, seaweed in your hair,
water in your shoes. I woke up desperate
In another dream, I was a field
and you combed through me
searching for something
you only thought you had lost.
What have we left at the altar of sorrow?
What blessed thing will we leave tomorrow?
Copyright © 2016 by Cecilia Llompart. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 26, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
Steamtown National Historic Site was created in 1986 to
preserve the history of steam railroading in America,
concentrating on the era 1850 through 1950.
We weren’t supposed to, so we did
what any band of boys would do
& we did it the way they did in books
none of us would admit we stole
from our brothers & kept hidden
under bedskirts in each of our rooms:
dropped our bicycles without flipping
their kickstands & scaled the fence
in silence. At the top, somebody’s overalls
snagged, then my Levi’s, & for a few deep
breaths, we all sat still—grouse in a line—
considering the dark yard before
us, how it gestured toward our defiance—
of gravity, of curfews, of what we knew
of goodness & how we hoped we could be
shaped otherwise—& dared us to jump.
And then we were among them,
stalking their muscled silhouettes as our own
herd, becoming ourselves a train
of unseen movements made singular,
never strangers to the permanent way
of traveling through the dark
of another’s shadow, indiscernible to the dirt.
Our drove of braids & late summer
lice buzz cuts pivoted in unison
when an engine sighed, throwing the moon
into the whites of our eyes & carrying it,
still steaming, across the yard to a boilerman,
her hair tied up in a blue bandana.
Somewhere, our mothers were sleeping
prayers for daughters who did not want women
to go to the moon, who did not ask
for train sets or mitts. But here—with the moon
at our feet, & the whistle smearing
the cicadas’ electric scream, & the headlamp
made of Schwinn chrome, or a cat’s eye
marble, or, depending on who
you asked, the clean round scar of a cigarette
burn on the inside of a wrist so small
even my fingers could fasten around
it—was a woman refilling the tender
in each of us. We watched her
the way we’d been told to watch
our brothers, our fathers:
in quiet reverence, hungry all the while.
Copyright © 2016 by Meg Day. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 29, 2016, this poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.
of water with a bed of rock barely visible
from your surface. You are the only dark body
of water in a desert littered with bleeding cactus.
At your collarbones you carry a gulch, held up by a thread
of hair. You travel days drinking only from yourself,
because you are this land’s only dark body
of water. At the crease of horizon you find a woman
in bed, her chest wet with saliva, you kick her
off the bed, and take her place among its sheets. A man
lies down in bed next to you. He swallows your dark body
of water and gives you a woman’s body, a body you’ve
never known. As a woman he gives you sores, and through
the sores you breathe, and despite the sores you give birth
to a child stillborn for lack of water. You kick the child off
the bed, but it returns in the arms of the woman whose bed
you stole. You cry to be made again into a dark body
of water. The man kicks you off the bed, covers you
with dirt, and turns you desert. You cry for a bed he will never
let you sleep in again. You cry for your body’s bed
of rock turned desert for lack of water.
Copyright © 2016 by Natalie Scenters-Zapico. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 6, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
No strawberry moon for me, tonight. No strawberry moon. This small house creaks when I walk and open it. I have to weigh it, to goddess or not tonight. Goddess or godless. God is in my sleeping children’s presence tonight. I use words like god when I haven’t seen the strawberry moon, less when I haven’t been so generous. It’s not about gender—ess or less—but heft of the weight. Inside me like a baby. When people procreate. Romance a dashing thing. The harvest upon us. Will we feast or collapse in exhaustion tonight which is every?
Copyright © 2016 by Emmy Pérez. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 14, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
Gloomy and bare the organ-loft,
Bent-backed and blind the organist.
From rafters looming shadowy,
From the pipes’ tuneful company,
Drifted together drowsily,
Innumerable, formless, dim,
The ghosts of long-dead melodies,
Of anthems, stately, thunderous,
Of Kyries shrill and tremulous:
In melancholy drowsy-sweet
They huddled there in harmony.
Like bats at noontide rafter-hung.
Copyright © 2016 by Wayne Miller. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 15, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
Over the housetops,
Above the rotating chimney-pots,
I have seen a shiver of amethyst,
And blue and cinnamon have flickered
At the far end of a dusty street.
Through sheeted rain
Has come a lustre of crimson,
And I have watched moonbeams
Hushed by a film of palest green.
It was her wings,
Who stepped over the clouds,
And laid her rainbow feathers
Aslant on the currents of the air.
I followed her for long,
With gazing eyes and stumbling feet.
I cared not where she led me,
My eyes were full of colours:
Saffrons, rubies, the yellows of beryls,
And the indigo-blue of quartz;
Flights of rose, layers of chrysoprase,
Points of orange, spirals of vermilion,
The spotted gold of tiger-lily petals,
The loud pink of bursting hydrangeas.
And watched for the flashing of her wings.
In the city I found her,
The narrow-streeted city.
In the market-place I came upon her,
Bound and trembling.
Her fluted wings were fastened to her sides with cords,
She was naked and cold,
For that day the wind blew
Men chaffered for her,
They bargained in silver and gold,
In copper, in wheat,
And called their bids across the market-place.
The Goddess wept.
Hiding my face I fled,
And the grey wind hissed behind me,
Along the narrow streets.
This poem is in the public domain.
In this room, hours pass, a slight
corruption of each previous
allotted time block—and probably
confirm failure and humiliation,
which though not ideal, I accept
as historically accurate. I’m sick
of lifestyle music, the thing between
awe and detachment which Hazlitt
defines as adrift. I clear my throat
remind myself, doors are locked,
the ashtray half-full. Unless otherwise
noted, light falls from the television—
accompanies night, any available
other-worldly knowledge. What else?
I’m unhappy even at the edge of rivers,
conversations regarding weather,
any manner of appointment. All comfort
requires another voice. Ditto delusion.
For instance, these shadows imposed
from trees bent by wind and other forms
of predictive behavior, may or may
not contain consciousness. I’m still
working it out. A glass of water grows
warm. I have done terrible and middle
class things for money. This is not
necessarily an acceptable conversation.
Things are good. The serotonin
reuptake inhibitor fades another winter.
If there are things we need, there are
things we need less. I face the mirror
to say it again with feeling. Understand
this is me applying myself.
Copyright © 2016 by Brett Fletcher Lauer. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 21, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
Let us enter this again. In the context of this paragraph,
we are hurtling backward through space, toward a small
opening: I press my hand to your lip and you bite. You bite
my spine. Ben his jawline was stellar. Ben his curlicue.
His cellphone iPhone. His and everyone’s iPhone, in my hand,
on my lap, at the mezzanine. The opera is going full speed.
The soprano arrives to tell Falstaff, to tell him. I fall
from a great height onto a woman’s head. It splits and I
become the split, standing later for a portrait. The hero
of the town walks alone at night, carrying in his eye a single
feather. He wears this feather in his eye as a kind of penance.
For his bravery many men will die for many years to come
Copyright © 2016 by Anaïs Duplan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 2, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
And you remember, in the afternoon
The sea and the sky went grey, as if there had sunk
A flocculent dust on the floor of the world: the festoon
Of the sky sagged dusty as spider cloth,
And coldness clogged the sea, till it ceased to croon.
A dank, sickening scent came up from the grime
Of weed that blackened the shore, so that I recoiled
Feeling the raw cold dun me: and all the time
You leapt about on the slippery rocks, and threw
Me words that rang with a brassy, shallow chime.
And all day long, that raw and ancient cold
Deadened me through, till the grey downs dulled to sleep.
Then I longed for you with your mantle of love to fold
Me over, and drive from out of my body the deep
Cold that had sunk to my soul, and there kept hold.
But still to me all evening long you were cold,
And I was numb with a bitter, deathly ache;
Till old days drew me back into their fold,
And dim hopes crowded me warm with companionship,
And memories clustered me close, and sleep was cajoled.
And I slept till dawn at the window blew in like dust,
Like a linty, raw-cold dust disturbed from the floor
Of the unswept sea; a grey pale light like must
That settled upon my face and hands till it seemed
To flourish there, as pale mould blooms on a crust.
And I rose in fear, needing you fearfully.
For I thought you were warm as a sudden jet of blood.
I thought I could plunge in your living hotness, and be
Clean of the cold and the must. With my hand on the latch
I heard you in your sleep speak strangely to me.
And I dared not enter, feeling suddenly dismayed.
So I went and washed my deadened flesh in the sea
And came back tingling clean, but worn and frayed
With cold, like the shell of the moon; and strange it seems
That my love can dawn in warmth again, unafraid.
This poem is in the public domain.
If “truth is a fire,” as Klimt scrawled on a sketch for his
painting Nuda Veritas, “and to speak truth means to shine and
to burn,” then I’m a spent firework, blown-open, hollow, grime-
smeared and left for a wandering child—to pick from
hardened sand, or to wash out to sea. I’m so tired, and tired
of sitting on my hands. This morning I couldn’t stop watching
a two-minute clip of a slow loris eating rice balls, lost in his
savoring of some inaudible tune. Or, maybe I should say I noted how
his Gothic strangeling eyes rose to meet, then veer away, from
those unseen in the frame of one whose fingers offered the sticky white
grains. It was how his elegant hand curled from within
the box where he hid, and how his ease seemed to grow as he chose
to lift each gleaming ball to his ready mouth. Only yes-
terday I learned of laws amended to let witnesses to executions by
injection see, albeit over closed-circuit TV, the sterile affront
of IV-lines entering arms of inmates, though ID of injectors “won’t
be revealed.” In most states, there’s a 3-drug combo; the second’s
a paralytic agent… Here, you get a one-step option, or the choice
to hang. Hanging? Does anyone choose to hang? The slow loris
again is reaching his dark plush arm toward me on the screen, and now
his tongue darts out in satisfaction, though perhaps I’m imposing
human emotion, and instinct makes him simply take care
of hygienic concerns. My people are mostly furred or plumed.
On death row, is hope a “thing with feathers”? Anesthetized,
I could watch the slow loris all day taking gifts from a stranger’s
hand. The last time I saw my father, before he chose to leave
the country, he held the newspaper and a faceted glass jar
of raspberry jam toward me; and his hands quavered the way hands
of the elderly do. Did he see this himself? Did he worry
about journeying south, despite frailty of shoulder, hip, the haze
of continual pain? I wanted to say, don’t go. I’m still replaying
the loop of his shaking. And then, as in slow motion, this once-
massive man took the glazed concrete steps one-by-one, checking
his balance on each, taking leave of me, moving gingerly
away—into the stunned, crystal day, all alone.
Copyright © 2016 by Katrina Roberts. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 22, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
Do not fear.
The garden is yours
And it is yours to gather the fruits
And every flower of every kind,
And to set the high wall about it
And the closed gates.
The gates of your wall no hand shall open,
Not feet shall pass,
Through all the days until your return.
Do not fear.
Soon let it be, your coming!
For the pathways will grow desolate waiting,
The flowers say, “Our loveliness has no eyes to behold it!”
The leaves murmur all day with longing,
All night the boughs of the trees sway themselves with longing…
O Master of the Garden,
O my sun and rain and dew,
This poem is in the public domain.
I am going to the mountains
where the alternating universe of autumn
descends over you at an erotic squat. Out of that blank
and meaningless Play-Doh of my psychic flesh
I am moving on. I am a pupil of fading antiquity.
Sprawled across the table, in a lament about healthcare
and the ineptitude of The System.
Nothing burns quite like The System. It comes at you
when you ask for help, displaying its super-talons
around a clutch of arrows, saying No.
“What deeds could man ever have done
if he had not been enveloped in the dust-cloud
of the unhistorical?” Nietzsche asks this morning
from a small pamphlet on my lap, issued in 1949
in New York City, which I am leaving now,
like a wife from her distant husband
who will not stop to ask her why she is weeping
while she slices apart his silk ties on the floor of the closet.
Copyright © 2016 by Bianca Stone. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 28, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
When there was a clear moon,
I sat down
To write a poem
About maple trees.
But the dazzle of moonlight
In the ink
And I could only write
What I remembered.
Therefore, on the wrapping of my poem
I have inscribed your name.
This poem is in the public domain.
When you doubt the world
look at the undivided darkness
look at Wheeler Peak
cliffs like suspended prayers
contemplate the cerulean
the gleaming limestone
the frozen shades
look at the bristlecone pine
a labyrinth to winding wonders
listen to the caves
remember the smell of sagebrush
after a thunderstorm
that Lexington Arch
is a bridge of questions
in the solitude of dreams
distances disturb desire
to deliver a collision of breaths
the desert echoes
in this dark night sky
stars reveal the way
a heart can light a world.
Copyright © 2016 by Nathalie Handal. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 25, 2016, this poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.
The deer come out in the evening. God bless them for not judging me, I'm drunk. I stand on the porch in my bathrobe and make strange noises at them— language, if language can be a kind of crying. The tin cans scattered in the meadow glow, each bullet hole suffused with moon, like the platinum thread beyond them where the river runs the length of the valley. That's where the fish are. Tomorrow I'll scoop them from the pockets of graveled stone beneath the bank, their bodies desperately alive when I hold them in my hands, the way prayers become more hopeless when uttered aloud. The phone's disconnected. Just as well, I've got nothing to tell you: I won't go inside where the bats dip and swarm over my bed. It's the sound of them shouldering against each other that terrifies me, as if it might hurt to brush across another being's living flesh. But I carry a gun now. I've cut down a tree. You wouldn't recognize me in town— my hands lost in my pockets, two disabused tools I've retired from their life of touching you.
From Beautiful in the Mouth by Keetje Kuipers. Copyright © 2010 by Keetje Kuipers. Used by permission of BOA Editions.
It sweeps away depression and today
you can’t tell the heaped pin-white
cherry blossoms abloom along
Riverside Drive from the clouds above
it is all kerfluffle, all moisture and light and so
into the wind I go
past Riverside Church and the Fairway
Market, past the water treatment plant
and in the dusky triangle below
a hulk of rusted railroad bed
a single hooded boy is shooting hoops
It’s ten minutes from here to the giant bridge
men’s engineering astride the sky heroic
an animal roar of motors on it
the little red lighthouse at its foot
big brother befriending little brother
in the famous children’s story
eight minutes back with the wind behind me
passing the boy there alone shooting
his hoops in the gloom
A neighborhood committee
must have said that space
should be used for something recreational
a mayor’s aide must have said okay
so they put up basketball and handball courts
and if it were a painting or a photo
you would call it American loneliness
Copyright © 2017 by Alicia Ostriker. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 2, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Out of your whole life give but a moment!
All of your life that has gone before,
All to come after it,—so you ignore,
So you make perfect the present,—condense,
In a rapture of rage, for perfection’s endowment,
Thought and feeling and soul and sense—
Merged in a moment which gives me at last
You around me for once, you beneath me, above me—
Me—sure that despite of time future, time past,—
This tick of our life-time’s one moment you love me!
How long such suspension may linger? Ah, Sweet—
The moment eternal—just that and no more—
When ecstasy’s utmost we clutch at the core
While cheeks burn, arms open, eyes shut and lips meet!
This poem is in the public domain.
Still singing in my cell
of succulents, staked by a man
who fled. Nothing personal.
How often I get that wrong…
I move on—
is always fleeing, and that
is never personal. The longer
I go the fewer notes I need.
My torso a sort of hotel.
Martyrdom bores me.
My hook-ups a new flamenco—
will I be saved?
The peninsula tilts its goblets.
I am alone.
Wasn’t I always?
Swifts fleck the dry grass.
By my absence you’ll know me.
Copyright © 2016 by Spencer Reece. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 29, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
All the complicated details of the attiring and the disattiring are completed! A liquid moon moves gently among the long branches. Thus having prepared their buds against a sure winter the wise trees stand sleeping in the cold.
This poem is in the public domain.
O Winter! bar thine adamantine doors:
The north is thine; there hast thou built thy dark
Deep-founded habitation. Shake not thy roofs
Nor bend thy pillars with thine iron car.
He hears me not, but o’er the yawning deep
Rides heavy; his storms are unchain’d, sheathed
In ribbed steel; I dare not lift mine eyes;
For he hath rear’d his scepter o’er the world.
Lo! now the direful monster, whose skin clings
To his strong bones, strides o’er the groaning rocks:
He withers all in silence, and in his hand
Unclothes the earth, and freezes up frail life.
He takes his seat upon the cliffs, the mariner
Cries in vain. Poor little wretch! that deal’st
With storms; till heaven smiles, and the monster
Is driven yelling to his caves beneath Mount Hecla.
This poem is in the public domain.
Back of the door to his dark closet,
eye height, with clever steel
pegs I could flip both ways.
A row of pendulums. Of tongues.
Words, wordless. Witnesses
waiting to be sworn. The town secret.
A silk body, a man's plenty.
A wild ache, a knot. One painted
with gold mums, one with blood
leaves on mud. Vishnu's skin, twenty
shades of sky. White flag iris.
Slick sheen of a greenblack snake.
Which one went with him into the hole?
Somewhere else: his belts.
Copyright © 2016 by Joan Larkin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 23, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
Mt. Rainier National Park
We are standing on the access road to Paradise.
Seven miles from the gates. We are standing
on the centerline, the moon on our faces, the mountain
at our backs. Were it less than full, we might see,
in its northwest sector, the Land of Snow
and the Ocean of Storms. Because it is full, we can see,
just over our shoulders, how the Ramparts climb up
toward the glaciers. We might see near the Sea
of Showers, the dark-floored crater of Plato.
How the glaciers, just over our shoulders—
Pyramid, Kautz, Nisqually—shine. How the spreading
bedrock shines. As if we are starting again,
we have placed—there—on the moon’s widening shadow
Kepler, Copernicus, Archimedes, Aristoteles.
And opened a Sea of Fertility. A Sea of Nectar.
As if we imagine a harvest.
No sound it seems, on the slopes, in the firs.
Nothing hoots. Nothing calves. Although
through Nisqually’s steep moraine, rocks
must be shifting, grasses cinching their eternal grip.
Look, in the blackness, how the moon’s rim glows,
like a ring from an ancient astrolabe.
We are standing in the roadway. There is nothing
on our faces but the glow of refracted dust.
At our backs, the mountain is shifting, aligning itself
with the passing hours. First ice. Then stone.
Then the ice-green grasses. We are standing
on the centerline aligning ourselves with the earth.
We are standing on the access road as if we imagine
an eternal grip. Look—they are rotating on, now.
Already a pale crescent spreads
past the Known Sea and the Muir Snowfields—
as if we are starting…—past
the Trail of Shadows, the ice-green grasses,
the seas of nectar, the craters of rest,
the gardens of nothing but passing hours.
Copyright © 2016 by Linda Bierds. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 21, 2016, this poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.
The moon will shine for God
knows how long.
As if it still matters. As if someone
is trying to recall a dream.
Believe the brain is a cage of light
& rage. When it shuts off,
something else switches on.
There’s no better reason than now
to lock the doors, the windows.
Turn off the sprinklers
& porch light. Save the books
for fire. In darkness,
we learn to read
what moves along the horizon,
across the periphery of a gun scope—
the flicker of shadows,
the rustling of trash in the body
of cities long emptied.
Not a soul lives
in this house &
this house & this
house. Go on, stiffen
the heart, quicken
the blood. To live
in a world of flesh
& teeth, you must
learn to kill
what you love,
& love what can die.
Copyright © 2016 by Burlee Vang. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 20, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
What is it you feel I asked Kurt when you listen to
Ravel’s String Quartet in F-major, his face was so lit up
and I wondered, “the music is unlike the world I live
or think in, it’s from somewhere else, unfamiliar and unknown,
not because it is relevant to the familiar and comfortable,
but because it brings me to that place that I didn’t/couldn’t
imagine existed. And sometimes that unfamiliar place is closer
to my world than I realize, and sometimes it’s endlessly distant,”
that’s what he wrote in an email when I asked him
to remind me what he’d said earlier, off the cuff, “I don’t
recall exactly what I said,” he began, a sentence written
in iambic pentameter, and then the rest, later he spoke of two
of his brothers who died as children, leukemia and fire,
his face, soft, I’m listening to Ravel now, its irrelevancy.
Copyright © 2016 by Diane Seuss. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 16, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
I whisper to the tree, the tree,
the murmuring Tree
“I might take action”
Snow sun melts into streams increasing in volume
I control with my lips
Around History. Our eyes meet. White ancient
Roar I hear stream-
Side, my invisible dress threatening
A slow death. The rest I want to carry
So I listen
For the tree, and its never quite obsolete magic.
Copyright © 2016 by Rob Schlegel. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 13, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
I wake to
red sand I
on full days I
I stop wheels
me I grass
here I meta-
grass I sleep-
open eyes to
blue corn sky
to cook up
I am this
face to plate to
that I’m alone
and I alone am
the one -> pushing
Copyright © 2016 by Layli Long Soldier. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 7, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
In need of air, she unhinged every
window, revolving ones downstairs,
upstairs skylights, mid-floor French doors,
swept into the house the salt-brine,
the cricket chirp, the osprey whistle,
the sea-current, sound of the Sound,
but had not noticed the basement
bedroom window shielded by blinds,
screen-less. Later that night when they
returned home, lights illuminating
the downstairs hall, insects inhabited
the ground floor rooms. She carried handfuls
of creatures across a River Styx—
the katydids perched on lampshades,
beach tiger beetles shuttling across
floorboards, nursery web spiders splotching
the ceiling—trying to put back
the wild fury she had released.
Copyright © 2016 by Elise Paschen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 8, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
He came back from halfway around the world like that,
tongue tied around him like a scarf. Everything set before him
set to bursting. The fear that what he’d seen—
what had been inside him—that one
clear note—now would slip away. He’d go back
to an electric life, stupid with administration.
How does one re-enter a calendar?
He was still in love with the yellow dirt seen at the hour
of the museum’s closing, two weeks before the Palio.
With the sound he almost certainly heard his blood make
as he ate the last bite of liver toast
and finished off his wine, at night, in a tower beside
a total field. Or the remarkable look
a girl had given the bushes at 3 a.m.
on a hill above the Aegean before she let him
pull her pool-soaked dress up above her thighs.
He was still in love with all the cataclysms in his flesh.
Even though none of that was real anymore.
And it was his human duty to go onward, forget it all,
get caught back up in the cloud of the thing.
The next morning he woke up, fully home,
ignorant as ever, just perhaps a light along the edge
of responsibility, the tasks that called him by a name.
As if their stress and weight existed only didn’t.
A brief glimpse, and then that part of what’s just in the mind
scampering back into undergrowth. (They called it capriola,
which was perfect.) And then—drawing himself out of bed
and lacing up his shoes. Getting out and running among
buildings, the stacked reds and blues of Brooklyn. Gaping
at the faces of his neighbors, or the way a leaf hangs,
or a swatch of pavement wet between parked cars.
Huffing widely at it, and running a little slower.
Gathering it all up into his mouth.
Copyright © 2016 by Jay Deshpande. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 9, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
Now my neighbor through the wall playing piano, I imagine, with her eyes closed.
When she stops playing, she disappears.
I am still waiting for the right words to explain myself to you.
When there was nothing left to smoke, I drew on my lips with a pen until they were black.
Or is this what it means to be empty: to make no sound?
I pressed my mouth to the wall until I’d made a small gray ring.
Or maybe emptiness is a form of listening.
Maybe I am just listening.
Copyright © 2016 by Allison Benis White. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 12, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
This is not an age of beauty,
I say to the Rite-Aid as I pass a knee-high plastic witch
whose speaker-box laugh is tripped by my calf
breaking the invisible line cast by her motion
sensor. My heart believes it is a muscle
of love, so how do I tell it it is a muscle of blood?
This morning, I found myself
awake before my alarm & felt I’d been betrayed
by someone. My sleep is as thin as a paper bill
backed by black bars of coal that iridesce
indigo in the federal reserve of
dreams. Look, I said to the horse’s
head I saw severed & then set on the ground, the soft
tissue of the cheek & crown cleaved with a necropsy
knife until the skull was visible. You look more
horse than the horses
with names & quilted coats in the pasture, grazing unbothered
by your body in pieces, steaming
against the drizzle. You once had a name
that filled your ears like amphitheaters,
that caused an electrical
spark to bead to your brain. My grief was born
in the wrong time, my grief an old soul, grief re-
incarnate. My grief, once a black-winged
beetle. How I find every excuse to indulge it, like a child
given quarters. In the restaurant, eating alone,
instead of interrogating my own
solitude, I’m nearly undone by the old
woman on her own. The window so filthy,
it won’t even reflect her face, which must not be the same
face she sees when she dreams
of herself in the third person.
Copyright © 2017 by Emilia Phillips. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 3, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
The wipers sweep two overlapping hills
on the glass, we are quiet against the
squeaky metronome as we often are
before the concerns of the day well up.
Today: Is it dark inside my body?
The wet cedar’s dark of green-gone-black
of damp earth mending itself,
a pewter bell rung into night’s collected
sigh, choral and sleep-sunk.
Dark as the oyster’s clasp
in its small blind pocket
and the word pocket a tucked notion
set aside in-case-of.
Inside there are vestibules, clapboards
there is cargo,
there is the self carrying the self
nowhere does it not—
and mournful as a spine bowing to wood
you carry your actions; inside
is cave and concern,
heartwood, clockwork, crank and tender
iron in the mountain belly,
all the hidden things breathing.
Outside of and woven into, you are
the knowledge you can’t touch
the desire you can’t locate,
unnameable questions unnameable answers,
source and tributary
and the rivers that hold you
beneath. Your darkness
lives in that potential,
Copyright © 2017 by Jennifer K. Sweeney. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 4, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
I too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers that there is in
it after all, a place for the genuine.
Hands that can grasp, eyes
that can dilate, hair that can rise
if it must, these things are important not because a
high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because they are
useful; when they become so derivative as to become unintelligible, the
same thing may be said for all of us—that we
do not admire what
we cannot understand. The bat,
holding on upside down or in quest of something to
eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless wolf under
a tree, the immovable critic twinkling his skin like a horse that feels a flea, the base—
ball fan, the statistician—case after case
could be cited did
one wish it; nor is it valid
to discriminate against “business documents and
school-books”; all these phenomena are important. One must make a distinction
however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the result is not poetry,
nor till the autocrats among us can be
insolence and triviality and can present
for inspection, imaginary gardens with real toads in them, shall we have
it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand, in defiance of their opinion—
the raw material of poetry in
all its rawness, and
that which is on the other hand,
genuine, then you are interested in poetry.
From Others for 1919: An Anthology of the New Verse, edited by Alfred Kreymborg. This poem is in the public domain.
Dead man’s fingers—
short and still
or waving spindles
would be pebbles
if they weren’t shards
fish and crabs
live and dead coral
What is sand made of?
Who is to know
which is coral
From the surface you
can see dark
patches where sea grass
and spirit hair grow
Copyright © 2017 by Rosamond S. King. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 24, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Before I watched you die, I watched the dying
falter, their hearts curled and purring in them
like kitfoxes asleep
beside their shadows, their eyes pawed out by the trouble
of their hunger. I was
humbling, Lord, like the taxidermist’s
apprentice. I said
yes, and amen, like the monk brushing
the barley from the vealcalf’s
withers, the heft of it
as it leans against his cilice.
Winter, I have watched the lost
lie down among their bodies, clarified
as the birdsong
they have hymned of.
I have heard the earth sing longer than the song.
Come, I said, come
after: you were the bull-elk in the moonlight
of my threshold, knocking off the mosses from its antlers
before it backed away, bewildered, into foliage.
You were thin-ribbed, were hawk-
scarred, were few.
Yes, amen, before I heard you giving up
your singing, you were something stumbling hunted
to my open door; you were thinning with the milkweed
of the river. Winter, Wintering, listen: I think of you
long gone now
through the valley, scissoring
your ancient way
through the pitch pines. Not waiting, but the great elk
in the dark door. Not ravens
where they stay, awhile, in furor,
but the lost thing backing out
among the saplings, dancing off the madness
of its antlers. Not stone, not cold
stone, but fire. The wild thing, musk-blooded, at my open
door, wakening and wakening and
in the blindness of its wild eyes,
saying Look at them, look at how they have to.
Do something with the wildness that confounds you.
Copyright © 2017 by Joseph Fasano. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 26, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
The narrow clearing down to the river
I walk alone, out of breath
my body catching on each branch.
Small children maneuver around me.
Often, I want to return to my old body
a body I also hated, but hate less
Sometimes my friends—my friends
who are always beautiful & heartbroken
look at me like they know
I will die before them.
I think the life I want
is the life I have, but how can I be sure?
There are days when I give up on my body
but not the world. I am alive.
I know this. Alive now
to see the world, to see the river
rupture everything with its light.
Copyright © 2017 by Hieu Minh Nguyen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 27, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
Love is a breach in the walls, a broken gate,
Where that comes in that shall not go again;
Love sells the proud heart’s citadel to Fate.
They have known shame, who love unloved. Even then,
When two mouths, thirsty each for each, find slaking,
And agony’s forgot, and hushed the crying
Of credulous hearts, in heaven—such are but taking
Their own poor dreams within their arms, and lying
Each in his lonely night, each with a ghost.
Some share that night. But they know love grows colder,
Grows false and dull, that was sweet lies at most.
Astonishment is no more in hand or shoulder,
But darkens, and dies out from kiss to kiss.
All this is love; and all love is but this.
This poem is in the public domain.
I do not know how
she felt, but I keep
thinking of her—
screaming out to an empty street.
I had been asleep
when I heard a voice
and frantic, when I opened my door.
I remember her shoulders
in the faded towel I found
before she put on my blue sweats
and white T-shirt. Call 911
please, she said.
When the officer arrived
I said, I found her there after the—
But she said,
No, that wasn’t what
What must be valued
in clarity and in error,
feelings are held.
Here—in a poem?
Copyright © 2017 by Jenny Johnson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 31, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
and my love clings to you
sings to you
in the “new weathers”
within a tragedy
of the Anthropocene
by the hand
can we resist?
will we fail?
to save our world?
we dream replicas of ourselves
inside the shadow
a looming possibility
this new year
to wake up
could it be?
an anthropoid scared
from the forest
slow in development
much like us
ready to resist
the forest made the monkey
& the cave & steppe: the human
what makes us suppler
a fierce tenderness toward
the destruction of our world?
[my love for you
sings for you, world
I’ve got those Anthropocene….
Copyright © 2017 by Anne Waldman. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 2, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
Others because you did not keep
That deep-sworn vow have been friends of mine;
Yet always when I look death in the face,
When I clamber to the heights of sleep,
Or when I grow excited with wine,
Suddenly I meet your face.
This poem is in the public domain.
Love makes you feel alive Johnny my animal you have no idea How beautiful you are to me in the morning When it is 5 a.m. and I am lonely Everyone is dying around me I eat spinach bread to keep my sanity, I am Like Lisa in the mental unit with my father I am Muriel who throws tables I play blackjack with the clowns Oh yes I do all that for a salad Your black hair is better than a piece of fate I find in the sky when I am looking 45,000 miles above the earth For things that make it all worthwhile I do this for you but you will never know How dear you are to me You chop leaves in your house in New York City Dream of glamorous women and even too they are great No one will ever love you like I do that is certain Because I know the inside of your face Is a solid block of coal and then it too Something that is warm like warm snow I hold the insides of you in my palm And they are warm snow, melting even With the flurries glutted out of the morning When I get on the plane the stewardess tells me to let loose My heart, the man next to me was the same man as last week Whoever those postmodernists are that say There is no universal have never spent any time with an animal I have played tennis with so many animals I can't count the times I have let them win Their snouts that were wet with health Dripping in the sun, then we went and took a swim Just me and the otters, I held them so close I felt the bump of ghosts as I held them. There is no poem that will bring back the dead There is no poem that I could ever say that will Arise the dead in their slumber, their faces gone There is no poem or song I could sing to you That would make me seem more beautiful If there were such songs I would sing them O they would hear me singing from here until dawn
From Black Life by Dorothea Lasky. Copyright © 2010 by Dorothea Lasky. Used by permission of Wave Books. All rights reserved.
after Ana Mendieta
If they are a silueta
But I can’t make out where one begins and
If in the breakdown of the body there
Is nothing but smoke
If I get inside it
And try and make love to what is there and
If I feel that it wants me anyway
But I am trying hard for it to not be an
It but a they them he she initials and stars
Copyright © 2017 by Melissa Buzzeo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 8, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
The shore of the lake is gradual and drawn
With rivers threading into land
Then suddenly it’s all land
Now the land is dark
And you can’t distinguish it from the water
And the hot orange sun
Turns everything dark purple
Like a painting by Joan Mitchell
It is unknowable
It is knowable
It is a sum of these
It is not without birds and animals
He is very elegant and kind
Her intellectual complexion
It is a beautiful word
The flank of their poem goes to the lake
To enter sweet new time
Trees express the sky energetically
So do they
With all the rarity of tenderness
Like the place where the base of the vase touches earth
To speak into time deeply
All the animals lie down together
This is what they prefer
It is explicitly their preference
New roses happen
Their Latin pleats
Together they harbor the intimate excess of philosophy
Which loves gardens
Now admire their breadth
Every flower is inverted
And what the flower produces
You call this beauty
As a way to express care
Now call it wildrose
Wildrose is resourceful
Its geophysiology is vast
It threw runners
To make landbridge
It threw pollen
With voracious joy
Underground network of wildrose
Linking all the political lovers
And infinite breathing flesh
In each temporality experienced
Is resurgent insurrection
The form of life of wildrose
Is experiment in relationship
Also named Plex
Earth the tousled rosebed!
From which the brocaded and tarnishing yardgoods unfurl
Some of the bronze threads blackening
So that the ornate pattern is obscured
Like dusk in a borderless tableau
It glows from beneath
Now time ripples from beneath
Now they enter dusk’s happiness
Rosebed is the lovepoem
Belly and horizon!
Wildrose suckers freely from underground stems and roots
Forming dense colonies that run wild
This wedding names everyone wildrose.
Copyright © 2017 by Lisa Robertson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 9, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
I. Springing Jack
Green wooden leaves clap light away,
Severely practical, as they
Shelter the children candy-pale,
The chestnut-candles flicker, fail . . .
The showman’s face is cubed clear as
The shapes reflected in a glass
Of water—(glog, glut, a ghost’s speech
Fumbling for space from each to each).
The fusty showman fumbles, must
Fit in a particle of dust
The universe, for fear it gain
Its freedom from my cube of brain.
Yet dust bears seeds that grow to grace
Behind my crude-striped wooden face
As I, a puppet tinsel-pink
Leap on my springs, learn how to think—
Till like the trembling golden stalk
Of some long-petalled star, I walk
Through the dark heavens, and the dew
Falls on my eyes and sense thrills through.
This poem is in the public domain.
Dawn oversees percolating coffee
and the new wreckage of the world.
I stand before my routine reflection,
button up my sanity,
brush weary strands of hair with pomade
and seal cracked lips of distrust
with cocoa butter and matte rouge.
I ready myself once again
for morning and mortify.
Stacking poetry and bills in a knapsack;
I bundle up hope (it’s brutal out there).
For a moment, I stand with ghosts
and the framed ancestors surrounding me.
I call out, hoping she can hear me
over the day-breaking sirens—
hoping she’s not far away,
or right down the street,
praying over another dead black boy.
How will we make it through this, Ms. Brooks?
When she held a body,
she saw much worse than this.
I know she was earshot and fingertip close to oppression.
She saw how hateful hate could be.
She raised babies, taught Stone Rangers,
grew a natural and wrote around critics.
She won a Pulitzer in the dark.
She justified our kitchenette dreams,
and held on.
She held on to all of us.
Hold On, she whispers.
Another day, when I have to tip-toe
around the police and passive-aggressive emails
from people who sit only a few feet away from me.
Another day of fractured humans
who decide how I will live and die,
and I have to act like I like it
so I can keep a job;
be a team player, pay taxes on it;
I have to act like I’m happy to be
slammed, severed, and swindled.
Otherwise, I’m just part of the problem—
a rebel rouser and rude.
They want me to like it, or at least pretend,
so the pretty veils that blanket who we really are—
this complicated history, can stay pretty and veiled
like some desert belly dancer
who must be seen but not heard.
We are a world of lesions.
Human has become hindrance.
We must be stamped and have papers,
and still, it’s not enough.
Ignorance has become powerful.
The dice that rolls our futures is platinum
but hollow inside.
Did you see that, Ms. Brooks?
Do you see what we’ve become?
They are skinning our histories,
deporting our roots,
detonating our very right to tell the truth.
We are one step closer to annihilation.
Hold On, she says, two million light years away.
Hold On everybody.
Hold On because the poets are still alive—and writing.
Hold On to the last of the disappearing bees
and that Great Barrier Reef.
Hold On to the one sitting next to you,
not masked behind some keyboard.
The one right next to you.
The ones who live and love right next to you.
Hold On to them.
And when we bury another grandmother,
or another black boy;
when we stand in front of a pipeline,
pour another glass of dirty drinking water
and put it on the dining room table,
next to the kreplach, bratwurst, tamales, collards, and dumplings
that our foremothers and fathers—immigrants,
brought with them so we all knew that we came from somewhere;
somewhere that mattered.
When we kneel on the rubbled mosques,
sit in massacred prayer circles,
Holding On is what gets us through.
We must remember who we are.
We are worth fighting for.
We’ve seen beauty.
We’ve birthed babies who’ve only known a black President.
We’ve tasted empathy and paid it forward.
We’ve Go-Funded from wrong to right.
We’ve marched and made love.
We haven’t forgotten—even if they have—Karma is keeping watch.
Hold On everybody.
Even if all you have left
is that middle finger around your God-given right
to be free, to be heard, to be loved,
and remembered…Hold On,
Copyright © 2017 by Parneshia Jones. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 13, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
It’s neither red
It doesn’t melt
or turn over,
break or harden,
so it can’t feel
It doesn’t have
a tip to spin on,
it isn’t even
just a thick clutch
I feel it inside
its cage sounding
a dull tattoo:
I want, I want—
but I can’t open it:
there’s no key.
I can’t wear it
on my sleeve,
or tell you from
the bottom of it
how I feel. Here,
it’s all yours, now—
but you’ll have
to take me,
Copyright © 2017 Rita Dove. Used with permission of the author.
Either you’ve died, or you arrive
beside me at a funeral
patchily reaching out
from your zero gravity chair
to grab the relative achievement
of my stomach.
There is no cute life in me
but I have eaten a great meal
alone successfully, greater
than I have ever kept down before,
full of iron and clotted cream.
I cannot feel everything about you
anymore the way I used to—
the stomach overfills itself so fast
it eats the hunger and the mouth.
I grow enamored of you as an egg
you shake in my direction
then love you evenly, without belief.
Copyright © 2017 by Elizabeth Metzger. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 17, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
after Z. S.
Still, somehow we are
carousel. We spin bodies
to the wall and back.
We are woman and
man and man. We
are surgeon and
operation. We are
everybody we love.
We are inside them.
We are inside and we
are laughing. We are
man and we will die too.
We know that much.
We are our own
shadow. We are want
of touch. We are woman
and man and man don’t look.
We are curvature—look!
We are train.
We are star.
We are big
tiny spiders. We are
crawling. We are biting.
We are hungry. We are
a stopped carousel. We are
bodies dropped to the floor.
We are shaking. We are our own.
Still, somehow, we are
laughter. We are the doorway out.
We are (again) the doorway in.
Copyright © 2017 by Samiya Bashir. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 16, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
for Monica Hand
there’s a whispered prayer blowing
the crumbs of a season’s harvest
off a girl’s plate
& a roar breaks from her insides,
the roar a lioness
a beast that knows
& a man kneels somewhere
cupping his tears
for the loneliness he feels
though he’s surrounded by the world,
& a finch in a tree singing
for a lover as the buds on its branch
pop into leaves that will flourish
& welcome the green grasses,
Right now a boy is wondering
if people can really dodge bullets
& is he one of them & somewhere nobody bothers
to ask, they simply wait
Wind spins across the landscape
they say God is twirling his fingers—
The heartbroken hook new bodies,
night after night, drink after drink
& I dance—my feet mashing grapes
for wine & I sing mockingly—
what is life / what is life
Copyright © 2017 by Roberto Carlos Garcia. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 20, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
I never want to get any
More new things.
I wanna wear out these shoes white
And walk on the rug till it's perfectly
To wear the shoes dark
Walking on an abyss that's been worn out
The shoes carry me,
I can’t help it,
I fly above the desert with no name
Copyright © 2017 by Ana Božičević. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 22, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
We woke to the darkness before our eyes,
unable to take the measure of the loss.
Who are they. What are we. What have we
abandoned to arrive with such violence at this hour.
In answer we drew back, covered our ears
with our hands to the heedless victory, or vowed,
as I did, into the changed air, never to consent.
But it was already too late, too late for the unfarmed fields,
the men by the station, the park swings, the parking lots,
the ground water, the doves—too late for dusk
falling in summer, chains of glass lakes
mingled into dawn, the corals, the neighbors,
the first drizzle on an empty street, cafeterias and stockyards,
young men asking twice a day for
work. Too late for hope. Too far along
to meet a country, a people, its annihilating need.
Because the year is new and the great change
already underway, we concede a thousandfold
and feel, harder than the land itself,
a complicity for everything we did not see
or comprehend: cynicism borne of raw despair,
long-cultivated hatreds, the promises of leaders
traveling like cool silence through the dark.
My life is here, in this small room, and like you
I am waiting to know—but there is no time
to wait for what has happened.
What does the future ask of me,
those who won’t have enough to eat by evening,
those whose disease will now take hold—
and the decades that carry past me once I’ve died,
generations of children, the suffering that is never solved,
the heat over the earth, its marshes,
its crowded towers, its unbreathable night air.
I would open my hand from the wrist,
step outside, not lose nerve.
Here is the day, still to be lived.
We do not fully know what we do.
But the trains depart the stations, traffic lurches
and stalls, a highway crew has paused.
Desert sun softens the first color of the rock.
Who governs now governs by grievance and old scores,
but we compass our worth,
prepare to do the work not our own,
and feel, past the scorn in his eyes, the burden
in the torso of a stranger, draw close to the sick,
the weak, the women without jobs, the twelve-year-old
facing spite half-tangled into sleep, the panic
tightening inside everyone who has been told to go,
I will help you although I do not know you,
and strive not to look away, be unwilling to profit,
an ache inside that endless effort,
a slowed-down summons not from those
whose rage is lit by greed—we do not consent—
but the ones who wake without prospect,
those who don’t speak, cannot recover,
like the old woman at the counter, the helpless father
who, like you, gets no more than his one life.
Copyright © 2017 by Joanna Klink. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 21, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Not many passions take your pants off—
painting with oils, reading in the afternoon,
other people’s bodies. I want to really
say something here. I want to be clear.
But just as no two people see the same
colors, what you hear is not what I’m
saying. Not conversations as much as
serial misunderstandings, proximate
in space. One considers the dictionary
definition of “man.” One considers
the definition of “woman.” One considers
arm hair, soft spaces on a hot body.
The obsessive heat-seeking quality of
attraction. The paint on my pinkie is for
you—a little poison, a little turpentine.
The snaggletooth I want to stick my
tongue into. This is pigment from a rock,
this is pigment from a bug, this is pigment
from a bleeding heart, and this is jeopardy.
Passion brought me here, but passion
cannot save me. To mix linseed and
varnish, to create something is to vanish
what was there before. Chroma for fastness,
chemistry tricks. Such bold strokes in
erasing and framing delicate beginnings.
Copyright © 2017 by Erika Jo Brown. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 1, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
There is no fixed place and by that I mean
take a look at things that are. Split by the
turn of year, its newness and all it brings,
which of its possibilities can we trust?
Elsa is involved in a clandestine
love affair which, let’s be honest, should be
all love affairs until they’re over. She finds
herself dreaming of children and many
other delicacies. Sugared eggs. A
lost palace. But night brings a great expanse
and it’s much too quiet in these hallways.
On her back, Elsa holds her breath, her hands
beneath her, resisting, resisting. That
temptation can be such a dirty rat.
Copyright © 2017 by Angela Veronica Wong. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 2, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Keep your lips pressed together
after you say the p:
(soon they’ll try
your breath out—)
three times in a row:
Stop Stop Stop
In a hospital bed
like a curled up fish, someone’s
gulping at air—
How should you apply
List all of the people
you would like
Who offers love,
Put a period at the end.
Decide if it’s a kiss
or a bullet.
Copyright © 2017 by Dana Levin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 6, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
In your extended absence, you permit me use of earth, anticipating some return on investment. I must report failure in my assignment, principally regarding the tomato plants. I think I should not be encouraged to grow tomatoes. Or, if I am, you should withhold the heavy rains, the cold nights that come so often here, while other regions get twelve weeks of summer. All this belongs to you: on the other hand, I planted the seeds, I watched the first shoots like wings tearing the soil, and it was my heart broken by the blight, the black spot so quickly multiplying in the rows. I doubt you have a heart, in our understanding of that term. You who do not discriminate between the dead and the living, who are, in consequence, immune to foreshadowing, you may not know how much terror we bear, the spotted leaf, the red leaves of the maple falling even in August, in early darkness: I am responsible for these vines.
From The Wild Iris, published by The Ecco Press, 1992. Copyright © 1992 by Louise Glück. All Rights reserved. Used with permission.
The great thing
is not having
a mind. Feelings:
oh, I have those; they
govern me. I have
a lord in heaven
called the sun, and open
for him, showing him
the fire of my own heart, fire
like his presence.
What could such glory be
if not a heart? Oh my brothers and sisters,
were you like me once, long ago,
before you were human? Did you
to open once, who would never
open again? Because in truth
I am speaking now
the way you do. I speak
because I am shattered.
From The Wild Iris, published by Ecco Press, 1992. Copyright © 1992 by Louise Glück. All rights reserved. Used with permission. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on October 10, 2020.
and I didn’t mean to, this was not
my intent. I meant to say how I loved
the birds, how watching them lift off
the branches, hearing their song
helps me get through the gray morning.
When I wrote about how they crash
into the small dark places that only birds
can fit through, layers of night sky, pipes
through drains, how I’ve seen them splayed
across gutters, piles of feathers stuck
together by dried blood, how once my car
ran over a sparrow, though I swerved,
the road was narrow, the bird not quick
enough, dragged it under my tire as I drove
to forget, bird disappearing part by part,
beak, slender feet, fretful, hot,
I did not mean to write about death,
but rather how when something dies
we remember who we love, and we
die a little too, we who are still breathing,
we who still have the energy to survive.
Copyright © 2017 by Kim Dower. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 7, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Three sang of love together: one with lips
Crimson, with cheeks and bosom in a glow,
Flushed to the yellow hair and finger tips;
And one there sang who soft and smooth as snow
Bloomed like a tinted hyacinth at a show;
And one was blue with famine after love,
Who like a harpstring snapped rang harsh and low
The burden of what those were singing of.
One shamed herself in love; one temperately
Grew gross in soulless love, a sluggish wife;
One famished died for love. Thus two of three
Took death for love and won him after strife;
One droned in sweetness like a fattened bee:
All on the threshold, yet all short of life.
This poem is in the public domain.
I tell my secret? No indeed, not I;
Perhaps some day, who knows?
But not today; it froze, and blows and snows,
And you’re too curious: fie!
You want to hear it? well:
Only, my secret’s mine, and I won’t tell.
Or, after all, perhaps there’s none:
Suppose there is no secret after all,
But only just my fun.
Today’s a nipping day, a biting day;
In which one wants a shawl,
A veil, a cloak, and other wraps:
I cannot ope to everyone who taps,
And let the draughts come whistling thro’ my hall;
Come bounding and surrounding me,
Come buffeting, astounding me,
Nipping and clipping thro’ my wraps and all.
I wear my mask for warmth: who ever shows
His nose to Russian snows
To be pecked at by every wind that blows?
You would not peck? I thank you for good will,
Believe, but leave the truth untested still.
Spring’s an expansive time: yet I don’t trust
March with its peck of dust,
Nor April with its rainbow-crowned brief showers,
Nor even May, whose flowers
One frost may wither thro’ the sunless hours.
Perhaps some languid summer day,
When drowsy birds sing less and less,
And golden fruit is ripening to excess,
If there’s not too much sun nor too much cloud,
And the warm wind is neither still nor loud,
Perhaps my secret I may say,
Or you may guess.
This poem is in the public domain.
When I thought it was right to name my desires,
what I wanted of life, they seemed to turn
like bleating sheep, not to me, who could have been
a caring, if unskilled, shepherd, but to the boxed-in hills
beyond which the blue mountains sloped down
with poppies orange as crayfish all the way to the Pacific seas
in which the hulls of whales steered them
in search of a mate for whom they bellowed
in a new, highly particular song
we might call the most ardent articulation of love,
the pin at the tip of evolution,
In the middle of my life
it was right to say my desires
but they went away. I couldn’t even make them out,
not even as dots
now in the distance.
Yet I see the small lights
of winter campfires in the hills—
teenagers in love often go there
for their first nights—and each yellow-white glow
tells me what I can know and admit to knowing,
that all I ever wanted
was to sit by a fire with someone
who wanted me in measure the same to my wanting.
To want to make a fire with someone,
Copyright © 2017 by Katie Ford. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 15, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
for the two of me
the thing that eats the heart is mostly heart and there
I wish, in the burly sun blossom-backwards garden I was hungry,
so damn hungry and afraid again by full open-mouth-desire.
Don’t take this as a garrote good-bye, your airless thrive ride.
I alone, fear being alone, far from the blood vocabulary. I wish
I knew where I put my fear sitting in the childhood past, in
its zoo, sitting on the winding Escher stairs, saying this out loud
to my dead mother, so loud a lion’s head in the mouth loud
it catches audience breath for breath measure, making us go
home to say it to the father, dead and down, holding court with outbreak.
You can’t hear me say this, off as asymmetry cry.
You too are dead in the circus heart alone
because they really are all gone, and can’t feed you anymore.
You can’t sit in the lap, on the headmouth, slow kneel on the floor;
you can’t sit in the cement highchair, sit in this landscape room, this
come to crime test, alive here for feeling, or take me
to nothing sound-past longing with the lion
who won’t eat you, who won’t eat me, facing
the animal garden, shaking his yellow haystack head.
Copyright © 2017 by Elena Karina Byrne. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 17, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Friends describe my DISPOSITION
as stoic. Like a dead fish, an ex said. DISTANCE
is a funny drug and used to make me a DISTRESSED PERSON,
one who cried in bedrooms and airports. Once I bawled so hard at the border, even the man with the stamps and holster said Don’t cry. You’ll be home soon. My DISTRIBUTION
over the globe debated and set to quota. A nation can only handle so many of me. DITCHING
class, I break into my friend’s dad’s mansion and swim in the Beverly Hills pool in a borrowed T-shirt. A brief DIVERSION.
My body breaking the chlorinated surface makes it, momentarily, my house, my DIVISION
of driveway gate and alarm codes, my dress-rehearsed DOCTRINE
of pool boys and ping pong and water delivered on the backs of sequined Sparkletts trucks. Over here, DOLLY,
an agent will call out, then pat the hair at your hot black DOME.
After explaining what she will touch, backs of the hands at the breasts and buttocks, the hand goes inside my waistband and my heart goes DORMANT.
A dead fish. The last female assist I decided to hit on. My life in the American Dream is a DOWNGRADE,
a mere DRAFT
of home. Correction: it satisfies as DRAG.
It is, snarling, what I carve of it alone.
From Look by Solmaz Sharif, published by Graywolf Press. Copyright © 2016 by Solmaz Sharif. Used with permission of Graywolf Press.
To begin with the end, what the rain
did not uncover. A teacup overflows,
we call it a spill; a riverbed overflows, we
call it a flood, what it is to be
swept away. Great is the power of steady
misrepresentation, writes Darwin. I like
things that light up on their own—
the headlights on my new car when we
drive under a bridge. I like how
it doesn’t distinguish between different types
of darkness. Darwin again: I am not
the least afraid to die. Well,
I burned my thumb last night
on the kettle, distracted
by the buzzing of my phone—
my mother again. There is still some pleasure
in dissection—what admirably
the tip of a root possesses. I like things
that come apart easily
in my hands—dried leaves, clumps of sugar—
Do you remember, before wireless,
when to unplug meant getting
on your knees to jerk the cord from the wall? Now
if you want to disconnect,
you have to ask nicely. Off/on;
let go/resurrect—the game your mind plays
in dreams, holding him up—no, a simulacrum
slipping its cage in my consciousness. Daytime
calls me to wakefulness, its dog home
from the walk, from the bewildering folly
of weather. Turns out these purple statices
on the dresser stand for
remembrance but I don’t need
any help remembering. They are right
in front of me—they have fully loaded.
Copyright © 2017 by Katie Willingham. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 27, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
The night turns slowly round,
Swift trains go by in a rush of light;
Slow trains steal past.
This train beats anxiously, outward bound.
But I am not here.
I am away, beyond the scope of this turning;
There, where the pivot is, the axis
Of all this gear.
I, who sit in tears,
I, whose heart is torn with parting;
Who cannot bear to think back to the departure platform;
My spirit hears
Voices of men
Sound of artillery, aeroplanes, presences,
And more than all, the dead-sure silence,
The pivot again.
There, at the axis
Pain, or love, or grief
Sleep on speed; in dead certainty;
There, at the pivot
Time sleeps again.
No has-been, no here-after; only the perfected
Silence of men.
This poem is in the public domain.
Some maps have blue borders
like the blue of your name
or the tributary lacing of
veins running through your
father’s hands. & how the last
time I saw you, you held
me for so long I saw whole
lifetimes flooding by me
small tentacles reaching
for both our faces. I wish
maps would be without
borders & that we belonged
to no one & to everyone
at once, what a world that
would be. Or not a world
maybe we would call it
something more intrinsic
like forgiving or something
simplistic like river or dirt.
& if I were to see you
tomorrow & everyone you
came from had disappeared
I would weep with you & drown
out any black lines that this
earth allowed us to give it—
because what is a map but
a useless prison? We are all
so lost & no naming of blank
spaces can save us. & what
is a map but the delusion of
safety? The line drawn is always
in the sand & folds on itself
before we’re done making it.
& that line, there, south of
el rio, how it dares to cover
up the bodies, as though we
would forget who died there
& for what? As if we could
forget that if you spin a globe
& stop it with your finger
you’ll land it on top of someone
living, someone who was not
expecting to be crushed by thirst—
Copyright © 2017 by Yesenia Montilla. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 28, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
To this day I still remember sitting
on my abuelo’s lap watching the Yankees hit,
then run, a soft wind rounding the bases
every foot tap to the white pad gentle as a kiss.
How I loved those afternoons languidly
eating jamón sandwiches & drinking root beer.
Later, when I knew something about the blue collar
man—my father who worked with his hands & tumbled
into the house exhausted like heat in a rainstorm—
I became a Mets fan.
Something about their unclean faces
their mustaches seemed rough
to the touch. They had names like Wally & Dyskstra.
I was certain I would marry a man just like them
that is until Sammy Sosa came along
with his smile a reptile that only knew about lying in the sun.
His arms were cannons and his skin burnt cinnamon
that glistened in my dreams.
Everyone said he was not beautiful.
Out on the streets where the men set up shop playing dominoes
I’d hear them say between the yelling of capicu
“como juega, pero feo como el diablo.”
I knew nothing of my history
of the infighting on an island on which one side swore
it was only one thing: pallid, pristine. & I didn’t know
that Sammy carried this history like a tattoo.
That he wished everyday to be white.
It is a perfect game this race war, it is everywhere, living
in the American bayou as much as
the Dominican dirt roads.
It makes a man do something to his skin that seems unholy.
It makes that same man change eye color like a soft
summer dress slipped on slowly.
It makes a grandmother ask her granddaughter
if she’s suffering
from something feverish
because that could be the only excuse why
her hair has not been straightened
like a ballerina’s back dyed the color of wild
daffodils growing in an outfield.
Sammy hit 66 home runs one year
& that was still not enough
to make him feel handsome
or worthy of that blackness that I believe a gift
even today while black churches burn & black bodies
disappear from one day to the next the same as old
I think of him often barely remember what he looked like
but I can recall his hunched shoulders in the
dugout his perfect swing
& how maybe he spit out something black
from his mouth after
every single strike—
Copyright © 2015 Yesenia Montilla. Originally published in the Winter 2015 issue of Prairie Schooner. Used with permission of Prairie Schooner.
In the republic of flowers I studied
the secrets of hanging clothes I didn't
know if it was raining or someone
was frying eggs I held the skulls
of words that mean nothing you left
between the hour of the ox and the hour
of the rat I heard the sound of two
braids I watched it rain through
a mirror am I asking to be spared
or am I asking to be spread your body
smelled like cathedrals and I kept
your photo in a bottle of mezcal
semen-salt wolf’s teeth you should have
touched my eyes until they blistered
kissed the skin of my instep for thousands
of years sealed honey never spoils
won’t crystallize I saw myself snapping
a swan's neck I needed to air out
my eyes the droplets on a spiderweb
and the grace they held who gave me
permission to be this person to drag
my misfortune on this leash made of gold
Copyright © 2017 by Erika L. Sánchez. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 10, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
I have had enough.
I gasp for breath.
Every way ends, every road,
every foot-path leads at last
to the hill-crest—
then you retrace your steps,
or find the same slope on the other side,
I have had enough—
border-pinks, clove-pinks, wax-lilies,
O for some sharp swish of a branch—
there is no scent of resin
in this place,
no taste of bark, of coarse weeds,
only border on border of scented pinks.
Have you seen fruit under cover
that wanted light—
pears wadded in cloth,
protected from the frost,
melons, almost ripe,
smothered in straw?
Why not let the pears cling
to the empty branch?
All your coaxing will only make
a bitter fruit—
let them cling, ripen of themselves,
test their own worth,
nipped, shrivelled by the frost,
to fall at last but fair
With a russet coat.
Or the melon—
let it bleach yellow
in the winter light,
even tart to the taste—
it is better to taste of frost—
the exquisite frost—
than of wadding and of dead grass.
For this beauty,
beauty without strength,
chokes out life.
I want wind to break,
scatter these pink-stalks,
snap off their spiced heads,
fling them about with dead leaves—
spread the paths with twigs,
limbs broken off,
trail great pine branches,
hurled from some far wood
right across the melon-patch,
break pear and quince—
leave half-trees, torn, twisted
but showing the fight was valiant.
O to blot out this garden
to forget, to find a new beauty
in some terrible
This poem is in the public domain.
Go from me. Yet I feel that I shall stand
Henceforward in thy shadow. Nevermore
Alone upon the threshold of my door
Of individual life, I shall command
The uses of my soul, nor lift my hand
Serenely in the sunshine as before,
Without the sense of that which I forbore—
Thy touch upon the palm. The widest land
Doom takes to part us, leaves thy heart in mine
With pulses that beat double. What I do
And what I dream include thee, as the wine
Must taste of its own grapes. And when I sue
God for myself, He hears that name of thine,
And sees within my eyes the tears of two.
This poem is in the public domain.
The orchard was on fire, but that didn’t stop him from slowly walking
straight into it, shirtless, you can see where the flames have
foliaged—here, especially—his chest. Splashed by the moon,
it almost looks like the latest proof that, while decoration is hardly
ever necessary, it’s rarely meaningless: the tuxedo’s corsage,
fog when lit scatteredly, swift, from behind—swing of a torch, the lone
match, struck, then wind-shut…How far is instinct from a thing
like belief? Not far, apparently. At what point is believing so close
to knowing, that any difference between the two isn’t worth the fuss,
finally? A tamer of wolves tames no foxes, he used to say, as if avoiding
the question. But never meaning to. You broke it. Now wear it broken.
Copyright © 2017 by Carl Phillips. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 6, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
In vision I roamed the flashing Firmament,
So fierce in blazon that the Night waxed wan,
As though with awe at orbs of such ostént;
And as I thought my spirit ranged on and on
In footless traverse through ghast heights of sky,
To the last chambers of the monstrous Dome,
Where stars the brightest here are lost to the eye:
Then, any spot on our own Earth seemed Home!
And the sick grief that you were far away
Grew pleasant thankfulness that you were near,
Who might have been, set on some foreign Sphere,
Less than a Want to me, as day by day
I lived unware, uncaring all that lay
Locked in that Universe taciturn and drear.
This poem is in the public domain.
My father fell from the boat.
His balance had been poor for some time.
He had gone out in the boat with his dog
hunting ducks in a marsh near Trempealeau, Wisconsin.
No one else was near
save the wiry farmer scraping the gutters in the cow barn
who was deaf in one ear from years of machines—
and he was half a mile away.
My father fell from the boat
and the water pulled up around him, filled
his waders and this drew him down.
He descended into water the color of weak coffee.
The dog went into the water too,
thinking perhaps this was a game.
I must correct myself—dogs do not think as we do—
they react, and the dog reacted by swimming
around my father’s head. This is not a reassuring story
about a dog signaling for help by barking,
or, how by licking my father’s face, encouraged him
to hold on. The dog eventually tired and went ashore
to sniff through the grass, enjoy his new freedom
from the attentions of his master,
indifferent to my father’s plight.
The water was cold, I know that,
and my father has always chilled easily.
That he was cold is a certainty, though
I have never asked him about this event.
I do not know how he got out of the water.
I believe the farmer went looking for him
after my mother called in distress, and then drove
to the farm after my father did not return home.
My mother told me of this event in a hushed voice,
cupping her hand over the phone and interjecting
cheerful non sequiturs so as not to be overheard.
To admit my father’s infirmity
would bring down the wrath of the God of Nothingness
who listens for a tremulous voice and comes rushing in
to sweep away the weak with icy, unloving breath.
But that god was called years before
during which time he planted a kernel in my father’s brain
which grew, freezing his tongue,
robbing him of his equilibrium.
The god was there when he fell from the boat,
whispering from the warren of my father’s brain,
and it was there when my mother, noting the time,
knew that something was amiss. This god is a cold god,
a hungry god, selfish and with poor sight.
This god has the head of a dog.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Wunderlich. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 17, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
A woman walks by the bench I’m sitting on
with her dog that looks part Lab, part Buick,
stops and asks if I would like to dance.
I smile, tell her of course I do. We decide
on a waltz that she begins to hum.
We spin and sway across the street in between
parked cars and I can tell she realizes
she chose a man who understands the rhythm
of sand, the boundaries of thought. We glide
and Fred and Ginger might come to mind or
a breeze filled with the scent of flowers of your choice.
Coffee stops flowing as a waitress stares out the window
of a diner while I lead my partner back across the street.
When we come to the end of our dance,
we compliment each other and to repay the favor
I tell her to be careful since the world comes to an end
three blocks to the east of where we stand. Then
I remind her as long as there is a ’59 Cadillac parked
somewhere in a backyard between here and Boise
she will dance again.
As she leaves content with her dog, its tail wagging
like gossip, I am convinced now more than ever
that I once held hundreds of roses in my hands
the first time I cut open a pomegranate.
Copyright © 2017 by Kevin Pilkington. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 20, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
They say brave but I don’t want it.
Who will we mourn today. Or won’t we.
Black all the windows. Lower
down the afternoon. I barricade
all my belonging. I am mostly never real
American or anything
availing. But I do take. And take
what’s given. The smell of blood.
I breathe it in. The dirt so thick with our good
fortune. And who pays for it. And what am I
but fear, but wanting. I’ll bite
the feeding hand until I’m fed
and buried. In the shining day.
All deadly good
intentions. A catalogue of virtues.
This is how I’ll disappear.
Copyright © 2017 by Camille Rankine. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 19, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
I’m not sure about this gift. This tangle
of dried roots curled into a fist. This gnarl
I’ve let sit for weeks beside the toaster
and cookbooks on a bed of speckled granite.
What am I waiting for? Online I find
Rose of Jericho prayers and rituals for safe birth,
well-being, warding off the evil eye.
At first I thought I’d buy some white stones,
a porcelain bowl. But I didn’t and I didn’t.
I don’t believe in omens. This still fist
of possibility all wrapped up in itself.
There it sat through the holidays, into the New Year.
Through all the days I’ve been gone. Dormant.
But today, in an inch of water,
out of curiosity, I awakened
the soul of Jericho. Limb by limb it unfolded
and turned moss green. It reminded me
of the northwest, its lush undergrowth,
how twice despite the leaden clouds,
the rain, I found happiness there.
From tumbleweed to lush fern flower,
reversible, repeatable. And what am I
to make of this? Me, this woman who doesn’t
believe. Doesn’t take anything on faith. I won’t
let it rot. I’ll monitor the water level. Keep the mold
at bay. I tend things, but I do not pray.
Copyright © 2017 by Cindy Veach. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 8, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
To everything, there is a season of parrots. Instead of feathers, we searched the sky for meteors on our last night. Salamanders use the stars to find their way home. Who knew they could see that far, fix the tiny beads of their eyes on distant arrangements of lights so as to return to wet and wild nests? Our heads tilt up and up and we are careful to never look at each other. You were born on a day of peaches splitting from so much rain and the slick smell of fresh tar and asphalt pushed over a cracked parking lot. You were strong enough—even as a baby—to clutch a fistful of thistle and the sun himself was proud to light up your teeth when they first swelled and pushed up from your gums. And this is how I will always remember you when we are covered up again: by the pale mica flecks on your shoulders. Some thrown there from your own smile. Some from my own teeth. There are not enough jam jars to can this summer sky at night. I want to spread those little meteors on a hunk of still-warm bread this winter. Any trace left on the knife will make a kitchen sink like that evening air
the cool night before
star showers: so sticky so
warm so full of light
Copyright © 2017 by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 7, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
I do not look for love that is a dream—
I only seek for courage to be still;
To bear my grief with an unbending will,
And when I am a-weary not to seem.
Let the round world roll on; let the sun beam;
Let the wind blow, and let the rivers fill
The everlasting sea, and on the hill
The palms almost touch heaven, as children deem.
And, though young spring and summer pass away,
And autumn and cold winter come again,
And though my soul, being tired of its pain,
Pass from the ancient earth, and though my clay
Return to dust, my tongue shall not complain;—
No man shall mock me after this my day.
This poem is in the public domain.
You remind them
of weighted tumbleweeds,
hen-egg brown. Don’t let
them take the rag-
time beneath your skin.
It stirs earth’s curvature
and a choir
when you enter
or leave a room. Don’t
leave a swallow of juice
or milk in the fridge.
A body grieved
is a whole new body.
Give your shadow a name
big as a star, see
yourself out loud.
Pick wild irises the best gifts
roll under a ribcage, leave
open mouths splendid.
I like your smile unpenned.
Keep your bird-
song close, imagine
an hourglass full
of architects and dreamers,
the first taste of fresh
scooped ice cream.
You will learn to master
camouflage among ordinary things—
men who spill words
not thoughts, trigger fingers
to brand loose.
I love your smile unpenned.
Copyright © 2017 by Cynthia Manick. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 4, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
My father’s mother grew a garden of zinnias
to divide the house from the woods:
pop art tops in every color—cream,
peach, royal purple, and even envy
(white-green, I knew, and when the pale
petals opened in early August,
I thought they’d blush like an heirloom
tomato, heir-loom, how strings of wine-dyed
wool lay over the frame of an idea,
how my cheeks look in the mirror
after a run, always the wrong
time of day, thunder rolling around the stadium
of trees, or the sun striking the boughs
with light over and over as though to plead
the green right out of the leaves,
or so it seems to me,
too sensitive, she would say, her love
scientific)—the sunburst petals
a full spectrum except for the sea
returning to you, blue, blue,
the color appearing in language only
when we could know it like a cluster of stars
in the arms of another galaxy
while ours spirals around a black hole,
and now they grow in space, in the satellite
where we live out an idea of permanence
among galactic debris, acquiring stars,
losing vision, the skin touching nothing,
the heads little suns you watch die
on the stem if you want the bloom back.
Copyright © 2017 by Tyler Mills. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 1, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
the sap that I am springtime
makes me want to reread Virgil’s
Georgics while eating cacio
e pepe with fresh-shelled
peas this morning over coffee I
watched a video of spinach
leaves washed of their cellular
information and bathed in stem
cells until they became miniature
hearts vascular hopes capable
of want to roll down a hill
of clover to cold-spoon chrysanthemum
gelato or to stop whenever
their phones autocorrect gps
to god the sublime is a suspension
of disbelief the earth has gotten
sentimental this late in the game
with its smells of gasoline
rosemary and woodsmoke the Rorschach
of vitiligo on my eyes mouth
and throat the ongoing
argument between self
and selfhood the recognition
of the storm the howling
wind I wish I could scream
into someone else’s rain
Copyright © 2017 by Emilia Phillips. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 31, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Where are the loves that we have loved before
When once we are alone, and shut the door?
No matter whose the arms that held me fast,
The arms of Darkness hold me at the last.
No matter down what primrose path I tend,
I kiss the lips of Silence in the end.
No matter on what heart I found delight,
I come again unto the breast of Night.
No matter when or how love did befall,
’Tis Loneliness that loves me best of all,
And in the end she claims me, and I know
That she will stay, though all the rest may go.
No matter whose the eyes that I would keep
Near in the dark, ’tis in the eyes of Sleep
That I must look and look forever more,
When once I am alone, and shut the door.
This poem is in the public domain.
The war ships bobbing off the coast.
The outdated oil drills painted
so to blend into the clouds. The gold thin
stitched to the water’s edge. Errant dolphin.
Balled up piece of trash on PCH with the list: Eggs, whole milk, butterflies.
You cry like a peacock, she says,
every time you get close to being the thing you want to be.
What if God is the people around us:
watching, listening? What a relief that would be.
But it’s so easy to forget we’re not
only being watched by the people in front of us, but
also by the people in places we cannot see. What is it
to be allowed back again? On the bike path, my father
ahead of me, saying, look at the wind,
meaning: look at the thing doing the moving,
moving orange-coned flags holding on for dear life.
The salt rolling off the ocean rots everything in its jowls
& my skin so close to turning, I can feel
becoming the metal shard you will learn to protect yourself from,
capable of catching the light drawing you in.
Everything rusted is a story beginning
once upon a time, I was young, standing in front of the ocean,
beneath the sun without consequence or query
for time, just standing, looking out into the thing
unaware of its indifference. There’s something Greek in that. Did Odysseus need the monsters more
than they needed him? Does it matter? A kind of antiquity
in that line of thinking but also something very American. Akin to sparklers.
They only dance if you light them & wave. Birds do not
abandon their young merely because of human touch.
This & so many other myths my mother breaks
in her search for palatable colors, for mixing,
for making what was lost whole again.
Copyright © 2017 by Keegan Lester. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 27, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
although I know you can never be found
although I know that from the highest height
you cannot be seen you are not hiding
from me or are you is it how you look now
or maybe how I look now all these years gone by
places seen people met not knowing at any time
who I was or how others saw me or did not see me
and how are you wherever you are if I write you a letter
I’ll get no answer if I cry out to you to come in my final
hour you will not come but I will still look for you
Copyright © 2017 by Emily Fragos. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 24, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
In one story, the lovers are two halves
split by jealous gods, and in another story,
the lovers are victims of a wicked baby
with a bow and arrow. In one story,
love means never touching, but exchanging
a lot of handkerchiefs, and in another story,
love means a drastic change in brain
chemistry that lasts a year, even though
the after effects are lifelong. In one story,
love is the north star guiding sailors,
and in one story love is a sharp blade,
a body of water, and a trophy all at once.
The truth is that love is nothing but itself,
an axiomatic property of humankind,
like storytelling and explanation giving,
which explains why everyone explains
love in stories, the way I once called it
a form of disappearing, and my favorite
philosopher called it a holiday. Listen,
storytelling animals: today, we say, love
is only love. Put down the crossbow, baby.
Put down the handkerchief, Lancelot.
Put away the easy chair, Babs. Let’s let love
be felt in its touch, and be known by its face.
Let’s let love speak Ada and Lucas,
and then let’s let love be silent.
Copyright © 2017 by Jason Schneiderman. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 21, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
after not wanting to watch “Time: The Kalief Browder Story” on Spike TV
It rained inside me
it is raining inside my neck
the rain falls in sheets inside long sheets inside
all the rain is falling inside collapsing spit
I don’t want to watch another black man die
today or know the story of how he died today
or how he was thrown away or how he ended up
I don’t want to study the rain from inside
the house or overhear wild rain swell & thicken
slap the roof with wet words & Kalief
who was there when you stopped
being & who was there when you were alone
& beyond yourself how
the water around you from the island around you
might have sounded like a chorus who was there
who was there who was there & now everyone
is watching your life from inside but I’m afraid to watch
them beat you watch torture throbbing dry & long
with ache & blue-black bruising so I don’t
& another black body is blown out smoking wick
the lone wisp of a life lingers smelling burnt & gone
how rain wraps round a tornado is a type of sorrow
because no one knows how to fathom damage inside
someone’s eyes could be the weather just after or before
a storm calm & clear but still bleaker inside the black
parts of the pupils the holes smooth black holes in the eyes
as they left you in the hole with no rain & I’m emptying
a waterfall shouting KALIEF
I want you to be undead & not alone lonely in the ground
again I want I want (the “I” wants so much) how it greeds
like a fist of pounding rain on your body bleating broke
but what I want doesn’t matter what I want are rare blossoms
for the dead because you’re gone & your mother is gone
all because someone said you stole a backpack meaning
your body was made a forgotten altar your body made bodiless
kept pushing back as your trial kept pushing back & back &
black matter moves backwards in time meaning Kalief matters
in the past tense even though the space around your life didn’t
matter to them or them or them like the space that scatters
& navigates around the circumference of raindrops is never wet
& the braided distance between you & me is dry & long
like time is rainless with a tight & loaded lungful blowing 800
candles out for the 800 days in solitary your brain behind bars
fades your body in confinement your chest caged alone
your body alone all I hear is your name falling
& beating Kalief Kalief Kalief Kalief Kalief
this is such a poor offering but I am pouring it on the ground
like good rain & whatever softens the earth is your name
whatever might grow from that darkening bright spot is your name
lapping little lakes of creation turning mud in your name
whatever might be fed from the liquid raining inside me
whatever might be loosened from the muck & the dark
rum pouring from my bottle & Kalief your name is drizzling
a type of grief upon my mouth like mist as it reigns
inside me it is raining inside my body the rain falls in sheets
inside all the rain is untangled & not touching
who touched you with tenderness falling inside
what is there to say
after so much rain?
The ground is swollen with your name…
Copyright © 2017 by Tiana Clark. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 20, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
In the tallgrass
where all gold starts
my additional lover.
His hand the inflorescence
one finger partially gone—
I carefully researched
how to bait my trap.
Took the small blonde charmer
out of town.
Stealer of cholla,
eater of sun murdered plants.
I knew it would die coming back.
now up to my waist.
the opal knowledge—
What his ghost finger traced.
Copyright © 2017 by Louise Mathias. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 18, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
It’s silly to think
fourteen years ago
I turned thirty.
How I made it that far
I’ll never know.
In this city of hills,
if there was a hill
I was over it. Then.
(In queer years,
are more than.)
Soon it will be fifteen
since the day I turned thirty.
It’s so remote.
I didn’t think I’d make it
to fourteen years ago.
Fear lives in the chest
You say my gray, it makes
me look extinguished;
you make me cringe.
I haven’t cracked
the spines of certain paperbacks,
or learned a sense of direction,
even with a slick device.
But the spleen doesn’t ask twice,
and soon it will be fifteen years
since I turned thirty.
Which may not sound like a lot.
Which sounds like the hinge
of a better life:
It is, and it is not.
Copyright © 2017 by Randall Mann. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 17, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
The heat rises in distorted gold
waves around fire
but without fire,
anything seen through it.
The heat rises, rasping
the air it rises through,
scuffing the surface,
if the air has a surface.
The tall summer
field is the keeper
of secrets. Lie down
and forget your body, forgive
your body its bad cradle,
Lie down and listen
to the rasp, to heat sweep
the pale, dry grass as if
it were your own
breathing, as if the field
you’ve pressed your shape into
is a broom in reverse,
a broom being
swept by the wind.
Copyright © 2017 by Maggie Smith. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 13, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Tonight the wind is in your voice.
And the gods are nervous
about the drinking water.
Someone hijacks the background
with three simple dance moves.
Or maybe the clouds
paused on the television
set during a ball game.
The silence inside
of you eating alone
in an old yearbook.
This is going to be over
before you know it.
But not before your hands
become small birds
of the present snow.
An expressed panic
attack of harmonics.
It’s like listening to your heartbeat
in a club, all the lights off,
all by yourself.
Copyright © 2017 by Noah Falck. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 11, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
When did hordes of sentences start beginning with So?
As if everything were always pending,
leaning on what came before.
What can you expect?
Loneliness everywhere, entertained or kept in storage.
So you felt anxious to be alone.
Easier to hear, explore a city, room,
mound of hours, no one walking beside you.
Talking to self endlessly, but mostly listening.
This would not be strange.
It would be the tent you slept in.
Waking calmly inside whatever
you had to do would be freedom.
It would be your country.
The men in front of me had whole acres
in their eyes. I could feel them cross, recross each day.
Memory, stitched. History, soothed.
What we do or might prefer to do. Have done.
How we got here. Telling ourselves a story
till it’s compact enough to bear.
Passing the walls, wearing the sky,
the slight bow and rising of trees.
Everything ceaselessly holding us close.
So we are accompanied.
Never cast out without a line of language to reel us back.
That is what happened, how I got here.
So maybe. One way anyway.
A story was sewn, seed sown,
this was what patriotism meant to me—
to be at home inside my own head long enough
to accept its infinite freedom
and move forward anywhere, to mysteries coming.
Even at night in a desert, temperatures plummet,
billowing tent flaps murmur to one other.
Copyright © 2017 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 5, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Here we are, on top of the utopian arc. The water is shallow. An oil spill shimmers on the surface like a lens catches light and folds it in front of a mirror. If someone stands next to you, they are there, even when outside the picture. Which makes total obscurity relative to luck and such. Unlike the law, architecture lasts. A façade, like an ideal, can be oppressive unless balanced by a balcony on which you can stand and call down to those in the street, Come over here and look up at us. Aren’t we exactly what you wanted to believe in?
Copyright © 2017 by Mary Jo Bang. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 3, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
I’m thinking of the boiling sea
and the dream in which
all the fish were singing.
I want to wake up with my heart
not aching like death,
but I am always falling
in to terror. I’m a good person.
I grieve to appropriate degrees.
I mourn this season. This moment.
I mourn for the polar bear
drifting out of history
on a wedge of melting ice.
For the doughnut shop
which reached an end
yesterday, after decades and decades.
I’m thinking of the light
at dawn. Of the woman
in Alabama who ordered
six songbirds from a catalog because
she was lonely. Or
heartbroken. I’m thinking
of the four that came
dead in the box, mangled.
Of the two that are
missing. I want to tell you
that they were spotted
in the humid air
winging above a mall.
I want to tell you a story
about the time leaves fell from
the trees all at once. I am
thinking of cataclysm.
More than anything, I want to tell you
this. I want to disappear
in the night. I want
the night to vanish from memory.
I want to tell you
how this happened.
Copyright © 2017 by Paul Guest. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 30, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
New York Public Library, Edna St. Vincent Millay archives
Because Norma saved even the grocery lists,
it was no surprise to find a lock of hair
coiled and glued loosely into the scrapbook,
crimped and rusty, more weird
and alive than any calling card or photograph,
letter, erotic or otherwise, sweeter
than the candy kisses fixed upon the page.
I shouldn’t have touched it, but in those days
I was always hungry. Despite the rare books
librarian lurking, I set my thumb against it.
Weightless, dusty, it warmed at my touch.
By 1949, all the grocery lists affirmed
the same fixations: Liverwurst, Olives, Cookies, Scotch.
Liverwurst, Olives, Cookies, Scotch, penciled
on squares of insipid paper. By 1950,
unsteady on her feet; by year’s end, dead at the foot
of the stairs. As I placed the book of relics
back into its archival box, a single
copper wire fell from the page,
bright tendril on the table. I lifted it,
casket of DNA, protein, lipids, and still Titian red.
Really, was I wrong to swallow it?
Copyright © 2017 by Ann Townsend. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 27, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Three paces down the shore, low sounds the lute,
The better that my longing you may know;
I’m not asking you to come,
But—can’t you go?
Three words, “I love you,” and the whole is said—
The greatness of it throbs from sun to sun;
I’m not asking you to walk,
But—can’t you run?
Three paces in the moonlight’s glow I stand,
And here within the twilight beats my heart.
I’m not asking you to finish,
This poem is in the public domain.
Someone will love you many will love
you many will brother you some of these
loves will bother you some will leave you
one might haunt you hunt you in your
sleep make you weep the tearless kind of
weep the kind of weep that drowns your
organs slowly there are little oars in your body
little boats grab onto them and row and row
someone will tell you no but you won’t know
he is right until you have already wrung your
own heart dry your hands dripping knives until
you have already reached your hands into his
body and put them through his heart love is
the only thing that is not an argument
Copyright © 2017 by Victoria Chang. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 29, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
By day she woos me, soft, exceeding fair:
But all night as the moon so changeth she;
Loathsome and foul with hideous leprosy
And subtle serpents gliding in her hair.
By day she wooes me to the outer air,
Ripe fruits, sweet flowers, and full satiety:
But through the night, a beast she grins at me,
A very monster void of love and prayer.
By day she stands a lie: by night she stands
In all the naked horror of the truth
With pushing horns and clawed and clutching hands.
Is this a friend indeed; that I should sell
My soul to her, give her my life and youth,
Till my feet, cloven too, take hold on hell?
This poem is in the public domain.
We encountered a problem
to the program.
Did I say that
I’ve broken out
To be a blip
in a circuit
and to know it,
in your private
as all moments
When I mentioned hatred
I was not thinking
but you’d best not break
the thrill we get
from our own self-
that guilty snigger
running round the room
Copyright © 2017 by Rae Armantrout. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 24, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
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.
Am I kin to Sorrow,
That so oft
Falls the knocker of my door—
Neither loud nor soft,
But as long accustomed,
Under Sorrow’s hand?
Marigolds around the step
And rosemary stand,
And then comes Sorrow—
And what does Sorrow care
For the rosemary
Or the marigolds there?
Am I kin to Sorrow?
Are we kin?
That so oft upon my door—
Oh, come in!
“Kin to Sorrow” was published in Renascence and Other Poems (Harper & Brothers, 1917). This poem is in the public domain.
after Bob Hicok & Aracelis Girmay
Now forty-five, having outlasted some of
myself, I must reflect: what if I hadn’t been held
by my mom in the YWCA basement
pool, her white hands slick under
my almost-toddler armpits, her thumbs
and fingers firm around my ribs (which
is to say lungs), held gently as a liverwurst
sandwich and pulled, kindly, under?
What if I hadn’t been taught to trust
water might safely erase me those years
I longed to erase or at least abandon care of
my disoriented, disdained body? I might have
drowned instead of just ebbed, never slid
from given embankments into this other
Drift and abundance in what
she offered. The wider, indifferent ocean
of trade and dark passage not yet
mine to reckon. And so now, sharp tang
of other waters known, I am afloat, skin-
chilled, core-warm, aware of what lurks
and grateful to trust and delight
in our improbable buoyancy.
Copyright © 2017 by Elizabeth Bradfield. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 12, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
in the divorce i separate to two piles books: english love songs: arabic
my angers my schooling my long repeating name english english arabic
i am someone’s daughter but i am american born it shows in my short memory
my ahistoric glamour my clumsy tongue when i forget the word for [ ] in arabic
i sleep unbroken dark hours on airplanes home & dream i’ve missed my
connecting flight i dream a new & fluent mouth full of gauzy swathes of arabic
i dream my alternate selves each with a face borrowed from photographs of
the girl who became my grandmother brows & body rounded & cursive like arabic
but wake to the usual borderlands i crowd shining slivers of english to my mouth
iris crocus inlet heron how dare i love a word without knowing it in arabic
& what even is translation is immigration without irony safia
means pure all my life it’s been true even in my clouded arabic
Copyright © 2017 by Safia Elhillo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 13, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Storms are generous.
Something so easy to surrender to, sitting by the window,
and then you step out into the garden you were so bored of,
so bored of you hated it,
but now it needs you.
Twang of the rake’s metal tines biting at the dirt.
You destroy a little camp of mushrooms,
pull leaves into a pile,
are struck with wonder
when there rolls out
a little bird’s nest—
You want to hide in it.
Twigs, mud, spit, and woven in:
a magenta strip of Mylar balloon that glints when turned to the sun,
a sway of color you’ve seen before.
You were a boy.
You told your grandfather you spotted a snake in the yard between the buckeyes.
He revved his weed whacker,
conjured a rose mist from the grass
that swelled in the breeze, swirled together, grew dark,
shifting through fans of sun,
magenta, then plum,
Smell of exhaust. Tannins of iced tea
you drank together on the porch later,
his spiked with Wild Turkey,
the tumbler resting on his thigh,
the ice-sweat running off, smearing the dried snake juice,
pooling in a divot of scar tissue.
A souvenir, he called it,
from the winter spent sleeping in a hole in the ground in a Belgian wood,
listening for German voices to start singing
so he knew he could sleep.
Copyright © 2017 by William Brewer. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 16, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
I would tell her
Except she wouldn't care
I'd write him
Except he'd never write me back
There is a rat they left hanging
I'd save it
Except it's dead
What is the force that swirls me
I asked of the wind
There was no reply
It was beyond me
And I was floating in it
Circles and circles
I've seen them throughout my life
I tried to answer them
They bled their mouths on me
Call me call me I begged of the moon
It did not listen
It had left me alone
So many years ago
And as the world collapsed
I mouthed the empty rhetoric of my time period
Call me call me
I begged of the wind
Copyright © 2017 by Dorothea Lasky. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 26, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
A book decorates
And a body
Decorates a bed.
May be made
Of plastic, metal,
And is normally
Height as the bed.
Even if they are
And aver and
One of them
For a word
The other has
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Yakich. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 28, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
When my mother died
I was as far away
as I could be, on an arm of land
floating in the Atlantic
where boys walk shirtless
down the avenue
holding hands, and gulls sleep
on the battered pilings,
their bright beaks hidden
beneath one white wing.
Maricopa, Arizona. Mea Culpa.
I did not fly to see your body
and instead stepped out
on a balcony in my slip
to watch the stars turn
on their grinding wheel.
Early August, the ocean,
a salt-tinged breeze.
Botanists use the word
serotinous to describe
for the season of late-summer.
I did not write your obituary
as my sister requested, could
not compose such final lines:
I closed the piano
to keep the music in. Instead
I stood with you
on what now seems
like the ancient deck
of a great ship, our nightgowns
flaring, the smell of dying lilacs
drifting up from someone’s
untended yard, and we
listened to the stars hiss
into the bent horizon, blossoms
the sea gathered tenderly, each
shattered and singular one
long dead, but even so, incandescent,
making a singed sound, singing
as they went.
Copyright © 2017 by Dorianne Laux. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 1, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
As the future ripens in the past...
a terrible festival of dead leaves
The trees talk quietly among themselves
the thrush sings its brown song brushed with blue
the roses from the bodega open in the vase
and under the streetlight the long shadows
tarnishing the day as we know it—if
I ask for a stone you give me a stone,
if I ask for water I do not get water,
everything I love weighted and found
wanting, as if the world knew how to give
answers to questions. In the long generous
shadow of history, I wake and wonder
how long it can go on, my lips touching
your ear, asking, what are you thinking—
while in the capital the lion stalks his cage
and on the veld the scorched banyans bend
under their fruit, the camps charred, no one
to pick it. A long time ago, after months
when death came so quickly to us it was
as if we had written an invitation, crows
settled in the ghost trees. There is my
mother, you said, and my father. It goes on.
Copyright © 2017 by Cynthia Zarin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 2, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
If you believe what you hear, he was everywhere
from Virginia to Alabama just beyond every holler.
Which is to say he was everywhere and everywhere
he was, he was unwanted. In one story, they say it
happened because if a white man said it happened,
then it happened. In another, he was a prisoner which
is more plausible because only a man who lives in darkness
can be felled by the light. But if it happened that often,
there had to be more than one, or maybe it was everyone
or all of us and maybe he stood down there at the cold face
shoulders stooped and begged a mountain move
which we all have done some time or another. Maybe he
prayed for strength to move it as we do some time or
another. But this we can say is true: the world sent
a man down into the earth one day—the same world
who fixed his shackles, closed each door, the world
which said no, and no, and no like so many stones.
The world sent a man into the earth one day to leave
him. That man emerged from the earth with one word
that the earth had been holding, and in that moment
he broke the earth, stumbled out into the chilly air
before he fell, he brought this one word to us. Liar.
Copyright © 2017 by TJ Jarrett. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 9, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Why do the lilies goggle their tongues at me
When I pluck them;
And writhe, and twist,
And strangle themselves against my fingers,
So that I can hardly weave the garland
For your hair?
Why do they shriek your name
And spit at me
When I would cluster them?
Must I kill them
To make them lie still,
And send you a wreath of lolling corpses
To turn putrid and soft
On your forehead
While you dance?
This poem is in the public domain.
Here you go
light low and long
in the fields
at sunset and sunrise
a doubled existence
yours and the other one
folded into a paper boat
the points of which
Shame on you for dating a museum:
Everything is dead there and nothing is alive.
Not everyone who lives to be old embraces
the publicity of it all. I mean, you get up and folks
want to know, How did you get here? What makes you
go? What is the secret? And there is no secret except
there are many things that build the years out.
They are not vegetables every day and working out
but a faith that all of these things add up
and lead us to some sum total happiness
we can cash in for forever love in the face
of never lasting. That people along the way
keep disappearing in a variety show of deathbed ways
is also the sheer terror that it may not hold for us too.
That we may outlast everything and be left
alone to keep going, never Icarus with wax melting,
never the one whose smoke & drink undid
the lungs that pull our wings in then out and the liver
that keeps chugging the heft of Elizabeth Cotten’s
“Freight Train” with her upside down left hand guitar still
playing in videos past her presence. I have become a person since
I reorganized my face in the mirror and the world is my inflation.
But this testament offers no sound or silence since
nothing is proven yet and you are still here,
the dead stars’ light landing on your rods and cones
in a vitrine of cameos building—blink.
Copyright © 2017 by Amy King. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 16, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
If you’ve read the “Candelabra with Heads”
that appears in this collection and the one
in The Animal, thank you. The original,
the one included here, is an example, I’m told,
of a poem that can speak for itself, but loses
faith in its ability to do so by ending with a thesis
question. Yeats said a poem should click shut
like a well-made box. I don’t disagree.
I ask, “Who can see this and not see lynchings?”
not because I don’t trust you, dear reader,
or my own abilities. I ask because the imagination
would have us believe, much like faith, faith
the original “Candelabra” lacks, in things unseen.
You should know that human limbs burn
like branches and branches like human limbs.
Only after man began hanging man from trees
then setting him on fire, which would jump
from limb to branch like a bastard species
of bird, did we come to know such things.
A hundred years from now, October 9, 2116,
8:18 p.m., when all but the lucky are good
and dead, may someone happen upon the question
in question. May that lucky someone be black
and so far removed from the verb lynch that she be
dumbfounded by its meaning. May she then
call up Hirschhorn’s Candelabra with Heads.
May her imagination, not her memory, run wild.
Copyright © 2017 by Nicole Sealey. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 14, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.
From Collected Poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay, published by Harper & Brothers Publishers. Copyright © 1956 by Norma Millay Ellis.
“We can no longer afford that particular romance.”
Brother Rickey halts me before I cross East
Capitol. He trumpets that we are at war.
I want to admit that I don’t believe in “white”
—in the manner that Baldwin did not—but Brother
Rickey would simply retort that my disbelief
is no immunity from the imaginations of those
who think themselves “white.” As we await
the stoplight’s shift—so I may walk and he may
holler “Final Call!” between lanes of idle traffic—
I think of race as something akin to climate change,
a force we don’t have to believe in for it to kill us.
I once believed in the seasons. (I fantasize
fall as Brother Rickey’s favorite—when his suits,
boxy and plaid, would be neither too hot nor
thin.) But we are losing spring and fall—tripping
from blaze to frost and back. And what’s to say
we won’t soon shed another season, one of these
remaining two, and live on either an Earth
of molten streets or one of frozen light? That’s when
worlds end, no—when, after we’ve eradicated
ourselves, we become faint fossils to be exhumed
by the curiosities of whichever life-forms follow
our reign? I still owe Brother Rickey two dollars
for the paper he last placed in my hand, calling me
“soldier.” I don’t have to believe that I am enlisted
in order to understand he’ll forgive my debt
so long as this idea of “whiteness” sorties above us—
ultraviolet, obliging an aseasonal, unending deployment.
Released by the signal, I advance—my head down,
straining to discern the crossfire from the cover.
Copyright © 2017 by Kyle Dargan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 22, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
You’re used to it, the way,
in the first wide-eyed
minutes, climbing from parking lot
to fire trail, or rifling through
cupboards in a rented kitchen,
I can’t help but tell you
we should visit here again,
my reverie inserting
a variation in the season,
or giving friends the room
next door, in stubborn panic
to fix this happiness in place
by escaping from it.
“We’re here now,” you say,
holding out the book I bought
with its dog-eared maps and lists
and, on the cover, a waterfall,
white flecks frozen, very close.
Copyright © 2017 by Nate Klug. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 23, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Copyright © 2017 by Heather Christle. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 18, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
This poem is in the Public Domain.
Copyright © 2017 by Kelli Russell Agodon. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 29, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
That night the air stank, the stars obscured behind wild horses of clouds. I walked on cobblestones on the edge of something I could not name: new land of unalterable decisions like a retinue of assassins coming right for me, who kept coming in a bad dream that dissolved like a black-and-white movie, the dark mouth enveloping the entire screen. The End. Then the aftermath like a heroin addict waking up in the overgrowth of a river path, no longer young. There are nights that pummel your life, chart an alternate course unasked for and colorless—the way it was the first time you encountered the one ready to eat out your heart— an innocent remark—a joke about ocelots or the weeds of purple carrots. That night I was caught in a before and after, an unsayable horror film of half-lives as we hipswayed and grunted along the Seine. When someone passed us, their teeth shone like those of a vampire happy with the waste of the world. Ready to drink it in. My body was four months pregnant, crossing over to a nightmared path of no return. But isn’t this the truth of every moment? To revise our lives into the I belong—to this tribe of the unreliable narrators, luminous in our stories and in our squalor.
Copyright © 2017 by Susan Rich. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 31, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
After Anne Sexton
Some ghosts are my mothers
neither angry nor kind
their hair blooming from silk kerchiefs.
Not queens, but ghosts
who hum down the hall on their curved fins
sad as seahorses.
Not all ghosts are mothers.
I’ve counted them as I walk the beach.
Some are herons wearing the moonrise like lace.
Not lonely, but ghostly.
They stalk the low tide pools, flexing
their brassy beaks, their eyes.
But that isn’t all.
Some of my ghosts are planets.
Not bright. Not young.
Spiraling deep in the dusk of my body
as saucers or moons
pleased with their belts of colored dust
& hailing no others.
Copyright © 2017 by Kiki Petrosino. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 30, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Copyright © 2017 by Lynn Melnick. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 26, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
There is a quick sharp pull that one might feel, with it a weighted turn to finding brightness where there is none. I have Seattle to thank for this, but the home of ours must be built anew. And yet I am not in my method and have no sense of worship for the work or to erupt into a broken sense, but I am appreciating the copious sunlight with a startled turf-forming consciousness. You must take the fear of normalcy and the aerodynamics of emotions that fuel the sense of the present and jerk it to a gluttonous love. The wood pulp, the paper, the feeling of how-to ache of these conditions and do not permit the imagination to fold into its chamber. How do I turn this summer around? Is there still an I and no You in this problemed space? Can I sort through our shared moments without your orange pants, your color-blinded syllogisms, and hull of near-end turbulence? I reckon with these days and the practice of finding the sun to its glory so that whatever score I have to settle with sorrow does not affect germination thus far.
Copyright © 2017 by Prageeta Sharma. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 20, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
I watched in horror as the man hung half a pig by a hook in the window. Nearby, the sea shone or something. Nearby, the wingspan of a hawk cast an elongated shadow. I listened with horror to the words I was missing. A wrongness was growing in the living moon. & nearby, the sea rolled endlessly. Nearby, the saw grass peered through the grit & preened. I've never been to Florida. Louisiana however is second skin of mind, a habit-habitat. & Texas on the way there, the red soil & black boars, the frankly haunted pines lone men in pickups fishing for nothing they intend to catch. & nearby, the sea froths over the edge. & nearby, the sea. Nearer & nearer the obliterating sea
Copyright © 2017 by Shanna Compton. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 8, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
What still grows in winter?
Fingernails of witches and femmes,
green moss on river rocks,
lit with secrets... I let myself
go near the river but not
the railroad: this is my bargain.
Water boils in a kettle in the woods
and I can hear the train grow louder
but I also can’t, you know?
Then I’m shaving in front of an
unbreakable mirror while a nurse
watches over my shoulder.
Damn. What still grows in winter?
Lynda brought me basil I crushed
with my finger and thumb just to
smell the inside of a thing. So
I go to the river but not the rail-
road, think I’ll live another year.
The river rock dig into my shoulders
like a lover who knows I don’t want
power. I release every muscle against
the rock and I give it all my warmth.
onto my chest quick as table salt.
Branches above me full of pine needle
whips: when the river rock is done
with me, I could belong to the evergreen.
Safety is a rock I throw into the river.
My body, ready. Don’t even think
a train run through this town anymore.
Copyright © 2018 by Oliver Baez Bendorf. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 8, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
What will suffice for a true-love knot? Even the rain?
But he has bought grief’s lottery, bought even the rain.
“Our glosses / wanting in this world”—“Can you remember?”
Anyone!—“when we thought / the poets taught” even the rain?
After we died—That was it!—God left us in the dark.
And as we forgot the dark, we forgot even the rain.
Drought was over. Where was I? Drinks were on the house.
For mixers, my love, you’d poured—what?—even the rain.
Of this pear-shaped orange’s perfumed twist, I will say:
Extract Vermouth from the bergamot, even the rain.
How did the Enemy love you—with earth? air? and fire?
He held just one thing back till he got even: the rain.
This is God’s site for a new house of executions?
You swear by the Bible, Despot, even the rain?
After the bones—those flowers—this was found in the urn:
The lost river, ashes from the ghat, even the rain.
What was I to prophesy if not the end of the world?
A salt pillar for the lonely lot, even the rain.
How the air raged, desperate, streaming the earth with flames—
To help burn down my house, Fire sought even the rain.
He would raze the mountains, he would level the waves;
he would, to smooth his epic plot, even the rain.
New York belongs at daybreak to only me, just me—
To make this claim Memory’s brought even the rain.
They’ve found the knife that killed you, but whose prints are these?
No one has such small hands, Shahid, not even the rain.
From Call Me Ishmael Tonight by Agha Shahid Ali. Copyright © 2003 by the Agha Shahid Ali Literary Trust. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.