The rabbit has stolen
The big bear’s pointy red hat.

The frog looks longingly
At its evaporating pond.

A powerful glow comes
Off the sunflower

So everyone wears goggles.
My son rolls around in the ferns.

It seems he has overdosed
On sugar cookies.

Does he care about the bear’s hat?
To him I am a ghost on a bicycle.

I remember my father’s mouth
Reading aloud beneath his beard.

He is hiding in my face.
The toy cloud is filled with rain.
 

Copyright © 2014 by Nathan Hok. Used with permission of the author. 

I

Ulcerated tooth keeps me awake, there is
such pain, would have to go to the hospital to have
it pulled or would bleed to death from the blood thinners,
but can't leave Mother, she falls and forgets her salve
and her tranquilizers, her ankles swell so and her bowels
are so bad, she almost had a stoppage and sometimes
what she passes is green as grass.  There are big holes
in my thigh where my leg brace buckles the size of dimes.
My head pounds from the high pressure.  It is awful
not to be able to get out, and I fell in the bathroom
and the girl could hardly get me up at all.
Sure thought my back was broken, it will be next time.
Prostate is bad and heart has given out,
feel bloated after supper. Have made my peace
because am just plain done for and have no doubt
that the Lord will come any day with my release.
You say you enjoy your feeder, I don't see why
you want to spend good money on grain for birds
and you say you have a hundred sparrows, I'd buy
poison and get rid of their diseases and turds.

II

We enjoyed your visit, it was nice of you to bring
the feeder but a terrible waste of your money
for that big bag of feed since we won't be living
more than a few weeks long.  We can see
them good from where we sit, big ones and little ones
but you know when I farmed I used to like to hunt
and we had many a good meal from pigeons
and quail and pheasant but these birds won't
be good for nothing and are dirty to have so near 
the house.  Mother likes the redbirds though.
My bad knee is so sore and I can't hardly hear
and Mother says she is hoarse from yelling but I know
it's too late for a hearing aid.  I belch up all the time
and have a sour mouth and of course with my heart
it's no use to go to a doctor.  Mother is the same. 
Has a scab she thinks is going to turn to a wart.

III

The birds are eating and fighting, Ha! Ha!  All shapes
and colors and sizes coming out of our woods
but we don't know what they are.  Your Mother hopes
you can send us a kind of book that tells about birds.
There is one the folks called snowbirds, they eat on the ground,
we had the girl sprinkle extra there, but say,
they eat something awful.  I sent the girl to town
to buy some more feed, she had to go anyway.


IV

Almost called you on the telephone
but it costs so much to call thought better write.
Say, the funniest thing is happening, one
day we had so many birds and they fight
and get excited at their feed you know
and it's really something to watch and two or three
flew right at us and crashed into our window
and bang, poor little things knocked themselves silly.  
They come to after while on the ground and flew away.
And they been doing that.  We felt awful
and didn't know what to do but the other day
a lady from our Church drove out to call 
and a little bird knocked itself out while she sat
and she bought it in her hands right into the house,
it looked like dead.  It had a kind of hat
of feathers sticking up on its head, kind of rose
or pinky color, don't know what it was,
and I petted it and it come to life right there
in her hands and she took it out and it flew.  She says
they think the window is the sky on a fair 
day, she feeds birds too but hasn't got
so many.  She says to hang strips of aluminum foil
in the window so we'll do that.  She raved about
our birds.  P.S. The book just come in the mail.


V

Say, that book is sure good, I study
in it every day and enjoy our birds.
Some of them I can't identify
for sure, I guess they're females, the Latin words

I just skip over.  Bet you'd never guess
the sparrow I've got here, House Sparrow you wrote,
but I have Fox Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Vesper Sparrows,
Pine Woods and Tree and Chipping and White Throat
and White Crowned Sparrows.  I have six Cardinals,
three pairs, they come at early morning and night,
the males at the feeder and on the ground the females.
Juncos, maybe 25, they fight
for the ground, that's what they used to call snowbirds.  I miss
the Bluebirds since the weather warmed. Their breast
is the color of a good ripe muskmelon.  Tufted Titmouse
is sort of blue with a little tiny crest.
And I have Flicker and Red-Bellied and Red-
Headed Woodpeckers, you would die laughing
to see Red-Bellied, he hangs on with his head
flat on the board, his tail braced up under,
wing out.  And Dickcissel and Ruby Crowned Kinglet
and Nuthatch stands on his head and Veery on top
the color of a bird dog and Hermit Thrush with spot
on breast, Blue Jay so funny, he will hop
right on the backs of the other birds to get the grain.
We bought some sunflower seeds just for him.
And Purple Finch I bet you never seen,
color of a watermelon, sits on the rim
of the feeder with his streaky wife, and the squirrels,
you know, they are cute too, they sit tall
and eat with their little hands, they eat bucketfuls.
I pulled my own tooth, it didn't bleed at all.


VI

It's sure a surprise how well Mother is doing,
she forgets her laxative but bowels move fine.
Now that windows are open she says our birds sing
all day.  The girl took a Book of Knowledge on loan
from the library and I am reading up
on the habits of birds, did you know some males have three
wives, some migrate some don't.  I am going to keep
feeding all spring, maybe summer, you can see
they expect it.  Will need thistle seed for Goldfinch and Pine
Siskin next winter.  Some folks are going to come see us
from Church, some bird watchers, pretty soon.
They have birds in town but nothing to equal this.


So the world woos its children back for an evening kiss.

From Letters From a Father and Other Poems, by Mona Van Duyn, published by Atheneum. Copyright © 1982 by Mona Van Duyn. Used with permission.

Thanks for the tree
between me & a sniper's bullet.
I don't know what made the grass
sway seconds before the Viet Cong
raised his soundless rifle.
Some voice always followed,
telling me which foot
to put down first.
Thanks for deflecting the ricochet
against that anarchy of dusk.
I was back in San Francisco
wrapped up in a woman's wild colors,
causing some dark bird's love call
to be shattered by daylight
when my hands reached up
& pulled a branch away
from my face. Thanks
for the vague white flower
that pointed to the gleaming metal
reflecting how it is to be broken
like mist over the grass,
as we played some deadly
game for blind gods.
What made me spot the monarch
writhing on a single thread
tied to a farmer's gate,
holding the day together
like an unfingered guitar string,
is beyond me. Maybe the hills
grew weary & leaned a little in the heat.
Again, thanks for the dud
hand grenade tossed at my feet
outside Chu Lai. I'm still
falling through its silence.
I don't know why the intrepid
sun touched the bayonet,
but I know that something
stood among those lost trees
& moved only when I moved.

Copyright © 1988 by Yusef Komunyakaa. From Dien Cai Dau (Wesleyan University Press, 1988). Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database

Knock-kneed, bucktoothed,
I stand with a small golf bag slung

over my shoulder, my 96
ROCK hat pulled low, shielding

the bright Florida sun.
I am seven, out with my dad

chasing this small white
ball up and down the fairway

while he hits mulligans, calibrates
his swing. He wants me to be

the next Nancy Lopez. I just want
to spend time with him, would never

actually say I don’t like playing,
watching, talking about it

for hours on end. All too soon,
his handicap won’t refer

to his game but to the night
my mother found him on the floor,

the aftermath, the constant
tallying of the effort it takes

to get from one hazard to
the next. My father is away,

furthest from the hole, choosing
between iron and wood.

Copyright © 2015 Stacey Lynn Brown. Originally published in the Winter 2015 issue of Prairie Schooner. Used with permission of Prairie Schooner


Enough seen….Enough had....Enough…
                           —Arthur Rimbaud

No. It will never be enough. Never
enough wind clamoring in the trees,
sun and shadow handling each leaf, never enough clang
of my neighbor hammering,
the iron nails, relenting wood, sound waves
lapping over roofs, never enough
bees purposeful at the throats
of lilies. How could we be replete
with the flesh of ripe tomatoes, the unique
scent of their crushed leaves. It would take many
births to be done with the thatness of that.

Oh blame life. That we just want more.
Summer rain. Mud. A cup of tea.
Our teeth, our eyes. A baby in a stroller.
Another spoonful of crème brûlée, sweet burnt crust crackling.
And hot showers, oh lovely, lovely hot showers.

Today was a good day.
My mother-in-law sat on the porch, eating crackers and cheese
with a watered-down margarita
and though her nails are no longer stop-light red
and she can’t remember who’s alive and dead,
still, this was a day
with no weeping, no unstoppable weeping.

Last night, through the small window of my laptop,
I watched a dying man kill himself in Switzerland.
He wore a blue shirt and snow was falling
onto a small blue house, onto dark needles of pine and fir.
He didn’t step outside to feel the snow on his face.
He sat at a table with his wife and drank poison.

Online I found a plastic bag complete with Velcro
and a hole for a tube to a propane tank. I wouldn’t have to
move our Weber. I could just slide
down the stucco to the flagstones, where the healthy
weeds are sprouting through the cracks.
Maybe it wouldn’t be half-bad
to go out looking at the yellowing leaves of the old camellia.
And from there I could see the chickens scratching—
if we still have chickens then. And yet…

this little hat of life, how will I bear
to take it off while I can still reach up? Snug woolen watch cap,
lacy bonnet, yellow cloche with the yellow veil
I wore the Easter I turned thirteen when my mother let me
    promenade
with Tommy Spagnola on the boardwalk in Atlantic City.

Oxygen, oxygen, the cry of the body—and you always want to
    give it
what it wants. But I must say no—
enough, enough

with more tenderness
than I have ever given to a lover, the gift
of the nipple hardening under my fingertip, more
tenderness than to my newborn,
when I held her still flecked
with my blood. I’ll say the most gentle refusal
to this dear dumb animal and tighten
the clasp around my throat that once was kissed and kissed
until the blood couldn’t rest in its channel, but rose
to the surface like a fish that couldn’t wait to be caught.

 

Copyright © 2015 by Ellen Bass. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 14, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

Bad things are going to happen.
Your tomatoes will grow a fungus
and your cat will get run over.
Someone will leave the bag with the ice cream
melting in the car and throw
your blue cashmere sweater in the drier.
Your husband will sleep
with a girl your daughter’s age, her breasts spilling
out of her blouse. Or your wife
will remember she’s a lesbian
and leave you for the woman next door. The other cat—
the one you never really liked—will contract a disease
that requires you to pry open its feverish mouth
every four hours. Your parents will die.
No matter how many vitamins you take,
how much Pilates, you’ll lose your keys,
your hair and your memory. If your daughter
doesn’t plug her heart
into every live socket she passes,
you’ll come home to find your son has emptied
the refrigerator, dragged it to the curb,
and called the used appliance store for a pick up—drug money.
There’s a Buddhist story of a woman chased by a tiger.
When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine
and climbs half way down. But there’s also a tiger below.
And two mice—one white, one black—scurry out
and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point
she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.
She looks up, down, at the mice.
Then she eats the strawberry.
So here’s the view, the breeze, the pulse
in your throat. Your wallet will be stolen, you’ll get fat,
slip on the bathroom tiles of a foreign hotel
and crack your hip. You’ll be lonely.
Oh taste how sweet and tart
the red juice is, how the tiny seeds
crunch between your teeth.

"Relax" from Like a Beggar. Copyright © 2014 by Ellen Bass. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc. on behalf of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org.

You tell me to live each day
as if it were my last. This is in the kitchen
where before coffee I complain
of the day ahead—that obstacle race
of minutes and hours,
grocery stores and doctors.

But why the last? I ask. Why not
live each day as if it were the first—
all raw astonishment, Eve rubbing
her eyes awake that first morning,
the sun coming up
like an ingénue in the east?

You grind the coffee
with the small roar of a mind
trying to clear itself. I set
the table, glance out the window
where dew has baptized every
living surface.

From Insomnia, published by W. W. Norton. Copyright © 2015 by Linda Pastan. Used with permission of Linda Pastan in care of the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency, Inc.

There are cemeteries that are lonely,
graves full of bones that do not make a sound,
the heart moving through a tunnel,
in it darkness, darkness, darkness,
like a shipwreck we die going into ourselves,
as though we were drowning inside our hearts,
as though we lived falling out of the skin into the soul.

And there are corpses,
feet made of cold and sticky clay,
death is inside the bones,
like a barking where there are no dogs,
coming out from bells somewhere, from graves somewhere,
growing in the damp air like tears of rain.

Sometimes I see alone
coffins under sail,
embarking with the pale dead, with women that have dead hair,
with bakers who are as white as angels,
and pensive young girls married to notary publics,
caskets sailing up the vertical river of the dead,
the river of dark purple,
moving upstream with sails filled out by the sound of death,
filled by the sound of death which is silence.

Death arrives among all that sound
like a shoe with no foot in it, like a suit with no man in it,
comes and knocks, using a ring with no stone in it, with no
finger in it,
comes and shouts with no mouth, with no tongue, with no
throat.
Nevertheless its steps can be heard
and its clothing makes a hushed sound, like a tree.

I'm not sure, I understand only a little, I can hardly see,
but it seems to me that its singing has the color of damp violets,
of violets that are at home in the earth,
because the face of death is green,
and the look death gives is green,
with the penetrating dampness of a violet leaf
and the somber color of embittered winter.

But death also goes through the world dressed as a broom,
lapping the floor, looking for dead bodies,
death is inside the broom,
the broom is the tongue of death looking for corpses,
it is the needle of death looking for thread.

Death is inside the folding cots:
it spends its life sleeping on the slow mattresses,
in the black blankets, and suddenly breathes out:
it blows out a mournful sound that swells the sheets,
and the beds go sailing toward a port
where death is waiting, dressed like an admiral.

By Pablo Neruda, translated and edited by Robert Bly, and published by Beacon Press in Neruda & Vallejo: Selected Poems. © 1993 by Robert Bly. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Immediately after the two brothers entered 
The Seafood Shoppe with their wide-eyed wives 
and extra-brown complexioned stepchildren, 
the shrimp scampi sauce suddenly altered 
its taste to bitter dishsoap. It took a moment 
to realize the notorious twosome were "carrying"
medicines, and that I was most likely the next 
target in the supernatural shooting gallery. 
It was yet another stab at my precious 
shadow, ne no ke we ni, the one who 
always Stands First, wildly unafraid 
but vulnerable.

This placement of time, this chance meeting 
at Long John Silver's had already been discussed 
over the burning flower clusters, approved, 
and scheduled for a divine assassination.
What an ideal place to invisibly send forth 
a petraglyph thorn to the sensitive 
and unsuspecting instep I thought.
Out of fear I had to spit out the masticated 
crustacean into the folded Dutch bandana. 
I signalled Selene with my eyes:
something is terribly wrong here.

Even in the old stories, ke ta-a ji mo na ni, 
my grandmother recited there was always 
disagreement, jealousy, and animosity 
between supernatural deities. That 
actuality for humans, me to se na ni wa ki, 
however was everpresent. It didn't conclude 
as an impasse that gave us the weather, 
the four seasons, the stars, sun, and moon. 
Everything that was held together.

                    Unfortunately,
there could only be one re-creation 
of earth. If it was requested in the aura 
of the blue flower that I die, 
the aura would make sure I die. . .

Later, the invisible thorn--when removed by 
resident-physicians (paying back their medical 
loans)--would transform into some unidentifiable 
protoplasm and continue to hide in the more 
sensitive, cancer-attracting parts of the fish-
eater.

In the mythical darkness that would follow 
the stories the luminescent mantle of the kerosene 
lamp would aptly remind me of stars who cooled 
down in pre-arranged peace--to quietly wait 
and glow.

From The Rock Island Hiking Club by Ray Young Bear, published by the University of Iowa Press. © 2001 by Ray Young Bear. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

for David Foster

I had my order. Not of the choirs
of angels, but of the countries we called

in the stone dead heart of the night. Japan
was a young woman's voice, a cool river

through a thirsty land, sliding over my bone-
tired body like an icy, blue-green

wave. Australia was next--their perpetual
joking could keep me awake. I even

made history once: for eight years, a man
had been calling his brother in the bush.

He loved me, loved my voice, my flipping of
the switches in Oakland, California,

so that, at last, it worked. But usually
I was just too tired to care. My first

graveyard shift and I was much too tired
to give a shit when the businessmen yelled

about lines down in Manila again,
as if I could stop those typhoons, as if

I could make the old crones in Manila
love us, which they didn't, or be somewhat

helpful, which they weren't. Why don't you try
again in two weeks? I would say (the stock

response, a polite voice, then flip the switch,
cut him off, quick, before his swearing

poisons my ear). Too tired to care
about anything, not their business dealing,

not the drunken nostalgia for a whore
known during the war--he can't remember

her name, or the place where she worked, the 
street
it was on, but could I help him find her?

He's never forgotten . . . I grew so tired
of phones ringing for eight hours straight.

I wanted to pull my hair out, one thin
strand at a time. It was a newly

invented circle of hell, and if you
had been there, you just might understand

why that infamous hippie girl rose up,
out of her chair, yanked the earphones off, and 
climbed

onto a counter running the length of the room
beneath our long, black switchboard, then, 
crawling

from station to station, pulled each cord
from its black tunnel, breaking one connection

after another, like a series of
coitus interruptus all down the board,

before they stopped her, and led her away.
She must be on LSD, said a wife

from the Alameda military base. And she wears
no underwear, either, added another.

That was 1970, back when Oakland
Overseas was still manual, but the hatred

of a ringing phone is with me yet.
I will stand at the center of a room

and watch the damn thing ring its little head 
off,
and I will grin, quite stupidly, at its

helplessness. I will walk out the door, fill
my lungs with ice, head for the far-off peaks.

I will lose myself, become one small, dark 
stroke
in the white stillness of snow. I'm telling you

now, it was a brand new circle of hell,
but how could we know that, then? We had jobs,

the market was tight, and the union
won us cab rides home when we worked at night.

Reprinted with permission by the University of Akron Press. Copyright © 2000. All rights reserved.

1

If that someone who's me yet not me yet who judges me is always with me, 
as he is, shouldn't he have been there when I said so long ago that thing 
   I said?

If he who rakes me with such not trivial shame for minor sins now were
   there then,
shouldn't he have warned me he'd even now devastate me for my
   unpardonable affront?

I'm a child then, yet already I've composed this conscience-beast, who
   harries me:
is there anything else I can say with certainty about who I was, except that I, 
   that he,

could already draw from infinitesimal transgressions complex chords
   of remorse,
and orchestrate ever-undiminishing retribution from the hapless rest
   of myself?


2

The son of some friends of my parents has died, and my parents, paying
    their call,
take me along, and I'm sent out with the dead boy's brother and some 
   others to play.

We're joking around, and words come to my mind, which to my 
   amazement are said.
How do you know when you can laugh when somebody dies, your brother dies?

is what's said, and the others go quiet, the backyard goes quiet,
   everyone stares,
and I want to know now why that someone in me who's me yet not me let
   me say it.

Shouldn't he have told me the contrition cycle would from then be ever
   upon me, 
it didn't matter that I'd really only wanted to know how grief ends,
   and when?


3

I could hear the boy's mother sobbing inside, then stopping, sobbing
   then stopping.
Was the end of her grief already there? Had her someone in her told her
   it would end?

Was her someone in her kinder to her, not tearing at her, as mine did, 
   still does, me, 
for guessing grief someday ends? Is that why her sobbing stopped 
   sometimes?

She didn't laugh, though, or I never heard her. How do you know when
   you can laugh?
Why couldn't someone have been there in me not just to accuse me, but
   to explain?

The kids were playing again, I was playing, I didn't hear anything more
   from inside.
The way now sometimes what's in me is silent, too, and sometimes, 
   though never really, forgets.

From Wait. Copyright © 2010 by C. K. Williams. Used with permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. All rights reserved.

After the birthing of bombs of forks and fear,
the frantic automatic weapons unleashed,
the spray of bullets into a crowd holding hands,
that brute sky opening in a slate metal maw
that swallows only the unsayable in each of us, what’s
left? Even the hidden nowhere river is poisoned
orange and acidic by a coal mine. How can
you not fear humanity, want to lick the creek
bottom dry to suck the deadly water up into
your own lungs, like venom? Reader, I want to
say, Don’t die. Even when silvery fish after fish
comes back belly up, and the country plummets
into a crepitating crater of hatred, isn’t there still
something singing? The truth is: I don't know.
But sometimes, I swear I hear it, the wound closing
like a rusted-over garage door, and I can still move
my living limbs into the world without too much
pain, can still marvel at how the dog runs straight
toward the pickup trucks break-necking down
the road, because she thinks she loves them,
because she’s sure, without a doubt, that the loud
roaring things will love her back, her soft small self
alive with desire to share her goddamn enthusiasm,
until I yank the leash back to save her because
I want her to survive forever. Don’t die, I say,
and we decide to walk for a bit longer, starlings
high and fevered above us, winter coming to lay
her cold corpse down upon this little plot of earth.
Perhaps, we are always hurtling our body towards
the thing that will obliterate us, begging for love
from the speeding passage of time, and so maybe
like the dog obedient at my heels, we can walk together
peacefully, at least until the next truck comes.

Copyright © 2016 by Ada Limón. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 1, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Oshi has a very large Buddha in him, one that can change the air into scented flowers. He used to be Tommy Whalen from Indianapolis but he had his eyes cut to look Japanese. He got started out in San Francisco in the early days when Buddha consciousness was just rising out there and people were still slipping pork in the seaweed soup.

At seventeen he did drag in a place called The Gay Deceiver and was billed as ‘The Boy With The Face Like The Girl Next Door.’ The owners paid him almost nothing and kept him strung out on hash in a little room above the bar, like a detective novel.

Somehow Oshi found the Zen community and started sitting za-zen. He collected ‘mad money’ from the state for being strung out. It’s free out there if you’re crazy enough. Oshi breathed hash and gin through the Buddha. Buddha breathed light and air through Oshi. It all changed his mind to indigo. Buddha consciousness rose in him until he didn’t feel like the broken piano at the bar anymore.

Now thirty years later he has a permanent room at the bath house and prays for young boys. Doesn’t sit anymore. Said he became realized ten years ago with a young hustler from Akron, Ohio who told him he could stop flying, just lay back and touch ground.

Old Oshi, very round now, jet black wig, looks like a retired Buddha in his cheap wash-and-wear kimonos. He’s graceful old gentleman Buddha. Buys everyone drinks. Gives away joints. Always high. Always lighting joss sticks. As he says, ‘Giving things is just a way of getting on with everyone, you know, the universe and everything. It’s like passing on the light.’

He told me once when he sang Billie Holiday’s ‘Blue Monday’ at The Gay Deceiver they used an amber spot and he wore a strapless lamé gown, beaded on his eyelashes, lacquered nails, and the people cried.

From The Salt Ecstasies (Graywolf Press, 2010). Copyright © 2010 by James L. White. Used with permission of Graywolf Press and The Permissions Company.


Tonight my brother, in heavy boots, is walking 
through bare rooms over my head,
opening and closing doors.
What could he be looking for in an empty house?
What could he possibly need there in heaven?
Does he remember his earth, his birthplace set to torches?
His love for me feels like spilled water
running back to its vessel.

At this hour, what is dead is restless
and what is living is burning.

Someone tell him he should sleep now.

My father keeps a light on by our bed
and readies for our journey.
He mends ten holes in the knees
of five pairs of boy's pants.
His love for me is like sewing:
various colors and too much thread,
the stitching uneven. But the needle pierces 
clean through with each stroke of his hand.

At this hour, what is dead is worried
and what is living is fugitive.

Someone tell him he should sleep now.

God, that old furnace, keeps talking 
with his mouth of teeth,
a beard stained at feasts, and his breath
of gasoline, airplane, human ash.
His love for me feels like fire,
feels like doves, feels like river-water.

At this hour, what is dead is helpless, kind
and helpless. While the Lord lives.

Someone tell the Lord to leave me alone.
I've had enough of his love
that feels like burning and flight and running away.

From The City In Which I Love You by Li-Young Lee. Copyright © 1990 by Li-Young Lee. Reprinted with permission of BOA Editions, Ltd. All rights reserved.

To my daughters I need to say:

Go with the one who loves you biblically.
The one whose love lifts its head to you
despite its broken neck. Whose body bursts
sixteen arms electric to carry you, gentle
the way old grief is gentle.

Love the love that is messy in all its too much,
The body that rides best your body, whose mouth
saddles the naked salt of your far gone hips,
whose tongue translates the rock language of
all your elegant scars.

Go with the one who cries out for her tragic sisters
as she chops the winter’s wood, the one whose skin
triggers your heart into a heaven of blood waltzes.

Go with the one who resembles most your father.
Not the father you can point out on a map,
but the father who is here, is your home,
is the key to your front door.

Know that your first love will only be the first.
And the second and third and even fourth
will unprepare you for the most important:

The Blessed. The Beast. The Last Love,

which is, of course, the most terrifying kind.
Because which of us wants to go with what can murder us?
Can reveal to us our true heart’s end and its thirty years
spent in poverty? Can mimic the sound of our bird-throated mothers,
replicate the warmth of our brothers’ tempers?
Can pull us out of ourselves until we are no longer sisters
or daughters or sword swallowers but, instead,
women who give and lead and take and want
and want and want and want,
because there is no shame in wanting.

And you will hear yourself say:

Last Love, I wish to die so I may come back to you
new and never tasted by any other mouth but yours.
And I want to be the hands that pull your children
out of you and tuck them deep inside myself until they are
ready to be the children of such a royal and staggering love.
Or you will say:

Last Love, I am old, and have spent myself on the courageless,
have wasted too many clocks on less-deserving men,
so I hurl myself at the throne of you and lie humbly at your feet.

Last Love, let me never roll out of this heavy dream of you,
let the day I was born mean my life will end
where you end. Let the man behind the church
do what he did if it brings me to you. Let the girls
in the locker room corner me again if it brings me to you.
Let this wild depression throw me beneath its hooves
if it brings me to you. Let me pronounce my hoarded joy
if it brings me to you. Let my father break me again
and again if it brings me to you.

Last love, I have let other men borrow your children. Forgive me.
Last love, I once vowed my heart to another. Forgive me.
Last Love, I have let my blind and anxious hands wander into a room
and come out empty. Forgive me.

Last Love, I have cursed the women you loved before me. Forgive me.
Last Love, I envy your mother’s body where you resided first. Forgive me.
Last Love, I am all that is left. Forgive me.
Last Love, I did not see you coming. Forgive me.

Last Love, every day without you was a life I crawled out of. Amen.
Last Love, you are my Last Love. Amen.
Last Love, I am all that is left. Amen.

I am all that is left.
Amen.

Copyright © 2014 by Rachel McKibbens. Used with permission of the author.

Tonight I lingered over your name,
the delicate assembly of vowels
a voice inside my head.
You were sleeping when I arrived.
I stood by your bed
and watched the sheets rise gently.
I knew what slant of light
would make you turn over.
It was then I felt 
the highways slide out of my hands.
I remembered the old men
in the west side cafe,
dealing dominoes like magical charms.
It was then I knew,
like a woman looking backward,
I could not leave you,
or find anyone I loved more.

From Is This Forever, or What? Poems and Paintings from Texas by Naomi Shihab Nye. Copyright © 2004 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers. No part of this book may be used or repoduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 1350 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019. All rights reserved.

He continues to ponder
	And his wife moves next to him.
She looks.  They look at themselves 
	Looking through the fog.
She has a meeting she says in about
	Thirty minutes, he has
Something too.  But still she has
	Just stepped out of the bath
And a single drop of water
	Has curved along her breast
Down her abdomen and vialed in
	Her navel then disappeared
In crimson.  Unless they love
	Then wake in love
Who can they ever be?  Their faces bloom,
	A rain mists down, the bare
Bulb softens above the glass,
	So little light that
The hands mumble deliciously,
	That the mouth opens
Mothlike, like petals finding
	Themselves awake again
At four o'clock mid shade and sun.

From Swamp Candles, by Ralph Burns, published by University of Iowa Press. Copyright © 1996 by Ralph Burns. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Body of a woman, white hills, white thighs,
when you surrender, you stretch out like the world.
My body, savage and peasant, undermines you
and makes a son leap in the bottom of the earth.

I was lonely as a tunnel. Birds flew from me.
And night invaded me with her powerful army.
To survive I forged you like a weapon,
like an arrow for my bow, or a stone for my sling.

But now the hour of revenge falls, and I love you.
Body of skin, of moss, of firm and thirsty milk!
And the cups of your breasts! And your eyes full of absence!
And the roses of your mound! And your voice slow and sad!

Body of my woman, I will live on through your marvelousness.
My thirst, my desire without end, my wavering road!
Dark river beds down which the eternal thirst is flowing,
and the fatigue is flowing, and the grief without shore.

"Body of a woman, white hills, white thighs" from Neruda & Vallejo: Selected Poems, by Pablo Neruda and translated by Robert Bly (Boston: Becon Press, 1993). Used with permission of Robert Bly.

That Mississippi chicken shack.
That initial-scarred tabletop,
that tiny little dance floor to the left of the band.
That kiosk at the mall selling caramels and kitsch.
That tollbooth with its white-plastic-gloved worker
handing you your change.
That phone booth with the receiver ripped out.
That dressing room in the fetish boutique,
those curtains and mirrors.
That funhouse, that horror, that soundtrack of screams.
That putti-filled heaven raining gilt from the ceiling.
That haven for truckers, that bottomless cup.
That biome. That wilderness preserve.
That landing strip with no runway lights
where you are aiming your plane,
imagining a voice in the tower,
imagining a tower.

From Lucifer at the Starlite, published by W. W. Norton & Company. Copyright © 2010 by Kim Addonizio. Used with permission of the publisher.

All young cops have soft
mild eyes. Their upbringing is lavish.
They walk between blueberries and ferns,
rescuing grannies from rising waters.
With the motion of a hand they ask for
a snack from those plastic bags. They
sit down on tree stumps, looking at valleys
and thinking of their moms. But woe is me
if a young one gets mad. A Scourge
of God rings, with a club that later you can
borrow to blot your bare feet.
Every cop wears a cap, his head murmuring under it
A sled rushes down a slope in his dreams.
Whomever he kills, he brings spring to,
whomever he touches has a wound inscribed.
I would give my granny and my
grandpa, my mom and my pa, my wife
and my son to a cop to play with.
He would tie up my granny’s white hair,
but he’d probably chop up my son
on the stump of a tree. The cop himself would be sad
that his toy was broken. That’s the way they are
when smoking pot: melancholy. They take off
their caps and breathe their tears into them.
Actually, they’re like camels riding
in the desert, as if it were the wet palm of a hand.

Used with permission by Harcourt, Copyright 2006.

When someone dies, the clothes are so sad. They have outlived
their usefulness and cannot get warm and full.
You talk to the clothes and explain that he is not coming back

as when he showed up immaculately dressed in slacks and plaid jacket
and had that beautiful smile on and you’d talk.
You’d go to get something and come back and he’d be gone.

You explain death to the clothes like that dream.
You tell them how much you miss the spouse
and how much you miss the pet with its little winter sweater.

You tell the worn raincoat that if you talk about it,
you will finally let grief out. The ancients etched the words
for battle and victory onto their shields and then they went out

and fought to the last breath. Words have that kind of power
you remind the clothes that remain in the drawer, arms stubbornly
folded across the chest, or slung across the backs of chairs,

or hanging inside the dark closet. Do with us what you will,
they faintly sigh, as you close the door on them.
He is gone and no one can tell us where.

Copyright © 2015 by Emily Fragos. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 21, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

You are standing in the minefield again.
Someone who is dead now

told you it is where you will learn
to dance. Snow on your lips like a salted

cut, you leap between your deaths, black as god’s
periods. Your arms cleaving little wounds

in the wind. You are something made. Then made
to survive, which means you are somebody’s

son. Which means if you open your eyes, you’ll be back
in that house, beneath a blanket printed with yellow sailboats.

Your mother’s boyfriend, his bald head ringed with red
hair, like a planet on fire, kneeling

by your bed again. Air of whiskey & crushed
Oreos. Snow falling through the window: ash returned

from a failed fable. His spilled-ink hand
on your chest. & you keep dancing inside the minefield—

motionless. The curtains fluttering. Honeyed light
beneath the door. His breath. His wet blue face: earth

spinning in no one’s orbit. & you want someone to say Hey…Hey
I think your dancing is gorgeous. A little waltz to die for,

darling. You want someone to say all this
is long ago. That one night, very soon, you’ll pack a bag

with your favorite paperback & your mother’s .45,
that the surest shelter was always the thoughts

above your head. That it’s fair—it has to be—
how our hands hurt us, then give us

the world. How you can love the world
until there’s nothing left to love

but yourself. Then you can stop.
Then you can walk away—back into the fog

-walled minefield, where the vein in your neck adores you
to zero. You can walk away. You can be nothing

& still breathing. Believe me.

Copyright © 2015 by Ocean Vuong. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 2, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets

My grandmother kisses
as if bombs are bursting in the backyard,
where mint and jasmine lace their perfumes
through the kitchen window,
as if somewhere, a body is falling apart
and flames are making their way back
through the intricacies of a young boy’s thigh,
as if to walk out the door, your torso
would dance from exit wounds.
When my grandmother kisses, there would be
no flashy smooching, no western music
of pursed lips, she kisses as if to breathe
you inside her, nose pressed to cheek
so that your scent is relearned
and your sweat pearls into drops of gold
inside her lungs, as if while she holds you
death also, is clutching your wrist.
My grandmother kisses as if history
never ended, as if somewhere
a body is still
falling apart.

Copyright © 2014 by Ocean Vuong. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database

   I want to sleep the sleep of the apples,
I want to get far away from the busyness of the cemeteries.
I want to sleep the sleep of that child
who longed to cut his heart open far out at sea.

   I don't want them to tell me again how the corpse keeps all its blood,
how the decaying mouth goes on begging for water.
I'd rather not hear about the torture sessions the grass arranges for
nor about how the moon does all its work before dawn
with its snakelike nose.

   I want to sleep for half a second,
a second, a minute, a century,
but I want everyone to know that I am still alive,
that I have a golden manger inside my lips,
that I am the little friend of the west wind,
that I am the elephantine shadow of my own tears.

   When it's dawn just throw some sort of cloth over me
because I know dawn will toss fistfuls of ants at me,
and pour a little hard water over my shoes
so that the scorpion claws of the dawn will slip off.

   Because I want to sleep the sleep of the apples,
and learn a mournful song that will clean all earth away from me,
because I want to live with that shadowy child
who longed to cut his heart open far out at sea.

By Federico García Lorca, translated and edited by Robert Bly, and published by Beacon Press in Selected Poems: Lorca and Jiménez. © 1973 by Robert Bly. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

We’re not from here. We don’t aria, we warble. 
We wore suits to get here, rumpled by the hot car ride. 
Pumped our own gas. In Heaven two days,

still the custom shirtlessness offends.  Like it’s the g-d
French Rivera. (You say it yours.  We’ll say it the right way.) 
Nor do we au revoir. We eat without speaking, hunched over

our plates at the picnic tables. We prefer paper. 
It’s not we’re unfriendly, but its our particular
God Almighty we won’t give up. First Sunday here,

and we’re missing Shirl and Jesse, who started
smoking again. Clove cigarettes, of all things.
What Heaven don’t stock Reds soft packs? 

Then Tony stopped stopping by, on account
he works overnights at the baby factory,
low on the totem: cranial deformities. 

Well it’s a job. It’s enough to crack your heart. 

We stay up drinking slurpee-and-rums outside
the Kum & Go. Who knows how long them hot dogs
have roasted on the carriage, under the eternal heat lamp. 

Everything here is an effigy to hunger. Time moves
not at all when all the clocks are confiscated. I am terrified
I will begin to speak in the first person about pleasure. 

Stop wearing underwear to our “To Hell with Heaven”
meetings. They give us new names, say forget Louisville. 
This here’s all the village you need. We lose every day

more folks to Heaven’s gen pop. We left the earth
but the memory turns us over in its hot light. 
The Chief Risk Cherubim say unlearn the love of gravity

and then the earth can leave us back. Psychobabble mumbo
jumble. We dream of opening a garage but ain’t bum starters
nor oil changes no more. The technology outlived us. 

There’s a choice to be made between the past,
the present tense. We are failure-angels, plain
and redneck, we’re going to fall down to the earth

we can’t stop loving, find our families and touch
their faces angrily. But first we will edge with pink
and yellow peonies our graves, our graves

which remind our deaths daily: redeem us.
 

Copyright © 2017 by James Allen Hall. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 13, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

And when I heard about the divorce of my friends,
I couldn't help but be proud of them,

that man and that woman setting off in different directions,
like pilgrims in a proverb

—him to buy his very own toaster oven,
her seeking a prescription for sleeping pills.

Let us keep in mind the hidden forces
which had struggled underground for years

to push their way to the surface—and that finally did,
cracking the crust, moving the plates of earth apart,

releasing the pent-up energy required
for them to rent their own apartments,

for her to join the softball league for single mothers
for him to read George the Giraffe over his speakerphone

at bedtime to the six-year-old.

The bible says, Be fruitful and multiply

but is it not also fruitful to subtract and to divide?
Because if marriage is a kind of womb,

divorce is the being born again;
alimony is the placenta one of them will eat;

loneliness is the name of the wet-nurse;
regret is the elementary school;

endurance is the graduation.
So do not say that they are splattered like dropped lasagna

or dead in the head-on collision of clichés
or nailed on the cross of their competing narratives.

What is taken apart is not utterly demolished.
It is like a great mysterious egg in Kansas

that has cracked and hatched two big bewildered birds.
It is two spaceships coming out of retirement,

flying away from their dead world,
the burning booster rocket of divorce
                                 falling off behind them,

the bystanders pointing at the sky and saying, Look.

From Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty. Copyright © 2010 by Tony Hoagland. Used with permission of Graywolf Press.

Today when persimmons ripen
Today when fox-kits come out of their den into snow
Today when the spotted egg releases its wren song
Today when the maple sets down its red leaves
Today when windows keep their promise to open
Today when fire keeps its promise to warm
Today when someone you love has died
     or someone you never met has died
Today when someone you love has been born
     or someone you will not meet has been born
Today when rain leaps to the waiting of roots in their dryness
Today when starlight bends to the roofs of the hungry and tired
Today when someone sits long inside his last sorrow
Today when someone steps into the heat of her first embrace
Today, let this light bless you
With these friends let it bless you
With snow-scent and lavender bless you
Let the vow of this day keep itself wildly and wholly
Spoken and silent, surprise you inside your ears
Sleeping and waking, unfold itself inside your eyes
Let its fierceness and tenderness hold you
Let its vastness be undisguised in all your days

—2008
 

Originally published in Come, Thief (Knopf, 2011); all rights reserved. Copyright © by Jane Hirshfield. Reprinted with the permission of the author, all rights reserved. 

The Soul has Bandaged moments –
When too appalled to stir –
She feels some ghastly Fright come up
And stop to look at her –

Salute her, with long fingers –
Caress her freezing hair –
Sip, Goblin, from the very lips
The Lover – hovered – o’er –
Unworthy, that a thought so mean
Accost a Theme – so – fair ­–

The soul has moments of escape –
When bursting all the doors –
She dances like a Bomb, abroad,
And swings opon the Hours,

As do the Bee – delirious borne –
Long Dungeoned from his Rose –
Touch Liberty – then know no more,
But Noon, and Paradise –

The Soul’s retaken moments –
When, Felon led along,
With shackles on the plumed feet,
And staples, in the song,

The Horror welcomes her, again,
These, are not brayed of Tongue –

The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Ralph W. Franklin ed., Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Copyright © 1998 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © 1951, 1955, 1979, by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © renewed 1979, 1983 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © 1914, 1918, 1919, 1924, 1929, 1930, 1932, 1935, 1937, 1942 by Martha Dickinson Bianchi. Copyright © 1952, 1957, 1958, 1963, 1965 by Mary L. Hampson.

Sometimes I don’t know if I’m having a feeling
so I check my phone or squint at the window
with a serious look, like someone in a movie
or a mother thinking about how time passes.
Sometimes I’m not sure how to feel so I think
about a lot of things until I get an allergy attack.
I take my antihistamine with beer, thank you very much,
sleep like a cut under a band aid, wake up
on the stairs having missed the entire party.
It was a real blast, I can tell, for all the vases
are broken, the flowers twisted into crowns
for the young, drunk, and beautiful. I put one on
and salute the moon, the lone face over me
shining through the grates on the front door window.
You have seen me like this before, such a strange
version of the person you thought you knew.
Guess what, I’m strange to us both. It’s like
I’m not even me sometimes. Who am I? A question
for the Lord only to decide as She looks over
my résumé. Everything is different sometimes.
Sometimes there is no hand on my shoulder
but my room, my apartment, my body are containers
and I am thusly contained. How easy to forget
the obvious. The walls, blankets, sunlight, your love.

Copyright © 2015 by Matthew Siegel. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 8, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

Time too is afraid of passing, is riddled with holes
through which time feels itself leaking.
Time sweats in the middle of the night
when all the other dimensions are sleeping.
Time has lost every picture of itself as a child.
Now time is old, leathery and slow.
Can’t sneak up on anyone anymore,
Can’t hide in the grass, can’t run, can’t catch.
Can’t figure out how not to trample
what it means to bless.

Copyright © 2015 by Joy Ladin. Used with permission of the author.

It must be coming, mustn’t it? Churches
and saloons are filled with decent humans.
A mother wants to feed her daughter,
fathers to buy their children things that break.
People laugh, all over the world, people laugh.
We were born to laugh, and we know how to be sad;
we dislike injustice and cancer,
and are not unaware of our terrible errors.
A man wants to love his wife.
His wife wants him to carry something.
We’re capable of empathy, and intense moments of joy.
Sure, some of us are venal, but not most.
There’s always a punchbowl, somewhere,
in which floats a…
Life’s a bullet, that fast, and the sweeter for it.
It’s the same everywhere: Slovenia, India,
Pakistan, Suriname—people like to pray,
or they don’t,
or they like to fill a blue plastic pool
in the back yard with a hose
and watch their children splash. 
Or sit in cafes, or at table with family.
And if a long train of cattle cars passes
along West Ridge
it’s only the cattle from East Ridge going to the abattoir.
The unbroken world is coming,
(it must be coming!), I heard a choir,
there were clouds, there was dust,
I heard it in the streets, I heard it
announced by loudhailers
mounted on trucks.

Copyright © 2015 by Thomas Lux. Used with permission of the author.

First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers
the grave and awkward mask.
I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
assiduous team
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.

There is a ladder.
The ladder is always there
hanging innocently
close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for,
we who have used it.
Otherwise
it is a piece of maritime floss
some sundry equipment.

I go down.
Rung after rung and still
the oxygen immerses me
the blue light
the clear atoms
of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
will begin.

First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.

And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
lived here
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
and besides
you breathe differently down here.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.

This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body.
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he

whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
whose breasts still bear the stress
whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
obscurely inside barrels
half-wedged and left to rot
we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass

We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.

From Diving into the Wreck: Poems 1971-1972 by Adrienne Rich. Copyright © 1973 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Reprinted by permission of the author and W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Copyright 1973 by Adrienne Rich.

I have more love than ever.
Our kids have kids soon to have kids.
I need them. I need everyone
to come over to the house,
sleep on the floor, on the couches
in the front room. I need noise,
too many people in too small a space,
I need dancing, the spilling of drinks,
the loud pronouncements
over music, the verbal sparring,
the broken dishes, the wealth.
I need it all flying apart.
My friends to slam against me,
to hold me, to say they love me.
I need mornings to ask for favors
and forgiveness. I need to give,
have all my emotions rattled,
my family to be greedy,
to keep coming, to keep asking
and taking. I need no resolution,
just the constant turmoil of living.
Give me the bottom of the river,
all the unadorned, unfinished,
unpraised moments, one good turn
on the luxuriant wheel.

From Saint Friend (McSweeney's Poetry Series, 2014) by Carl Adamshick. Copyright © 2014 Carl Adamshick. All rights reserved. 

the bullet is his whole life.
his mother named him & the bullet

was on its way. in another life
the bullet was a girl & his skin

was a boy with a sad laugh.
they say he asked for it— 

must I define they? they are not
monsters, or hooded or hands black

with cross smoke.
they teachers, they pay tithes

they like rap, they police—good folks
gather around a boy’s body

to take a picture, share a prayer.
oh da horror, oh what a shame

why’d he do that to himself?
they really should stop
getting themselves killed

Copyright © 2015 by Danez Smith. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 3, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets

               1

Thank god he stuck his tongue out.
When I was twelve I was in danger 
of taking my body seriously. 
I thought the ache in my nipple was priceless. 
I thought I should stay very still 
and compare it to a button, 
a china saucer, 
a flash in a car side-mirror, 
so I could name the ache either big or little, 
then keep it forever. He blew no one a kiss, 
then turned into a maw.

After I saw him, when a wish moved in my pants.
I nurtured it. I stalked around my room
kicking my feet up just like him, making
a big deal of my lips. I was my own big boy.
I wouldn't admit it then,
but be definitely cocks his hip
as if he is his own little girl.

               2

People ask me--I make up interviews
while I brush my teeth--"So, what do you remember best 
about your childhood?" I say
mostly the drive toward Chicago.
Feeling as if I'm being slowly pressed against the skyline. 
Hoping to break a window.
Mostly quick handfuls of boys' skin.
Summer twilights that took forever to get rid of.
Mostly Mick Jagger. 

               3

How do I explain my hungry stare?
My Friday night spent changing clothes?
My love for travel? I rewind the way he says "now" 
with so much roof of the mouth.
I rewind until I get a clear image of myself:
I'm telling the joke he taught me
about my body. My mouth is stretched open 
so I don't laugh. My hands are pretending
to have just discovered my own face. 
My name is written out in metal studs 
across my little pink jumper.
I've got a mirror and a good idea
of the way I want my face to look.
When I glance sideways my smile should twitch 
as if a funny picture of me is taped up 
inside the corner of my eye.
A picture where my hair is combed over each shoulder, 
my breasts are well-supported, and my teeth barely show. 
A picture where I'm trying hard to say "beautiful."

He always says "This is my skinny rib cage, 
my one, two chest hairs."
That's all he ever says. 
Think of a bird with no feathers
or think of a hundred lips bruising every inch of his skin.
There are no pictures of him hoping
he said the right thing.

Copyright © 2001 by Catie Rosemurgy. Reprinted from My Favorite Apocalypse with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota. All rights reserved.

It's early morning. This is the "before,"
the world hanging around in its wrapper,
blowzy, frumpy, doing nothing: my 
neighbors, hitching themselves to the roles
of the unhappily married, trundle their three
mastiffs down the street. I am writing this
book of poems. My name is Lynn Emanuel.
I am wearing a bathrobe and curlers; from 
my lips, a Marlboro drips ash on the text.
It is the third of September nineteen**.
And as I am writing this in my trifocals
and slippers, across the street, Sharon Stone,
her head swollen with curlers, her mouth
red and narrow as a dancing slipper, 
is rushed into a black limo. And because
these limos snake up and down my street,
this book will be full of sleek cars nosing
through the shadowy ocean of these words.
Every morning, Sharon Stone, her head
in a helmet of hairdo, wearing a visor
of sunglasses, is engulfed by a limo
the size of a Pullman, and whole fleets
of these wind their way up and down
the street, day after day, giving to the street
(Liberty Avenue in Pittsburgh, PA)
and the book I am writing, an aspect
that is both glamorous and funereal.
My name is Lynn Emanuel, and in this
book I play the part of someone writing 
a book, and I take the role seriously, 
just as Sharon Stone takes seriously 
the role of the diva. I watch the dark 
cars disappear her and in my poem 
another Pontiac erupts like a big animal 
at the cool trough of a shady curb. So, 
when you see this black car, do not think 
it is a Symbol For Something. It is just 
Sharon Stone driving past the house 
of Lynn Emanuel who is, at the time, 
trying to write a book of poems.

Or you could think of the black car as 
Lynn Emanuel, because, really, as an author,
I have always wanted to be a car, even 
though most of the time I have to be 
the "I," or the woman hanging wash; 
I am a woman, one minute, then I am a man, 
I am a carnival of Lynn Emanuels:
Lynn in the red dress; Lynn sulking 
behind the big nose of my erection; 
then I am the train pulling into the station 
when what I would really love to be is 
Gertrude Stein spying on Sharon Stone 
at six in the morning. But enough about 
that, back to the interior decorating:
On the page, the town looks bald
and dim so I turn up the amps on 
the radioactive glances of bad boys. 
In a kitchen, I stack pans sleek with 
grease, and on a counter there is a roast 
beef red as a face in a tantrum. Amid all 
this bland strangeness is Sharon Stone, 
who, like an engraved invitation, is asking 
me, Won't you, too, play a role? I do not 
choose the black limo rolling down the street 
with the golden stare of my limo headlights 
bringing with me the sun, the moon, and 
Sharon Stone. It is nearly dawn; the sun 
is a fox chewing her foot from the trap; 
every bite is a wound and every wound 
is a red window, a red door, a red road. 
My name is Lynn Emanuel. I am the writer 
trying to unwrite the world that is all around her.

From Then, Suddenly--, by Lynn Emanuel. Copyright © 1999. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press. Available at local bookstores or directly from the University of Pittsburgh Press:
c/o CUP Services
Box 6525
Ithaca, NY 14851
Phone orders: 607-277-2211
Fax orders: 607-227-6292

This bag of crunchy Cheetos is making me thirsty. Good thing I picked up a Fanta orange soda on the way home just in case. Walking back, I couldn't help noticing how most of the neighborhood has been replaced by strange towering steel and plate glass structures. A man was lying across the sidewalk in front of one of them and asked me for money. Greece is being bullied by Germany holding it to a double standard. When they had the tickertape parade for the US Women's Soccer Team this week and said "Canyon of Heroines" on the radio I started to laugh and realized it wasn't funny. The guy at an adjacent table in the coffee shop was looking at me smokily for an hour like he wanted to do something to me all over the counter, and I sat poised anticipating an advance that never arrived. I have trans woman friends who desperately need hope and jobs and love and safety and family. I wish I could be twenty places at once and have the power to fix everything but in a stealth way so I wouldn't be just grabbing the spotlight. True Detective is a TV show that a lot of people seem to enjoy. I trained myself to speak at a higher base pitch every morning until it became quasi-permanent because that is how I know I do not depend on the medical establishment or strangers' willingness to imagine charity. Much of the street is submerged underwater due to the storm. That other salesman can assist you—I'm helping this young lady right now, he said, placing his hand on the small of my back. The entire auditorium of people staring me down was hostile but knew they couldn't show it in public except for occasional frown lines darting from between their eyebrows. Please stand clear of the closing doors. I can't breathe in this dress. I can't seem to figure out where that smell is coming from in the apartment. Gender identity or expression will not protect you from being fired in most employment situations nor does being a transsexual. Split a capsule of medication into smaller doses by opening, dividing, and mixing it among separate containers of a mushy food like applesauce. The Trans-Pacific Partnership was signed this week amid much controversy. Did I just write all that? History is transmisogynistic but it won't be the more of it there is. The beautiful woman suggested I put my bare legs across her lap in the dark so I did and she gently ran her fingers along them. Wheat germ is where the problems all started. Later you asked if you could put your arm around me on the train but there was a scary guy shouting at everyone in the subway car and I didn't want to provoke him. People I love are at risk of being violently harmed or murdered every day, or they suffer from suicidal urges because of how the world fails to see us as people in a million sharp pointy little ways. Welcome to the military. The three-panel dressing room mirror had a Busby Berkeley effect which gave me a little thrill but I might have just imagined it. I wish I knew how to code things with boolean operators. I wish I knew how to read philosophy. The x-ray machine operator kept repeating "STOP BREATHING NOW DON'T BREATHE" each time he activated the machine. #CaitlynJenner

Copyright © 2016 Trace Peterson. Used with permission of the author.

There was a child went forth every day,
And the first object he looked upon and received with wonder or pity or love or dread, that object he became,
And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day . . . . or for many years or stretching cycles of years.

The early lilacs became part of this child,
And grass, and white and red morningglories, and white and red clover, and the song of the phœbe-bird,
And the March-born lambs, and the sow's pink-faint litter, and the mare's foal, and the cow's calf, and the noisy brood of the barn-yard or by the mire of the pond-side . . and the fish suspending themselves so curiously below there . . . and the beautiful curious liquid . . and the water-plants with their graceful flat heads . . all became part of him.

And the field-sprouts of April and May became part of him . . . . wintergrain sprouts, and those of the light-yellow corn, and of the esculent roots of the garden,
And the appletrees covered with blossoms, and the fruit afterward . . . . and woodberries . . and the commonest weeds by the road;
And the old drunkard staggering home from the outhouse of the tavern whence he had lately risen,
And the schoolmistress that passed on her way to the school . . and the friendly boys that passed . . and the quarrelsome boys . . and the tidy and fresh-cheeked girls . . and the barefoot negro boy and girl,
And all the changes of city and country wherever he went.

His own parents . . he that had propelled the fatherstuff at night, and fathered him . . and she that conceived him in her womb and birthed him . . . . they gave this child more of themselves than that,
They gave him afterward every day . . . . they and of them became part of him.
The mother at home quietly placing the dishes on the suppertable,
The mother with mild words . . . . clean her cap and gown . . . . a wholesome odor falling off her person and clothes as she walks by:
The father, strong, self-sufficient, manly, mean, angered, unjust,
The blow, the quick loud word, the tight bargain, the crafty lure,
The family usages, the language, the company, the furniture . . . . the yearning and swelling heart,
Affection that will not be gainsayed . . . . The sense of what is real . . . . the thought if after all it should prove unreal,
The doubts of daytime and the doubts of nighttime . . . . the curious whether and how,
Whether that which appears so is so . . . . Or is it all flashes and specks?
Men and women crowding fast in the streets . . if they are not flashes and specks what are they?
The streets themselves, and the façades of houses. . . . the goods in the windows,
Vehicles . . teams . . the tiered wharves, and the huge crossing at the ferries;
The village on the highland seen from afar at sunset . . . . the river between,
Shadows . . aureola and mist . . light falling on roofs and gables of white or brown, three miles off,
The schooner near by sleepily dropping down the tide . . the little boat slacktowed astern,
The hurrying tumbling waves and quickbroken crests and slapping;
The strata of colored clouds . . . . the long bar of maroontint away solitary by itself . . . . the spread of purity it lies motionless in,
The horizon's edge, the flying seacrow, the fragrance of saltmarsh and shoremud;
These became part of that child who went forth every day, and who now goes and will always go forth every day,
And these become of him or her that peruses them now.

This poem is in the public domain.

It is a cube, it is red, it is mountainous,
it is a bird of fire, it is the bones of the pelvis, it is a walnut,
it is treasured. It is yellow Saturn wobbling in its orbit.
It is danger, squawking.

It is the desire to sit down with strangers in cafes
and then it is the strangers in cafés,
it is the man with the black T-shirt
labeled UNARMED CIVILIAN and it is the blind man with              him

and his painful trembling.
Always it is oxygen and more oxygen. It is the fight in you
and the fight in you dying. It is the need for water
and the water that falls from the sky.

It is desperate for a theory and it is the acts you call evil
when you know there is no evil only desperation.
It is that bravery, that arrogance, that blindness.
It is the pink morning and your smile in the pink morning.

It is a phantom and the thin neck of a tree it
is a little project called loving the world.
It is howling in the dirt it is an extravaganza.
It’s the abandoned sports bra, in the dirt beside howling you.

It’s the windchimes in the thin-necked tree and
it is tonguetied. It is asleep.
It is waking up now. It is a small cat on the bed.
It is the threads of a leaf and it is the Three Graces:

Splendor, Mirth and Good Cheer.
It is their heartfelt advice:
You can’t let it hurt you.
You must let it hurt you.

It is a careless error and the hotel pool blue with chemistry.
It’s a kiss of course it is a kiss.
It’s an old strange book newly acquired
but not yet catalogued, it is crazy.

It is you, crazy with honesty and crazy with ambition.
It’s the sun that stuns over and over again.
It’s your tablet, which is every tablet everywhere.
It’s an explosion it is every explosion everywhere.

It is pavement, mineral and hot and wet with droplets.
It’s the stars that pitch white needles into the pond.
It is provable, it is a lotion, it is a lie.
It is a baby because everyone is a baby.

It talks to you, always to you, it moves
swiftly, it is stuck, it moves swiftly, it is stuck, it moves
swiftly. It’s the impenetrable truth, now clear as ice.
It is serious, it is irreversible, it is going, going.

It is flying now laughing strong enough to know anything.
 

Copyright © 2016 by Kathleen Ossip. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 9, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

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.

There is no life after death. Why
              should there be. What on

earth would have us believe this.
              Heaven is not the American

highway, blackened chicken alfredo
              from Applebee’s nor the

clown sundae from Friendly’s. Our
              life, this is the afterdeath,

when we blink open, peeled and
              ready to ache. Years ago

my aunt banged on the steering, she
              insisted there had to be a

God, a heaven. We were on our
              way to a wedding. I would

have to sit at the same table as the
              man who saw no heaven

in me. Today I am thinking about
              Mozart, of all people, who

died at 35 mysteriously, perhaps of
              strep. What a strange cloth

it is to live. But that we came from
              death and return to it, made

different by form, shaped again back
              into anti–, anti–. On my run,

I think of Jack Gilbert, who said we
              must insist while there is still

time, but insist toward what. Why we
              must fill the void with light—

isn’t that our human insistence? But
              we drift into a distance of

distance until proximity fails, our
              name lifts away with any

future concerns, the past a flattened
              coin that cannot spin. I am

matter spun from death’s wool—and
              I bewilder the itch, I who am

I am just so happy to go.

Copyright © 2017 by Natalie Eilbert. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 15, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

My skeleton,
you who once ached
with your own growing larger

are now,
each year
imperceptibly smaller,
lighter,
absorbed by your own
concentration.

When I danced,
you danced.
When you broke,
I.

And so it was lying down,
walking,
climbing the tiring stairs.
Your jaws. My bread.

Someday you,
what is left of you,
will be flensed of this marriage.

Angular wristbone's arthritis,
cracked harp of ribcage,
blunt of heel,
opened bowl of the skull,
twin platters of pelvis—
each of you will leave me behind,
at last serene.

What did I know of your days,
your nights,
I who held you all my life
inside my hands
and thought they were empty?

You who held me all my life
inside your hands
as a new mother holds
her own unblanketed child,
not thinking at all.

—2013

Copyright © 2013 by Jane Hirshfield. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on October 14, 2013.

Today I woke up in my body
and wasn’t that body anymore.

It’s more like my dog—
for the most part obedient,
warming to me
when I slip it goldfish or toast,

but it sheds.
Can’t get past a simple sit,
stay, turn over. House-trained, but not entirely.

This doesn’t mean it’s time to say goodbye.

I’ve realized the estrangement
is temporary, and for my own good:

My body’s work to break the world
into bricks and sticks
has turned inward.

As all the doors in the world
grow heavy
a big white bed is being put up in my heart.

Copyright © 2017 by Max Ritvo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 19, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

The American middle class is screwed again but they don’t know it. Politics is a gleaming nowhere. Žižek fantasizes about Capitalism’s inevitable end. Reviewers want these poems to be more hopeful. Love is obvious. She’s a tutu shelter leaning out! Love is miraculous. She’s twirling quite naturally! We dangle our feet in a July swimming pool. Shoots sparkles from our eyes—to quiet to quiet all our little monsters. Street habits rear up. Any fire. Any quell. Who’s made it to well being? The television projects hysterical grief. Brown women wailing fall to knees draped over. We are only who we are supposed to be. No moon tonight, dear one.

Copyright © 2016 by Dawn Lundy Martin. From Life in a Box Is a Pretty Life (Nightboat Books, 2016). Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database

Things will be different.
No one will lose their sight,
their hearing, their gallbladder.
It will be all Catskills with brand
new wrap-around verandas.
The idea of Hitler will not
have vibrated yet.
While back here,
they are still cleaning out
pockets of wrinkled
Nazis hiding in Argentina.
But in the next galaxy,
certain planets will have true
blue skies and drinking water.

From In the Next Galaxy by Ruth Stone. Copyright © 2002 by Ruth Stone. Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press. All rights reserved.

I took a break from writing about the dead
and drinking from writing about the dead
to walk around my childhood neighborhood.
Everything’s for rent. Or for sale, for ten
times the amount it’s worth.

Palm trees are planted in front of a mural
of palm trees under the Ocean Park Bridge.
In the painting, the metal horses of a carousel are breaking
free and running down the beach. Why didn’t I leave

my initials in cement
in front of my parent’s apartment in the eighties?
Nikki had the right idea in ’79.

I walk by a basketball court, where men play
under the florescent butts of night’s cigarette.
I could have been any of their wives,
at home, filling different rooms in different houses
with hopeful wombs. Agreeing on paint color

samples with their mothers in mind.
I’ll bet their wives let their cats go out
hunting at night like premonitions of future sons.
They will worry, stare out the front window,
pray that privilege doesn’t bring home bad news
like some wilted head of a black girl in nascent jaws.

To say nothing of the owl who’s been here for years. I hear him

when I’m trying to write about the deaths I’ve admired.
I hear him when the clothed me no longer recognizes
the naked. I hear him while writing and shitting and sleeping
where my mother’s seven guitars sleep.
I hear him in my parent’s house,
their walls covered in my many faces,
traces of decades of complacence.

My childhood neighborhood is a shrine to my success,
and I’m a car with a bomb inside, ready
to pull up in front of it and stop
pretending.
 

Copyright © 2015 by Amber Tamblyn. Used with permission of the author.

According to Culture Shock:
A Guide to Customs and Etiquette 
of Filipinos, when my husband says yes,
he could also mean one of the following:
a.) I don't know.
b.) If you say so.
c.) If it will please you.
d.) I hope I have said yes unenthusiastically enough
for you to realize I mean no.
You can imagine the confusion 
surrounding our movie dates, the laundry,
who will take out the garbage
and when. I remind him 
I'm an American, that all his yeses sound alike to me.        
I tell him here in America we have shrinks 
who can help him to be less of a people-pleaser. 
We have two-year-olds who love to scream "No!" 
when they don't get their way. I tell him, 
in America we have a popular book,
When I Say No I Feel Guilty.
"Should I get you a copy?" I ask.
He says yes, but I think he means
"If it will please you," i.e. "I won't read it."
"I'm trying," I tell him, "but you have to try too."
"Yes," he says, then makes tampo,
a sulking that the book Culture Shock describes as
"subliminal hostility . . . withdrawal of customary cheerfulness
in the presence of the one who has displeased" him.
The book says it's up to me to make things all right,
"to restore goodwill, not by talking the problem out,
but by showing concern about the wounded person's
well-being." Forget it, I think, even though I know
if I'm not nice, tampo can quickly escalate into nagdadabog--
foot stomping, grumbling, the slamming
of doors. Instead of talking to my husband, I storm off
to talk to my porcelain Kwan Yin,
the Chinese goddess of mercy
that I bought on Canal Street years before
my husband and I started dating.
"The real Kwan Yin is in Manila,"
he tells me. "She's called Nuestra Señora de Guia.
Her Asian features prove Christianity
was in the Philippines before the Spanish arrived."
My husband's telling me this
tells me he's sorry. Kwan Yin seems to wink,
congratulating me--my short prayer worked.
"Will you love me forever?" I ask,
then study his lips, wondering if I'll be able to decipher
what he means by his yes.

From The Star-Spangled Banner, Southern Illinois University Press, 1999. Reprinted with permission of Denise Duhamel.

Reflected in the plate glass, the pies
look like clouds drifting off my shoulder.
I’m telling myself my face has character,
not beauty. It’s my mother’s Slavic face.
She washed the floor on hands and knees
below the Black Madonna, praying
to her god of sorrows and visions
who’s not here tonight when I lay out the plates,
small planets, the cups and moons of saucers.
At this hour the men all look
as if they’d never had mothers.
They do not see me. I bring the cups.
I bring the silver. There’s the man
who leans over the jukebox nightly
pressing the combinations
of numbers. I would not stop him
if he touched me, but it’s only songs
of risky love he leans into. The cook sings
with the jukebox, a moan and sizzle
into the grill. On his forehead
a tattooed cross furrows,
diminished when he frowns. He sings words
dragged up from the bottom of his lungs.
I want a song that rolls
through the night like a big Cadillac
past factories to the refineries
squatting on the bay, round and shiny
as the coffee urn warming my palm.
Sometimes when coffee cruises my mind
visiting the most remote way stations,
I think of my room as a calm arrival
each book and lamp in its place. The calendar
on my wall predicts no disaster
only another white square waiting
to be filled like the desire that fills
jail cells, the cold arrest
that makes me stare out the window or want
to try every bar down the street.
When I walk out of here in the morning
my mouth is bitter with sleeplessness.
Men surge to the factories and I’m too tired
to look. Fingers grip lunch box handles,
belt buckles gleam, wind riffles my uniform
and it’s not romantic when the sun unlids
the end of the avenue. I’m fading
in the morning’s insinuations
collecting in the crevices of the building,
in wrinkles, in every fault
of this frail machinery.

From Collected Poems (Graywolf Press, 2006). Copyright © 2006 by Lynda Hull. Used with the permission of Graywolf Press.

Abortions will not let you forget.
You remember the children you got that you did not get,
The damp small pulps with a little or with no hair,
The singers and workers that never handled the air.
You will never neglect or beat
Them, or silence or buy with a sweet.
You will never wind up the sucking-thumb
Or scuttle off ghosts that come.
You will never leave them, controlling your luscious sigh,
Return for a snack of them, with gobbling mother-eye.

I have heard in the voices of the wind the voices of my dim killed children.
I have contracted. I have eased
My dim dears at the breasts they could never suck.
I have said, Sweets, if I sinned, if I seized
Your luck
And your lives from your unfinished reach,
If I stole your births and your names,
Your straight baby tears and your games,
Your stilted or lovely loves, your tumults, your marriages, aches, and your deaths,
If I poisoned the beginnings of your breaths,
Believe that even in my deliberateness I was not deliberate.
Though why should I whine,
Whine that the crime was other than mine?—
Since anyhow you are dead.
Or rather, or instead,
You were never made.
But that too, I am afraid,
Is faulty: oh, what shall I say, how is the truth to be said?
You were born, you had body, you died.
It is just that you never giggled or planned or cried.

Believe me, I loved you all.
Believe me, I knew you, though faintly, and I loved, I loved you
All.

From A Street in Bronzeville by Gwendolyn Brooks, published by Harper & Brothers. © 1945 by Gwendolyn Brooks. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

A man can cry, all night, your back
shaking against me as your mother
sleeps, hooked to the drip
to clear her kidneys from their muck
of sleeping pills. Each one white
as the snapper’s belly I once watched a man
gut by the ice bins in his truck, its last 
bubbling grunt cleaved in two
with a knife. The way my uncle’s rabbit
growled in its cage, screamed
so like a child that when I woke the night
a fox chewed through the wires
to reach it, I thought it was my own voice
frozen in the yard. And then the fox,
trapped later by a neighbor, who thrashed
and barked, as did the crows
that came for its eyes: the sound
of one animal’s pain setting off a chain
in so many others, until each cry dissolves
into the next grown louder. 
Even if I were blind
I would know night by the noise it made:
our groaning bed, the mewling
staircase, drapes that scrape
against glass panes behind which
stars rise, blue and silent.
But not even the stars
are silent: their pale waves
echo through space, the way my father’s
disappointment sags at my cheek,
and his brother’s anger
whitens his temple. And these
are your mother’s shoulders shaking
in my arms tonight, her thin breath
that drags at our window
where coyotes cry: one calling to the next
calling to the next, their tender throats
tipped back to the sky.

Copyright © 2016 by Paisley Rekdal. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 12, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

When you quietly close
the door to a room
the room is not finished.

It is resting. Temporarily.
Glad to be without you
for a while.

Now it has time to gather
its balls of gray dust,
to pitch them from corner to corner.

Now it seeps back into itself,
unruffled and proud.
Outlines grow firmer.

When you return,
you might move the stack of books,
freshen the water for the roses.

I think you could keep doing this
forever. But the blue chair looks best
with the red pillow. So you might as well

leave it that way.

From Honeybee (Greenwillow Books, 2008) by Naomi Shihab Nye. Copyright @2008 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Used with permission of the author.

          And what did you want?
          To call myself beloved, to feel myself
                 beloved on the earth.
                       --Ray Carver
						
He was in a hotel in Baltimore
in a suburb near Johns Hopkins. He would

give a talk there, and they would pay him for it. 
It was night, and he was alone; sirens were racing

up and down the streets. The room was very large. 
Most of what he had wished as a boy was to write poems,

to have some power with the word, to be paid 
for talking. Don't smile, please. He wanted

to be put in a beautiful room like this. 
Bonnie would pick him up in an hour. He saw

out the picture window a few men in trenchcoats 
walking toward the parking lot, and beyond that

headlights and taillights on a freeway a mile 
or so away. He'd been reading Carver's last book

of poems, reading "Gravy" and the other valedictories. 
He remembered Carver a few years before his death,

kidding about his prosperity, kneeling before his Mercedes 
and waving a fistful of dollars, because he was so amazed,

he supposed, to have them, that good man, whose last poems, 
written in the knowledge of imminent death, said

love the world, don't grieve overmuch, listen to people. 
The beautiful room was a good place to read; he'd finished

the book (for the second time) at the pine desk, where 
the indirect white light hurt his eyes. He didn't think 

he'd ever be as famous as Carver, but who could tell? 
He was sorry the man was dead; there was nothing

he could do about that, but he was sorry for it. 
He got up to look out the picture window. He could

see the red spintops of some cops' cars. Other than that 
nothing special: in the entrance courtyard a lone cabbie

smoked a cigarette; spotlights shone up through the yellow 
foliage of a clump of maples. A few slow crickets.

He had everything he really wanted, he had learned 
that friends, like love, couldn't save him.

From The Land of Cockaigne by Ed Ochester, published by Story Line Press. Copyright © 2001 by Ed Ochester. Published by permission of the author and Story Line Press. All rights reserved.

Where are you from?
      There.

Where are you headed?
      There.

What are you doing?
      Grieving.
            —Rabia Al-Adawiyya

Little brother, we are all grieving
& galaxy & goodbye. Once, I climbed inside
the old clock tower of my hometown
& found a dead bird, bathed in broken light,
like a little christ.

Little christ of our hearts, I know
planets light-years away
are under our tongues. We’ve tasted them.
We’ve climbed the staircases saying, There, there.

Little brother, we are all praying. Every morning,
I read out loud but not loud enough
to alarm anyone. Once, my love said, Please
open the door. I can hear you talk. Open the door.

Little christ of our hearts, tell anyone
you've been talking to god & see
what happens. Every day,
I open the door. I do it by looking
at my daughter on a swing—
eyes closed & crinkled, teeth bare.
I say, Good morning good morning you
little beating thing.

Little brother, we are all humming.
More & more, as I read, I sound
like my father with his book of prayers,
turning pages in his bed—a hymn
for each day of the week, a gift
from his mother, who taught me
the ten of diamonds is a win, left me
her loose prayer clothes. Bismillah.

Little christ of our hearts, forgive me,
for I loved eating the birds with lemon,
& the sound of their tiny bones. But I couldn’t
stomach the eyes of the fried fish.

Little brother, we are always hungry.
Here, this watermelon. Here, some salt
for the tomatoes. Here, this song
for the dead birds in time boxes,
& the living. That day in the clock tower,
I saw the city too, below—

                    the merchants who call, the blue awnings,
                    the corn carts, the clotheslines, the heat,
                    the gears that turn, & the remembering.

Copyright © 2018 by Zeina Hashem Beck. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 3, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

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
and becoming
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.

for Adrienne Rich in 2006

 

The poet's hands degenerate until her cup is too heavy.

You are not required to understand.
This is not the year for understanding.

This is the year of burning women in schoolyards
and raided homes, of tarped bodies on runways and in restaurants.

The architecture of the poet's hands has turned upon itself.

This is not the year for palliatives. It is not the year for knowing what to do.

This is the year the planet grew smaller
and no country would consent to its defeat.

The poet's cup is filled too full, a weight she cannot carry
from the table to her mouth, her lips, her tongue.
The poet's hands are congenitally spoiled.

This is not one thing standing for another.

Listen, this year three ancient cities met their ruin, maybe more,
and many profited, but this is not news for the readers here.

Should I speak indirectly?
I am not the poet. Those are not my hands.

This is the year of deportations and mothers bereaved
of all of their sons. The year of third and fourth tours,
of cutting-edge weaponry and old-fashioned guns.

Last year was no better, and this year only lays the groundwork
for the years that are to come. Listen, this is a year like no other.

This is the year the doctors struck for want of aid
and schoolchildren were sent home in the morning

and lights and gas were unreliable
and, harvesters suspect, fruit had no recourse but rot.

Many are dying for want of a cure, and the poet is patient
and her hands cause the least of her pain.

Copyright © 2011 by Camille Dungy. From Smith Blue (Southern Illinois University Press, 2011). Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.

“Save your hands,” my mother says,
seeing me untwist a jar’s tight cap—

just the way she used to tell me
not to let boys fool around, or feel

my breasts: “keep them fresh
for marriage,” as if they were a pair

of actual fruit. I scoffed
to think they could bruise, scuff,

soften, rot, wither. I look down now
at my knuckly thumbs, my index finger

permanently askew in the same classic
crook as hers, called a swan’s neck,

as if snapped, it’s that pronounced.
Even as I type, wondering how long

I’ll be able to—each joint in my left hand
needing to be hoisted, prodded, into place,

one knuckle like a clock’s dial clicking
as it’s turned to open, bend or unbend.

I balk at the idea that we can overuse
ourselves, must parcel out and pace

our energies so as not to run out of any
necessary component while still alive—

the definition of “necessary” necessarily
suffering change over time. 

The only certainty is uncertainty, I thought
I knew, so ignored whatever she said

about boys and sex: her version of
a story never mine. It made me laugh,

the way she made up traditions, that we
didn’t kiss boys until a certain age, we

didn’t fool around. What we? What part of me
was she? No part I could put my finger on.

How odd, then, one day, to find her
half-napping in her room, talking first

to herself and then to me, about a boy
she used to know, her friend's brother,

who she kissed, she said, just because 
he wanted her to. “Now why would I do that,”

she mused, distraught anew and freshly
stung by the self-betrayal. So much 

I still want to do with my hands—
type, play, cook, caress, swipe, re-trace.

Copyright © 2018 by Carol Moldaw. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 14, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

This poem originally appeared in Waxwing, Issue 10, in June 2016. Used with permission of the author.

I must have missed the last train out of this gray city.
I’m scrolling the radio through shhhhh. The streetlamps

fill with light, right on time, but no one is pouring it in.
Twentieth Century, you’re gone. You’re tucked into

a sleeping car, rolling to god-knows-where, and I’m
lonely for you. I know it’s naïve. But your horrors

were far away, and I thought I could stand them.
Twentieth Century, we had a good life more or less,

didn’t we? You made me. You wove the long braid
down my back. You kissed me in the snowy street

with everyone watching. You opened your mouth a little
and it scared me. Twentieth Century, it’s me, it’s me.

You said that to me once, as if I’d forgotten your face.
You strung me out until trees seemed to breathe,

expanding and contracting. You played “American Girl”
and turned it up loud. You said I was untouchable.

Do you remember the nights at Alum Creek, the lit
windows painting yellow Rothkos on the water?

Are they still there, or did you take them with you?
Say something. I’m here, waiting, scrolling the radio.

On every frequency, someone hushes me. Is it you?
Twentieth Century, are you there? I thought you were

a simpler time. I thought we’d live on a mountain
together, drinking melted snow, carving hawk totems

from downed pines. We’d never come back. Twentieth
Century, I was in so deep, I couldn’t see an end to you.

From Weep Up (Tupelo Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Maggie Smith. Used with permission of the author.

A woman tattoos Malik’s name above
her breast & talks about the conspiracy
to destroy blacks. This is all a fancy way
to say that someone kirked out, emptied
five or six or seven shots into a still warm body.
No indictment follows Malik’s death,
follows smoke running from a fired pistol.
An old quarrel: crimson against concrete
& the officer’s gun still smoking.
Someone says the people need to stand up,
that the system’s a glass house falling on only
a few heads. This & the stop snitching ads
are the conundrum and damn all that blood.
All those closed eyes imagining Malik’s
killer forever coffled to a series of cells,
& you almost believe them, you do, except
the cognac in your hand is an old habit,
a toast to friends buried before the daybreak
of their old age. You know the truth
of the talking, of the quarrels & how
history lets the blamed go blameless for
the blood that flows black in the street;
you imagine there is a riot going on,
& someone is tossing a trash can through
Sal’s window calling that revolution,
while behind us cell doors keep clanking closed,
& Malik’s casket door clanks closed,
& the bodies that roll off the block
& into the prisons and into the ground,
keep rolling, & no one will admit
that this is the way America strangles itself.

Copyright © 2015 by Reginald Dwayne Betts. From Bastards of the Reagan Era (Four Way Books, 2015). Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.

Five winters in a row, my father knuckles

the trunk of his backyard pine

like he’s testing a watermelon.

He scolds smooth patches

where bark won’t grow,

breaks branches

to find them hollow.

He inhales deeply

and the pine tree has lost

even its scent. He grieves

in trees— my father, the backyard

forest king, the humble

king. The dragging his scepter

through the darkness king.

The wind splits him into shivers.

Rivers of stars

don him like a crown. My king

who won’t lay his tenderness down

trembles into the black

unable to stop

his kingdom from dying.

I have failed to quiet

the animal inside him.

If only I would

take his hand.

This man weeping

in the cold,

how quickly I turn

from him.

Copyright © 2017 by Hafizah Geter. “The Widower” originally appeared in Court Green. Reprinted with permission of the author.

 

Dear Empire, I am confused each time I wake inside you.
                      You invent addictions.
Are you a high-end graveyard or a child?
                      I see your children dragging their brains along.
                      Why not a god who loves water and dancing
              instead of mirrors that recite your pretty features only?

You wear a different face to each atrocity.
You are un-unified and tangled.
                      Are you just gluttony?
                      Are you civilization’s slow grenade?

     I am confused each time I’m swallowed by your doors.

Copyright © 2018 by Jesús Castillo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 29, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

The sky keeps lying to the farmhouse,
lining up its heavy clouds
above the blue table umbrella,
then launching them over the river. 
And the day feels hopeless
until it notices a few trees
dropping delicately their white petals
on the grass beside the birdhouse
perched on its wooden post,
the blinking fledglings stuffed inside
like clothes in a tiny suitcase. At first
you wandered lonely through the yard
and it was no help knowing Wordsworth
felt the same, but then Whitman
comforted you a little, and you saw
the grass as uncut hair, yearning
for the product to make it shine.
Now you lie on the couch beneath the skylight,
the sky starting to come clean,
mixing its cocktail of sadness and dazzle,
a deluge and then a digging out
and then enough time for one more
dance or kiss before it starts again,
darkening, then brightening.
You listen to the tall wooden clock
in the kitchen: its pendulum clicks
back and forth all day, and it chimes
with a pure sound, every hour on the hour,
though it always mistakes the hour.

Copyright © 2015 by Kim Addonizio. Used with permission of the author.

This time of year the birds fly in elegant mobs,
tragic and sinister against gathering clouds.
It always made me sad to see the one trailing at the end, who I thought was
falling behind, tripping like a head of a musical note;
dark dots making swirls over and around the obscene billboards,
gathering in the empty trees like relentless matching ornaments—
no distinction between them from this distance,
their eyes kept from me, their hearts blue-red compasses
leading to Florida—
I watch them like a child might watch a father love
another child better—they smash into commuter planes or into a sky-blue tower
(the greatest trick of humans, making the sky into matter—),
those little feathery dinosaurs stopping at the mall ponds
to drink, calling to one another, sensing the change
in the wind, working as a team—it makes me want
to get stoned on the front steps, lit from within—seeing
these migrating jewels, elegant survivors, feathered delicacies,
musical geniuses, flinging themselves like a ballerina
made of smaller ballerinas;
these small dwindling barrettes of Nature—
there’s simply nothing more important than them making it.
I want to haul my mattress onto the roof.
I want to compare them to the stars, to light, to pepper.
I want to follow them. Want to do something
other than take this exit off the freeway
and leave them in my rearview mirror:
fumbling clear black angels, backup dancers, flawless cheerleading squad
from some more transcendent universe
piling up on one another, perfectly—swallowing the sky like a silk scarf,
above, silent, powerful, better than me, in every way,
hustling over the shipwrecked world.

From The Möbius Strip Club of Grief (Tin House Books, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Bianca Stone. Used with the permission of Tin House Books.

He went there to learn how
to give a good perm
and ended up just crazy 
about nails
so He opened up His own shop.
"Nails by Jim" He called it.
He was afraid to call it
Nails by God.
He was sure people would
think He was being
disrespectful and using
His own name in vain
and nobody would tip.
He got into nails, of course,
because He'd always loved
hands--
hands were some of the best things
He'd ever done
and this way He could just
hold one in His
and admire those delicate
bones just above the knuckles,
delicate as birds' wings, 
and after He'd done that
awhile,
He could paint all the nails 
any color He wanted,
then say,
"Beautiful,"
and mean it.

From God Went to Beauty School by Cynthia Rylant. Copyright © 2003 by Cynthia Rylant. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Children's Books. All rights reserved.

One summer afternoon, I learned my body
like a blind child leaving a walled
school for the first time, stumbling
from cool hallways to a world
dense with scent and sound,
pines roaring in the sudden wind
like a huge chorus of insects.
I felt the damp socket of flowers,
touched weeds riding the crest
of a stony ridge, and the scrubby
ground cover on low hills.
Haystacks began to burn,
smoke rose like sheets of
translucent mica. The thick air
hummed over the stretched wires
of wheat as I lay in the overgrown field
listening to the shrieks of small rabbits
bounding beneath my skin.

Copyright © 2006 by Darcy Cummings. From The Artist As Alice: From a Photographer's Life. Reprinted with permission of Bright Hill Press.

                      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.

For years I went to the Peruvian barbers on 18th Street
—comforting, welcome: the full coatrack,
three chairs held by three barbers,

oldest by the window, the middle one
a slight fellow who spoke an oddly feminine Spanish,
the youngest last, red-haired, self-consciously masculine,

and in each of the mirrors their children’s photos,
smutty cartoons, postcards from Machu Picchu.
I was happy in any chair, though I liked best

the touch of the eldest, who’d rest his hand
against my neck in a thoughtless, confident way.
Ten years maybe. One day the powdery blue

steel shutters pulled down over the window and door,
not to be raised again. They’d lost their lease.
I didn’t know how at a loss I’d feel;

this haze around what I’d like to think
the sculptural presence of my skull
requires neither art nor science,

but two haircuts on Seventh, one in Dublin,
nothing right.
                            Then (I hear my friend Marie
laughing over my shoulder, saying In your poems

there’s always a then, and I think,  Is it a poem
without a then?
) dull early winter, back on 18th,
upspiraling red in a cylinder of glass, just below the line

of sidewalk, a new sign, WILLIE’S BARBERSHOP. 
Dark hallway, glass door, and there’s (presumably) Willie.
When I tell him I used to go down the street

he says in an inscrutable accent, This your home now,
puts me in a chair, asks me what I want and soon he’s clipping
and singing with the radio’s Latin dance tune.

That’s when I notice Willie’s walls,
though he’s been here all of a week, spangled with images
hung in barber shops since the beginning of time:

lounge singers, near-celebrities, random boxers
—Italian boys, Puerto Rican, caught in the hour
of their beauty, though they’d scowl at the word.

Cheering victors over a trophy won for what? 
Frames already dusty, at slight angles,
here, it is clear, forever. Are barbershops

like aspens, each sprung from a common root
ten thousand years old, sons of one father,
holding up fighters and starlets to shield the tenderness

at their hearts? Our guardian Willie defies time,
his chair our ferryboat, and we go down into the trance
of touch and the skull-buzz drone

singing cranial nerves in the direction of peace,
and so I understand that in the back
of this nothing building on 18th Street
                                                   —I’ve found that door

ajar before, in daylight, when it shouldn’t be,
some forgotten bulb left burning in a fathomless shaft
of my uncharted nights—
                                                   the men I have outlived

await their turns, the fevered and wasted, whose mothers
and lovers scattered their ashes and gave away their clothes.
Twenty years and their names tumble into a numb well

—though in truth I have not forgotten one of you,
may I never forget one of you—these layers of men,
arrayed in their no-longer-breathing ranks.

Willie, I have not lived well in my grief for them;
I have lugged this weight from place to place
as though it were mine to account for,

and today I sit in your good chair, in the sixth decade
of my life, and if your back door is a threshold
of the kingdom of the lost, yours is a steady hand

on my shoulder. Go down into the still waters
of this chair and come up refreshed, ready to face the avenue.
Maybe I do believe we will not be left comfortless.

After everything comes tumbling down or you tear it down
and stumble in the shadow-valley trenches of the moon,
there’s a still a decent chance at—a barber shop,

salsa on the radio, the instruments of renewal wielded,
effortlessly, and, who’d have thought, for you.
Willie if he is Willie fusses much longer over my head

than my head merits, which allows me to be grateful
without qualification. Could I be a little satisfied?
There’s a man who loves me. Our dogs. Fifteen,

twenty more good years, if I’m a bit careful.
There’s what I haven’t written. It’s sunny out,
though cold.  After I tip Willie

I’m going down to Jane Street, to a coffee shop I like,
and then I’m going to write this poem. Then
 

Copyright © 2015 by Mark Doty. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 2, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets. 

Lord, I ain’t asking to be the Beastmaster
gym-ripped in a jungle loincloth
or a Doctor Dolittle or even the expensive vet
down the street, that stethoscoped redhead,
her diamond ring big as a Cracker Jack toy.
All I want is for you to help me flip
off this lightbox and its scroll of dread, to rip
a tiny tear between this world and that, a slit
in the veil, Lord, one of those old-fashioned peeping
keyholes through which I can press my dumb
lips and speak. If you will, Lord, make me the teeth
hot in the mouth of a raccoon scraping
the junk I scraped from last night’s plates,
make me the blue eye of that young crow cocked to
me—too selfish to even look up from the black
of my damn phone. Oh, forgive me, Lord,
how human I’ve become, busy clicking
what I like, busy pushing
my cuticles back and back to expose
all ten pale, useless moons.  Would you let me
tell your creatures how sorry
I am, let them know exactly
what we’ve done? Am I not an animal
too? If so, Lord, make me one again.
Give me back my dirty claws and blood-warm
horns, braid back those long-
frayed endings of every nerve tingling
with all I thought I had to do today.
Fork my tongue, Lord. There is a sorrow on the air
I taste but cannot name. I want to open
my mouth and know the exact
flavor of what’s to come, I want to open
my mouth and sound a language
that calls all language home.

Copyright © 2017 by Nickole Brown. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 28, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.