The world is a beautiful place 
                                                           to be born into 
if you don’t mind happiness 
                                             not always being 
                                                                        so very much fun 
       if you don’t mind a touch of hell
                                                       now and then
                just when everything is fine
                                                             because even in heaven
                                they don’t sing 
                                                        all the time

             The world is a beautiful place
                                                           to be born into
       if you don’t mind some people dying
                                                                  all the time
                        or maybe only starving
                                                           some of the time
                 which isn’t half so bad
                                                      if it isn’t you

      Oh the world is a beautiful place
                                                          to be born into
               if you don’t much mind
                                                   a few dead minds
                    in the higher places
                                                    or a bomb or two
                            now and then
                                                  in your upturned faces
         or such other improprieties
                                                    as our Name Brand society
                                  is prey to
                                              with its men of distinction
             and its men of extinction
                                                   and its priests
                         and other patrolmen
                                                         and its various segregations
         and congressional investigations
                                                             and other constipations
                        that our fool flesh
                                                     is heir to

Yes the world is the best place of all
                                                           for a lot of such things as
         making the fun scene
                                                and making the love scene
and making the sad scene
                                         and singing low songs of having 
                                                                                      inspirations
and walking around 
                                looking at everything
                                                                  and smelling flowers
and goosing statues
                              and even thinking 
                                                         and kissing people and
     making babies and wearing pants
                                                         and waving hats and
                                     dancing
                                                and going swimming in rivers
                              on picnics
                                       in the middle of the summer
and just generally
                            ‘living it up’

Yes
   but then right in the middle of it
                                                    comes the smiling
                                                                                 mortician

                                           

From A Coney Island of the Mind, copyright ©1955 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.

Maru Mori brought me
a pair
of socks
which she knitted herself
with her sheepherder’s hands,
two socks as soft
as rabbits.
I slipped my feet
into them
as though into
two
cases
knitted
with threads of
twilight
and goatskin.
Violent socks,
my feet were
two fish made
of wool,
two long sharks
sea-blue, shot
through
by one golden thread,
two immense blackbirds,
two cannons:
my feet
were honored
in this way
by
these
heavenly
socks.
They were
so handsome
for the first time
my feet seemed to me
unacceptable
like two decrepit
firemen, firemen
unworthy
of that woven
fire,
of those glowing
socks.

Nevertheless
I resisted
the sharp temptation
to save them somewhere
as schoolboys
keep
fireflies,
as learned men
collect
sacred texts,
I resisted
the mad impulse
to put them
into a golden
cage
and each day give them
birdseed
and pieces of pink melon.
Like explorers
in the jungle who hand
over the very rare
green deer
to the spit
and eat it
with remorse,
I stretched out
my feet
and pulled on
the magnificent
socks
and then my shoes.

The moral
of my ode is this:
beauty is twice
beauty
and what is good is doubly
good
when it is a matter of two socks
made of wool
in winter.

"Ode to My Socks" from Neruda & Vallejo: Selected Poems, by Pablo Neruda and translated by Robert Bly (Boston: Beacon Press, 1993). Used with permission of Robert Bly.

I went to look for Joy,
Slim, dancing Joy,
Gay, laughing Joy,
Bright-eyed Joy,—
And I found her
Driving the butcher's cart
In the arms of the butcher boy!
Such company, such company,
As keeps this young nymph, Joy!

From The Weary Blues (Alfred A. Knopf, 1926) by Langston Hughes. This poem is in the public domain. 

Allah, you gave us a language
where yesterday & tomorrow
are the same word. Kal.

A spell cast with the entire
mouth. Back of the throat
to teeth. Tomorrow means I might

have her forever. Yesterday means
I say goodbye, again.
Kal means they are the same.

I know you can bend time.
I am merely asking for what
is mine. Give me my mother for no

other reason than I deserve her.
If yesterday & tomorrow are the same
pluck the flower of my mother’s body

from the soil. Kal means I’m in the crib,
eyelashes wet as she looks over me.
Kal means I’m on the bed,

crawling away from her, my father
back from work. Kal means she’s
dancing at my wedding not-yet come.

Kal means she’s oiling my hair
before the first day of school. Kal
means I wake to her strange voice

in the kitchen. Kal means
she’s holding my unborn baby
in her arms, helping me pick a name.

From If They Come For Us: Poems (One World/ Random House, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Fatimah Asghar. Used with the permission of the poet.

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.

At gate C22 in the Portland airport
a man in a broad-band leather hat kissed
a woman arriving from Orange County.
They kissed and kissed and kissed. Long after
the other passengers clicked the handles of their carry-ons
and wheeled briskly toward short-term parking,
the couple stood there, arms wrapped around each other
like he’d just staggered off the boat at Ellis Island,
like she’d been released at last from ICU, snapped
out of a coma, survived bone cancer, made it down
from Annapurna in only the clothes she was wearing.

Neither of them was young. His beard was gray.
She carried a few extra pounds you could imagine
her saying she had to lose. But they kissed lavish
kisses like the ocean in the early morning,
the way it gathers and swells, sucking
each rock under, swallowing it
again and again. We were all watching—
passengers waiting for the delayed flight
to San Jose, the stewardesses, the pilots,
the aproned woman icing Cinnabons, the man selling
sunglasses. We couldn’t look away. We could
taste the kisses crushed in our mouths.

But the best part was his face. When he drew back
and looked at her, his smile soft with wonder, almost
as though he were a mother still open from giving birth,
as your mother must have looked at you, no matter
what happened after—if she beat you or left you or
you’re lonely now—you once lay there, the vernix
not yet wiped off, and someone gazed at you
as if you were the first sunrise seen from the Earth.
The whole wing of the airport hushed,
all of us trying to slip into that woman’s middle-aged body,
her plaid Bermuda shorts, sleeveless blouse, glasses,
little gold hoop earrings, tilting our heads up.

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

First there was the blue wing
of a scraggly loud jay tucked
into the shrubs. Then the bluish-
black moth drunkenly tripping
from blade to blade. Then
the quiet that came roaring
in like the R. J. Corman over
Broadway near the RV shop.
These are the last three things
that happened. Not in the universe,
but here, in the basin of my mind,
where I’m always making a list
for you, recording the day’s minor
urchins: silvery dust mote, pistachio
shell, the dog eating a sugar
snap pea. It’s going to rain soon,
close clouds bloated above us,
the air like a net about to release
all the caught fishes, a storm
siren in the distance. I know
you don’t always understand,
but let me point to the first
wet drops landing on the stones,
the noise like fingers drumming
the skin. I can’t help it. I will
never get over making everything
such a big deal.

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

Mr. Teodoro Luna in his later years had taken to kissing
His wife
Not so much with his lips as with his brows.
This is not to say he put his forehead
Against her mouth—
Rather, he would lift his eyebrows, once, quickly:
Not so vigorously he might be confused with the villain
Famous in the theaters, but not so little as to be thought
A slight movement, one of accident. This way
He kissed her
Often and quietly, across tables and through doorways,
Sometimes in photographs, and so through the years themselves.
This was his passion, that only she might see. The chance
He might feel some movement on her lips
Toward laughter.

From Teodoro Luna’s Two Kisses, published by W. W. Norton & Co., 1990. Copyright © 1990 by Alberto Ríos. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

We live in secret cities
And we travel unmapped roads.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not reach out
In place of the tongue.

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

                                              One river gives
                                              Its journey to the next.

We give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.

We give because giving has changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.

We have been better for it,
We have been wounded by it—

Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,
Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.

Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,
But we read this book, anyway, over and again:

Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,
Mine to yours, yours to mine.

You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.
Together we are simple green. You gave me

What you did not have, and I gave you
What I had to give—together, we made

Something greater from the difference.
 

Copyright © 2014 by Alberto Ríos. Used with permission of the author.

I’ve heard this thing where, when someone dies,
People close up all the holes around the house—

The keyholes, the chimney, the windows,
Even the mouths of the animals, the dogs and the pigs.

It’s so the soul won’t be confused, or tempted.
It’s so when the soul comes out of the body it’s been in

But that doesn’t work anymore,
It won’t simply go into another one

And try to make itself at home,
Pretending as if nothing happened.

There’s no mystery—it’s too much work to move on.
It isn’t anybody’s fault. A soul is like any of us.

It gets used to things, especially after a long life.
The way I sit in my living-room chair,

The indentation I have put in it now
After so many years—that’s how I understand.

It’s my chair,
And I know how to sit in it.

From The Theater of Night by Alberto Ríos. Used with permission by Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org

1.

Pies have a reputation.
And it’s immediate—no talk of potential

Regarding a pie.  It’s good
Or it isn’t, but mostly it is—sweet, very sweet

Right then, right there, blue and red.
It can’t go to junior college,

Work hard for the grades,
Work two jobs on the side.

It can’t slowly build a reputation
And a growing client base.

A pie gets one chance
And knows it, wearing as makeup

Those sparkling granules of sugar,
As a collar those diamond cutouts

Bespeaking Fair Day, felicity, contentment.
I tell you everything is great, says a pie,

Great, and fun, and fine.
And you smell nice, too, someone says.

A full pound of round sound, all ahh, all good.
Pies live a life of applause.

 

2.

But then there are the other pies.
The leftover pies.  The ones

Nobody chooses at Thanksgiving.
Mincemeat?  What the hell is that? people ask,

Pointing instead at a double helping of Mr.
“I-can-do-no-wrong” pecan pie.

But the unchosen pies have a long history, too.
They have plenty of good stories, places they’ve been—

They were once fun, too—
But nobody wants to listen to them anymore.

Oh sure, everybody used to love lard,
But things have changed, brother—things have changed.

That’s never the end of the story, of course.
Some pies make a break for it—

Live underground for a while,
Doing what they can, talking fast,

Trying to be sweet pizzas, if they’re lucky.
But no good comes of it.  Nobody is fooled.

A pie is a pie for one great day.  Last week,
It was Jell-O.  Tomorrow, it’ll be cake.

Originally published in The Dangerous Shirt (Copper Canyon Press, 2009). Copyright © by Alberto Ríos. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

My father used to say,
"Superior people never make long visits,
have to be shown Longfellow's grave
or the glass flowers at Harvard.
Self-reliant like the cat—
that takes its prey to privacy,
the mouse's limp tail hanging like a shoelace from its mouth—
they sometimes enjoy solitude,
and can be robbed of speech
by speech which has delighted them.
The deepest feeling always shows itself in silence;
not in silence, but restraint."
Nor was he insincere in saying, "Make my house your inn."
Inns are not residences.

This poem is in the public domain.

The illustration
is nothing to you without the application.
   You lack half wit. You crush all the particles down
      into close conformity, and then walk back and forth 
         on them.

Sparkling chips of rock
are crushed down to the level of the parent block.
   Were not 'impersonal judgment in aesthetic
      matters, a metaphysical impossibility,' you

might fairly achieve
It. As for butterflies, I can hardly conceive
   of one's attending upon you, but to question
      the congruence of the complement is vain, if it exists.

This poem is in the public domain.

He often expressed
A curious wish,
To be interchangeably
Man and fish;
To nibble the bait
Off the hook,
Said he,
And then slip away
Like a ghost
In the sea.

This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on June 9, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

The instructor said,

    Go home and write
    a page tonight.
    And let that page come out of you—
    Then, it will be true.

I wonder if it's that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem,
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:

It's not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I'm what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:
hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York, too.) Me—who?
Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn't make me not like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?

Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white—
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
That's American.
Sometimes perhaps you don't want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that's true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me—
although you're older—and white—
and somewhat more free.

This is my page for English B.

From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Knopf and Vintage Books. Copyright © 1994 by the Estate of Langston Hughes. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated.

When Hades decided he loved this girl
he built for her a duplicate of earth,
everything the same, down to the meadow,
but with a bed added.

Everything the same, including sunlight,
because it would be hard on a young girl
to go so quickly from bright light to utter darkness

Gradually, he thought, he'd introduce the night,
first as the shadows of fluttering leaves.
Then moon, then stars. Then no moon, no stars.
Let Persephone get used to it slowly.
In the end, he thought, she'd find it comforting.

A replica of earth
except there was love here.
Doesn't everyone want love?

He waited many years,
building a world, watching
Persephone in the meadow.
Persephone, a smeller, a taster.
If you have one appetite, he thought,
you have them all.

Doesn't everyone want to feel in the night
the beloved body, compass, polestar,
to hear the quiet breathing that says
I am alive, that means also
you are alive, because you hear me,
you are here with me. And when one turns,
the other turns—

That's what he felt, the lord of darkness,
looking at the world he had
constructed for Persephone. It never crossed his mind
that there'd be no more smelling here,
certainly no more eating.

Guilt? Terror? The fear of love?
These things he couldn't imagine;
no lover ever imagines them.

He dreams, he wonders what to call this place.
First he thinks: The New Hell. Then: The Garden.
In the end, he decides to name it
Persephone's Girlhood.

A soft light rising above the level meadow,
behind the bed. He takes her in his arms.
He wants to say I love you, nothing can hurt you

but he thinks
this is a lie, so he says in the end
you're dead, nothing can hurt you
which seems to him
a more promising beginning, more true.

"A Myth of Devotion" from Averno by Louise Glück. Copyright © 2006 by Louise Glück. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

for Kait Rhoads

Gather up whatever is 
glittering in the gutter,
whatever has tumbled 
in the waves or fallen 
in flames out of the sky,

for it’s not only our
hearts that are broken, 
but the heart
of the world as well.
Stitch it back together. 

Make a place where
the day speaks to the night
and the earth speaks to the sky.
Whether we created God
or God created us

it all comes down to this:
In our imperfect world
we are meant to repair
and stitch together 
what beauty there is, stitch it 

with compassion and wire. 
See how everything 
we have made gathers 
the light inside itself
and overflows? A blessing.

From Only Now (Deerbrook Editions, 2013). Copyright © 2013 by Stuart Kestenbaum. Used with permission of the author.

The week after Thanksgiving and the stores are decked out
for holiday shopping including a TJ Maxx where what was
once too expensive loses its value and attracts us, there is a
store with a big yellow banner proclaiming GIANT BOOK SALE,
a seasonal operation of remaindered books, which doesn’t mean
that the books aren’t good, only that the great machinery
of merchandising didn’t engage its gears in quite the right way
and I buy two books of poetry and am leaving the store, the first snowstorm
of the winter on the way and as I get to the glass double doors
a bearded man with a cane is entering, he has been walking
with a woman who is continuing on to another store and he
has the look that could make him either eccentrically brilliant
or just plain simple and as I open the door and he opens the other side
he turns and says “I love you,” not to me but calling back to his
friend who is departing, only he’s said it looking at me, closest
to me, which is unintended love, random love, love that
should be spread throughout the world, shouted in our ears for free.

From Prayers and Run-on Sentences (Deerbrook Editions, 2007). Copyright © 2007 by Stuart Kestenbaum. Used with permission of the author.

“Oh, we had an intruder alert,”
said my fourth grade daughter
when I asked how school was.

She said this
after the usual shoulder shrug and mumble.
My kindergarten daughter sang in, “Yeah,
we did.”

And I keep the car moving forward.
Even though it feels like a bird
just thwapped against a window in my chest
and this car should stop
now.

Over the intercom, the same silver strainers in the ceilings as the school I went to a long
time ago,
a voice will say, “Mr. Snow, please come to the office,”
and what is expected

is that the teacher will sharply walk to the door
and lock it, that every student in the room
will hide, will be unseeable from the block of glass targeted above the doorknob.

My fourth grader
says everyone tried to fit
in the prairie schooner the teacher and her husband built between the two bookcases,
but there wasn’t room so she tried to squeeze herself alone
behind the filing cabinet.

They tell me this
as no big thing.
They tell me this

like it’s line up, single file, quiet down,
hands to yourself, march outside.

They can’t say it
like I do now. They don’t think about it
like it’s a heartbreak
poem,

have no inclination to want to ask the NRA to give one actual moment of silence,
no inclination to know the name of the school secretary in Atlanta who
talked an AK-47 and a gym bag full of bullets
onto the floor, no inclination to think of grade school teachers
laying their bodies over students,
arms out,
lungs pulling in so hard
they could make their backs
as wide
as wings.

It’s my kindergartener.
It’s my fourth grader.

It’s another thing
that happened
today.

Copyright © 2020 by Matt Mason. From I Have a Poem the Size of the Moon (Stephen F. Austin University Press, 2020). Used with the permission of the poet.  

“Oh, we had an intruder alert,”
said my fourth grade daughter
when I asked how school was.

She said this
after the usual shoulder shrug and mumble.
My kindergarten daughter sang in, “Yeah,
we did.”

And I keep the car moving forward.
Even though it feels like a bird
just thwapped against a window in my chest
and this car should stop
now.

Over the intercom, the same silver strainers in the ceilings as the school I went to a long
time ago,
a voice will say, “Mr. Snow, please come to the office,”
and what is expected

is that the teacher will sharply walk to the door
and lock it, that every student in the room
will hide, will be unseeable from the block of glass targeted above the doorknob.

My fourth grader
says everyone tried to fit
in the prairie schooner the teacher and her husband built between the two bookcases,
but there wasn’t room so she tried to squeeze herself alone
behind the filing cabinet.

They tell me this
as no big thing.
They tell me this

like it’s line up, single file, quiet down,
hands to yourself, march outside.

They can’t say it
like I do now. They don’t think about it
like it’s a heartbreak
poem,

have no inclination to want to ask the NRA to give one actual moment of silence,
no inclination to know the name of the school secretary in Atlanta who
talked an AK-47 and a gym bag full of bullets
onto the floor, no inclination to think of grade school teachers
laying their bodies over students,
arms out,
lungs pulling in so hard
they could make their backs
as wide
as wings.

It’s my kindergartener.
It’s my fourth grader.

It’s another thing
that happened
today.

Copyright © 2020 by Matt Mason. From I Have a Poem the Size of the Moon (Stephen F. Austin University Press, 2020). Used with the permission of the poet.  

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

From The Poetry of Robert Frost edited by Edward Connery Lathem. Copyright © 1923, 1947, 1969 by Henry Holt and Company, copyright © 1942, 1951 by Robert Frost, copyright © 1970, 1975 by Lesley Frost Ballantine. Reprinted by permission of Henry Holt and Company, LLC.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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