so well it’s like you’re my real
lover, the reason I can’t stay
attached to anyone, making a heaven
out of beginning again & you
knock at my voice
as if I could speak you back in
as mine & I had time enough to learn
the secret of cruelty
as if that made it lose
its power over me, its antics
but it lives in us all like a question
we can’t answer but keep trying
because it feels good to & the secret
is it can’t last,
& that is when it hurts—
who can’t bear to lose &
stitch to any nothing
that acts like a landing place but turns
out to be a fissure, we pretend
voices tell us it’s music
& familiar or alien
we listen, it’s only a dance
Copyright © 2017 by Khadijah Queen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 8, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
The breaking dead leaves ’neath my feet
A plaintive melody repeat,
Recalling shattered hopes that lie
As relics of a bygone sky.
Again I thread the mazy past,
Back where the mounds are scattered fast—
Oh! foolish tears, why do you start,
To break of dead leaves in the heart?
This poem is in the public domain.
When I thought it was right to name my desires,
what I wanted of life, they seemed to turn
like bleating sheep, not to me, who could have been
a caring, if unskilled, shepherd, but to the boxed-in hills
beyond which the blue mountains sloped down
with poppies orange as crayfish all the way to the Pacific seas
in which the hulls of whales steered them
in search of a mate for whom they bellowed
in a new, highly particular song
we might call the most ardent articulation of love,
the pin at the tip of evolution,
In the middle of my life
it was right to say my desires
but they went away. I couldn’t even make them out,
not even as dots
now in the distance.
Yet I see the small lights
of winter campfires in the hills—
teenagers in love often go there
for their first nights—and each yellow-white glow
tells me what I can know and admit to knowing,
that all I ever wanted
was to sit by a fire with someone
who wanted me in measure the same to my wanting.
To want to make a fire with someone,
Copyright © 2017 by Katie Ford. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 15, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
My ancestors are made with water—
blue on the sides, and green down the spine;
when we travel, we lose brothers at sea
and do not stop to grieve.
Our mothers burn with a fire
that does not let them be;
they whisper our names
nomenclatures of invisibility
honey-dewed faces, eyes sewn shut,
how to tell them
the sorrow that splits us in half
the longing for a land not our own
the constant moving and shifting of things,
which words describe
the clenching in our stomachs
the fear lodged deeply into our bones
churning us from within,
and the loss that follows us everywhere:
behind mountains, past oceans, into
the heads of trees, how to swallow
a tongue that speaks with too many accents—
when white faces sprout
we are told to set ourselves ablaze
and this smell of smoke we know—
water or fire, or both,
because we have drowned many at a time
and left our bodies burning, or swollen, or bleeding
and purple—this kind of language we know,
naming new things into our invisibility
and this, we too, call home.
Copyright © 2017 by Mahtem Shiferraw. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 16, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
We should not have produced all this life.
Let’s say I am
in a state of heightened attentiveness.
Is this my gift? Do I take your head in my hands
and swivel it, or cast marbles around our feet, make a line I bring you behind?
Now: see the man on wire, taste the papery taste of “polity,”
grasscloth, a long marriage worn into the back steps.
Do I draw you into the middle ground with me, where everything is sharp?
Every night I pray for hard work.
My job is to make something for you.
All poets wonder if the brittle on a stick is enough.
Knowing the stick contains tender green is why it doesn’t crack when flung,
the crease of fox ears,
how the trash man paused with the storm glass,
holding it, making himself into a frame, a single frame—
all poets wonder if this is enough. See
how a boy is changed when he drops a stick, does not look back.
A taste lost in the movement of the second hand on a clock.
once I loved you, this is the instant I don’t anymore.
All poets wonder if such calibration,
if the religion of rushing water, if wet tines,
waves in glass, ant eggs blent with brown sugar
that burst against the teeth, Agnes hanging off her father like a cobweb,
Agnes in her silver rubber flats, how sky tautens as you get near the sea—
all poets wonder if this is enough.
A crone in corpse pose. A voice cool as measuring salt.
Drawn in the circle of noticing.
Copyright © 2017 by Joy Katz. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 14, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Not many passions take your pants off—
painting with oils, reading in the afternoon,
other people’s bodies. I want to really
say something here. I want to be clear.
But just as no two people see the same
colors, what you hear is not what I’m
saying. Not conversations as much as
serial misunderstandings, proximate
in space. One considers the dictionary
definition of “man.” One considers
the definition of “woman.” One considers
arm hair, soft spaces on a hot body.
The obsessive heat-seeking quality of
attraction. The paint on my pinkie is for
you—a little poison, a little turpentine.
The snaggletooth I want to stick my
tongue into. This is pigment from a rock,
this is pigment from a bug, this is pigment
from a bleeding heart, and this is jeopardy.
Passion brought me here, but passion
cannot save me. To mix linseed and
varnish, to create something is to vanish
what was there before. Chroma for fastness,
chemistry tricks. Such bold strokes in
erasing and framing delicate beginnings.
Copyright © 2017 by Erika Jo Brown. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 1, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
What things are steadfast? Not the birds. Not the bride and groom who hurry in their brevity to reach one another. The stars do not blow away as we do. The heavenly things ignite and freeze. But not as my hair falls before you. Fragile and momentary, we continue. Fearing madness in all things huge and their requiring. Managing as thin light on water. Managing only greetings and farewells. We love a little, as the mice huddle, as the goat leans against my hand. As the lovers quickening, riding time. Making safety in the moment. This touching home goes far. This fishing in the air.
From All of It Singing. Copyright © 2008 by Linda Gregg. Used with permission of Graywolf Press.