“When did the ‘present’ begin?”
            —Lauren Berlant

When the tyrant’s voice comes on the car radio, I close my eyes in an effort to slow the rate at which hopelessness enters me. With this act, I hurl myself faster toward extinction.

Every morning, I stretch, put food in my throat, and fail to forgive myself. 

At night, I sit down to watch last year’s extinctions paint the wall, while next time’s fire buffers in a perpetual next time.

Somewhere between these, I occupy the present tense, with all the confidence of a settler.

Sometime before was when the things we survived happened. What am I surviving today: the war or its unending ending?

I remember none of it and so live without language for its opposite. 

The country (was/is) divided, the US military (occupied/has occupied) the country, I (return/am returning) there. 

What is the opposite of the present tense? 

(I’m speaking, I say, until it’s no longer true.)

I love next time. I love it with all the declarative confidence of a child who’s never fished the softened bodies of her parents from a river as soldiers chew cud.

History hangs inside me, like a dependent clause.

History ends when its mirrors rush from the future like brake lights, polishing me into language.

After the catastrophe. By polishing me; through buffering grammar. In red memories dotting the highway smudged out by a storm. By the tyrant, unevenly distributed. With current.

The screech of tires is just the sound of my past catching up with yours.

Copyright © 2023 by Franny Choi. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 31, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets. 

Thank you for these tiny
particles of ocean salt,
pearl-necklace viruses,
winged protozoans:
for the infinite,
intricate shapes
of submicroscopic
living things.

For algae spores
and fungus spores,
bonded by vital
mutual genetic cooperation,
spreading their
inseparable lives
from equator to pole.

My hand, my arm,
make sweeping circles.
Dust climbs the ladder of light.
For this infernal, endless chore,
for these eternal seeds of rain:
Thank you. For dust.

From Magnificat, published by Louisiana State University Press. Copyright © 1994 by Marilyn Nelson. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Sometimes I just sit like this at the window and watch
the darkness come. If I’m smart, I’ll put on Bach.

I’m thinking now of how far it always seems there is to go.
Maybe it is too easy that I speak so often

of late last light on a December day,
of that stubborn grass that somehow still remains green

behind the broken chain link fence on the corner.
But the need is so great for the way light looks

as it takes its leave of us. We say
what we can to each other of these things,

we who are such thieves, stealing first
one breath and then the next. Bach, keep going

just this slowly, show me the way to believe
that what matters in this world has already happened

and will go on happening forever.
The way light falls on the last

of the stricken leaves of the copper beech
at the end of the block is something to behold.

Copyright © 2022 by Jim Moore. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 30, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

The sound of quiet. The sky 
indigo, steeping 
deeper from the top, like tea.
In the absence
of anything else, my own
breathing became obscene.
I heard the beating
of bats’ wings before 
the air troubled above 
my head, turned to look
and saw them gone.
On the surface of the black
lake, a swan and the moon
stayed perfectly 
still. I knew this was
a perfect moment.
Which would only hurt me
to remember and never
live again. My God. How lucky to have lived
a life I would die for.

Copyright © 2023 by Leila Chatti. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 3, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.

I’ll say it—the most remarkable way a man 
has touched me is when he didn’t intend to, found
the heat of me on accident. I’m saying his hand
punctured the gap between our backs, rooted around

for the blanket we shared and swept my rib-ridged side.
In movies, that touch is the domino
that starts the chain, but his bed did not abide
by rules of fantasy. He touched me and, oh,

I held my breath. Waited for the regret
he never felt. My God, he touched me then slid
closer beneath the duvet, our spines close-set
arches that joined in the dark, kissing. I did

not know it then, but his fingers flexed with want
into the night. His heart at my back. Desire out front.

Copyright © 2023 by Taylor Byas. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 13, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.