When, at the end, the children wanted
to add glitter to their valentines, I said no.
I said nope, no, no glitter, and then,
when they started to fuss, I found myself
saying something my brother’s football coach
used to bark from the sidelines when one
of his players showed signs of being
human: oh come on now, suck it up.
That’s what I said to my children.
Suck what up? my daughter asked,
and, because she is so young, I told her
I didn’t know and never mind, and she took
that for an answer. My children are so young
when I turn off the radio as the news turns
to counting the dead or naming the act,
they aren’t even suspicious. My children
are so young they cannot imagine a world
like the one they live in. Their God is still
a real God, a whole God, a God made wholly
of actions. And I think they think I work
for that God. And I know they will someday soon
see everything and they will know about
everything and they will no longer take
never mind for an answer. The valentines
would’ve been better with glitter, and my son
hurt himself on an envelope, and then, much
later, when we were eating dinner, my daughter
realized she’d forgotten one of the three
Henrys in her class. How can there be three Henrys
in one class? I said, and she said, Because there are.
And so, before bed we took everything out
again—paper and pens and stamps and scissors—
and she sat at the table with her freshly washed hair
parted smartly down the middle and wrote
WILL YOU BE MINE, HENRY T.? and she did it
so carefully, I could hardly stand to watch.
Copyright © 2019 by Carrie Fountain. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 13, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
The river is famous to the fish. The loud voice is famous to silence, which knew it would inherit the earth before anybody said so. The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds watching him from the birdhouse. The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek. The idea you carry close to your bosom is famous to your bosom. The boot is famous to the earth, more famous than the dress shoe, which is famous only to floors. The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it and not at all famous to the one who is pictured. I want to be famous to shuffling men who smile while crossing streets, sticky children in grocery lines, famous as the one who smiled back. I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous, or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular, but because it never forgot what it could do.
From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye. Copyright © 1995. Reprinted with permission of Far Corner Books, Portland, OR.
Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.
How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.
Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.
Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.
From Homage to Clio by W. H. Auden, published by Random House. Copyright © 1960 W. H. Auden, renewed by the Estate of W. H. Auden. Used by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.
I will think of water-lilies
Growing in a darkened pool,
And my breath shall move like water,
And my hands be limp and cool.
It shall be as though I waited
In a wooden place alone;
I will learn the peace of lilies
And will take it for my own.
If a twinge of thought, if yearning
Come like wind into this place,
I will bear it like the shadow
Of a leaf across my face.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on May 25, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Translated by Robin Myers
I don’t understand how we walk around the world
as if there were a single way for each of us, a kind
of life stamped into us like a childhood injection,
a cure painstakingly released into the blood with every passing year
like a poison transmuted into antidote
against any possible disobedience that might
awaken in the body. But the body isn’t mere
submissive matter, a mouth that cleanly swallows
whatever it’s fed. It’s a lattice
of little filaments, as I imagine
threads of starlight must be. What can never
be touched: that’s the body. What lives outside
the law when the law is muscled and violent,
a boulder plunging off a precipice
and crushing everything in its path. How do they manage
to wander around so happily and comfortably in their bodies, how
do they feel so sure, so confident in being what they are: this blood,
these organs, this sex, this species? Haven’t they ever longed
to be a lizard scorching in the sun
every day, or an old man, or a vine
clutching a trunk in search of somewhere
to hold on, or a boy sprinting till his heart
bursts from his chest with sheer brute energy,
with sheer desire? We’re forced
to be whatever we resemble. Haven’t
you ever wished you knew what it would feel like to have claws
or roots or fins instead of hands, what it would mean
if you could only live in silence
or by murmuring or crying out
in pain or fear or pleasure? Or if there weren’t any words
at all and so the soul of every living thing were measured
by the intensity it manifests
once it’s set free?
Yo no sé cómo se hace para andar por el mundo
como si solo hubiera una posibilidad para cada cual,
una manera de estar vivos inoculada en las venas durante la niñez,
un remedio que va liberándose lentamente en la sangre
a lo largo de los años igual que un veneno
que se convierte en un antídoto
contra cualquier desobediencia que pudiera
despertarse en el cuerpo. Pero el cuerpo no es
una materia sumisa, una boca que traga limpiamente
aquello con que se la alimenta. Es un entramado
de pequeños filamentos, como imagino que son los hilos
de luz de las estrellas. Lo que nunca podría
ser tocado: eso es el cuerpo. Lo que siempre
queda afuera de la ley cuando la ley es maciza
y violenta, una piedra descomunal cayendo
desde lo alto de una cima
arrasando lo que encuentra. ¿Cómo pueden entonces
andar tan cómodos y felices en su cuerpo, cómo hacen
para tener la certeza, la seguridad de que son eso: esa sangre,
esos órganos, ese sexo, esa especie? ¿Nunca quisieron
ser un lagarto prendido cada día del calor del sol
hasta quemarse el cuero, un hombre viejo, una enredadera
apretándose contra el tronco de un árbol para tener de dónde
sostenerse, un chico corriendo hasta que el corazón
se le sale del pecho de pura energía brutal,
de puro deseo? Nos esforzamos tanto
por ser aquello a lo que nos parecemos. ¿Nunca
se te ocurrió cómo sería si en lugar de manos tuvieras garras
o raíces o aletas, cómo sería
si la única manera de vivir fuera en silencio o aullando
de placer o de dolor o de miedo,
si no hubiera palabras
y el alma de cada cosa viva se midiera
por la intensidad de la que es capaz una vez
que queda suelta?
© 2019 Claudia Masin and Robin Myers. Published in Poem-a-Day in partnership with Words Without Borders (wordswithoutborders.org) on September 28, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.