I thought it was the neighbor’s cat back
to clean the clock of the fledgling robins low
in their nest stuck in the dense hedge by the house
but what came was much stranger, a liquidity
moving all muscle and bristle. A groundhog
slippery and waddle thieving my tomatoes still
green in the morning’s shade. I watched her
munch and stand on her haunches taking such
pleasure in the watery bites. Why am I not allowed
delight? A stranger writes to request my thoughts
on suffering. Barbed wire pulled out of the mouth,
as if demanding that I kneel to the trap of coiled
spikes used in warfare and fencing. Instead,
I watch the groundhog closer and a sound escapes
me, a small spasm of joy I did not imagine
when I woke. She is a funny creature and earnest,
and she is doing what she can to survive.
Copyright © 2020 by Ada Limón. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 16, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
Come, “Will,” let’s be good friends again,
Our wrongs let’s be forgetting,
For words bring only useless pain,
So wherefore then be fretting.
Let’s lay aside imagined wrongs,
And ne’er give way to grieving,
Life should be filled with joyous songs,
No time left for deceiving.
I’ll try and not give way to wrath,
Nor be so often crying;
There must some thorns be in our path,
Let’s move them now by trying.
How, like a foolish pair were we,
To fume about a letter;
Time is so precious, you and me;
Must spend ours doing better.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on September 6, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
It’s a long way the sea-winds blow
Over the sea-plains blue,—
But longer far has my heart to go
Before its dreams come true.
It’s work we must, and love we must,
And do the best we may,
And take the hope of dreams in trust
To keep us day by day.
It’s a long way the sea-winds blow—
But somewhere lies a shore—
Thus down the tide of Time shall flow
My dreams forevermore.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on August 22, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
Last night I asked my mother to cornrow my hair
A skill I had been practicing since last summer
But always ended with a tumbleweed excuse of a braid
My black has always resided in braids
In tango fingers that work through tangles
Translating geometry from hands to head
For years my hair was cultivated into valleys and hills
That refused to be ironed out with a brush held in my hand
I have depended on my mother to make them plains
I am 18 and still sit between my mother’s knees
I still welcome the cracks of her knuckles in my ears
They whisper to me and tell me the secret of youth
I want to be 30 sitting between my mother’s knees
Her fingers keeping us both young while organizing my hair
I never want to flatten the hills by myself
I want the brush in her hand forever
Copyright © 2020 by Micah Daniels. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 5, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
I do not crave to have thee mine alone, dear
Keeping thy charms within my jealous sight;
Go, give the world the blessing of thy beauty,
That other hearts may share of my delight!
I do not ask, thy love should be mine only
While others falter through the dreary night;
Go, kiss the tears from some wayfarer’s vision,
That other eyes may know the joy of light!
Where days are sad and skies are hung with darkness,
Go, send a smile that sunshine may be rife;
Go, give a song, a word of kindly greeting,
To ease the sorrow of some lonely life!
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on July 12, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Outside, an abandoned mattress sags with rain
and the driveway turns all sludge when I remember
I could’ve died eight years ago, in a bed
smaller than the one I share with a new lover
who just this morning found another grey hair in my afro,
and before resettling the wiry curl with the others,
kissed the freckle on my forehead.
I admit, I don’t know a love that doesn’t
destroy. Last night while we slept,
a mouse drowned in the rice pot
I left soaking in the sink. I tried
to make a metaphor out of this, the way
he took the mouse to the edge of the lake in the yard,
released it to a deeper grave. It was
an anniversary, just my lover
taking a dead thing away, taking it
somewhere I couldn’t see.
Copyright © 2020 by Diannely Antigua. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 28, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
“I can remember when I was a little, young girl, how my old mammy would sit out of doors in the evenings and look up at the stars and groan, and I would say, ‘Mammy, what makes you groan so?’ And she would say, ‘I am groaning to think of my poor children; they do not know where I be and I don’t know where they be. I look up at the stars and they look up at the stars!’”
I think I see her sitting bowed and black,
Stricken and seared with slavery’s mortal scars,
Reft of her children, lonely, anguished, yet
Still looking at the stars.
Symbolic mother, we thy myriad sons,
Pounding our stubborn hearts on Freedom’s bars,
Clutching our birthright, fight with faces set,
Still visioning the stars!
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on February 24, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
The soft harp of snowfall plucking through
my pine trees lulls me to peace, yet I still
hear the bongo of thunderstorms rapping
the rooftop of my queer childhood, dancing
to the clouds’ rage, raining away my sorrows.
Though snow melts silently into the gurgles
of my creek, my grandmother’s voice remains
frozen in my ears, still calling me a sissy, yet
praising me as her best friend. Even though
I marvel over spring’s abracadabra each time
my lilac blooms appear, I still disappear back
into the magic of summer nights on the porch,
the moon lighting up my grandfather’s stories
about his lost Cuba, his words carried away
with the smoke of his tabaco and the scent
of his jasmine tree flowering the night with
its tiny, perfumed stars. Despite the daystars
peeking behind the lavender clouds swaddling
mountain peaks in my window at sunset, I still
rise to the sun of my youth over the sea, after
a night’s sleep on a bed of sand, dreaming or
dreading who I would, or wouldn’t become.
Though I grew courageous enough to marry
a man who can only love me in his English:
darling, sweetheart, honey, I love him back
more in my Spanish whispered in his ears as
he sleeps: amorcito, tesoro, ceilo. After all
the meatloafs and apple pies we’ve baked
in our kitchen, I still sit down to the memory
of my mother’s table, savoring the loss of her
onion-smothered vaca frita and creamy flan.
No matter how tastefully my throw pillows
perfectly match my chic rugs and the stylish
art on my walls, it all falls apart sometimes,
just as I do, until I remember to be the boy
I was, always should be, playing alone with
his Legos in the family room, still enchanted
by the joy of his sheer self and his creations:
perfect or not, beautiful or not, immortal or
as mortal as the plentiful life I’ve made here,
although I keep living with my father dying
in our old house, his head cradled in my hand
for a sip of tea and a kiss on his forehead—
our last goodbye in the home that still lives
within this home where I live on to die, too.
Copyright © 2020 by Richard Blanco. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 22, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
Gettysburg National Military Park
Motorcycles and white tour vans speed
between behemoth granite shafts, shove
my body by their force, leave me roadside
and wandering fields. Little is funny
when you’re Chicana and walking
a Civil War site not meant for walking.
Regardless, I ask park rangers and guides
for stories on Mexicans soldiers,
receive shrugs. No evidence in statues
or statistics. In the cemetery, not one
Spanish name. I’m alone in the wine shop.
It’s the same in the post office, the market,
the antique shop with KKK books on display.
In the peach orchard, I prepare a séance,
sit cross-legged in grass, and hold
a smoky quartz to the setting sun.
I invite the unseen to speak. So many dead,
it’s said Confederates were left to rot.
In war, not all bodies are returned home
nor graves marked. I Google “Mexicans
in the Civil War” and uncover layers
to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
and Cinco de Mayo. This is how I meet
ancestors for the first time, heroes
this country decorates in clownish sombreros
and fake mustaches, dishonors for fighting
European empire on shared American land
Power & Money dictate can’t be shared.
Years before this, carrying water gallons
up an Arizona mountain ridge to replenish
supplies in a pass known as “Dead Man’s,”
I wrote messages on bottles to the living,
scanned Sonoran canyons for the lost,
and knew too many would not be found.
A black Sharpie Virgen drawn on hot plastic
became a prayer: may the next officer halt
before cracking her face beneath his boot,
spilling life on to dirt. No, nothing’s funny
when you’re brown in a country you’re taught
isn’t yours, your dead don’t count.
Copyright © 2020 by Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 21, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
Will it never be possible
to separate you from your greyness?
Must you be always sinking backward
into your grey-brown landscapes—and trees
always in the distance, always against a grey sky?
Must I be always
moving counter to you? Is there no place
where we can be at peace together
and the motion of our drawing apart
be altogether taken up?
I see myself
standing upon your shoulders touching
a grey, broken sky—
but you, weighted down with me,
yet gripping my ankles,—move
where it is level and undisturbed by colors.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on September 20, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
I used to dream of living here. I hike
a trail I know that at the end opens
to glorious views of the city I did
live in once, when men my age kept dying
while I learned how to diagnose AIDS.
Some dreams don’t come true, and some dreams become
nightmares. Across a field that smells of sage,
a few horses loiter. I want to think
that they forgive me, since they’re noble creatures.
They stamp and snort, reminding me they know
nothing of forgiveness. I used to dream
that someday I’d escape to San Francisco,
when I was still in high school and I knew.
Tall and muscled, the horses are like the jocks
on the football team who beat me once, as if pain
teaches truth and they knew I had to learn.
I used to dream I was as white as them,
that I could slam my locker closed and not
think of jail. Some nightmares come true,
like when my uncle got arrested for
cocaine. My family never talked about it,
which made me realize they could also feel shame.
That’s when I started dreaming I could be
a doctor someday, that I could get away,
prescribe myself a new life. Right now, as
the city comes into view, I think of those
animals and hope they got what they deserved.
The city stretches out its arms, its two bridges
to Oakland, to Stockton, to San Rafael,
to Vallejo; places I could have been from
but wasn’t. It looks just as it did
all those years ago. Yet I know it’s changed
because so many of us died, like Rico,
who took me up here for the first time.
We kicked a soccer ball around and smoked
a joint. I think we talked about our dreams,
but who can remember dreams. I look out
and the sun like your hand on my face
is warm, and for a moment I think this is
glorious, this is what forgiveness feels like.
Copyright © 2020 by Rafael Campo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 5, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
You are not fifteen, or twelve, or seventeen—
You are a hundred wild centuries
And fifteen, bringing with you
In every breath and in every step
Everyone who has come before you,
All the yous that you have been,
The mothers of your mother,
The fathers of your father.
If someone in your family tree was trouble,
A hundred were not:
The bad do not win—not finally,
No matter how loud they are.
We simply would not be here
If that were so.
You are made, fundamentally, from the good.
With this knowledge, you never march alone.
You are the breaking news of the century.
You are the good who has come forward
Through it all, even if so many days
Feel otherwise. But think:
When you as a child learned to speak,
It’s not that you didn’t know words—
It’s that, from the centuries, you knew so many,
And it’s hard to choose the words that will be your own.
From those centuries we human beings bring with us
The simple solutions and songs,
The river bridges and star charts and song harmonies
All in service to a simple idea:
That we can make a house called tomorrow.
What we bring, finally, into the new day, every day,
Is ourselves. And that’s all we need
To start. That’s everything we require to keep going.
Look back only for as long as you must,
Then go forward into the history you will make.
Be good, then better. Write books. Cure disease.
Make us proud. Make yourself proud.
And those who came before you? When you hear thunder,
Hear it as their applause.
Copyright © 2018 by Alberto Ríos. Used with the permission of the author.
Never mind the distances traveled, the companion
she made of herself. The threadbare twenties not
to be underestimated. A wild depression that ripped
from January into April. And still she sprouts an appetite.
Insisting on edges and cores, when there were none.
Relationships annealed through shared ambivalences.
Pages that steadied her. Books that prowled her
until the hard daybreak, and for months after.
Separating new vows from the old, like laundry whites.
Small losses jammed together so as to gather mass.
Stored generations of filtered quietude.
And some stubbornness. Tangles along the way
the comb-teeth of the mind had to bite through, but for what.
She had trained herself to look for answers at eye level,
but they were lower, they were changing all the time.
From Eye Level (Graywolf Press, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Jenny Xie. Used with the permission of Graywolf Press.
It’s neither red
It doesn’t melt
or turn over,
break or harden,
so it can’t feel
It doesn’t have
a tip to spin on,
it isn’t even
just a thick clutch
I feel it inside
its cage sounding
a dull tattoo:
I want, I want—
but I can’t open it:
there’s no key.
I can’t wear it
on my sleeve,
or tell you from
the bottom of it
how I feel. Here,
it’s all yours, now—
but you’ll have
to take me,
Copyright © 2017 Rita Dove. Used with permission of the author.
There’s Baxter, our neighbor’s harmless little dog,
before a storm door window, contented as a cat.
We’re in a row house and share a front area. One day
this summer we were headed out just as our neighbor
and his pet were coming back from a pee jaunt. Much barking
before our neighbor calmly said,
“Let them live, Baxter.”
And there’s our maple, now in winter
stark as any other tree, when only months ago
it tried to dominate the block with color
and, as far as I’m concerned, succeeded.
Now let’s bring in snow
there on limbs and branches, speaking up
as streetlights come on. Does that do
the trick? The idea is for the poem
to be as good as a pot- au- feu, where, to my taste,
after all those cuts of meat, plus marrow bones,
plus vegetables pulled from the earth,
the trick is done by cloves.
Copyright © 2019 David Curry. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Winter 2019.
For Laquan McDonald
I think it’s quails lining the road but it's fallen Birchwood.
What look like white clouds in a grassy basin, sprinklers.
I mistake the woman walking her retriever as a pair of fawns.
Could-be animals. Unexplained weather. Maybe they see us
that way. Knowing better, the closer they get. Not quite ready to let it go.
Copyright © 2020 by Rio Cortez. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 8, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.