I want a red dress. 
I want it flimsy and cheap, 
I want it too tight, I want to wear it 
until someone tears it off me. 
I want it sleeveless and backless, 
this dress, so no one has to guess 
what’s underneath. I want to walk down
the street past Thrifty’s and the hardware store 
with all those keys glittering in the window, 
past Mr. and Mrs. Wong selling day-old 
donuts in their café, past the Guerra brothers 
slinging pigs from the truck and onto the dolly, 
hoisting the slick snouts over their shoulders. 
I want to walk like I’m the only 
woman on earth and I can have my pick. 
I want that red dress bad.
I want it to confirm 
your worst fears about me, 
to show you how little I care about you 
or anything except what 
I want. When I find it, I’ll pull that garment 
from its hanger like I’m choosing a body 
to carry me into this world, through 
the birth-cries and the love-cries too, 
and I’ll wear it like bones, like skin, 
it’ll be the goddamned 
dress they bury me in.

From Tell Me by Kim Addonizio. Copyright © 2000 by Kim Addonizio. Reprinted by permission of BOA Editions, Ltd. All rights reserved.

A hand is not four fingers and a thumb.

Nor is it palm and knuckles,
not ligaments or the fat's yellow pillow,
not tendons, star of the wristbone, meander of veins.

A hand is not the thick thatch of its lines
with their infinite dramas,
nor what it has written,
not on the page,
not on the ecstatic body.

Nor is the hand its meadows of holding, of shaping—
not sponge of rising yeast-bread,
not rotor pin's smoothness,
not ink.

The maple's green hands do not cup
the proliferant rain.
What empties itself falls into the place that is open.

A hand turned upward holds only a single, transparent question.

Unanswerable, humming like bees, it rises, swarms, departs.

—2000

From Given Sugar, Given Salt by Jane Hirshfield, published by HarperCollins. Copyright © 2001 by Jane Hirshfield. Reprinted by permission of the author, all rights reserved.

             The rhinestone lights blink off and on.
Pretend stars. 
I’m sick of explanations. A life is like Russell said 
of electricity, not a thing but the way things behave. 
A science of motion toward some flat surface, 
some heat, some cold. Some light
can leave some after-image but it doesn’t last. 
Isn’t that what they say? That and that
historical events exchange glances with nothingness. 

Copyright © 2014 by Mary Jo Bang. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on February 26, 2014. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Putting up new curtains,
other windows intrude.
As though it is that first winter in Cambridge
when you and I had just moved in.
Now cold borscht alone in a bare kitchen.

What does it mean if I say this years later?

Listen, last night
I am on a crying jag
with my landlord, Mr. Tempesta.
I sneaked in two cats.
He screams, "No pets! No pets!"
I become my Aunt Virginia,
proud but weak in the head.
I remember Anna Magnani.
I throw a few books. I shout.
He wipes his eyes and opens his hands.
OK OK keep the dirty animals
but no nails in the walls.
We cry together.
I am so nervous, he says.

I want to dig you up and say, look,
it's like the time, remember,
when I ran into our living room naked
to get rid of that fire inspector.

See what you miss by being dead?

Reprinted from What Love Comes To: New & Selected Poems with the permission of Copper Canyon Press. Copyright © 1987 by Ruth Stone. All rights reserved.

First turn to me after a shower,
you come inside me sideways as always

in the morning you ask me to be on top of you,
then we take a nap, we’re late for school

you arrive at night inspired and drunk,
there is no reason for our clothes

we take a bath and lie down facing each other,
then later we turn over, finally you come

we face each other and talk about childhood
as soon as I touch your penis I wind up coming

you stop by in the morning to say hello
we sit on the bed indian fashion not touching

in the middle of the night you come home
from a nightclub, we don’t get past the bureau

next day it’s the table, and after that the chair
because I want so much to sit you down & suck your cock

you ask me to hold your wrists, but then when I
touch your neck with both my hands you come

it’s early morning and you decide to very quietly
come on my knee because of the children

you’ve been away at school for centuries, your girlfriend
has left you, you come four times before morning

you tell me you masturbated in the hotel before you came by
I don’t believe it, I serve the lentil soup naked

I massage your feet to seduce you, you are reluctant,
my feet wind up at your neck and ankles

you try not to come too quickly
also, you dont want to have a baby

I stand up from the bath, you say turn around
and kiss the backs of my legs and my ass

you suck my cunt for a thousand years, you are weary
at last I remember my father’s anger and I come

you have no patience and come right away
I get revenge and won’t let you sleep all night

we make out for so long we can’t remember how
we wound up hitting our heads against the wall

I lie on my stomach, you put one hand under me
and one hand over me and that way can love me

you appear without notice and with flowers
I fall for it and we become missionaries

you say you can only fuck me up the ass when you are drunk
so we try it sober in a room at the farm

we lie together one night, exhausted couplets
and don’t make love. does this mean we’ve had enough?

watching t.v. we wonder if each other wants to
interrupt the plot; later I beg you to read to me

like the Chinese we count 81 thrusts
then 9 more out loud till we both come

I come three times before you do
and then it seems you’re mad and never will

it’s only fair for a woman to come more
think of all the times they didn’t care

From A Bernadette Mayer Reader by Bernadette Mayer, published by New Directions. Copyright © 1968 by Bernadette Mayer. Reprinted by permission of the author. All rights reserved.

He's supposed to call his doctor, but for now he's the May King with his own Maypole.
He's hallelujah. He's glory hole. The world has more women than he can shake a stick
at. The world is his brickbat, no conscience to prick at, all of us Germans he can ich
lieber dich at. He's Dick and Jane. He's Citizen Kane. He's Bob Dole.
He's Peter the Great. He's a czar. He's a clown car with an extra car.
Funiculi, Funicula. He's an organ donor. He works pro boner. He's folderol.
He's fiddlesticks. He's the light left on at Motel 6. He's free-for-alls.
He's Viagra Falls. He's bangers and mash. He's balderdash. He's a wanker.
He's got his own anchor. He's whack-a-doodle. King Canoodle. He's a pirate, Long John
Silver, walking his own plank. He has science to thank. He's in like Flynn. He's Gunga Din,
holding his breath, cock of the walk through the valley of the shadow of death. He's Icarus,
hickory dickorous, the mouse run up the clock. He's shock and awe. He's Arkansas.
He's the package, the deal, the Good Housekeeping Seal. He's Johnson and Johnson.
He's a god now, the talk of the town. He's got no place to go but down.

From Heaven & Earth Holding Company, published by University of Pittsburgh Press. Copyright © 2011 by John Hodgen. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

You came in a dream, yesterday
—The first day we met
you showed me your dark workroom
off the kitchen, your books, your notebooks.

Reading our last, knowing-last letters
—the years of our friendship
reading our poems to each other,
I would start breathing again.

Yesterday, in the afternoon,
more than a year since you died,
some words came into the air.
I looked away a second,
and they were gone,
six lines, just passing through.

                                          for Adrienne Rich

Copyright © 2013 by Jean Valentine. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on November 27, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

I’m sorry I cannot say I love you when you say
you love me. The words, like moist fingers,
appear before me full of promise but then run away
to a narrow black room that is always dark,
where they are silent, elegant, like antique gold,
devouring the thing I feel. I want the force
of attraction to crush the force of repulsion
and my inner and outer worlds to pierce
one another, like a horse whipped by a man.
I don’t want words to sever me from reality.
I don’t want to need them. I want nothing
to reveal feeling but feeling—as in freedom,
or the knowledge of peace in a realm beyond,
or the sound of water poured into a bowl.

Reprinted from Blackbird and Wolf © 2007 by Henri Cole, by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Learn more about FSG poets at fsgpoetry.com.

That Mississippi chicken shack.
That initial-scarred tabletop,
that tiny little dance floor to the left of the band.
That kiosk at the mall selling caramels and kitsch.
That tollbooth with its white-plastic-gloved worker
handing you your change.
That phone booth with the receiver ripped out.
That dressing room in the fetish boutique,
those curtains and mirrors.
That funhouse, that horror, that soundtrack of screams.
That putti-filled heaven raining gilt from the ceiling.
That haven for truckers, that bottomless cup.
That biome. That wilderness preserve.
That landing strip with no runway lights
where you are aiming your plane,
imagining a voice in the tower,
imagining a tower.

From Lucifer at the Starlite, published by W. W. Norton & Company. Copyright © 2010 by Kim Addonizio. Used with permission of the publisher.

My skeleton,
you who once ached
with your own growing larger

are now,
each year
imperceptibly smaller,
lighter,
absorbed by your own
concentration.

When I danced,
you danced.
When you broke,
I.

And so it was lying down,
walking,
climbing the tiring stairs.
Your jaws. My bread.

Someday you,
what is left of you,
will be flensed of this marriage.

Angular wristbone's arthritis,
cracked harp of ribcage,
blunt of heel,
opened bowl of the skull,
twin platters of pelvis—
each of you will leave me behind,
at last serene.

What did I know of your days,
your nights,
I who held you all my life
inside my hands
and thought they were empty?

You who held me all my life
inside your hands
as a new mother holds
her own unblanketed child,
not thinking at all.

—2013

Copyright © 2013 by Jane Hirshfield. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on October 14, 2013.

One flower
   on the cliffside
Nodding at the canyon

From Book of Haikus by Jack Kerouac, published by Penguin Poets. Copyright © 2003 by the Estate of Stella Kerouac, John Sampas, Literary Representative. All rights reserved.

When was the last time you mailed a postcard?

My mother kept the ones I sent her. My sister mailed them back

to me after my mother died. I had forgotten I had written

so many small notes to my mother. The price of stamps

kept changing. I was always mentioning on the back of cards

I was having a good time. I can remember the first time

I lied to my mother. It was something small maybe the size

of a postcard. I went somewhere I was not supposed to go.

I told my mother I was at the library but I was with Judy

that afternoon. Her small hand inside my hand. 

I was beginning to feel something I knew I would never write

home about.

Copyright © 2014 by E. Ethelbert Miller. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on February 24, 2014. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

is never to give away your secrets
though people will guess
and say you write like the following poets
e.e. cummings Wallace Stevens Richard Brautigan
Ted Berrigan Frank O'Hara
though you'd prefer to be compared to
the Old Possum
and to me you sound a bit like Robert Creeley
who once was embarrassed by me at a party
he died a few years later.
It's easier to talk to you on the phone
after Nebraska which sounds
wonderful when you say it
even with loathing
and "formally innovative"
and "hybrid forms"
and the human being you are looking for
in my poem
because what are we but our words
in the end and what
are poems but perceptions
and who do YOU want to fuck
and how much do you want it
and what are you willing to do
to get what you want and how can you be satisfied
with what you have. Utterly sufficient
to be apart and how you will never say love
before October and I don't mind
or even know what I mean when I say it
whether what defines it is intensity or duration
of feeling or preordained by fate
which pushes us together and draws us apart
the one human voice speaking in all of our poems
what it felt like to be alive
and being in love is most alive
whether it's with the world or you or
poetry. In every aspect
no one resembles anyone
and can you become a poet just by trying
or do you have to go to an impressive school
and how poems are dangerous
when there are real people in them
and nothing is really new but only to you
and you are the most powerful pronoun

Copyright © 2011 by Tina Brown Celona. Used with permission of the author.


Dimensionless One, can you hear me? 
Me with the moon ears, caught 
in ice branches?
	
Beneath the sky’s long house,
beneath the old snake tree,
I pray to see even a fragment
of you—
 			whiskers ticking
 
a deserted street,
a staircase leading 
to the balcony
of your collarbone.

Beloved King of Stars, I cannot 
contain my animal movements.

For you I stay like a mountain.
For you I stay like a straight pin.
		
But in the end, the body leaves us 
its empty building. 

Midnight petulant
as a root cellar. Wasps crawling  
in sleeves. I sleep 

with my tail over 
my face, enflamed.

Oh Great Cataloguer 
of Snow Leaves, I pray 
that you may appear 
and carry every piece 
of my fur in your hands.

Copyright © 2013 by Sarah Messer. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on November 29, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Q. How important is theory in this poem? It seems as though
it just starts, goes nowhere, tells us nothing we need to know.

A. The concern here is with necessity, not fact. The poem could tell
you everything you wanted to know, but doesn't.
Some poems begin in the rinse cycle. This one goes right to spin.

Q. We noticed how marvelous the upper strata of the poem is. It suggests
the appeal of authoritarian faith in the old-fashioned
middle class. Did you write it on a train?

A. One day I heard laughter coming from some mysterious source. First I thought
it came from several people who were stuck at the bottom of a well.
Then I speculated it could be a group of teenagers on the level right above me.
After a while, however, I wondered if it might actually be weeping.
I got out my address book and started calling around. In fact, people
were crying when I managed to get in touch with them. Where are
your social contracts now, I snarled, your precious theses on the absolute?
I averted my gaze as their beliefs unraveled.

Q. We can't help but notice how you seem to be suppressing what you
really mean. Are you naked in this poem?

A. I have these pastes and mud packs that I smear all over me, so I'm
never really naked, even when I have no clothes on.
The same thing goes for this poem.
It's beautiful, stark, totally blank, yet colorful, like a sin
you're considering but haven't yet committed.

 

Copyright © 2011 by Terence Winch. Reprinted from Falling Out of Bed in a Room with No Floor with the permission of Hanging Loose Press.

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.

Q.  You’re Such a Disciplined Writer.  Were You Always That Way?


A.  When I was in graduate school, I worked part-time at a local
library.  I ran the used bookstore in the basement.  The money 
came  in handy.  There was plenty of time to study. 

I learned to know the regulars who talked about living with pain 
and waiting for bland meals to be delivered.

One sweltering afternoon I read about Tibetan body breakers 
who dismember corpses with their hatchets and flaying knives 
so the vultures will have an easier time.

I imagined my own body and the monks asking, “What did this 
one do?” And the answer would be, “Not much.”  As the hand I 
could have written with flew away from the wrist. 

Copyright © 2014 by Ron Koertge. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on March 19, 2014. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

The way the world is not
Astonished at you
It doesn't blink a leaf
When we step from the house
Leads me to think
That beauty is natural, unremarkable
And not to be spoken of
Except in the course of things
The course of singing and worksharing
The course of squeezes and neighbors
The course of you tying back your raving hair to go out
And the course of course of me
Astonished at you
The way the world is not

Copyright © 1989 by Bill Knott. Used with permission of the author's literary executor, Robert Fanning.

it’s amazing how death
is always around the corner,
or not even so far away
as that, hiding in the little pleasures
that some of us would go
so far as to say
are the only things
keeping us alive

Copyright © 2013 by Jason Schneiderman. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on May 22, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

She pressed her lips to mind.
—a typo

How many years I must have yearned
for someone’s lips against mind.
Pheromones, newly born, were floating
between us. There was hardly any air.

She kissed me again, reaching that place
that sends messages to toes and fingertips,
then all the way to something like home.
Some music was playing on its own.

Nothing like a woman who knows
to kiss the right thing at the right time,
then kisses the things she’s missed.
How had I ever settled for less?

I was thinking this is intelligence,
this is the wisest tongue
since the Oracle got into a Greek’s ear,
speaking sense. It’s the Good,

defining itself. I was out of my mind.
She was in. We married as soon as we could.

"The Kiss," from Everything Else in the World by Stephen Dunn. Copyright © 2007 by Stephen Dunn. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Strong sun, that bleach
The curtains of my room, can you not render
Colourless this dress I wear?—
This violent plaid
Of purple angers and red shames; the yellow stripe
Of thin but valid treacheries; the flashy green of kind deeds done
Through indolence high judgments given here in haste; 
The recurring checker of the serious breach of taste?

No more uncoloured than unmade,
I fear, can be this garment that I may not doff;
Confession does not strip it off,
To send me homeward eased and bare;

All through the formal, unoffending evening, under the clean
Bright hair,
Lining the subtle gown. . .it is not seen, 
But it is there.

Excerpted from Clotheslines: A Collection of Poetry & Art, edited by Stan Tymorek. Copyright © 2001. Published by Harry N. Abrams, Inc. All rights reserved.

The youth walks up to the white horse, to put its halter on
and the horse looks at him in silence.
They are so silent, they are in another world.

From The Complete Poems of D. H. Lawrence, edited by V. De Sola Pinto & F. W. Roberts. Copyright © 1964, 1971 by Angela Ravagli and C. M. Weekly, Executors of the Estate of Frieda Lawrence Ravagli. Used by permission of Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Books USA Inc.

She must be milked every morning so that she will produce milk, and the milk must be 
boiled in order to be mixed with coffee to make coffee and milk.
			—Gabriel Garcia Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Imagine the years being sucked out 
of you, the losses so numerous 
you counted gains instead: the shiver

of holy water, your quinceañiera, 
burnt cedar, the faith in the cross-
town taxi in Mexico, not knowing derecha

from izquierda. Think of all the shattered
glasses, cursing the sky, women you keep
yearning for. You taste the slow arrival

of the moment only to watch it fade
anxiously. Now think of absence, staring
at some beast in a field and saying never

have I seen this thing in front of me.
When the cow moos you will understand
the simple lexicon of the green

in its mouth, the dynamics of the jaw like 
nothing you can’t recall, have never seen.
And what impossible eyes--unlike yours--

swelling with your losses and successes;
they too are losses, ready to escape
your skin like the sweets of a piñata,

the dull thud of the instant still there,
when you realize that to know this beast
by name is to lose this beast, lose it

hopelessly in the catcombs
of names for other things: the coffee bean,
your blood, the ripe guava, penitence,

the left bank of the river, crumbling,
where you learned cow from awkward profile,
milk-heavy, its one eye, reflecting.

Poem from Consolation Miracle, reprinted with permission of Southern Illinois University Press

Saw you walking barefoot
taking a long look
at the new moon's eyelid

later spread
sleep-fallen, naked in your dark hair
asleep but not oblivious
of the unslept unsleeping
elsewhere

Tonight I think
no poetry
will serve

Syntax of rendition:

verb pilots the plane
adverb modifies action

verb force-feeds noun
submerges the subject
noun is choking
verb    disgraced    goes on doing

now diagram the sentence


2007

From Tonight No Poetry Will Serve, published by W.W. Norton. Copyright © 2011 by Adrienne Rich. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

                (for Lucille)

Our voices race to the towers, and up beyond
the atmosphere, to the satellite,
slowly turning, then back down
to another tower, and cell. Quincy, 
Toi, Honoree, Sarah, Dorianne, 
Galway. When Athena Elizalex calls, 
I tell her I'm missing Lucille's dresses,
and her shoes, and Elizabeth says "And she would say,
"Damn! I do look good!'"  After we
hang up, her phone calls me again
from inside her jacket, in the grocery store
with her elder son, eleven, I cannot                        
hear the words, just part of the matter
of the dialogue, it's about sugar, I am
in her pocket like a spirit. Then I dream it — 
looking at an illuminated city 
from a hill, at night, and suddenly
the lights go out — like all the stars
gone out.  "Well, if there is great sex
in heaven," we used to say, "or even just
sex, or one kiss, what's wrong
with that?!"  Then I'm dreaming a map of the globe, with
bright pinpoints all over it —
in the States, the Caribbean, Latin America,
in Europe, and in Africa —
everywhere a poem of hers is being
read.  Small comfort.  Not small
to the girl who curled against the wall around the core
of her soul, keeping it alive, with long
labor, then unfolded into the hard truths, the
lucid beauty, of her song.            

                                                       15 Feb '10

Copyright © 2010 by Sharon Olds. Used by permission of the author. All rights reserved.

Reality cons me as it spur(n)s me.
This is the road to eternal
Consanguinity, eloping with
Hope and leaving me to pick
Up the proverbial bag.
But that's the argument for.

Copyright © 2013 by Charles Bernstein. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on June 25, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Because speaking to the dead is not something you want to do
When you have other things to do in your day
Like take out the trash or use the vacuum
In the edge between the stove and cupboard
Because the rat is everywhere
Crawling around
Or more so walking
And it doesn’t even notice you
It has its own intentions
And is searching for that perfect bag of potato chips like you once were
Because life is no more important than eating
Or fucking
Or talking someone into fucking
Or talking someone into something
Or sleeping calmly and soundly
And all you can hope for are the people who put that calm in you
Or let you go into it with dignity
Because poetry reminds you
That there is no dignity
In living
You just muddle through and for what
Jack Jack you wrote to him
You wrote to all of us
I wasn’t even born
You wrote to me
A ball of red and green shifting sparks
In my parents’ eye
You wrote to me and I just listened
I listened I listened I tell you
And I came back
No
Poetry is hard for most people
Because of sound

Copyright © 2013 by Dorothea Lasky. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on September 12, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Wild Nights – Wild Nights!
Were I with thee
Wild Nights should be
Our luxury!

Futile – the winds –
To a heart in port –
Done with the compass –
Done with the chart!

Rowing in Eden –
Ah, the sea!
Might I moor – Tonight –
In thee!

This poem is in the public domain.

Dear C, I dropped

your sentence in hot water.
I talked to the boil. I said Here

is my thumb for you to burn.

Here is the soft heart
of my hand and my arm and

the nape of my wreck.

I said vapor, just take me.
I’m done burning

with these pages. Being invisible
doesn’t mean a person

won’t blister, doesn’t mean

the blisters won’t fill
with pockets of water

or when lanced the rawest flesh

won’t emerge. First the word
then the murky leak

begins—what another mind
may scrape against

but never skin.

Copyright @ 2014 by Idra Novey. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on May 13, 2014.

Geometry is a perfect religion,
Axiom after axiom:
One proves a way into infinity
And logic makes obeisance at command.

Outside of the triangle, cubes, and polystructures
There is restless pummeling, pounding and taunting.
The end is diffused into channels
Every step into eternity—and steps are endless.

This poem is in the public domain.

There must be soft words
for an evening like this, when the breeze
caresses like gentle fingertips
all over. I don’t know

how not to write darkly and sad.
But it’s two years today since
my little girl was born, cut safely
from the noose.

We meant nothing but hope;
how near death is to that.

Only children, only some children,
get to run free from these snags. She
was born! She lived and she grows
like joy spreading from the syllables

of songs. She reminds me of now
and now and now.
                            I must learn
to have been so lucky.

Copyright @ 2014 by Craig Morgan Teicher. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on May 22, 2014.

A noiseless patient spider,
I mark'd where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark'd how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch'd forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form'd, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

This poem is in the public domain.

my mother pushed my sister out of the apartment door with an empty 
suitcase because she kept threatening to run away  my sister was sick of me
getting the best of everything  the bathrobe with the pink stripes instead of 
the red  the soft middle piece of bread while she got the crust  I was sick with 
asthma and she thought this made me a favorite

I wanted to be like the girl in the made-for-tv movie Maybe I'll Come Home
in the Spring   which was supposed to make you not want to run away but it 
looked pretty fun especially all of the agony it put your parents through and 
the girl was in California or someplace warm with a boyfriend and they
always found good food in the dumpsters  at least they could eat pizza and 
candy and not meat loaf  the runaway actress was Sally Field or at least
someone who looked like Sally Field as a teenager  the Flying Nun propelled 
by the huge wings on the sides of her wimple  Arnold the Pig getting drafted
in Green Acres my understanding then of Vietnam  I read Go Ask Alice and 
The Peter Pan Bag books that were designed to keep a young girl home  but 
there were the sex scenes and if anything this made me want to cut my hair 
with scissors in front of the mirror while I was high on marijuana but I
couldn't inhale because of my lungs  my sister was the one to pass out
behind the church for both of us  rum and angel dust

and that's how it was  my sister standing at the top of all those stairs that 
lead up to the apartment and she pushed down the empty suitcase that
banged the banister and wall as it tumbled and I was crying on the other side 
of the door because I was sure it was my sister who fell  all ketchup blood and 
stuck out bones  my mother wouldn't let me open the door to let my sister 
back in  I don't know if she knew it was just the suitcase or not  she was cold 
rubbing her sleeves a mug of coffee in her hand and I had to decide she said I 
had to decide right then

From Girl Soldier, Garden Street Press, 1996. Reprinted with permission of Denise Duhamel.

If I could catch the green lantern of the firefly I could see to write you a letter.

This poem is in the public domain.

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems. Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

A month at least before the bloom
and already five bare-limbed cherries
by the highway ringed in a haze
of incipient fire
                      —middle of the afternoon,
a faint pink-bronze glow. Some things
wear their becoming:
                                the night we walked,
nearly strangers, from a fevered party
to the corner where you’d left your motorcycle,
afraid some rough wind might knock it to the curb,
you stood on the other side
of the upright machine, other side
of what would be us, and tilted your head
toward me over the wet leather seat
while you strapped your helmet on,
engineer boots firm on the black pavement.

Did we guess we’d taken the party’s fire with us,
somewhere behind us that dim apartment
cooling around its core like a stone?
Can you know, when you’re not even a bud
but a possibility poised at some brink?

Of course we couldn’t see ourselves,
though love’s the template and rehearsal
of all being, something coming to happen
where nothing was…
                                    But just now
I thought of a troubled corona of new color,
visible echo, and wondered if anyone
driving in the departing gust and spatter
on Seventh Avenue might have seen
the cloud breathed out around us
as if we were a pair
of—could it be?—soon-to-flower trees.

Copyright @ 2014 by Mark Doty. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on June 2, 2014.

Life’s ironies irritate my afternoon hours like wool. One, I’m in a foreign country in my own head; two, I’m sometimes lonely living with two women; three, people are having sex in shop windows but we haven’t made love in weeks; four, the more Alexis smokes, the better her singing voice; the more I clean up, the more I feel like Alexis’ ashtray; the more I read, the more I lose my place. Unsettled, I get hungry, and remember pears and young Gouda in the refrigerator. I throw down my books. Ironically, given their status as objects, the red pear and the pale cheese are breathing furiously, inhabiting the world I left. All told, the pear is a great relief, luxuriating on a plate as blue as the Dutch flag, with the pungent Gouda such a pure moment of pale yellow!

Copyright @ 2014 by Jane Miller. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on June 17, 2014.

On the map it is precise and rectilinear as a chessboard, though driving past you would hardly notice it, this boundary line or ragged margin, a shallow swale that cups a simple trickle of water, less rill than rivulet, more gully than dell, a tangled ditch grown up throughout with a fearsome assortment of wildflowers and bracken. There is no fence, though here and there a weathered post asserts a former claim, strands of fallen wire taken by the dust. To the left a cornfield carries into the distance, dips and rises to the blue sky, a rolling plain of green and healthy plants aligned in close order, row upon row upon row. To the right, a field of wheat, a field of hay, young grasses breaking the soil, filling their allotted land with the rich, slow-waving spectacle of their grain. As for the farmers, they are, for the most part, indistinguishable: here the tractor is red, there yellow; here a pair of dirty hands, there a pair of dirty hands. They are cultivators of the soil. They grow crops by pattern, by acre, by foresight, by habit. What corn is to one, wheat is to the other, and though to some eyes the similarities outweigh the differences it would be as unthinkable for the second to commence planting corn as for the first to switch over to wheat. What happens in the gully between them is no concern of theirs, they say, so long as the plough stays out, the weeds stay in the ditch where they belong, though anyone would notice the wind-sewn cornstalks poking up their shaggy ears like young lovers run off into the bushes, and the kinship of these wild grasses with those the farmer cultivates is too obvious to mention, sage and dun-colored stalks hanging their noble heads, hoarding exotic burrs and seeds, and yet it is neither corn nor wheat that truly flourishes there, nor some jackalopian hybrid of the two. What grows in that place is possessed of a beauty all its own, ramshackle and unexpected, even in winter, when the wind hangs icicles from the skeletons of briars and small tracks cross the snow in search of forgotten grain; in the spring the little trickle of water swells to welcome frogs and minnows, a muskrat, a family of turtles, nesting doves in the verdant grass; in summer it is a thoroughfare for raccoons and opossums, field mice, swallows and black birds, migrating egrets, a passing fox; in autumn the geese avoid its abundance, seeking out windrows of toppled stalks, fatter grain more quickly discerned, more easily digested. Of those that travel the local road, few pay that fertile hollow any mind, even those with an eye for what blossoms, vetch and timothy, early forsythia, the fatted calf in the fallow field, the rabbit running for cover, the hawk's descent from the lightning-struck tree. You've passed this way yourself many times, and can tell me, if you would, do the formal fields end where the valley begins, or does everything that surrounds us emerge from its embrace?

From No Boundaries: Prose Poems by 24 American Poets, edited by Ray Gonzalez. Copyright © 2003 by Campbell McGrath. Reprinted by permission of Tupelo Press. All rights reserved.

They fly up in front of you so suddenly,
tossed, like gravel, by the handful,
kicked like snow or dead leaves into life.
Or if it's spring they break back and forth
like schools of fish silver at the surface,
like the swifts I saw in the hundreds
over the red tile roofs of Assisi—
they made shadows, they changed sunlight,
and at evening, before vespers,
waved back to the blackbird nuns.
My life list is one bird at a time long,
what Roethke calls looking. The eye,
particular for color, remembers when 
a treeful would go gray with applause,
in the middle of nowhere, in a one-oak field.
I clapped my hands just for the company.
As one lonely morning, green under glass,
a redwing flew straight at me, its shoulders
slick with rain that hadn't fallen yet.
In the birdbook there, where the names are,
it's always May, and the thing so fixed
we can see it—Cerulean, Blackpoll, Pine.
The time one got into the schoolroom
we didn't know what it was, but it sang,
it sailed along the ceiling on all sides,
and blew back out, wild, still lost,
before any of us, stunned, could shout
it down. And in a hallway once,
a bird went mad, window by locked window,
the hollow echo length of a building.
I picked it up closed inside my hand.
I picked it up and tried to let it go.
They fly up so quickly in front of you,
without names, in the slurred shapes of wings.
Scatter as if shot from twelve-gauge guns.
Or they fly from room to room, from memory
past the future, having already gathered
                in great numbers on the ground.

From Orphan Hours by Stanley Plumley. Copyright © 2012 by Stanley Plumley. Reprinted with permission of W. W. Norton & Co.

Years later I’m standing before a roomful of young writers in a high school in Texas. I’ve asked them to locate an image in a poem we’d just read—their heads at this moment are bowed to the page. After some back & forth about the grass & a styrofoam cup, a girl raises her hand & asks, Does it matter? I smile—it is as if the universe balanced on those three words & we’ve landed in the unanswerable. I have to admit that no, it doesn’t, not really, matter, if rain is an image or rain is an idea or rain is a sound in our heads. But, I whisper, leaning in close, to get through the next forty-seven minutes we might have to pretend it does.

Copyright @ 2014 by Nick Flynn. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on July 24, 2014.

The wolf appointed to tear me apart
is sure making slow work of it.
This morning just one eye weeping,
a single chip out of my back and
the usual maniacal wooden bird flutes
in the brain. Listen to that feeble howl
like having fangs is something to regret,
like we shouldn’t give thanks for blood
thirst. Even my idiot neighbor backing out
without looking could do a better job,
even that leaning diseased tree or dream
of a palsied hand squeezing the throat but
we’ve been at this for years, lying exposed
on the couch in the fat of the afternoon,
staring down the moon among night blooms.
What good’s a reluctant wolf anyway?
The other wolves just get it drunk
then tie it to a post. Poor pup.
Here’s my hand. Bite.

Copyright @ 2014 by Dean Young. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on August 6, 2014.

Posters for the missing kapok tree appear on streetlights
offering a reward for its safe return. I hate to spoil it,

but the end of every biography is death. The end of a city
in the rainforest is a legend and a lost expedition. The end

of mythology is forgetfulness, placing gifts in the hole
where the worshipped tree should be. But my memory

lengthens with each ending. I know where to find the lost
mines of Muribeca and how to cross the Pacific on a raft

made of balsa. I know the tree wasn’t stolen. She woke from
her stillness some equatorial summer evening by a dream

of being chased by an amorous faun, which was a memory,
which reminded her that in another form she had legs

and didn’t need the anxious worship of people who thought
her body was a message. She is happier than the poem tattooed

on her back says she is, but sadder than the finches nesting
in her hair believe her to be. I am more or less content to be

near her in October storms, though I can’t stop thinking that
with the right love or humility or present of silk barrettes

and licorice she might become a myth again in my arms, ardent
wordless, needing someone to bear her away from the flood.
 

Copyright © 2014 by Traci Brimhall. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on August 14, 2014. 

Loudell, in a loose cotton dress
            the color of delphiniums,
                        her hair, owl-feathered and quiet
as her naked toes in their pale sandals
             is a friend from this harvest part
                         of our lives,
a Minerva woman
             of herbs and salsas, hellebore, trumpet vines
                        and heirloom tomatoes. She glides
among us all,
             carefully,
                          as if we too might be
live plants.

            Almost in a trance from the heady
                        August evening, and perhaps from the corner
of my indolent eye, more absorbing the murmur
            than watching, I registered
                          this Snowy Owl of a woman
as she stripped an olive through her raptor’s mouth,
             then delicately flung the pit
                           into the narrow garden verge next
to her deck chair.

             Usually fastidious as a pharmacist
                         weighing crystals,
she surprised me in this seeming-act
           of littering, until I realized “oh, the pit might take root,
                         grow!” It was her planter’s instinct/
give every seed a place.

            Sipping her chardonnay and, with one hand cracking
                          some pistachios to neatly deposit
their shells in a bowl with pits from olives
             the rest of us had eaten,
                          she reminds me that even
with abundance
            there need not be waste.

                         Every day the image, planted in the hull of
twilight conversation, visits me: A Snowy Owl
                suddenly spreading her 10-foot wingspan
                              to cover this sacred earth,
its arcing motion, her arm unfolding into air
          with the olive pit
                     bowling earthward.
 

Copyright @ 2014 by Diane Wakoski. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on August 15, 2014.

Rockets concuss. Guns rattle off.
Dogs in a public square
feed on dead horses.

I don’t know, Jim, where you are.
When did you last see
birds? The winter sky in Boston

is gray with flu. Newspapers,
senators, friends, even your mom
on Good Morning America—

no one knows where you are.
It’s night, cold and bruised,
where you are. Plastic twine binds

your hands. You wait and pray, pray
and wait, but this is where the picture goes gray.
We don’t know, Jim, where you are.


                                    *


In the absence of sparrows: a crowd of friends and family gather in Rochester,
New Hampshire to recite the holy rosary.


                                    *


We keep your picture on the kitchen table, pack of American Spirits,
airplane bottle of Scotch, a copy of Krapp’s Last Tape.


Don’t get me wrong; we expect you back. Skinny, feral,
coffee eyes sunken but alive, you’ve always come back, from Iraq,

Syria, Afghanistan, even Libya after Gaddafi’s forces
captured and held you for 44 days. You tracked time scratching

marks with your zipper on prison walls, scrawling notes on cigarette
boxes, reciting the Koran with other prisoners. Then, you called.

DJ, it’s Jimmy…I’m in New Hampshire, brother! I wanted
to break your fucking nose. We ate lobster rolls, instead,

on a picnic bench by Boston Harbor. You made a quick round
of TV shows, packed your camera and Arabic phrasebook.

You skipped town on a plane to Turkey. We talked once. You said
you’d play it safe. The connection was lost.


                                    *


In the absence of sparrows: American journalist James Foley disappeared
after being taken captive by armed gunmen near Aleppo, Syria on Thanksgiving Day.

In the absence of sparrows: our house burns blue with news.


                                    *


Winter solstice, 1991. You turned donuts,
drinking beers, in a snowy public lot next to the lake.
Girls yelped. You cranked the Pixies louder, cut the lights,
and steered Billy’s grandma’s Chrysler onto the Winnipesaukee ice.
The moon flamed bright as a county coroner’s light.
You revved the station wagon’s engine. Billy tied
a yellow ski rope off the hitch, flashed a thumbs up,
and you punched the gas—5, 15, 20, 25 miles per hour—
towing Billy, skating in high-top sneakers,
across the frozen lake. Chill air filled his lungs.
Billy pumped his fist. You torqued the wheel left.
Triumphant, you honked and flashed the lights.
You took a swig of Heineken and wheeled
the wood-paneled station wagon in a wide-arcing turn
to pick up Billy, bloodied but standing. People do reckless things
but your friends dubbed you the High King of Foolish Shit.
The nose of Billy’s grandma’s Chrysler broke the ice.
You jammed it into reverse. Bald tires spinning,
you flung yourself from the car. In seconds, it was gone.
You gave Billy’s grandma a potted mum
and a silver balloon. Standing on her screened-in porch,
you mumbled an apology. What am I supposed to do now?
she asked. What the hell do I do now?


                                    *


In the absence of sparrows: when falling snow, out the window, looks like radio waves, 
        your face appears, your baritone laugh.



                                    *



August 31, 2004

We read Abbie Hoffman, 1968, watched Panther documentaries,
The Weather Underground, and packed our bandanas, first aid kits,
fat markers, maps and signs for New York City. A31, they called it,
a day of direct action, a time to heave ourselves on the gears

of an odious machine. We marched, drumming and chanting, half a million strong,
through the streets of Lower Manhattan. Worst President Ever, A Texas Village
Has Lost Its Idiot. Protestors carried a flotilla of flag-covered coffins.
We hoisted homemade signs and cried out, Whose streets?

Our streets? No justice, no peace! I’d packed sandwiches,
water, mapped restrooms along the parade route, inked
the hotline for Legal Services on your forearm and mine.
You, my wild half brother, packed only a one hitter, notepad, and pen.

When the parade snaked past the New York Public Library,
we peeled off to confront 20 cops in riot gear blocking entry
with batons drawn. We took position on the library steps.
Stone-still, inches from police, we held our signs

stamped with a student gagged by padlock and chain.
I could feel breath on my neck. We narrowly escaped arrest,
then streamed toward the Garden, a ragtag troop of 200.
We evaded barricades. Cut down alleys. At Herald Square, only

blocks from the Republican Convention, cops on mopeds
cut us off. They rolled out a bright orange snow fence,
hundreds of yard long, then zip cuffed us, one by one.
I called Ebele. You called your brother, set to be married in just three days.

His best man, you were headed to jail. “I’ll be there Friday for the golf outing,”
you vowed, a cop cutting your phone call short. They took you first.
Threw you on a city bus headed to Pier 14 on the Hudson,
a giant garage stinking of axel grease and gasoline. Stepping off the bus,

I scanned hundreds of faces staring through chain link, newly erected
and topped with concertina wire. I couldn’t find you. I can’t. They transferred me,
in soapy light, to the Tombs, Manhattan’s city jail, and freed me after 24 hours
to wander the streets. I peered in Chinese restaurants, seedy Canal Street bars,

called your cell phone from a payphone, trekked to Yago’s apartment
in Spanish Harlem, eager to crack beers, to begin weaving the story
we would always tell. You were not there. Waiting outside the Tombs,
I missed my flight home. Waiting, I smoked your cigarettes on the fire escape.

They held you and held you. You are missing still. I want to hold you. Beauty
is in the streets, my brother. Beauty is in the streets.

                                   

*


In the absence of sparrows: trash fires, a call to prayer. Dusk.
Rockets whistling, plastic bags taking flight.

In the absence of sparrows: all of a sudden, you appear. Standing before a cinder block
           wall, you’re holding a video camera with a boom mic and wearing a bulletproof 
           vest.

In the absence of sparrows: the front page story says you’ve been missing since 
           November 22, 2012. Everything else it doesn’t say.

In the absence of sparrows: you simply wandered off, past the Sunoco, pockets stuffed. 
           The door to your apartment is open still—

© 2014 Daniel Johnson.

The ventriloquist’s vines fled to an address on the floor of a cumulus pond. The forest formed gills. The tentacles muttered. Eat a bee. Try to project the tiniest star deep beneath this fence. The ravaged shadows repaired in the shade. The numb panorama rewound.

Copyright @ 2014 by Eric Baus. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on September 2, 2014.

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee.
And revery.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.

Poetry used by permission of the publishers and the Trustees of Amherst College from The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Ralph W. Franklin ed., Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Copyright © 1998 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © 1951, 1955, 1979, by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.

It’s very easy to get.
Just keep living and you’ll find yourself
getting more and more of it.
You can keep it or pass it on,
but it’s a good idea to keep a small portion
for those nights when you’re feeling so good
you forget you’re human. Then drudge it up
and float down from the ceiling
that is covered with stars that glow in the dark
for the sole purpose of being beautiful for you,
and as you sink their beauty dims and goes out—
I mean it flies out the nearest door or window,
its whoosh raising the hair on your forearms.
If only your arms were green, you could have two small lawns!
But your arms are just there and you are kaput.
It’s all your fault, anyway, and it always has been—
the kind word you thought of saying but didn’t,
the appalling decline of human decency, global warming,
thermonuclear nightmares, your own small cowardice,
your stupid idea that you would live forever—
all tua culpa. John Phillip Sousa
invented the sousaphone, which is also your fault.
Its notes resound like monstrous ricochets.

But when you wake up your body
seems to fit fairly well, like a tailored suit,
and you don’t look too bad in the mirror.
Hi there, feller! Old feller, young feller, who cares?
Whoever it was who felt guilty last night,
to hell with him. That was then.

Copyright @ 2014 by Ron Padgett. Used with permission of the author.

for the 43 members of Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 100, working at the Windows on the World restaurant, who lost their lives in the attack on the World Trade Center


Alabanza. Praise the cook with a shaven head 
and a tattoo on his shoulder that said Oye,
a blue-eyed Puerto Rican with people from Fajardo,
the harbor of pirates centuries ago. 
Praise the lighthouse in Fajardo, candle 
glimmering white to worship the dark saint of the sea. 
Alabanza. Praise the cook's yellow Pirates cap
worn in the name of Roberto Clemente, his plane 
that flamed into the ocean loaded with cans for Nicaragua,
for all the mouths chewing the ash of earthquakes.
Alabanza. Praise the kitchen radio, dial clicked
even before the dial on the oven, so that music and Spanish
rose before bread. Praise the bread. Alabanza.

Praise Manhattan from a hundred and seven flights up, 
like Atlantis glimpsed through the windows of an ancient aquarium.
Praise the great windows where immigrants from the kitchen
could squint and almost see their world, hear the chant of nations:
Ecuador, México, República Dominicana, 
Haiti, Yemen, Ghana, Bangladesh.

Alabanza. Praise the kitchen in the morning,
where the gas burned blue on every stove
and exhaust fans fired their diminutive propellers,
hands cracked eggs with quick thumbs 
or sliced open cartons to build an altar of cans.
Alabanza. Praise the busboy's music, the chime-chime
of his dishes and silverware in the tub.

Alabanza. Praise the dish-dog, the dishwasher
who worked that morning because another dishwasher
could not stop coughing, or because he needed overtime
to pile the sacks of rice and beans for a family
floating away on some Caribbean island plagued by frogs.
Alabanza. Praise the waitress who heard the radio in the kitchen
and sang to herself about a man gone. Alabanza.

After the thunder wilder than thunder,
after the shudder deep in the glass of the great windows,
after the radio stopped singing like a tree full of terrified frogs,
after night burst the dam of day and flooded the kitchen,
for a time the stoves glowed in darkness like the lighthouse in Fajardo,
like a cook's soul. Soul I say, even if the dead cannot tell us
about the bristles of God's beard because God has no face,
soul I say, to name the smoke-beings flung in constellations 
across the night sky of this city and cities to come. 
Alabanza I say, even if God has no face.

Alabanza. When the war began, from Manhattan and Kabul 
two constellations of smoke rose and drifted to each other, 
mingling in icy air, and one said with an Afghan tongue:
Teach me to dance. We have no music here.
And the other said with a Spanish tongue:
I will teach you. Music is all we have. 

From Alabanza by Martín Espada. Copyright © 2003 by Martín Espada. Used by permission of W. W. Norton and Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

All I ever wanted was that living room, Sunday evening, chicken
In the roaster, that deep orange sofa, that maple table
Spread out like a wagon wheel upon which cups of tea floated
And macramé or puzzles could be assembled. Don’t tell me

Disney isn’t reality: whole cities have ticked by in nylon print
T-shirts, under lithographs of the Blue Boy in plastic K-Mart frames.
Poets, don’t let your poems grow up to be idealists. I want in.
I agree we need to rethink everything from landfills to the accumulation

Of fat around the heart, but there really is nothing like a castle
Under a neon moon ringed with LED flowers. Also, dogs do
Find their way home, and while beds can’t fly you can wake
From a good trip around the Internet and be hungry for a Pop-Tart.

Don’t say you can’t, or won’t, or that my dream is flimsy: there is nothing
Less thrilling than a critique of others, how they do or do not, twirl. 

Copyright @ 2014 by Sina Queyras. Used with permission of the author.

We were alone one night on a long
road in Montana. This was in winter, a big
night, far to the stars. We had hitched,
my wife and I, and left our ride at
a crossing to go on. Tired and cold—but
brave—we trudged along. This, we said,
was our life, watched over, allowed to go
where we wanted. We said we’d come back some time
when we got rich. We’d leave the others and find
a night like this, whatever we had to give,
and no matter how far, to be so happy again.

From The Way It Is by William Stafford. Copyright © 1982, 1998 by the Estate of William Stafford. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, St. Paul, Minnesota. All rights reserved.

Weave in, weave in, my hardy life,
Weave yet a soldier strong and full for great campaigns to come,
Weave in red blood, weave sinews in like ropes, the senses, sight weave in,
Weave lasting sure, weave day and night the weft, the warp, incessant weave, tire not,
(We know not what the use O life, nor know the aim, the end, nor really aught we know,
But know the work, the need goes on and shall go on, the death-envelop’d march of peace as well as war goes on,)
For great campaigns of peace the same the wiry threads to weave,
We know not why or what, yet weave, forever weave.

This poem is in the public domain.

In Worcester, Massachusetts,
I went with Aunt Consuelo
to keep her dentist's appointment
and sat and waited for her
in the dentist's waiting room.
It was winter. It got dark
early. The waiting room
was full of grown-up people,
arctics and overcoats,
lamps and magazines.
My aunt was inside
what seemed like a long time
and while I waited I read
the National Geographic
(I could read) and carefully
studied the photographs:
the inside of a volcano,
black, and full of ashes;
then it was spilling over
in rivulets of fire.
Osa and Martin Johnson
dressed in riding breeches,
laced boots, and pith helmets.
A dead man slung on a pole
--"Long Pig," the caption said.
Babies with pointed heads
wound round and round with string;
black, naked women with necks
wound round and round with wire
like the necks of light bulbs.
Their breasts were horrifying.
I read it right straight through.
I was too shy to stop.
And then I looked at the cover:
the yellow margins, the date.
Suddenly, from inside,
came an oh! of pain
--Aunt Consuelo's voice--
not very loud or long.
I wasn't at all surprised;
even then I knew she was
a foolish, timid woman.
I might have been embarrassed,
but wasn't. What took me
completely by surprise
was that it was me:
my voice, in my mouth.
Without thinking at all
I was my foolish aunt,
I--we--were falling, falling,
our eyes glued to the cover
of the National Geographic,
February, 1918.

I said to myself: three days
and you'll be seven years old.
I was saying it to stop
the sensation of falling off
the round, turning world.
into cold, blue-black space.
But I felt: you are an I,
you are an Elizabeth,
you are one of them.
Why should you be one, too?
I scarcely dared to look
to see what it was I was.
I gave a sidelong glance
--I couldn't look any higher--
at shadowy gray knees,
trousers and skirts and boots
and different pairs of hands
lying under the lamps.
I knew that nothing stranger
had ever happened, that nothing
stranger could ever happen.

Why should I be my aunt,
or me, or anyone?
What similarities--
boots, hands, the family voice
I felt in my throat, or even
the National Geographic
and those awful hanging breasts--
held us all together
or made us all just one?
How--I didn't know any
word for it--how "unlikely". . .
How had I come to be here,
like them, and overhear
a cry of pain that could have
got loud and worse but hadn't?

The waiting room was bright
and too hot. It was sliding
beneath a big black wave,
another, and another.

Then I was back in it.
The War was on. Outside,
in Worcester, Massachusetts,
were night and slush and cold,
and it was still the fifth
of February, 1918.

From The Complete Poems 1927-1979 by Elizabeth Bishop, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc. Copyright © 1979, 1983 by Alice Helen Methfessel. Used with permission.

            Poetry does make things happen. A friend says, "I wanted
to let you know that my stepfather is chattering like
            a schoolboy about a poem of yours on my Facebook page.
This may not seem like much to you, but this guy has been
            giving me a hard time since I was two. You built a bridge
between people who never understood each other before."
            How’d that happen? Magic, that’s how. I know the poem

            she means; it took me years to write it. Songwriter
Doc Pomus was crippled by polio, and he wrote once
            about this dream he had again and again: “I used to believe
in magic and flying and that one morning I would wake up
            and all the bad things were bad dreams. . . . And I would
get out of the wheelchair and walk and not with braces
            and not with crutches,” though when the light came through

            the window in the morning, there he was, encased
in steel and leather from hip to ankle, unable to move.
            Again and again he has the dream, and then one day
he writes “This Magic Moment,” where the guy meets
            the girl, and suddenly he has everything he wants. How?
Magic! Wouldn’t you love to have saved pale Keats
            with his blood-speck’d lips? And Fanny, her skin like cream,

            listening through the wall. He dies with his lungs on fire,
she mourns, marries, gives birth, and, after her husband dies,
            gives Keats’ letters to her children—she had kept them all
that time. We have them, and we have his poems. And his
            tool kit, too: look what he does in the “Ode to a Nightingale.”
Nobody bolts music and lyrics together the way Keats does,
            no one pays more attention to detail. There's a Jack Gilbert

            poem that begins with a real incident from World War II,
when the Polish cavalry rode out against the Germans
            with their swords glittering, only the Germans had tanks.
But that's not bravery, says Gilbert. Bravery is doing
            the same thing every day when you don't want to.
Not the marvelous but the familiar, over and over again.
            Do that, and the magic will come. My dad was frail

            and distracted in his last hours. My mother said he asked,
Do we have enough money? and when she said yes, he said,
            Then let's just get in the Buick and go. He was looking
at car trips, thirty-cent gas, roadside picnics, these new things
            they called motels. My brother, me, the little house
we lived in, fifty years of marriage, a long and happy life as
            a Chaucer scholar: all that was in the sunny days to come.
 

Copyright © 2014 by David Kirby. Used with permission of the author. 

for Fadwa Soleiman

Said the old woman who barely spoke the language:
Freedom is a dream, and we don’t know whose.
Said the insurgent who was now an exile:
When I began to write the story I started bleeding.

Freedom is a dream, and we don’t know whose—
that man I last saw speaking in front of the clock tower
when I began to write the story?  I started bleeding
five years after I knew I’d have no more children.

That man I last saw speaking in front of the clock tower
turned an anonymous corner and disappeared.
Five years after I knew I’d have no more children
my oldest son was called up for the army,

turned an anonymous corner and disappeared.
My nephew, my best friend, my second sister
whose oldest son was called up for the army,
are looking for work now in other countries.

Her nephew, his best friend, his younger sister,
a doctor, an actress, an engineer,
are looking for work now in other countries
stumbling, disillusioned, in a new language.

A doctor, an actress, an engineer
wrestle with the rudiments of grammar
disillusioned, stumbling in a new language,
hating their luck, and knowing they are lucky.

Wrestling with the rudiments of grammar,
the old woman, who barely speaks the language,
hated her luck. I know that I am lucky
said the insurgent who is now an exile.

Copyright © 2014 by Marilyn Hacker. Used with permission of the author.

Even this late it happens:
the coming of love, the coming of light. 
You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves, 
stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows, 
sending up warm bouquets of air.
Even this late the bones of the body shine 
and tomorrow’s dust flares into breath.

Excerpted from The Late Hour by Mark Strand. Copyright © 2002 by Mark Strand. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

III
Hanukkah

In a world where each man must be of use
and each thing useful, the rebellious Jews
light not one light but eight—
not to see by but to look at.

From The Complete Poems of Charles Reznikoff. Copyright © 1976 by Charles Reznikoff. Used by permission of Black Sparrow Press, an imprint of David R. Godine, Publisher, Inc.

was when the
lights were
out

the whole city
in darkness

& we drove north
to our friend’s
yellow apt.
where she had
power & we
could work

later we stayed
in the darkened
apt. you sick
in bed & me
writing ambitiously
by candle light
in thin blue
books

your neighbor had
a generator &
after a while
we had a little
bit of light

I walked the
dog & you
were still
a little bit
sick

we sat on a stoop
one day in the
late afternoon
we had very little
money. enough for
a strong cappuccino
which we shared
sitting there &
suddenly the
city was lit.

Copyright © 2014 by Eileen Myles. Used with permission of the author.

A bookkeeping man,
tho one sure to knock on wood,
and mostly light

at loose ends—my friend
who is superstitiously funny, & always
sarcastic—save once,

after I’d told him
about Simone’s first time
walking—a toddler,

almost alone, she’d
gripped her sweater, right hand
clutched

chest-high, reassured
then, she held on to herself
so, so took a few

quick steps—
oh, he said, you know what? Leonard
Cohen, when he was 13,

after his father’s
out-of-the-blue heart attack, he slit
one of the old man’s

ties, & slipped a
message into it, then buried it
in his backyard—

73 now, he can’t
recall what he wrote—(threadbare
heartfelt prayer perhaps,

or complaint)—
his first writing anyway.
The need to comfort

ourselves is always
strongest at the start,
they say—

do you think
that’s true? my friend asked.
I don’t, he said,

I think the need
gets stronger, he said, it
just gets stronger.

Copyright © 2015 by David Rivard. Used with permission of the author.

Jonah found
a frog in the currants
thirsty, he said, so we flicked water on it
& it sat still    throat pulsing
bright-greener than the stem, feet spread, attached to the stem

Three people one frog thousands of currants
Basho, anyone, why write it down
 

Copyright © 2015 by Lisa Fishman. Used with permission of the author.

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

Copyright © 1966 by Robert Hayden, from Collected Poems of Robert Hayden, edited by Frederick Glaysher. Used by permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation.

if I had two nickels to rub together
I would rub them together

like a kid rubs sticks together
until friction made combustion

and they burned

a hole in my pocket

into which I would put my hand
and then my arm

and eventually my whole self––
I would fold myself

into the hole in my pocket and disappear

into the pocket of myself, or at least my pants

but before I did

like some ancient star

I’d grab your hand

Copyright © 2013 by Kevin Varrone. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on October 17, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

My son rubs his skin and names it brown,
his expression gleeful as I rub a damp cloth
over his face this morning. Last night,
there were reports that panthers were charging
through the streets. I watched from my seat
in front of the television, a safe vista.
I see the savannah. Sometimes, though,
my son wakes to a kind of nightmare.
He envisions words on the wall and cannot
shake them. He tries to scratch them away
or runs out of the room but the words
follow him. None of it makes any sense
but it’s the ghost of his fear that I fear.

What is a safe distance from the thoughts
that pursue us and what if the threat persists
despite our howling? Buildings collapse,
a woman falls down the stairs and lands
on her back with only one eye open, half
awake to her living damage. I think
my son senses what is happening
on the street, his heart fiercely tethered
to mine. I know the world will find him
and tell him the history of his skin.
Harm will come searching for him
and pour into him its scorching mercury,
its nails, its bitter breath against his boyhood
skin still smelling of milk and wonder.

Somewhere, the panthers are running
starting fires fueled by a distinct hunger.
Somewhere there is a larger fire, a pyre
stoked by the fury of all that we have come
to understand, all that we could have done
but did not. Its flames lick the underside
of the earth. It propagates needing
only a frenzy of air to fan it to inferno.
I’ll call that the Forest. The deep woods
are ahead and if the panthers could just reach it.
If I told you that all of this happens at night,
you wouldn’t believe me. If I told you
all of this happens in the future, always
the Future you would continue following
the scent you could only describe as smoke.
I’ll call that Justice.

But aren’t we talking about mercy and its dark
twin? Isn’t that what is pummeling history
in the side as I write this? Isn’t it the thorn
and the taser? Isn’t it the chokehold
and the gold arm of vengeance? I say it
from my mouth and when it spills forth
it lands on the ground in a pool of light
reflecting back at me the one true blasphemy:
Love and love and love and love and
love and love and love and love and love
and love and love and love and love and
love and love and love and love and love
and love and love and love and love and
love is crowding the street and needs only air
and it lives, over there, in the distance burning. 
 

Copyright © 2015 by Tina Chang. Used with permission of the author.

A person protests to fate:

“The things you have caused
me most to want
are those that furthest elude me.”

Fate nods.
Fate is sympathetic.

To tie the shoes, button a shirt,
are triumphs
for only the very young,
the very old.

During the long middle:

conjugating a rivet
mastering tango
training the cat to stay off the table
preserving a single moment longer than this one
continuing to wake whatever has happened the day before

and the penmanships love practices inside the body.

Copyright © 2015 by Jane Hirshfield. Used with permission of the author. Published in Poem-a-Day on February 24, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

In my bedroom my weight is three times more
than what I’d weigh on Jupiter.
If your kitchen was on Mercury I’d be heavier by half
of you while sitting at your table.
On Uranus, a quarter of my weight is meat,
or an awareness of myself as flesh.
On Venus the light would produce a real volume around me
that would make me look happy in photographs.
This is how it is with quantity in any life. It’s a fact
that on certain planets I’d actually be able to mount
the stairs four at a time. Think of the most beautiful horse
in the world: a ridiculously beautiful golden horse,
with a shimmering coat; it would weigh no more
than an empty handbag on Mars. You need
to get real about these things.

Copyright © 2015 by Todd Colby. Used with permission of the author.

    1

The best part
is when we’re tired
of it all
in the same degree,

a fatigue we imagine
to be temporary,
and we lie near each other,
toes touching.

What’s done is done,
we don’t say,
to begin our transaction,

each letting go of something
without really
bringing it to mind

until we’re lighter,
sicker,
older

and a current
runs between us
where our toes touch.

It feels unconditional.


    2

Remember this, we don't say:

The Little Mermaid
was able to absorb
her tail,

refashion it
to form legs.

This meant that
everything’s negotiable

and that everything is played out
in advance

in secret.

 

Copyright © 2015 by Rae Armantrout. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 3, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets. 

this the week of our son’s first
upright wobble from kitchen

to living-room    and he begins planting
tiny Os wherever his fleshy fingers

can reach    each first shelf    each chair
cushion      each pair of shoes    he goes

to bury a piece behind the TV
inside the pool of exposed wires

we’ve been saving him from
since he took to motion     and I let him

go for it    he survives    but why
this risk    how costly this whole-

grain crumb    back from
the wilderness of worry    for whom

 

Copyright @ 2014 by Geffrey Davis. Used with permission of the author.

There were strollers, outgrown, circulated till a wheel fell off.

Anna’s infant RockaRoo went to Francesca then to Sophia

who gave it back to Anna when she had the twins.

Travel cribs traveled between homes and the green vest

Sophia knitted for Ming’s first was worn by all the next babies.

Onesies, drawstring gowns, snap-legged overalls,

snowsuits, sweatpants, jeans, t-shirts, jumpers,

all sorted, washed, boxed then sent on

till they were sorted, washed, boxed and sent again.

Pj’s worn to that silkiest perfection, then worn 

wholly through, reluctantly tossed. A blue dress

with applique lilacs was the favorite of each girl

and who knew where the velvet blazer came from,

but it did the job for more than one holiday concert.

Even this year, a photograph of Francesca’s youngest in
      Prague,

handsome in that hand-me-down wool pea coat. Sophia hit
      reply all:

Our last? No! Well, fits yours better than it ever did mine.

Copyright © 2015 by Victoria Redel. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 10, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets. 

Consider one apricot in a basket of them.
It is very much like all the other apricots--
an individual already, skin and seed.

Now think of this day.  One you will probably forget.
The next breath you take, a long drink of air.
Holiday or not, it doesn't matter.

A child is born and doesn't know what day it is.
The particular joy in my heart she cannot imagine.
The taste of apricots is in store for her.

Copyright © 1998 by Nan Cohen. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

A map on tissue. A mass of wire. Electricity of the highest order.
Somewhere in this live tangle, scientists discovered—

like shipmates on the suddenly-round earth—
a new catalog of synaptic proteins

presenting how memory is laid down:
At the side of the transmitting neuron

an electrical signal arrives and releases chemical packets.

What I had imagined as “nothing” are a bunch of conversing
    squirts
remaking flat into intimate.

Copyright © 2015 by Kimiko Hahn. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 24, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

Thrushes, alert for opportunity,
sleep in winks of thirty seconds or less.

Has Guinness tracked the longest sigh on record
and was it exhaled in exasperation or ecstasy?

In the measure of apothecaries, one scruple
equals twenty grains, a lot of data to debunk.

Four centuries ago a watchmaker set up the first circus
of fleas tied to carts. Since then,

entertainment has changed a lot—explosions, all the rage.
Not long ago whistling in an office could get you fired,

and now who of us blinks at torture taken to the brink
of drowning, not once per body, but a vomitous number

I’m not going to hurt you with, and who asks how often
mouth-to-mouth—the torturer locking lips with the tortured

to revive him for another round. An alarm rings
to wake the thrush for the next

threat, thus serving the species for survival
of the fittest, while in the Situation Room, our best,

fit to kill, compute opportunity costs with the poise
of the guys whose billboards brag, “We buy ugly houses.”

Give me the scale that weighs a whistle, a flea,
the song of a thrush, the sum of pain caused

by people of conscience, people ignoring it.
Is opportunity tired of being missed?

Does it sigh the way we sigh?

Copyright © 2016 Barbara Ras. Used with permission of the author.


Because so much consequential thinking
happens in the rain. A steady mist
to recall departures, a bitter downpour 
for betrayal. As if the first thing
a man wants to do when he learns his wife
is sleeping with his best friend, and has been
for years, the very first thing
is not to make a drink, and drink it,
and make another, but to walk outside
into bad weather. It's true
that the way we look doesn't always
reveal our feelings. Which is a problem
for the movies. And why somebody has to smash
a mirror, for example, to show he's angry
and full of self-hate, whereas actual people 
rarely do this. And rarely sit on benches
in the pouring rain to weep. Is he wondering
why he didn't see it long ago? Is he wondering
if in fact he did, and lied to himself?
And perhaps she also saw the many ways 
he'd allowed himself to be deceived. In this city 
it will rain all night. So the three of them
return to their houses, and the wife
and her lover go upstairs to bed
while the husband takes a small black pistol
from a drawer, turns it over in his hands,
then puts it back. Thus demonstrating
his inability to respond to passion
with passion. But we don't want him
to shoot his wife, or his friend, or himself.
And we've begun to suspect
that none of this is going to work out,
that we'll leave the theater feeling
vaguely cheated, just as the movie,
turning away from the husband's sorrow,
leaves him to be a man who must continue,
day after day, to walk outside into the rain,
outside and back again, since now there can be
nowhere in this world for him to rest.

From Visible Signs by Lawrence Raab. Copyright © 2003 by Lawrence Raab. Reprinted by permission of Penguin. All rights reserved.

     Jill's a good kid who's had some tough luck. But that's 
another story. It's a day when the smell of fish from Tib's hash 
house is so strong you could build a garage on it. We are sit-
ting in Izzy's where Carl has just built us a couple of solid 
highballs. He's okay, Carl is, if you don't count his Roamin' 
Hands and Rushin' Fingers. Then again, that should be the 
only trouble we have in this life. Anyway, Jill says, "Why 
don't you tell about it? Nobody ever gets the poet's point of 
view." I don't know, maybe she's right. Jill's just a kid, but 
she's been around; she knows what's what.
     So, I tell Jill, we are at Izzy's just like now when he 
comes in. And the first thing I notice is his hair, which has 
been Vitalis-ed into submission. But, honey, it won't work, 
and it gives him a kind of rumpled your-boudoir-or-mine look. 
I don't know why I noticed that before I noticed his face. 
Maybe it was just the highballs doing the looking. Anyway, 
then I see his face, and I'm telling you—I'm telling Jill—this is 
a masterpiece of a face.
     But—and this is the god's own truth—I'm tired of
beauty. Really. I know, given all that happened, this must 
sound kind of funny, but it made me tired just to look at him. 
That's how beautiful he was, and how much he spelled T-R-
O-U-B-L-E. So I threw him back. I mean, I didn't say it, I say 
to Jill, with my mouth. But I said it with my eyes and my 
shoulders. I said it with my heart. I said, Honey, I'm throwing 
you back. And looking back, that was the worst, I mean, the 
worst thing—bar none—that I could have done, because it
drew him like horseshit draws flies. I mean, he didn't walk
over and say, "Hello, girls; hey, you with the dark hair, your
indifference draws me like horseshit draws flies."
     But he said it with his eyes. And then he smiled. And
that smile was a gas station on a dark night. And as wearying
as all the rest of it. I am many things, but dumb isn't one of
them. And here is where I say to Jill, "I just can't go on." I
mean, how we get from the smile into the bedroom, how it all
happens, and what all happens, just bores me. I am a concep-
tual storyteller. In fact, I'm a conceptual liver. I prefer the
cookbook to the actual meal. Feeling bores me. That's why I 
write poetry. In poetry you just give the instructions to the 
reader and say, "Reader, you go on from here." And what I like
about poetry is its readers, because those are giving people. I 
mean, those are people you can trust to get the job done. They 
pull their own weight. If I had to have someone at my back in 
a dark alley, I'd want it to be a poetry reader. They're not like
some people, who maybe do it right if you tell them, "Put this
foot down, and now put that one in front of the other, button
your coat, wipe your nose."
     So, really, I do it for the readers who work hard and, I 
feel, deserve something better than they're used to getting. I 
do it for the working stiff. And I write for people, like myself, 
who are just tired of the trickle-down theory where some-
body spends pages and pages on some fat book where every-
thing including the draperies, which happen to be burnt orange, 
are described, and, further, are some metaphor for something.
And this whole boggy waste trickles down to the reader in the 
form of a little burp of feeling. God, I hate prose. I think the 
average reader likes ideas.
     "A sentence, unlike a line, is not a station of the cross." I 
said this to the poet Mark Strand. I said, "I could not stand to
write prose; I could not stand to have to write things like 'the 
draperies were burnt orange and the carpet was brown.'" And 
he said, "You could do it if that's all you did, if that was the 
beginning and the end of your novel." So please, don't ask me 
for a little trail of bread crumbs to get from the smile to the 
bedroom, and from the bedroom to the death at the end, al-
though you can ask me a lot about death. That's all I like, the 
very beginning and the very end. I haven't got the stomach for
the rest of it.
     I don't think many people do. But, like me, they're either 
too afraid or too polite to say so. That's why the movies are 
such a disaster. Now there's a form of popular culture that 
doesn't have a clue. Movies should be five minutes long. You 
should go in, see a couple of shots, maybe a room with orange 
draperies and a rug. A voice-over would say, "I'm having a 
hard time getting Raoul from the hotel room into the eleva-
tor." And, bang, that's the end. The lights come on, everybody 
walks out full of sympathy because this is a shared experi-
ence. Everybody in that theater knows how hard it is to get 
Raoul from the hotel room into the elevator. Everyone has had 
to do boring, dogged work. Everyone has lived a life that 
seems to inflict every vivid moment the smears, finger-
ings, and pawings of plot and feeling. Everyone has lived un-
der this oppression. In other words, everyone has had to eat 
shit—day after day, the endless meals they didn't want, those 
dark, half-gelatinous lakes of gravy that lay on the plate like 
an ugly rug and that wrinkled clump of reddish-orange roast 
beef that looks like it was dropped onto your plate from a 
great height. God what a horror: getting Raoul into the ele-
vator.
     And that's why I write poetry. In poetry, you don't do 
that kind of work.

From Then, Suddenly— by Lynn Emanuel. Copyright © 1999. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.