There were feathers and the light that passed through feathers.

There were birds that made the feathers and the sun that made the light.

The feathers of the birds made the air soft, softer

than the quiet in a cocoon waiting for wings,

stiller than the stare of a hooded falcon.

But no falcons in this green made by the passage of parents.

No, not parents, parrots flying through slow sleep

casting green rays to light the long dream.

If skin, dew would have drenched it, but dust

hung in space like the stoppage of

time itself, which, after dancing with parrots,

had said, Thank you. I'll rest now.

It's not too late to say the parrot light was thick

enough to part with a hand, and the feathers softening

the path, fallen after so much touching of cheeks,

were red, hibiscus red split by veins of flight

now at the end of flying.

Despite the halt of time, the feathers trusted red

and believed indolence would fill the long dream,

until the book shut and time began again to hurt.

From The Last Skin by Barbara Ras. Copyright © 2010 by Barbara Ras. Used by permission of Penguin.

But you can have the fig tree and its fat leaves like clown hands
gloved with green. You can have the touch of a single eleven-year-old finger
on your cheek, waking you at one a.m. to say the hamster is back.
You can have the purr of the cat and the soulful look
of the black dog, the look that says, If I could I would bite
every sorrow until it fled, and when it is August,
you can have it August and abundantly so. You can have love,
though often it will be mysterious, like the white foam
that bubbles up at the top of the bean pot over the red kidneys
until you realize foam's twin is blood.
You can have the skin at the center between a man's legs,
so solid, so doll-like. You can have the life of the mind,
glowing occasionally in priestly vestments, never admitting pettiness,
never stooping to bribe the sullen guard who'll tell you
all roads narrow at the border.
You can speak a foreign language, sometimes,
and it can mean something. You can visit the marker on the grave
where your father wept openly. You can't bring back the dead,
but you can have the words forgive and forget hold hands
as if they meant to spend a lifetime together. And you can be grateful
for makeup, the way it kisses your face, half spice, half amnesia, grateful
for Mozart, his many notes racing one another towards joy, for towels
sucking up the drops on your clean skin, and for deeper thirsts,
for passion fruit, for saliva. You can have the dream,
the dream of Egypt, the horses of Egypt and you riding in the hot sand.
You can have your grandfather sitting on the side of your bed,
at least for a while, you can have clouds and letters, the leaping
of distances, and Indian food with yellow sauce like sunrise.
You can't count on grace to pick you out of a crowd
but here is your friend to teach you how to high jump,
how to throw yourself over the bar, backwards,
until you learn about love, about sweet surrender,
and here are periwinkles, buses that kneel, farms in the mind
as real as Africa. And when adulthood fails you,
you can still summon the memory of the black swan on the pond
of your childhood, the rye bread with peanut butter and bananas
your grandmother gave you while the rest of the family slept.
There is the voice you can still summon at will, like your mother's,
it will always whisper, you can't have it all,
but there is this.

From Bite Every Sorrow by Barbara Ras, published by Louisiana State University Press, 1998. Copyright © 1997 by Barbara Ras. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Brightness appears showing us everything
it reveals the splendors it calls everything
but shows it to each of us alone
and only once and only to look at
not to touch or hold in our shadows
what we see is never what we touch
what we take turns out to be something else
what we see that one time departs untouched
while other shadows gather around us
the world’s shadows mingle with our own
we had forgotten them but they know us
they remember us as we always were
they were at home here before the first came
everything will leave us except the shadows
but the shadows carry the whole story
at first daybreak they open their long wings

W. S. Merwin, “The Wings of Daylight” from Garden Time. Copyright © 2016 by W. S. Merwin. Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org.

If I had not met the red-haired boy whose father
               had broken a leg parachuting into Provence
to join the resistance in the final stage of the war
               and so had been killed there as the Germans were moving north
out of Italy and if the friend who was with him
               as he was dying had not had an elder brother
who also died young quite differently in peacetime
               leaving two children one of them with bad health
who had been kept out of school for a whole year by an illness
               and if I had written anything else at the top 
of the examination form where it said college
               of your choice or if the questions that day had been
put differently and if a young woman in Kittanning
               had not taught my father to drive at the age of twenty
so that he got the job with the pastor of the big church 
               in Pittsburgh where my mother was working and if 
my mother had not lost both parents when she was a child
               so that she had to go to her grandmother’s in Pittsburgh
I would not have found myself on an iron cot
               with my head by the fireplace of a stone farmhouse
that had stood empty since some time before I was born
               I would not have travelled so far to lie shivering
with fever though I was wrapped in everything in the house
               nor have watched the unctuous doctor hold up his needle
at the window in the rain light of October
               I would not have seen through the cracked pane the darkening
valley with its river sliding past the amber mountains
               nor have wakened hearing plums fall in the small hour
thinking I knew where I was as I heard them fall

Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org.

Certain words now in our knowledge we will not use again, and we will never forget them. We need them. Like the back of the picture. Like our marrow, and the color in our veins. We shine the lantern of our sleep on them, to make sure, and there they are, trembling already for the day of witness. They will be buried with us, and rise with the rest.

From The Book of Fables by W.S. Merwin. Copyright © 2007 by W.S. Merwin. Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press.

My friends without shields walk on the target

It is late the windows are breaking

My friends without shoes leave
What they love
Grief moves among them as a fire among
Its bells
My friends without clocks turn
On the dial they turn
They part

My friends with names like gloves set out
Bare handed as they have lived
And nobody knows them
It is they that lay the wreaths at the milestones it is their
Cups that are found at the wells
And are then chained up

My friends without feet sit by the wall
Nodding to the lame orchestra
Brotherhood it says on the decorations
My friend without eyes sits in the rain smiling
With a nest of salt in his hand

My friends without fathers or houses hear
Doors opening in the darkness
Whose halls announce

Behold the smoke has come home

My friends and I have in common
The present a wax bell in a wax belfry
This message telling of
Metals this
Hunger for the sake of hunger this owl in the heart
And these hands one
For asking one for applause

My friends with nothing leave it behind
In a box
My friends without keys go out from the jails it is night
They take the same road they miss
Each other they invent the same banner in the dark
They ask their way only of sentries too proud to breathe

At dawn the stars on their flag will vanish

The water will turn up their footprints and the day will rise
Like a monument to my
Friends the forgotten

From The Moving Target, by W. S. Merwin, published by Atheneum. Copyright © 1963 by W. S. Merwin. Used with permission.

When she looked down from the kitchen window
into the back yard and the brown wicker
baby carriage in which she had tucked me
three months old to lie out in the fresh air
of my first January the carriage
was shaking she said and went on shaking
and she saw I was lying there laughing
she told me about it later it was
something that reassured her in a life
in which she had lost everyone she loved
before I was born and she had just begun
to believe that she might be able to
keep me as I lay there in the winter
laughing it was what she was thinking of
later when she told me that I had been
a happy child and she must have kept that
through the gray cloud of all her days and now
out of the horn of dreams of my own life
I wake again into the laughing child

W. S. Merwin, “The Laughing Child” from Garden Time. Copyright © 2016 by W. S. Merwin. Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press,www.coppercanyonpress.org.

Lord,
          when you send the rain,
          think about it, please,
          a little?
  Do
          not get carried away
          by the sound of falling water,
          the marvelous light
          on the falling water.
    I
          am beneath that water.
          It falls with great force
          and the light
Blinds
          me to the light.

From Jimmy’s Blues and Other Poems by James Baldwin (Beacon Press, 2014).  Copyright © 2014 The James Baldwin Estate. Used by permission of Beacon Press.