for Major and Didi Jackson
There’s no suffering among dandelions,
in the way the corral gate swings open
or how the gears stay up late
to keep the wrists of the dead company.
And there’s no suffering in silt or the word marsh
or in the quadratic equation, which scurries
beneath the floorboards of my thought
like a mouse drunk on plum wine.
There’s no suffering in the steam backlit
and seared into the world at an early hour
with the horse as its guide. And there’s no suffering
in lag bolts or u-joints, nor in the sexed-up shadows
of grain elevators. There’s no suffering
in the verb itself—to suffer—which, in my kin’s tongue
means charged by the sight of an owl,
let loose from a barbed hook, returned
to the reservoir of the mind.
Today, I’m a chemical emulsion
that burns light onto paper, a three-cent stamp
honoring a woman whose name
is cloth spread throughout a meadow,
mortar setting up in a constant breeze.
The mountain air takes a handful of memories
from my chest, spreads them before me
like pewter figurines until I feel
like a tube of lipstick with an erotic name
or the long vowels in a wave’s trough,
all hum and echo. Friend, I’m both
a keyhole in a star and the key chained
to a young boy’s neck. I’m the thistle and its bloom,
father rack and pinion son, gravel and its dust.
And here, before you now, I’m on a measure
of consonants gnawing the green roots
from a blinded moon, where I say to hell with kings
and jeweled blood, for in this kingdom
suffering shall be, but never be invented.
Copyright © 2022 by Michael McGriff. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 2, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.
The life of a garment worker in midtown Manhattan.
She worked as seamstress in the sweatshops of New York City.
Whose mother is not the love of their life?
She pushed her lunch on co-workers
from Russia, Togo, Haiti, Dominican Republic.
They disliked the sugar fried anchovies.
They saw the nimbus on each fish
and politely or raucously declined. The cavernous
spaces of her mind. Having studied graphic design
at Duksung Women’s College, Dobong-gu, Seoul,
what else was she going to do but write a novel.
Staring at sea windows, she scrawled and chalked
in her head. Drong of eternal absence. An expert
on the social history of the Staten Island Ferry,
she confided in me the act of crying was a privilege.
What type of person leaves a near full can of
coconut water on the bleachers? You have to be
happy in order to weep, or sob. I can teach you,
she said to me. If you can hold a pencil, I can teach you
how to draw. But I’ve known people who have
no hands. Who have no fingers.
Copyright © 2022 by Haesong Kwon. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 3, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.
I just felt like he was fighting us with his machine.
—Nellie Jo David
In Guadalajara to see where Motorola took the line
my grandmother worked on, I can’t find the site
but spend the days in naves of a deconsecrated church
looking up at frescoes by Orozco. Here is a horse:
a tow chain for tail, train piston for hock & hoof.
Over murdered Mexica, Cortez stands: lug nut hips
& kneecaps, gauntleted hand at the sword hilt, silver
as a knot of solder. Opposite him: the Franciscan
& his Latin cross—miter-sawed angles hewn down
to dagger point—& an angel in assembly-line armor
lifting a bloodied banner with the stenciled letters
of an alphabet, the one I must have started learning,
sing-song in the pitch & timbre of milk teeth, at 48th
& Willetta, a one-bedroom duplex west of Papago’s
greasewood & buttes of sandstone & a block down
from the Motorola where my grandmother punched
in nights to look after a conveyor of semiconductors—
those nascent ancient rotaries strung up to starlight
& empire (gaslighting like that Gast painting of progress
& whiteness wrapped in telegraph wire, lithe & looping
as cake shop box string). No wall on O’odham land,
I hear the woman today protest from the bucket
of a front-end loader—a Caterpillar, by her presence,
dumbstruck on tread wheels tall as vault doors, its maw
metal hollow, a confessional or old Mountain Bell
phone booth she stepped into amid the felled saguaro
& ribs of organ pipe. Her body where dirt goes says
her body is the land the wall wants to eat. I stream this—
download by data plan, by bandwidth, from the cloud
servers deep in their grid deserts to the crystalline
& rare earth minerals making my cell phone
black box theater, making her code, making her
algorithm—both soprano & Mario Savio—the solder
seemingly quantum leap from soldada & solidarity.
Still, I remember the ram’s horn baritone in my nana’s
King James, imagine her driving those years with riders
to shepherd the sound through solid state & know
the harder truth: the defiant mic this woman makes,
resonates with her body beneath the digger’s teeth.
Copyright © 2022 by Brandon Som. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 15, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.
Gulls when they fly move in a liquid arc,
Still head, and wings that bend above the breast,
Covering its glitter with a cloak of dark,
Gulls fly. So as at last toward balm and rest,
Remembering wings, the desperate leave their earth,
Bear from their earth what there was ruinous-crossed,
Peace from distress, and love from nothing-worth,
Fast at the heart, its jewels of dear cost.
Gulls go up hushed to that entrancing flight,
With never a feather of all the body stirred.
So in an air less rare than longing might
The dream of flying lift a marble bird.
Desire it is that flies; then wings are freight
That only bear the feathered heart no weight.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on January 7, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.
okra, pickled just the way you like it,
in the jar on the top shelf. oranges
in the ochre clay bowl you made right there
on the counter. clove tea brewing stovetop
& there’s an orison that my mama
taught me, metronoming ’gainst my orbital
bones. orbiting around my occipital.
come through. let’s be each other’s oracles.
we can hold hands, craft a shrine in the gap
of our palms, in the ocean of our breaths
at the shore of our oil-shined flesh. listen:
this is my oath to you. i’m devoted
to you, the people, my folks, my kindred—
not to the state. & i belong with you—
not to the state. our love is ordained
by the Black ordinary & spectacle,
our wayward waymaking. we are the more
gathered together here in our own names
calling on otherwise. serenading
otherwheres. singing we already here—
Copyright © 2023 by Destiny Hemphill. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 24, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.
—after Ted Berrigan
Even on the 13th floor of a high building, Chicago’s
wind winds its slick way through any unsecured
window on its singsong to the lake. It’s fine-tuned,
perfectly pitched in this sinister season
of cackling jack-o’-lanterns & candy corns
nobody eats unless they’re the last sweets left.
Bags of fun nonsense for all the little ninjas
& ghosts. It’s true, I weep too much when
the seasons partition: snack-sized tears dropping onto
tear-sized leaves swirling in the autumn
of my reproduction. Occasional receipts & parking
tickets, too, yellowed during their own windy migrations.
Like the rest of us gusty apparitions, every
untethered thing ends up at the lake shore seasonally.
Copyright © 2023 by Adrian Matejka. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 24, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.
It is really something when a kid who has a hard time becomes a kid who’s having a good time in no small part thanks to you throwing that kid in the air again and again on a mile long walk home from the Indian joint as her mom looks sideways at you like you don’t need to keep doing this because you’re pouring with sweat and breathing a little bit now you’re getting a good workout but because the kid laughs like a horse up there laughs like a kangaroo beating her wings against the light because she laughs like a happy little kid and when coming down and grabbing your forearm to brace herself for the time when you will drop her which you don’t and slides her hand into yours as she says for the fortieth time the fiftieth time inexhaustible her delight again again again and again and you say give me til the redbud tree or give me til the persimmon tree because she knows the trees and so quiet you almost can’t hear through her giggles she says ok til the next tree when she explodes howling yanking your arm from the socket again again all the wolves and mourning doves flying from her tiny throat and you throw her so high she lives up there in the tree for a minute she notices the ants organizing on the bark and a bumblebee carousing the little unripe persimmon in its beret she laughs and laughs as she hovers up there like a bumblebee like a hummingbird up there giggling in the light like a giddy little girl up there the world knows how to love.
Copyright © 2023 by Ross Gay. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 26, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.