A man can cry, all night, your back
shaking against me as your mother
sleeps, hooked to the drip
to clear her kidneys from their muck
of sleeping pills. Each one white
as the snapper’s belly I once watched a man
gut by the ice bins in his truck, its last 
bubbling grunt cleaved in two
with a knife. The way my uncle’s rabbit
growled in its cage, screamed
so like a child that when I woke the night
a fox chewed through the wires
to reach it, I thought it was my own voice
frozen in the yard. And then the fox,
trapped later by a neighbor, who thrashed
and barked, as did the crows
that came for its eyes: the sound
of one animal’s pain setting off a chain
in so many others, until each cry dissolves
into the next grown louder. 
Even if I were blind
I would know night by the noise it made:
our groaning bed, the mewling
staircase, drapes that scrape
against glass panes behind which
stars rise, blue and silent.
But not even the stars
are silent: their pale waves
echo through space, the way my father’s
disappointment sags at my cheek,
and his brother’s anger
whitens his temple. And these
are your mother’s shoulders shaking
in my arms tonight, her thin breath
that drags at our window
where coyotes cry: one calling to the next
calling to the next, their tender throats
tipped back to the sky.

Copyright © 2016 by Paisley Rekdal. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 12, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Whether or not the water was freezing. The body

would break its sheathe. Without layer on layer

of feather and air to insulate the loving belly.

A cloudy film surrounding the point of entry. If blue

were not blue how could love be love. But if the body

were made of rings. A loose halo would emerge

in the telluric light. If anyone were entrusted to verify

this rare occurrence. As the petal starts to

dwindle and curl unto itself. And only then. Love,

blue. Hallucinogenic blue, love.

Copyright © by C. D. Wright. Used with the permission of the author.

Many have sung of love a root of bane:
       While to my mind a root of balm it is,
    For love at length breeds love; sufficient bliss
For life and death and rising up again.
Surely when light of Heaven makes all things plain,
    Love will grow plain with all its mysteries;
    Nor shall we need to fetch from over seas
Wisdom or wealth or pleasure safe from pain.
Love in our borders, love within our heart,
    Love all in all, we then shall bide at rest,
    Ended for ever life’s unending quest,
         Ended for ever effort, change and fear:
Love all in all; —no more that better part
         Purchased, but at the cost of all things here.

This poem is in the public domain. 

I.

The rung wide
           receiver forgets why

he set his keys on the football field.
           Whose are they? he asks—a ringing

in his ear—while clenching
           the green. As if on the edge

of a pool, he tilts his head to drain
           water out of his canal.

It was like that, all the time,
           after. How many fingers?

he was asked, and not to tell
           a lie—it would mean his career.

It would mean recognizing you
           without your jacket when you

walked out of the room. It would mean
           you could say, Stay here

with me, and in his eyes
           could watch him come back.


II.

I spiral the parking lot, singing,
           It’s alright, I’m alright,

while I count the pole lights back
           to my car. I practice red, table, lamp

with a neuropsychologist and now
           I can tell you about how my brain

blew in the acceleration. I was in
           a locked position—the details

unbearably clear in the replay and, still,
           no one else heard me swallow

the impact. Bend at your hips
           from your two-point stance and, there,

the muffler is a finger wagging
           one one one inches from the ground.

The tire-less car rests on its crutch
           of blocks, the windows a crunch

of glass. Are you feeling the rush now
           as you look to me, your brain still

in your head—is it still in your head?
           Can you point for me where

it happens in the connection, where
           on the line the old equipment

resets itself and loops?
           Is what you say the truth?

Copyright © 2016 Janine Joseph. Used with permission of the author.

We were all in love
but didn’t know it.
We were all in love
continually. Bless
our little hearts,
smoking and drinking
and wrecking things.
Bless our shameless shame.
We were loud, invincible.
We were tough as rails.
We stole street signs
and knocked over bins.
Ripped the boards
off boarded-up stuff.
Slept in towers
filled with pigeon shit
and fluff. We kicked
beer bottles down
cobbled lanes.
Tires and chains.
Chains and wheels
and skin. The world
was always ending
and we the inventors
of everything.

Copyright © 2016 Melissa Stein. Used with permission of the author.

Not hers but mine. Not hers ever again. Ever

hers, my body pulled through, two

long windows open in the dark of birth,

the gold cord raised too in its wake. Awake,

the first morning. The first morning & all,

all the windows were closed inside. A blindness

scalding broken sight. The silence pulled through

my nostrils & veins, the ether of air failing

flesh. I get up from the shape I once was

& open the white blinds in my brother's house.

The light is specific. It is the 29th morning

of July. Last night they dragged me howling from her

body in the room. The room had a name,

number 3315, in the cardiac wing. In the room

I saw her winged shape leave, rise, forgive the

vessel that fled her. Now mine or ours, I

stare in the mirror while everyone sleeps

the aggrieved sleep of the living. Behind my eyes

a dead woman looks back at me with no trace

of recognition. I say 'Mother' & my own

feral mouth opens. Closes without any light.

Copyright © 2016 Rachel Eliza Griffiths. Used with permission of the author.

When it happens the rain
is not black but powder.

A noise bleeds from your ears
and everything quakes

alive inside you:
the circuits of the flowers

lighting up across a meadow,
the nanoglow

of a sea years from here
           —:And like the flash

across an event horizon,
your thought disappears

:—and then the mind
threshed, and then the brain

a perfume of proto-pollen:
a microscopic cloud

radiating in a geranium
in the meadow of another country:

a powder the elk eat
in the sudden black rain.
 

Copyright © 2016 Sara Eliza Johnson. Used with permission of the author.

                     i.m. Scott David Campbell (1982-2012)

 

Streetlights were our stars,
hanging from the midnight    
                                  in a planetary arc
above each empty ShopRite    
parking lot—spreading     
                                  steam-bright
through the neon dark—
buzzing like ghost locusts,
                                  trembling in the chrome
trance of an electrical charge
nested in each exoskeleton—
                                  pulling, pooling
a single syllable of light
from the long braid      
                                  of the powerlines
sighing above us as we climbed    
through bedroom windows
                                  with our hair combed
and our high-tops carefully untied—
as we clung to vinyl siding,
                                  as we crawled
crablike across rooftops, edging
toe-first toward the gutters
                                  so as not to rouse
the dogs—as we crept down    
onto cold drainpipes     
                                  through the lightning
in our lungs, leaping at last
into our shadows and at last
                                  onto the lawn,
landing as if in genuflection
to the afterhours fog—
                                  fluorescent
as the breath we left
beside us on the train tracks
                                  as we walked
each toward the others,
toward the barebulb
                                  glow of stardust
on the dumpsters
in the vacant late-night, lost

Copyright © 2016 Malachi Black. Used with permission of the author.

Serious moonlight fell brightly on the mountains tonight

Elegant moonlight fell loudly on the deer asleep in the yard

Broken moonlight fell splendidly on the swing set

Moody moonlight fell hard on the weedy pond

Pretty moonlight fell recklessly on the garden beds

Fierce moonlight fell thoughtfully on the recycling bins

Actual moonlight fell wildly on the coyotes falling on the rabbit

Personal moonlight fell purposely on my desk and books

Ancient moonlight fell perfectly on my bed sheets

Modern moonlight fell roughly scattering my thoughts awfully

Bowie died last night his exquisite alien soul has taken off

You are with another and I’m falling repeatedly

Shattered by this silently falling terrible moonlight

Copyright © 2016 by Camille Guthrie. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 21, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Why, who makes much of a miracle?
As to me I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of the water,
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with any one I love, or sleep in the bed at night with any one I love,
Or sit at table at dinner with the rest,
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,
Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive of a summer forenoon,
Or animals feeding in the fields,
Or birds, or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,
Or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of stars shining so quiet and bright,
Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon in spring;
These with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,
The whole referring, yet each distinct and in its place.

To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same,
Every foot of the interior swarms with the same.

To me the sea is a continual miracle,
The fishes that swim—the rocks—the motion of the waves—the
        ships with men in them,
What stranger miracles are there?

This poem is in the public domain. 

After it ended badly it got so much better
which took a while of course but still
he grew so tender & I so grateful
which maybe tells you something about how it was
I’m trying to tell you I know you
have staggered wept spiraled through a long room
banging your head against it holding crushed
bird skulls in your hands your many hearts unstrung
unable to play a note their wood still beautiful
& carved so elaborately maybe a collector would want them
stupid collectors always preserving & never breaking open
the jars so everyone starves while admiring the view
you don’t own anyone everything will be taken from you
go ahead & eat this poem please it will help

Copyright © 2016 by Kim Addonizio. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 11, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Dusk fell every night. Things
fall. Why should I
have been surprised. 

Before it was possible
to imagine my life
without it, the winds

arrived, shattering air
and pulling the tree
so far back its roots,

ninety years, ripped
and sprung. I think
as it fell it became

unknowable. Every day
of my life now I cannot
understand. The force

of dual winds lifting
ninety years of stillness
as if it were nothing,

as if it hadn’t held every
crow and fog, emptying
night from its branches. 

The needles fell. The pinecones
dropped every hour
on my porch, a constant

irritation. It is enough
that we crave objects,
that we are always

looking for a way
out of pain. What is beyond
task and future sits right

before us, endlessly
worthy. I have planted
a linden, with its delicate

clean angles, on a plot
one tenth the size. Some change
is too great. 

Somewhere there is a field,
white and quiet, where a tree
like this one stands,

made entirely of
hovering. Nothing will
hold me up like that again.
 

Copyright © 2016 by Joanna Klink. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 14, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

The unknowns are up early;
they browse through the bronze
             porch bells.  Crows
             call & late
         apples blaze
      toward western emptiness.
         In your illness,
             the edges hesitate;
    like the revolt
of workers, they
              will take a while…

Here comes the fond
     mild winter; other
         realms are noisy
        & unanimous. You tap
the screen & dream
       while waiting; four
            kinds of forever
      visit you today: 
something, nothing,
everything & art,
   greater than you are
          & of your making—
 

Copyright © 2016 by Brenda Hillman. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 18, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

I have thirty seconds to convince you
that when I’m not home, my verve is still,
online or if I’m sleeping when you call,
sheep are grazing on yesterday’s melodrama.
Does anybody know what the burning umbrella
really meant? Forget it. Tell me what you need.
Leave me a map. Leave me your net worth
for reference. Leave me more than you ever planned.
Frankly, I’m anxious your message will be a series
of blurs, that you’ll leave the endearing part out,
garble your confession: A misstep here, a domain there.
A ventriloquism. The phone is in the kitchen,
but I’ve lost my way. It must be hunting season.
I retract every last gesture for your same retraction.

Copyright © 2016 by Carmen Giménez Smith. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 20, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

My 16-month old daughter wakes from her nap
and cries. I pick her up, press her against my chest

and rub her back until my palm warms
like an old family quilt. “Daddy’s here, daddy’s here,”

I whisper. Here is the island of Oʻahu, 8,500 miles
from Syria. But what if Pacific trade winds suddenly

became helicopters? Flames, nails, and shrapnel
indiscriminately barreling towards us? What if shadows

cast against our windows aren’t plumeria
tree branches, but soldiers and terrorists marching

in heat? Would we reach the desperate boats of
the Mediterranean in time? If we did, could I straighten

my legs into a mast, balanced against the pull and drift
of the current? “Daddy’s here, daddy’s here,” I

whisper. But am I strong enough to carry her across
the razor wires of sovereign borders and ethnic

hatred? Am I strong enough to plead: “please, help
us, please, just let us pass, please, we aren’t

suicide bombs.” Am I strong enough to keep walking
even after my feet crack like Halaby pepper fields after

five years of drought, after this drought of humanity.
Trains and buses rock back and forth to detention centers.

Yet what if we didn’t make landfall? What if here
capsized? Could you inflate your body into a buoy

to hold your child above rising waters? “Daddy’s
here, daddy’s here,” I whisper. Drowning is

the last lullaby of the sea. I lay my daughter
onto bed, her breath finally as calm as low tide.

To all the parents who brave the crossing: you and your
children matter. I hope your love will teach the nations

that emit the most carbon and violence that they should,
instead, remit the most compassion. I hope, soon,

the only difference between a legal refugee and
an illegal migrant will be how willing

we are to open our homes, offer refuge, and
carry each other towards the horizon of care.
 

Copyright © 2016 by Craig Santos Perez. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 11, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

The old trees shake out medals at midday
to the ship paused for a meteor’s blunting
glimpse in the windy yellow of the water,

partway to inventing another world.
Through the window’s tiger slats,
the bakery pumps smoke, years between

her irretrievable shawl, which crimsons
what I see, watching further and further,
until canisters shatter into nitrate stars,

late at night, saluting an unforgiving song.
I tilt down on her iron bed and cluster
haunted basil, the scent rifts morning open

to argon of cobwebs, the dim cargo, the bent
hills, the black gold, her hands, clasped
shut her children, long gone, under the sea.
 

Copyright © 2016 by Ishion Hutchinson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 17, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

I could complain. I’ve done it before.
I could explain. I could say, for instance, that
I’m sick of being slaughtered in my life’s mountain passes,
covering my own long retreat,
the rear guard of my own brutal defeat—
dysentery and frostbite and snipers,
the mules freezing to death,
blizzards whipping the famished fires until they expire, 
the pathetic mosquito notes of my horn . . .
But, instead, for once, I’m keeping quiet, and maybe tomorrow
or maybe the day after or maybe the day after that
I’m just going to drive away down the coast
and not come back.
I haven’t told anyone, and I won’t.
I won’t dim with words the radiance of my gesture.
And besides, the ones who care have guessed already.
Looking at them looking at me, I know they know
when they turn their backs I’ll go.
The secrets I was planning to floor them with?
They’re already packed in my trunk, in straw,
in a reinforced casket.
The bitter but herbal and medicinal truths I concocted
to revive them with?
Tomorrow or the day after or the day after that,
on the volcano beaches fringed with black sand
and heaped with tangled beds of kelp,
by the obsidian tide pools that cradle the ribbed limpet
and the rockbound star,
I’ll scatter those truths to the sea breezes,
and float the secrets on the waters that the moon
reels in and plays out,
reels in and plays out,
with a little votive candle burning on their casket,
and then I’ll just be there, in the sunset’s coppery sheen,
in the dawn pearled by discrete, oblong, intimate clouds
that move without desire or motive.
Look at the clouds. Look how close they are.

Copyright © 2016 by Vijay Seshadri. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 14, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

The man said I could see them if I wanted

He said     America would never be

A place where we could     live together not at

Least in my lifetime     but the damned don’t see

No     important differences     between the Ne-

gro and the White the damned     don’t see no bad

In folks if what bad they done they ain’t     free-

ly chose to do the damned don’t see     no good

In folks if what good they done they ain’t     hoped

To do and the man     he said part of momma

Varina part of daddy     Jeff alread-

y     was burning in Hell I ought to join them

 

He     said we     might see good     from seeing each other

Tortured we might     finally see each other

Copyright © 2016 by Shane McCrae. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 8, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

The wipers sweep two overlapping hills
on the glass, we are quiet against the
squeaky metronome as we often are
before the concerns of the day well up.
Today: Is it dark inside my body?
The wet cedar’s dark of green-gone-black
of damp earth mending itself,
a pewter bell rung into night’s collected
sigh, choral and sleep-sunk.
Dark as the oyster’s clasp
in its small blind pocket
and the word pocket a tucked notion
set aside in-case-of.
Inside there are vestibules, clapboards
trapdoors, baskets,
there is cargo,
there is the self carrying the self
sprint, trodden—
nowhere does it not—
and mournful as a spine bowing to wood
you carry your actions; inside
is cave and concern,
everything purposeful
heartwood, clockwork, crank and tender
iron in the mountain belly,
all the hidden things breathing.
Outside of and woven into, you are
the knowledge you can’t touch
the desire you can’t locate,
unnameable questions unnameable answers,
source and tributary
and the rivers that hold you
beneath. Your darkness
lives in that potential,
snowblind
aurora
pulse
shore.

Copyright © 2017 by Jennifer K. Sweeney. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 4, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

                              for Monica Hand

there’s a whispered prayer blowing
the crumbs of a season’s harvest
                    off a girl’s plate

& a roar breaks from her insides,
the roar a lioness
                    a beast that knows

& a man kneels somewhere
cupping his tears
                    for the loneliness he feels

though he’s surrounded by the world,
& a finch in a tree singing
                    for a lover as the buds on its branch

pop into leaves that will flourish
& welcome the green grasses,
                    Right now    a boy is wondering

if people can really dodge bullets
& is he one of them & somewhere nobody bothers
                    to ask, they simply wait

Wind spins across the landscape
they say God is twirling his fingers—

The heartbroken hook new bodies,
night after night, drink after drink

& I dance—my feet mashing grapes
for wine & I sing mockingly—
                    what is life / what is life
 

Copyright © 2017 by Roberto Carlos Garcia. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 20, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

To sin by silence, when we should protest,
Makes cowards out of men. The human race
Has climbed on protest. Had no voice been raised
Against injustice, ignorance, and lust,
The inquisition yet would serve the law,
And guillotines decide our least disputes.
The few who dare, must speak and speak again
To right the wrongs of many. Speech, thank God,
No vested power in this great day and land
Can gag or throttle. Press and voice may cry
Loud disapproval of existing ills;
May criticise oppression and condemn
The lawlessness of wealth-protecting laws
That let the children and childbearers toil
To purchase ease for idle millionaires.

Therefore I do protest against the boast
Of independence in this mighty land.
Call no chain strong, which holds one rusted link.
Call no land free, that holds one fettered slave.
Until the manacled slim wrists of babes
Are loosed to toss in childish sport and glee,
Until the mother bears no burden, save
The precious one beneath her heart, until
God’s soil is rescued from the clutch of greed
And given back to labor, let no man
Call this the land of freedom.

This poem is in the public domain. 

The shadow I had carried lightly has

Been forced upon me now and heavy since

Bulky since     now and since unwieldy as

A corpse the shadow I     was born from in

 

And to I     should have known I couldn’t being

As how it wasn’t me who lifted it

Not     all the way     from me in the first place being

As how its lightness after was a gift

 

Its near-     bodilessness a gift     from those

Who bind it to me now I should have known

I couldn’t while they watched me     set it loose

 

They bind it     to my back they make it strange

That I knew     in my arms they weigh it down

With the shadow they had kept the bindings in

Copyright © 2017 by Shane McCrae. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 29, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Today when persimmons ripen
Today when fox-kits come out of their den into snow
Today when the spotted egg releases its wren song
Today when the maple sets down its red leaves
Today when windows keep their promise to open
Today when fire keeps its promise to warm
Today when someone you love has died
     or someone you never met has died
Today when someone you love has been born
     or someone you will not meet has been born
Today when rain leaps to the waiting of roots in their dryness
Today when starlight bends to the roofs of the hungry and tired
Today when someone sits long inside his last sorrow
Today when someone steps into the heat of her first embrace
Today, let this light bless you
With these friends let it bless you
With snow-scent and lavender bless you
Let the vow of this day keep itself wildly and wholly
Spoken and silent, surprise you inside your ears
Sleeping and waking, unfold itself inside your eyes
Let its fierceness and tenderness hold you
Let its vastness be undisguised in all your days

—2008
 

Originally published in Come, Thief (Knopf, 2011); all rights reserved. Copyright © by Jane Hirshfield. Reprinted with the permission of the author, all rights reserved. 

We two, how long we were fool’d,
Now transmuted, we swiftly escape as Nature escapes,
We are Nature, long have we been absent, but now we return,
We become plants, trunks, foliage, roots, bark,
We are bedded in the ground, we are rocks,
We are oaks, we grow in the openings side by side,
We browse, we are two among the wild herds spontaneous as any,
We are two fishes swimming in the sea together,
We are what locust blossoms are, we drop scent around lanes mornings and evenings,
We are also the coarse smut of beasts, vegetables, minerals,
We are two predatory hawks, we soar above and look down,
We are two resplendent suns, we it is who balance ourselves orbic and stellar, we are as two comets,
We prowl fang’d and four-footed in the woods, we spring on prey,
We are two clouds forenoons and afternoons driving overhead,
We are seas mingling, we are two of those cheerful waves rolling over each other and interwetting each other,
We are what the atmosphere is, transparent, receptive, pervious, impervious,
We are snow, rain, cold, darkness, we are each product and influence of the globe,
We have circled and circled till we have arrived home again, we two,
We have voided all but freedom and all but our own joy.

This poem is in the public domain.

I crawled into bed and closed my eyes and not long after heard the small hooves of the horses, the tiny ones that gallop in our dreams, or are they the dreams of our children, galloping through the black ruins. Everything we do is against the crippling light. To hear them cry at night is to know they are alive. When they are scared they come galloping down the long hall calling your name. Tonight, it is our oldest daughter, the red mare with her fiery mane, she snuggles in between us and falls back to sleep in your arms, to that secret place inside her, she barely moves, crossing over the river, through a grove of alders, through the black ruins, she is the one who once whispered, the grass it knows everything.

Copyright © 2017 by Sean Thomas Dougherty. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 18, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.