for roberto and adelaida
Once in a while joy throws little stones at my window it wants to let me know that it's waiting for me but today I'm calm I'd almost say even-tempered I'm going to keep anxiety locked up and then lie flat on my back which is an elegant and comfortable position for receiving and believing news who knows where I'll be next or when my story will be taken into account who knows what advice I still might come up with and what easy way out I'll take not to follow it don't worry, I won't gamble with an eviction I won't tattoo remembering with forgetting there are many things left to say and suppress and many grapes left to fill our mouths don't worry, I'm convinced joy doesn't need to throw any more little stones I'm coming I'm coming.
From Little Stones at My Window by Mario Benedetti. Edited and translated by Charles Hatfield. Copyright © 2003 by Curbstone Press. Distributed by Consortium. Used by permission of Curbstone Press. All rights reserved.
Aster. Nasturtium. Delphinium. We thought
Fingers in dirt meant it was our dirt, learning
Names in heat, in elements classical
Philosophers said could change us. Star Gazer.
Foxglove. Summer seemed to bloom against the will
Of the sun, which news reports claimed flamed hotter
On this planet than when our dead fathers
Wiped sweat from their necks. Cosmos. Baby’s Breath.
Men like me and my brothers filmed what we
Planted for proof we existed before
Too late, sped the video to see blossoms
Brought in seconds, colors you expect in poems
Where the world ends, everything cut down.
John Crawford. Eric Garner. Mike Brown.
Copyright © 2015 by Jericho Brown. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 7, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
Poem in which I have wisdom. Poem in which I have a father. Poem in which I care. Poem in which I am from another country. Poem in which I Spanish. Poem in which flowers are important. Poem in which I make pretty gestures. Poem in which I am a Deceptacon. Poem in which I am a novelist. Poem in which I use trash. Poem in which I am a baby. Poem in which I swaddle. Poem in which I bathe. Poem in which I am a box. Poem in which its face is everything. Poem in which faces are everywhere. Poem in which I swear. Poem in which I take an oath. Poem in which I make a joke. Poem in which I can’t move.
Copyright © 2018 by Paola Capó-García. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 12, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
I fear the vast dimensions of eternity. I fear the gap between the platform and the train. I fear the onset of a murderous campaign. I fear the palpitations caused by too much tea. I fear the drawn pistol of a rapparee. I fear the books will not survive the acid rain. I fear the ruler and the blackboard and the cane. I fear the Jabberwock, whatever it might be. I fear the bad decisions of a referee. I fear the only recourse is to plead insane. I fear the implications of a lawyer’s fee. I fear the gremlins that have colonized my brain. I fear to read the small print of the guarantee. And what else do I fear? Let me begin again.
From Selected Poems by Ciaran Carson, published by Wake Forest University Press. Copyright © 2001 by Ciaran Carson. Reprinted with permission by Wake Forest University Press. All rights reserved.
The Soul has Bandaged moments –
When too appalled to stir –
She feels some ghastly Fright come up
And stop to look at her –
Salute her, with long fingers –
Caress her freezing hair –
Sip, Goblin, from the very lips
The Lover – hovered – o’er –
Unworthy, that a thought so mean
Accost a Theme – so – fair –
The soul has moments of escape –
When bursting all the doors –
She dances like a Bomb, abroad,
And swings opon the Hours,
As do the Bee – delirious borne –
Long Dungeoned from his Rose –
Touch Liberty – then know no more,
But Noon, and Paradise –
The Soul’s retaken moments –
When, Felon led along,
With shackles on the plumed feet,
And staples, in the song,
The Horror welcomes her, again,
These, are not brayed of Tongue –
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. Copyright © renewed 1979, 1983 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © 1914, 1918, 1919, 1924, 1929, 1930, 1932, 1935, 1937, 1942 by Martha Dickinson Bianchi. Copyright © 1952, 1957, 1958, 1963, 1965 by Mary L. Hampson.
I worry that my friends will misunderstand my silence as a lack of love, or interest, instead of a tent city built for my own mind, I worry I can no longer pretend enough to get through another year of pretending I know that I understand time, though I can see my own hands; sometimes, I worry over how to dress in a world where a white woman wearing a scarf over her head is assumed to be cold, whereas with my head cloaked, I am an immediate symbol of a war folks have been fighting eons-deep before I was born, a meteor.
Copyright © 2018 by Tarfia Faizullah. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 10, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
red pen in hand,
he tells me lines should
in order to empha-
like the ones in my family’s history:
that words are like the earth
forth during an
& that verse has more meaning
when words can teeter-
but as much as I try to
break the lines in their proper
there are words
that I cannot separate,
like father, mother and child,
words that I cannot break again
like father and leaving, mother and deserting,
child and hurting,
words that stay together all by themselves,
like immigration, isolation, desolation.
From Toys Made of Rock (Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe, 2015). Copyright © 2015 by José B. González. Used with the permission of Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe.
Copper and ginger, the plentiful
mass of it bound, half loosed, and
bound again in lavish
disregard as though such heaping up
were a thing indifferent, surfeit from
the table of the gods, who do
not give a thought to fairness, no,
who throw their bounty in a single
lap. The chipped enamel—blue—on her nails.
The lashes sticky with sunlight. You would
swear she hadn’t a thought in her head
except for her buttermilk waffle and
its just proportion of jam. But while
she laughs and chews, half singing
with the lyrics on the radio, half
shrugging out of her bathrobe in the
kitchen warmth, she doesn’t quite
complete the last part, one of the
sleeves—as though, you’d swear, she
couldn’t be bothered—still covers
her arm. Which means you do not
see the cuts. Girls of an age—
fifteen for example—still bearing
the traces of when-they-were-
new, of when-the-breasts-had-not-
cleft-was-smooth, are anchored
on a faultline, it’s a wonder they
survive at all. This ginger-haired
darling isn’t one of my own, if
own is ever the way to put it, but
I’ve known her since her heart could still
be seen at work beneath
the fontanelles. Her skin
was almost otherworldly, touch
so silken it seemed another kind
of sight, a subtler
boundary than obtains for all
the rest of us, though ordinary
mortals bear some remnant too,
consider the loved one’s fine-
grained inner arm. And so
it’s there, from wrist to
elbow, that she cuts. She takes
her scissors to that perfect page, she’s good,
she isn’t stupid, she can see that we
who are children of plenty have no
excuse for suffering we
should be ashamed and so she is
and so she has produced this many-
layered hieroglyphic, channels
raw, half healed, reopened
before the healing gains momentum, she
has taken for her copy-text the very
cogs and wheels of time. And as for
her other body, says the plainsong
on the morning news, the hole
in the ozone, the fish in the sea,
you were thinking what exactly? You
were thinking a comfortable
breakfast would help? I think
I thought we’d deal with that tomorrow.
Then you’ll have to think again.
From Prodigal: New and Selected Poems, 1976–2014 (Mariner Books, 2015). Copyright © 2015 by Linda Gregerson. Used with permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Somebody said that it couldn’t be done,
But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.
Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that;
At least no one ever has done it”;
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat,
And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.
There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure;
There are thousands to point out to you one by one,
The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing
That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.
This poem is in the public domain.
I can’t recall where to set the knife and spoon.
I can’t recall which side to place the napkin
or which bread plate belongs to me. Or
how to engage in benign chatter.
I can’t recall when more than one fork—
which to use first. Or what to make of this bowl of water.
I can’t see the place cards or recall any names.
The humiliation is impressive. The scorn.
No matter how much my brain “revises” the dinner
to see if the host was a family member—
I can’t recall which dish ran away with which spoon.
From Brain Fever (W. W. Norton, 2014). Copyright © 2014 by Kimiko Hahn. Used with permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
From To Whitey & the Cracker Jack (Anhinga Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by May Yang. Reprinted by permission of Anhinga Press.
The Backyard Mermaid slumps across the birdbath, tired of fighting birds for seeds and lard. She hates those fluffed-up feathery fish imitations, but her hatred of the cat goes fathoms deeper. That beast is always twining about her tail, looking to take a little nip of what it considers a giant fish. Its breath smells of possible friends. She collects every baseball or tennis ball that flies into her domain to throw at the creature, but it advances undeterred, even purring. To add further insult to injury it has a proper name, Furball, stamped on a silver tag on its collar. She didn’t even know she had a name until one day she heard the human explaining to another one, “Oh that’s just the backyard mermaid.” Backyard Mermaid she murmured, as if in prayer. On days when there’s no sprinkler to comb through her curls, no rain pouring in glorious torrents from the gutters, no dew in the grass for her to nuzzle with her nose, not even a mud puddle in the kiddie pool, she wonders how much longer she can bear this life. The front yard thud of the newspaper every morning. Singing songs to the unresponsive push mower in the garage. Wriggling under fence after fence to reach the house four down which has an aquarium in the back window. She wants to get lost in that sad glowing square of blue. Don’t you?
Copyright © 2011 by Matthea Harvey. Poem and image used by permission of the author.
On the dark road, only the weight of the rope.
Yet the horse is there.
From Come, Thief (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011). Copyright © 2013 by Jane Hirshfield. Used with the permission of the author, all rights reserved.
Loneliness is not an accident or a choice.
It’s an uninvited and uncreated companion.
It slips in beside you when you are not aware that a
choice you are making will have consequences.
It does you no good even though it’s like one of the
elements in the world that you cannot exist without.
It takes your hand and walks with you. It lies down
with you. It sits beside you. It’s as dark as a shadow
but it has substance that is familiar.
It swims with you and swings around on stools.
It boards the ferry and leans on the motel desk.
Nothing great happens as a result of loneliness.
Your character flaws remain in place. You still stop in
with friends and have wonderful hours among them,
but you must run as soon as you hear it calling.
It does call. And you climb the stairs obediently,
pushing aside books and notes to let it know that you
have returned to it, all is well.
If you don’t answer its call, you sense that it will sink
towards a deep gravity and adopt a limp.
From loneliness you learn very little. It pulls you
back, it pulls you down.
It’s the manifestation of a vow never made but kept:
I will go home now and forever in solitude.
And after that loneliness will accompany you to
every airport, train station, bus depot, café, cinema,
and onto airplanes and into cars, strange rooms and
offices, classrooms and libraries, and it will hang near
your hand like a habit.
But it isn’t a habit and no one can see it.
It’s your obligation, and your companion warms itself
You are faithful to it because it was the only vow you
made finally, when it was unnecessary.
If you figured out why you chose it, years later, would
you ask it to go?
How would you replace it?
No, saying good-bye would be too embarrassing.
First you might cry.
Because shame and loneliness are almost one.
Shame at existing in the first place. Shame at being
visible, taking up space, breathing some of the sky,
sleeping in a whole bed, asking for a share.
Loneliness feels so much like shame, it always seems
to need a little more time on its own.
From Second Childhood (Graywolf Press, 2014) by Fanny Howe. Copyright © 2014 by Fanny Howe. Used with permission of the author.
When I walked across a room I saw myself walking
as if I were someone else,
when I picked up a fork, when I pulled off a dress,
as if I were in a movie.
It’s what I thought you saw when you looked at me.
So when I looked at you, I didn’t see you
I saw the me I thought you saw, as if I were someone else.
I called that outside—watching. Well I didn’t call it anything
when it happened all the time.
But one morning after I stopped the pills—standing in the kitchen
for one second I was inside looking out.
Then I popped back outside. And saw myself looking.
Would it happen again? It did, a few days later.
My friend Wendy was pulling on her winter coat, standing by the kitchen door
and suddenly I was inside and I saw her.
I looked out from my own eyes
and I saw: her eyes: blue gray transparent
and inside them: Wendy herself!
Then I was outside again,
and Wendy was saying, Bye-bye, see you soon,
as if Nothing Had Happened.
She hadn’t noticed. She hadn’t known that I’d Been There
for Maybe 40 Seconds,
and that then I was Gone.
She hadn’t noticed that I Hadn’t Been There for Months,
years, the entire time she’d known me.
I needn’t have been embarrassed to have been there for those seconds;
she had not Noticed The Difference.
This happened on and off for weeks,
and then I was looking at my old friend John:
: suddenly I was in: and I saw him,
and he: (and this was almost unbearable)
he saw me see him,
and I saw him see me.
He said something like, You’re going to be ok now,
or, It’s been difficult hasn’t it,
but what he said mattered only a little.
We met—in our mutual gaze—in between
a third place I’d not yet been.
Copyright © 2017 by Marie Howe. From Magdalene (W. W. Norton, 2017). Used with permission of the author.
Now light turns the room a deep orange at dusk and you
think you are floating, but in truth you are falling, and the fall
is so slow, yet precise, like climbing a ladder of straw. Now
leaning forward, you open your hands that keep opening. Is
this what Yes feels like? Making a shore where no water was?
Copyright © 2017 Mark Irwin. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Spring 2017.
Copyright © 2017 by Patricia Spears Jones. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 17, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Wait, for now.
Distrust everything if you have to.
But trust the hours. Haven’t they
carried you everywhere, up to now?
Personal events will become interesting again.
Hair will become interesting.
Pain will become interesting.
Buds that open out of season will become interesting.
Second-hand gloves will become lovely again;
their memories are what give them
the need for other hands. The desolation
of lovers is the same: that enormous emptiness
carved out of such tiny beings as we are
asks to be filled; the need
for the new love is faithfulness to the old.
Don’t go too early.
You’re tired. But everyone’s tired.
But no one is tired enough.
Only wait a little and listen:
music of hair,
music of pain,
music of looms weaving our loves again.
Be there to hear it, it will be the only time,
most of all to hear your whole existence,
rehearsed by the sorrows, play itself into total exhaustion.
Copyright © 1980 by Galway Kinnell. From Mortal Acts, Mortal Words (Mariner Books, 1980). Used with permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
No matter how old you are,
it helps to be young
when you’re coming to life,
to be unfinished, a mysterious statement,
a journey from star to star.
So break out a box of Crayolas
and draw your family
looking uncomfortably away
from the you you’ve exchanged
for the mannequin
they named. You should
help clean up, but you’re so busy being afraid
to love or not
you're missing the fun of clothing yourself
in the embarrassment of life.
Frost your lids with midnight;
lid your heart with frost;
rub them all over, the hormones that regulate
the production of love
from karmic garbage dumps.
Turn yourself into
the real you
you can only discover
by being other.
Voila! You’re free.
Learn to love the awkward silence
you are going to be.
From The Future Is Trying to Tell Us Something: New and Selected Poems (Sheep Meadow Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Joy Ladin. Used with the permission of the author.
The bee died upon entering the water
What happened to his honey no one knew
I left one fig and one kumquat
In each dish for the host
There were the yellow trunks of trees
The memory of Spain
There was the memory of being
The memory of love
Let the water take you in
So your neck is just a stalk, the head blooms
Let everything go away
You are a person
Be a person
Become a person again
The happiest he ever made me
The table in white
Whereupon we list the white seashore
The White Sea, the white seahorses
They said I loved him better than anyone
The white seashore
No I never knew him
They know everything
Be a person
Be a person again
From Milk. Copyright © 2018 by Dorothea Lasky. Used with the permission of Wave Books and the author.
Say tomorrow doesn’t come.
Say the moon becomes an icy pit.
Say the sweet-gum tree is petrified.
Say the sun’s a foul black tire fire.
Say the owl’s eyes are pinpricks.
Say the raccoon’s a hot tar stain.
Say the shirt’s plastic ditch-litter.
Say the kitchen’s a cow’s corpse.
Say we never get to see it: bright
future, stuck like a bum star, never
coming close, never dazzling.
Say we never meet her. Never him.
Say we spend our last moments staring
at each other, hands knotted together,
clutching the dog, watching the sky burn.
Say, It doesn’t matter. Say, That would be
enough. Say you’d still want this: us alive,
right here, feeling lucky.
More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.
Copyright © 2017 by Ada Limón. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 15, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
The devil’s in my neck.
Everything I hear is overviolined,
even the wind, even the wind.
It’s like walking in nurdles up to my chest,
squeaky and slow.
It’s spring, the blooming branches
nearly hide the many dead ones.
A squirrel, digging for a nut, upends my frail
tomato plant and fails
to replant it, even though he has the tools.
I find this kind of squirrely oblivion everywhere.
I was a man filled to the top
of my spine, filled to the lump
on the back of my head, with hope.
Then I read a few thousand history books.
Little, and nothing, perturbs me now.
Even the beheadings, even the giant meat hooks
in the sky, more frequent each day,
bother me not
a tittle, not a jot.
"Blue with Collapse" from To the Left of Time by Thomas Lux. Copyright © 2016 by Thomas Lux. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
A boy told me if he roller-skated fast enough his loneliness couldn’t catch up to him, the best reason I ever heard for trying to be a champion. What I wonder tonight pedaling hard down King William Street is if it translates to bicycles. A victory! To leave your loneliness panting behind you on some street corner while you float free into a cloud of sudden azaleas, pink petals that have never felt loneliness, no matter how slowly they fell.
Naomi Shihab Nye, "The Rider" from Fuel. Copyright © 1998 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., boaeditions.org.
My neighbor’s daughter has created a city
you cannot see
on an island to which you cannot swim
ruled by a noble princess and her athletic consort
all the buildings are glass so that lies are impossible
beneath the city they have buried certain words
which can never be spoken again
chiefly the word divorce which is eaten by maggots
when it rains you hear chimes
rabbits race through its suburbs
the name of the city is one you can almost pronounce
Copyright © 2016 by Alicia Ostriker. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 22, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
When I talk to my friends I pretend I am standing on the wings of a flying plane. I cannot be trusted to tell them how I am. Or if I am falling to earth weighing less than a dozen roses. Sometimes I dream they have broken up with their lovers and are carrying food to my house. When I open the mailbox I hear their voices like the long upward-winding curve of a train whistle passing through the tall grasses and ferns after the train has passed. I never get ahead of their shadows. I embrace them in front of moving cars. I keep them away from my miseries because to say I am miserable is to say I am like them.
Copyright© 2005 by Jason Shinder. First published in The American Poetry Review, November/December 2005. From Stupid Hope (Graywolf, 2009). Appears with permission of the Literary Estate of Jason Shinder.
let ruin end here
let him find honey
where there was once a slaughter
let him enter the lion’s cage
& find a field of lilacs
let this be the healing
& if not let it be
From Don’t Call Us Dead (Graywolf Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Danez Smith. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Graywolf Press, www.graywolfpress.org.
Today I flew over the Midwest
filling out a questionnaire
on the emotional life of the brain
and personal capacity for resilience
against despair. I was making
a sculpture of my limbic systems
in a huge conceptual neurosis.
Under the simulated
of the fuselage
the snow was falling.
And in everyone’s skulls
complex régimes went on and on and on.
I seek forever the right way to know this.
That there are bridges
not built in me. That there are areas
that do not light up—
You are at a party having a conversation
with an interesting stranger.
You are in a restaurant and the service is bad.
You have experienced profound grief—
how do you react to this?
Down on the ground your family
writhes. Down on the ground
you are surrounded at Starbucks
with a terrible glow.
And you have seen someone you love,
with a colossal
complex vehemence, die.
And it is pinned under glass
in perfect condition.
It is wrapped around you
like old fur. You’ve looked at the sky
until your eyes touched
zodiacal fantasies—right there in the void.
You know this. That the body lays down
while the mind bloats
on intellectual chaos.
And you have just eaten
a bag of cinnamon-flavored chips
and assessed that if you met
a wonderful new person
who ran from you in horror
you would fill their space
with calculated desolation.
Thus, you are waking up
having traveled through time.
You are looking down
at the Statue of Liberty
garden gnome with her arm in the air,
her head full of strangers—
And you hear crickets. Lined up.
Playing their creepy violins.
And you want to be good.
And you want to be liked.
And you want to recover.
From Someone Else's Wedding Vows (Tin House/Octopus Books, 2014) by Bianca Stone. Copyright © 2014 by Bianca Stone. 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.
My pants could maybe fall down when I dive off the diving board. My nose could maybe keep growing and never quit. Miss Brearly could ask me to spell words like stomach and special. (Stumick and speshul?) I could play tag all day and always be "it." Jay Spievack, who's fourteen feet tall, could want to fight me. My mom and my dad—like Ted's—could want a divorce. Miss Brearly could ask me a question about Afghanistan. (Who's Afghanistan?) Somebody maybe could make me ride a horse. My mother could maybe decide that I needed more liver. My dad could decide that I needed less TV. Miss Brearly could say that I have to write script and stop printing. (I'm better at printing.) Chris could decide to stop being friends with me. The world could maybe come to an end on next Tuesday. The ceiling could maybe come crashing on my head. I maybe could run out of things for me to worry about. And then I'd have to do my homework instead.
From If I Were in Charge of the World and Other Worries . . ., published by Macmillan, 1981. Used with permission.
Never mind the distances traveled, the companion
she made of herself. The threadbare twenties not
to be underestimated. A wild depression that ripped
from January into April. And still she sprouts an appetite.
Insisting on edges and cores, when there were none.
Relationships annealed through shared ambivalences.
Pages that steadied her. Books that prowled her
until the hard daybreak, and for months after.
Separating new vows from the old, like laundry whites.
Small losses jammed together so as to gather mass.
Stored generations of filtered quietude.
And some stubbornness. Tangles along the way
the comb-teeth of the mind had to bite through, but for what.
She had trained herself to look for answers at eye level,
but they were lower, they were changing all the time.
From Eye Level (Graywolf Press, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Jenny Xie. Used with the permission of Graywolf Press.