When the virus comes,
Talking heads on television screens
will tell you to abandon ship. 
To drown yourself in a sea of isolation. 
Submerge homes in lysol wipes and hand sanitizer.
Engulf body in face mask and plastic glove
until it becomes second nature.

They will tell you to turn your kitchen into a panic room,
basement into fallout shelter.
Instruct you to grab everything you can,
while you still can.
They will say
the shelves at the stores are empty,
and not realize they are also talking about you.

They will preach from the gospel of quarantine.
Shout parables of
“Thou Shalt wash thine hands.”
“For God so loved the world
he socially distanced himself
from the very people he wanted to save.”
It will make you wonder how a hero
or a government
Can rescue someone they can’t even touch.

When the virus comes,
you will kiss your lover like it’s the last time,
because maybe it is.
You will dance on timelines
like decades are stuck on the balls of your feet.
Sing like a quartet is trapped in your throat.
Laugh like this is the last time you know what joy feels like,
because maybe it is.

And today that will be more than enough.

from The Post and Courier. Copyright © 2020 by Angelo Geter. Used with the permission of the author.

acrostic golden shovel

America is loving me to death, loving me to death slowly, and I
Mainly try not to be disappeared here, knowing she won’t pledge
Even tolerance in return. Dear God, I can’t offer allegiance.
Right now, 400 years ago, far into the future―it’s difficult to
Ignore or forgive how despised I am and have been in the
Centuries I’ve been here—despised in the design of the flag
And in the fealty it demands (lest I be made an example of).
In America there’s one winning story—no adaptations. The
Story imagines a noble, grand progress where we’re all united.
Like truths are as self-evident as the Declaration states.
Or like they would be if not for detractors like me, the ranks of
Vagabonds existing to point out what’s rotten in America,
Insisting her gains come at a cost, reminding her who pays, and
Negating wild notions of exceptionalism—adding ugly facts to
God’s-favorite-nation mythology. Look, victors get spoils; I know the
Memories of the vanquished fade away. I hear the enduring republic,
Erect and proud, asking through ravenous teeth Who do you riot for?
Tamir? Sandra? Medgar? George? Breonna? Elijah? Philando? Eric? Which
One? Like it can’t be all of them. Like it can’t be the entirety of it:
Destroyed brown bodies, dismantled homes, so demolition stands
Even as my fidelity falls, as it must. She erases my reason too, allows one
Answer to her only loyalty test: yes or no, Michael, do you love this nation?
Then hates me for saying I can’t, for not burying myself under
Her fables where we’re one, indivisible, free, just, under God, her God.

 

Copyright © 2020 by Michael Kleber-Diggs. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 5, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

translated by Ursula K. Le Guin

    When I’m walking, everything
on earth gets up
and stops me and whispers to me,
and what they tell me is their story.

    And the people walking
on the road leave me their stories,
I pick them up where they fell
in cocoons of silken thread.

    Stories run through my body
or sit purring in my lap.
So many they take my breath away,
buzzing, boiling, humming.
Uncalled they come to me,
and told, they still won’t leave me.

    The ones that come down through the trees
weave and unweave themselves,
and knit me up and wind me round
until the sea drives them away.

    But the sea that’s always telling stories,
the wearier I am the more it tells me...

    The people who cut trees,
the people who break stones,
want stories before they go to sleep.

    Women looking for children
who got lost and don’t come home,
women who think they’re alive
and don’t know they’re dead,
every night they ask for stories,
and I return tale for tale.

    In the middle of the road, I stand
between rivers that won’t let me go,
and the circle keeps closing
and I’m caught in the wheel.

    The riverside people tell me
of the drowned woman sunk in grasses
and her gaze tells her story,
and I graft the tales into my open hands.

    To the thumb come stories of animals,
to the index fingers, stories of my dead.
There are so many tales of children
they swarm on my palms like ants.

    When my arms held
the one I had, the stories
all ran as a blood-gift
in my arms, all through the night.
Now, turned to the East,
I’m giving them away because I forget them.

    Old folks want them to be lies.
Children want them to be true.
All of them want to hear my own story,
which, on my living tongue, is dead.

    I’m seeking someone who remembers it
leaf by leaf, thread by thread.
I lend her my breath, I give her my legs,
so that hearing it may waken it for me.

 


La Contadora 

    Cuando camino se levantan
todas las cosas de la tierra
y me paran y cuchichean
y es su historia lo que cuentan.

    Y las gentes que caminan
en la ruta me la dejan
y la recojo caída
en capullos que son de huella.

    Historias corren mi cuerpo
o en mi regazo ronronean.
Tantas son que no dan respiro,
zumban, hierven y abejean.
Sin llamada se me vienen
y contadas tampoco dejan…

    Las que bajan por los árboles
se trenzan y se destrenzan,
y me tejen y me envuelvan
hasta que el mar los ahuyenta.

    Pero el mar que cuenta siempre
más rendida, más me deja...

    Los que están mascando bosque
y los que rompen la piedra,
al dormirse quieren historias.

    Mujeres que buscan hijos
perdidos que no regresan,
y las que se creen vivas
y no saben que están muertas,
cada noche piden historias,
y yo me rindo cuenta que cuenta.

    A medio camino quedo
entre ríos que no me sueltan,
el corro se va cerrando
y me atrapa en la rueda.

   Los ribereños me cuentan
la ahogada sumida en hierbas,
y su mirada cuenta su historia,
y yo las tronco en mis palmas abiertas.

    Al pulgar llegan las de animales,
al índice las de mis muertos.
Las de niños, de ser tantas
en las palmas me hormiguean.

    Cuando tomaba así mis brazos
el que yo tuve, todas ellas
en regalo de sangre corrieron
mis brazos una noche entera.
Ahora yo, vuelta al Oriente,
se las voy dando porque no recuerdo.

    Los viejos las quieren mentidas,
los niños las quieren ciertas.
Todos quieren oír la historia mía
que en mi lengua viva está muerta.

    Busco alguna que la recuerde
hoja por hoja, herbra por hebra.
Le presto mi aliento, le doy mi marcha
por si el oírla me la despierta.

From Selected Poems of Gabriela Mistral: Translated by Ursula K. Le Guin. Copyright © 2003 Ursula K. Le Guin. Courtesy of University of New Mexico Press. Published in Poem-a-Day on September 27, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

I ask a student how I can help her. Nothing is on her paper.
It’s been that way for thirty-five minutes. She has a headache. 
She asks to leave early. Maybe I asked the wrong question. 
I’ve always been dumb with questions. When I hurt, 
I too have a hard time accepting advice or gentleness.
I owe for an education that hurt, and collectors call my mama’s house. 
I do nothing about my unpaid bills as if that will help. 
I do nothing about the mold on my ceiling, and it spreads. 
I do nothing about the cat’s litter box, and she pisses on my new bath mat. 
Nothing isn’t an absence. Silence isn’t nothing. I told a woman I loved her, 
and she never talked to me again. I told my mama a man hurt me,
and her hard silence told me to keep my story to myself. 
Nothing is full of something, a mass that grows where you cut at it. 
I’ve lost three aunts when white doctors told them the thing they felt 
was nothing. My aunt said nothing when it clawed at her breathing.
I sat in a room while it killed her. I am afraid when nothing keeps me 
in bed for days. I imagine what my beautiful aunts are becoming 
underground, and I cry for them in my sleep where no one can see. 
Nothing is in my bedroom, but I smell my aunt’s perfume 
and wake to my name called from nowhere. I never looked 
into a sky and said it was empty. Maybe that’s why I imagine a god 
up there to fill what seems unimaginable. Some days, I want to live 
inside the words more than my own black body. 
When the white man shoves me so that he can get on the bus first, 
when he says I am nothing but fits it inside a word, and no one stops him, 
I wear a bruise in the morning where he touched me before I was born. 
My mama’s shame spreads inside me. I’ve heard her say 
there was nothing in a grocery store she could afford. I’ve heard her tell 
the landlord she had nothing to her name. There was nothing I could do 
for the young black woman that disappeared on her way to campus. 
They found her purse and her phone, but nothing led them to her. 
Nobody was there to hold Renisha McBride’s hand 
when she was scared of dying. I worry poems are nothing against it. 
My mama said that if I became a poet or a teacher, I’d make nothing, but 
I’ve thrown words like rocks and hit something in a room when I aimed 
for a window. One student says when he writes, it feels 
like nothing can stop him, and his laughter unlocks a door. He invites me 
into his living.

Copyright © 2020 by Krysten Hill. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 7, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

I love the whir of the creature come
to visit the pink
flowers in the hanging basket as she does

most August mornings, hours away
from starvation to store
enough energy to survive overnight.

The Aztecs saw the refraction
of incident light on wings
as resurrection of fallen warriors.

In autumn, when daylight decreases
they double their body weight to survive
the flight across the Gulf of Mexico.

On next-to-nothing my mother
flew for 85 years; after her death
she hovered, a bird of bones and air.

Copyright © 2017 by Robin Becker. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 21, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Big Bend has been here, been here. Shouldn’t it have a say?
Call the mountains a wall if you must, (the river has never been a wall),
leavened air soaking equally into all, could this be the home
we ache for? Silent light bathing cliff faces, dunes altering
in darkness, stones speaking low to one another, border secrets,
notes so rooted you may never be lonely the same ways again.
Big bend in thinking—why did you dream you needed so much?
Water, one small pack. Once I lay on my back on a concrete table
the whole day and read a book. A whole book, and it was long.
The day I continue to feast on.
Stones sifting a gospel of patience and dust,
no one exalted beyond a perfect parched cliff,
no one waiting for anything you do or don’t do.
Santa Elena, South Rim, once a woman knew what everything here
was named for, Hallie Stillwell brimming with stories,
her hat still snaps in the wind. You will not find
a prime minister in Big Bend, a president, or even a candidate,
beyond the lion, the javelina, the eagle lighting on its nest.

Copyright © 2016 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 17, 2016, this poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.

This morning I looked
for your book online
and almost bought it
from the evil giant
but balked. Instead
I wrote a poem in bed
about a faux-leopard
jacket while drinking
coffee from a Bette
Midler mug. Marcel
says when he catches
himself self-censoring
he knows to add it
anyway. Anyway
I scrambled eggs
before rearranging
my book shelves,
extracting the ones
I can live without.
Those I put in a box
for prisoners (who
want dictionaries
and classic fiction,
the website says)
and later the buyer 
in Red Hook took
a towering stack
for a seventeen buck
credit. I skimmed
the spines and there
you were! Like new!
On the cover in blue
pants, a violet plaid
shirt, surrounded by
bright particulars!

Copyright © 2015 by Matthew Burgess. Used with permission of the author.

This poem takes its title from the headline of an article published by Remezcla 
on Sept. 21st, 2018.

Haloed by the glow of the multiverse swirling
above La Silla Observatory, your pyrex eye 
spotted an orb three times the mass of Jupiter.

                                   All these lenses leering at the heavens, 
                                   and yet it was you who identified
                                   HD110014C. You were reluctant to call

           it discovery, perhaps because you know 
           all too well what poisons gush forth
           from that word. Or maybe you suspect 

                                                         you are not the first because you 
                                                         know there is no such thing
                                                         as firsts. Still, you did what no 

gringo ever could: you made another world
visible to nosotrxs. Perchance it was HD110014C 
that actually recognized you long before your

                       spectroscopic lens detected her.
                       It might even be that she had already 
                       decided to entrust you with making

                                              her presence known to our kind.
                                              After all, you proved yourself more
                                              than worthy of such responsibility

when you said your
finding was “not
exceptional,” annihilating

                                   the misguided western patriarchal notion
                                   of greatness too many others have used 
                                   to boost themselves since 1492. 

                                                        You even confessed your introduction 
                                                         to HD110014C
                                                         was entirely an accident,

           a courageous admission that eclipses
           the bumbling arrogance of every Columbus,
           every Cortez, every Pizarro. From 300 million 

                               light years away you glimpsed 
                               another possibility, then befriended
                               two more exoplanets before 

your 28th year around
our lilliputian sun. You, 
sprung from a country

                                   crystillized in its mourning 
                                   of the disappeared, 
                                   met a glorious

                                                                     dawn and flash 
                                                                     fused to emerge 
                                                                     as one

                                              woman search party.
                                              Maestra Maritza, I know
                                              this goes against all

scientific wisdom, but I can’t help but theorize
that these three interstellar marvels you’ve pulled 
into our orbit have become a new home for those 

                       that collapsed into the event horizon 
                       of imperial cruelty. I like to suppose 
                       that our gente were never erased 

but rather beamed to a star system
that does not regard them as merely tool 
or trinket, a galaxy where their dreams 

                                                          are as important as those 
                                                          who dwell in some imaginary 
                                                          North. Could it be, Maritza,

that what you scoped out there among 
the shimmering Allness was in fact 
a reunion pachanga thrown on the gold 

                        dust rings of a wandering star where discovery 
                        is not a sword of Damocles but instead a feathered
                        reentry path for those who have been missing us.

Copyright © 2021 by Vincent Toro. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 19, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

The right to make my dreams come true,
    I ask, nay, I demand of life,
Nor shall fate’s deadly contraband
Impede my steps, nor countermand;

Too long my heart against the ground
Has beat the dusty years around,
And now at length I rise! I wake!
And stride into the morning break!

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on February 20, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

Nimbawaadaan akiing
I dream a world

atemagag biinaagami
of clean water

gete-mitigoog
ancient trees

gaye gwekaanimad
and changing winds.

Nimbawaadaan akiing
I dream a world

izhi-mikwendamang
of ones who remember

nandagikenindamang gaye
who seek the truth and

maamwidebwe’endamang waabang
believe in tomorrow together.

Nimbawaadaan akiing
I dream a world

izhi-biimiskobideg giizhigong
where our path in the sky

waabandamang naasaab
can be seen as clearly as

gaa-izhi-niibawid wiijibemaadizid
the place where our neighbor once stood.

Copyright © 2021 by Margaret Noodin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 20, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

This poem appeared in American Poets Magazine vol. 61.

 

It’s the closest thing to a cave. I have to resist
this wild urge to carve a name or word in it.

My favorite way to sit here is with cold vodka
& grapefruit juice & whatever bitter concoction

you’re sipping. Under the table I’ll nudge you
with my heels—a sign no stalactite or dripstone

will stop us. Bats do not require any energy
to claw-dangle upside down. All they need

is to relax & gravity & there’s plenty of both
swirling to go around. No matter how loud

this bar, within these three walls we can drop
straight into a very electric flight. We can

pretend we don’t answer to anyone–including
the waitress–& no one even knows where we are.

Copyright © 2021 by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 26, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

Dedicated to the Poet Agostinho Neto,
President of The People’s Republic of Angola: 1976

1
I will no longer lightly walk behind
a one of you who fear me:
                                     Be afraid.
I plan to give you reasons for your jumpy fits
and facial tics
I will not walk politely on the pavements anymore
and this is dedicated in particular
to those who hear my footsteps
or the insubstantial rattling of my grocery
cart
then turn around
see me
and hurry on
away from this impressive terror I must be:
I plan to blossom bloody on an afternoon
surrounded by my comrades singing
terrible revenge in merciless
accelerating
rhythms
But
I have watched a blind man studying his face.
I have set the table in the evening and sat down
to eat the news.
Regularly
I have gone to sleep.
There is no one to forgive me.
The dead do not give a damn.
I live like a lover
who drops her dime into the phone
just as the subway shakes into the station
wasting her message
canceling the question of her call:
fulminating or forgetful but late
and always after the fact that could save or 
condemn me

I must become the action of my fate.

2
How many of my brothers and my sisters
will they kill
before I teach myself
retaliation?
Shall we pick a number? 
South Africa for instance:
do we agree that more than ten thousand
in less than a year but that less than
five thousand slaughtered in more than six
months will
WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH ME?

I must become a menace to my enemies.

3
And if I 
if I ever let you slide
who should be extirpated from my universe
who should be cauterized from earth
completely
(lawandorder jerkoffs of the first the
                   terrorist degree)
then let my body fail my soul
in its bedeviled lecheries

And if I 
if I ever let love go
because the hatred and the whisperings
become a phantom dictate I o-
bey in lieu of impulse and realities
(the blossoming flamingos of my
                   wild mimosa trees)
then let love freeze me
out.
I must become
I must become a menace to my enemies.

Copyright © 2017 by the June M. Jordan Literary Estate. Used with the permission of the June M. Jordan Literary Estate, www.junejordan.com.

You, selling roses out of a silver grocery cart

You, in the park, feeding the pigeons
You cheering for the bees

You with cats in your voice in the morning, feeding cats

You protecting the river   You are who I love
delivering babies, nursing the sick

You with henna on your feet and a gold star in your nose

You taking your medicine, reading the magazines

You looking into the faces of young people as they pass, smiling and saying, Alright! which, they know it, means I see you, Family. I love you. Keep on.

You dancing in the kitchen, on the sidewalk, in the subway waiting for the train because Stevie Wonder, Héctor Lavoe, La Lupe

You stirring the pot of beans, you, washing your father’s feet

You are who I love, you
reciting Darwish, then June

Feeding your heart, teaching your parents how to do The Dougie, counting to 10, reading your patients’ charts

You are who I love, changing policies, standing in line for water, stocking the food pantries, making a meal

You are who I love, writing letters, calling the senators, you who, with the seconds of your body (with your time here), arrive on buses, on trains, in cars, by foot to stand in the January streets against the cool and brutal offices, saying: YOUR CRUELTY DOES NOT SPEAK FOR ME

You are who I love, you struggling to see

You struggling to love or find a question

You better than me, you kinder and so blistering with anger, you are who I love, standing in the wind, salvaging the umbrellas, graduating from school, wearing holes in your shoes

You are who I love
weeping or touching the faces of the weeping

You, Violeta Parra, grateful for the alphabet, for sound, singing toward us in the dream

You carrying your brother home
You noticing the butterflies

Sharing your water, sharing your potatoes and greens

You who did and did not survive
You who cleaned the kitchens
You who built the railroad tracks and roads
You who replanted the trees, listening to the work of squirrels and birds, you are who I love
You whose blood was taken, whose hands and lives were taken, with or without your saying
Yes, I mean to give. You are who I love.

You who the borders crossed
You whose fires
You decent with rage, so in love with the earth
You writing poems alongside children

You cactus, water, sparrow, crow      You, my elder
You are who I love,
summoning the courage, making the cobbler,

getting the blood drawn, sharing the difficult news, you always planting the marigolds, learning to walk wherever you are, learning to read wherever you are, you baking the bread, you come to me in dreams, you kissing the faces of your dead wherever you are, speaking to your children in your mother’s languages, tootsing the birds

You are who I love, behind the library desk, leaving who might kill you, crying with the love songs, polishing your shoes, lighting the candles, getting through the first day despite the whisperers sniping fail fail fail

You are who I love, you who beat and did not beat the odds, you who knows that any good thing you have is the result of someone else’s sacrifice, work, you who fights for reparations

You are who I love, you who stands at the courthouse with the sign that reads NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE

You are who I love, singing Leonard Cohen to the snow, you with glitter on your face, wearing a kilt and violet lipstick

You are who I love, sighing in your sleep

You, playing drums in the procession, you feeding the chickens and humming as you hem the skirt, you sharpening the pencil, you writing the poem about the loneliness of the astronaut

You wanting to listen, you trying to be so still

You are who I love, mothering the dogs, standing with horses

You in brightness and in darkness, throwing your head back as you laugh, kissing your hand

You carrying the berbere from the mill, and the jug of oil pressed from the olives of the trees you belong to

You studying stars, you are who I love
braiding your child’s hair

You are who I love, crossing the desert and trying to cross the desert

You are who I love, working the shifts to buy books, rice, tomatoes,

bathing your children as you listen to the lecture, heating the kitchen with the oven, up early, up late

You are who I love, learning English, learning Spanish, drawing flowers on your hand with a ballpoint pen, taking the bus home

You are who I love, speaking plainly about your pain, sucking your teeth at the airport terminal television every time the politicians say something that offends your sense of decency, of thought, which is often

You are who I love, throwing your hands up in agony or disbelief, shaking your head, arguing back, out loud or inside of yourself, holding close your incredulity which, yes, too, I love    I love

your working heart, how each of its gestures, tiny or big, stand beside my own agony, building a forest there

How “Fuck you” becomes a love song

You are who I love, carrying the signs, packing the lunches, with the rain on your face

You at the edges and shores, in the rooms of quiet, in the rooms of shouting, in the airport terminal, at the bus depot saying “No!” and each of us looking out from the gorgeous unlikelihood of our lives at all, finding ourselves here, witnesses to each other’s tenderness, which, this moment, is fury, is rage, which, this moment, is another way of saying: You are who I love   You are who I love  You and you and you are who

Copyright © 2017 by Aracelis Girmay. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database

We get used to trash along the road 
or don’t even have to get used to it 
but then some kids put their beer cans 
on the tips of small trees trying to come up. 
Little star. Now I know the cancer 
is in my body and always will be. 
Still, we can convince ourselves 
of anything. When Bea wants to play, 
that’s what I do. She gets under the covers 
and pretends to be part of my body. 
We tell her daddy she’s gone, 
but she’s right there. I say 
this is just me.

Copyright © 2022 by Elizabeth Barnett. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 16, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

for Uncle Kenny and Cousin Jeremy

According to the local news station,
the blue crawfish is a rare thing to find,
yet it watches us from the tank of the market,
spared from a boiled, seasoned death

unlike its red friends. My uncle says joy
is the opposite of running
into a dagger, and I realize I am not
the most poetic family member

who has pain. J and I crack the spines of
the crawfish not lucky enough to be blue.
The deeper the blues, The more I see
black played above my head at the chiropractor

the day before. Stubborn I call my back,
subluxation the medical journal says.
Three times a week, my chiropractor
calls the forceful moving of my misalignment

a healthy crack. Like bullies hemorrhaging
power, we look forward to making me
almost break. I love my family, unlike my back.
Before we got here, J threaded amber and jade

and lapis into a necklace he made for me
to match the cover of the book where I’ve written
my pain. He moves, outside his box, newly freed.
He loves movement, says he understands 

that toxic masculinity means to want 
to pinch your claws around any smaller crustation.
I am the third most poetic in this family. He loves 
the neon of the crawfish. We google what makes it 

blue and we suck the sadness out of our conversation.
Like luck, blues can spare any life if you wear
it, but it will leave you as lonely as the crawfish
in the tank. I wonder what family the mudbug

came from. Were they a proud bunch? Had the brightest
shells in their swamp? Did this little blue bug love 
his looks, or did he burrow deeper into the mud 
because he couldn’t handle the attention his hue 

attracted? We chew the back meat of the unlucky things,
stew in the love that surrounds us like a pot with our
spines and heads still attached. Look at what the
brain makes the muscle do: remember. 

Joy is the membrane covering us, the tissue that keeps
a family situated around a table when they could
be running from one another. My uncle taps the murky
glass to make the orphaned thing move. He turns to us:

Could you imagine us living like that? 
All hard on the outside with an exoskeleton? 

No, no I can’t. There’s so much
in us. We’d fall apart.

Copyright © 2022 by Karisma Price. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 11, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.