The dining hall for instance: open roof beams,
open screens, and yard upon yard 

of clean swept hardwood flooring, it
might almost be a family camp.

And likewise in the sleeping room: expanse
of window, paneled wall, and the 

warmth implied by sunwash, only softened
here by half-drawn shades. You know 

the kind?—dark canvas on a roller, in my 
memory the canvas is always green. What I 

couldn’t have guessed, except for the caption:
the logic behind the double row of  well-

made beds. I’d like just once to have seen
his face, the keeper of order who

thought of it first: a prostitute on either side
of each of those women demanding

the vote. And “Negro,” to make the point perfectly
clear: You thought 

your manners and your decent shoes would
keep you safe? He couldn’t have known

how much we’d take the lesson to heart. 
At the workhouse in Virginia they’d started

the feedings with rubber tubes. Not here.
Or not that we’ve been told. The men

all dying in trenches in France. A
single system, just as we’ve been

learning for these hundred years. Empty
of people, the space looks almost benign.

Copyright © 2020 by Linda Gregerson. This poem was co-commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and the New York Philharmonic as part of the Project 19 initiative and published in Poem-a-Day on March 14, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

Who comforts you now that the wheel has broken?
No more princes for the poor. Loss whittling you thin.
Grief is the constant now, hope the last word spoken.

In a dance of two elegies, which circles the drain? A token
year with its daisies and carbines is where we begin.
Who comforts you now? That the wheel has broken

is Mechanics 101; to keep dreaming when the joke’s on
you? Well, crazier legends have been written.
Grief is the constant now; hope, the last word spoken

on a motel balcony, shouted in a hotel kitchen. No kin
can make this journey for you. The route’s locked in.
Who comforts you now that the wheel has broken

the bodies of its makers? Beyond the smoke and
ashes, what you hear rising is nothing but the wind.
Who comforts you? Now that the wheel has broken,

grief is the constant. Hope: the last word spoken.

Copyright © 2020 by Rita Dove. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 21, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

Water levels have bled out,
like it had just bitten its lip
& was about to swell—then rip:
had I paid better attention to drought,
listened more to the stars and stayed
with mountain clouds, I’d have let go
of the knot swing hanging above the slow
life flow beneath my legs, I’d have prayed

to forget all the times he came to me
but not wanted me: how fast it rises,
carrying plumes of pang in undercurrent:
swirls of sediment & silt around my knees—
the dragging stalks and leaves of irises,
how pathetic they look breaking in torrent—

Copyright © 2020 by Tacey M. Atsitty. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 23, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

I want to paint in a way that the “I” disappears into the sky and trees
The idea of a slowed down, slowly unfolding image held my attention

Variations on a theme are of no interest. A bowl and cup are not ideas.
I want my painting to be what it contains: it should speak, not me

The idea of a slowed down, slowly unfolding image held my attention
I paint things made of clay, just as the pigments I use come from the earth

I want my painting to be what it contains: it should speak, not me
Brown and ochre stoneware bowls beside a white porcelain pitcher

I paint things made of clay, just as the pigments I use come from the earth
I place the pale eggs on a dark, unadorned tabletop and let them roll into place

Brown and ochre stoneware bowls beside a white porcelain pitcher
The dusky red wall is not meant to symbolize anything but itself

I place the pale eggs on a dark unadorned tabletop and let them roll into place
I want to paint in a way that the “I” disappears into the sky and trees

The dusky red wall is not meant to symbolize anything but itself
Variations on a theme are of no interest. A bowl and cup are not ideas.

Copyright © 2020 by John Yau. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 18, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

what anger in defiance
what sympathy in doubt
emotions steady try us
demanding every shout

what sympathy in doubt
what pleasure in our pain
demanding are our shouts
such hazardous terrain

what pleasure in our pain
mere thinness to our skin
such hazardous terrain
such unrelenting din

sheer thinness of our skin
the ruptures and the breaks
such unrelenting din
mistake after mistake

we rupture and we break
we stagger and we shine
mistake after mistake
inhabiting our minds

we stagger and we shine
we live our lives on spin
inhabiting our minds
and undermining limbs

we live our lives on spin
and thrive until we grieve
we undermine our limbs
then get the strength to leave

we thrive until we grieve
emotions steady try us
we get the strength. we leave.
what anger in defiance.

Copyright © 2020 by Allison Joseph. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 13, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

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.