Bruce Derricotte, June 22, 1928 - June 21, 2011
What was there is no longer there:
Not the blood running its wires of flame through the whole length
Not the memories, the texts written in the language of the flat hills
No, not the memories, the porch swing and the father crying
The genteel and elegant aunt bleeding out on the highway
(Too black for the white ambulance to pick up)
Who had sent back lacquered plates from China
Who had given away her best ivory comb that one time she was angry
Not the muscles, the ones the white girls longed to touch
But must not (for your mother warned
You would be lynched in that all-white Ohio town you grew up in)
Not that same town where you were the only, the one good black boy
All that is gone
Not the muscles running, the baseball flying into your mitt
Not the hand that laid itself over my heart and saved me 
Not the eyes that held the long gold tunnel I believed in 
Not the restrained hand in love and in anger
Not the holding back
Not the taut holding

 

Copyright © 2012 by Toi Derricotte. Used with permission of the author.

I.

Although Tía Miriam boasted she discovered
at least half-a-dozen uses for peanut butter—
topping for guava shells in syrup,
butter substitute for Cuban toast,
hair conditioner and relaxer—
Mamá never knew what to make
of the monthly five-pound jars
handed out by the immigration department
until my friend, Jeff, mentioned jelly.

II.

There was always pork though,
for every birthday and wedding,
whole ones on Christmas and New Year's Eves,
even on Thanksgiving Day—pork,
fried, broiled or crispy skin roasted—
as well as cauldrons of black beans,
fried plantain chips and yuca con mojito.

These items required a special visit
to Antonio's Mercado on the corner of 8th street
where men in guayaberas stood in senate
blaming Kennedy for everything—"Ese hijo de puta!"
the bile of Cuban coffee and cigar residue
filling the creases of their wrinkled lips;
clinging to one another's lies of lost wealth,
ashamed and empty as hollow trees.

III.

By seven I had grown suspicious—we were still here.
Overheard conversations about returning
had grown wistful and less frequent.
I spoke English; my parents didn't.
We didn't live in a two story house
with a maid or a wood panel station wagon
nor vacation camping in Colorado.
None of the girls had hair of gold;
none of my brothers or cousins
were named Greg, Peter, or Marcia;
we were not the Brady Bunch.
None of the black and white characters
on Donna Reed or on Dick Van Dyke Show
were named Guadalupe, Lázaro, or Mercedes.
Patty Duke's family wasn't like us either—
they didn't have pork on Thanksgiving,
they ate turkey with cranberry sauce;
they didn't have yuca, they had yams
like the dittos of Pilgrims I colored in class.

IV.

A week before Thanksgiving
I explained to my abuelita
about the Indians and the Mayflower,
how Lincoln set the slaves free;
I explained to my parents about
the purple mountain's majesty,
"one if by land, two if by sea"
the cherry tree, the tea party,
the amber waves of grain,
the "masses yearning to be free"
liberty and justice for all, until
finally they agreed:
this Thanksgiving we would have turkey,
as well as pork.

V.

Abuelita prepared the poor fowl
as if committing an act of treason,
faking her enthusiasm for my sake.
Mamà set a frozen pumpkin pie in the oven
and prepared candied yams following instructions
I translated from the marshmallow bag.
The table was arrayed with gladiolus,
the plattered turkey loomed at the center
on plastic silver from Woolworths.
Everyone sat in green velvet chairs
we had upholstered with clear vinyl,
except Tío Carlos and Toti, seated
in the folding chairs from the Salvation Army.
I uttered a bilingual blessing
and the turkey was passed around
like a game of Russian Roulette.
"DRY," Tío Berto complained, and proceeded
to drown the lean slices with pork fat drippings
and cranberry jelly—"esa mierda roja," he called it.

Faces fell when Mamá presented her ochre pie—
pumpkin was a home remedy for ulcers, not a dessert.
Tía María made three rounds of Cuban coffee
then Abuelo and Pepe cleared the living room furniture,
put on a Celia Cruz LP and the entire family
began to merengue over the linoleum of our apartment,
sweating rum and coffee until they remembered—
it was 1970 and 46 degrees—
in América.
After repositioning the furniture,
an appropriate darkness filled the room.
Tío Berto was the last to leave.

From City of a Hundred Fires, by Richard Blanco, © 1998. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Used by permission of the publisher. 

The removal of aliens who pose  
[      	 ] shall be ICE’s high [      	 ]
 
These aliens include  [      	 ]
engaged in or suspected of
[      	 ] or who otherwise pose
 
[      	 ] aliens convicted of [      	 ]
particular emphasis [      	 ] and repeat
 
aliens [      	 ] who participated [      	 ]
[       	] subject to outstanding [      	 ]
who otherwise pose [      	 ]  to public safety.
 
 
Aliens who are [       	]  otherwise
obstruct [       	]  fugitive aliens,
in descending priority as [      	 ]
aliens who pose [      	 ]  security;

[      	 ]  or who otherwise pose [      	 ]        	
the community; [      	 ] other than [      	 ];
and [      	 ] who have not been [      	 ];
 
aliens who reenter [      	 ]  in descending
priority as [      	 ]  aliens who pose [      	 ]  
previously removed [      	 ] who other-
wise pose [      	 ]  to the community;

previously removed [      	 ] who have not been
convicted of [      	 ] who obtain
admission or status by [      	 ] ;
otherwise  [  

Copyright © 2018 by David Buuck. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 8, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

won’t you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.

Lucille Clifton, “won’t you celebrate with me” from Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton. Copyright © 1991 by Lucille Clifton. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., boaeditions.org.

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
"I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,"
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

From Another Time by W. H. Auden, published by Random House. Copyright © 1940 W. H. Auden, renewed by the Estate of W. H. Auden. Used by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems. Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”

This poem is in the public domain. 

It was after the war.
My father lay in an Austrian sanatorium,
his lungs full of tuberculosis.
Next to him, a young Soviet veteran
needed to confess to another Russian.
He had done something terrible, he said.			
In Kharkov, before the Germans came.
Under orders, he had taken enemies of the state,
shoved them between two stopped trains,
and burned them to death.  Then swept away remains.  
Could he ever be forgiven for such a sin?

How could he know, that tormented man,
that my father’s father was one of the dead?
What chance that these two men would lie, 
shushed to sleep by nurses, bed to bed?

My father, unable to respond, simply averted
his head, refusing to grant comfort.
Riven, six more decades, between two ghosts:
one wasted from coughing, pale; one burning.
Both beyond any word he might have spoken.

Copyright © 2014 by Anya Silver. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on April 8, 2014. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

What war has left its wake of whitened bone,
Soft stems of summer grass shall wave again,
And all the blood that war has ever strewn
                                  Is but a passing stain.
 

This poem is in the public domain.

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Matched with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel; I will drink
Life to the lees. All times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea. I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known—cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honored of them all,—
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untraveled world whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains; but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
   This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the scepter and the isle,
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill
This labor, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and through soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centered in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.
   There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail;
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought with me,
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honor and his toil.
Death closes all; but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;
The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

This poem is in the public domain.

That's my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf's hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will 't please you sit and look at her? I said
'Frà Pandolf' by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, 't was not
Her husband's presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess' cheek: perhaps
Frà Pandolf chanced to say, 'Her mantle laps
Over my lady's wrist too much,' or 'Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-flush that dies along her throat:' such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart—how shall I say?—too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate'er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, 't was all one! My favour at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace—all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
Or blush, at least. She thanked men,—good! but thanked
Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody's gift. Who'd stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech—(which I have not)—to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, 'Just this
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
Or there exceed the mark'—and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse,
—E'en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene'er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will 't please you rise? We'll meet
The company below then. I repeat,
The Count your master's known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretence
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter's self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay, we'll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

This poem is in the public domain.

I have done it again.
One year in every ten
I manage it—

A sort of walking miracle, my skin
Bright as a Nazi lampshade,
My right foot

A paperweight,
My face a featureless, fine
Jew linen.

Peel off the napkin
O my enemy.
Do I terrify?—

The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?
The sour breath
Will vanish in a day.

Soon, soon the flesh
The grave cave ate will be
At home on me

And I a smiling woman.
I am only thirty.
And like the cat I have nine times to die.

This is Number Three.
What a trash
To annihilate each decade.

What a million filaments.
The peanut-crunching crowd
Shoves in to see

Them unwrap me hand and foot—
The big strip tease.
Gentlemen, ladies

These are my hands
My knees.
I may be skin and bone,

Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.
The first time it happened I was ten.
It was an accident.

The second time I meant
To last it out and not come back at all.
I rocked shut

As a seashell.
They had to call and call
And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.

Dying
Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I’ve a call.

It’s easy enough to do it in a cell.
It’s easy enough to do it and stay put.
It’s the theatrical

Comeback in broad day
To the same place, the same face, the same brute
Amused shout:

‘A miracle!’
That knocks me out.
There is a charge

For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge
For the hearing of my heart—
It really goes.

And there is a charge, a very large charge
For a word or a touch
Or a bit of blood

Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.
So, so, Herr Doktor.
So, Herr Enemy.

I am your opus,
I am your valuable,
The pure gold baby

That melts to a shriek.
I turn and burn.
Do not think I underestimate your great concern.

Ash, ash—
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there--

A cake of soap,
A wedding ring,
A gold filling.

Herr God, Herr Lucifer
Beware
Beware.

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.

23–29 October 1962

From The Collected Poems by Sylvia Plath, published by Harper & Row. Copyright © 1981 by the Estate of Sylvia Plath. Used with permission.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

From The Complete Poems 1927–1979 by Elizabeth Bishop, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc. Copyright © 1979, 1983 by Alice Helen Methfessel. Used with permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.

Lord,
          when you send the rain,
          think about it, please,
          a little?
  Do
          not get carried away
          by the sound of falling water,
          the marvelous light
          on the falling water.
    I
          am beneath that water.
          It falls with great force
          and the light
Blinds
          me to the light.

From Jimmy’s Blues and Other Poems by James Baldwin (Beacon Press, 2014). Copyright © 2014 The James Baldwin Estate. Used by permission of Beacon Press.

Whatever happens. Whatever
what is is is what
I want. Only that. But that.

From Collected Poems by Galway Kinnell. Copyright © 2017 by The Literary Estate of Galway Kinnell. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

I’m curled into a ball
like a dog
that is cold.

Who will tell me
why I was born,
why this monstrosity
called life.

The telephone rings. I have to give
a poetry reading.

I enter.
A hundred people, a hundred pairs of eyes.
They look, they wait.
I know for what.

I am supposed to tell them
why they were born,
why there is
this monstrosity called life.

From Talking to My Body, translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Leonard Nathan. Copyright © 1996 Czeslaw Milosz and Leonard Nathan. Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press.

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

This poem originally appeared in Waxwing, Issue 10, in June 2016. Used with permission of the author.

Ladies and gentlemen, ghosts and children of the state,
I am here because I could never get the hang of Time.
This hour, for example, would be like all the others
were it not for the rain falling through the roof.
I’d better not be too explicit. My night is careless
with itself, troublesome as a woman wearing no bra
in winter. I believe everything is a metaphor for sex.
Lovemaking mimics the act of departure, moonlight
drips from the leaves. You can spend your whole life
doing no more than preparing for life and thinking.
"Is this all there is?" Thus, I am here where poets come
to drink a dark strong poison with tiny shards of ice,
something to loosen my primate tongue and its syllables
of debris. I know all words come from preexisting words
and divide until our pronouncements develop selves.
The small dog barking at the darkness has something to say
about the way we live. I’d rather have what my daddy calls
“skrimp.” He says “discrete” and means the street
just out of sight. Not what you see, but what you perceive:
that’s poetry. Not the noise, but its rhythm; an arrangement
of derangements; I’ll eat you to live: that’s poetry.
I wish I glowed like a brown-skinned pregnant woman.
I wish I could weep the way my teacher did as he read us
Molly Bloom’s soliloquy of yes. When I kiss my wife,
sometimes I taste her caution. But let’s not talk about that.
Maybe Art’s only purpose is to preserve the Self.
Sometimes I play a game in which my primitive craft fires
upon an alien ship whose intention is the destruction
of the earth. Other times I fall in love with a word
like somberness. Or moonlight juicing naked branches.
All species have a notion of emptiness, and yet
the flowers don’t quit opening. I am carrying the whimper
you can hear when the mouth is collapsed, the wisdom
of monkeys. Ask a glass of water why it pities
the rain. Ask the lunatic yard dog why it tolerates the leash.
Brothers and sisters, when you spend your nights
out on a limb, there’s a chance you’ll fall in your sleep.

From Lighthead by Terrance Hayes. Copyright © 2010 by Terrance Hayes. Used by permission of Penguin. All rights reserved.

In the pull-out bed with my brother
            in my grandfather’s Riverton apartment
my knees and ankles throbbed from growing,
            pulsing so hard they kept me awake—
or was it the Metro North train cars
            flying past the apartment, rocking the walls,
or was it the sound of apartment front doors
            as heavy as prison doors clanging shut?
Was the Black Nation whispering to me
            from the Jet magazines stacked on the floor, or
was it my brother’s unfamiliar ions
            vibrating, humming in his easeful sleep?
Tomorrow, as always, Grandfather will rise
            to the Spanish-Town cock’s crow deep in his head
and perform his usual ablutions,
            and prepare the apartment for the day,
and peel fruit for us, and prepare a hot meal
            that can take us anywhere, and onward.
Did sleep elude me because I could feel
            the heft of unuttered love in his tending
our small bodies, love a silent, mammoth thing
            that overwhelmed me, that kept me awake
as my growing bones did, growing larger
            than anything else I would know?

From Crave Radiance: New and Selected Poems 1990–2010 (Graywolf Press, 2010). Copyright © 2010 by Elizabeth Alexander. Used with the permission of Graywolf Press.

The maples sweat now, out of season.
Buds pop eyes in wintry bushes
as the birds arrive, not having checked
the calendars or clocks. They scramble
in the frost for seeds, while underground
a sobbing starts in roots and tubers.
Ice cracks easily along the bank.
It slides in gullies where a bear, still groggy,
steps through coiled wire of the weeds.
Kids in T-shirts run to school, unaware
that summer is a long way off.
Their teachers flirt with off-the-wall assignments,
drum their fingers on the sweaty desktops.
As for me, my heart leaps high—
a deer escaping from the crosshairs,
skipping over barely frozen water
as the surface bends and splinters underfoot.

From New and Collected Poems: 1975-2015 by Jay Parini (Beacon Press, 2016). Reprinted with permission from Beacon Press.

For Grace Bulmer Bowers

From narrow provinces
of fish and bread and tea,
home of the long tides
where the bay leaves the sea
twice a day and takes
the herrings long rides,

where if the river
enters or retreats 
in a wall of brown foam
depends on if it meets
the bay coming in,
the bay not at home;

where, silted red,
sometimes the sun sets
facing a red sea,
and others, veins the flats'
lavender, rich mud
in burning rivulets;

on red, gravelly roads,
down rows of sugar maples,
past clapboard farmhouses
and neat, clapboard churches,
bleached, ridged as clamshells,
past twin silver birches,

through late afternoon
a bus journeys west,
the windshield flashing pink,
pink glancing off of metal,
brushing the dented flank
of blue, beat-up enamel;

down hollows, up rises,
and waits, patient, while
a lone traveller gives
kisses and embraces
to seven relatives
and a collie supervises.

Goodbye to the elms,
to the farm, to the dog.
The bus starts.  The light
grows richer; the fog,
shifting, salty, thin,
comes closing in.

Its cold, round crystals
form and slide and settle
in the white hens' feathers,
in gray glazed cabbages,
on the cabbage roses
and lupins like apostles;

the sweet peas cling
to their wet white string
on the whitewashed fences;
bumblebees creep
inside the foxgloves,
and evening commences.

One stop at Bass River.
Then the Economies 
Lower, Middle, Upper;
Five Islands, Five Houses,
where a woman shakes a tablecloth
out after supper.

A pale flickering.  Gone.
The Tantramar marshes 
and the smell of salt hay.
An iron bridge trembles 
and a loose plank rattles
but doesn't give way.

On the left, a red light
swims through the dark:
a ship's port lantern.
Two rubber boots show,
illuminated, solemn.
A dog gives one bark.

A woman climbs in 
with two market bags,
brisk, freckled, elderly.
"A grand night.  Yes, sir,
all the way to Boston."
She regards us amicably.

Moonlight as we enter 
the New Brunswick woods,
hairy, scratchy, splintery;
moonlight and mist
caught in them like lamb's wool
on bushes in a pasture.

The passengers lie back.
Snores.  Some long sighs.
A dreamy divagation
begins in the night,
a gentle, auditory,
slow hallucination. . . .

In the creakings and noises,
an old conversation
--not concerning us,
but recognizable, somewhere,
back in the bus:
Grandparents' voices

uninterruptedly
talking, in Eternity:
names being mentioned,
things cleared up finally;
what he said, what she said,
who got pensioned;

deaths, deaths and sicknesses;
the year he remarried;
the year (something) happened.
She died in childbirth.
That was the son lost
when the schooner foundered.

He took to drink. Yes.
She went to the bad.
When Amos began to pray
even in the store and
finally the family had
to put him away.

"Yes . . ." that peculiar
affirmative.  "Yes . . ."
A sharp, indrawn breath,
half groan, half acceptance,
that means "Life's like that.
We know it (also death)."

Talking the way they talked 
in the old featherbed,
peacefully, on and on,
dim lamplight in the hall,
down in the kitchen, the dog
tucked in her shawl.

Now, it's all right now
even to fall asleep
just as on all those nights.
--Suddenly the bus driver
stops with a jolt,
turns off his lights.

A moose has come out of 
the impenetrable wood
and stands there, looms, rather,
in the middle of the road.
It approaches; it sniffs at
the bus's hot hood.

Towering, antlerless,
high as a church,
homely as a house
(or, safe as houses).
A man's voice assures us
"Perfectly harmless. . . ."

Some of the passengers
exclaim in whispers,
childishly, softly,
"Sure are big creatures."
"It's awful plain."
"Look! It's a she!"

Taking her time,
she looks the bus over,
grand, otherworldly.
Why, why do we feel
(we all feel) this sweet
sensation of joy?

"Curious creatures,"
says our quiet driver,
rolling his r's.
"Look at that, would you."
Then he shifts gears.
For a moment longer,

by craning backward,
the moose can be seen
on the moonlit macadam;
then there's a dim
smell of moose, an acrid
smell of gasoline.

From The Complete Poems 1927-1979 by Elizabeth Bishop, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc. Copyright © 1979, 1983 by Alice Helen Methfessel. Used with permission.

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,  
  The lowing herd winds slowly o'er the lea,  
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,  
  And leaves the world to darkness and to me.  
  
Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,           
  And all the air a solemn stillness holds,  
Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,  
  And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds:  
  
Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tower  
  The moping owl does to the moon complain            
Of such as, wandering near her secret bower,  
  Molest her ancient solitary reign.  
  
Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree's shade  
  Where heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap,  
Each in his narrow cell for ever laid,            
  The rude Forefathers of the hamlet sleep.  
  
The breezy call of incense-breathing morn,  
  The swallow twittering from the straw-built shed,  
The cock's shrill clarion, or the echoing horn,  
  No more shall rouse them from their lowly bed.            
  
For them no more the blazing hearth shall burn  
  Or busy housewife ply her evening care:  
No children run to lisp their sire's return,  
  Or climb his knees the envied kiss to share.  
  
Oft did the harvest to their sickle yield,            
  Their furrow oft the stubborn glebe has broke;  
How jocund did they drive their team afield!  
  How bow'd the woods beneath their sturdy stroke!  
  
Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,  
  Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;            
Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile  
  The short and simple annals of the Poor.  
  
The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,  
  And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave  
Awaits alike th' inevitable hour:—            
  The paths of glory lead but to the grave.  
  
Nor you, ye Proud, impute to these the fault  
  If Memory o'er their tomb no trophies raise,  
Where through the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault  
  The pealing anthem swells the note of praise.            
  
Can storied urn or animated bust  
  Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath,  
Can Honour's voice provoke the silent dust,  
  Or Flattery soothe the dull cold ear of Death?  
  
Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid            
  Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire;  
Hands, that the rod of empire might have sway'd,  
  Or waked to ecstasy the living lyre:  
  
But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page,  
  Rich with the spoils of time, did ne'er unroll;            
Chill Penury repress'd their noble rage,  
  And froze the genial current of the soul.  
  
Full many a gem of purest ray serene  
  The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear:  
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,            
  And waste its sweetness on the desert air.  
  
Some village-Hampden, that with dauntless breast  
  The little tyrant of his fields withstood,  
Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest,  
  Some Cromwell, guiltless of his country's blood.            
  
Th' applause of listening senates to command,  
  The threats of pain and ruin to despise,  
To scatter plenty o'er a smiling land,  
  And read their history in a nation's eyes  
  
Their lot forbad: nor circumscribed alone            
  Their growing virtues, but their crimes confined;  
Forbad to wade through slaughter to a throne,  
  And shut the gates of mercy on mankind;  
  
The struggling pangs of conscious truth to hide,  
  To quench the blushes of ingenuous shame,            
Or heap the shrine of Luxury and Pride  
  With incense kindled at the Muse's flame.  
  
Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife  
  Their sober wishes never learn'd to stray;  
Along the cool sequester'd vale of life            
  They kept the noiseless tenour of their way.  
  
Yet e'en these bones from insult to protect  
  Some frail memorial still erected nigh,  
With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture deck'd,  
  Implores the passing tribute of a sigh.            
  
Their name, their years, spelt by th' unletter'd Muse,  
  The place of fame and elegy supply:  
And many a holy text around she strews,  
  That teach the rustic moralist to die.  
  
For who, to dumb forgetfulness a prey,            
  This pleasing anxious being e'er resign'd,  
Left the warm precincts of the cheerful day,  
  Nor cast one longing lingering look behind?  
  
On some fond breast the parting soul relies,  
  Some pious drops the closing eye requires;            
E'en from the tomb the voice of Nature cries,  
  E'en in our ashes live their wonted fires.  
  
For thee, who, mindful of th' unhonour'd dead,  
  Dost in these lines their artless tale relate;  
If chance, by lonely Contemplation led,            
  Some kindred spirit shall enquire thy fate,— 
  
Haply some hoary-headed swain may say,  
  'Oft have we seen him at the peep of dawn  
Brushing with hasty steps the dews away,  
  To meet the sun upon the upland lawn;             
  
'There at the foot of yonder nodding beech  
  That wreathes its old fantastic roots so high,  
His listless length at noon-tide would he stretch,  
  And pore upon the brook that babbles by.  
  
'Hard by yon wood, now smiling as in scorn,             
  Muttering his wayward fancies he would rove;  
Now drooping, woeful-wan, like one forlorn,  
  Or crazed with care, or cross'd in hopeless love.  
  
'One morn I miss'd him on the custom'd hill,  
  Along the heath, and near his favourite tree;             
Another came; nor yet beside the rill,  
  Nor up the lawn, nor at the wood was he;  
  
'The next with dirges due in sad array  
  Slow through the church-way path we saw him borne,—
Approach and read (for thou canst read) the lay             
  Graved on the stone beneath yon agèd thorn:'  
  
The Epitaph

Here rests his head upon the lap of Earth  
  A youth, to Fortune and to Fame unknown;  
Fair Science frown'd not on his humble birth  
  And Melancholy mark'd him for her own.             
  
Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere;  
  Heaven did a recompense as largely send:  
He gave to Mis'ry all he had, a tear,  
  He gain'd from Heaven, 'twas all he wish'd, a friend.  
  
No farther seek his merits to disclose,             
  Or draw his frailties from their dread abode,  
(There they alike in trembling hope repose,)  
  The bosom of his Father and his God.

This poem is in the public domain.

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast, the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,

Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

This poem is in the public domain.

The sun immense and rosy
Must have sunk and become extinct
The night you closed your eyes for ever against me.

Grey days, and wan, dree dawnings
Since then, with fritter of flowers –
Day wearies me with its ostentation and fawnings.

Still, you left me the nights,
The great dark glittery window,
The bubble hemming this empty existence with lights.

Still in the vast hollow
Like a breath in a bubble spinning
Brushing the stars, goes my soul, that skims the bounds like a swallow?

I can look through
The film of the bubble night, to where you are.
Through the film I can almost touch you.

This poem is in the public domain.

if it doesn't come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don't do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don't do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
typewriter
searching for words,
don't do it.
if you're doing it for money or
fame,
don't do it.
if you're doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don't do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don't do it.
if it's hard work just thinking about doing it,
don't do it.
if you're trying to write like somebody
else,
forget about it.

if you have to wait for it to roar out of
you,
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you're not ready.

don't be like so many writers,
don't be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don't be dull and boring and
pretentious, don't be consumed with self-
love.
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
sleep
over your kind.
don't add to that.
don't do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don't do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don't do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was.

From sifting through the madness for the Word, the line, the way by Charles Bukowski. Copyright © 2003 by the Estate of Charles Bukowski. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins. All rights reserved.

I too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle.
   Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers that there is in
   it after all, a place for the genuine.
      Hands that can grasp, eyes
      that can dilate, hair that can rise
         if it must, these things are important not because a

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because they are
   useful; when they become so derivative as to become unintelligible, the
   same thing may be said for all of us—that we
      do not admire what
      we cannot understand. The bat,
         holding on upside down or in quest of something to

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless wolf under
   a tree, the immovable critic twinkling his skin like a horse that feels a flea, the base—
   ball fan, the statistician—case after case
      could be cited did
      one wish it; nor is it valid
         to discriminate against “business documents and

school-books”; all these phenomena are important. One must make a distinction
   however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the result is not poetry,
   nor till the autocrats among us can be
     “literalists of
      the imagination”—above
         insolence and triviality and can present

for inspection, imaginary gardens with real toads in them, shall we have
   it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand, in defiance of their opinion—
   the raw material of poetry in
      all its rawness, and
      that which is on the other hand,
         genuine, then you are interested in poetry.

From Others for 1919: An Anthology of the New Verse (Nicholas L. Brown, 1920), edited by Alfred Kreymborg. This poem is in the public domain.

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight
                 To me did seem
            Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore;—
             Turn wheresoe’er I may,
              By night or day,
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.

            The rainbow comes and goes,
            And lovely is the rose;
            The moon doth with delight
     Look round her when the heavens are bare;
            Waters on a starry night
            Are beautiful and fair;
     The sunshine is a glorious birth;
     But yet I know, where’er I go,
That there hath past away a glory from the earth.

Now, while the birds thus sing a joyous song,
     And while the young lambs bound
            As to the tabor’s sound,
To me alone there came a thought of grief:
A timely utterance gave that thought relief,
            And I again am strong.
The cataracts blow their trumpets from the steep,—
No more shall grief of mine the season wrong:
I hear the echoes through the mountains throng.
The winds come to me from the fields of sleep,
            And all the earth is gay;
                Land and sea
     Give themselves up to jollity,
            And with the heart of May
     Doth every beast keep holiday;—
                Thou child of joy,
Shout round me, let me hear thy shouts, thou happy
        Shepherd-boy!
                 Ye blesséd Creatures, I have heard the call 
     Ye to each other make; I see
The heavens laugh with you in your jubilee;
     My heart is at your festival,
       My head hath its coronal,
The fulness of your bliss, I feel—I feel it all.
         O evil day! if I were sullen
         While Earth herself is adorning
              This sweet May-morning;
         And the children are culling
              On every side
         In a thousand valleys far and wide
         Fresh flowers; while the sun shines warm,
And the babe leaps up on his mother’s arm:—
         I hear, I hear, with joy I hear!
         —But there’s a tree, of many, one,
A single field which I have look’d upon,
Both of them speak of something that is gone:
              The pansy at my feet
              Doth the same tale repeat:
Whither is fled the visionary gleam?
Where is it now, the glory and the dream?

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
          Hath had elsewhere its setting
               And cometh from afar;
          Not in entire forgetfulness,
          And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come 
               From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
               Upon the growing Boy,
But he beholds the light, and whence it flows,
               He sees it in his joy;
The Youth, who daily farther from the east
     Must travel, still is Nature’s priest,
          And by the vision splendid
          Is on his way attended;
At length the Man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day.

Earth fills her lap with pleasures of her own;
Yearnings she hath in her own natural kind,
And, even with something of a mother‘s mind,
               And no unworthy aim,
          The homely nurse doth all she can
To make her foster-child, her inmate, Man,
               Forget the glories he hath known,
And that imperial palace whence he came.

Behold the Child among his new-born blisses,
A six years’ darling of a pigmy size!
See, where ‘mid work of his own hand he lies,
Fretted by sallies of his mother’s kisses,
With light upon him from his father’s eyes!
See, at his feet, some little plan or chart,
Some fragment from his dream of human life,
Shaped by himself with newly-learned art;
          A wedding or a festival,
          A mourning or a funeral;
               And this hath now his heart,
          And unto this he frames his song:
               Then will he fit his tongue
To dialogues of business, love, or strife;
          But it will not be long
          Ere this be thrown aside,
          And with new joy and pride
The little actor cons another part;
Filling from time to time his ‘humorous stage’
With all the Persons, down to palsied Age,
That life brings with her in her equipage;
          As if his whole vocation
          Were endless imitation.

Thou, whose exterior semblance doth belie
          Thy soul’s immensity;
Thou best philosopher, who yet dost keep
Thy heritage, thou eye among the blind,
That, deaf and silent, read’st the eternal deep,
Haunted for ever by the eternal Mind,—
          Mighty Prophet! Seer blest!
          On whom those truths rest
Which we are toiling all our lives to find,
In darkness lost, the darkness of the grave;
Thou, over whom thy Immortality
Broods like the day, a master o’er a slave,
A Presence which is not to be put by;
          To whom the grave
Is but a lonely bed, without the sense of sight
Of day or the warm light,
A place of thoughts where we in waiting lie;
Thou little child, yet glorious in the might
Of heaven-born freedom on thy being’s height,
Why with such earnest pains dost thou provoke
The years to bring the inevitable yoke,
Thus blindly with thy blessedness at strife?
Full soon thy soul shall have her earthly freight,
And custom lie upon thee with a weight
Heavy as frost, and deep almost as life!
          O joy! that in our embers
          Is something that doth live,
          That Nature yet remembers
          What was so fugitive!
The thought of our past years in me doth breed
Perpetual benediction: not indeed
For that which is most worthy to be blest,
Delight and liberty, the simple creed
Of Childhood, whether busy or at rest,
With new-fledged hope still fluttering in his breast:—
          —Not for these I raise
          The song of thanks and praise;
     But for those obstinate questionings
     Of sense and outward things,
     Fallings from us, vanishings,
     Blank misgivings of a creature
Moving about in worlds not realized, 
High instincts, before which our mortal nature 
Did tremble like a guilty thing surprised:
     But for those first affections,
     Those shadowy recollections,
          Which, be they what they may,
Are yet the fountain-light of all our day,
Are yet a master-light of all our seeing;
     Uphold us—cherish—and have power to make
Our noisy years seem moments in the being 
Of the eternal Silence: truths that wake,
               To perish never;
Which neither listlessness, nor mad endeavour,
               Nor man nor boy,
Nor all that is at enmity with joy,
Can utterly abolish or destroy!
   Hence, in a season of calm weather
          Though inland far we be,
Our souls have sight of that immortal sea
               Which brought us hither;
          Can in a moment travel thither—
And see the children sport upon the shore,
And hear the mighty waters rolling evermore.

Then, sing, ye birds, sing, sing a joyous song!
          And let the young lambs bound
          As to the tabor’s sound!
     We, in thought, will join your throng,
          Ye that pipe and ye that play,
          Ye that through your hearts to-day
          Feel the gladness of the May!
What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now for ever taken from my sight,
     Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
          We will grieve not, rather find
          Strength in what remains behind;
          In the primal sympathy
          Which having been must ever be;
          In the soothing thoughts that spring
          Out of human suffering;
          In the faith that looks through death,
In years that bring the philosophic mind.

And O, ye Fountains, Meadows, Hills, and Groves,
Forebode not any severing of our loves!
Yet in my heart of hearts I feel your might;
I only have relinquish‘d one delight
To live beneath your more habitual sway;
I love the brooks which down their channels fret
Even more than when I tripp’d lightly as they;
The innocent brightness of a new-born day
               Is lovely yet;
The clouds that gather round the setting sun
Do take a sober colouring from an eye
That hath kept watch o’er man’s mortality;
Another race hath been, and other palms are won.
   Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
   Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
   To me the meanest flower that blows can give
   Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.

This poem is in the public domain.

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, Lady, were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk and pass our long love’s day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
Shouldst rubies find: I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow;
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast;
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart;
For, Lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.
   But at my back I always hear
Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song: then worms shall try
That long preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust:
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.
 Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapt power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

This poem is in the public domain.

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
   Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
   Tomorrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
   The higher he's a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
   And nearer he's to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
   When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
   Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,
   And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
   You may forever tarry.

This poem is in the public domain.

Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That valleys, groves, hills, and fields,
Woods, or steepy mountain yields.

And we will sit upon the rocks,
Seeing the shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.

And I will make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroidered all with leaves of myrtle;

A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty lambs we pull;
Fair lined slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold;

A belt of straw and ivy buds,
With coral clasps and amber studs:
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me, and be my love.

The shepherds' swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my love.

This poem is in the public domain.

If all the world and love were young,
And truth in every shepherd's tongue,
These pretty pleasures might me move
To live with thee and be thy love.

Time drives the flocks from field to fold 
When rivers rage and rocks grow cold, 
And Philomel becometh dumb; 
The rest complains of cares to come.

The flowers do fade, and wanton fields
To wayward winter reckoning yields; 
A honey tongue, a heart of gall,
Is fancy's spring, but sorrow's fall.

Thy gowns, thy shoes, thy beds of roses, 
Thy cap, thy kirtle, and thy posies
Soon break, soon wither, soon forgotten-- 
In folly ripe, in reason rotten.

Thy belt of straw and ivy buds, 
Thy coral clasps and amber studs,
All these in me no means can move
To come to thee and be thy love.

But could youth last and love still breed, 
Had joys no date nor age no need,
Then these delights my mind might move 
To live with thee and be thy love.

This poem is in the public domain.

A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration
January 21, 2013
 

One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces
of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth
across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies.
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story
told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.

My face, your face, millions of faces in morning’s mirrors,
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day:
pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights,
fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows
begging our praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper—
bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us,
on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives—
to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did
for twenty years, so I could write this poem.

All of us as vital as the one light we move through,
the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day:
equations to solve, history to question, or atoms imagined,
the “I have a dream” we keep dreaming,
or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won’t explain
the empty desks of twenty children marked absent
today, and forever. Many prayers, but one light
breathing color into stained glass windows,
life into the faces of bronze statues, warmth
onto the steps of our museums and park benches
as mothers watch children slide into the day.

One ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalk
of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat
and hands, hands gleaning coal or planting windmills
in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm, hands
digging trenches, routing pipes and cables, hands
as worn as my father’s cutting sugarcane
so my brother and I could have books and shoes.

The dust of farms and deserts, cities and plains
mingled by one wind—our breath. Breathe. Hear it
through the day’s gorgeous din of honking cabs,
buses launching down avenues, the symphony
of footsteps, guitars, and screeching subways,
the unexpected song bird on your clothes line.

Hear: squeaky playground swings, trains whistling,
or whispers across café tables, Hear: the doors we open
for each other all day, saying: hello / shalom,
buon giorno / howdy / namaste / or buenos días
in the language my mother taught me—in every language
spoken into one wind carrying our lives
without prejudice, as these words break from my lips.

One sky: since the Appalachians and Sierras claimed
their majesty, and the Mississippi and Colorado worked
their way to the sea. Thank the work of our hands:
weaving steel into bridges, finishing one more report
for the boss on time, stitching another wound
or uniform, the first brush stroke on a portrait,
or the last floor on the Freedom Tower
jutting into a sky that yields to our resilience.

One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes
tired from work: some days guessing at the weather
of our lives, some days giving thanks for a love
that loves you back, sometimes praising a mother
who knew how to give, or forgiving a father
who couldn’t give what you wanted.

We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always—home,
always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop
and every window, of one country—all of us—
facing the stars
hope—a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it—together


Watch Richard Blanco read “One Today” at President Obama’s inauguration in 2013:

One Today: A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration, January 21, 2013, by Richard Blanco, © 2013. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

For my Mother, born March 1902, died March 1959
and my Father, born February 1900, died June 1959

Gone, I say and walk from church,
refusing the stiff procession to the grave,
letting the dead ride alone in the hearse.
It is June. I am tired of being brave.

We drive to the Cape. I cultivate
myself where the sun gutters from the sky,
where the sea swings in like an iron gate
and we touch. In another country people die.

My darling, the wind falls in like stones
from the whitehearted water and when we touch
we enter touch entirely. No one's alone.
Men kill for this, or for as much.

And what of the dead? They lie without shoes
in their stone boats. They are more like stone
than the sea would be if it stopped. They refuse
to be blessed, throat, eye and knucklebone.

From The Complete Poems by Anne Sexton, published by Houghton Mifflin Company. Copyright © 1981 by Linda Gray Sexton. Used with permission.

Hard Rock / was / "known not to take no shit
From nobody," and he had the scars to prove it:
Split purple lips, lumbed ears, welts above
His yellow eyes, and one long scar that cut
Across his temple and plowed through a thick
Canopy of kinky hair.

The WORD / was / that Hard Rock wasn't a mean nigger
Anymore, that the doctors had bored a hole in his head,
Cut out part of his brain, and shot electricity
Through the rest. When they brought Hard Rock back,
Handcuffed and chained, he was turned loose,
Like a freshly gelded stallion, to try his new status.
And we all waited and watched, like a herd of sheep,
To see if the WORD was true.

As we waited we wrapped ourselves in the cloak
Of his exploits: "Man, the last time, it took eight
Screws to put him in the Hole." "Yeah, remember when he
Smacked the captain with his dinner tray?" "He set
The record for time in the Hole—67 straight days!"
"Ol Hard Rock! man, that's one crazy nigger."
And then the jewel of a myth that Hard Rock had once bit
A screw on the thumb and poisoned him with syphilitic spit.

The testing came, to see if Hard Rock was really tame.
A hillbilly called him a black son of a bitch
And didn't lose his teeth, a screw who knew Hard Rock
From before shook him down and barked in his face.
And Hard Rock did nothing. Just grinned and looked silly,
His eyes empty like knot holes in a fence.

And even after we discovered that it took Hard Rock
Exactly 3 minutes to tell you his first name,
We told ourselves that he had just wised up,
Was being cool; but we could not fool ourselves for long,
And we turned away, our eyes on the ground. Crushed.
He had been our Destroyer, the doer of things
We dreamed of doing but could not bring ourselves to do,
The fears of years, like a biting whip,
Had cut deep bloody grooves
Across our backs.

From The Essential Etheridge Knight, by Etheridge Knight, © 1986. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15261. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

The morning air is all awash with angels . . .
                                            - Richard Wilbur


The eyes open to a blue telephone
In the bathroom of this five-star hotel.
	
I wonder whom I should call? A plumber, 
Proctologist, urologist, or priest?

Who is most among us and most deserves
The first call? I choose my father because

He's astounded by bathroom telephones.
I dial home. My mother answers. "Hey, Ma, 

I say, "Can I talk to Poppa?" She gasps,  
And then I remember that my father 

Has been dead for nearly a year. "Shit, Mom," 
I say. "I forgot he’s dead. I’m sorry—

How did I forget?" "It’s okay," she says.
"I made him a cup of instant coffee 

This morning and left it on the table—
Like I have for, what, twenty-seven years—

And I didn't realize my mistake 
Until this afternoon." My mother laughs

At the angels who wait for us to pause
During the most ordinary of days

And sing our praise to forgetfulness
Before they slap our souls with their cold wings.

Those angels burden and unbalance us.
Those fucking angels ride us piggyback.

Those angels, forever falling, snare us
And haul us, prey and praying, into dust.

From Face by Sherman Alexie. Copyright © 2009 by Sherman Alexie. Used by permission of Hanging Loose Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

                   THE POOL PLAYERS. 
                   SEVEN AT THE GOLDEN SHOVEL.

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

From The Bean Eaters by Gwendolyn Brooks, published by Harpers. © 1960 by Gwendolyn Brooks. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Oh mother, mother, where is happiness?
They took my lover’s tallness off to war,
Left me lamenting. Now I cannot guess
What I can use an empty heart-cup for.
He won’t be coming back here any more.
Some day the war will end, but, oh, I knew
When he went walking grandly out that door
That my sweet love would have to be untrue.
Would have to be untrue. Would have to court
Coquettish death, whose impudent and strange
Possessive arms and beauty (of a sort)
Can make a hard man hesitate—and change.
And he will be the one to stammer, “Yes.”
Oh mother, mother, where is happiness?

From “Appendix to The Anniad: leaves from a loose-leaf war diary” in Annie Allen by Gwendolyn Brooks, published by Harper © 1949 by Gwendolyn Brooks. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

This poem is in the public domain.

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

From And Still I Rise by Maya Angelou. Copyright © 1978 by Maya Angelou. Reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc.

On the train the woman standing makes you understand there are no seats available. And, in fact, there is one. Is the woman getting off at the next stop? No, she would rather stand all the way to Union Station.

The space next to the man is the pause in a conversation you are suddenly rushing to fill. You step quickly over the woman's fear, a fear she shares. You let her have it.

The man doesn't acknowledge you as you sit down because the man knows more about the unoccupied seat than you do. For him, you imagine, it is more like breath than wonder; he has had to think about it so much you wouldn't call it thought.

When another passenger leaves his seat and the standing woman sits, you glance over at the man. He is gazing out the window into what looks like darkness.

You sit next to the man on the train, bus, in the plane, waiting room, anywhere he could be forsaken. You put your body there in proximity to, adjacent to, alongside, within.

You don't speak unless you are spoken to and your body speaks to the space you fill and you keep trying to fill it except the space belongs to the body of the man next to you, not to you.

Where he goes the space follows him. If the man left his seat before Union Station you would simply be a person in a seat on the train. You would cease to struggle against the unoccupied seat when where why the space won't lose its meaning.

You imagine if the man spoke to you he would say, it's okay, I'm okay, you don't need to sit here. You don't need to sit and you sit and look past him into the darkness the train is moving through. A tunnel.

All the while the darkness allows you to look at him. Does he feel you looking at him? You suspect so. What does suspicion mean? What does suspicion do?

The soft gray-green of your cotton coat touches the sleeve of him. You are shoulder to shoulder though standing you could feel shadowed. You sit to repair whom who? You erase that thought. And it might be too late for that.

It might forever be too late or too early. The train moves too fast for your eyes to adjust to anything beyond the man, the window, the tiled tunnel, its slick darkness. Occasionally, a white light flickers by like a displaced sound.

From across the aisle tracks room harbor world a woman asks a man in the rows ahead if he would mind switching seats. She wishes to sit with her daughter or son. You hear but you don't hear. You can't see.

It's then the man next to you turns to you. And as if from inside your own head you agree that if anyone asks you to move, you'll tell them we are traveling as a family.

Originally published in Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press, 2014). Copyright © by Claudia Rankine. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

    She looked over his shoulder
       For vines and olive trees,
    Marble well-governed cities
       And ships upon untamed seas,
    But there on the shining metal
       His hands had put instead
    An artificial wilderness
       And a sky like lead.

A plain without a feature, bare and brown,
   No blade of grass, no sign of neighborhood,
Nothing to eat and nowhere to sit down,
   Yet, congregated on its blankness, stood
   An unintelligible multitude,
A million eyes, a million boots in line,
Without expression, waiting for a sign.

Out of the air a voice without a face
   Proved by statistics that some cause was just
In tones as dry and level as the place:
   No one was cheered and nothing was discussed;
   Column by column in a cloud of dust
They marched away enduring a belief
Whose logic brought them, somewhere else, to grief.

    She looked over his shoulder
       For ritual pieties,
    White flower-garlanded heifers,
       Libation and sacrifice,
    But there on the shining metal
       Where the altar should have been,
    She saw by his flickering forge-light
       Quite another scene.

Barbed wire enclosed an arbitrary spot
   Where bored officials lounged (one cracked a joke)
And sentries sweated for the day was hot:
   A crowd of ordinary decent folk
   Watched from without and neither moved nor spoke
As three pale figures were led forth and bound
To three posts driven upright in the ground.

The mass and majesty of this world, all
   That carries weight and always weighs the same
Lay in the hands of others; they were small
   And could not hope for help and no help came:
   What their foes liked to do was done, their shame
Was all the worst could wish; they lost their pride
And died as men before their bodies died.

    She looked over his shoulder
       For athletes at their games,
    Men and women in a dance
       Moving their sweet limbs
    Quick, quick, to music,
       But there on the shining shield
    His hands had set no dancing-floor
       But a weed-choked field.

A ragged urchin, aimless and alone,
   Loitered about that vacancy; a bird
Flew up to safety from his well-aimed stone:
   That girls are raped, that two boys knife a third,
   Were axioms to him, who'd never heard
Of any world where promises were kept,
Or one could weep because another wept.

    The thin-lipped armorer,
       Hephaestos, hobbled away,
    Thetis of the shining breasts
       Cried out in dismay
    At what the god had wrought
       To please her son, the strong
    Iron-hearted man-slaying Achilles
       Who would not live long.

From The Shield of Achilles by W. H. Auden, published by Random House. Copyright © 1955 W. H. Auden, renewed by The Estate of W. H. Auden. Used by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou'art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy'or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

This poem is in the public domain.

(Lines on the loss of the "Titanic")

I

     In a solitude of the sea
     Deep from human vanity,
And the Pride of Life that planned her, stilly couches she.

II

     Steel chambers, late the pyres
     Of her salamandrine fires,
Cold currents thrid, and turn to rhythmic tidal lyres.

III

     Over the mirrors meant
     To glass the opulent
The sea-worm crawls—grotesque, slimed, dumb, indifferent.

IV

     Jewels in joy designed
     To ravish the sensuous mind
Lie lightless, all their sparkles bleared and black and blind.

V

     Dim moon-eyed fishes near
     Gaze at the gilded gear
And query: "What does this vaingloriousness down here?". . .

VI

     Well: while was fashioning
     This creature of cleaving wing,
The Immanent Will that stirs and urges everything

VII

     Prepared a sinister mate
     For her—so gaily great—
A Shape of Ice, for the time far and dissociate.

VIII

     And as the smart ship grew
     In stature, grace, and hue
In shadowy silent distance grew the Iceberg too.

IX

     Alien they seemed to be:
     No mortal eye could see
The intimate welding of their later history.

X

     Or sign that they were bent
     By paths coincident
On being anon twin halves of one August event,

XI

     Till the Spinner of the Years
     Said "Now!" And each one hears,
And consummation comes, and jars two hemispheres.

This poem is in the public domain.

Do you remember our earnestness our sincerity
in first grade when we learned to sing America

The Beautiful along with the Star-Spangled Banner
and say the Pledge of Allegiance to America

We put our hands over our first grade hearts
we felt proud to be citizens of America

I said One Nation Invisible until corrected
maybe I was right about America

School days school days dear old Golden Rule Days
when we learned how to behave in America

What to wear, how to smoke, how to despise our parents
who didn’t understand us or America

Only later learning the Banner and the Beautiful
live on opposite sides of the street in America

Only later discovering the Nation is divisible
by money by power by color by gender by sex America

We comprehend it now this land is two lands
one triumphant bully one still hopeful America

Imagining amber waves of grain blowing in the wind
purple mountains and no homeless in America

Sometimes I still put my hand tenderly on my heart
somehow or other still carried away by America

Copyright © 2013 by Alicia Ostriker. "Ghazal: America the Beautiful" has appeared in the July-August 2012 issue of The Atlantic and in the Winter 2013 issue of Logos. Used with permission of the author.

Butterflies are white and blue
In this field we wander through.
Suffer me to take your hand.
Death comes in a day or two.

All the things we ever knew
Will be ashes in that hour,
Mark the transient butterfly,
How he hangs upon the flower.

Suffer me to take your hand.
Suffer me to cherish you
Till the dawn is in the sky.
Whether I be false or true,
Death comes in a day or two.

This poem was originally published in Second April (1921). This poem is in the public domain. 

When sleepless, it’s helpful to meditate on mottoes of the states.
South Carolina, “While I breathe I hope.”  Perhaps this could be
the new flag on the empty flagpole.
Or “I Direct” from Maine—why?
Because Maine gets the first sunrise?  How bossy, Maine!
Kansas, “To the Stars through Difficulties”—
clackety wagon wheels, long, long land
and the droning press of heat—cool stars, relief.
In Arkansas, “The People Rule”—lucky you.
Idaho, “Let It Be Perpetual”—now this is strange.
Idaho, what is your “it”?
Who chose these lines?
How many contenders?
What would my motto be tonight, in tangled sheets?
Texas—“Friendship”—now boasts the Open Carry law.
Wisconsin, where my mother’s parents are buried,
chose “Forward.”
New Mexico, “It Grows As It Goes”—now this is scary.
Two dangling its. This does not represent that glorious place.
West Virginia, “Mountaineers Are Always Free”—really?
Washington, you’re wise.
What could be better than “By and By”?
Oklahoma must be tired—“Labor Conquers all Things.”
Oklahoma, get together with Nevada, who chose only
“Industry” as motto. I think of Nevada as a playground
or mostly empty. How wrong we are about one another.
For Alaska to pick “North to the Future”
seems odd. Where else are they going?

Copyright © 2016 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Used with permission by the author. 

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.

red pen in hand,
he tells me lines should
                                                   break
in order to empha-
                                       size
certain words
like the ones in my family’s history:
first-
            shift
second-
            shift
third-
            shift,

that words are like the earth
                shifting
back and
                forth during an
earth-
                quake
& that verse has more meaning
when words can teeter-
                                            totter.

but as much as I try to
break the lines in their proper
                                                            poetic
                                                                          places
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.

When I heard at the close of the day how my name had been receiv’d with plaudits in the capitol, still it was not a happy night for me that follow’d,
And else when I carous’d, or when my plans were accomplish’d, still I was not happy,
But the day when I rose at dawn from the bed of perfect health, refresh’d, singing, inhaling the ripe breath of autumn,
When I saw the full moon in the west grow pale and disappear in the morning light,
When I wander’d alone over the beach, and undressing bathed, laughing with the cool waters, and saw the sun rise,
And when I thought how my dear friend my lover was on his way coming, O then I was happy,
O then each breath tasted sweeter, and all that day my food nourish’d me more, and the beautiful day pass’d well,
And the next came with equal joy, and with the next at evening came my friend,
And that night, while all was still I heard the waters roll slowly continually up the shores,
I heard the hissing rustle of the liquid and sands as directed to me whispering to congratulate me,
For the one I love most lay sleeping by me under the same cover in the cool night,
In the stillness in the autumn moonbeams his face was inclined toward me,
And his arm lay lightly around my breast—and that night I was happy.

This poem is in the public domain.

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Copyright © 1962 by William Carlos Williams. Used with permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved. No part of this poem may be reproduced in any form without the written consent of the publisher.

love between us is
speech and breath. loving you is
a long river running.

From Like the Singing Coming Off the Drums. Copyright © 1998 by Sonia Sanchez. Used with the permission of Beacon Press. 

When his ship first came to Australia,
Cook wrote, the natives
continued fishing, without looking up.
Unable, it seems, to fear what was too large to be comprehended.

—2004

Originally published in After (HarperCollins, 2006); all rights reserved. Copyright © by Jane Hirshfield. Reprinted with the permission of the author.