On the side of the road, white cardboard in the shape of a man, illegible script. A signpost with scrawl: Will pay cash for diabetes strips. A system under the system with its black box. Disability hearing? a billboard reads. Trouble with Social Security? Where does the riot begin? Spark of dry grass, Russian thistle in flames, or butterflies bobbing as if pulled by unseen strings through the alleyway. My mother’s riot would have been peace. A bicycle wheel chained to a concrete planter. What metaphor can I use to describe the children sleeping in cages in detention centers? Birds pushed fenceward by a breeze? A train of brake lights extending? Mesquite pods mill under our feet on a rainless sidewalk. What revolution will my daughter feed? A break-the-state twig-quick snap or a long divining as if for water? A cotton silence? A death? Who will read this in the next economy, the one that comes after the one that kills us? What lessons will we take from the side of the road? A wooden crucifix, a white bicycle, a pinwheel, a poem waiting to be redacted: Which would you cross out?
Copyright © 2018 by Susan Briante. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 3, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.
Poetry used by permission of the publishers and the Trustees of Amherst College from The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Ralph W. Franklin ed., Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Copyright © 1998 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © 1951, 1955, 1979, by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.
here among them the americans this baffling
multi people extremes and variegations their
noise restlessness their almost frightening
energy how best describe these aliens in my
reports to The Counselors
disguise myself in order to study them unobserved
adapting their varied pigmentations white black
red brown yellow the imprecise and strangering
distinctions by which they live by which they
justify their cruelties to one another
charming savages enlightened primitives brash
new comers lately sprung up in our galaxy how
describe them do they indeed know what or who
they are do not seem to yet no other beings
in the universe make more extravagant claims
for their importance and identity
like us they have created a veritable populace
of machines that serve and soothe and pamper
and entertain we have seen their flags and
foot prints on the moon also the intricate
rubbish left behind a wastefully ingenious
people many it appears worship the Unknowable
Essence the same for them as for us but are
more faithful to their machine made gods
technologists their shamans
oceans deserts mountains grain fields canyons
forests variousness of landscapes weathers
sun light moon light as at home much here is
beautiful dream like vistas reminding me of
home item have seen the rock place known
as garden of the gods and sacred to the first
indigenes red monoliths of home despite
the tensions i breathe in i am attracted to
the vigorous americans disturbing sensuous
appeal of so many never to be admitted
something they call the american dream sure
we still believe in it i guess an earth man
in the tavern said irregardless of the some
times night mare facts we always try to double
talk our way around and its okay the dreams
okay and means whats good could be a damn sight
better means every body in the good old u s a
should have the chance to get ahead or at least
should have three squares a day as for myself
i do okay not crying hunger with a loaf of
bread tucked under my arm you understand i
fear one does not clearly follow i replied
notice you got a funny accent pal like where
you from he asked far from here i mumbled
he stared hard i left
must be more careful item learn to use okay
their pass word okay
crowds gathering in the streets today for some
reason obscure to me noise and violent motion
repulsive physical contact sentinels pigs
i heard them called with flailing clubs rage
and bleeding and frenzy and screaming machines
wailing unbearable decibels i fled lest
vibrations of the brutal scene do further harm
to my metabolism already over taxed
The Counselors would never permit such barbarous
confusion they know what is best for our sereni
ty we are an ancient race and have outgrown
illusions cherished here item their vaunted
liberty no body pushes me around i have heard
them say land of the free they sing what do
they fear mistrust betray more than the freedom
they boast of in their ignorant pride have seen
the squalid ghettoes in their violent cities
paradox on paradox how have the americans
managed to survive
parades fireworks displays video spectacles
much grandiloquence much buying and selling
they are celebrating their history earth men
in antique uniforms play at the carnage whereby
the americans achieved identity we too recall
that struggle as enterprise of suffering and
faith uniquely theirs blonde miss teen age
america waving from a red white and blue flower
float as the goddess of liberty a divided
people seeking reassurance from a past few under
stand and many scorn why should we sanction
old hypocrisies thus dissenters The Counse
lors would silence them
a decadent people The Counselors believe i
do not find them decadent a refutation not
permitted me but for all their knowledge
power and inventiveness not yet more than raw
crude neophytes like earthlings everywhere
though i have easily passed for an american in
bankers grey afro and dashiki long hair and jeans
hard hat yarmulka mini skirt describe in some
detail for the amusement of The Counselors and
though my skill in mimicry is impeccable as
indeed The Counselors are aware some thing
eludes me some constant amid the variables
defies analysis and imitation will i be judged
america as much a problem in metaphysics as
it is a nation earthly entity an iota in our
galaxy an organism that changes even as i
examine it fact and fantasy never twice the
same so many variables
exert greater caution twice have aroused
suspicion returned to the ship until rumors
of humanoids from outer space so their scoff
ing media voices termed us had been laughed
away my crew and i laughed too of course
confess i am curiously drawn unmentionable to
the americans doubt i could exist among them for
long however psychic demands far too severe
much violence much that repels i am attracted
none the less their variousness their ingenuity
their elan vital and that some thing essence
quiddity i cannot penetrate or name
Copyright © 1978, 1982 by Robert Hayden, from Collected Poems of Robert Hayden, edited by Frederick Glaysher. Used by permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation.
1. It bejins in Berlin A Historical Case Study In Disappearance + Cultural Theft: Exhibit YZ: Brinj back to me Nefertiti Her Bust Take her From behind the vitrine For I know where to find her missinj eye Then put a woman in charje of all antiquities. She-law: just because somethinj is beautiful doesnt mean it was meant to be consumed; just because there are tourists doesnt make it an attraction. 2. everywhere anytxme atm her vxolatxon: guaranteed. sxlence bought or your settlement money back. objectxfactxon xn the mxrror xs closer than xt appears. please mxnd the wage gap. cautxon: not chxld resxstant to open hold down and turn away squee geez use daxly, mornxng, and nxght supported by an aroma of certified organxc heavens: for every gxrl who grows xnto a woman who knows the best threat’s: one she never has to make she sublxmates your sublxmxnal even your affectxon has been xnfected 3. this poem cant go on without hex i mean hex heeee x hex hex and hex hex hej heq hez hex she was stolen bought sold lost put undex buxied alive at bixth she was dxagged in blue bxa duxing a xevolution with vixginity tests she waits then she doesnt she sh sh sh shh she left you she the best thing that happened to you then she lilililililiiii she intifada she moves with two kinds of gxace she ups the ante aging by candid defiant elegance she foxgets but nevex foxgives She-language complex she complex she so complex she complex got complex complex 4. she spends her time anxious because she knows she is better than you rang to say she died from being tired of your everything she knows she is fiyne; gorgeous but she hates it when she infuriates and when she jigs and is kind she minds her own business except when she is new and nervous though she is origin previous and impervious she wont stay quiet she is razor sharp and super tired she undarks, vets, wanes, and xeroxes; yaks and zzzzs the day she dreams 5. Me tooa B Me toob Me tooc R Me tood Me tooe I Me toof N Me toog G Me tooh them Me tooi B Me tooj A Me took C Me tool K Mem too Men too Me tooo Meep too Meq too Mer too Me too Me too Meu too Mev too Mew too Mex too Mey too Mez too Me ((too)) Me ((((((((((((too))))))))))))
Copyright © 2018 by Marwa Helal. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 30, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
WHEREVER YOU ARE
WE NEED TO HAVE THIS MEETING
AT THIS TREE
AIN’ EVEN BEEN
From Directed by Desire: The Complete Poems of June Jordan (Copper Canyon Press, 2005). Copyright © 2005, 2017 by the June Jordan Literary Estate. Used with the permission of the June Jordan Literary Estate, www.junejordan.com.
When you said people did you mean punish?
When you said friend did you mean fraud?
When you said thought did you mean terror?
When you said connection did you mean con?
When you said God did you mean greed?
When you said faith did you mean fanatic?
When you said hope did you mean hype?
When you said unity did you mean enmity?
When you said freedom did you mean forfeit?
When you said law did you mean lie?
When you said truth did you mean treason?
When you said feeling did you mean fool?
When you said together did you mean token?
When you said desire did you mean desert?
When you said sex did you mean savagery?
When you said need did you mean nought?
When you said blood did you mean bought?
When you said heart did you mean hard?
When you said head did you mean hide?
When you said health did you mean hurt?
When you said love did you mean loss?
When you said fate did you mean fight?
When you said destiny did you mean decimate?
When you said honor did you mean hunger?
When you said bread did you mean broke?
When you said feast did you mean fast?
When you said first did you mean forgotten?
When you said last did you mean least?
When you said woman did you mean wither?
When you said man did you mean master?
When you said mother did you mean smother?
When you said father did you mean fatal?
When you said sister did you mean surrender?
When you said brother did you mean brutal?
When you said fellow did you mean follow?
When you said couple did you mean capital?
When you said family did you mean failure?
When you said mankind did you mean market?
When you said society did you mean sickness?
When you said democracy did you mean indignity?
When you said equality did you mean empty?
When you said politics did you mean power?
When you said left did you mean lost?
When you said right did you mean might?
When you said republic did you mean rich?
When you said wealthy did you mean wall?
When you said poor did you mean prison?
When you said justice did you mean just us?
When you said immigrant did you mean enemy?
When you said refugee did you mean refusal?
When you said earth did you mean ownership?
When you said soil did you mean oil?
When you said community did you mean conflict?
When you said safety did you mean suspicion?
When you said security did you mean sabotage?
When you said army did you mean Armageddon?
When you said white did you mean welcome?
When you said black did you mean back?
When you said yellow did you mean yield?
When you said brown did you mean down?
When you said we did you mean war?
When you said you did you mean useless?
When you said she did you mean suffer?
When you said he did you mean horror?
When you said they did you mean threat?
When you said I did you mean island?
When you said tribe did you mean trouble?
When you said name did you mean nobody?
When you said news did you mean nonsense?
When you said media did you mean miasma?
When you said success did you mean sucker?
When you said fame did you mean game?
When you said ideal did you mean idol?
When you said yesterday did you mean travesty?
When you said today did you mean doomsday?
When you said tomorrow did you mean never?
When you said hear did you mean hush?
When you said listen did you mean limit?
When you said write did you mean wound?
When you said read did you mean retreat?
When you said literacy did you mean apathy?
When you said fiction did you mean forget?
When you said poetry did you mean passivity?
When you say art do you mean act?
Copyright © 2018 by John Keene. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 27, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Truth also is the pursuit of it: Like happiness, and it will not stand. Even the verse begins to eat away In the acid. Pursuit, pursuit; A wind moves a little, Moving in a circle, very cold. How shall we say? In ordinary discourse— We must talk now. I am no longer sure of the words, The clockwork of the world. What is inexplicable Is the 'preponderance of objects.’ The sky lights Daily with that predominance And we have become the present. We must talk now. Fear Is fear. But we abandon one another.
From New Collected Poems by George Oppen, copyright © 1965 by George Oppen. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.
for Chinga La Migra
If a woman illegally crossing
The U.S.-Mexico border can sing
The Border Patrol agent’s favorite
Selena song, will he still detain her?
What if he does & later writes about
Her in the patrol vehicle’s back seat
Singing his favorite Selena song?
Will the Selena fans who read his book
Like it? What if that scene in Reservoir
Dogs where Mr. Blonde tortures a cop had
Been choreographed to "Bidi Bidi
Bom Bom," instead of "Stuck in the Middle
With You?" Would the Border Patrol agent
Be more or less likely to like that scene?
Copyright © 2018 by Wendy Trevino. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 13, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.