somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skillfully, mysteriously) her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

From Complete Poems: 1904-1962 by E. E. Cummings, edited by George J. Firmage. Used with the permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation. Copyright © 1923, 1931, 1935, 1940, 1951, 1959, 1963, 1968, 1991 by the Trustees for the E. E. Cummings Trust. Copyright © 1976, 1978, 1979 by George James Firmage.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

This poem is in the public domain.

Beloved, my Beloved, when I think 
That thou wast in the world a year ago, 
What time I sate alone here in the snow 
And saw no footprint, heard the silence sink 
No moment at thy voice ... but, link by link, 
Went counting all my chains, as if that so 
They never could fall off at any blow 
Struck by thy possible hand ... why, thus I drink 
Of life's great cup of wonder! Wonderful, 
Never to feel thee thrill the day or night 
With personal act or speech,—nor ever cull 
Some prescience of thee with the blossoms white 
Thou sawest growing! Atheists are as dull, 
Who cannot guess God's presence out of sight.

This poem is in the public domain.

My letters! all dead paper, mute and white!
And yet they seem alive and quivering
Against my tremulous hands which loose the string
And let them drop down on my knee tonight.
This said—he wished to have me in his sight
Once, as a friend: this fixed a day in spring
To come and touch my hand. . . a simple thing,
Yes I wept for it—this . . . the paper's light. . .
Said, Dear, I love thee; and I sank and quailed
As if God's future thundered on my past.
This said, I am thine—and so its ink has paled
With lying at my heart that beat too fast.
And this . . . 0 Love, thy words have ill availed
If, what this said, I dared repeat at last!

This poem is in the public domain.

is even more fun than going to San Sebastian, Irún, Hendaye, Biarritz, Bayonne
or being sick to my stomach on the Travesera de Gracia in Barcelona
partly because in your orange shirt you look like a better happier St. Sebastian
partly because of my love for you, partly because of your love for yoghurt
partly because of the fluorescent orange tulips around the birches
partly because of the secrecy our smiles take on before people and statuary
it is hard to believe when I’m with you that there can be anything as still
as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front of it
in the warm New York 4 o’clock light we are drifting back and forth
between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles

and the portrait show seems to have no faces in it at all, just paint
you suddenly wonder why in the world anyone ever did them
                                                                                                              I look
at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world
except possibly for the Polish Rider occasionally and anyway it’s in the Frick
which thank heavens you haven’t gone to yet so we can go together for the first time
and the fact that you move so beautifully more or less takes care of Futurism
just as at home I never think of the Nude Descending a Staircase or
at a rehearsal a single drawing of Leonardo or Michelangelo that used to wow me
and what good does all the research of the Impressionists do them
when they never got the right person to stand near the tree when the sun sank
or for that matter Marino Marini when he didn’t pick the rider as carefully
as the horse
                               it seems they were all cheated of some marvelous experience
which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I’m telling you about it

From The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara by Frank O’Hara, copyright © 1971 by Maureen Granville-Smith, Administratrix of the Estate of Frank O’Hara, copyright renewed 1999 by Maureen O’Hara Granville-Smith and Donald Allen. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

As I walked out one evening,
   Walking down Bristol Street,
The crowds upon the pavement
   Were fields of harvest wheat.

And down by the brimming river
   I heard a lover sing
Under an arch of the railway:
   ‘Love has no ending.

‘I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you
   Till China and Africa meet,
And the river jumps over the mountain
   And the salmon sing in the street,

‘I’ll love you till the ocean
   Is folded and hung up to dry
And the seven stars go squawking
   Like geese about the sky.

‘The years shall run like rabbits,
   For in my arms I hold
The Flower of the Ages,
   And the first love of the world.’

But all the clocks in the city
   Began to whirr and chime:
‘O let not Time deceive you,
   You cannot conquer Time.

‘In the burrows of the Nightmare
   Where Justice naked is,
Time watches from the shadow
   And coughs when you would kiss.

‘In headaches and in worry
   Vaguely life leaks away,
And Time will have his fancy
   To-morrow or to-day.

‘Into many a green valley
   Drifts the appalling snow;
Time breaks the threaded dances
   And the diver’s brilliant bow.

‘O plunge your hands in water,
   Plunge them in up to the wrist;
Stare, stare in the basin
   And wonder what you’ve missed.

‘The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
   The desert sighs in the bed,
And the crack in the tea-cup opens
   A lane to the land of the dead.

‘Where the beggars raffle the banknotes
   And the Giant is enchanting to Jack,
And the Lily-white Boy is a Roarer,
   And Jill goes down on her back.

‘O look, look in the mirror,
   O look in your distress:
Life remains a blessing
   Although you cannot bless.

‘O stand, stand at the window
   As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbour
   With your crooked heart.’

It was late, late in the evening,
   The lovers they were gone;
The clocks had ceased their chiming,
   And the deep river ran on.

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.

As I walked out one evening,
   Walking down Bristol Street,
The crowds upon the pavement
   Were fields of harvest wheat.

And down by the brimming river
   I heard a lover sing
Under an arch of the railway:
   ‘Love has no ending.

‘I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you
   Till China and Africa meet,
And the river jumps over the mountain
   And the salmon sing in the street,

‘I’ll love you till the ocean
   Is folded and hung up to dry
And the seven stars go squawking
   Like geese about the sky.

‘The years shall run like rabbits,
   For in my arms I hold
The Flower of the Ages,
   And the first love of the world.’

But all the clocks in the city
   Began to whirr and chime:
‘O let not Time deceive you,
   You cannot conquer Time.

‘In the burrows of the Nightmare
   Where Justice naked is,
Time watches from the shadow
   And coughs when you would kiss.

‘In headaches and in worry
   Vaguely life leaks away,
And Time will have his fancy
   To-morrow or to-day.

‘Into many a green valley
   Drifts the appalling snow;
Time breaks the threaded dances
   And the diver’s brilliant bow.

‘O plunge your hands in water,
   Plunge them in up to the wrist;
Stare, stare in the basin
   And wonder what you’ve missed.

‘The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
   The desert sighs in the bed,
And the crack in the tea-cup opens
   A lane to the land of the dead.

‘Where the beggars raffle the banknotes
   And the Giant is enchanting to Jack,
And the Lily-white Boy is a Roarer,
   And Jill goes down on her back.

‘O look, look in the mirror,
   O look in your distress:
Life remains a blessing
   Although you cannot bless.

‘O stand, stand at the window
   As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbour
   With your crooked heart.’

It was late, late in the evening,
   The lovers they were gone;
The clocks had ceased their chiming,
   And the deep river ran on.

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.

When you turned into a hundred rooms,
I returned each month as a door
that opened only one.

When you turned into a hundred rooms
the wind flung through
each of them wailing

and left a hundred songs
in hopes you would return for it
and me and

once, finding a doe locked up,
the trees blued up
the mountain pass, I understood

you had transformed into your multiple,
as the rain is different
each step from the moon. Sleeping

in a hundred rooms, a hundred dreams
of you appear—though by day
your voice has frozen into standing stones.

When you turned into a hundred rooms,
I met with a mirror in each eye
your growing absence.

When I moved, the shadows without you
followed me. In the hundred rooms,
I cannot pick one,

for each combines into the other
where I piece-by-piece the shadows
you have ceased

to remember. As the rain
is different each day of the year,
when I turned for you

and hoped you’d return to me,
was it I who left
and you who remained the same?

For when you changed,
I changed
the furniture in the rooms.

A hundred birds flew over a hundred fields.
A mountain flowed into a hundred rivers
then ended.

In a hundred rooms,
I turned and turned,
hoping to return to you.

O, the chrysanthemums grew
in the hundred rooms!

Far in the past and far in the future
were those numinous and echoing stars.

Copyright © 2021 by Yanyi. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 29, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

for Willem

My love,
you are water upon water
upon water until it turns
azure, mountainous.

The horizon fills like sand
between glass marbles. So much
has passed between us—

last night you told me
to press your hand
harder and harder as I pained.

The sunset was at its last
embers. The dark was stealing
the blue light from our room.

I was falling into you.

~ ~

Compress water and it turns to ice— compress beauty
and it loses breath. Gaze at it too long, and even the wide
mirror of the ocean will shatter.

~ ~

My Willem,
between us, God has descended in all His atoms.
We have not yet learned to hold Him.

Copyright © 2021 by Adeeba Shahid Talukder. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 20, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

for Willem

My love,
you are water upon water
upon water until it turns
azure, mountainous.

The horizon fills like sand
between glass marbles. So much
has passed between us—

last night you told me
to press your hand
harder and harder as I pained.

The sunset was at its last
embers. The dark was stealing
the blue light from our room.

I was falling into you.

~ ~

Compress water and it turns to ice— compress beauty
and it loses breath. Gaze at it too long, and even the wide
mirror of the ocean will shatter.

~ ~

My Willem,
between us, God has descended in all His atoms.
We have not yet learned to hold Him.

Copyright © 2021 by Adeeba Shahid Talukder. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 20, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

Oh, drink thou deep of the purple wine,
        And it’s hey for love, for I love you so!
Oh, clasp me close, with your lips on mine,
        And it’s hey for love, for I love you so!
The sea lies violet, deep, and wide,
My heart beats high with the rushing tide;
Was it fancy, beloved, the seagulls cried:
        “Sing loud for love, for I love him so”?

Oh, little boat for tossing wave,
        Sing loud for love, for I love him so!
Oh, y’all pine tree in the shadows grave,
        Sing loud for love, for I love him so!
The little waves kiss the gleaming sand,
I laugh in the sun on the joyful land;
Beloved, one clasp of your strong young hand;
        The world is fair, for I love you so!

Orange gleams athwart a crimson soul
Lambent flames; purple passion lurks
In your dusk eyes.
Red mouth; flower soft,
Your soul leaps up—and flashes
Star-like, white, flame-hot.
Curving arms, encircling a world of love,
You! Stirring the depths of passionate desire!

This poem is in the public domain.

I shall never have any fear of love, 
Not of its depth nor its uttermost height,
Its exquisite pain and its terrible delight.
I shall never have any fear of love.

I shall never hesitate to go down
Into the fastness of its abyss
Nor shrink from the cruelty of its awful kiss.
I shall never have any fear of love.

Never shall I dread love’s strength
Nor any pain it might give.
Through all the years I may live
I shall never have any fear of love.

I shall never draw back from love
Through fear of its vast pain
But build joy of it and count it again.
I shall never have any fear of love.

I shall never tremble nor flinch
From love’s moulding touch:
I have loved too terribly and too much
Ever to have any fear of love.

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

A Memory

You lay so still in the sunshine,
So still in that hot sweet hour—
That the timid things of the forest land
Came close; a butterfly lit on your hand,
Mistaking it for a flower.

You scarcely breathed in your slumber,
So dreamless it was, so deep—
While the warm air stirred in my veins like wine,
The air that had blown through a jasmine vine,
But you slept—and I let you sleep.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on August 25, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Saw you walking barefoot
taking a long look
at the new moon's eyelid

later spread
sleep-fallen, naked in your dark hair
asleep but not oblivious
of the unslept unsleeping
elsewhere

Tonight I think
no poetry
will serve

Syntax of rendition:

verb pilots the plane
adverb modifies action

verb force-feeds noun
submerges the subject
noun is choking
verb    disgraced    goes on doing

now diagram the sentence


2007

From Tonight No Poetry Will Serve, published by W.W. Norton. Copyright © 2011 by Adrienne Rich. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

With fruit and flowers the board is decked,
    The wine and laughter flow;
I'll not complain—could one expect
    So dull a world to know?

You look across the fruit and flowers,
    My glance your glances find.—
It is our secret, only ours,
    Since all the world is blind.

This poem is in the public domain.

there must be one thing you can’t have in order to be alive 

watching flowers open on youtube 

I mean, my life is wasted on my life

requirement is simple 

it takes a wound to

return to yourself 

the new sky 

is the same as the old one

its achy maw 

its barbwire grip 

people are whatever they are next to

that won’t remember them

a dumb desert 

a broken open sign

whatever I love best

reminds me of something else

Copyright © 2021 by Jon-Michael Frank. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 11, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets

not back, let’s not come back, let’s go by the speed of 
queer zest & stay up 
there & get ourselves a little 
moon cottage (so pretty), then start a moon garden 

with lots of moon veggies (so healthy), i mean 
i was already moonlighting 
as an online moonologist 
most weekends, so this is the immensely 

logical next step, are you 
packing your bags yet, don’t forget your 
sailor moon jean jacket, let’s wear 
our sailor moon jean jackets while twirling in that lighter, 

queerer moon gravity, let’s love each other 
(so good) on the moon, let’s love 
the moon        
on the moon

Copyright © 2021 by Chen Chen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 31, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

When did you first know you were bisexual?

I will never know how the pleasure I give feels as a body receives it. 

I fear strangers, Naomi, even the ones I love. I count their turned backs on the subway.

Some nights I fear even the subway itself—or is it my reflection in the yellowed glass, how I cannot see the city moving beyond me?

I want each round mirror to open as a window might.

Perhaps I always knew, but I mistrusted my knowing. I once stacked my journals to the height of a beloved and embraced them.

Every poem I’ve read to you has been written in this direction. Each word a line on the map I haven’t yet finished that leads me to you.

In college, I got ready for a party with two women I loved who loved each other.

I watched Diana flip Jean’s hair from her freckled shoulders before zipping her into her dress: 

the same gesture I’d made in the mirror, alone, before I arrived at their apartment.

I watched them pass Jean’s mascara wand fluently between them, one’s licked fingers curling the other’s lashes, and a question split me at my spine—

like a hand gently cracking a new book’s cover, ready to understand.

Copyright © 2021 by Rachel Mennies. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 28, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

No sensation of falling, which suggests that this condition may be flight.

My eyes might be open or not. My coffee poured into a cup or

onto the countertop. This, a ball of saved rubberbands or the thick clot of tremors

I usually keep deep in the drawer that I can trust will stick

when I absent-mindedly forget, and try to open it.

What would it mean for a body to yield?

A use.

That is to say, dew moistens the grass and is gone.

The body moves from out of its past with each glimpse of its own

disappearance, cumulatively. With each drop of rain the earth’s atmosphere pelts

its grove of tall cedars and saplings

with equal force. A body

negating itself as an object possessable. To hold one’s breath would be to drown

in order to avoid drowning.

Copyright © 2011 by Rusty Morrison. Used with permission of the author.

In the beginning, there was your mouth:
soft rose, rose murmur, murmured breath, a warm

cardinal wind that drew my needle north.
Magnetic flux, the press of form to form. 

In the beginning, there was your mouth—
the trailhead, the pathhead faintly opened,

the canyon, river-carved, farther south,
and ahead: the field, the direction chosen.

In the beginning, there was your mouth,
a sky full of stars, raked or raking, clock-

wise or west, and in the close or mammoth 
matter, my heart’s red muscle, knocked and knocked.

In the beginning, there was your mouth,
And nothing since but what the earth bears out.

Copyright © 2021 by Donika Kelly. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 26, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

I am taken with the hot animal
of my skin, grateful to swing my limbs

and have them move as I intend, though
my knee, though my shoulder, though something
is torn or tearing. Today, a dozen squid, dead

on the harbor beach: one mostly buried,
one with skin empty as a shell and hollow

feeling, and, though the tentacles look soft,
I do not touch them. I imagine they
were startled to find themselves in the sun.

I imagine the tide simply went out
without them. I imagine they cannot

feel the black flies charting the raised hills
of their eyes. I write my name in the sand:
Donika Kelly. I watch eighteen seagulls

skim the sandbar and lift low in the sky.
I pick up a pebble that looks like a green egg.

To the ditch lily I say I am in love.
To the Jeep parked haphazardly on the narrow
street I am in love. To the roses, white

petals rimmed brown, to the yellow lined
pavement, to the house trimmed in gold I am

in love. I shout with the rough calculus
of walking. Just let me find my way back,
let me move like a tide come in.

Copyright © 2017 by Donika Kelly. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 20, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

A ring of gold and milk-white dove
    Are goodly gifts for thee,
And a hempen rope for your own love
    To hang upon a tree.

For you a House of Ivory
    (Roses are white in the rose-bower)!
A narrow bed for me to lie
    (White, O white, is the hemlock flower)!

Myrtle and jessamine for you
    (O the red rose is fair to see)!
For me the cypress and the rue
    (Fairest of all is rose-mary)!

For you three lovers of your hand
    (Green grass where a man lies dead)!
For me three paces on the sand
    (Plant lilies at my head)!

This poem is in the public domain.

In my eyes he matches the gods, that man who 
sits there facing you--any man whatever--
listening from closeby to the sweetness of your 
          voice as you talk, the

sweetness of your laughter: yes, that--I swear it-- 
sets the heart to shaking inside my breast, since 
once I look at you for a moment, I can't
          speak any longer,

but my tongue breaks down, and then all at once a
subtle fire races inside my skin, my
eyes can't see a thing and a whirring whistle 
          thrums at my hearing,

cold sweat covers me and a trembling takes 
ahold of me all over: I'm greener than the 
grass is and appear to myself to be little
          short of dying.

But all must be endured, since even a poor [

From The Poetry of Sappho (Oxford University Press 2007), translated by Jim Powell. Copyright © 2007 by Jim Powell. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
  Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
  With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
  And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
    To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
  With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
    For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
  Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
  Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
  Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
    Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
  Steady thy laden head across a brook;
  Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
    Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
  Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
  And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
  Among the river sallows, borne aloft
    Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
  Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
  The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft,
    And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Written September 19, 1819; first published in 1820. This poem is in the public domain.

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

From The Poetry of Robert Frost edited by Edward Connery Lathem. Copyright © 1923, 1947, 1969 by Henry Holt and Company, copyright © 1942, 1951 by Robert Frost, copyright © 1970, 1975 by Lesley Frost Ballantine. Reprinted by permission of Henry Holt and Company, LLC.

The autumn leaves
Are too heavy with color.
The slender trees
On the Vulcan Road
Are dressed in scarlet and gold
Like young courtesans
Waiting for their lovers.
But soon
The winter winds
Will strip their bodies bare
And then
The sharp, sleet-stung
Caresses of cold
Will be their only
Love.

From The Weary Blues (Alfred A. Knopf, 1926) by Langston Hughes. This poem is in the public domain. 

The autumn leaves
Are too heavy with color.
The slender trees
On the Vulcan Road
Are dressed in scarlet and gold
Like young courtesans
Waiting for their lovers.
But soon
The winter winds
Will strip their bodies bare
And then
The sharp, sleet-stung
Caresses of cold
Will be their only
Love.

From The Weary Blues (Alfred A. Knopf, 1926) by Langston Hughes. This poem is in the public domain. 

The war was all over my hands.
I held the war and I watched them
die in high-definition. I could watch

anyone die, but I looked away. Still,
I wore the war on my back. I put it
on every morning. I walked the dogs

and they too wore the war. The sky
overhead was clear or it was cloudy
or it rained or it snowed, and I was rarely

afraid of what would fall from it. I worried
about what to do with my car, or how
much I could send my great-aunt this month

and the next. I ate my hamburger, I ate
my pizza, I ate a salad or lentil soup,
and this too was the war.

At times I was able to forget that I
was on the wrong side of the war,
my money and my typing and sleeping

sound at night. I never learned how
to get free. I never learned how
not to have anyone’s blood

on my own soft hands.

Copyright © 2019 by Donika Kelly. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 25, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

            after Mary Oliver

Here is the meat
and fat and bone
of the day. The smoke
too for the god of recognition.

A love offering,
where love is also
grief and mourning,
the business of waking
and moving in a body far
away from you,
sweet friend.

Where waking
and moving mean
crying or not crying,
but always breathing.

Mark how the light
bends through the dry
air, like breath,
at the end of the day.

Mark the chirbling of the bird
outside my window.

Mark the day we will see
one another again,
and what light there will be,
what song.

Originally published in West Branch (Issue 97, 2021). Copyright © 2021 by Donika Kelly. Used with the permission of the poet.

The gun—purchased legally
by our parents when I was ten,

shown to us, placed in our hands
that we might sense the weight, then placed

on a shelf any of us
could reach, though we did not, not yet—

pulled by our mother six years
later as I straddled her son’s

small body to stop his fists
from battering me—our mother,

misreading the scene, seeing
her youngest in danger, and me,

too large in her mind to be
handled any other way— our

mother holding the gun and
shaking the gun and crying, caught

in an act of betrayal,
not yet angry that I would run,

sock clad, to Sam’s Pitt Stop Fried
Chicken and Fish to tell Sam Pitt,

my boss from the last summer
to tell him with incredulity—

no, with something more naïve,
say, shock or hurt, that my mother

had just pulled a gun on me,
the good child, the obedient

child, and she, later, saying
she had no other choice

she had to save her boy,
the malt liquor on her breath,
the blue bull in her blood, remorse,

perhaps, in her voice as she
asked, without asking, for forgiveness,

the gun returned to the shelf.

Originally published in Tin House (18.4, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Donika Kelly. Used with the permission of the poet.

My chest is earth

I meant to write my chest is warm
but earth will do
                                      to exhume a heart

      Beat

I meant to write
breathe

                        Did you know I was alive the whole time

I was alive in the ground but torpor

                    But torpor

Slowed beat

My chest filled like a jar with dirt

I mean

      dearth

For slow months at rest in the hole

I’d made in myself

                    A frozen ground

      A ground in thaw

I mean

                    Spring is coming

I mean

                I push the wet dirt with my mandible

I mean jaw

          Jaw

                    Y’all

I know I am not a nymph in exhumation

    but would you please explain

              this half-remembered light

Originally published in Sewanee Review, Fall 2017. Copyright © 2017 by Donika Kelly. Used with the permission of the poet.

I am a body schooling,
a ball of fish, flashing
and many, in these early days
of feeling, of love.

When I learned,
hours ago, of fish songs
that swell like birdsong
in the morning,

how they foghorn or buzz
for food, or mates
or space, I thought,
now aren’t I a humming thing?

Yes, you say,
a body of oceans
and marvelous.

And the sea anemone in me,
              growing on the wreckage
of an old ship—

              can they grow that way,
              I wonder, on an ending—

                          Still this bright and tentacled
anthozoan polyp,
              which reaches and filters
                                                            whatever it needs
                          from this strong current,
              and the current too that carries
                                                            the sea cucumbers,
              the rough mammals,
                          the life, both vertebrate
                                                            and invertebrate,
even the batfish,
                          the black jewfish,
              and the terapontid,

it all swells and breaks in me
like a chorus at dusk.

Originally published in Sewanee Review, Fall 2017. Copyright © 2017 by Donika Kelly. Used with the permission of the poet.

 

On the cusp of winter, under the pollution
of a hunter’s moon, I see, for once, no bird,
but a cross; no wing but a brace to bear
what must be borne. Here: the queen on her throne,
the Summer Triangle, the wingtips
of the great swan charted in the sky.
The guide says there are three great birds of the Milky
Way, the Pathway of the Birds. I make note,
try to imagine what I might fashion
in the cold night, in this place I didn’t ask to inhabit.
How did I end up here? What wind blew me
off course, took me from heart and home? My
body falters, loses feather and beak
and bone, turns to dust or ice or stone.

Originally published in Sinister Wisdom, 2017. Copyright © 2017 by Donika Kelly. Used with the permission of the poet.

Let them not say:   we did not see it.
We saw.

Let them not say:   we did not hear it.
We heard.

Let them not say:     they did not taste it.
We ate, we trembled.

Let them not say:   it was not spoken, not written.
We spoke,
we witnessed with voices and hands.

Let them not say:     they did nothing.
We did not-enough.

Let them say, as they must say something: 

A kerosene beauty.
It burned.

Let them say we warmed ourselves by it,
read by its light, praised,
and it burned.

—2014

Copyright © 2017 by Jane Hirshfield. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 20, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
are you.
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.
Remember.

“Remember.” Copyright © 1983 by Joy Harjo from She Had Some Horses by Joy Harjo. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

I’m climbing out of this season, fingernails ragged, belly soft. I tuck a stem of dried mint behind my ear to remind myself.

Once, I bared my shoulders. The bottom of my feet roughed up the dirt with their hard calluses. When I harvested arugula, it smelled of green spice—alchemical veins pulsing sun and dirt and water. I do remember this. I pinned summer light up in my hair and made no apologies for the space I took up—barely clothed and sun-bound.

Now, a ball of twine in the grey sky. The sun rolls low on the horizon. Hangs. Then dips back down again, wind howling us into night.

Inside the erratic rhythm of this wavering flame, I conjure the potent sky of the longest day. Seeds with a whole galaxy inside them. Cicadas vibrating in the alders.

But the sensation of joy slips too quickly into simulacra. Song on repeat. I never meant to find myself in such a cold place, my hair thinning against winter.

Once, red clover grew thick where today’s rabbit tracks pattern the snow. Clover said flow, clover said nourish, clover said we’ve got this.

I reel the memory out, let it linger on the horizon, then reel it back in. I play it out and reel it back in. Some kind of fishing, some kind of flying—again and again. I loosen the buckles of my mind. I take up space in the precision of my breath. I call us all back in.

Copyright © 2022 by Tamiko Beyer. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 31, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

O God, my dream! I dreamed that you were dead;
Your mother hung above the couch and wept
Whereon you lay all white, and garlanded
With blooms of waxen whiteness. I had crept
Up to your chamber-door, which stood ajar,
And in the doorway watched you from afar,
Nor dared advance to kiss your lips and brow.
I had no part nor lot in you, as now;
Death had not broken between us the old bar;
Nor torn from out my heart the old, cold sense
Of your misprision and my impotence.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on August 5, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

                                 for Michael Burkard

Still winter. Snowing, still. Can it even be called action, this patience
in the form of gravity overdressed in gray?

Days like this, the right silence can be an action, an axe,
right through the frozen sea, as Kafka calls for. A necessary smashing,
opening. Though silence can also be a shattering, closing.

Think of peace & how the Buddhists say it is found through silence.
Think of silence & how Audre Lorde says it will not protect you.

Think of silence as a violence, when silence means being made
a frozen sea. Think of speaking as a violence, when speaking is a house
that dresses your life in the tidiest wallpaper. It makes your grief

sit down, this house. It makes you chairs when you need
justice. It keeps your rage room temperature. I’ve been thinking

about how the world is actually unbearable.
About all those moments of silence we’re supposed to take.
Each year, more moments, less life, & perhaps

the most monastic of monks are right to take vows
of silence that last a decade.

Though someone else (probably French) says our speaking
was never ours; our thoughts & selves housed
by history, rooms we did not choose, but must live in.

Think of Paul Celan, living
in the bone-rooms of German. Living, singing.

What does it mean, to sing in the language of those
who have killed your mother,
would kill her again? Does meaning shatter, leaving

behind the barest moan? This English, I bear it, a master’s
axe, yet so is every tongue—red with singing & killing.

Are we even built for peace? I think of breath & my teacher,
Michael, one of the least masterly, most peaceful people I know,
& Kafka’s number one fan. I think of the puffy blue vest Michael wears

when his breaths turn white. Even when I’m doing my best
think axes & walls, brave monks & unbearable houses,

the thought of Michael in his bit-too-big deep blue vest
leaks in. & I don’t think I will ever stop trying to sneak
into casual conversation the word “ululation.” If only all language

could be ululation in blue vests. If silence could always be
as quiet as Michael, sitting with his coffee & his book, rereading. 

From When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities. Copyright © 2016 by Chen Chen. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.

from your grandmother’s coat. You worry with your thumb the stranger’s page. Aging spine of the black sky, night-burps of the sleeping computer. Don’t listen to the judgment of your scraped knees. Night anchors in your belly button, your pubic hair. Stars snore safely, for years. Your smile in the early dark is a paraphrase of Mars. Your smile in the deep dark is an anagram of Jupiter. My worst simile is that I’m fancy like a piece of salami wearing a tuxedo. Waiting with a cone of gelato. Your smile in the dreaming dark is an umbrella for all the going, gone, & yet to come. Orioles come for the oranges you’ve placed in the arms of the architect. Which birds will you pull into orbit tomorrow? You try to sew the night onto your own coat, but it won’t stay. Too much memory weather, werewolf migration. You itch for the window’s shore. You row, the growing light rearranging your voice, the rain your lunatic photographer.

From When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities. Copyright © 2016 by Chen Chen. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.

To be a good
ex/current friend for R. To be one last

inspired way to get back at R. To be relationship
advice for L. To be advice

for my mother. To be a more comfortable
hospital bed for my mother. To be

no more hospital beds. To be, in my spare time,
America for my uncle, who wants to be China

for me. To be a country of trafficless roads
& a sports car for my aunt, who likes to go

fast. To be a cyclone
of laughter when my parents say

their new coworker is like that, they can tell
because he wears pink socks, see, you don’t, so you can’t,

can’t be one of them. To be the one
my parents raised me to be—

a season from the planet
of planet-sized storms.

To be a backpack of PB&J & every
thing I know, for my brothers, who are becoming

their own storms. To be, for me, nobody,
homebody, body in bed watching TV. To go 2D

& be a painting, an amateur’s hilltop & stars,
simple decoration for the new apartment

with you. To be close, J.,
to everything that is close to you—

blue blanket, red cup, green shoes
with pink laces.

To be the blue & the red.
The green, the hot pink.

From When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities. Copyright © 2016 by Chen Chen. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.

The sky tonight, so without aliens. The woods, very lacking
in witches. But the people, as usual, replete

with people. & so you, with your headset, sit
in the home office across the hall, stuck in a hell

of strangers crying, computers dying, the new
father’s dropped-in-toilet baby

photos, the old Canadian, her grandson Gregory,
all-grown-up-now Greg, who gave her this phone

but won’t call her. You call her
wonderful. You encourage her to tell you what’s wrong

with her device. You with your good-at-your-job
good-looking-ness, I bet even over the phone

it’s visible. I bet all the Canadian grandmas
want you, but hey, you’re with me. Hey, take off

that headset. Steal away from your post. Cross
the hall, you sings-the-chorus-too-soon, you

makes-a-killer-veggie-taco, you
played-tennis-in-college-build, you Jeffrey, you

Jeff-ship full of stars, cauldron full of you,
come teach me a little bit

of nothing, in the dark
abundant hours.

Copyright © 2017 Chen Chen. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Winter 2017.

 

The sky tonight, so without aliens. The woods, very lacking
in witches. But the people, as usual, replete

with people. & so you, with your headset, sit
in the home office across the hall, stuck in a hell

of strangers crying, computers dying, the new
father’s dropped-in-toilet baby

photos, the old Canadian, her grandson Gregory,
all-grown-up-now Greg, who gave her this phone

but won’t call her. You call her
wonderful. You encourage her to tell you what’s wrong

with her device. You with your good-at-your-job
good-looking-ness, I bet even over the phone

it’s visible. I bet all the Canadian grandmas
want you, but hey, you’re with me. Hey, take off

that headset. Steal away from your post. Cross
the hall, you sings-the-chorus-too-soon, you

makes-a-killer-veggie-taco, you
played-tennis-in-college-build, you Jeffrey, you

Jeff-ship full of stars, cauldron full of you,
come teach me a little bit

of nothing, in the dark
abundant hours.

Copyright © 2017 Chen Chen. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Winter 2017.

 

In the invitation, I tell them for the seventeenth time
(the fourth in writing), that I am gay.

In the invitation, I include a picture of my boyfriend
& write, You’ve met him two times. But this time,

you will ask him things other than can you pass the
whatever. You will ask him

about him. You will enjoy dinner. You will be
enjoyable. Please RSVP.

They RSVP. They come.
They sit at the table & ask my boyfriend

the first of the conversation starters I slip them
upon arrival: How is work going?

I’m like the kid in Home Alone, orchestrating
every movement of a proper family, as if a pair

of scary yet deeply incompetent burglars
is watching from the outside.

My boyfriend responds in his chipper way.
I pass my father a bowl of fish ball soup—So comforting,

isn’t it? My mother smiles her best
Sitting with Her Son’s Boyfriend

Who Is a Boy Smile. I smile my Hurray for Doing
a Little Better Smile.

Everyone eats soup.
Then, my mother turns

to me, whispers in Mandarin, Is he coming with you
for Thanksgiving? My good friend is & she wouldn’t like

this. I’m like the kid in Home Alone, pulling
on the string that makes my cardboard mother

more motherly, except she is
not cardboard, she is

already, exceedingly my mother. Waiting
for my answer.

While my father opens up
a Boston Globe, when the invitation

clearly stated: No security
blankets. I’m like the kid

in Home Alone, except the home
is my apartment, & I’m much older, & not alone,

& not the one who needs
to learn, has to—Remind me

what’s in that recipe again, my boyfriend says
to my mother, as though they have always, easily

talked. As though no one has told him
many times, what a nonlinear slapstick meets

slasher flick meets psychological
pit he is now co-starring in.

Remind me, he says
to our family.

Copyright © 2018 by Chen Chen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 19, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

But really
I would prefer
to sit, drink water,
reread some Russians
a while longer 
—a luxury
perhaps, but why
should I, anyone,
call it that, why
should reading
what I want,
in a well-hydrated fashion,
always be what I’m
planning to finally
do, like hiking      
or biking, & now
that I think of it, reading
should make me, anyone,
breathe harder, then
easier, reach for cold,
cold water, & I
prefer my reading
that way, I prefer
Ivan Turgenev,
who makes me work for
not quite pleasure
no, some truer 
sweatier thing,
Turgenev,
who is just now, 
in my small room 
in West Texas, 
getting to the good part,
the very Russian part,
the last few pages   
of “The Singers” 
when the story
should be over,
Yakov the Turk
has sung with fervor,
meaning true
Russian spirit,
meaning he’s won
a kind of 19th century
Idol in the village
tavern, The End, but
Turgenev goes
on, the narrator walks
out, down a hill,
into a dark
enveloping mist, 
& he hears
from misty far away
some little boy 
calling out for
Antropka!
calling hoarsely,
darkly, 
Antropka-a-a!
& it’s that voice that stops
then opens my breath
that voice
& all Monday-Wednesday-Fridays
all Tuesday-Thursdays    
are gone
I have arrived
in the village of
no day   none
& I am sitting
with the villagers  
who are each at once
young   old  
who have the coldest
water to give me  
& songs
I think I have sung   before
they sing
their underground
tree-root syllables
they give me silences
from their long
long   hair

Copyright © 2016 by Chen Chen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 27, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

I like to say we left at first light
        with Chairman Mao himself chasing us in a police car,
my father fighting him off with firecrackers,
        even though Mao was already over a decade
dead, & my mother says all my father did
        during the Cultural Revolution was teach math,
which he was not qualified to teach, & swim & sunbathe
        around Piano Island, a place I never read about
in my American textbooks, a place everybody in the family
        says they took me to, & that I loved.
What is it, to remember nothing, of what one loved?
        To have forgotten the faces one first kissed?
They ask if I remember them, the aunts, the uncles,
        & I say Yes it’s coming back, I say Of course,
when it’s No not at all, because when I last saw them
        I was three, & the China of my first three years
is largely make-believe, my vast invented country,
        my dream before I knew the word “dream,”
my father’s martial arts films plus a teaspoon-taste 
        of history. I like to say we left at first light,
we had to, my parents had been unmasked as the famous
        kung fu crime-fighting couple of the Southern provinces,
& the Hong Kong mafia was after us. I like to say
        we were helped by a handsome mysterious Northerner,
who turned out himself to be a kung fu master.
        I don’t like to say, I don’t remember crying.
No embracing in the airport, sobbing. I don’t remember
        feeling bad, leaving China.
I like to say we left at first light, we snuck off
        on some secret adventure, while the others were
still sleeping, still blanketed, warm
        in their memories of us.
What do I remember of crying? When my mother slapped me
        for being dirty, diseased, led astray by Western devils,
a dirty, bad son, I cried, thirteen, already too old,
        too male for crying. When my father said Get out,
never come back,
I cried & ran, threw myself into night.
        Then returned, at first light, I don’t remember exactly
why, or what exactly came next. One memory claims
        my mother rushed into the pink dawn bright
to see what had happened, reaching toward me with her hands,
        & I wanted to say No. Don’t touch me.
Another memory insists the front door had simply been left
        unlocked, & I slipped right through, found my room,
my bed, which felt somehow smaller, & fell asleep, for hours,
        before my mother (anybody) seemed to notice.
I’m not certain which is the correct version, but what stays with me
        is the leaving, the cry, the country splintering.
It’s been another five years since my mother has seen her sisters,
        her own mother, who recently had a stroke, who has                          trouble
recalling who, why. I feel awful, my mother says,
        not going back at once to see her. But too much is                              happening here.
Here, she says, as though it’s the most difficult,
        least forgivable English word. 
What would my mother say, if she were the one writing?
        How would her voice sound? Which is really to ask, what is
my best guess, my invented, translated (Chinese-to-English,
        English-to-English) mother’s voice? She might say:
We left at first light, we had to, the flight was early,
        in early spring. Go, my mother urged, what are you doing,
waving at me, crying? Get on that plane before it leaves without you.
        It was spring & I could smell it, despite the sterile glass
& metal of the airport—scent of my mother’s just-washed hair,
        of the just-born flowers of fields we passed on the car ride                over,
how I did not know those flowers were already
        memory, how I thought I could smell them, boarding the                  plane,
the strange tunnel full of their aroma, their names
        I once knew, & my mother’s long black hair—so impossible              now.
Why did I never consider how different spring could smell,              feel,
        elsewhere? First light, last scent, lost
country. First & deepest severance that should have
        prepared me for all others. 

From When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities by Chen Chen, published by BOA Editions. Copyright © 2017 by Chen Chen. Used with permission of BOA Editions.

 

                                  for Monica Sok

These bridges are a feat of engineering. These pork & chive dumplings
            we bought together, before hopping on a train
& crossing bridges, are a feat of engineering. Talking to you, crossing bridges
            in trains, eating pork & chive dumplings in your bright boxcar
of a kitchen in Brooklyn, is an engineer’s dream-feat
            of astonishment. Tonight I cannot believe
the skyline because the skyline believes in me, forgives me my drooling
            astonishment over it & over the fact that this happens,
this night, every night, its belief, glittering mad & megawatt like the dreams
            of parents. By the way, is this soy sauce
reduced sodium? Do you know? Do we care? High, unabashed sodium intake!
            Unabashed exclamation points! New York is an exclamation
I take, making my escape, away from the quiet snowy commas of Upstate
            & the mess of questions marking my Bostonian past.
In New York we read Darwish, we write broken sonnets finally forgiving
            the Broken English of Our Mothers, we eat
pork & chive dumplings, & I know, it’s such a 90s fantasy
            of multiculturalism that I am
rehashing, bust still, in New York I feel I can tell you how my mother & I
            used to make dumplings together, like a scene
out of The Joy Luck Club. The small kitchen, the small bowl of water
            between us. How we dipped index finger, thumb.
Sealed each dumpling like tucking in a secret, goodnight.
            The meat of a memory. A feat of engineering.
A dream of mother & son. Interrupted by the father, my father
            who made my mother get on a plane, a theory,
years of nowhere across American No’s, a degree that proved useless.
            Proved he was the father. I try to build a bridge
to my parents but only reach my mother & it’s a bridge she’s about to
            jump off of. I run to her, she jumps, she’s
swimming, saying, Finally I’ve learned—all this time, trying to get from one useless
            chunk of land to another, when I should’ve stayed
in the water. & we’re drinking tap water in your bright Brooklyn kitchen.
            I don’t know what to tell you. I thought I could
tell this story, give it a way out of itself. Even here, in my fabulous
            Tony-winning monologue of a New York, I’m struggling to get
to the Joy, the Luck. I tell you my mother still
            boils the water, though she knows she doesn’t have to anymore.
Her special kettle boils in no time, is a feat of engineering.
            She could boil my father in it
& he’d come out a better person, in beautiful shoes.
            She could boil the Atlantic, the Pacific, every idyllic
American pond with its swans. She would.

From When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities. Copyright © 2016 by Chen Chen. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.

First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers
the grave and awkward mask.
I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
assiduous team
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.

There is a ladder.
The ladder is always there
hanging innocently
close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for,
we who have used it.
Otherwise
it is a piece of maritime floss
some sundry equipment.

I go down.
Rung after rung and still
the oxygen immerses me
the blue light
the clear atoms
of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
will begin.

First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.

And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
lived here
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
and besides
you breathe differently down here.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.

This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body.
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he

whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
whose breasts still bear the stress
whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
obscurely inside barrels
half-wedged and left to rot
we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass

We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.

From Diving into the Wreck: Poems 1971-1972 by Adrienne Rich. Copyright © 1973 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Reprinted by permission of the author and W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Copyright 1973 by Adrienne Rich.

There are no angels       yet
here comes an angel       one
with a man's face         young
shut-off         the dark
side of the moon         turning to me
and saying:        I am the plumed
                            serpent       the beast
                            with fangs of fire   and a gentle
                            heart

But he doesn't say that       His message
drenches his body
he'd want to kill me
for using words to name him

I sit in the bare apartment
reading
words stream past me        poetry
twentieth-century rivers
disturbed surfaces        reflecting clouds
reflecting wrinkled neon
but clogged        and mostly
nothing alive left
in their depths

The angel is barely
speaking        to me
Once in a horn of light
he stood       or someone like him
salutations in gold-leaf
ribboning from his lips

Today again        the hair streams
to his shoulders
the eyes reflect      something
like a lost country       or so I think
but the ribbon has reeled itself
up
    he isn't giving
or taking any shit
We glance miserably
across the room       at each other

It's true       there are moments
closer and closer together
when words stick       in my throat
                                          'the art of love'
                                          'the art of words'
I get your message Gabriel
just        will you stay looking
straight at me
awhile longer

"Gabriel." Copyright © 1993 by Adrienne Rich. Copyright © 1969 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc, from Collected Early Poems: 1950-1970 by Adrienne Rich. Used with permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. 

I wake up in your bed. I know I have been dreaming.
Much earlier, the alarm broke us from each other,
you’ve been at your desk for hours. I know what I dreamed:
our friend the poet comes into my room
where I’ve been writing for days,
drafts, carbons, poems are scattered everywhere,
and I want to show her one poem
which is the poem of my life. But I hesitate,
and wake. You’ve kissed my hair
to wake me. I dreamed you were a poem,
I say, a poem I wanted to show someone . . .
and I laugh and fall dreaming again
of the desire to show you to everyone I love,
to move openly together
in the pull of gravity, which is not simple,
which carries the feathered grass a long way down the upbreathing air.

Poem II from “Twenty-One Love Poems,” from The Dream of a Common Language: Poems 1974–1977 by Adrienne Rich. Copyright © 1978 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Since we’re not young, weeks have to do time
for years of missing each other. Yet only this odd warp
in time tells me we’re not young.
Did I ever walk the morning streets at twenty,
my limbs streaming with a purer joy?
did I lean from any window over the city
listening for the future
as I listen here with nerves tuned for your ring?
And you, you move toward me with the same tempo.
Your eyes are everlasting, the green spark
of the blue-eyed grass of early summer,
the green-blue wild cress washed by the spring.
At twenty, yes: we thought we’d live forever.
At forty-five, I want to know even our limits.
I touch you knowing we weren’t born tomorrow,
and somehow, each of us will help the other live,
and somewhere, each of us must help the other die.

Poem III from "Twenty-One Love Poems," from The Dream of a Common Language: Poems 1974-1977 by Adrienne Rich. Copyright © 1978 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Whatever happens with us, your body
will haunt mine—tender, delicate
your lovemaking, like the half-curled frond
of the fiddlehead fern in forests
just washed by sun. Your traveled, generous thighs
between which my whole face has come and come—
the innocence and wisdom of the place my tongue has found there—
the live, insatiate dance of your nipples in my mouth—
your touch on me, firm, protective, searching
me out, your strong tongue and slender fingers
reaching where I had been waiting years for you
in my rose-wet cave—whatever happens, this is.

“Floating Poem, Unnumbered” from “Twenty-One Love Poems,” from The Dream of a Common Language: Poems 1974–1977 by Adrienne Rich. Copyright © 1978 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

God washes clean the souls and hearts of you,
His favored ones, whose backs bend o’er the soil,
Which grudging gives to them requite for toil
In sober graces and in vision true.
God places in your hands the pow’r to do
A service sweet. Your gift supreme to foil
The bare-fanged wolves of hunger in the moil
Of Life’s activities. Yet all too few
Your glorious band, clean sprung from Nature’s heart;
The hope of hungry thousands, in whose breast
Dwells fear that you should fail. God placed no dart
Of war within your hands, but pow’r to start
Tears, praise, love, joy, enwoven in a crest
To crown you glorious, brave ones of the soil.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 9, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Farewell, sweetheart, and again farewell;
To day we part, and who can tell
     If we shall e'er again
Meet, and with clasped hands
Renew our vows of love, and forget
     The sad, dull pain.

Dear heart, 'tis bitter thus to lose thee
And think mayhap, you will forget me;
     And yet, I thrill
As I remember long and happy days
Fraught with sweet love and pleasant memories
     That linger still

You go to loved ones who will smile
And clasp you in their arms, and all the while
     I stay and moan
For you, my love, my heart and strive
To gather up life's dull, gray thread
     And walk alone.

Aye, with you love the red and gold
Goes from my life, and leaves it cold
     And dull and bare,
Why should I strive to live and learn
And smile and jest, and daily try
     You from my heart to tare?

Nay, sweetheart, rather would I lie
Me down, and sleep for aye; or fly
      To regions far
Where cruel Fate is not and lovers live
Nor feel the grim, cold hand of Destiny
      Their way to bar.

I murmur not, dear love, I only say
Again farewell. God bless the day
      On which we met,
And bless you too, my love, and be with you
In sorrow or in happiness, nor let you
      E'er me forget.
 

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on January 11, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

There is tropical warmth and languorous life
       Where the roses lie
       In a tempting drift
Of pink and red and golden light
Untouched as yet by the pruning knife.
And the still, warm life of the roses fair
       That whisper "Come,"
       With promises
Of sweet caresses, close and pure
Has a thorny whiff in the perfumed air.
There are thorns and love in the roses’ bed,
       And Satan too
       Must linger there;
So Satan’s wiles and the conscience stings,
Must now abide—the roses are dead.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 16, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door—
"'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door—
               Only this and nothing more."

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
               Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
"'Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—
               This it is and nothing more."

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
"Sir," said I, "or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you"—here I opened wide the door;—
               Darkness there and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, "Lenore?"
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, "Lenore!"—
               Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
"Surely," said I, "surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—
               'Tis the wind and nothing more!"

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—
               Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
"Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou," I said, "art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!"
               Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blest with seeing bird above his chamber door—
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
               With such name as "Nevermore."

But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—
Till I scarcely more than muttered "Other friends have flown before—
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before."
               Then the bird said "Nevermore."

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
"Doubtless," said I, "what it utters is its only stock and store
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
               Of 'Never—nevermore.'"

But the Raven still beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore
               Meant in croaking "Nevermore."

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o'er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o'er,
               She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
"Wretch," I cried, "thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite—respite and nepenthe, from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!"
               Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."

"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—
On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—
Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!"
               Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."

"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil—prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore."
               Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."

"Be that word our sign in parting, bird or fiend!" I shrieked, upstarting—
"Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!"
               Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
               Shall be lifted—nevermore!

This version appeared in the Richmond Semi-Weekly Examiner, September 25, 1849. For other versions, please visit the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore's site: http://www.eapoe.org/works/poems/index.htm#R.

I’ve never made love to a man.
I’ve never made love to a man but I imagine.


                         I imagine pulling the moon.
                         I imagine pulling the moon out of his brow.


Pulling the moon out of his brow and eating it again.


                         Eating and pulling his hair in silence.
A kind of silence when the moon goes out.


When the moon goes back and forth between us.


A kind of silence lit for only a moment.
Seeing for a moment through the eyes of the horse.


                         Through the eyes of the dead horse
                         that burns slower than my hair.


My hair that burns the moon off.
My hair with a hand inside it.

Originally published in Cenzontle (BOA Editions, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo. Used with the permission of the poet.

Hello, sailor boy,
In from the sea!
Hello, sailor,
Come with me!

Come on drink cognac.
Rather have wine?
Come here, I love you.
Come and be mine.

Lights, sailor boy,
Warm, white lights.
Solid land, kid.
Wild, white nights.

Come on, sailor,
Out o’ the sea.
Let’s go, sweetie!
Come with me.

From The Weary Blues (Alfred A. Knopf, 1926) by Langston Hughes. This poem is in the public domain. 

Let me draw a sonnet at this godless hour,
in one sitting, at the sudden taste of you.

#SelfEvidentTruth: reality forms from the verge
of chance—particles not seen but tongued.

Another you wafts in as soon as the other
you leaves, my random turnstile of thirst.

But suddenly, alone. Just a memory of taste:
Poached eggs, pancakes, tenderness, knowing

that I have eaten not only what I made but what all
of you served in return, quenched only if swallowed.

Taste has always been a second-rate sense,
unlike our sight, unlike Euler’s Equation that

sees light in chaos. All works of nature evolve
from one moment of coincidence. An absence,

a rebellion, the fifteenth line of a sonnet.

Copyright © 2022 by Bino A. Realuyo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 25, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

for Yolanda P. Salvo

I have this assignment to write on origins. 
All I can think about is your rellenong 
talong at sunrise, garlic thick air, 
wisp of your floral dress sways on linoleum 
as you commit to careful chemistry 
of fried egg. 

                      To say I have roots means all us kids, 
                      knee deep in dirt. Means I only know how 
                      to eat because you brought backyard, earth
                      soaked, each bite caressed by sweat of 
                      forehead. The land gives us what we need
                      not like this country— 

We didn’t get it then, you training us for end 
of times, or maybe, bringing us back to our beginning. 
Bold brown knuckles turned into baon, lunch time 
snacks folded of banana leaf. To unwrap 
gift every noon, map illustrated of rice, speckled 
in sea spinach, while others ate bland 

                      mashed potatoes. A spark of sili, proclamation 
                      of patis, we held up sliced mangoes sculpted into bouquet. 
                      Every summer, you took small seed, harsh stone, 
                      harsh light, profuse cackle, grew it into momentum 
                      to fuel every star speckled report card on the fridge,
                      every trophy shimmer slung over shoulder. 

Our last photo together, San Fabian, July 2007—  
96°F heat, palm tree silhouette on cheeks. You said
you liked my haircut, So Pogi! Big smirks. Fingertips 
pressed on lychee skin, our version of prayer. 
Not to mention, the way you taught me to pick 
apart until we found tender. 

                      How we knew somehow together, 
                      there could be sweetness. You asked me to open 
                      every fruit, juice like sprinkler from our old house. 
                      This breaking apart. This delicate pouring. 
                      This bulbous bounty. This bellyful harvest
                      was always ours, no matter the soil we stood on.

Copyright © 2021 by Kay Ulanday Barrett. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 23, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

“Pain blesses the body back to its sinner”
            —Ocean Vuong

Handcuffs around my wrists 
lined with synthetic fur, my arms bound 

& hoisted, heavenward, as if in praise.
Once, bodies like mine were seen as a symptom

of sin, something to be prayed away;
how once, priests beat themselves to sanctify

the flesh. To put their sins to death. Now,
my clothes scatter across the floor like petals

lanced by hail. Motion stretches objects 
in the eye. A drop of rain remade, 

a needle, a blade. Mark how muscle fiber 
& piano strings both, when struck, ring. 

No music without violence or wind. 

I’ve been searching the backs of lover’s hands
for a kinder score, a pain that makes 

my pain a stranger tune. Still, my body aches 
an ugly psalm. All my bones refuse to harm

-onize. Percussion is our oldest form of song, 
wind bruised into melody. Let me say this plainly:

I want you to beat me 

into a pain that’s unfamiliar. How convenient 
this word, beat, that lives in both the kingdoms 

of brutality & song. The singer’s voice: a cry, 
a moan, god’s name broken across a blade 

of teeth. The riding crop & flog & scourge—
a wicked faith. A blood-loud devotion.  

There is no prayer to save me from my flesh. 
You can’t have the bible without the belt.

Copyright © 2021 by torrin a. greathouse. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 11, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

the leaves below the shredded cup of the Aster’s
face need to be before it changes species
from Showy Aster to Willow to Rush—Aster Radula
being the name of what I thought I was
seeing—fingers first—reading the neck through
touch—a kindness of soft needles—much like the shot I give
myself once a week now—having increased the gauge exponentially
which has the inverse effect on the amount of skin I am
required to surrender in order to wake up in a body I was
told could not live in this world and be loved—
                                                                                             small
is not a fair synonym for soft—naming you I
have found another way to send my body back
in time to claim how she wants to be
touched—it’s been over three weeks and I still can’t
find the face of the bird that threatens music—silence— 
whatever you want to call it when a well of metal triangles
is rung underwater and poured from the familiar
little mouth of a ghost—
                                                      every morning I want
to know without drama really how many things I will kill
today—a question of attention—an experiment of turning
god into my body—learning to live in the could-
mean of pine-broken light—
                                                    when I hid you,
Melissa, I became every man
who tells a woman she would be more safe
if only she would keep herself inside—a hive
of mercies we were backhanded into—unknowingly
praying we wanted to unlearn how to pray—
                                                                               I am
almost ashamed I could not name it—how little
pleasure I feel when I touch things only
because I am afraid to be touched—

Copyright © 2021 by TC Tolbert. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 1, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

From The Poems of Dylan Thomas, published by New Directions. Copyright © 1952, 1953 Dylan Thomas. Copyright © 1937, 1945, 1955, 1962, 1966, 1967 the Trustees for the Copyrights of Dylan Thomas. Copyright © 1938, 1939, 1943, 1946, 1971 New Directions Publishing Corp. Used with permission.