Translated by Idra Novey and Ahmad Nadalizadeh
For the city of Bam destroyed in the 2003 earthquake
The window is black
the table, black
the sky, black
the snow, black
I don’t need medicine
or a psychotherapist.
Just lift these stones,
sweep aside the earth
and look into my eyes!
that are round like the Earth
an image of the world
the world of shut doors
of countless walls
anytime I stand before the mirror
the image of an upside-down tortoise
makes me long for a passer-by
to arrive and invert the world
our hands will tremble from all this solitude
and our depiction on the canvas
will be scribbled out
the ruins of Bam scribbled out
the shelters we built
collapsing on our heads
I am terrified by the next images in this poem
the image of God lifting all the doors onto his shoulders
retreating far and then farther
I write: one day
the missing keys will be recovered.
What should we do about the missing locks.
Copyright © 2020 by Garous Abdolmalekian, Idra Novey, and Ahmad Nadalizadeh. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 21, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
She slept through the earthquake in Spain.
The day after was full of dead things. Well, not full but a few.
Coming in the front door, she felt the crunch of a carapace
under her foot. In the bathroom, a large cockroach
rested on its back at the edge of the marble surround; the dead
antennae announced the future by pointing to the silver eye
that would later gulp the water she washed her face with.
Who wouldn't have wished for the quick return
of last night's sleep? The idea, she knew, was to remain awake
and while walking through the day's gray fog, trick the vaporous
into acting like something concrete: a wisp of cigarette smoke,
for instance, could become a one-inch Lego building
seen in the window of a bus blocking the street.
People sometimes think of themselves as a picture that matches
an invented longing: a toy forest, a defaced cricket, the more
or less precious lotus. The night before the quake, she took a train
to see a comic opera with an unlikely plot. She noticed a man
in a tan coat and necktie who looked a lot like Kafka.
The day after, she called a friend to complain about the bugs.
From a distant city—his voice low and slightly plaintive—he said,
Aren't you well? Is there anything you want?
Copyright © 2012 by Mary Jo Bang. Used with permission of the author.
I have known only my own shallows—
Safe, plumbed places,
Where I was wont to preen myself.
But for the abyss
I wanted a plank beneath
I was afraid of the silence
And the slipping toe-hold...
Oh, could I now dive
Into the unexplored deeps of me—
Delve and bring up and give
All that is submerged, encased, unfolded,
That is yet the best.
This poem is in the public domain. Originally appeared in The Ghetto and Other Poems (B. W. Huebsch, 1918).
It is a huge curtain,
stretched at a distance around me.
Aimless gypsies crawl up and over the curtain.
They are my days.
They neither sing nor laugh
but hop over the top of my sadness.
Here and there one wears a gay shirt.
He is faster than the rest.
Even in my sleep with closed eyes
I cannot pierce this drapery.
Some day I will wind a child's smile around my face
and thus disguised
Slip through the curtain and jump...
Ah, yes, where?
This poem is in the public domain, and originally appeared in Others for 1919; An Anthology of the New Verse (Nicholas L. Brown, 1920).
You have sweet flowers for your pleasure;
You laugh with the bountiful earth
In its richness of summer treasure:
Where now are your flowers and your mirth?
Petals and cadenced laughter,
Each in a dying fall,
Droop out of life; and after
Is nothing; they were all.
But we from the death of roses
That three suns perfume and gild
With a kiss, till the fourth discloses
A withered wreath, have distilled
The fulness of one rare phial,
Whose nimble life shall outrun
The circling shadow on the dial,
Outlast the tyrannous sun.
This poem is in the public domain.
Sometimes I don’t know if I’m having a feeling
so I check my phone or squint at the window
with a serious look, like someone in a movie
or a mother thinking about how time passes.
Sometimes I’m not sure how to feel so I think
about a lot of things until I get an allergy attack.
I take my antihistamine with beer, thank you very much,
sleep like a cut under a band aid, wake up
on the stairs having missed the entire party.
It was a real blast, I can tell, for all the vases
are broken, the flowers twisted into crowns
for the young, drunk, and beautiful. I put one on
and salute the moon, the lone face over me
shining through the grates on the front door window.
You have seen me like this before, such a strange
version of the person you thought you knew.
Guess what, I’m strange to us both. It’s like
I’m not even me sometimes. Who am I? A question
for the Lord only to decide as She looks over
my résumé. Everything is different sometimes.
Sometimes there is no hand on my shoulder
but my room, my apartment, my body are containers
and I am thusly contained. How easy to forget
the obvious. The walls, blankets, sunlight, your love.
Copyright © 2015 by Matthew Siegel. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 8, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
My pills doze until I wake them
on the shelf
behind the bathroom mirror,
the one I see myself in
curled over, whimpering,
eyes dark and heavy
like lakes at night.
My pills doze until I shake them
and they dissolve inside me,
make complicated arrangements
with my biology.
They sleep and I take them,
gathered in the cup of my hand.
They tick against my teeth
and I hold my hand over my mouth
as if to shut them up.
Copyright © 2015 by Matthew Siegel. Used with permission of the author. “[My pills doze until I wake them]” originally appeared in Blood Work (University of Wisconsin Press, 2015).
And sometimes I know I am having a feeling
but I don't want to have a feeling so I close up
like a book or a jacket or a sack which holds
a body. Don't mind me, I'll just be dead in here,
you can drag me wherever you want, the body
seems to say. You laugh like a little silver moon.
You laugh like the moon on the water ignored
by necking lovers. You said you didn't like that word
because something so sweet should not call to mind
giraffes, but I love the word “necking,” the way it twists
in on itself, like what I do to you when I want
to disappear in you, leave the sack of my body
strewn on the shore of you. Sometimes I'm inside
the sack and then sometimes I am nothing more
than the stitching which keeps it from bursting.
Sometimes I carry the sack and sometimes the sack
carries me. I only know the difference sometimes.
Do you ever feel like it's difficult to figure out
what you're feeling? I have that all the time, especially
when I look out a window or at your open face
across from me in bed, or your closed face
when I see the quiet pain you contain, or which
contains you. I know you're more than that
frown which makes your face resemble a fist
with gorgeous black hair. I know you contain more
than the reaction to my words or my body.
Some of us have to learn to love with hands
interlocked, but each with our own hand.
Copyright © 2015 by Matthew Siegel. Used with permission of the author. “[And sometimes I know I am having a feeling]” originally appeared in Blood Work (University of Wisconsin Press, 2015).
What kind of thoughts now, do you carry
In your travels day by day
Are they bright and lofty visions,
Or neglected, gone astray?
Matters not how great in fancy,
Or what deeds of skill you’ve wrought;
Man, though high may be his station,
Is no better than his thoughts.
Catch your thoughts and hold them tightly,
Let each one an honor be;
Purge them, scourge them, burnish brightly,
Then in love set each one free.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on January 18, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
When hurrying home on a rainy night
And hearing tree-tops rubbed and tossed,
And seeing never a friendly star
And feeling your way when paths are crossed:
Stop fast and turn three times around
And try the logic of the lost.
Where is the heavenly light you dreamed?
Where is your hearth and glowing ash?
Where is your love by the mellow moon?
Here is not even a lightning-flash,
And in a place no worse than this
Lost men shall wail and teeth shall gnash.
Lightning is quick and perilous,
The dawn comes on too slow and pale,
Your love brings only a yellow lamp,
Yet of these lights one shall avail:
The dark shall break for one of these,
I’ve never known this thing to fail.
This poem is in the public domain, and originally appeared in Poems about God (Henry Holt and Co, 1919).
I cannot sing, because when a child,
My mother often hushed me.
The others she allowed to sing,
No matter what their melody.
And since I’ve grown to manhood
All music I applaud,
But have no voice for singing,
So I write my songs to God.
I have ears and know the measures,
And I’ll write a song for you,
But the world must do the singing
Of my sonnets old and new.
Now tell me, world of music,
Why I cannot sing one song?
Is it because my mother hushed me
And laughed when I was wrong?
Although I can write music,
And tell when harmony’s right,
I will never sing better than when
My song was hushed one night.
Fond mothers, always be careful;
Let the songs be poorly sung.
To hush the child is cruel;
Let it sing while it is young.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on January 26, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
In a dark hour, tasting the Earth.
As I lay on my couch in the muffled night, and the rain lashed at my window,
And my forsaken heart would give me no rest, no pause and no peace,
Though I turned my face far from the wailing of my bereavement...
Then I said: I will eat of this sorrow to its last shred,
I will take it unto me utterly,
I will see if I be not strong enough to contain it...
What do I fear? Discomfort?
How can it hurt me, this bitterness?
The miracle, then!
Turning toward it, and giving up to it,
I found it deeper than my own self...
O dark great mother-globe so close beneath me...
It was she with her inexhaustable grief,
Ages of blood-drenched jungles, and the smoking of craters, and the roar of tempests,
And moan of the forsaken seas,
It was she with the hills beginning to walk in the shapes of the dark-hearted animals,
It was she risen, dashing away tears and praying to dumb skies, in the pomp-crumbling tragedy of man...
It was she, container of all griefs, and the buried dust of broken hearts,
Cry of the christs and the lovers and the child-stripped mothers,
And ambition gone down to defeat, and the battle overborne,
And the dreams that have no waking...
My heart became her ancient heart:
On the food of the strong I fed, on dark strange life itself:
Wisdom-giving and sombre with the unremitting love of ages...
There was dank soil in my mouth,
And bitter sea on my lips,
In a dark hour, tasting the Earth.
This poem is in the public domain
Though I was dwelling in a prison house,
My soul was wandering by the carefree stream
Through fields of green with gold eyed daisies strewn,
And daffodils and sunflower cavaliers.
And near me played a little browneyed child,
A winsome creature God alone conceived,
“Oh, little friend,” I begged. “Give me a flower
That I might bear it to my lonely cell.”
He plucked a dandelion, an ugly bloom,
But tenderly he placed it in my hand,
And in his eyes I saw the sign of love.
‘Twas then the dandelion became a rose.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on April 4, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.