We live in toppled times under a feat of tyranny; let’s not
fake getting lost, let’s do it, let’s not do it intermittently, let’s be
lost, disoriented and never to be bound so all can hear
the hiss of the adverbs we shoot into tyrants’ eyes, quivering
shafts slippery from limbs and aimed by eyes under feathered
lids. Our features are like stale bread, my headache bad
as a blueprint for butter. Windows: how stupidly the intensity
of glass returns to us the terror of love. Things diverge, separate
like the forks of the Eel River to which the competing lies
of two tyrants are but split stones shaken by earthquakes
of stupefying times, of minutes through a glorious forest, of women
who are personal friends, the flanks of a prevented rabbit: to scatter
and ambiguate, obviate, surreptitiously
flesh and hurry to find things to recombine.
From Tribunal by Lyn Hejinian, published by Omnidawn. Copyright © 2019 by Lyn Hejinian. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
—kept losing self control
but how could one lose the self
after reading so much literary theory?
The shorter “i” stood under the cork trees,
the taller “I” remained rather passive;
the brendas were angry at the greed, angry
that the trees would die, had lost interest
in the posturing of the privileged,
the gaps between can’t & won’t . . .
Stood outside the gate of permissible
sound & the wind came soughing
through the doubt debris
(soughing comes from sw~gh—to resound . . .
echo actually comes from this also—)
we thought of old Hegel across
the sea—the Weltgeist—& clouds
went by like the bones of a Kleenex . . .
it’s too late for countries
but it’s not too late for trees . . .
& the wind kept soughing
with its sound sash, wind with
its sound sash, increasing
bold wind with its sound sash,
From Extra Hidden Life, among the Days. Copyright © 2018 by Brenda Hillman. Reprinted with the permission of the author and Wesleyan University Press.
Dedicated to the Poet Agostinho Neto,
President of The People’s Republic of Angola: 1976
I will no longer lightly walk behind
a one of you who fear me:
I plan to give you reasons for your jumpy fits
and facial tics
I will not walk politely on the pavements anymore
and this is dedicated in particular
to those who hear my footsteps
or the insubstantial rattling of my grocery
then turn around
and hurry on
away from this impressive terror I must be:
I plan to blossom bloody on an afternoon
surrounded by my comrades singing
terrible revenge in merciless
I have watched a blind man studying his face.
I have set the table in the evening and sat down
to eat the news.
I have gone to sleep.
There is no one to forgive me.
The dead do not give a damn.
I live like a lover
who drops her dime into the phone
just as the subway shakes into the station
wasting her message
canceling the question of her call:
fulminating or forgetful but late
and always after the fact that could save or
I must become the action of my fate.
How many of my brothers and my sisters
will they kill
before I teach myself
Shall we pick a number?
South Africa for instance:
do we agree that more than ten thousand
in less than a year but that less than
five thousand slaughtered in more than six
WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH ME?
I must become a menace to my enemies.
And if I
if I ever let you slide
who should be extirpated from my universe
who should be cauterized from earth
(lawandorder jerkoffs of the first the
then let my body fail my soul
in its bedeviled lecheries
And if I
if I ever let love go
because the hatred and the whisperings
become a phantom dictate I o-
bey in lieu of impulse and realities
(the blossoming flamingos of my
wild mimosa trees)
then let love freeze me
I must become
I must become a menace to my enemies.
Copyright © 2017 by the June M. Jordan Literary Estate. Used with the permission of the June M. Jordan Literary Estate, www.junejordan.com.
This morning—jeweled mannequins
In glass in a frame. Shadows. Bergdorf’s, Saks
5th Avenue. A dress of Coco Chanel an opera
A ballet A world away—
Lower East Side. I hear louder & louder
Faster, faster Delancey, Mott Street, rising
Above the hum the spinning the throbbing of
The bobbin-winder. Sweatshop din. Women
From Hong Kong, Mong Kok, choked in demonic
Heat. The fiber-dust-heat. 12 hours seated:
In shirt-waist-dust. No break no ventilation
& Stooped over her Singer, Mother
—I never saw her
—There. Her satin-scented hands
The faint scent of ginger & almond—
Cutting up garments, fragments How
Could it have been each piece, pennies
To the tick of the clock?
I am 9—
Before there are words to know
What it means to be 9. Happy & did not know
What being happy meant. Or innocence—
Standing there, Midtown, outside
Harold’s Broadway & 14th—where she
Did take me. Couture wool scraps. Ribbons.
Bullion fringes. Faux suede
Appliqués. Mother’s eyes in the window
Flashing: looking in. Always constructing—
The same French coat, draping it over Jackie O’s
Shoulder; would it look runway-stunning
On me? On her shoulder too why not
—On hers? Denim In 12 metallic versions
I clutched My mother’s arm clutched them all the
Followed her inside where eyes
Yards & yards piled high: bolts of
Dupioni, silk-shantung. Charmeuse.
I caressed them with my fingers.
After my mother, fumbled into their folds
Dresses: of vermilion,
Gold. The palpable—
Hem—of the city Gum San Gold
Mountain America I was a child &
Everything! was there—
Mother’s taffeta dresses: hand-sewn
& Sewn—for me. Had I known, consigned
To the stars. And then even not
That, nothing better than those dresses that dressed
—Her wounds. What did I know? Only that her signature
Begins in the looping style: tiny embroidered ladybugs or
Butterflies swooping down
I think I saw heaven—where she
Was, & for awhile & in her dreams: There-then
—As in : moments: silences
Sewn. Threaded: each seam, each
Crease. The recesses. Over & over the way
—A breath—is held; is
—A sharp pain—stitched
Copyright © 2020 by Emily Yong. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 23, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
The dive starts
on the board….
or Rub some dirt
in it, Princess,
when in his lesser
Steve of the hair gel,
and whistle, a man
who was her
who never seemed
to like her much.
Which was odd,
her admirable discipline,
and natural gifts,
the years and years
of practice, and the long
row of golden
trophies she won
for his team. The girl
she was then,
feral, like the outdoor
cat you feed,
when you remember
to, but won’t allow
to come inside….
She’s thinking of Steve
now, many years
later, while swimming
naked in her wealthy
landlord’s pool. Or
“grotto,” to call it
properly, an ugly,
Italian word for
ringed, as it is,
with red hibiscus;
in the mimosa trees
draping their blurry
the water’s skin.
It’s 3 am,
the safest time for
in which she’s turned
her strange and aging
body loose. Once,
a man she loved
the kind of woman
who feels embarrassed
just standing in
a room alone,
a comment, like him,
two parts ill spirited,
and one perceptive.
But this night she’s
dropped her robe,
come here to be
the kind of woman
who swims naked
for permission, risking
a stray neighbor
getting the full gander,
buoyed by saltwater;
all the tough and sag
of her softened by
this moonlight’s near-
Look at her: how
the woman is floating,
while trying to recall
the exact last
moment of her girlhood—
where she was,
what she was doing—
when she finally
learned what she’d
been taught: to hate
this fleshy sack
of boring anecdotes
and moles she’s lived
inside so long,
a zipper for escape.
A pearl is the oyster’s
Fellini said. How
clean and weightless
the dive returns
to the woman now;
climbing the high
metal ladder, then
no fear, no notion
the arc of her
as any arrow’s
in St. Sebastian’s
side. How keen
that girl, and sleek,
gorgeous than two
in a dead drop.
Floating, the woman
remembers this again,
how pristine she was
in pike, or tucked
tighter than a socialite, or
twisting in reverse
like a barber’s pole,
her body flying
toward its pivot,
which is, in those seconds,
tears itself away
(the woman climbing
from the water now)
like the silvery tissue
swaddling a costly
Copyright © 2020 by Erin Belieu. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 25, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
for Tarfia and Fita
The rabbit has a funny set of tools. He jumps.
or kicks. muffled and punching up. In pose
the rabbit knows, each side of his face to whom.
he should belong. He hobbles and eyes. This
is the dumb bun allegiance. This bunny, even dry and fluff
is aware, be vicious. will bite down your finger stalk.
will nick you good in the cheery web of your palm.
Those claws are good for traction. and defense.
This bunny, forgive him. There is no ease. His lack
of neck is all the senses about a stillness.
stuck in a calm. until household numbers upend
his floor. until the family upsets the nest
and traipses off. Then stuck in a bunny panic.
We each stab at gratitude. In our nubbing, none
of us do well. We jump. We kangaroo. We soft seeming,
scatter and gnaw. Maybe the only way forward
is to sleep all day. one eye open. under the sink.
Like the rabbit, we could sit in our shit.
Chew at the leaf of others’ dinner. Make
of each tile on the floor a good spot to piss. No,
it doesn’t get much better. And like the rabbit
we do not jump well from heights. We linger the dark
until it is safe to come out. To offer a nose.
a cheek for touch. the top of a crown. Nothing
makes us happier than another rabbit.
Copyright © 2020 by francine j. harris. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 26, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
the other gold.
Now that’s the stuff,
shredded or melted
the pinnacle of man
in a cheeto puff!
Now that’s the stuff
you’ve been primed for:
fatty & salty & crunchy
and poof—gone. There’s the proof.
Though your grandmother
never even had one. You can’t
have just one. You
inhale them puff—
You’re a chain smoker. Tongue
coated & coaxed
but not saturated or satiated.
It’s like pure flavor,
but sadder. Each pink ping
in your pinball-mouth
by the makers who have studied you,
the human animal, and culled
from the rind
your Eve in the shape
of a cheese curl.
come curl in the dim light of the TV.
Veg out on the verge of no urge
Long ago we beached ourselves,
climbed up the trees then
down the trees,
knuckled across the dirt
& grasses & thorns & Berber carpet.
Now is the age of sitting,
And I must say,
crouched on the couch like that,
you resemble no animal.
Smug in your Snuggie and snug
in your sloth, you look
nothing like a sloth.
And you are not an anteater,
an anteater eats ants
of diabetes. Though breathing,
one could say, resembles a chronic disease.
cheese and what is cheese product?
It’s difficult to say
but being alive today
like a book you can’t put down, a stone
that plummets from a great height. Life’s
a “page-turner” alright.
But don’t worry
if you miss the finale
of your favorite show, you can
catch in on queue. Make room
for me and I’ll binge on this,
the final season with you.
Copyright © 2020 by Benjamin Garcia. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 27, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
This morning I love everyone,
even Jerome, the neighbor I hate,
and the sun. And the sun
has pre-warmed my bucket seat
for the drive up Arsenal Street
with the hot car effect,
a phenomenon climatologists
use to explain global warming
to senators and kids.
I love the limited edition
Swingline gold stapler
in the oil change lounge
which can, like a poem,
affix anything to anything
on paper. One sheet of paper,
for instance, for that cloud of gnats,
one for this lady’s pit mix
wagging his tail so violently
I fear he’ll hurt his hips.
One sheet for glittered lip balm,
for eye contact, Bitcoin extortion
and the imperfect tense.
Sheets for each unfulfilled wish
I left in a penny in a mall fountain.
Sun spills into the lounge
through the window decal
in geometric Tetris wedges.
I have a sheet for Tetris,
its random sequence of pieces
falling toward me in this well
like color coded aspects of the life
I neglected to live, for the pleasure
of making line after line
disappear. The gold stapler
has twenty-sheet capacity
so I straighten my stack
on the reception counter
and staple the day together
with an echoing chunk.
Copyright © 2020 by Ted Mathys. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 31, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
so I count my hopes: the bumblebees
are making a comeback, one snug tight
in a purple flower I passed to get to you;
your favorite color is purple but Prince’s
was orange & we both find this hard to believe;
today the park is green, we take grass for granted
the leaves chuckle around us; behind
your head a butterfly rests on a tree; it’s been
there our whole conversation; by my old apartment
was a butterfly sanctuary where I would read
& two little girls would sit next to me; you caught
a butterfly once but didn’t know what to feed it
so you trapped it in a jar & gave it to a girl
you liked. I asked if it died. you say you like
to think it lived a long life. yes, it lived a long life.
Copyright © 2019 by Fatimah Asghar. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 8, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Nobody wants to die on the way
caught between ghosts of whiteness
and the real water
none of us wanted to leave
on the way to salvation
three planets to the left
a century of light years ago
our spices are separate and particular
but our skins sing in complimentary keys
at a quarter to eight mean time
we were telling the same stories
over and over and over.
Broken down gods survive
in the crevasses and mudpots
of every beleaguered city
where it is obvious
there are too many bodies
to cart to the ovens
and our uses have become
more important than our silence
after the fall
too many empty cases
of blood to bury or burn
and there will be no body left
and our labor
has become more important
than our silence
Our labor has become
than our silence.
Copyright © 1978 by Audre Lorde, from THE COLLECTED POEMS OF AUDRE LORDE by Audre Lorde. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Is that Eric Garner worked
for some time for the Parks and Rec.
Horticultural Department, which means,
perhaps, that with his very large hands,
perhaps, in all likelihood,
he put gently into the earth
some plants which, most likely,
some of them, in all likelihood,
continue to grow, continue
to do what such plants do, like house
and feed small and necessary creatures,
like being pleasant to touch and smell,
like converting sunlight
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe.
Copyright © 2015 by Ross Gay. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.
You, selling roses out of a silver grocery cart
You, in the park, feeding the pigeons
You cheering for the bees
You with cats in your voice in the morning, feeding cats
You protecting the river You are who I love
delivering babies, nursing the sick
You with henna on your feet and a gold star in your nose
You taking your medicine, reading the magazines
You looking into the faces of young people as they pass, smiling and saying, Alright! which, they know it, means I see you, Family. I love you. Keep on.
You dancing in the kitchen, on the sidewalk, in the subway waiting for the train because Stevie Wonder, Héctor Lavoe, La Lupe
You stirring the pot of beans, you, washing your father’s feet
You are who I love, you
reciting Darwish, then June
Feeding your heart, teaching your parents how to do The Dougie, counting to 10, reading your patients’ charts
You are who I love, changing policies, standing in line for water, stocking the food pantries, making a meal
You are who I love, writing letters, calling the senators, you who, with the seconds of your body (with your time here), arrive on buses, on trains, in cars, by foot to stand in the January streets against the cool and brutal offices, saying: YOUR CRUELTY DOES NOT SPEAK FOR ME
You are who I love, you struggling to see
You struggling to love or find a question
You better than me, you kinder and so blistering with anger, you are who I love, standing in the wind, salvaging the umbrellas, graduating from school, wearing holes in your shoes
You are who I love
weeping or touching the faces of the weeping
You, Violeta Parra, grateful for the alphabet, for sound, singing toward us in the dream
You carrying your brother home
You noticing the butterflies
Sharing your water, sharing your potatoes and greens
You who did and did not survive
You who cleaned the kitchens
You who built the railroad tracks and roads
You who replanted the trees, listening to the work of squirrels and birds, you are who I love
You whose blood was taken, whose hands and lives were taken, with or without your saying
Yes, I mean to give. You are who I love.
You who the borders crossed
You whose fires
You decent with rage, so in love with the earth
You writing poems alongside children
You cactus, water, sparrow, crow You, my elder
You are who I love,
summoning the courage, making the cobbler,
getting the blood drawn, sharing the difficult news, you always planting the marigolds, learning to walk wherever you are, learning to read wherever you are, you baking the bread, you come to me in dreams, you kissing the faces of your dead wherever you are, speaking to your children in your mother’s languages, tootsing the birds
You are who I love, behind the library desk, leaving who might kill you, crying with the love songs, polishing your shoes, lighting the candles, getting through the first day despite the whisperers sniping fail fail fail
You are who I love, you who beat and did not beat the odds, you who knows that any good thing you have is the result of someone else’s sacrifice, work, you who fights for reparations
You are who I love, you who stands at the courthouse with the sign that reads NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE
You are who I love, singing Leonard Cohen to the snow, you with glitter on your face, wearing a kilt and violet lipstick
You are who I love, sighing in your sleep
You, playing drums in the procession, you feeding the chickens and humming as you hem the skirt, you sharpening the pencil, you writing the poem about the loneliness of the astronaut
You wanting to listen, you trying to be so still
You are who I love, mothering the dogs, standing with horses
You in brightness and in darkness, throwing your head back as you laugh, kissing your hand
You carrying the berbere from the mill, and the jug of oil pressed from the olives of the trees you belong to
You studying stars, you are who I love
braiding your child’s hair
You are who I love, crossing the desert and trying to cross the desert
You are who I love, working the shifts to buy books, rice, tomatoes,
bathing your children as you listen to the lecture, heating the kitchen with the oven, up early, up late
You are who I love, learning English, learning Spanish, drawing flowers on your hand with a ballpoint pen, taking the bus home
You are who I love, speaking plainly about your pain, sucking your teeth at the airport terminal television every time the politicians say something that offends your sense of decency, of thought, which is often
You are who I love, throwing your hands up in agony or disbelief, shaking your head, arguing back, out loud or inside of yourself, holding close your incredulity which, yes, too, I love I love
your working heart, how each of its gestures, tiny or big, stand beside my own agony, building a forest there
How “Fuck you” becomes a love song
You are who I love, carrying the signs, packing the lunches, with the rain on your face
You at the edges and shores, in the rooms of quiet, in the rooms of shouting, in the airport terminal, at the bus depot saying “No!” and each of us looking out from the gorgeous unlikelihood of our lives at all, finding ourselves here, witnesses to each other’s tenderness, which, this moment, is fury, is rage, which, this moment, is another way of saying: You are who I love You are who I love You and you and you are who
Copyright © 2017 by Aracelis Girmay. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.
On balconies, sunlight. On poplars, sunlight on our lips.
Today no one is shooting.
A girl cuts her hair with imaginary scissors—
the scissors in sunlight, her hair in sunlight.
Another girl steals a pair of shoes from a sleeping soldier, skewered with light.
As soldier wakes and looks at us looking at them
what do they see?
Tonight they shot fifty women at Lerna St.,
I sit down to write and tell you what I know:
a child learns the world by putting it in her mouth,
a girl becomes a woman and a woman, earth.
Body, they blame you for all things and they
seek in the body what does not live in the body.
Copyright © 2018 by Ilya Kaminsky. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 26, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
The Arabs used to say,
When a stranger appears at your door,
feed him for three days
before asking who he is,
where he’s come from,
where he’s headed.
That way, he’ll have strength
enough to answer.
Or, by then you’ll be
such good friends
you don’t care.
Let’s go back to that.
Rice? Pine nuts?
Here, take the red brocade pillow.
My child will serve water
to your horse.
No, I was not busy when you came!
I was not preparing to be busy.
That’s the armor everyone put on
to pretend they had a purpose
in the world.
I refuse to be claimed.
Your plate is waiting.
We will snip fresh mint
into your tea.
Copyright © by Naomi Shihab Nye. Used with the permission of the author.
’Tis a time for much rejoicing;
Let each heart be lured away;
Let each tongue, its thanks be voicing
For Emancipation Day.
Day of victory, day of glory,
For thee, many a field was gory!
Many a time in days now ended,
Hath our fathers’ courage failed,
Patiently their tears they blended;
Ne’er they to their, Maker, railed,
Well we know their groans, He numbered,
When dominions fell, asundered.
As of old the Red Sea parted,
And oppressed passed safely through,
Back from the North, the bold South, started,
And a fissure wide she drew;
Drew a cleft of Liberty,
Through it, marched our people free.
And, in memory, ever grateful,
Of the day they reached the shore,
Meet we now, with hearts e’er faithful,
Joyous that the storm is o’er.
Storm of Torture! May grim Past,
Hurl thee down his torrents fast.
Bring your harpers, bring your sages,
Bid each one the story tell;
Waft it on to future ages,
Bid descendants learn it well.
Kept it bright in minds now tender,
Teach the young their thanks to render.
Come with hearts all firm united,
In the union of a race;
With your loyalty well plighted,
Look your brother in the face,
Stand by him, forsake him never,
God is with us now, forever.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 19, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
the return of poem to be read from right to left
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*This poem is best viewed on desktop.
1 “Sun Ra’s consistent statement, musically and spoken, is that this is a primitive world. Its practices, beliefs, religions, are uneducated, unenlightened, savage, destructive, already in the past. . . .That’s why Sun Ra returned only to say he left. Into the Future. Into Space.” —Amiri Baraka
2 Instead of an Arabic footnote, here is a list of artists who inspire, and were with me in the making of this poem...and so much more (in some kind of order of appearance): Kameelah Janan Rasheed, Elmaz Abinader, Suheir Hammad, Toni Morrison, Tavonne S. Carson, Ava Duvernay, Solmaz Sharif, Monica Sok, Justin Phillip Reed, Xandria Phillips, Charleen McClure, Nabila Lovelace, Ashley M. Jones, Danez Smith, René Magritte, Jay Deshpande, José Olivarez, Jonah Mixon-Webster, The Desert Crew, Fred Moten, John Rufo, S*ean D. Henry-Smith, Andrea Abi-Karam, Belal Mobarak, Jess Rizkallah, Hayan Charara, Randa Jarrar, Zaina Alsous, Roberto Montes, James Baldwin, Mo Browne, Audre Lorde, Adrian Piper, Evie Shockley, Airea D. Matthews, Tyehimba Jess, Harryette Mullen, Safia Elhillo, Ricardo Maldonado, Mejdulene B. Shomali, Philip Metres, and Raymond Antrobus. Shokran.
3 “The word Black, has geographic power, pulls everybody in:” —Gwendolyn Brooks, Primer for Blacks
Copyright © 2020 by Marwa Helal. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 27, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
translated from Vietnamese by the author
The dead don't let us go, I say to my friend Sirius, putting my father's letters in a drawer. It is the plight of Mezentius that I endure, attached to a dead man, hand in hand, mouth in mouth, in a sad embrace. The letters stopped arriving from the country of my childhood. The man who wrote them died a solitary death and was buried at the edge of a stream. But he is there, his skin touches my skin, my breath gives life to his lips. He is there, I say to Sirius, when I speak to you, when I eat, when I sleep, when I take a walk. It seems to me that I am dead, whereas my father, the dead man who refuses to leave me in peace, overflows with life. He possesses me, sucks my blood, gnaws my bones, feeds on my thoughts. 1
“Die fresh. Die withered.
Die sore. Die throbbing.
Die hard. Die standing up.
Die lying down. Die
nightwise. Die more. Die
horrified. Die gradual. Die
corroding. Die squashed.
Die choking. Die fainting.
Die everything. Die all.
Die falling. Die swooning.
Die tense. Die loose. Die
now. Die spinning. Die
quashed. Die quelled. Die
rotting. Die crushed. Die
everyone. Die clean. Die
raw. Die bruised. Die
sitting. Die morningwise.
Die afternoonwise. Die
departing. Die undoing.”2
In the last letter, the dying man taught me a lesson of 36 deadly tricks. He called them the 36 documentations of secret agencies, 36 spells of horror, 36 faces of vanity, 36 tactics of being deadly, 36 stratagems of dying. All night long, I chant his weird song over and over like a crazy heart. Dripping drops of time, the tune flies far from the propaganda of a human life. When Sirius asks why I keep murmuring the lines, I say, It helps me learn my fathertongue, glide into my childhood siesta, melt into my red hot girdle of earth. The letters of the dead burn me, urge me to speak to them, speak them, have them speak me, even in my sleep. Every dream is a chamber where the language drills, like vital winds, hum me anew, blowing me closer to the waters where my father lies. Every night he still sleeptalks his fatal rhythm through my broken tongue.
1 Linda Lê, Thư Chết, trans. Bùi Thu Thuỷ (Hà Nội: NXB Văn Học, Nhã Nam, 2013), 7.
2 Trần Dần, Những Ngã Tư và Những Cột Đèn (Hà Nội: NXB Hội Nhà Văn, Nhã Nam, 2017), 259.
Chant Chữ Chết
Người chết không buông tha chúng ta, tôi vừa nói với anh bạn Sirius vừa xếp những lá thư của cha tôi vào ngăn kéo. Đó là nhục hình Mézence mà tôi phải chịu, tức là bị buộc vào một người chết, tay áp tay, miệng kề miệng, trong một nụ hôn buồn. Những lá thư đã ngừng đến từ đất nước của tuổi thơ tôi. Người viết thư đã chết, một cái chết cô đơn, và được chôn bên bờ nước. Nhưng người vẫn đây, da người chạm da tôi, hơi thở tôi thổi sống làn môi ấy. Tôi bảo Sirius, Người ở đây này, khi tôi đang nói chuyện với anh, khi tôi ăn, khi tôi ngủ, khi tôi dạo chơi. Dường như tôi mới chính là người chết, còn cha tôi, người chết không để tôi yên ấy, lại đang ngập tràn sự sống. Người ám tôi, hút máu tôi, gặm xương tôi, ngốn suy nghĩ tôi. 1
“Chết tươi. Chết
héo. Chết đau.
Chết điếng. Chết
cứng. Chêt đứng.
Chết nằm. Chết
đêm. Chết thêm.
Chết khiếp. Chết
dần. Chết mòn.
Chết toi. Chết
ngóp. Chết ngất.
Chết tất. Chết cả.
Chết lử. Chết lả.
Chết đứ. Chết đừ.
Chết ngay. Chết
quay. Chết ngỏm.
Chết ngoẻo. Chết
thối. Chết nát.
Chết hết. Chết
sạch. Chết tái.
Chết tím. Chết
ngồi. Chết sáng.
Chết chiều. Chết
bỏ. Chết dở.”2
Trong thư cuối, người dạy tôi tổng cộng 36 kế chết người. Người dặn đây là 36 tài liệu công tác nguỵ quân nguỵ quyền, 36 phép rùng rợn, 36 vẻ phù hoa, 36 món chết người, 36 món chết. Suốt đêm, tôi niệm bài ca quỷ ám của người, tụng đi tụng lại như một trái tim điên. Chảy ròng những giọt đồng hồ, giai điệu người bay xa kiếp giáo lý. Khi Sirius hỏi sao tôi cứ lẩm nhẩm lời người, tôi đáp, Để tôi học tiếng cha tôi, dạt vào giấc trưa tuổi thơ tôi, tan vào đất đỏ nhiệt đới tôi. Chữ người chết nung tôi, thúc tôi nói với họ, nói họ, rồi họ nói tôi, cả khi tôi ngủ. Mỗi giấc mơ là một căn phòng nơi những bài luyện chữ, như gió thổi, ngân tôi, tái thiết tôi, mang tôi cận kề con nước nơi cha tôi nằm. Hằng đêm người vẫn nói mớ một thứ phách nhịp chết người thấm xuyên lưỡi vỡ tôi.
1 Linda Lê, Thư Chết, Bùi Thu Thuỷ dịch (Hà Nội: NXB Văn Học, Nhã Nam, 2013), 7.
2 Trần Dần, Những Ngã Tư và Những Cột Đèn (Hà Nội: NXB Hội Nhà Văn, Nhã Nam, 2017), 259.
© 2020 Quyên Nguyễn-Hoàng. Published in Poem-a-Day in partnership with Words Without Borders (wordswithoutborders.org) on September 12, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
translated by Chenxin Jiang
as a door-nail
and gone to the world
air broke drop
nothing is certain but and taxes
mask knell grip
blow metal rattle
food for worms sticky end brown bread
or alive valiant to the la la la
wish I were yeah right you wish
不能復生視 如歸 而無憾
出生入 一線間 生契濶
寧 不屈 鳴不默
憂患不終無安樂 啦 啦啦
© 2020 Yau Ching and Chenxin Jiang. Published in Poem-a-Day in partnership with Words Without Borders (wordswithoutborders.org) on September 26, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
translated by Bernard Capinpin
Not as a multitude, but as one. Caught in the rush of an instant only to be contained
In an illusion of light once depicted in a holographic existence
And to give weight to the meaning of lightness. Here, he pointed
To the directions of his imprisonment. How the wings
Have too much dulled and to take wing must orchestrate
The shattering of mirrors: fragile, fine, acicular. The yellowing
Brightness is in the proximity to the light, like how one recognizes beneath
The lightbulb the chick nesting within an egg, as to trace how thick
Illusions go in the labyrinth of plurality. Now, no matter what,
They seem a bouquet of bougainvillea on the palms, dreaming to be set free.
This may be true of desire. One first keeps to heart
The simplest things one loved in childhood: the chase after
A kite broken loose, not minding the prickling thorns,
The mimosa’s curtsey to the sole. That is what freedom simply is.
Not playing patintero with shadows. Not captive to the multiplicity
Of false geometry. Almost brittle but original.
BIRDS IN FLIGHT, 1965
Hindi marami, kundi iisa. Dinakip sa bilis ng mga iglap upang mapiit
Sa ilusyon ng liwanag nang maitanghal sa holograpikong pag-iral
At makapagbigay bigat sa kahulugan ng gaan. Dito, ganap niyang
Naituturo ang mga direksyon ng kanyang pagkakakulong. Lubos
Ang pagkakapurol ng mga pakpak at ang pagaspas ay orkestradong
Pagkabasag ng mga salamin: manipis, pino, linyado. Nasa lapit ng ilaw
Ang tingkad ng paninilaw, katulad kung papaano kinikikilala sa ilalim
Ng bombilya ang nanahang sisiw sa itlog, upang mabakas ang kapal
Ng pamamalikmata sa laberinto ng pluralidad. Ngayon, kahit papaano,
Tila pumpon ito ng mga bunggambilya sa palad, nangangarap makaalpas.
Na maaring totoo ito ukol sa pagnanasa. Unang isinilid sa dibdib
Ang mga simpleng bagay na minahal noong kabataan: ang paghabol
Sa napatid na guryon, ang hindi pag-alintana sa kalabit ng mga tinik,
Ang pagyukod ng makahiya sa talampakan. Ganoon lamang ang kalayaan.
Hindi nakikipagpatintero sa mga anino. Hindi nakapiit sa multiplisidad
Ng mga huwad na hubog. Halos babasagin ngunit orihinal.
Copyright © 2020 by Enrique Villasis and Bernard Capinpin. Published in Poem-a-Day in partnership with Words Without Borders (wordswithoutborders.org) on October 3, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
Returning to the US, he asks
my occupation. Teacher.
What do you teach?
I hate poetry, the officer says,
I only like writing
where you can make an argument.
Anything he asks, I must answer.
This he likes, too.
I don’t tell him
he will be in a poem
where the argument will be
I place him here, puffy,
pink, ringed in plexi, pleased
with his own wit
and spittle. Saving the argument
I am let in
I am let in until
Copyright © 2020 by Solmaz Sharif. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 16, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
you think I’m kind on the daily
—and my healing
you don’t see me
beat to the ground
the Forehead Man
& his Mouse-God friend—how
I bonked the lights out
from their faces til one
had no teeth
and the other—
only a mouth
stuffed full of them—
across this white field
I use my own Pointy thing
Stabbing—after all is always
you see—they did not see
my Rage coming—
said they wanted me
to go Home—Go back
their jaws cajoled—
to where you’re from-from
they saw me Go
—with each blue
into the bone
& mush of them—
Home to my Rage
and they—such slabs
Copyright © 2020 by Aldrin Valdez. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 20, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
the day after the mulberry tree fell on its belly, the army bombed a truck
full of black umbrellas sent from russia against the tyranny of rain. they
said, the black umbrellas are no longer allowed in the mountains. hats
are. guns are. gods are. the trees are offensive to the sky. then
they called our language mountain, then they pronounced it dead.
we are in a dream, you said. undo the pain before you speak
against the gods with mouths full of rain. a tongue cut in half
becomes sharper, you said. date your wound.
Copyright © 2020 by Öykü Tekten. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 21, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
The words “economic,” “family,” and “asylum” remain unspoken as I sit in the back of the courtroom scribbling on a legal pad, trying to structure a context and trace my relation to the seven men who stand before the judge shackled at the wrists, waists, and ankles.
Reader, can you improvise your relation to the phrase “illegal entry,” to the large seal of US District Court, District of Arizona, that hangs above the judge, eagle suspended with talons and arrows pointing?
Perhaps your relation stretches like a wall, bends like footprints towards a road, perhaps your relation spindles and barbs, chollas or ocotillos, twists like a razor wire on top of a fence.
Perhaps you do not improvise, perhaps you shackle, you type, you translate, you prosecute, you daily wage, your mouth goes dry when you speak—paper, palimpsests of silence, palimpsests of complicity and connection never made evident on the page.
Write down everything you need. How long is the list?
Sleep with it beneath your head, eat it, wear it.
Can you use it to make a little shade from an unrelenting gaze?
Speak into the court record the amount of profit extracted from such men as those before the judge shackled at the wrists, waists, and ankles not limited to the amount of profit that will be extracted from such bodies through the payments that will be made per prisoner per day to the Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group, but also inclusive of all the profits generated by trade agreements that makes labor in the so-called developing countries so cheap.
Best of luck to you, the judge says.
Que le vaya bien, the lawyers say as the men begin their slow procession out of the courtroom in chains.
And in that moment, from the back of the courtroom, we can decide to accept or forget what we have seen, to bear it, or to change it
because we love it, we want it, we don’t care enough to stop it, we hate it,
we can’t imagine how to stop it, we can’t imagine it, we can’t imagine.
From Defacing the Monument (Noemi Press, 2020). Copyright © 2020 by Susan Briante. Published in Poem-a-Day on October 26, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
after Yvan Goll
In the absent oils of your eyes two brown ores
resting leisurely on the view of your children.
You uncoil casually. My hand slipping
to the west and what was felled fills me
until I fall forward injuring your already dead arm.
I am so sorry. Our wills in a twist. Electric.
Some pulse between the gurney and the distant coffin.
My camera shutter clicking wildly around my neck.
Back home tus rab hlau searches for your hands.
The soil to harden. Rapture on the way. Onions
sprouting passionately as neglected gardens do.
The seven prisms of my blood bursting through my ears.
Your living children still living. Your garden goddess
drying the last goods in her shrine. With spring-like
precision the sun weeps until I boil. My head cracked
in four places. The ribbed earth catching fatal drops
of your blood or mine. You beseech me but in my time
I’ve slept away the sun. The underside of distance.
But I behold you now in this cool church and for a ransom.
I photograph you again and again. Your form crystalizing.
Your parted mouth a new annex to the ancestral house.
Your bones at the table. O how fair the jaundiced skies.
You get up to close that clear brittle door.
Copyright © 2020 by Khaty Xiong. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 10, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
after Olivia Gatwood
I get ready for my first day as the new girl in high school
already knowing what not to wear. I dress perfectly
to stand out and disappear. I know how to put on
makeup, and I do it exactly right. My hair
looks awesome, of course! I step onto the bus,
pause by the driver, raise my arms like a superstar,
and meet the eyes of my adoring audience.
Three different beautiful girls punch
each other in the face to have me sit next to them.
I decline and the school’s most lovely, artsy boy
slides over to make room. He knows his feelings
and only goes too far
when he honestly misunderstands. He’s one of the safer ones.
I walk down the halls and no one makes fun of me.
I pass the section of lockers where her locker is, and
she is there, taking a book out of her backpack.
She’ll go running this weekend, as usual, and won’t
be followed. The man who won’t be following
her has already followed half a dozen women
to rape and kill and leave in the woods. But she won’t be
followed. She’ll survive her fate this time, and come back
to school on Monday, avoid the mean girls in the bathroom.
She’ll pick on the new girl, call her a virgin of all things.
She’ll limp her way through math, cheat a bit in science,
do pretty good in history and English. She’ll graduate,
and go to the state school on a track scholarship. She’ll
have two girls and keep them safe. She’ll almost forget
about this other ending: her in the woods near her house,
staring at the ground beneath her, wondering why.
Copyright © 2020 by Melanie Figg. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 12, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
“These people, both men and women, seem amphibious, and to be able to live on water as well as on the land, so well do they swim and dive. Five pieces of iron were thrown into the sea to them for the pleasure of seeing them exercise themselves. One of them was skillful enough to get all five of them, and in so short a time, that one can regard it as marvelous.”
—observations of indigenous Filipinos by the Dutch in 1600, from Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas, by Antonio de Morga
To be amphibious
is to breathe underwater
gills and fins
illuminated in a flash of sun
to be sirenos1
es amar el mar
es tener cuerpos de agua2
desfrutar how the sea dances
along our spines
how it fills our hair
makes us weightless
Our bangka5 are extensions
of our katawan ng tubig6.
Do you know which hands carved this wood?
Mula saang mga puno?7
Whose spirits guide us to the other side?
Hindi namin kailangan ng mga mapa8
Hindi namin kailangan ng mga kumpas
Feel the immense dagat move beneath us
Can you feel it, through the thick hulls
of your conquering vessels?
We do not disrupt the harmony of things.
Can you plunge your hand into the sea
and bring up a fish?
Can you split one into two thousand pieces
so that every mouth is filled?
Can you perform such the miracles
you describe in your holy book?
Bawat plankton, bawat maliit na hipon,
bawat nabubuhay na bagay11
upang maging kasuwato sa dagat12
is to breathe underwater.
1Both in Filipino and Spanish, this refers to mermen, but in Filipino folklore, while also including a version of a tantalizing creature (usually female) that leads fishermen to their deaths, sirenas/sirenos are are also engkantos or spirit-guardians of the sea. The colonial and indigenous influences in this mythology are both evident.
2“is to love the sea/is to have bodies of water”
3“naked/observed in a sacred act”
4These two lines show how Tagalog incorporated Spanish as one sees the shared words; it goes from Spanish, “not for conquest” to Tagalog “but for union”
5Bangka are Filipino outrigger boats with ancient origins that are carved from wood; it was believed that the spirit of the tree or an anito (guardian spirit) was imbued in the boat, especially through ritual consecration.
6“Bodies of water”
7“From which trees?”
8“We do not need maps / We do not need compasses”
9anito are ancestors, nature spirits, or deities in precolonial, indigenous Filipino systems, which were animistic. The word also can refer to statues and figures representing the spirits.
10“All living beings / protect us”
11“Each plankton, each tiny shrimp / each living thing”
12“To be in harmony with the sea”
Copyright © 2020 by Aimee Suzara. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 13, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
The night air is filled
with the scent of apples,
and the moon is nearly full.
In the next room, Jim
is reading; a small cat sleeps
in the crook of his arm.
The night singers are loud,
every evening until they run
out of nights and die in
the cold, or burrow down into
the mud to dream away the winter.
My office is awash in books
and photographs, and the sepia/pink
sunset stains all its light touches.
I’ve never been a good traveler,
but there are days, like this one,
when I’d pay anything to be in
another country, or standing on
the cold, grey moon, staring back
at the disaster we call our world.
We crave change, but
turn away from it.
We drown in contradictions.
Tonight, I’ll sleep
blanketed in moonlight.
In my dreams, I’ll have
nothing to say about anything
important. I’ll simply live my life,
and let the night singers live theirs,
until all of us are gone.
I won’t say a word, and let
silence speak in my stead.
Copyright © 2020 by William Reichard. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 19, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
I keep thinking there’s a piano nearby.
I keep thinking it’s my favorite song. It’s my favorite song!
Below the marquee, I arrange the marquee:
Happy New Year, buddy. Happy ’nother one, sweetheart.
Out of ways to call you dead, I decide to call you busy,
call you at midnight from West Oakland.
These days I raise a glass to make sure it’s empty.
Even when I was a drunk, I thought champagne was pointless.
In my two-story civility, I stick my head out
each window & scream. S’cuse me, s’cuse me,
I’m trying to remember a story about gold,
about a giant falling from the sky.
Someone once asked who I prayed to.
I said a boy with a missing front tooth.
In this order, I ask, first, for water,
which might mean mercy,
which might mean swing by in an hour
& I’ll tell you the rest.
If you were here we’d dance, I think.
If you were here, you’d know what to do
what to do with all this time
Copyright © 2021 by Hieu Minh Nguyen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 4, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
My family never stopped migrating. We fight
so hard. With each other and ourselves. Don’t
talk about that. Not now. There is never
a good time and I learn that songs are the only
moments that last forever. But my mother
always brings me the instant coffee my
dede drank before he died. She wraps it
so carefully in a plastic bag from the market
that we go to when Caddebostan feels unreachable.
We don’t talk about that. Or the grief.
Or my short hair. I want to know what
dede would have said. I want to know that he
can feel the warm wind too if he tried.
We fight so hard. We open the tops of
each other’s heads and watch the birds
fly out. We still don’t talk about my dede.
Copyright © 2021 by beyza ozer. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 6, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
basma & rudy were first each holding
a mirror in her arms where i could see
my face as their faces & we pierced
our noses & wore gamar boba
in our ears & everyone at the party
thought them hoop earrings & in the new york years
i crowd smoky bars alongside ladin
& shadin & majid & linda & nedal
atheel & amir & elkhair & mo & mohammed & mo
& we are forever removing our shoes in each other’s
apartments ashing cigarettes
into the incense burner making tea
with the good dried mint our mothers taught us
to keep in the freezer next to the chili
powder from home making songs & dinner
& jokes in our parents’ accents & i am funniest
when i have two languages to cocktail
when i can say remember & everyone was there
the rented room at the middle school on sundays
where our parents volunteered to teach us arabic
to watch us bleat alef baa taa thaa & text
our american boyfriends that we were bored
& at restaurants everyone asks if we are related
& we say yes we do not date because we are probably
cousins we throw rent parties & project the video
where albabil sing gitar alshoug & i am not
the only one crying not the only one made & remade
by longing the mutation that arabic makes of my english
metallic noises the english makes in my arabic
we ululate at each other’s weddings we ululate at the club
& sarah & hana make the mulah vegan & in english safia
spells her name like mine but pronounces it
like purified sews a patch of garmasees
to the back of my denim jacket we wash our underwear
in the sink & make group texts on whatsapp
we go home & take pictures of the pyramids
we go home & take pictures of the nile we move
to other cities & feel doubly diasporic
& your cousin’s coworker’s little sister emails me
a list of bigalas in oakland brings me crates
of canned fava beans from her own parents’
basement & i say sudanese-american & mean also
british sudanese & canadian & australian & raised
in the gulf azza & yousra & amani & yassmin
& it’s true that my people are everywhere
the uncles driving taxis at the end of our nights
the pharmacist who fills my prescription
who is named for the mole denoting beauty
adorning her left cheek guardian spirits of my every
hookah bar of my every untagged photograph
of crop tops & short shorts & pierced cartilage & tattoos
of henna & headscarves & undercuts & shaved heads
my tapestries embroidered with hundreds
of little mirrors glinting like sequins in the changing light
Copyright © 2021 by Safia Elhillo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 7, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.