after Idra Novey

On a dirt road

On a drive to el campo

You found a batey

I cut the cane 

We sucked on a stalk

You gave me your arms 

I swam in the river

We locked the door 

Then the lights went out 

And the radio played 

You fingered the pesos 

I walked to the beach

We fried the fish 

You ate the mango  

I jumped in the water

We bought the flowers

Then the migrants came

And you bartered for more 

Then the sirens blared

And they were carried away

But we didn’t stop them 

Then the ocean swept

And the palm trees sagged

They were foreigners

We were foreigners  

And we lived there

Copyright © 2020 by Jasminne Mendez. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 15, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

I thought it was the neighbor’s cat back
to clean the clock of the fledgling robins low
in their nest stuck in the dense hedge by the house
but what came was much stranger, a liquidity
moving all muscle and bristle. A groundhog
slippery and waddle thieving my tomatoes still
green in the morning’s shade. I watched her
munch and stand on her haunches taking such
pleasure in the watery bites. Why am I not allowed
delight? A stranger writes to request my thoughts
on suffering. Barbed wire pulled out of the mouth,
as if demanding that I kneel to the trap of coiled
spikes used in warfare and fencing. Instead,
I watch the groundhog closer and a sound escapes
me, a small spasm of joy I did not imagine
when I woke. She is a funny creature and earnest,
and she is doing what she can to survive.

Copyright © 2020 by Ada Limón. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 16, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

translated from the Spanish by Urayoán Noel

Walking is a process in ruins,
a dead history.

You inhabit the ruin and you find
a coin here and there rolling on the ground.

Men without eyes are threshing away time
in Santurce’s surviving businesses. 

It makes you want to cry
or sneak into the yards and pluck the fruits
of so many inhabitable houses 
with boarded-up windows and doors.

The city is full of homeless people.
The city is full of poor immigrants dreaming of the United States.

Perhaps leaving and coming back makes you a foreigner. 

There’s so much you don’t know about Puerto Rico now.
You begin discovering it by walking.

 


De Barrio Obrero a La Quince

 

Caminar es un proceso en ruinas,
historia muerta.

Habitas la ruina y encuentras
una que otra moneda rodando por el piso.

Hombres sin ojos desgranan tiempo
en los negocios que sobreviven en Santurce.

Da ganas de llorar
o de meterse al patio y arrancarle frutas
a tanta casa habitable
con las puertas y ventanas clausuradas.

La ciudad llena de personas sin hogar.
La ciudad llena de inmigrantes pobres que sueñan con Estados Unidos.

Irse y volver acaso te vuelve un extranjero.

Desconoces ahora tanto a Puerto Rico.
Caminando se empieza a descubrirlo.

Copyright © 2020 by Nicole Cecilia Delgado and Urayoán Noel. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 17, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

translated by Bryan Mendoza

It’s a spacious chamber.
Well lit.
A light that refracts the distant woodland.

Over the table lies
the body and the wings
outspread
like sails of a shipwreck.

They’ve stitched together the carnage
with no other motive
than something comparable to mercy.

Soon the volunteers will arrive
and they’ll take the body,
including the wings
to the landfill.

 


Disección del cadáver de Pegaso

 

Es una sala espaciosa.
Muy clara.
Es luz que refracta el bosque lejano.
Sobre la mesa yacen
el cuerpo y las alas
extendidas
como velas de bajeles deshechos.
Han hilvanado el despojo
sin otro motivo
que algo semejante a la caridad.
Pronto llegarán los voluntarios
y se llevarán el cuerpo,
incluidas las alas,
al basural.

© 2020 Julio Pazos Barrera and Bryan Mendoza. Published in Poem-a-Day in partnership with Words Without Borders (wordswithoutborders.org) on September 19, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

for Paul Otremba

Six in all, to be exact. I know it was a Tuesday 
     or Wednesday because the museum closes early
on those days. I almost wrote something 

     about the light being late—; the “late light”
is what I almost said, and you know how we 
     poets go on and on about the light and 

the wind and the dark, but that day the dark was still 
     far away swimming in the Pacific, and we had 
45 minutes to find Goya’s “Still Life with Bream” 

     before the doors closed. I’ve now forgotten 
three times the word Golden in the title of that painting
     —and I wish I could ask what you think 

that means. I see that color most often 
     these days when the cold, wet light of morning 
soaks my son’s curls and his already light 

     brown hair takes on the flash of fish fins
in moonlight. I read somewhere 
     that Goya never titled this painting, 

or the other eleven still lifes, so it’s just 
     as well because I like the Spanish title better.  
“Doradas” is simple, doesn’t point 

     out the obvious. Lately, I’ve been saying 
dorado so often in the song I sing 
     to my son, “O sol, sol, dorado sol 

no te escondes...” I felt lost 
     that day in the museum, but you knew 
where we were going having been there 

     so many times. The canvas was so small 
at 17 x 24 inches. I stood before it 
     lost in its beach of green sand and 

that silver surf cut with pink. 
     I stared while you circled the room 
like a curious cat. I took a step back, 

     and then with your hands in your pockets 
you said, No matter where we stand, 
     there’s always one fish staring at us.

As a new father, I am now that pyramid 
     of fish; my body is all eyes and eyes. 
Some of them watch for you in the west 

where the lion sun yawns and shakes off 
     its sleep before it purrs, and hungry, 
dives deep in the deep of the deep.

Copyright © 2020 by Tomás Q. Morín. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 18, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Gettysburg National Military Park

Motorcycles and white tour vans speed 
between behemoth granite shafts, shove
my body by their force, leave me roadside
and wandering fields. Little is funny
when you’re Chicana and walking 
a Civil War site not meant for walking.
Regardless, I ask park rangers and guides 
for stories on Mexicans soldiers,

receive shrugs. No evidence in statues 
or statistics. In the cemetery, not one 
Spanish name. I’m alone in the wine shop. 
It’s the same in the post office, the market, 
the antique shop with KKK books on display.
In the peach orchard, I prepare a séance,
sit cross-legged in grass, and hold
a smoky quartz to the setting sun.  

I invite the unseen to speak. So many dead, 
it’s said Confederates were left to rot. 
In war, not all bodies are returned home 
nor graves marked. I Google “Mexicans 
in the Civil War” and uncover layers 
to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo 
and Cinco de Mayo. This is how I meet 
ancestors for the first time, heroes 

this country decorates in clownish sombreros 
and fake mustaches, dishonors for fighting 
European empire on shared American land 
Power & Money dictate can’t be shared. 
Years before this, carrying water gallons 
up an Arizona mountain ridge to replenish 
supplies in a pass known as “Dead Man’s,” 
I wrote messages on bottles to the living, 

scanned Sonoran canyons for the lost,
and knew too many would not be found. 
A black Sharpie Virgen drawn on hot plastic 
became a prayer: may the next officer halt 
before cracking her face beneath his boot,
spilling life on to dirt. No, nothing’s funny
when you’re brown in a country you’re taught 
isn’t yours, your dead don’t count.

Copyright © 2020 by Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 21, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

the slight angling up of the forehead
neck extension                        quick jut of chin

meeting the strangers’ eyes
a gilded curtsy to the sunfill in another

in yourself      tithe of respect
in an early version the copy editor deleted

the word “head” from the title
the copy editor says              it’s implied

the copy editor means well
the copy editor means

she is only fluent in one language of gestures
i do not explain                     i feel sad for her

limited understanding of greetings              & maybe
this is why my acknowledgements are so long;

didn’t we learn this early?
            to look at white spaces

            & find the color       
            thank god o thank god for

                                                             you               
                                                                                        are here.

Copyright © 2020 by Elizabeth Acevedo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 22, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

translated by Francisco Aragón
 

I learned
Spanish
from my grandma

mijito
don’t cry
she’d tell me

on the mornings
my parents
would leave

to work
at the fish
canneries

my grandma
would chat
with chairs

sing them
old
songs

dance
waltzes with them
in the kitchen

when she’d say
niño barrigón
she’d laugh

with my grandma
I learned
to count clouds

to recognize
mint leaves
in flowerpots

my grandma
wore moons
on her dress

Mexico’s mountains
deserts
ocean

in her eyes
I’d see them
in her braids

I’d touch them
in her voice
smell them

one day
I was told:
she went far away

but still
I feel her
with me

whispering
in my ear:
mijito


En un barrio de Los Ángeles

el español
lo aprendí
de mi abuela

mijito
no llores
me decía

en las mañanas
cuando salían
mis padres

a trabajar
en las canerías
de pescado

mi abuela
platicaba
con las sillas

les cantaba
canciones
antiguas

les bailaba
valses en
la cocina

cuando decía
niño barrigón
se reía

con mi abuela
aprendí
a contar nubes

a reconocer
en las macetas
la yerbabuena

mi abuela
llevaba lunas
en el vestido

la montaña
el desierto
el mar de México

en sus ojos
yo los veía
en sus trenzas

yo los tocaba
con su voz
yo los olía

un día
me dijeron:
se fue muy lejos

pero yo aún
la siento
conmigo

diciéndome
quedito al oído:
mijito

From From the Other Side of Night/del otro lado de la noche: New and Selected Poems by Francisco X. Alarcón. © 2002 The Arizona Board of Regents. Reprinted by permission of the University of Arizona Press.

translated by Francisco Aragón
 

I learned
Spanish
from my grandma

mijito
don’t cry
she’d tell me

on the mornings
my parents
would leave

to work
at the fish
canneries

my grandma
would chat
with chairs

sing them
old
songs

dance
waltzes with them
in the kitchen

when she’d say
niño barrigón
she’d laugh

with my grandma
I learned
to count clouds

to recognize
mint leaves
in flowerpots

my grandma
wore moons
on her dress

Mexico’s mountains
deserts
ocean

in her eyes
I’d see them
in her braids

I’d touch them
in her voice
smell them

one day
I was told:
she went far away

but still
I feel her
with me

whispering
in my ear:
mijito


En un barrio de Los Ángeles

el español
lo aprendí
de mi abuela

mijito
no llores
me decía

en las mañanas
cuando salían
mis padres

a trabajar
en las canerías
de pescado

mi abuela
platicaba
con las sillas

les cantaba
canciones
antiguas

les bailaba
valses en
la cocina

cuando decía
niño barrigón
se reía

con mi abuela
aprendí
a contar nubes

a reconocer
en las macetas
la yerbabuena

mi abuela
llevaba lunas
en el vestido

la montaña
el desierto
el mar de México

en sus ojos
yo los veía
en sus trenzas

yo los tocaba
con su voz
yo los olía

un día
me dijeron:
se fue muy lejos

pero yo aún
la siento
conmigo

diciéndome
quedito al oído:
mijito

From From the Other Side of Night/del otro lado de la noche: New and Selected Poems by Francisco X. Alarcón. © 2002 The Arizona Board of Regents. Reprinted by permission of the University of Arizona Press.

What still grows in winter?
Fingernails of witches and femmes,
green moss on river rocks,
lit with secrets... I let myself
go near the river but not
the railroad: this is my bargain.
Water boils in a kettle in the woods
and I can hear the train grow louder
but I also can’t, you know?
Then I’m shaving in front of an
unbreakable mirror while a nurse
watches over my shoulder.
Damn. What still grows in winter?
Lynda brought me basil I crushed
with my finger and thumb just to
smell the inside of a thing. So
I go to the river but not the rail-
road, think I’ll live another year.
The river rock dig into my shoulders
like a lover who knows I don’t want
power. I release every muscle against
the rock and I give it all my warmth.
                              Snow shakes
onto my chest quick as table salt.
Branches above me full of pine needle
whips: when the river rock is done
with me, I could belong to the evergreen.
Safety is a rock I throw into the river.
My body, ready. Don’t even think
a train run through this town anymore.

Copyright © 2018 by Oliver Baez Bendorf. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 8, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

i have diver’s lungs from holding my
breath for so long. i promise you
i am not trying to break a record
sometimes i just forget to
exhale. my shoulders held tightly
near my neck, i am a ball of tense
living, a tumbleweed with steel-toed
boots. i can’t remember the last time
i felt light as dandelion. i can’t remember
the last time i took the sweetness in
& my diaphragm expanded into song.
they tell me breathing is everything,
meaning if i breathe right i can live to be
ancient. i’ll grow a soft furry tail or be
telekinetic something powerful enough
to heal the world. i swear i thought
the last time i’d think of death with breath
was that balmy day in july when the cops
became a raging fire & sucked the breath
out of Garner; but yesterday i walked
38 blocks to my father’s house with a mask
over my nose & mouth, the sweat dripping
off my chin only to get caught in fabric & pool up
like rain. & i inhaled small spurts of me, little
particles of my dna. i took into body my own self
& thought i’d die from so much exposure
to my own bereavement—they’re saying
this virus takes your breath away, not
like a mother’s love or like a good kiss
from your lover’s soft mouth but like the police
it can kill you fast or slow; dealer’s choice.
a pallbearer carrying your body without a casket.
they say it’s so contagious it could be quite
breathtaking. so persistent it might as well
be breathing                        down your neck—

Copyright © 2020 by Yesenia Montilla. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 21, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

i know we exist because of what we make. my dad works at a steel mill. he worked at a steel mill my whole life. at the party, the liberal white woman tells me she voted for hillary & wishes bernie won the nomination. i stare in the mirror if i get too lonely. thirsty to see myself i once walked into the lake until i almost drowned. the white woman at the party who might be liberal but might have voted for trump smiles when she tells me how lucky i am. how many automotive components do you think my dad has made. you might drive a car that goes and stops because of something my dad makes. when i watch the news i hear my name, but never see my face. every other commercial is for taco bell. all my people fold into a $2 crunchwrap supreme. the white woman means lucky to be here and not mexico. my dad sings por tu maldito amor & i’m sure he sings to america. y yo caí en tu trampa ilusionado. the white woman at the party who may or may not have voted for trump tells me she doesn't meet too many mexicans in this part of new york city. my mouth makes an oh, but i don't make a sound. a waiter pushes his brown self through the kitchen door carrying hors d’oeuvres. a song escapes through the swinging door. selena sings pero ay como me duele & the good white woman waits for me to thank her.  

Copyright © 2017 by José Olivarez. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 1, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

translated from the Spanish by Mary Crow

My most beautiful hiding places,
places that best fit my soul’s deepest colors,
are made of all that others forgot.

They are solitary sites hollowed out in the grass’s caress,
in a shadow of wings, in a passing song;
regions whose limits swirl with the ghostly carriages
that transport the mist in the dawn,
and in whose skies names are sketched, ancient words of love,
vows burning like constellations of drunken fireflies.

Sometimes earthly villages pass, hoarse trains make camp,
a couple piles marvelous oranges at the edge of the sea,
a single relic is spread through all space.
My places would look like broken mirages,
clippings of photographs torn from an album to orient nostalgia,
but they have roots deeper than this sinking ground,
these fleeing doors, these vanishing walls.

They are enchanted islands where only I can be the magician.

And who else, if not I, is climbing the stairs towards those attics in the clouds
where the light, aflame, used to hum in the siesta’s honey,
who else will open again the big chest where the remains of an unhappy story lie,
sacrificed a thousand times only to fantasy, only to foam,
and try on the rags again
like those costumes of invincible heroes,
circle of fire that inflamed time’s scorpion?

Who cleans the windowpane with her breath and stirs the fire of the afternoon
in those rooms where the table was an altar of idolatry,
each chair, a landscape folded up after every trip,
and the bed, a stormy short cut to the other shore of dreams,
rooms deep as nets hung from the sky,
like endless embraces I slid down till I brushed the feathers of death,
until I overturned the laws of knowledge and the fall of man?

Who goes into the parks with the golden breath of each Christmas
and washes the foliage with a little gray rag that was the handkerchief for waving goodbye,
and reweaves the garlands with a thread of tears,
repeating a fantastic ritual among smashed wine glasses and guests lost in thought,
while she savors the twelve green grapes of redemption—
one for each month, one for each year, one for each century of empty indulgence—
a taste acid but not as sharp as the bread of forgetfulness?

Because who but I changes the water for all the memories?
Who inserts the present like a slash into the dreams of the past?
Who switches my ancient lamps for new ones?

My most beautiful hiding places are solitary sites where no one goes,
and where there are shadows that only come to life when I am the magician.


 

Mis refugios más bellos,
los lugares que se adaptan mejor a los colores últimos de mi alma,
están hechos de todo lo que los otros olvidaron.

Son sitios solitarios excavados en la caricia de la hierba,
en una sombra de alas; en una canción que pasa;
regiones cuyos límites giran con los carruajes fantasmales
que transportan la niebla en el amanecer
y en cuyos cielos se dibujan nombres, viejas frases de amor,
juramentos ardientes como constelaciones de luciérnagas ebrias.

Algunas veces pasan poblaciones terrosas, acampan roncos trenes,
una pareja junta naranjas prodigiosas en el borde del mar,
una sola reliquia se propaga por toda la extensión.
Parecerían espejismos rotos,
recortes de fotografías arrancados de un álbum para orientar a la nostalgia,
pero tienen raíces más profundas que este suelo que se hunde,
estas puertas que huyen, estas paredes que se borran.

Son islas encantadas en las que sólo yo puedo ser la hechicera.

¿Y quién si no, sube las escaleras hacia aquellos desvanes entre nubes
donde la luz zumbaba enardecida en la miel de la siesta,
vuelve a abrir el arcón donde yacen los restos de una historia inclemente,
mil veces inmolada nada más que a delirios, nada más que a espumas,
y se prueba de nuevo los pedazos
como aquellos disfraces de las protagonistas invencibles,
el círculo de fuego con el que encandilaba al escorpión del tiempo?

¿Quién limpia con su aliento los cristales y remueve la lumbre del atardecer
en aquellas habitaciones donde la mesa era un altar de idolatría,
cada silla, un paisaje replegado después de cada viaje,
y el lecho, un tormentoso atajo hacia la otra orilla de los sueños;
aposentos profundos como redes suspendidas del cielo,
como los abrazos sin fin donde me deslizaba hasta rozar las plumas de la muerte,
hasta invertir las leyes del conocimiento y la caída?

¿Quién se interna en los parques con el soplo dorado de cada Navidad
y lava los follajes con un trapito gris que fue el pañuelo de las despedidas,
y entrelaza de nuevo los guirnaldas con un hilo de lágrimas,
repitiendo un fantástico ritual entre copas trizadas y absortos comensales,
mientras paleada en las doce uvas verdes de la redención—
una por cada mes, una por cada año, una por cada siglo de vacía indulgencia—
un ácido sabor menos mordiente que el del pan del olvido?

¿Por qué quién sino yo les cambia el agua a todos los recuerdos?
¿Quién incrusta el presente como un tajo ante las proyecciones del pasado?
¿Alguien trueca mis lámparas antiguas por sus lámparas nuevas?

Mis refugios más bellos son sitios solitarios a los que nadie va
y en los que sólo hay sombras que se animan cuando soy la hechicera.

Olga Orozco, “Ballad of Forgotten Places / Balada de los lugares olvidados" from Engravings Torn from Insomnia. Copyright © 2002 by The Estate of Olga Orozco. Translation copyright © 2002 by Mary Crow. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.

in spanish, we don’t naturally occur. the seasons differentiate us from natural people. when there are no seasons, let’s say, when we are a caribbean country, better yet, when we are a territory, we aren’t allowed to use the x, except for the word xylophone, because who uses a xylophone? and who wants us? every time you think these questions aren’t the same, you recognize that you never met me, despite the i’ve seen you before and somewhere.

if i’m going to explore my nationality, i have to be recognizable. this is what everyone knows. in fact, if i’m not recognizable, it’s as if i had no nation.

i wrote the following in a letter to the lions of the mayagüez zoo:

i know that right now you are lions, and you’ve spent a lot of time in the heat, but when you become snakes, no fence will be able to contain you. they’ll have to put you in a glass cage. they call this cage a fish tank. they’ll decorate the cage with rocks. you’ll no longer be able to roar. but don’t worry, when you become spiders, you’ll be able to leave the fish tank. you’ll climb up to the roof. maybe it’ll take you many weeks to find a window, but in the interim, you’ll eat mosquitos, since these are abundant, despite the aromatic candles.

i wrote them this letter because i know what it’s like to wait for transmogrification.

i wrote them this letter because i know what it’s like to wait for transmogrification in captivity.

outside of the fish tank, there is a room. outside of the room, there is a zoo. outside of the zoo, there is a hometown. outside of the hometown, there is a colony. outside of the colony, there is an empire. outside of the empire, there is the king of seasons. if you kill the king, you kill the game.


notas sobre las temporadas

en el español no nos damos naturalmente. las temporadas sirven para diferenciarnos de las personas naturales. cuando no hay temporada, digamos, cuando somos de un país caribeño, mejor, cuando somos de un territorio, no se nos permite usar la x, excepto para la palabra xilófono, ¿porque quién usa xilófono? ¿y quién nos quiere? cada vez que piensas que estas preguntas no son la misma, reconoces que nunca me conociste, a pesar del te he visto antes y de alguna parte.

si voy a explorar mi nacionalidad, tengo que ser reconocible. eso lo saben todos. de hecho, si no me reconoces, es como si no tuviera nación.

le escribí lo siguiente en una carta a los leones del zoológico de mayagüez:

sé que, en estos momentos, son leones, y llevan mucho tiempo en el calor, pero, cuando sean culebras, no habrá verja que los contenga. tendrán que ponerlos en una jaula de cristal. a esta jaula le llaman pecera. decorarán la jaula con piedras. ya no podrán rugir. pero tranquilos, que cuando sean arañas podrán salir de la pecera. subirán hasta un techo. quizás les tomé varias semanas encontrar la ventana, pero en el interín, comerán mosquitos, pues estos abundan, a pesar de las velas aromáticas.

les escribí esta carta porque sé lo que es esperar la transmogrificación.

les escribí esta carta porque sé lo que es esperar la transmogrificación en cautiverio.

fuera de la pecera, hay un cuarto. fuera del cuarto, hay un zoológico. fuera del zoológico, hay una pueblo natalicio. fuera del pueblo natalicio, hay una colonia. fuera de la colonia, hay un imperio. fuera del imperio, existe el rey de las temporadas. si matas el rey, matas el juego.


Originally published in the Boston Review. Copyright © 2017 by Raquel Salas Rivera. Used with the permission of the author.

with gratitude to Wanda Coleman & Terrance Hayes

We have the same ankles, hips, nipples, knees—
our bodies bore the forks/tenedors
we use to eat. What do we eat? Darkness
from cathedral floors,

the heart’s woe in abundance. Please let us
go through the world touching what we want,
knock things over. Slap & kick & punch
until we get something right. ¿Verdad?

Isn’t it true, my father always asks.
Your father is the ghost of mine & vice
versa. & when did our pasts
stop recognizing themselves? It was always like

us to first person: yo. To disrupt a hurricane’s
path with our own inwardness.
C’mon huracán, you watery migraine,
prove us wrong for once. This sadness

lasts/esta tristeza perdura. Say it both ways
so language doesn’t bite back, but stays.

                                          for Kristen

Copyright © 2019 by Iliana Rocha. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 19, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Every day I am born like this—
No chingues. Nothing happens
for the first time. Not the neon
sign that says vacant, not the men
nor the jackals who resemble them.
I take my bones inscribed by those
who came before, and learn
to court myself under a violence
of stars. I prefer to become demon,
what their eyes cannot. Half of me
is beautiful, half of me is a promise
filled with the quietest places.
Every day I pray like a dog
in the mirror and relish the crux
of my hurt. We know Lilith ate
the bones of her enemies. We know
a bitch learns to love her own ghost.

Copyright © 2018 by Erika L. Sánchez. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 27, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Not to search for meaning, but to reedify a gesture, an intent.

As a translator, one grows attached to originals. Seldom are choices 
   so purposeful.

At midday, the translator meets with the poet at a café at the intersection 
   where for decades whores and cross-dressers have lined up at 
   night for passers-by to peruse.  

Not a monologue, but an implied conversation. The translator's 
   response is delayed. 

The translator asks, the poet answers unrestrictedly. Someone 
   watches the hand movements that punctuate the flow of an 
   incomprehensible dialogue.

They're speaking about the poet's disillusionment with Freud. 

One after another, vivid descriptions of the poet's dreams begin to 
   pour out of his mouth. There's no signal of irony in his voice. 
   Nor a hint of astonishment, nor a suggestion of hidden meanings,
   rather a belief in the detritus theory.

"Se me aparece un gato fosforescente. Lo sostengo en mis brazos 
   sabiendo que no volveré a ser el mismo." 

"Estoy en una fiesta. De pronto veo que el diablo está sentado frente 
   a mí. Viste de negro, lleva una barba puntiaguda y un tridente en 
   la mano izquierda. Es tan amable que nadie se da cuenta de que 
   no es un invitado como los otros." 

"Anuncian en el radio que Octavio Paz leerá su poema más reciente:
   'Vaca . . . vaca . . . vaca . . . vaca . . . vaca . . . vaca . . . vaca . . .'"

"Entro a un laboratorio y percibo aromas inusitados. Aún los recuerdo." 


The translator knows that nothing the poet has ever said or written 
   reveals as much about him as the expression on his face when he 
   was asked to pose for a picture. He greets posterity with a devilish 
   grin. To the translator's delight, he's forced to repeat the gesture at 
   least three or four times. The camera has no film. 

Reprinted from American Poet, Fall 2002. Copyright © 2002 by Mónica de la Torre. Reprinted by permission of the poet. All rights reserved.

The soft harp of snowfall plucking through
my pine trees lulls me to peace, yet I still
hear the bongo of thunderstorms rapping
the rooftop of my queer childhood, dancing
to the clouds’ rage, raining away my sorrows.
Though snow melts silently into the gurgles
of my creek, my grandmother’s voice remains
frozen in my ears, still calling me a sissy, yet
praising me as her best friend. Even though
I marvel over spring’s abracadabra each time
my lilac blooms appear, I still disappear back
into the magic of summer nights on the porch,
the moon lighting up my grandfather’s stories
about his lost Cuba, his words carried away
with the smoke of his tabaco and the scent
of his jasmine tree flowering the night with
its tiny, perfumed stars. Despite the daystars
peeking behind the lavender clouds swaddling
mountain peaks in my window at sunset, I still
rise to the sun of my youth over the sea, after
a night’s sleep on a bed of sand, dreaming or
dreading who I would, or wouldn’t become.
Though I grew courageous enough to marry
a man who can only love me in his English:
darling, sweetheart, honey, I love him back
more in my Spanish whispered in his ears as
he sleeps: amorcito, tesoro, ceilo. After all
the meatloafs and apple pies we’ve baked
in our kitchen, I still sit down to the memory
of my mother’s table, savoring the loss of her
onion-smothered vaca frita and creamy flan.
No matter how tastefully my throw pillows
perfectly match my chic rugs and the stylish
art on my walls, it all falls apart sometimes,
just as I do, until I remember to be the boy
I was, always should be, playing alone with
his Legos in the family room, still enchanted
by the joy of his sheer self and his creations:
perfect or not, beautiful or not, immortal or
as mortal as the plentiful life I’ve made here,
although I keep living with my father dying
in our old house, his head cradled in my hand
for a sip of tea and a kiss on his forehead—
our last goodbye in the home that still lives
within this home where I live on to die, too.

Copyright © 2020 by Richard Blanco. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 22, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Mayagüez, Puerto Rico 1856

I. The First Horse
Cholera swarmed unseen through the water, lurking in wells and fountains,
squirming in garbage and excrement, infinitesimal worms drilling the intestines,
till all the water and salt would pour from the body, till the body became a worm,
shriveling and writhing, a slug in salt, till the skin burned blue as flame, the skin
of the peasant and the skin of the slave gone blue, the skin in the slave barracks blue,
the skin of ten thousand slaves blue. The Blue Death, face hidden in a bandanna,
dug graves with the gravediggers, who fell into holes they shoveled for the dead.
The doctors died too, seeing the signs in the mirror, the hand with the razor shaking.

II. The Second Horse
Doctor Betances stepped off the boat, back from Paris, the humidity of the plague
glistening in his beard. He saw the stepmother who fed him sink into a mound
of dirt, her body empty as the husk of a locust in drought.He toweled off his hands.
In the quarantine tents there was laudanum by the bitter spoonful, the lemonade
and broth; in the dim of the kerosene lamps there was the compress cool against
the forehead, the elixir of the bark from the cinchona tree. For peasants and slaves
moaning to their gods, the doctor prescribed chilled champagne to soothe the belly.
For the commander of the Spanish garrison, there was silence bitter as the spoon.

III. The Third Horse
At every hacienda, at every plantation, as the bodies of slaves rolled one by one
into ditches all hipbones and ribs, drained of water and salt, stripped of names,
Doctor Betances commanded the torch for the barracks where the bodies would
tangle together, stacked up as if they never left the ship that sailed from Africa,
kept awake by the ravenous worms of the plague feasting upon them. Watching
the blue flames blacken the wood, the doctor and the slaves saw another plague
burning away, the plague of manacles scraping the skin from hands that cut
the cane, the plague of the collar with four spikes for the runaways brought back.

IV. The Fourth Horse
The pestilence of the masters, stirred by spoons into the coffee of the world,
spread first at the marketplace, at auction, the coins passing from hand to hand.
So Doctor Betances began, at church, with twenty-five pesos in pieces of eight,
pirate coins dropped into the hands of slaves to drop into the hands of masters,
buying their own infants at the baptismal font. The secret society of abolitionists
shoved rowboats full of runaways off the docks in the bluest hour of the blue night,
off to islands without masters. Even the doctor would strangle in the executioner’s
garrote, spittle in his beard, if the soldiers on watch woke up from the opiate of empire.

V. The Fifth Horse
The governor circled his name in the name of empire, so Doctor Betances
sailed away to exile, the island drowning in his sight, but a vision stung
his eyes like salt in the wind: in the world after the plague, no more
plague of manacles; after the pestilence, no more pestilence of masters;
after the cemeteries of cholera, no more collar of spikes or executioners.
In his eye burned the blue of the rebel flag and the rising of his island.
The legend calls him the doctor who exhausted five horses, sleepless
as he chased invisible armies into the night. Listen for the horses.

 

*To read this poem in its intended format, please click here from your laptop or desktop.

Copyright © 2020 by Martín Espada. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 23, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

but love does not, Menelle Sebastien.
Of all the afflictions
& luck,
all the sums & paradoxes,
& gravitons that add up
to more minus
than plus,
I promise that love
is often as inconsiderate as it is just
because actual love,
I imagine,
is a wave function
that isn’t restricted
to being
in any one place
at one time.
No, love must
be a superposition
with a measurement problem,
but don’t worry,
I won’t get into alternative
realities & how a single judgement
from one can so easily
dissolve
whom,
or what,
she’s sizing up—                & yet,

                              when experts speak of capturing
vastness at such a small scale,
I can only see the passenger
pigeon
flitting into living
sequoia trees,
& every blue whale
sinking into the great
barrier
reef
& all the threats each are facing,
all these gigantic things
that beat
within the size
of a subatomic being
that is the proton,
which is not fundamental
as love
ought to be—

                            & maybe it does all
add up
to a single hush.
Like how we try to escape
what makes us human by trying
to make sense of what made us
human.
These days,
when I think on the proton,
I only observe love
as entanglement
in which we bias & sway & touch
over great,
great
distances.
But like I said,
I won’t get into it
like the quark’s fate
& all the possible quantum trickery
out there,
lying in wait.
I don’t believe hope dies
just because old measurements got it
wrong & there are no secret lives
between protons & muons
that cause the former to change
in size,
silencing all the music
that drives us
toward mystery
rather than discovery.
Maybe just thank
electronic hydrogen,
since, for now, there’s an answer,
even if it feels like a dead end—

                                                       because I’d bet everything,
                                                       that at least something began
                                                       over this:                         jounce,
                                                       butterfly & cower ::
                                                       over & oeuvre,
                                                       greedy, hunger,
                                                       & sour

                 until aching
                 each other’s spoils,
                 stripping bare
                 their delicate
                 & deadly
                 creaking
                 coils—

Copyright © 2020 by Rosebud Ben-Oni. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 24, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Coming out isn’t the same as coming to America

except for the welcome parade

put on by ghosts like your granduncle Roy

who came to New York from Panamá in the 50s

and was never heard of again

and by the beautiful gays who died of AIDS in the 80s

whose cases your mother studied

in nursing school. She sent you to the US to become

an “American” and you worry

she’ll blame this country

for making you a “marica,”

a “Mary,” like it might have made your uncle Roy.

The words “America” and “marica” are so similar!

Exchange a few vowels

and turn anyone born in this country

queer. I used to watch Queer as Folk as a kid

and dream of sashaying away

the names bullies called me in high school

for being Black but not black enough, or the kind of black they saw on TV:

black-ish, negro claro, cueco.

It was a predominately white school,

the kind of white the Spanish brought to this continent

when they cozened my ancestors from Africa.

There was no welcome parade for my ancestors back then

so, they made their own procession, called it “carnaval”

and fully loaded the streets with egungun costumes,

holy batá drum rhythms, shouting and screaming in tongues,

and booty dancing in the spirit.

I don’t want to disappear in New York City,

lost in a drag of straightness.

So instead, I proceed

to introduce my mother to my first boyfriend

after I’ve moved her to Texas

and helped make her a citizen.

Living is trafficking through ghosts in a constant march

toward a better life, welcoming the next in line.

Thriving is wining the perreo to soca on the

Noah’s Arc pride parade float, like you’re

the femme bottom in an early aughts gay TV show.

Surviving is (cross-)dressing as an American marica,

until you’re a ‘merica or a ‘murica

and your ancestors see

you’re the king-queen of Mardi Gras,

purple scepter, crown, and krewe.

Copyright © 2020 by Darrel Alejandro Holnes. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 25, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

translated by Ursula K. Le Guin

    When I’m walking, everything
on earth gets up
and stops me and whispers to me,
and what they tell me is their story.

    And the people walking
on the road leave me their stories,
I pick them up where they fell
in cocoons of silken thread.

    Stories run through my body
or sit purring in my lap.
So many they take my breath away,
buzzing, boiling, humming.
Uncalled they come to me,
and told, they still won’t leave me.

    The ones that come down through the trees
weave and unweave themselves,
and knit me up and wind me round
until the sea drives them away.

    But the sea that’s always telling stories,
the wearier I am the more it tells me...

    The people who cut trees,
the people who break stones,
want stories before they go to sleep.

    Women looking for children
who got lost and don’t come home,
women who think they’re alive
and don’t know they’re dead,
every night they ask for stories,
and I return tale for tale.

    In the middle of the road, I stand
between rivers that won’t let me go,
and the circle keeps closing
and I’m caught in the wheel.

    The riverside people tell me
of the drowned woman sunk in grasses
and her gaze tells her story,
and I graft the tales into my open hands.

    To the thumb come stories of animals,
to the index fingers, stories of my dead.
There are so many tales of children
they swarm on my palms like ants.

    When my arms held
the one I had, the stories
all ran as a blood-gift
in my arms, all through the night.
Now, turned to the East,
I’m giving them away because I forget them.

    Old folks want them to be lies.
Children want them to be true.
All of them want to hear my own story,
which, on my living tongue, is dead.

    I’m seeking someone who remembers it
leaf by leaf, thread by thread.
I lend her my breath, I give her my legs,
so that hearing it may waken it for me.

 


La Contadora 

    Cuando camino se levantan
todas las cosas de la tierra
y me paran y cuchichean
y es su historia lo que cuentan.

    Y las gentes que caminan
en la ruta me la dejan
y la recojo caída
en capullos que son de huella.

    Historias corren mi cuerpo
o en mi regazo ronronean.
Tantas son que no dan respiro,
zumban, hierven y abejean.
Sin llamada se me vienen
y contadas tampoco dejan…

    Las que bajan por los árboles
se trenzan y se destrenzan,
y me tejen y me envuelvan
hasta que el mar los ahuyenta.

    Pero el mar que cuenta siempre
más rendida, más me deja...

    Los que están mascando bosque
y los que rompen la piedra,
al dormirse quieren historias.

    Mujeres que buscan hijos
perdidos que no regresan,
y las que se creen vivas
y no saben que están muertas,
cada noche piden historias,
y yo me rindo cuenta que cuenta.

    A medio camino quedo
entre ríos que no me sueltan,
el corro se va cerrando
y me atrapa en la rueda.

   Los ribereños me cuentan
la ahogada sumida en hierbas,
y su mirada cuenta su historia,
y yo las tronco en mis palmas abiertas.

    Al pulgar llegan las de animales,
al índice las de mis muertos.
Las de niños, de ser tantas
en las palmas me hormiguean.

    Cuando tomaba así mis brazos
el que yo tuve, todas ellas
en regalo de sangre corrieron
mis brazos una noche entera.
Ahora yo, vuelta al Oriente,
se las voy dando porque no recuerdo.

    Los viejos las quieren mentidas,
los niños las quieren ciertas.
Todos quieren oír la historia mía
que en mi lengua viva está muerta.

    Busco alguna que la recuerde
hoja por hoja, herbra por hebra.
Le presto mi aliento, le doy mi marcha
por si el oírla me la despierta.

From Selected Poems of Gabriela Mistral: Translated by Ursula K. Le Guin. Copyright © 2003 Ursula K. Le Guin. Courtesy of University of New Mexico Press. Published in Poem-a-Day on September 27, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Outside, an abandoned mattress sags with rain
and the driveway turns all sludge when I remember
I could’ve died eight years ago, in a bed
smaller than the one I share with a new lover
who just this morning found another grey hair in my afro,
and before resettling the wiry curl with the others,
kissed the freckle on my forehead.
I admit, I don’t know a love that doesn’t
destroy. Last night while we slept,
a mouse drowned in the rice pot
I left soaking in the sink. I tried
to make a metaphor out of this, the way
he took the mouse to the edge of the lake in the yard,
released it to a deeper grave. It was
an anniversary, just my lover
taking a dead thing away, taking it
somewhere I couldn’t see.

Copyright © 2020 by Diannely Antigua. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 28, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

after Wisława Szymborska

In my dreams,
I lasso a wild steer on the first try.

I chauffeur Picasso
To meet up with Dali—
None of us is happy about this summit.

After licking my fingertips,
I play guitar masterfully.

I use index cards to make sense
Of the universe.

I discover my childhood cat in the neighbor’s tree—
So that’s where you’ve been, you little rascal.

I beg the alligator, por favor,
To make a snap judgement,
Will it be my leg or my arm?

Picture me swimming with dolphins.
Picture me with these dolphins
Sitting in lawn chairs.

I’m full of gratitude—
The lightbulb comes on
When the refrigerator door is opened.

Yes, I’m the scientist who solved laryngitis—
Now all of us howl at our own pleasure.

I get to throw a trophy from a moving car.
When I park my car,
I’m awarded another trophy—
Someone above is giving me a second chance.

Copyright © 2020 by Gary Soto. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 29, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

I’m watching an old movie in one corner
of my laptop and in another the shadows
nesting in your neck, the flickering frequencies
of your sweater, and remember the Jack Nicholson
tagline in that movie we almost watched then decided
against fearing the little taser of misogyny:
You make me want to be a better person. Sometimes
the only thing I want is to say marry me
even though we both think marriage is archaic and weird
or at least for us. It’s not marry me I want to say
but rather weld with me like a net we also sit in.
Oh FaceTime face and shadow neck and the almost synced
sound of our shared watching. You have a list of things
that are going to be the death of you,
and so do I, which we cover in our debriefings.
All of this is to say that distance makes my heart go farther
into the terrain of heartfelt and I love it: how ordinarily
classifiable it is like feeling literal figurative butterflies
in your stomach. The good being fundamental.
Surprising love can happen at any part of one’s life
like the pixels deciding when to flicker into bursts.

Copyright © 2020 by Carmen Giménez Smith. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 30, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

I tap-tap-tap the window, while my mother smiles and mouths,
Tranquila. I tap-tap the glass, my mother a fish I’m trying to summon.

I tap until a border agent says: Stop. Until a border agent
shows me the gun on her belt. My childhood was caught

on video border agents deleted every three months.
I thought myself a movie star blowing kisses at the children

selling chiclets on the bridge. My cruelty from the backseat window
caught on video—proof I am an American. The drug sniffing

dogs snap their teeth at my mother detained for her thick accent,
a warp in her green card. My mother who mouths, Tranquila.

My mother’s fingers dark towers on a screen for the Bioten scan.
Isn’t it fun? says the border agent. The state takes a picture

of my mother’s left ear. Isn’t it fun? I tap-tap-tap the glass
and imagine it shatters into shiny marbles. A marble like the one

I have in my pocket, the one I squeeze so hard I hope to reach
its blue swirls. Blue swirls I wish were water I could bring to my mother

in a glass to be near her. Friends, Americans, countrymen lend me your ears!
But only the border agent replies, Do you know the pledge of allegiance?

She points to a flag pinned on a wall. I do, so I stand and pledge to the country
that says it loves me so much, it loves me so much it wants to take

my mother far away from me. Far away, to the place they keep
all the other mothers to sleep on rubber mats and drink from rubber hoses.

Don’t worry, says the border agent, we will take good care of your mommy.
My mother mouths, Tranquila. Her teeth, two rows of gold I could pawn

for something shiny, something shiny like the border agent’s gun.
Friends, Americans, countrymen lend me your ears, so I can hear

my mother through bulletproof glass, so I can hear her over the roar
of American cars crossing this dead river by the wave of an agent’s pale hand.

Copyright © 2020 by Natalie Scenters-Zapico. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 1, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

translated from the Spanish by Joan Larkin and Jaime Manrique

Love opened a mortal wound.
In agony, I worked the blade
to make it deeper. Please,
I begged, let death come quick.

Wild, distracted, sick,
I counted, counted
all the ways love hurt me.
One life, I thought—a thousand deaths.

Blow after blow, my heart
couldn’t survive this beating.
Then—how can I explain it?

I came to my senses. I said,
Why do I suffer? What lover
ever had so much pleasure?

 


Con el Dolor de la Mortal Herida

Con el dolor de la mortal herida,
de un agravio de amor me lamentaba;
y por ver si la muerte se llegaba,
procuraba que fuese más crecida.

Toda en el mal el alma divertida,
pena por pena su dolor sumaba,
y en cada circunstancia ponderaba
que sobraban mil muertes a una vida.

Y cuando, al golpe de uno y otro tiro,
rendido el corazón daba penoso
señas de dar el último suspiro,

no sé con qué destino prodigioso
volví en mi acuerdo y dije:—¿Qué me admiro?
¿Quién en amor ha sido más dichoso?

From Sor Juana’s Love Poems, translated by Joan Larkin and Jaime Manrique. Copyright © 2003. Reprinted with permission of the University of Wisconsin Press. All rights reserved. Published in Poem-a-Day on October 4, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets. 

I used to dream of living here. I hike
a trail I know that at the end opens

to glorious views of the city I did
live in once, when men my age kept dying

while I learned how to diagnose AIDS.
Some dreams don’t come true, and some dreams become

nightmares. Across a field that smells of sage,
a few horses loiter. I want to think

that they forgive me, since they’re noble creatures.
They stamp and snort, reminding me they know

nothing of forgiveness. I used to dream
that someday I’d escape to San Francisco,

when I was still in high school and I knew.
Tall and muscled, the horses are like the jocks

on the football team who beat me once, as if pain
teaches truth and they knew I had to learn.

I used to dream I was as white as them,
that I could slam my locker closed and not

think of jail. Some nightmares come true,
like when my uncle got arrested for

cocaine. My family never talked about it,
which made me realize they could also feel shame.

That’s when I started dreaming I could be
a doctor someday, that I could get away,

prescribe myself a new life. Right now, as
the city comes into view, I think of those

animals and hope they got what they deserved.
The city stretches out its arms, its two bridges

to Oakland, to Stockton, to San Rafael,
to Vallejo; places I could have been from

but wasn’t. It looks just as it did
all those years ago. Yet I know it’s changed

because so many of us died, like Rico,
who took me up here for the first time.

We kicked a soccer ball around and smoked
a joint. I think we talked about our dreams,

but who can remember dreams. I look out
and the sun like your hand on my face

is warm, and for a moment I think this is
glorious, this is what forgiveness feels like.

Copyright © 2020 by Rafael Campo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 5, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

For every unexpected illness that required medical insurance,
every second-trimester miscarriage, every chaos unemployment
caused, every looming eviction, every arrest warrant gone
unanswered, the women in my family made promesas to plaster
cast statues worshipped in overcrowded apartments with rum
poured over linoleum, nine-day candles coughing black soot
until the wick surrendered, Florida water perfuming doorways
and the backs of necks.

Promesas: barters/contracts with a God they didn’t vow to
change for but always appeased/ bowls of fruit/ paper bags filled
with coconut candy and caserolas de ajiaco/ left at busy intersections,
an oak tree in High bridge park, the doorway of the 34th precinct,
and when mar pacifico and rompe saraguey refused to grow on
Washington Heights windowsills, the youngest became part of
the trade.

Unsullied and unaware: cousin Mari pissed about having to dress
in green and red for twenty-one days to keep Tío Pablo out of jail/
Luisito scratching at an anklet made of braided corn silk to help
Tía Lorna find a new job/ and my hair not to be cut until Papi’s
tumor was removed.

Gathered in tight buns or sectioned pigtails, falling long past my
waist when asymmetrical bobs were in fashion, unaware my crown
had the necessary coercion to dislodge a mass from a colon, I grabbed
my older brother’s clippers, ran thirsty blades across my right temple
to the back of my ear, massaged the softness that emerged as strands
surrendered on bathroom tiles. My desire to mimic freestyle icons,
whose albums my cousins and I scratched on old record players,
wagered against Papi’s large intestine.

My unsteady hand: a fist
in the face of God.

Copyright © 2020 by Peggy Robles–Alvarado. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 6, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

(after Graciela Iturbide’s 1979 photograph)

My warm morning skin bristles
in the jungle hut’s frigid shower

as shrill chirps trill
off my inner ear’s high-hat.

What tropical bird lurks
outside this screen-less window?

I imagine lime green wings,
a feathered turquoise face,

but when its squeak rattles
into a hiss that creeps

behind me like a shadow, I turn
to stare straight into the onyx

eye of an iguana, iridescent
crown gleaming down

on my miserable wet head, tail
coiling the shower pole, tongue reach-

ing for my splashed shoulder.
I slink back, leave dirt in the bends

of elbows and knees, relinquish
a chance to feel eyes licked

into the back of my head. I am not
la Nuestra Señora de las Iguanas

donning her Zapotec headdress
of protruding limbs about to leap,

folded faces, triple chins. Not
Iturbide’s pebble squint refusing to blink

as it latches onto the queen of Juchitán
so far away, yet so near to where I stand

dripping on this poured concrete floor.

Copyright © 2020 by Brenda Cárdenas. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 7, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

“EL Sal-va-doh-RE-AN Salva-doh-RAN, Salva-DOH-RÍ-an,”
los mui-muis, we don’t even know what
to call ourselves. How to eat
a pupusa: ¿fork & knife? or
¿open it up & treat it like a taco? but
then, we’re betraying our nationalistic (read:
anti-black, anti-indigenous) impulse
to not mix with anyone else. ¿& what’s
with jalapeños in the curtido,
cipotes? ¿With using spicy “salsa”
instead of salsa de tomate? There’s too many
“restaurantes,” one side of the menu: Mexican,
the other, platos típicos. Typically
I want to order the ensalada, but then
they bring me an actual salad.
I say: cóman miercoles, they
want to charge me extra for harina de arroz. Extra
por los nueagados. There’s
nowhere I’d rather be most
than in Abuelita’s kitchen, watching her
throw bay leaves, tomatoes, garlic, orégano
into the blender, then chicharrón,
helping her sell to everyone that knows
she made the best pupusas
from 1985 to 2004. By then,
Salvadoreños became “Hermanos Lejanos,”
we traded Colón for Washingtón. By then,
Los Hermanos Flores looked for new singers
every time they returned from Los Yunaited
to San Salvador. Stay, no se vayan,
es-tei, no sean dundos, was all
those Salvadoreños could say.
We didn’t listen & came here
only to be called Mexican or Puerto Rican,
depending on the coast. We had to fight
for our better horchata, not
the lazy whiter one with only rice. & when
we didn’t want to fight
we tried to blend, speak more “Mexican,”
more ira, more popote, more
no pos guao. ¡Nó, majes!
¡No se me hagan dundos,
ponganse trucha vos!
When anyone wants to call you: Mexican.
You can just say: Nó,
actually, andáte a la M—
racista cara de nacionalista.

Copyright © 2020 by Javier Zamora. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 9, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

It’s true that I’m im-
patient under affliction. So?
Most of what the dead can

do is difficult to carry. As for
gender I can’t explain it
any more than a poem: there

was an instinct, I followed
it. A song. A bell. I saw
deer tracks in the snow. Little

split hearts beckoned me
across the lawn. My body
bucked me, fond of me.

Here is how you bear this flourish.
Bud, I’m buckling to blossoms now.

Copyright © 2020 by Oliver Baez Bendorf. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 8, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

after Gala Mukomolova’s “On the Brighton Beach Boardwalk”

Families roll on toward summer, its feral freedom, ocean waves 
beckon every sibling like schools of skipjack leaping together to  
catch the sun on their silver scales. Bundles of beach umbrellas  
waiting to be raised high & planted for their temporary kingdoms.  
Trucks bobbing with oranges, station wagons bouncing with  
babies in the back. Lovers fight in the red gleam of a rover or  
swerve in the sweat of a frolick behind the wheel. A highway  
stretch of to & fro, bodies raucous & guzzling. So many dreams  
leaking from gas tanks, the oil drip of wasted want. A congested  
uproar of miles in waiting. So many exits missed.  What-could-
have-beens, just beyond the turnpike. Dead ends. Concrete &
unmoving.  

My aunt, a tree cutting herself down & me with, turns to me from  
the front seat, says, some of us didn’t get the looks in the family, right?
You know how it is. My silence hits the lane markers, all we hear is  
bumpbumpbump. All I hear is my tías telling each other, you are  
beautiful, mija, but wear a hat so you don’t get too dark. All I hear is a  
world saying brownbrownbrown a little too much & I am furiously  
stuffing my mouth with plantain chips crunching centuries  
between my teeth, my lungs a bouquet catching a windfall of  
particles unseen. So much ugly 

I tug on my seatbelt to breathe a little easier, flicking all the dead  
ends off me. A cement barrier, the road of my throat. No one says  
anything, the words filling the car like murky green lake water after  
a tumble off the road. I imagine the doors stuck in the pressure of  
the plunge, my drowned body floating to the surface not pretty  
enough to salvage & burn. I spread to the shoals, a seasoned meal  
in undertow, delicious, at least, to the fish. I am the fish, feral &  
flying.  

But I am flopped against the window, a pane dusty with estival  
judgment. I roll it down, gills gasping for air, my face a drum of  
highway breath, the 65 mph hot wind on my cheek reminding me  
I am a body on an irreplaceable planet. Don’t take everything so  
seriously, I hear. Roll the window up, dear, it really is too loud. 

Copyright © 2020 by heidi andrea restrepo rhodes. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 12, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

The whirring internal machine, its gears
grinding not to a halt but to a pace that emits
a low hum, a steady and almost imperceptible
hum: the Greeks would not have seen it this way.

Simply put, it was a result of black bile,
the small fruit of the gall bladder perched
under the liver somehow over-ripened
and then becoming fetid. So the ancients

would have us believe. But the overly-emotional
and contrarian Romans saw it as a kind of mourning
for one’s self. I trust the ancients but I have never 
given any of this credence because I cannot understand

how one does this, mourn one’s self.
Down by the shoreline—the Pacific 
wrestling with far more important 
philosophical issues—I recall the English notion

of it being a wistfulness, something John Donne
wore successfully as a fashion statement.
But how does one wear wistfulness well
unless one is a true believer? 

The humors within me are unbalanced, 
and I doubt they were ever really in balance
to begin with, ever in that rare but beautiful
thing the scientists call equilibrium.

My gall bladder squeezes and wrenches, 
or so I imagine. I am wistful and morose
and I am certain black bile is streaming 
through my body as I walk beside this seashore.

The small birds scrambling away from the advancing 
surf; the sun climbing overhead shortening shadows; 
the sound of the waves hushing the cries of gulls: 
I have no idea where any of this ends up.

To be balanced, to be without either
peaks or troughs: do tell me what that is like…
This contemplating, this mulling over, often leads 
to a moment a few weeks from now,

the one in which everything suddenly shines
with clarity, where my fingers race to put down 
the words, my fingers so quick on the keyboard 
it will seem like a god-damned miracle.

Copyright © 2020 by C. Dale Young. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 13, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

I beg for invisible fire.

Every night I pray to love,
please invent yourself.

I imagine a place after this place
and I laugh quietly to no one
as the hair on my chin
weeds through old makeup.

When I go to sleep
I am vinegar inside clouded glass.
The world comes to an end
when I wake up and wonder
who will be next to me.

Police sirens and coyote howls
blend together in morning’s net.
Once, I walked out past the cars
and stood on a natural rock formation
that seemed placed there to be stood on.
I felt something like kinship.
It was the first time.

Once, I believed god
was a blanket of energy
stretched out around
our most vulnerable
places,

when really,

she’s the sound
of a promise
breaking

Copyright © 2020 by Joshua Jennifer Espinoza. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 14, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

once, while on a coke binge,
and away from my mother,
my father drove his car
across the sand
and into the pacific ocean.
before he had done that,
he had given away
all of his possessions,
and eaten
a steak dinner.
he survived.
And then,
he was able
to torture us
with his aristocratic ascetic drama
for years to come.
you can take a pisces
to water,
and all it will do
is challenge them
to cry more than the sky;
i say this with admiration.
how would it serve me
to make this up.

like my father,
i sometimes threaten
to succumb to wounds
and don the trappings
of desires
disguised as needs.
you may know them:
the sensible shoe;
the classical beauty;
the manicured hand
offered in neoliberal compromise.

i once told konrad
about how i successfully destroy
my attraction to strangers.
i imagine them standing above me,
as i lay prone
before them in their bed,
watching as they try
to get themselves
hard and or wet.
then i imagine
their sheets,
the hovering echo
of their mother,
the amount of humidity
in their bedroom,
if they put music on,
how their underwear
tucks in and around
their ass—
and usually,
around this time,
i’ve lost all
interest in them—

“that is so virgo of you,”
konrad said, admiringly.
“that is 1,000 percent virgo.”
virgo could be
my gender, or
it could be
my sexuality.
virgo in narrative lust;
virgo in high fantasy;
virgo in unhappy ending.

i don’t know
what i like more:
the desire, or
the agonizing pleasure
of self-torture.
i like girls, but
girls
don’t seem to like me;
In That Way, at least.
i love women
and
i love men,
just as i love
all of g-d’s creatures;
but that doesn’t mean
that i want them,
or to be wanted by them.

hotly spayed virgin
in heat that i am,
i don’t think that
i have a gender,
but i can now
certainly have an orgasm.
i orgasmed
on my way
to the slaughterhouse;
i orgasmed
on the
kill floor.

i wouldn’t say
that the struggle
is between
masculine and feminine.
there’s nothing
that i’m attached to,
i assure you.
i pluck the sinew,
and hold the cup
marked by my lipstick
up to the cloud’s mouth.
i acquire the fear
that i don’t hear
the affect,
because i don't have
the affect.
i would say
that the struggle
is between
decidedly unmasculine
and afeminine.
the struggle
is between
indecision and not caring.

like all good
poor people and aristocrats,
i know how to have a good time.
why i refuse to
is my own problem.
like all good
leftists of a certain region,
i have never read marx
or the bible.
i know the gossip
well enough
to kneel and resist.
for example,
or perhaps,
for instance,
i was content enough
to be a corpse eater
among the lotus eaters,
and then a lotus eater
among the petroleuses.
and now,
i’m a petroleuse
among the corpse eaters.

Copyright © 2020 by Tatiana Luboviski-Acosta. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 15, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

There is no country to claim you when you die inside the word 

There is no language to claim you when die inside the cage  

The exiled cage breathes death at us 

The cage of exile heaves private air at us

Look 

Don’t speak now 

Just look 

Breathe into the mouth of the wound 

Dream into the foreclosure of your death 

Look into the vulture of your wound 

Look into the spider of your wound 

Look closely into the algorithm that determines the depth of your wound 

Whisper into the cage of exile 

You have nothing to lose but this breath 

Look

Into the breath in your breath 

Look     into the absent body in your breath 

Look     into the absent I in your body 

Look     into the absent you in your body 

No dust on your body no wound on your body no breath on your body no word on your body no fat on your body no arm on your body no tongue no shadow no rupture no breath no thought no cage no exile no word no code no silence 

Look

At the broken shadow in your broken shadow 

Look 

At the flooded street in your flooded street 

Look      into the economy of your absence and whisper into the code you cannot speak 

Look      into the silence of the code

Do not speak directly of the breath 

Do not speak directly of the suicide

Do not speak directly of the kids who tossed themselves into the river

Do not speak directly of the state that paid the kids to toss themselves into the river 

Breathe the privatized wind     breathe through the foreclosure of your mouth  

Breathe the broken shadow into the broken shadow 

Don’t take the money into the cage or they will kill you before it is time to kill you 

Pray gently into the privatization of your absence 

Die gently into the privatization of your absence

Pray gently into the accumulation of your absence

Die gently into the cage where the babies cry in your absence

Pray gently into the puffed-up corpses who grow and grow in your absence

The only breath in this cage is death 

Copyright © 2020 by Daniel Borzutzky. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 23, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Let the sunshine, let the sunshine in. I have learned to repeat these words to myself whenever I feel stuck.

Fear rustles mantras out of my body. I have risked a motherland. Why not also seduce the foreigner who implores nativity if loneliness can be broken and shared?

                                                         Aquarius

When Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical debuts on Broadway in April of 1968, it becomes the first production to include a nude scene with its entire cast.

Around the same time, Star Trek has popularized the phrase, Where no man has gone before.

Our bodies contain elements of outer space. So that when we’re naked we are gazing at the universe.

                                                         Aquarius

The night of my second panic attack, after getting released from the hospital and determined to change my mental health’s course, I dream of a nebula in the shape of an octopus, holding an astronaut in each tentacle. From my perspective, the cosmonauts feed on all my arms.

                                                         Aquarius

No more falsehoods or derisions. Golden living dreams of visions. Mystic crystal revelation and the mind's true liberation.

                                                         Aquarius

In the Age of Aquarius, give or take, plurality overtakes singularity. History becomes bored by its self-referentialism. Triangles burrow into single lines. Equal signs collapse on the spikes of other equal signs.

In the Age of Aquarius, give or take, we give birth to information and information delivers us. I make a fist and my fist speaks in four languages. Letters enter me and suddenly I experience flavors few before me have.

In the Age of Aquarius, give or take, gender is a tree is a building is a cloud. It is anything that hasn’t been said. The truest instinct one listens to more and more.

Copyright © 2020 by Roy G. Guzmán. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 6, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Let us, instead, consider the pockets 
Martin Rodriguez sewed onto the insides 
of his jacket and pants. 
                                      This was 5th grade.
This isn’t about the fact that he got caught 
jacking a bunch of shit from Market Spot. 
All of us wished we’d thought of it first. 
                                                                 We need 
to stay focused on those extra pockets. How 
big those caverns must have been—that fortune 
of whispered temptation. 
                                           Boy-genius, we said. 
Pockets for bags of apple-rings, beef jerky. A Pepsi 
2-liter. Crunch bars. Cans of Cactus Cooler, 
maybe. The lonely monster of desire bent us 
away from boyhood, made it something small 
that we wanted to toss rocks at. 
                                                    Rolls of Oreos 
in those pockets. Enough Doublemint gum 
to anchor friends on a green recess field. A few
sheets of temporary tattoos to offer in class 
while Mrs. Hawkins continued her lesson 
on the Gold Rush. 
                               I can see those pockets 
pomegranate when pulled apart: a bloom 
of endings across the Market Spot parking lot 
as he tried to run. Bomb Pop ice cream bars, 
or the cartoon kind with gumballs for eyes, 
oozing out. 
                   Look, I am talking about collapse. 
As always. The rest of the poem wants to go 
like this: I don’t know what happened 
to Martin Rodriguez. He never came back
to school. But the truth is he returned to class 
the next day. 
                     We stood in a circle, laughing 
about what he took until the day Manny 
got caught smoking weed. Then we talked 
about that until someone’s cousin got shot 
after school by the computer lab. We played 
Oregon Trail on Thursdays. None of us 
could ever cross the river. I kept dying 
of snake bite. 
                       We got older and painted walls 
for different crews. We became enemies, me 
and Martin, drawing exes over each other. We 
turned into no one, and then, 
                                                finally, we became 
fathers. I saw him, years later, with his son. 
We crossed each other on the street. Both of us 
nodded and kept on moving toward the sidewalk. 
So many years collapsing into each other, 
I thought. 
                  Someone has changed the sign 
in front of the store. But if I say Market Spot
today, the homie points to where we watched 
the cashier jump the counter and snatch Martin 
into the air, splicing it with sugar. The sharp kick 
of a boy’s legs. A body jolted into enough quiet 
that police were called. Officers with notepads, 
                the cashier waving flies away from his face.

Copyright © 2020 by Michael Torres. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 16, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Something Else.
Some one else
Some where else

That place is here,
In my home,
We are here.

I am brown,
Brown hair,
Brown eyes,
Like cookies Feather tells me, and I like to think it’s perfectly
cooked Pueblo cookies.

My kids are something else,
9 different shades of brown,
All beautiful.

My grandkids are something else,
4 brown eyes, 2 blue eyes,
All Native,
Definitely something else, as I watch them be rowdy, be loving,
be here in this world.

We are here
On this earth
In this time and place

In our homes,
On our lands,
In the cities,
With our families, laughing loudly, cooking together, protecting
each other.

We are something else
With our songs
Our dances.

We pray with corn meal,
Eagle feathers,
Medicine bundles,
Burn some sage, make sure to acknowledge the four directions,
as the sun comes up.

We are the something else,
Who were here,
To greet Christopher Columbus

We were born from
This earth,
Crawled out of the center,
Of our mother’s womb, we are important, we are strong.

We are something else,
We are Pueblo people, Plains people, Forest People, Desert
people, Nomadic people, Cliff dwellers, Ocean fishers, Lake and
river fishers, hunters, medicine collectors, horse riders, artists,
speakers, lawyers, doctors, teachers, we are human beings.
We are something else,
We are Native People,
Indigenous to this land.
We are a proud,
Something else.

Copyright © 2020 by Rainy Dawn Ortiz. Originally published with the Shelter in Poems initiative on poets.org.

Insomniac for a high noon
called midnight. Another howling
Coyote ass chorus of disapproval—Malinche          
was my Farrah Fawcett poster          

no strap
              no thong

no tongue
              just hair

masculine taped to     my bedroom wall

an imagined papacito
in a big bad brown
teen lobo
den for real.

The gigalo furrowed browed
spittled jowls highlights yellow        

an estrangement with my pack
of sancho sinvergüenzas

swimming in lack
for Mommy Malinchismo

But we appreciate over time,
our bellies get full over time.
And     these papers     overwhelm an archive.

So for a good time call Cortez, a casual encounter. 
No strings attached
             cuando estoy triste I swipe right.

Copyright © 2020 by Raquel Gutiérrez. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 2, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.