Even this
brief thought is endless. A
man speaks as if unaware of the
erotic life of the ampersand. In the
isolate field he comes to count one by
one the rare butterflies as they
die. He says witness is to say what
you mean as if you mean it. So many
of them are the color of the leaves
they feed on, he calls sympathy a fact, a
word by which he means to make a claim
about grace. I have in my

life said many things I did not
exactly mean. Walk
graceless through the field. Graceless so
the insects leap up into the blank
page where the margins fill
with numbers that speak diminishment.
Absence as it nears also offers astonishment.
Absence riddles even this
briefest thought, here
is your introduction to desire, time’s
underneath where the roots root down
into nothing like loose threads
hanging from the weaving’s underside.
No one seeing the roots
can guess

at the field above. Green
equation that ends in yellow
occasions. Theory is
insubstantial. The eye latches on
to the butterflies as they fly
and the quick heart follows, not
a root in nothing but a thread across
abstraction. They fly away.
What in us follows we do not name.
What the butterflies pull out us
as in battle horses pull
chariot, we do not

name. But there is none, no battle,
no surge, no retreat, a field
full not of danger, but the endangered,
where dust-wings pull from us
what we thought we lost, what theory
denies, where in us ideas go to die,
and thought with the quaking grass quakes.
Some call it breath but I’m still breathing.
So empty I know I’m not any emptier.
On slim threads they pull it out me,
disperse—no
one takes notes—disappear, &
 

Copyright © 2016 by Dan Beachy-Quick. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 25, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

    She looked over his shoulder
       For vines and olive trees,
    Marble well-governed cities
       And ships upon untamed seas,
    But there on the shining metal
       His hands had put instead
    An artificial wilderness
       And a sky like lead.

A plain without a feature, bare and brown,
   No blade of grass, no sign of neighborhood,
Nothing to eat and nowhere to sit down,
   Yet, congregated on its blankness, stood
   An unintelligible multitude,
A million eyes, a million boots in line,
Without expression, waiting for a sign.

Out of the air a voice without a face
   Proved by statistics that some cause was just
In tones as dry and level as the place:
   No one was cheered and nothing was discussed;
   Column by column in a cloud of dust
They marched away enduring a belief
Whose logic brought them, somewhere else, to grief.

    She looked over his shoulder
       For ritual pieties,
    White flower-garlanded heifers,
       Libation and sacrifice,
    But there on the shining metal
       Where the altar should have been,
    She saw by his flickering forge-light
       Quite another scene.

Barbed wire enclosed an arbitrary spot
   Where bored officials lounged (one cracked a joke)
And sentries sweated for the day was hot:
   A crowd of ordinary decent folk
   Watched from without and neither moved nor spoke
As three pale figures were led forth and bound
To three posts driven upright in the ground.

The mass and majesty of this world, all
   That carries weight and always weighs the same
Lay in the hands of others; they were small
   And could not hope for help and no help came:
   What their foes liked to do was done, their shame
Was all the worst could wish; they lost their pride
And died as men before their bodies died.

    She looked over his shoulder
       For athletes at their games,
    Men and women in a dance
       Moving their sweet limbs
    Quick, quick, to music,
       But there on the shining shield
    His hands had set no dancing-floor
       But a weed-choked field.

A ragged urchin, aimless and alone,
   Loitered about that vacancy; a bird
Flew up to safety from his well-aimed stone:
   That girls are raped, that two boys knife a third,
   Were axioms to him, who'd never heard
Of any world where promises were kept,
Or one could weep because another wept.

    The thin-lipped armorer,
       Hephaestos, hobbled away,
    Thetis of the shining breasts
       Cried out in dismay
    At what the god had wrought
       To please her son, the strong
    Iron-hearted man-slaying Achilles
       Who would not live long.

From The Shield of Achilles by W. H. Auden, published by Random House. Copyright © 1955 W. H. Auden, renewed by The Estate of W. H. Auden. Used by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimmed;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wand'rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to Time thou grow'st.
    So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
    So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

This poem is in the public domain.