After a century, humpbacks migrate
again to Queens. They left
due to sewage and white froth
banking the shores from polychlorinated-
biphenyl-dumping into the Hudson
and winnowing menhaden schools.
But now grace, dark bodies of song
return. Go to the seaside—
Hold your breath. Submerge.
A black fluke silhouetted
against the Manhattan skyline.
Now ICE beats doors
down on Liberty Avenue
to deport. I sit alone on orange
A train seats, mouth sparkling
from Singh’s, no matter how
white supremacy gathers
at the sidewalks, flows down
the streets, we still beat our drums
wild. Watch their false-god statues
prostrate to black and brown hands.
They won’t keep us out
though they send us back.
Our songs will pierce the dark
fathoms. Behold the miracle:
what was once lost
now leaps before you.
Copyright © 2017 by Rajiv Mohabir. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 16, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
When did hordes of sentences start beginning with So?
As if everything were always pending,
leaning on what came before.
What can you expect?
Loneliness everywhere, entertained or kept in storage.
So you felt anxious to be alone.
Easier to hear, explore a city, room,
mound of hours, no one walking beside you.
Talking to self endlessly, but mostly listening.
This would not be strange.
It would be the tent you slept in.
Waking calmly inside whatever
you had to do would be freedom.
It would be your country.
The men in front of me had whole acres
in their eyes. I could feel them cross, recross each day.
Memory, stitched. History, soothed.
What we do or might prefer to do. Have done.
How we got here. Telling ourselves a story
till it’s compact enough to bear.
Passing the walls, wearing the sky,
the slight bow and rising of trees.
Everything ceaselessly holding us close.
So we are accompanied.
Never cast out without a line of language to reel us back.
That is what happened, how I got here.
So maybe. One way anyway.
A story was sewn, seed sown,
this was what patriotism meant to me—
to be at home inside my own head long enough
to accept its infinite freedom
and move forward anywhere, to mysteries coming.
Even at night in a desert, temperatures plummet,
billowing tent flaps murmur to one other.
Copyright © 2017 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 5, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
For most in the United States the word brings a phase when mortars in Vietnam still whistled around them and the scandal of Nixon and his Machiavellian buds poured from the news into their subconscious—I see that Watergate too: the televised hearings, and in particular one session—Sam Ervin had just asked Ehrlichman or Dean or Haldeman, a long-winded, periphrastic, left-branching question—it must have lasted forty seconds and seemed three days before he paused for effect, and Ehrlichman or Dean or Haldeman answered: “Senator, could you please repeat the question?” And he did, verbatim! And that is one Watergate. But I think also of the morning my father sent me to the creek that ran through our pasture to remove a dead calf a flood had floated north to lodge against our water gate— a little Guernsey heifer—I had petted her often— Now flies buzzed around her, bloated and entangled in the mesh—and I remember her eyes were open, so she seemed to watch as I pulled first one leg then another from the vines and wire that trapped her, and pulled her to the bank through the shallow water. Because the second water gate, which features the tender relationship between a dead calf and a little boy, happened twenty years before the first, in which men break into an office complex in a hotel, I prefer its posts and hog wire that kept cows from a neighbor’s field to the gray rows of filing cabinets that brought down a presidency. The water pours out of the mountain and runs to the sea. Sometimes I say it to myself, until the meanings leave. I say Watergate until it is water pouring through water.
Copyright © 2017 by Rodney Jones. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 12, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
The hastily assembled angel saw One thing was like another thing and that Thing like another everything depend- ed on how high it was the place you saw Things from and he had seen the Earth from where A human couldn’t see the Earth and could- n’t tell most human things apart and though He hadn’t ever really understood His job he knew it had to do with seeing And what he saw was everything would come Together at the same time everything Would fall apart and that was humans thinking The world was meant for them and other things Were accidental or were decora- tions meant for them and therefore purposeful That humans thought that God had told them so And what the hastily assembled angel Thought was that probably God had said the same thing To every living thing on Earth and on- ly stopped when one said Really back but then Again the hastily assembled angel Couldn’t tell human things apart and maybe That Really mattered what would he have heard Holy or maybe Folly or maybe Kill me
Copyright © 2018 by Shane McCrae. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 21, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
There are gods
is offered praise
& still cannot
its colors are blue
& black, a cross-
hatch of bruise
like my son’s
like lungs, excised
or autopsied, splayed
open on a cold table
or left in the street
for hours to stew.
is a gun—
is a gun, skin
a shiny pistol,
a demon, a barrel
not to bear but bare. Don’t
into the wrong
is not dark
but a red siren
who will not blow
breath into your open
like a heart. Because
I can see
I believe in you, god
of police brutality—
of corn liquor
& late fertility, of birth
pain & blood
like the sun setting,
dispersing its giant
crowd of light.
Copyright © 2018 by Kevin Young. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 16, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
for Phil Young, my father, Robert Hedge Coke, Whitman, and Hughes
America, I sing back. Sing back what sung you in.
Sing back the moment you cherished breath.
Sing you home into yourself and back to reason.
Oh, before America began to sing, I sung her to sleep,
held her cradleboard, wept her into day.
My song gave her creation, prepared her delivery,
held her severed cord beautifully beaded.
My song helped her stand, held her hand for first steps,
nourished her very being, fed her, placed her three sisters strong.
My song comforted her as she battled my reason
broke my long held footing sure, as any child might do.
Lo, as she pushed herself away, forced me to remove myself,
as I cried this country, my song grew roses in each tear’s fall.
My blood veined rivers, painted pipestone quarries
circled canyons, while she made herself maiden fine.
Oh, but here I am, here I am, here, I remain high on each and every peak,
carefully rumbling her great underbelly, prepared to pour forth singing—
and sing again I will, as I have always done.
Never silenced unless in the company of strangers, singing
the stoic face, polite repose, polite, while dancing deep inside, polite
Mother of her world. Sister of myself.
When my song sings aloud again. When I call her back to cradle.
Call her to peer into waters, to behold herself in dark and light,
day and night, call her to sing along, call her to mature, to envision—
Then, she will make herself over. My song will make it so
When she grows far past her self-considered purpose,
I will sing her back, sing her back. I will sing. Oh, I will—I do.
America, I sing back. Sing back what sung you in.
Copyright © 2014 by Allison Adelle Hedge Coke. Originally published in Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.
I pick you up
& you are a child made of longing
clasped to my neck. Iridescent,
lovely, your inestimable tantrums,
I carry you back & forth
from the famine in your mind.
Your alphabet wraps itself
like a tourniquet
around my tongue.
Speak now, the static says.
A half-dressed woman named Truth
tells me she is a radio.
I'm going to ignore happiness
I'm going to undo myself
I pick you up
& the naked trees lean
into the ocean where you arrived,
shaking chains & freedom
from your head.
No metaphor would pull you
out of your cage.
Light keens from the dead.
& I'm troubled
by my own blind touch.
Did the ocean release
my neck? Did the opal waves
blow our cries to shore?
You don't feel anything
in the middle of the night.
From Lighting the Shadow. Copyright © 2015 by Rachel Eliza Griffiths. Appears with permission of Four Way Books. All rights reserved.
who by the time it arrived
had made its plan heretofore
stonewall it had not a penny
thats not true it had several pennies
can you make a sovereign nation a national park how condescending
instead just tell them to honor the treaty
what can poetry do it
cant not not do nothing
it must undulate w/ the 2:30 pm dance music the sole
patrons at stonewall
there was a shooting in ohio today
the music made me feel a little anxious it was
hard thumping dance music a notch
upwards of 100 bpm notoriously the beat of life
the optimum tempo for cpr
I consider downloading a metronome real quick to test it to tap it out but
I don’t want to be ‘anywhere near’ my phone
meaning it’s in my bag on the stool 2 feet from me
there is an amy winehouse video on no sound at least
I think it is amy winehouse
she is at a funeral black and white
there is a stuffed bird slightly obscuring my view of the tv
it looks like a kind of tall pigeon w/ mottled brown
and russet with a white ringlet necklace and black dots
is it a carrier pigeon I wonder I sent
a text to jocelyn at standing rock several texts
are you still on the road
ariana and i r gonna go out there in december
sending love to you
tried calling bt yr mailbox is full
send a sign when u can xoxo
howdy. thinking of u w love.
hope all is well. send smoke
signal telegram carrier pigeon
send love to my twospirits at the
last night we prayed for her and for zephyr and l. frank &
the twospirits especially at standing rock
there’s no sign of that struggle here but they are selling tshirts commemorating
the other and the six days of riots
led by transwomen of color they later tried to whitewash in that terrible movie
like it was all these hot angry upright downright forthright white gays so ready
for the revolution
and now people are treating standing rock like burning man
a drink called goslings
videos by the pigeon misaligned with the music
the smell of booze in the air made both of us recoil slightly I saw
or felt it
I’m here to make a poem I was already paid for when I had less than $2 in my bank
account (and I joked I would go right to the bar and buy everybody drinks ) not even
enough for a subway ride and I used the 58 cents I’d gotten for busking for the first time
alone in the long hallway between the library at bryant park and the orange line trains by
the ovid quote ‘gutta cavat lapidem’ water (or a drop of water really) hollows out
a stone. lapidum a stone or rock ariana once described cd wright’s style as ‘lapidary’
I loved this as a description of writing like the hieroglyphics are
literally lapidary and I told my grandmother about it as we
were driving from mescalero to albuquerque she knew all about the
plants and the names for all the rockforms mesas or buttes or
ziggurats and I said how do
you know all these she said by long observation and
I used to study geology in college I wanted to major in it
but they wouldn’t allow women
to major in the hard sciences then so she
began to study religion
tho she already had medicine
ricky martin on the beach
or is it someone younger sexier
the grand canyon splitting apart
is it an ad is it a video
even the sands at the beach
are bouncing with the beat
the tempo has stayed very similar this whole time a tick
up I suspect from 100bpm
Copyright © 2016 by Julian Talamantez Brolaski. This poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.