somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near
your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skillfully, mysteriously) her first rose
or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;
nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing
(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands
From Complete Poems: 1904-1962 by E. E. Cummings, edited by George J. Firmage. Used with the permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation. Copyright © 1923, 1931, 1935, 1940, 1951, 1959, 1963, 1968, 1991 by the Trustees for the E. E. Cummings Trust. Copyright © 1976, 1978, 1979 by George James Firmage.
I went down to the river,
I set down on the bank.
I tried to think but couldn't,
So I jumped in and sank.
I came up once and hollered!
I came up twice and cried!
If that water hadn't a-been so cold
I might've sunk and died.
But it was Cold in that water! It was cold!
I took the elevator
Sixteen floors above the ground.
I thought about my baby
And thought I would jump down.
I stood there and I hollered!
I stood there and I cried!
If it hadn't a-been so high
I might've jumped and died.
But it was High up there! It was high!
So since I'm still here livin',
I guess I will live on.
I could've died for love—
But for livin' I was born
Though you may hear me holler,
And you may see me cry—
I'll be dogged, sweet baby,
If you gonna see me die.
Life is fine! Fine as wine! Life is fine!
From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Copyright © 1994 the Estate of Langston Hughes. Used with permission.
Mr. Macklin takes his knife And carves the yellow pumpkin face: Three holes bring eyes and nose to life, The mouth has thirteen teeth in place. Then Mr. Macklin just for fun Transfers the corn-cob pipe from his Wry mouth to Jack’s, and everyone Dies laughing! O what fun it is Till Mr. Macklin draws the shade And lights the candle in Jack’s skull. Then all the inside dark is made As spooky and as horrorful As Halloween, and creepy crawl The shadows on the tool-house floor, With Jack’s face dancing on the wall. O Mr. Macklin! where's the door?
Then a woman said, Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.
And he answered:
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.
Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on February 10, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Sigh of the Santa Ana through the chaparral clinging to the mountain. Through the sunflowers at night, searching for the sun, along the river no longer a river. The wind kissing the river, its stone face, and making each stone a matchbook. A match. A book on fire. The river a library on fire. The wind a woman running through the valley on fire. Searching. The sunflowers turning toward her. Her nightgown a book turning its own bright pages in the wind. Smoke the color of chaparral. Smoke clinging to her, making her a mountain of smoke. A valley of light. A sigh.
You’re too afraid of who you are to know who you can be. You’re too afraid of being happy. You’re too happy being afraid. You’re afraid you’re happy. You’re afraid, the way a broken bowl gilded and glued back together with gold is still broken, that knowing makes no difference. You’re broken, still, but you’re happy. You’re afraid, too, but still, you’re happy. You’re who you can be, already, whether or not you know. You’re different, already. You don’t need to know to know. You’re ready.
Yesterday, when the cake with thirty candles came out, I thought, closing my eyes, that my wish would be to go back to the moment my mother brought me home to East Mountain View, furnished with only her vanity, the mirror with us waving at us, at once Hello and Goodbye, and that I would wish to hold her bright and broken face, to look at her as she was and not as either of us wanted her to be, telling her as if telling myself that we were doing our best, and yet, today, opening my eyes and looking into my own vanity, smoking a cigarette, the tip like a sunflower scorched from searching and searching still by the light that scorched it, I think, instead, that my wish will be to keep going forward, to see what else will happen with this life, and I think I will.
Copyright © 2023 by Paul Tran. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 11, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.
I found myself in the middle of a room
I barely recognized, a whiteboard
with no lesson on it, walls
wanting for color. The hands of the clock
above the door had been removed.
And my friends had left their seats
in long ordinary rows, in rows
they’d never in their lives leave them in.
They must be waiting in the wings,
cheering me on—I could sense it.
All I had to do was pick up the marker
and draw what I remembered
of the room when the room was full.
Instead I stood there, scrubbing,
until there was no board, no boy.
My hand went up, my hand went down.
Copyright © 2016 by Will Schutt. This poem originally appeared in The Los Angeles Review of Books. Used with the permission of the poet.