again, playing with fire
unpleasant reminders burnt away
fumed extreme flat
hollowed out body
boundaries left wall'd
in cement house
where concrete slogans
armed with body conflict
from later day subdivisions
clear of all excessive green
impending chaos classed encased
this sub communion
burns present state
planned projects illuminated
shop window redemption
burning impending chaos from
surrounds geographic definition
again, something’s burning
a sentence interrogation
uniform playing fields
for level capital
for later gender compromise
between country and ministry
heaps of miles
it is the will
a burning universal
Copyright © 2016 by kari edwards. Used with permission of Frances Blau.
Where are you from?
Where are you headed?
What are you doing?
Little brother, we are all grieving
& galaxy & goodbye. Once, I climbed inside
the old clock tower of my hometown
& found a dead bird, bathed in broken light,
like a little christ.
Little christ of our hearts, I know
planets light-years away
are under our tongues. We’ve tasted them.
We’ve climbed the staircases saying, There, there.
Little brother, we are all praying. Every morning,
I read out loud but not loud enough
to alarm anyone. Once, my love said, Please
open the door. I can hear you talk. Open the door.
Little christ of our hearts, tell anyone
you've been talking to god & see
what happens. Every day,
I open the door. I do it by looking
at my daughter on a swing—
eyes closed & crinkled, teeth bare.
I say, Good morning good morning you
little beating thing.
Little brother, we are all humming.
More & more, as I read, I sound
like my father with his book of prayers,
turning pages in his bed—a hymn
for each day of the week, a gift
from his mother, who taught me
the ten of diamonds is a win, left me
her loose prayer clothes. Bismillah.
Little christ of our hearts, forgive me,
for I loved eating the birds with lemon,
& the sound of their tiny bones. But I couldn’t
stomach the eyes of the fried fish.
Little brother, we are always hungry.
Here, this watermelon. Here, some salt
for the tomatoes. Here, this song
for the dead birds in time boxes,
& the living. That day in the clock tower,
I saw the city too, below—
the merchants who call, the blue awnings,
the corn carts, the clotheslines, the heat,
the gears that turn, & the remembering.
Copyright © 2018 by Zeina Hashem Beck. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 3, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
From While Standing in Line for Death (Wave Books, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by CAConrad. Used with permission of the author and Wave Books.
The dog lunged at me and choked on its chain
guarding a house on the street of broken dreams.
What does it take to be safe? A sun-porch window
barred shut with a wood-spooled bed frame. Fradon
lock store down the block, a giant curlicue key
advertising sleep all night, sweet dreams. A bumble-
bee in the clover fumbling to find its damp-dirt home.
No way to tell who owns my neighborhood homes
until the for-sale-by-bank signs grow overnight,
and of course there's the bank at James and Lodi
with the blue light, CHASE, that stays on 24/7.
On my street some people harrow a vacant lot,
green turned under into small rows, they harvest
weathered rocks and pile those up in the corner.
In another city, some foreclosed people got so angry
the big finance company had to hide its sign, AIG.
The people were so angry. That makes me feel more
safe, the people come out of their houses to shout:
We demand. Not rabble and rabid, not shadow, not terror,
the neighbors stand and say:The world is ours, ours, ours.
Copyright © 2011 by Minnie Bruce Pratt. From Inside the Money Machine (Carolina Wren Press, 2011). Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.
The bumper sticker says Live In The Moment! on a Jeep that cuts me off. I’m working to forget it, to let go of everything but the wheel in my hands, as a road connects two cities without forcing them to touch. When I drive by something, does it sway toward me or away? Does it slip into the past or dance nervously in place? The past suffers from anxiety too. It goes underground, emerging once in a blue moon to hiss. I hear the grass never saying a word. I hear it spreading its arms across each grave & barely catch a name. My dying wish is scattering now before every planet. I want places to look forward to. Listen: the earth is a thin voice in a headset. It’s whispering breathe... breathe... but who believes in going back?
Copyright © 2018 by Ben Purkert. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 2, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
That I could be this human at this time
breathing, looking, seeing, smelling
That I could be this moment at this time
resting, calmly moving, feeling
That I could be this excellence at this time
sudden, changed, peaceful, & woke
To all my friends who have been with me in weakness
when water falls rush down my two sides
To all my friends who have felt me in anguish
when this earthen back breaks between the crack of two blades
To all my friends who have held me in rage
when fire tears through swallows behind tight grins
I know you
I see you
I hear you
Although the world is silent around you
I know you
I see you
I hear you
From To Whitey & the Cracker Jack (Anhinga Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by May Yang. Reprinted by permission of Anhinga Press.
The lover's footprint in the sand the ten-year-old kid's bare feet in the mud picking chili for rich growers, not those seeking cultural or ethnic roots, but those whose roots have been exposed, hacked, dug up and burned and in those roots do animals burrow for warmth; what is broken is blessed, not the knowledge and empty-shelled wisdom paraphrased from textbooks, not the mimicking nor plaques of distinction nor the ribbons and medals but after the privileged carriage has passed the breeze blows traces of wheel ruts away and on the dust will again be the people's broken footprints. What is broken God blesses, not the perfectly brick-on-brick prison but the shattered wall that announces freedom to the world, proclaims the irascible spirit of the human rebelling against lies, against betrayal, against taking what is not deserved; the human complaint is what God blesses, our impoverished dirt roads filled with cripples, what is broken is baptized, the irreverent disbeliever, the addict's arm seamed with needle marks is a thread line of a blanket frayed and bare from keeping the man warm. We are all broken ornaments, glinting in our worn-out work gloves, foreclosed homes, ruined marriages, from which shimmer our lives in their deepest truths, blood from the wound, broken ornaments— when we lost our perfection and honored our imperfect sentiments, we were blessed. Broken are the ghettos, barrios, trailer parks where gangs duel to death, yet through the wretchedness a woman of sixty comes riding her rusty bicycle, we embrace we bury in our hearts, broken ornaments, accused, hunted, finding solace and refuge we work, we worry, we love but always with compassion reflecting our blessings— in our brokenness thrives life, thrives light, thrives the essence of our strength, each of us a warm fragment, broken off from the greater ornament of the unseen, then rejoined as dust, to all this is.
From Selected Poems/Poemas Selectos, by Jimmy Santiago Baca, translated by Tomas H. Lucero and Liz Fania Werner. Copyright © 2009. Used by permission of New Directions. All rights reserved.
To be a good
ex/current friend for R. To be one last
inspired way to get back at R. To be relationship
advice for L. To be advice
for my mother. To be a more comfortable
hospital bed for my mother. To be
no more hospital beds. To be, in my spare time,
America for my uncle, who wants to be China
for me. To be a country of trafficless roads
& a sports car for my aunt, who likes to go
fast. To be a cyclone
of laughter when my parents say
their new coworker is like that, they can tell
because he wears pink socks, see, you don’t, so you can’t,
can’t be one of them. To be the one
my parents raised me to be—
a season from the planet
of planet-sized storms.
To be a backpack of PB&J & every
thing I know, for my brothers, who are becoming
their own storms. To be, for me, nobody,
homebody, body in bed watching TV. To go 2D
& be a painting, an amateur’s hilltop & stars,
simple decoration for the new apartment
with you. To be close, J.,
to everything that is close to you—
blue blanket, red cup, green shoes
with pink laces.
To be the blue & the red.
The green, the hot pink.
From When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities. Copyright © 2016 by Chen Chen. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.
The afternoon light lights
the room in a smudged
sheen, a foggy-eyed glow.
The dog digs at the couch,
low-growling at the mailman.
I’m spelling words with pills
spilled consolidating bottles:
yes and try and most of happy:
Maybe I’ll empty them all.
A woman I don’t know
is having a drill drill into her
skull. To get rid of the thing
requires entering the brain.
How to imagine a story
that ends with that ending?
I don’t know how to live my life,
but at least today I want to.
Copyright © 2015 by Aaron Smith. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 7, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
Accurate like an arrow without a target
and no target in mind.
Silence has its own roar or, not-roar,
just as Rothko wrote “I don’t express myself
in my paintings. I express my not-self.”
A poem that expresses the not-self.
Everything but the self.
The meadow’s veil of fog, but is veil self-referential?
Already, dawn, the not-birds alert to what silence has to offer.
The fog, one of Rothko’s shapes,
hanging there in the not-self, humming.
Mikel, before he died, loved Rothko most.
When he could still think, he put his mind
to those sorts of judgments.
If I pull the fog away like theater curtains, what then?
Sadness shapes the landscape.
The arrow of myself thwacks the nearest tree.
Fog steps closer like a perpetrator or a god.
Oh. I’m weeping.
Tears feed the silence like a mother drops
into her baby not-bird’s open beak
some sweet but dangerous morsel.
From Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl (Graywolf Press, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Diane Seuss. Used with the permission of Graywolf Press.
Did you ever see stars? asked my father with a cackle. He was not
speaking of the heavens, but the white flash in his head when a fist burst
between his eyes. In Brooklyn, this would cause men and boys to slap
the table with glee; this might be the only heavenly light we'd ever see.
I never saw stars. The sky in Brooklyn was a tide of smoke rolling over us
from the factory across the avenue, the mattresses burning in the junkyard,
the ruins where squatters would sleep, the riots of 1966 that kept me
locked in my room like a suspect. My father talked truce on the streets.
My son can see the stars through the tall barrel of a telescope.
He names the galaxies with the numbers and letters of astronomy.
I cannot see what he sees in the telescope, no matter how many eyes I shut.
I understand a smoking mattress better than the language of galaxies.
My father saw stars. My son sees stars. The earth rolls beneath
our feet. We lurch ahead, and one day we have walked this far.
Reprinted from Vivas to Those Who Have Failed. Copyright © 2016 by Martín Espada. Used with permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. and Frances Goldin Literary Agency.
Scrolling through the at-the-limit list of names,
I’m caught unaware: my phone displays a friend
I’ll never be able to call again.
Now that all that’s left of her are memories
I can’t delete her entry, it seems too final,
as if it would erase our entire past together.
Phones are democratic: jumbled together
are lovers and colleagues, name after name
in alphabetical order. It was she who finally
convinced me to get a phone; the day my friend
and I went to buy it is still a vivid memory:
I was having one of those lapses of memory;
not long before, he and I had spent the night together.
We run into him on the street; both he and my friend
expect an introduction, but I’ve forgotten his name.
I’ve now forgotten so many boys; only their names
remain, stored in my phone’s memory.
Those I can delete, but not my friend’s.
It’s as if all that remains of our friend-
ship is this metonymy of her name
on a SIM-card full of memories and names.
From Deleted Names (A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2013). Copyright © 2013 by Lawrence Schimel. Used with the permission of the author.
—for Creativity and Crisis at the National Mall
tell my students i’m gay
tell chick fil a i’m queer
tell the new york times i’m straight
tell the mail man i’m a lesbian
tell american airlines
i don’t know what my gender is
like summer blockbuster armrest dates
armrest cinematic love
elbow to forearm in the dark
humor me queerly
fill me with laughter
make me high with queer gas
decompress me from centuries of spanish inquisition
& self-righteous judgment
like the blood my blood
that has mixed w/ the colonizer
& the colonized
in the extinct & instinct to love
bust memories of water & heat
& hot & breath
beating skin on skin fluttering
bruise me into vapors
bleed me into air
fly me over sub-saharan africa & asia & antarctica
explode me from the closet of my fears
graffiti me out of doubt
bend me like bamboo
propose to me
divide me into your spirit 2 spirit half spirit
& shadow me w/ fluttering tongues
& caresses beyond head
fist smashing djembes
between my hesitations
haiku me into 17 bursts of blossoms & cold saki
de-gender me in brassieres
& prosthetic genitalias
burn me on a brazier
wearing a brassiere
in bitch braggadocio soprano bass
magnificat me in vespers
of hallelujah & amen
libate me in halos
heal me in halls of femmy troubadors
announcing my hiv status
or your status
i am not afraid to love you
implant dialects as if they were lilacs
in my ear
medicate me with a lick & a like
i am not afraid to love you
so demand me
Copyright © 2014 by Regie Cabico. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.
The wound on her lip goes white
before returning red.
The virus erupts the lines between chin and
lip, between lip and philtrum.
A sore across two continents of skin, a
bridge of lava.
She will feel healed when the flesh
color returns. The variation
is the aberration. Blood courses to
deliver a clot. Vessels
bouquet under the scalp or in the
womb, in places where we
heal fastest. Cells scramble
a lean-to scab, a mortar of new skin.
The body wants to draw its
But Jesus hangs before the
wounded, eternally weeping
from his gashes.
How to open hers without nails or
thorns? How to measure
heartbeats without seeing blood
heave out its rhythms?
A gush slows under pressure
even as the pulse
goes on. Our lesions take air, our
infections seek sunlight. How to
resist our unwilled mechanisms to
We push through the same tear in the
world and leave it sore.
When we come, we come open.
Pick a wound slow to bleed and
slower to seal. We cream
the scar to fade our atlas of living—what
itched its way to a silver road,
what shadow constellation of pox. The
convert counts Jesus’ wounds.
If you count both hands and both feet, all
lashes and piercings
and the forsaken cry, the number is
higher and lower than anyone’s.
Copyright © 2019 by Melody S. Gee. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 5, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.