A month at least before the bloom
and already five bare-limbed cherries
by the highway ringed in a haze
of incipient fire
—middle of the afternoon,
a faint pink-bronze glow. Some things
wear their becoming:
the night we walked,
nearly strangers, from a fevered party
to the corner where you’d left your motorcycle,
afraid some rough wind might knock it to the curb,
you stood on the other side
of the upright machine, other side
of what would be us, and tilted your head
toward me over the wet leather seat
while you strapped your helmet on,
engineer boots firm on the black pavement.
Did we guess we’d taken the party’s fire with us,
somewhere behind us that dim apartment
cooling around its core like a stone?
Can you know, when you’re not even a bud
but a possibility poised at some brink?
Of course we couldn’t see ourselves,
though love’s the template and rehearsal
of all being, something coming to happen
where nothing was…
But just now
I thought of a troubled corona of new color,
visible echo, and wondered if anyone
driving in the departing gust and spatter
on Seventh Avenue might have seen
the cloud breathed out around us
as if we were a pair
of—could it be?—soon-to-flower trees.
Copyright @ 2014 by Mark Doty. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on June 2, 2014.
I have gazed the black flower blooming
her animal eye. Gacela oscura. Negra llorona.
Along the clayen banks I follow her-astonished,
gathering grief’s petals she lets fall like horns.
Why not now go toward the things I love?
Like Jacob’s angel, I touched the garnet of her wrist,
and she knew my name. And I knew hers—
it was Auxocromo, it was Cromóforo, it was Eliza.
It hurtled through me like honeyed-rum.
When the eyes and lips are touched with honey
what is seen and said will never be the same.
Eve took the apple in that ache-opened mouth,
on fire and in pieces, from the knife’s sharp edge.
In the photo her fist presses against the red-gold
geometry of her thigh. Black nylon, black garter,
unsolvable mysterium—I have to close my eyes to see.
Achilles chasing Hektor round the walls of Ilium
three times. How long must I circle
the high gate above her knees?
Again the gods put their large hands in me,
move me, break my heart like a clay jar of wine,
loosen a beast from some darklong depth—
my melancholy is hoofed. I, the terrible beautiful
Lampon, a shining devour-horse tethered
at the bronze manger of her collarbones.
I do my grief work with her body—labor
to make the emerald tigers in her hips leap,
lead them burning green
to drink from the violet jetting her.
We go where there is love, to the river,
on our knees beneath the sweet water.
I pull her under four times
until we are rivered. We are rearranged.
I wash the silk and silt of her from my hands—
now who I come to, I come clean to, I come good to.
Copyright © 2015 by Natalie Diaz. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 21, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
was when the
the whole city
& we drove north
to our friend’s
where she had
power & we
later we stayed
in the darkened
apt. you sick
in bed & me
by candle light
in thin blue
your neighbor had
a generator &
after a while
we had a little
bit of light
I walked the
dog & you
a little bit
we sat on a stoop
one day in the
we had very little
money. enough for
a strong cappuccino
which we shared
sitting there &
city was lit.
Copyright © 2014 by Eileen Myles. Used with permission of the author.
Saw you walking barefoot taking a long look at the new moon's eyelid later spread sleep-fallen, naked in your dark hair asleep but not oblivious of the unslept unsleeping elsewhere Tonight I think no poetry will serve Syntax of rendition: verb pilots the plane adverb modifies action verb force-feeds noun submerges the subject noun is choking verb disgraced goes on doing now diagram the sentence 2007
From Tonight No Poetry Will Serve, published by W.W. Norton. Copyright © 2011 by Adrienne Rich. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
You weren’t well or really ill yet either;
just a little tired, your handsomeness
tinged by grief or anticipation, which brought
to your face a thoughtful, deepening grace.
I didn’t for a moment doubt you were dead.
I knew that to be true still, even in the dream.
You’d been out—at work maybe?—
having a good day, almost energetic.
We seemed to be moving from some old house
where we’d lived, boxes everywhere, things
in disarray: that was the story of my dream,
but even asleep I was shocked out of the narrative
by your face, the physical fact of your face:
inches from mine, smooth-shaven, loving, alert.
Why so difficult, remembering the actual look
of you? Without a photograph, without strain?
So when I saw your unguarded, reliable face,
your unmistakable gaze opening all the warmth
and clarity of —warm brown tea—we held
each other for the time the dream allowed.
Bless you. You came back, so I could see you
once more, plainly, so I could rest against you
without thinking this happiness lessened anything,
without thinking you were alive again.
From Sweet Machine, published by HarperCollins. Copyright © 1998 by Mark Doty. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
I was alone in a dyke bar we’d traversed before
or maybe it was in a way all our dives
merging together suddenly as one intergalactic composite,
one glitter-spritzed black hole,
one cue stick burnished down to a soft blue nub.
Picture an open cluster of stars
managing to forever stabilize in space
without a landlord scheming to shut the place down.
Anyways, I was searching for someone there
whom we hadn’t seen in years—in what
could have been Sisters, Babes, the Lex, the Pint,
the Palms, or the E Room? but the room
had no end and no ceiling.
Though I could see all of our friends or exes
with elbows up or fingers interlocked
on table tops zinging with boomerangs.
Maybe the tables were spinning, too. I can’t be sure.
But just as a trap that trips before
hammering a mouse is not humane
the dream changed—or the alarm
that I carry in my breast pocket in my waking life
was sounding. Because in the dream,
three people on bar stools, who were straight
or closeted? but more importantly angry
turned and the room dwindled
like a sweater full of moths eating holes
through wool. Or they were humans, sure,
but not here to love
with jawlines set to throw epithets like darts
that might stick or knick or flutter past
as erratically as they were fired.
You could say their hostility was a swirl
nebulous as gas and dust,
diffuse as the stress
a body meticulously stores.
Like how when I was shoved in grade school
on the blacktop in my boy jeans
the teacher asked me if I had a strawberry
because the wound was fresh as jam, glistening
like pulp does after the skin of a fruit is
peeled back clean with a knife.
I was in the dream as open to the elements,
yet I fired back. And I didn’t care who eyed me
like warped metal to be pounded square.
I said: Do you realize where you are?
And with one finger I called our family forth
and out of the strobe lights, they came.
Copyright © 2016 by Jenny Johnson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 27, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
Whatever happens with us, your body
will haunt mine—tender, delicate
your lovemaking, like the half-curled frond
of the fiddlehead fern in forests
just washed by sun. Your traveled, generous thighs
between which my whole face has come and come—
the innocence and wisdom of the place my tongue has found there—
the live, insatiate dance of your nipples in my mouth—
your touch on me, firm, protective, searching
me out, your strong tongue and slender fingers
reaching where I had been waiting years for you
in my rose-wet cave—whatever happens, this is.
“Floating Poem, Unnumbered” from “Twenty-One Love Poems,” from The Dream of a Common Language: Poems 1974–1977 by Adrienne Rich. Copyright © 1978 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Taking a photo of you taking a photo of me, I see
the black snout of the camera framed by hair, where
your face should be. I see your arms and one hand
on the shutter button, the hedge behind you and
beyond, below, overexposed water and sky wiped white.
Some flecks out of focus are supposed to be boats.
Your back toward what light is left, you’re not
recognizable except by those cutoff jeans that I
gave you by shooting from above, forgetting your
legs. So, if I didn’t know, I wouldn’t know who
you are, you know. I do know who, but you, you know,
could be anybody. My mistake. It was because I
wanted to trip the shutter at the exact moment you
did. I did when you did, and you did when I did.
I can’t wait to see yours of me. It’s got to be
even more awful. A face, facing the light, pulled up
into a squint behind the lens, which must reflect
the muggy setting sun. Some sort of fright mask
or Mardi Gras monster, a big glass Cyclopean eye
superimposed on a flattened nose, that print,
the one you took of me as I took one of you. Who,
or what, will it be—will I be, I wonder? Can’t wait.
© May Swenson. From May Swenson: Collected Poems (Library of America, 2013). Used with permission of The Literary Estate of May Swenson. All rights reserved.
the bullet is his whole life.
his mother named him & the bullet
was on its way. in another life
the bullet was a girl & his skin
was a boy with a sad laugh.
they say he asked for it—
must I define they? they are not
monsters, or hooded or hands black
with cross smoke.
they teachers, they pay tithes
they like rap, they police—good folks
gather around a boy’s body
to take a picture, share a prayer.
oh da horror, oh what a shame
why’d he do that to himself?
they really should stop
getting themselves killed
Copyright © 2015 by Danez Smith. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 3, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets